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    The Islands Are Calling: A Hawaiian Update

    By David Landis, The Gay Gourmet —

    With all the recent rainstorms and cold, blustery winds in the Bay Area, there’s no doubt that winter has arrived. It makes one yearn for the sun and warmth of summertime repasts—and what better way to escape the wintry blues than a trip to the islands—Hawaii, of course. Luckily for you readers, The Gay Gourmet visited Maui and Honolulu in November and I’ve got some of the latest scoop to plan your winter getaway.


    Truth be told, Maui has never been on my list of favorite Hawaiian islands to visit. I’m more of a Honolulu and Kauai kind of guy. That said, this trip has changed my opinion. Knowing where to go makes all the difference in the world. Here are some of my favorites:

    The Westin Maui

    First off, staying in the right hotel can be the difference between a lovely vacation and one where you can’t wait to get home. Located conveniently in Kaanapali (walking distance to numerous bars, restaurants, and shopping), The Westin Maui is a luxurious respite from the hubbub that can be Maui. As you enter the lush landscaped grounds, you’re greeted by a welcoming waterfall that serves as the backdrop as you check-in. Insider’s tip: book a room at the newly-renovated Hokupa’a Tower (gorgeous ocean views and contemporary furnishings), which has its own private restaurant/club called The Lanai. Also, be sure and book a massage at the spa, which is one of the loveliest on the island.

    Another reason to patronize the Westin is the newish Waicoco restaurant. Situated with a birds-eye view of the ocean from the lanai (outdoor deck), Waicoco is a partnership between chef Chris Kajioka (the owner) and Mourad Lahlou from San Francisco’s Mourad. Their successful cooperation shows, as the food is anything but typical. We dined at Waicoco at sunset (which is always right around 6 pm in Hawaii) and I’d recommend an early dinner for just that reason. For starters, they know how to make a true Mai Tai—inspired by the Trader Vic’s original but with a little added orange. Hawaiian bread with butter and Hawaiian red sea salt followed—light and fluffy, the way it’s meant to be.

    For our first course, we had the local Pohole fern salad (kind of like green beans), with cherry tomatoes, onion, tamari mirin marinade, basil oil, sesame seeds, and crispy alliums. It was a portent of surprising and delicious things to come. The salad had enough crunch and the marinade gave a zingy offset to brighten the taste of the mixture. For our main, we split the kimchi fried rice with chicken—why hasn’t anyone ever thought of this before? We know that chicken is big in Korea, but adding the touch of kimchi and fried rice gave it a delightful spark. As a side, we sampled paniolo beans (black and kidney beans with local spices), which reminded me of a yummy Hawaiian version of baked beans. To top things off, we split the fresh coconut cream pie—light and airy, with fresh Hawaiian coconut. The restaurant’s service is first class: manager Gabriel used to work at Pesce in San Francisco, offering tips along the way, and server Carly is delightfully charming. All in all, Waicoco offers some of the best meals in Maui.

    Another place to dine, especially for lunch, is Honu Oceanside in Lahaina, which we heard about through our local friends Keri and Neil. Perched right on the beach, Honu means “turtle” in Hawaiian, and there’s a reason the restaurant is called that. From its deck, you can watch turtles surfing and playing just beyond your table as you dine on some of the best casual fare in Maui. I’m told that Honu has recently gone through a renovation: the result is a contemporary, inviting, and airy space where all the focus is towards the magnificent view. Some recommendations: the famous ahi tuna bruschetta appetizer with local tomatoes (yup, they were tasty!) and homemade bread; the grilled fresh mahi mahi with broccolini, salsa, and rice; the ahi fish and chips (also fresh); and the grilled mahi mahi sandwich. For dessert, we split the lilikoi (passion fruit) tart, with a crust that melts in your mouth.

    Finally, for the best Mai Tai on the island, look no further than Monkeypod (in Kaanapali and also in Wailea). Their version isn’t the original recipe, but it’s topped with lilikoi foam on top and makes for a scrumptious cocktail! Insider tip: don’t worry about waiting for a table; sit at the bar.


