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Starr Kalahiki

By Alana Folen Photos By Lawrence Tabudlo
January 27, 2013

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If you’re a big-time fan of local grinds with an American twist, then a paradise on earth is at your fingertips at Big City Diner — your one-stop shop for all of your mouth-watering favorites.

Dining Out recently visited the restaurant at Ward Centers, and brought along award-winning vocalist Starr Kalahiki for this week’s Dining with the Stars.

“Big City Diner is a gathering place for everyone. My friends and I often come here after shows,” says Kalahiki, who’s been singing for as long as she can remember. “What I love about Big City Diner is that there’s a wide selection of dishes for people to choose from and I love the local feel. If you have guests from out of town then this is the perfect place to ease them in to American-local cuisine.”

Big City Diner initially jumped into Hawaii’s culinary scene back in 1998, when it opened a restaurant in Kaimuki. Four other locations soon followed — in Kailua, Ward, Waipio and Pearlridge. A diner theme is prominent at the restaurant, as patrons settle in to red vinyl booths ready to take on the enormous portions of food that’s served. Sure, your typical diner cuisine of burger, fries and a shake is a given here, but in honor of Kalahiki, Big City Diner’s accommodating staff presented us with a slew of items that were most assuredly of five-star status.

First there was Fire-Roasted Portobello Mushroom Salad ($10.99), which featured savory sliced Portobello mushrooms nestled on a bed of organic greens and chopped romaine tossed with diced Roma tomatoes and sweet red onions. “BIG” croutons, imported Parmesan cheese, red onion rings and fresh lemon topped off the salad, which was then splashed with Ancho-Chili dressing. Then, we were presented with Grilled Tequila Chicken & Portobello Mushroom Stack ($12.99), an herb-marinated chicken breast topped with Big City Diner’s tequila cream sauce, grilled Portobello mushroom and jack cheese on a bed of fresh sauteed spinach.

“I love Portobello mushrooms, and I love how the mushrooms are in a variety of dishes here. Everything is so good!” Kalahiki exclaims. “Who needs meat when you have these mushrooms?”

Let’s not get carried away, Starr. After all, Baby Back Ribs with Big City’s Famous Guava-BBQ Sauce ($22.99, big slab) is a force to be reckoned with. This signature entree is slow-roasted for five hours until the meat literally falls off the bone.

Next up: Grilled Asian Fish Oriental ($10.99) This weekly special brought out the fish lover in us as a flavorful piece of swai, breaded and grilled to perfection, and served with a sesame oil and shoyu sauce.

“It’s a very sweet and light fish,” observes Kalahiki. “I love fish. I grew up eating a lot of fish — fresh fish and fried fish.

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“I wouldn’t say I have the most diverse palate, but offer me something and I’ll be blown away and very grateful. I look forward to educating myself on all kinds of food. But Big City Diner’s Old Fashioned Bubbies Chocolate Shake ($5.99) is awesome,” she adds of this little slice of heaven in a glass.

In between hearty laughs and forkfuls of superlative cuisine, Kalahiki shared her musical journey with us. A natural-born talent, Kalahiki was immersed in the music scene at a young age. The daughter of a Pentecostal minister, Kalahiki was raised with musical fellowship and influenced by her father’s collection of jazz and bossa nova LPs.

Throughout the years, the University Lab School graduate spread her wings and sang in six operas with Hawaii Opera Theatre, performed the role of the fairy godmother in Diamond Head Theatre’s Cinderella and landed a job working with the cast of Ulalena on Maui. Kalahiki returned to Honolulu thereafter and fronted the modern alternative rock band Missing Dave for a year prior to securing a gig as the jazz headliner on the Star of Honolulu dinner cruise.

She also continued to develop her craft as a member of the R&B group Eight-o-Eight as well as funk band Toyz of Pleasure. Most recently, she also was a featured singer and back-up vocalist for Roberts Hawaii’s Return to Paradise Starring Lani Misalucha.

Last year, Kalahiki experienced a monumental moment in her career when she took home not just one but two Na Hoku Hanohano awards for Most Promising Artist and Jazz Album of the Year in honor of her debut album titled Salt.

“I was totally blown away when I won. I didn’t know that anyone was paying attention,” she admits. “Salt features jazz arrangements of songs that I just love to sing. The songs aren’t necessarily jazz standards; there’s a lot of R&B tunes, and I even did a cover of the song Popular from the musical Wicked.”

Kalahiki now performs every Monday from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Tropics Bar & Grill at Hilton Hawaiian Village. During her performances, she takes audiences on an amazing musical adventure with every song.

“I’m also working on several musical projects this year spanning the musical genre landscape, from new modern Hawaiian music to big band and hot new alternative tracks.

“Music is always everywhere, all around, ever moving, ever healing,” she says.

Talk about “Starr” power. Kalahiki has it all.

Big City Diner

1060 Auahi St., Honolulu (and various locations)
591.8891
Sunday-Thursday, 7 a.m.-10 p.m.
Friday-Saturday, 7 a.m.-midnight