Starters Shine at Stage
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A restaurant’s food should match its decor. Or is it the other way around? Either way, the pairing of ambiance and food sends an important message of uniformity and careful thought. The designers and chefs at Stage restaurant in Honolulu Design Center have figured it out. Just like the tables, lighting and artwork that accents the second floor eatery overlooking Kapiolani Boulevard, the food is modern, light, upscale yet approachable. In other words, it’s delicious, Baked Mussels on the Half Shell ($11) are a great way to start off whatever culinary direction you choose from the main menu. The mussels are glazed with a chili aioli and coated with panko, thyme, parsley and olive oil. Baked until golden brown and served on Big Island baby romaine lettuce, the dish is outstanding. The first upfront flavor one experiences comes from the mussels themselves. This is followed by the lingering spicy notes of the herb crust and the very slight tang of the aioli. The crunch of the herb crust also adds a textural change that complements the soft mussels. Wonderful.
Lord knows I love a good soup. Now, I know how much I love the The Kona Lobster Bisque ($10). This wonderfully creamy soup begins with a lobster stock that is infused with cream, saffron and tomato paste. From there, creme fraiche is added along with Big Island hearts of palm, herb oil and butter-poached lobster. The result is a light and creamy soup that is fresh, slightly sweet and so well balanced that all the individual flavors come through. It’s outstanding.
Fresh sashimi is one of the great pleasures of appetizer dining. Raw buttery fish, lightly accompanied with salt, shoyu or a spring of fresh vegetable — its delicious simplicity at its best. Stage Sashimi ($15) is a good example. Not-so-thin sliced Hamachi (Japanese Yellowtail Tuna) is topped with orange and wasabi tobiko, and a shoyu gelee. The gelee is just fun and provides a cool and liquid counter to the crunchy and salty tobiko. Rolled and eaten as presented, it’s a delight. Add in pieces of the radish salad with kaiware sprouts and a wasabi ponzu sauce, and it just gets better.
You can get summer rolls anywhere. The ingredients are generally universal as is the flavor. Island Summer Rolls ($10) are a bit different. Hirabara baby greens, local tomatoes, Big Island hearts of palm, basil and a cucumber mint relish are placed into the soft rice wrapper, and topped with a spicy ponzu sauce and orange segments. If you haven’t yet combined sweet orange with fresh mint in your own cooking, do it. The two distinct flavors when combined with the plethora of fresh ingredients creates one of the most flavorful and unique starter rolls I’ve ever tried. It’s also a tremendous palate cleanser, which makes it a perfect choice when pairing with more bold-flavored items.
Speaking of salads, Warm Goat Cheese Salad ($12) is amazing. Marcona almonds, beets, Island tomatoes, cucumber and Waimanalo mini Thai basil are topped with a wasabi lilikoi vinaigrette that by itself would be a delightful light dish. Add in the goat cheese that has been herb crusted and fried, and you have something truly special. The cucumbers are sweet, the tomatoes slightly citrusy and the goat cheese is mild, creamy and easily the best I have ever eaten. Wow.
1250 Kapiolani Blvd. Honolulu
Lunch: Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.
Happy Hour: Monday-Friday, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Dinner: Monday-Saturday, 5-11 p.m.
Wine bar: Monday-Saturday, 5-11 p.m.