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Top-notch Tastes
Pupu Picks

Top-notch Tastes

Story By Steve Murray Photos By Leah Friel
November 27 - December 3, 2011

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The appetizers at the Top of Waikiki are as stunning as the views from its lofty perch above the Pacific. The items, created by executive chef John Neff, are both simple and complex, and visually appealing. It’s not enough, he says, to simply put good food in front of the diners, he wants to impress. He’s done it.

  • Day Boat Scallops ($17), Coconut Shrimp with Pineapple Salsa ($15), Camembert En Croute ($15), and Spicy Ahi Poke Stack ($13)
  • Server Troy Collado with Top of Waikiki's alluring appetizers.
  • Spicy Ahi Poke Stack ($13)
  • Camembert En Croute ($15)
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The Coconut Shrimp with Pineapple Salsa ($15) is coated with a coconut and macadamia nut crust and served with a cold soba noodle salad with a sesame-miso vinaigrette. A restaurant standard for decades, Neff takes it beyond ordinary with a freshness and presentation that most places can only hope to achieve. Another standard gone upscale is the Spicy Ahi Poke Stack ($13). Served with a Sambal and Shoyu sauce, crispy won ton skins, avocado creme, papaya slaw and micro greens with a kiwi-lime vinaigrette, the stacked appetizer is another example of Neff’s desire to wow the eatery’s healthy mix of visiting and local diners. The avocado creme is a natural complement to the high-grade ahi, and when eaten with the won ton skins creates a creamy, crispy and slightly spicy flavor profile that takes poke far past the ordinary.

New to the menu are the Day Boat Scallops ($17) and the Camembert En Croute ($15). Both are simply outstanding. The pan-seared scallops are served with an Ewa sweet corn pudding, braised pancetta, and a Kamuela tomato and Maui onion relish. The slightly salty pancetta adds a nice counterbalance to the naturally sweet scallops, with each ingredient coming together perfectly when swiped through the corn pudding. Trust me, you’ll be looking for other things to sop up the remaining pudding. It’s that good.

Picking one item out of the 12 appetizer options as a favorite is not an easy thing to do, but there was something special about the Camembert En Croute that kept me going back for more. Full disclosure requires me to mention that I devoured everything put in front of me. It’s a hazard of the job.

The Camembert is wrapped in a puff pastry and served with a side of candied Cajun walnuts, Granny Smith apples, greens and grapes tossed in a pomegranate balsamic reduction. Each piece can be enjoyed by itself, but on Neff’s advice I sliced the Camembert and added a sampling of each ingredient. He was right. Each bite was a combination of creamy, sour, salty and sweet.

The pupus don’t end on the regular menu. Each night Top of Waikiki has two Happy Hours that feature $4 cocktails, wine and beer and $7 appetizers, which include BBQ Pork Sliders, Calamari, Braised Kalbi Ribs with bok choy and Maui onion kim chee and more. Saturday night is live entertainment from 10 p.m. to midnight.

Top of Waikiki

  • Where
    • Waikiki Business Plaza
    • 2270 Kalakaua Avenue
    • Honolulu, HI 96815
  • Call
    • (808) 923-3877
  • Hours
    • Open daily
    • 5 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.