Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
I’m not sure when this transformation began, probably sometime around when we entered our fourth decade of life. It started with simple expressions like, “These kids nowadays . . .” or “When I was your age . . .” That’s when you begin to realize that you’ve become your parents: shopping early in the morning to avoid the crowds, and eating dinner when the sun is still high in the sky.
There is, however, at least one advantage to sitting down to an early evening meal. Happy hour!
Since most restaurant staff report to work well before dinner service begins, many restaurants start their evening service with a “happy hour,” offering reduced-price beverages and food from early afternoon until the start of dinner service. Some restaurants do it to generate extra revenue since most of the staff has already reported to work. Other restaurants do it to ease the dinner rush, as the happy hour crowd has already gotten a jumpstart on its wining and dining. For the Tatsumotos, it’s the perfect time to indulge in dinner when we would normally be eating anyway!
We’ve been to Moku Kitchen in Kaka‘ako only once for dinner, but we’ve been through the door several times for their happy hour, which runs from 3 to 5:30 p.m. All libations are $4 off and all aperitifs are reduced by $2.50. Any beer normally under $9 is $2 off, while those $9 or more are reduced by $3. All small plates (except for poke) are half off, and all pizzas are $10, a savings of $5 to $9.
We usually sample several aperitifs, like the French 75 (gin, lemon, sugar, Prosecco), the Americano (Cocchi di Torino vermouth, Campari, soda) or the Aperol Spritz (Aperol, prosecco, soda) — all at $6.50 apiece. I then move to their craft microbrew beers on tap — they have at least 30 different microbrews on tap.
For munchies, we always order the Szechuan Stir-Fry Green Beans with Mac Nuts with ginger, chili garlic and oyster sauce ($5.50 during happy hour) and the Garlic Truffle Oil Fries ($4.25 during happy hour). Since it’s served with both mustard aioli and house-made ketchup, it pleases both of us (the Mrs. loves ketchup, and I love any mayonnaise-based sauce). Sometimes we’ll opt for the pot stickers ($6.50 during happy hour) or the deviled eggs ($9 happy hour price), but we’ll always order a pizza, usually the Hämäkua Wild Mushroom with white sauce and truffle oil ($19 regular price, but reduced to $10 during happy hour).
Parking is never a problem with Salt at Our Kaka‘ako’s parking structure. We’re usually leaving just as the younger set is starting dinner.
The Hustle and Bustle
During our last stay-cation, we actually braved Waikïkï’s hustle-and-bustle in order to sample a new menu item that was originally just for Stripsteak’s holiday season happy hour.
Located at the top of the International Marketplace, Stripsteak is one of part-time Hawai‘i resident and celebrity chef Michael Mina’s many restaurants. Stripsteak features several happy hour prices for cocktails, beer and wine between 4 and 6 p.m., along with a limited food menu. What interested the Mrs. was the $40 12-ounce New York stripsteak served with their duck fat-fried French fries, garlic spinach and tuna hand roll. Forty dollars? While that might not sound like a happy hour bargain, it’s the same 12-ounce New York strip served ala carte for dinner for $60. Add the tuna hand roll and sides and you have at least $71 of entrée for $40. Of course, since we “saved” $31 at happy hour, the Mrs. had to splurge by topping her steak with seared foie gras ($30).
The four cocktails offered at happy hour were also just $7 — the regular menu prices for cocktails range from $15 to $19, so I sampled the Le Chiffre with shochu, lavender and Dolin Blanc. The Mrs. tried the Gala Brand with Aperol, passion and Prosecco. Both were refreshing and paired nicely with the tuna hand roll and my Negihama hand roll ($4). I also sampled the Truffle Duck Fat Fries ($7), the Loco Moco Sliders topped with a quail egg and black truffle gravy ($9) and the Baked King Crab Dip ($14), along with a glass of white wine ($7).
If you want to sample happy hour at Stripsteak, you’ll probably want to just stick with happy hour selections, as the prices of their regular wines range from $15 to $35 per glass, with specialty beers going for $10 to $35.
We previously sampled PAI Honolulu during a regular “date night” and at the Chef’s Counter with our usual wine gang. But we never checked out their happy hour, which runs from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and features several dishes offered only during that 90-minute period.
We ordered nearly every selection except the Nduja Baked Oysters. Nduja is a spreadable spicy salami that would have caused copious precipitation from my noggin’, so we passed. But the Katsu Adobo Headcheese Bao ($4) was super rich and unctuous, and the Furikake Tater Tots ($5) were as creamy as the best gnocchi (potato dumplings). The Mrs. still talks about her Smoked Saba Cabbage Salad ($6), which featured smoky mackerel balanced with crunchy cabbage, thinly sliced onions and a pleasing ginger vinaigrette. Although an $18 Creamy Clam Dip doesn’t sound affordable, one person could literally make a meal of this one selection with the crostini, house-made potato chips and shrimp chips.
We also didn’t miss any of their $8 cocktail specials, including the PAI 55 with gin, St. Germain (a litchi-flavored aperitif), lemon and sparkling wine; the Hawaii Five-O with gin, rum and vermouth; and the When Pigs Fly with scotch, Prosecco, Combier (orange liqueur) and lemon. All three cocktails had a certain degree of citrus, which paired nicely with our appetizers.
Closer to Home
A happy hour that lasts from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. and all day long on Mondays and Thursdays is good reason to be happy, which is why Gyu-Kaku is a regular spot on our rotation of restaurants. It’s also a very convenient three-minute drive from our house. So as you can guess, we either get all of our orders in by 6 p.m. or we visit on a Monday or Thursday.
Most of their regular food items are reduced by $1 to $2 during happy hour, which doesn’t seem like much until you order six to 10 different dishes. Then the savings can add up. Additionally, my favorite beverage at Gyu-Kaku — their nigori, or cloudy, sake — is reduced from $14 to $10 for a half bottle. Its slight sweetness balances the spicier flavors in some of the dishes.
The only downside is that the one meat dish we always order — the Harami, or marinated 21-day aged skirt steak, is always $9.75, happy hour or not, but we’re always willing to pay full price for this selection.
If you have a sweet tooth like the Mrs., desserts are always full price. I just select a sweet libation like the Mango Smash ($5 happy hour) with Jim Beam whiskey, mango puree, ginger and lime, or the Fuji San ($5 happy hour) with Jinro (a Korean liquor almost like shochu or awamori), apple schnapps, Amaretto (almond liqueur) and apple. With six Gyu-kaku locations on O‘ahu (and over 700 worldwide), there’s got to be a location in your neck of the woods.
So maybe turning into your parents isn’t really such a bad thing, especially when you start engaging in early evening meals. Great food at reduced prices; perhaps a cocktail or two, also at reduced prices, and getting home early enough to watch reruns of “Matlock” and “Barnaby Jones” Ah, the good life . . .
Ryan Tatsumoto is a clinical pharmacist by day. In his off-hours, however, he and his wife enjoy seeking out perfect marriages of food and wine. Ryan is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine. The Windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet.”