Hidden Gem: 12th Avenue Grill

Thursday, September 09, 2010

You know that restaurant that wins all these awards and about which you heard amazing things, but you never got around to dining there because [insert excuse here]? You always meant to go to this place: It buzzed like a bee in the back of your mind. Remember to check this place out! it said.

That, for me, was 12th Avenue Grill in Kaimuki. Fortunately my friend Kawehi was celebrating a birthday and her friend Toni threw it there. Good choice – it's just as good as I've heard. If you're staying in Waikiki, it's an easy trip: Just a couple miles away. Make it happen, you don't want to miss this place while you're in town.

It's certainly a hidden gem: It's off Kaimuki's main drag (Waialae Avenue), on an alley leading to a parking lot.

The atmosphere is cozy but modern: It reminds me of great bistros in Santa Barbara, Calif., where my sister lives. A red-oak bar frames an open kitchen; chalkboards with the day's specials hang above, along with great specialty beers, cocktails and wines by the glass.

I'm a fan of unusual beer, so I ordered one of those posted on the chalkboard, a Japanese brown ale called "Angry Boy." It was nutty and refreshing. You know a beer selection is going to be good if Chimay's on the list; it's harder to find in this town than you might think.

We ordered some small plates, including their renowned Macaroni & Cheese (pictured, made with house smoked Parmesan cheese topped with toasted bread crumbs; we added Black Forest Ham). The serving was actually quite large for a small plate, but divided between six ravenous females, the bowl was nearly licked clean. We also enjoyed the Crab & Kahuku Sweet Corn Fritters, and the fresh bread included a soft panini style, perfectly salted.

For dinner most of the girls went with the succulent steak and lamb specials. I went with the pesto linguine with grilled shrimp, scallop and vegetable brochettes. Interactive food makes me happy: I pulled off onion wedges and scallops and twirled them into the al dente dish. Fantastic.

The birthday girl ordered their signature pork chop with potato pancake and apple chutney. Had a bite: tender, juicy, not overly adorned or flavored. A nice chop.

And then, dessert! Mine was the Black Bottom Creme Brulee with a bittersweet chocolate ganache lining. I nearly ate it all on top of dinner. With only a couple spoonfuls left I was nibbling at the remaining caramelized sugar-top trying to restrain myself from wiping it clean. The rest of the girls enjoyed the bread pudding (right), which I naturally sampled: moist, chewy, lovely cinnamon notes and a vanilla sauce that we're pretty sure had condensed cream. Kawehi, a foodie of note in Honolulu, is enraptured by bread pudding – it's her favorite dessert – and she said it's one of the best she's had.

12th Avenue Grill, 1145C 12th Avenue in Kaimuki. Open for dinner 5:30 - 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5:30 - 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, closed Sundays.

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