    As readers of this column know, I’ve been visiting Honolulu since 1960 (don’t do the math!) and it’s one of my favorite places on the islands. It’s a big city with the amazing Waikiki beach, but it also features the culture, music, and cuisines of Hawaii to boot. We returned to our favorite hotel there, the sumptuous Halekulani Hotel. If possible, it’s better than ever. House Without A Key outdoor Hawaiian lounge has been completely remodeled with an open viewing kitchen, a new “Earl’s Bar,” (in honor of the author of House Without A Key, Earl Derr Biggers), and an expanded menu. Thankfully, the House still features the iconic ocean and Diamond Head view and traditional Hawaiian music, musicians, and hula dancers. For the first time in a while, we were able to visit Lewers Lounge, which is a Hawaiian version of Bemelman’s Bar at the Carlyle Hotel in New York. Great drinks! With Maggie Herron on vocals and Dean Taba on the piano, it’s a perfect place for a nightcap.

    But what I’d really like to talk about is the Cattleya Wine Bar (inside Orchids). What a find! It’s casual (you sit at a long table with others, perfect for mingling), but the wine and tapas selections are out of this world. We sampled a completely fresh from the sea hamachi crudo, a charcuterie plate (with some of the most tender prosciutto ever), an imported cheese board, Kona lobster and Kahuku shrimp gyoza (a nice Hawaiian twist), and a Puglia stracciatella. The wines are no ordinary selection: most hail from Italy, with a few from Spain and even Turkey, but since they’re anything but typical, you’ll want to ask the sommelier for guidance. Also, just re-opened across the street is the Halekulani Bakery, which features delectable artisan breads, a contemporary coffee bar with specialty coffees, pastry pairings, savory bites, and the famous Halekulani coconut cake.

    Also on the culinary radar is the new-ish Hau Tree at the hipster Kaimana Beach Hotel, just south of Waikiki. The deck has one of the most outstanding beach views in Honolulu and the menu is innovative and modern. Mixologist Jen Ackrill creates some of the most unique cocktail concoctions on the island. The dinner menu includes such unusual choices as harissa Kauai shrimp, deep sea crab tagliatelle (they charge extra for Parmesan cheese), ginger scallion seared walu, and fresh from the garden salads and home-grown veggies.

    Of course, don’t forget all the good times to be had at Honolulu’s oldest (48 years!) LGBTQ+ bar, Hula’s Bar and Lei Stand. There are great views of the park and the beach from their deck, potent cocktails (and good food) and venerable drag shows, DJs, and dancing. It is a must-do in Honolulu.

    For things to do while in Honolulu (besides beachgoing), I’d recommend Doris Duke’s Shangri La Museum. It’s part of the Honolulu Museum of Art and features one of the most comprehensive collections of Islamic art anywhere. Plus, its ideal location right at the foot of Diamond Head overlooking the ocean is a showstopper. Also fun is the Lyon Arboretum, part of the University of Hawaii and a short 20-minute drive from Waikiki. Lush indigenous flowers, plants, and trees adorn the grounds and there’s even a doable hike up to a waterfall. And don’t forget the gorgeous Byodo-In Buddhist Temple near Kaneohe. Established in 1968, the temple commemorates the 100-year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. It’s a smaller-scale replica of the 950-year-old Byodo-in Temple, a United Nations World Heritage Site, in Uji, Japan.

    Bits and Bites

    A top Gay Gourmet recommendation, the LGBTQ+ social club The Academy at 2166 Market Street in the Castro, just celebrated 5 years in business and is expanding again, next door at the former site of the Revamp Salon. According to Hoodline, co-founder Nate Bourg says, “This is an exciting game change for our growing club, giving us a large open indoor space, additional storage, and other features that we don’t have in our existing building.” Hoodline continues, “The ground floor retail space includes over 3,000 square feet, including the main floor and basement level, that will be used for events and expanded programming for the club.” The club anticipates a first quarter 2023 opening for the revamped space.

