Your Dining Sanctuary Up In The TreesFeatures
March 22, 2016
Story By: Ali Resich | Photos by: NATHALIE WALKER
Mention the name Treetops Restaurant and generations of island residents can recall with sweet nostalgia the great service, fare and celebrations they’ve enjoyed there for the past 30-plus years, even going back to the days when the eatery was part of the Paradise Park rain forest site in the ’70s and ’80s. Now that chef Robert Rabesa and Patrick Delaney have owned the operation since May of last year, they’re helping scores of kamaaina reconnect with fond memories from their pasts, while also creating new, palate-pleasing experiences in the revamped dining and events space.
Perched on the top level of a two-story building surrounded by the lush tropical greenery of upper Manoa Valley, adjacent to the Manoa Falls hiking trail and Lyon Arboretum, Treetops Restaurant offers a daily lunch buffet, a tasty a la carte menu with breakfast served all day, and a new bar. The eatery also caters private parties off site and hosts events onsite, and is now outfitted with a new stage and updated main dining room, banquet room and restrooms. The spacious locale accommodates both small-scale gatherings and large parties for up to 324 guests.
Rabesa, aka Chef Bobby, knows how to satisfy local taste buds while also dishing out his own unique culinary style he’s developed over many years in the industry.
“I like to cook food that I love that people really like to eat,” the chef sums up. “I’m from the mainland, but I’ve lived here on Oahu for 19 years, and I’ve cooked a lot for motion picture and production catering,” explains Rabesa, who worked as a chef on the set of Lost for six years. “So I learned that there’s a clientele from the mainland and there’s a clientele that’s local-style, and what I try to do is make my buffet and the food that I present a combination of both those things.”
With help from sous chef Letecia “Tess” Panoncillo, Rabesa turns to the abundance of farmers market-fresh produce and seafood to keep his menu locally sourced as much as possible. His a la carte dishes burst with hearty breakfast selections offering up everything from Country Scramble and a Spinach, Mushroom and Feta Omelet to sweet seductions of pancake bliss, including Banana Pecana ($11) with caramelized bananas embedded in the batter and mouthwatering candied pecans on top.
One of the newer menu items is a refreshing Deluxe Acai Bowl ($10), presented with locally made Il Gelato acai, fresh strawberries, blueberries and bananas, a drizzle of honey, and the best part — homemade granola for crunch. The a la carte menu is perfect for lunch as well, with local favorites like Garlic Mochiko Chicken plate lunch and Manoa’s Best Shrimp Plate ($13).
Across the board, Rabesa incorporates dishes inspired by his Portuguese background, such as Vinha D’Alhos (featured on the buffet and as a breakfast meat). “It’s a spicy Portuguese pulled pork, very similar to adobo or the consistency of kalua pork, but it’s made with chilies, wine, garlic and cinnamon. It’s really nice,” he says. “I’m a Portuguese kid, and I grew up cooking and baking in my grandmother’s kitchen.”
On the buffet line (priced at $16 per person; $10 for keiki; 10 percent discount for military and seniors), patrons will find Chef Bobby’s blend of Mediterranean and local flavors in an array of fresh greens in the salad bar, a cold salad section and protein galore — from pork, beef and chicken creations to fresh fish — just to name a few. Everything is made from scratch and the spread is switched up daily, so diners always have revived options to dine on.
“There’s usually about 25 to 30 things on the buffet to choose from,” says Rabesa, adding that the plenitude of salad offerings are vegetarian-friendly, and patrons can call ahead if they have any dietary restrictions — from vegan to gluten-free preferences — and he’ll adjust the menu accordingly.
As Treetops continues to settle into its next chapter, Chef Bobby plans to supplement the current repertoire of live music performed by local musicians with more entertainment, including hula shows and comedy acts for diners to enjoy.
Blasts From The Past
Many longtime guests remember celebrating their graduation or baby’s first luau at the venue, and now they can get back to letting the good times roll.
Last year, the restaurant hosted four centenarian birthday parties, proving the deep-rooted spot Treetops holds in patrons’ hearts. “A place like this is part of the community,” says chef and owner Robert Rabesa.
The restaurant first debuted in 1967 under the name The Polynesian Restaurant and was changed to Henri Hawaii in 1968 in honor of a famous explorer. The name Treetops was adopted in 1994 and has been in use ever since.
Fill Your Easter Basket With These:
With Easter around the corner, Treetops Restaurant is offering seasonal cocktail specials during March. Easter Tini ($7) will put some hop in your step with a rainbow of melon liqueur, watermelon puree and pineapple-infused Pau Maui Vodka. A frozen version of the same drink, Paradise Popsicle ($8), also is ready to be slurped up.
Guests may spend Easter Sunday at the eatery as well and dive into a festive brunch buffet (11 a.m.-2 p.m.) showcasing pineapple-glazed ham.
3737 Manoa Road, Honolulu
988-6864 • catering and events: 988-6839
Daily, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; buffet served 11 a.m.-2 p.m.; open evenings for reserved parties
Reservations required on weekends
Parking free all day in upper lot located across from building