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Honolulu

hau tree lanai new otani kaimana beach hotel oahu hawaii dining restaurant Honolulu's dining scene is a melting pot of Hawaiian, Pacific and Asian cuisines. Seafood lovers will find themselves in heaven here -- shrimp, crab, oysters, mussels and various kinds of fish are on menus all over Honolulu. The most influential culinary movement of the last few decades is Hawaii Regional Cuisine; developed by Alan Wong and 11 other local chefs, this culinary movement emphasizes fresh local ingredients sourced right from the land and waters of Hawaii.

Seafood shines at Chai's Island Bistro, located in the Aloha Tower Marketplace. Think grilled fresh mahi mahi with Thai red curry sauce, wok-seared jumbo black tiger prawns and pan-seared diver scallops with pumpkin lobster Beurre Blanc. Dine indoors or on the open-air lanai, where people-watching is a fun part of the experience. Dinner features live entertainment by big local names such as the Brothers Cazimero and Danny Couch.

Although you can order off the menu, the popular Legend Seafood Restaurant (100 N. Beretania Street) is known for its lunch-time dim sum, which loyal customers swear is as good as anything you'll find in Hong Kong. Servers roll carts filled with steamed, baked, fried and roasted delicacies by your table, and you select whatever strikes your fancy.

Buca di Beppo celebrates the hearty cooking of Southern Italian immigrants. It's a place where you can smell the marinara sauce before you reach the door and where conversation and laughter often drown out the background music. Dishes are served family style in two portion sizes: large, for four to six people, and small, for couples or threesomes. On the way to your table, peruse the photographs of famous Italian-Americans that adorn the walls, including Joe DiMaggio, Frank Sinatra and Sophia Loren. In our opinion, the best spot in the house is the kitchen table, which actually is set in the kitchen so you can talk to the chef and watch all the action that goes on as orders are being prepared.

Only Alan Wong could turn an obscure Moiliili locale into a mecca for discerning diners. Winner of the 1996 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef in the Pacific Northwest/Hawaii, Wong is unquestionably one of the stars of Hawaiian Regional Cuisine, which promotes the use of fresh, locally grown produce, seafood and meats. Menu highlights include grilled mahi mahi with wasabi sauce, Kona lobster dumplings, and macadamia nut-coconut crusted lamb chops.

We like Hau Tree Lanai (at the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel) as much for its idyllic setting -- beneath a spreading hau tree right on San Souci Beach -- as for its food. Choose from a nice selection of sandwiches, pastas, fresh island fish, and vegetarian dishes and salads, including an outstanding papaya chicken salad. At dinnertime, with lights twinkling in the branches of the hau and the rolling Pacific providing soft background music, it beckons to lovers.

The big draw at Oceanarium (located at the Pacific Beach Hotel) is the three-story, 280,000-gallon aquarium that's home to more than 70 species of tropical marine life, including black-tip reef sharks, spotted eagle rays, ulua (crevalle) and wrasses. The fish are fed daily by divers -- a process that is especially fascinating for kids to watch. All the buffets are good, but we usually opt for the weekend brunch, which offers a seafood bar (who can resist fresh oysters and mussels on the half shell?), prime rib seasoned with Hawaiian salt, made-to-order omelets, Belgian waffles and table after table of other goodies.

La Mer, at the Halekulani Hotel, is the epitome of fine dining in Hawaii; it is the state's longest, consecutively ranked AAA five-diamond designated restaurant. You'll enjoy spectacular views of Diamond Head and Waikiki and the soothing sounds of la mer (the sea) as you dine on dishes inspired by flavors from the south of France. A jacket or long-sleeved collared dress shirt is required for men.

Editors of Gourmet magazine singled out Chef Mavro as "where we would eat if we had only one night in Honolulu." Dine here and you'll agree the accolades are well deserved. The menu changes regularly, but recent hits include a sauteed Hudson Valley foie gras with red currant-balsamic glaze and li hing mui-caramelized Maui onions; roasted "mountain meadow" lamb chateau with baked eggplant and curried garlic sauce; and Hawaiian day-boat catch Provencale with sea urchin accents and puffed white rice. Prix fixe menus are available with or without wine.
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