    Since it’s wintertime, it’s also soup time. The Gay Gourmet just tried a great line of soups called Zoup. I sampled their garden vegetable soup, brimming with vegetables that actually taste like vegetables in an intensely flavorful broth. There’s a bit of a sweet aftertaste that lingers lovingly on the tongue. Another plus? It is all natural with no additives. The seasoning is well-balanced, but I’d suggest a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese on top to add some zip. Packaged in tall glass bottles, Zoup has a number of flavors, including: tomato bisque, spicy chicken ‘chilada, butternut squash, and chicken and riced cauliflower soups.

    The heartwarming documentary film Blind Ambition—playing at the Mostly British Film Festival on February 13 at the Vogue—follows four young Zimbabwe men who escape to South Africa where they discover a shared brilliant talent for identifying wine. They wind up competing at the World Wine Tasting Championship in Burgundy.

    Bits and Bites for Valentine’s Day

    It’s almost Valentine’s Day and here are some ideas if you haven’t yet booked or need a last-minute gift idea:

    Cassava in North Beach is offering a 5-course menu for $175/person including dishes like crudo, osso bucco, and leche flan.

    Queer and Filipina-owned Kokak Chocolates in the Castro has four heart-shaped truffle collections with nostalgic flavors guaranteed to stroke your inner child’s heartstrings. New this Valentine’s, they are teaming up with female-owned Boonville Barn for asix-piece “Eternal Flame Truffle Collection.” This offering combines two truffle flavors with the rarest cacao variety (Nacional) and prized chiles from the only farm that cultivates rare Comapeño chiles in the U.S. 

    This Valentine’s Day, Marlena will offer a five-course tasting menu that includes oysters, sea urchin pasta, truffles, milk bread with cultured butter, and half a dry-aged chicken for two to share. The menu will be priced at $110 per person with luxury supplements available.

    You can celebrate Valentine’s early on February 11 when Broadway performer Bobby Conte (whom I reviewed for the San Francisco Bay Times in December) returns to The Strand. And Villon at the San Francisco Proper Hotel is a perfect pre-theatre dinner choice within walking distance from the theatre. Afterwards, Charmaine’s rooftop bar at the hotel will be calling your name for a nightcap with a view. Or else, if you want to celebrate on the 14th, Villon is offering a 5-course tasting menu for $195/person.

    There’s always a deal at Trestle and for Valentine’s Day, guests can celebrate love with a $90 four-course prix fixe menu and indulge in a little surf n’ turf. For one night only, Trestle will be highlighting seasonal ingredients with dishes like the Dungeness crab risotto, blood orange Kampachi crudo, and braised beef short rib.

    At Lucia in Carmel Valley, Executive Chef Christian Ojeda will take a spin on all things aphrodisiac, from fragrant figs to passion-laced pomegranate, backed with a splash of new craft cocktails. Certain to sway the senses, the four-course menu will be featured weekends, February 3–26, 2023. 

    Down in Palo Alto, Bruno Chemel’s Bistronomie by Baumé will be offering a gourmet Valentine’s Day $198 per person six-course prix fixe menu served in the dining room and also available for pick up. The menu includes: Osëtra caviar with cauliflower and citrus, artichoke soup, Ora king salmon mousse with polenta, seared Pacifico striped bass with celery, warm goat cheese with honey and beets, and raspberry chocolate parfait.

    And, my pal Sophie Gayot has compiled Gayot’s Guide to Valentine’s Day in San Francisco:

    Here’s to love!

    Westin Maui/Waicoco:
    Honu Oceanside:
    Halekulani Hotel:
    Hau Tree:
    Hula’s Bar and Lei Stand:
    Shangri-La Museum:
    Lyon Arboretum:
    Byodo-In Temple:
    Kokak Chocolates:
    Bobby Conte at The Strand:
    The Academy:
    Lucia at the Bernardus Lodge:
    Bistronomie by Baume:
    Mostly British Film Festival:

    David Landis, aka “The Gay Gourmet,” is a foodie, a freelance writer, and a retired PR maven. Follow him on Instagram @GayGourmetSF or email him at: Or visit him online at:

    The Gay Gourmet
    Published on January 26, 2023