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12th Avenue Grill

June 24, 2006

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Finally! Since opening nearly two years ago, I always intended to visit 12th Ave Grill but despite living just 5 minutes away, never managed to make it until tonight. Too many place to eat and never enough time! I came with my family on a pretty calm Friday night. Reservations were for six pm and we were quickly seated as soon as we walked in.

Occupying the location of the old Mongolian BBQ, I never expected 12th Ave to be such a success. But lo and behold, they’ve made the pages of Food & Wine and other national magazines. Everywhere you turn, chowhounds are whispering with a blend of longingness and jealousy about their sinfully addicting macaroni & cheese. Yay for the success of local restaurateurs!

If the bread basket gives any indication of a restaurant’s culinary aptitude, then we were definitely at the right place. A basket bearing three types of warm starchy goodness and a little dish of creamed butter just begged to be torn apart. It was hard to pick a favorite of the trio as the soft tomato loaf sweetly studded with bits of dried tomatoes and torn basil was just as inviting as the crusty browned baguette. Buried at the bottom was a bread similar to the baguette, only a tad sweeter with toasted walnuts. Needless to say, we polished off the basket rather quickly!

This was my main purpose for visiting. The Baked Macaroni & Cheese ($5.95). That much for a little ramekin of mac & cheese you say? Oh yes. And I didn’t feel gypped at all. I have a secret place at the bottom of my heart that holds a cultivated love for Easy Mac (shhh!) But take the “crude” and classy it up and I’ll love that just as much. A deep ramekin holding perfectly cooked macaroni mixed with a creamy blend of their house smoked parmesan and spices was topped by an oh so buttery crisp toss of savory bread crumbs. Oh dear it was good. Soo good that my sister demanded another for herself!

Easy to make at home, but how many people actually take the time to fry up a couple of mozzarella stuffed raviolis for themselves? That’s what restaurants are for! The Crispy Fried Ravioli ($8.95) featured a duo of round ravioli stuffed with fresh mozzarella, basil and proscuitto. Deep fried then placed on a bed of arugula and fresh tomato coulis, I enjoyed it very much but felt that it was a bit too heavy, especially after the Macaroni & Cheese. I was disappointed by the coulis which didn’t taste much different from plain old tomato sauce, but it made a great dipping companion to the baguettes.

One of our “lighter” dishes, the Spinach Salad ($9.95) arrived in a deep bowl filled with healthy green baby spinach with shaved cremini mushrooms and chopped tomatoes. The salad was toss in a warm bacon vinaigrette and finished with two rounds of crispy fried goat cheese. Man, they work their cheeses here – 3 for 3 so far! A simple salad done well. I though the combo of goat cheese with bacon worked together well. Oh heck, how could you go wrong with fried cheese and fried pork at the same time.

The Cinnamon Braised Shortribs ($19.95), according to me were, holymoley good. The cinnamon flavoring was very subtle but key to the smokey sweet taste. It reminds me of the role the spice places in pho – no immediately apparent but crucial to the success of the dish. The ribs were so tender there was no need to bother with a knife. A nudge of a fork and the meat fell apart in the most delicate manner. Supporting the ribs was a base of horseradish mashed potatoes with roast garlic aioli and broccolini. Some potatoes were left in chunks, a plus in my books and as the sole flavoring agent, the horseradish was very strong. Perfect if you like that distinct flavor, which I do, but overkill for my sister.

My dad had the Kim Chee Steak ($18.95). A skirt steak marinated in their housemade kim chee sauce, char grilled to rare (per my dad’s request) was served on steamed rice along with sautéed bell peppers and sweet onions. I have no idea how this dish tasted. My dad ate it with such gusto and enthusiasm that I figured I’ll come back another time and have it for myself. Conclusion? It must have been good!

Coming up right behind the macaroni & cheese, the number two reason for coming was to try the BREEEAD PUDDING. But guess what? It was taken off the menu upon the arrival of the new pastry chef Sami C. I was sad. No bread pudding? What? How can? How upset was I? Almost to the point of ordering NO dessert. Gasp. However the special of the night was a Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp ($6.95) and since rhubarb is rare on the dessert (or any) menu in Hawaii, it was pretty hard to turn down. We added a scoop vanilla ice cream ($1.50), but I think any crisp or crumble should automatically come with ice cream! It was fine, but far from extraordinary. The crisp topping was my favorite part, buttery and rich, it also managed to be light with a delicate crunch at the same time. The actual fruit beneath was beyond sugary sweet – I love rhubarb fruit for it’s tart sweetness, but there was so much sugar in here that the unique flavor of the fruit was nearly lost. I honestly don’t get it. Am I the only person in Hawaii not absolutely smitten with Sami C.’s creations, from her work at Grand Cafe, Nicos, Sam Choy’s and now 12th Ave? Maybe our tastebuds don’t agree. But one thing’s for sure. I miss Lisa Siu and her bread pudding! What’s that little candle sticking up from the ice cream? Why, it was my birthday :)

Service was excellent and everything went smoothly without a hitch. Our water glasses were constantly refilled and there’s a certain hum, energy or vibe to the restaurant that keeps you at once energetic and relaxed. It’s a small place, seating around 60 people. And with an open kitchen and casual yet classy feel, you’d feel equally welcome in heels and black dress or short and slippers. American bistros like this come a dime a dozen in NYC, but 12th Ave Grill is definitely a one of a kind in Hawaii.

12th Avenue Grill
1145C 12th Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96816
(808) 732-9469



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