Aloha Spirit in Monterey
Hula’s wows with great food and a kicky atmosphere.
Thursday, November 11, 2004
Hula’s Island Grill and Tiki Room is the kind of restaurant that makes me smile the minute I walk in—especially at dinner time when flickering candles in red glass holders cast a hypnotic glow on the thatched roof over the bar and the Polynesian wood carvings. Blue lights outline the bar and colored lights frame the windows. It is fun to be seen in this noisy, party-time restaurant that fascinates children and adults alike with its Hawaiian inspired décor. My husband Laurent and I began our meal by ordering some festive pupus or “appetizers”: surfrider sticks ($6.50) and tiki torches ($5.95). The surfrider sticks, which looked like surfboards sticking up in the sand, are chicken breast pieces threaded on skewers and planted in a thick slice of roasted pineapple. Both dipping sauces tasted great: One was a slightly sweet Thai peanut sauce and the other was a mildly salty soy-teriyaki sauce.
Six meaty miniature drumsticks that came bathed in a spicy sesame-hoisin sauce made-up our tiki torch dish. The hoisin sauce—made from soy sauce, molasses, and Chinese hot sauce—gave the chicken a luscious kick. The sour cream dipping sauce made the already rich chicken very filling.
We drank one of Hula’s eclectic beer choices with our appetizers: Longboard Lager ($3.75/bottle) produced by the Kona Brewing Company on Hawaii. Co-owner Craig Delaney says that customers will not find Budweiser and Coors on the beverage list. Delaney likes to offer out-of-the-ordinary items to make eating an exotic experience.
Delaney proudly says that Hula’s offers five choices of fresh fish nightly and that the restaurant never uses farm-raised fish. He notes also that Hula’s only offers fish selections that the Monterey Bay Aquarium lists as existing in safe numbers for harvesting. The four fish that show up on the menu most of the time are ahi (a slightly strong flavored tuna with light pink flesh: $17.50), ono (a sweet tuna with white flesh: $16.95), mahi mahi (sweet-flavored dolphin fish with white flesh: $16.50), and hapu (delicately flavored sea bass, also known as grouper, with lean, white flesh: $16.50).
Diners have a choice of how they would like to have these fish prepared, including styles as diverse as coconut-encrusted, Cajun, lemongrass-encrusted, pan-fried with onions, macademia-nut encrusted, or blackened.
For his dinner, Laurent chose the wasabi fish special with mahi mahi, which is one of the most popular items on the menu. For this special, $2 is added to the price of the fish selected. Laurent’s mahi mahi arrived blackened on a bed of pale green wasabi mashed potatoes that had the green, Japanese horseradish mixed in for flavor. A cream sauce made with wasabi covered the fish. The mashed potatoes were delicious and the sweet flesh of the mahi mahi hardly needed the wasabi-cream sauce, but it did taste good with it.
I ordered the luau pork plate ($12.50) that came with coleslaw and rice. Delaney told me that in Hawaii, a pig for a luau would be roasted in a pit for several hours. Hula’s does not go to quite these lengths, but they do roast the pork for several hours with teriyaki and molasses, and add pineapple at the end for flavor. The pork tasted almost like a dessert except for the saltiness of the meat. I wished I had not ordered appetizers, so I could have devoted my full attention to the pork.
We drank a surprisingly good wine with our meal that we ordered as a lark: the Maui Blanc ($5/glass). This wine is made from pineapples and has a mild flavor and wonderful pineapple bouquet. The pineapple wine went extremely well with the sweet-fleshed mahi mahi and luau pork that we ate. Delaney says that it goes well with most of the items on Hula’s menu. The wine has been made for twenty years in Maui by Tedeschi Vineyards and, according to Delaney, really only became very good about three to four years ago.
Delaney, who opened Hula’s with his brother Chris, lived on Maui for twenty years, where he operated restaurants after graduating from college. When the two came to Monterey seven years ago, they saw that there were no Hawaiian restaurants and decided to fill the void. Craig had the food expertise as well as the eye for knick knacks—he’s the one who has gone to garage sales to find things like the hula girl lamp stand that graces the bar. Chris is the design man.
Together the brothers Delaney have created a rollicking,
good-times restaurant that evokes the aloha spirit on the
Hula’s Island Grill and Tiki Room
622 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey
Lunch: Tues-Friday 11:30am-2:30pm
Dinner: 7 days 5pm to close