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EAT Catering & Cafe offers hit-or-miss fare

By Nadine Kam

LAST UPDATED: 2:43 a.m. HST, Jun 16, 2010

Ever since this column began in 1988, I've devoted about 850 words a week to helping readers decide whether a particular restaurant might be their kind of place.

But attention spans aren't what they used to be. These days, with Twitter, Facebook and any number of restaurant commentators online, decisions are just as likely to be made on the basis of a single sentence or photo posted to a blog or Twitpic. In the case of EAT Catering & Cafe, I was sold on three words in one of the restaurant's tweets: "New Summer Menu."

Never underestimate the power of a few little words. When I signed up for Twitter three years ago, few I preached to understood the power of information seared into minds in bursts of 140 characters or less. One by one, they've all piled in. What can I say but ... Told. You. So.

In the case of EAT's tweet, I was reminded of the restaurant's existence in the Gentry Pacific Design Center, which is not the first building one thinks of as a source of food. While other casual eateries benefit from overflow traffic at a strip mall or food court, where the hungry can stroll by and peruse all their options before making a decision, the stand-alone EAT has to work harder at pulling in diners.

I hadn't thought about the cafe since an ill-fated lunch when it was operating as A Matter of Taste under different ownership. At that time, I ate there with the intention of writing a review but changed my mind after witnessing an explosive argument in the open kitchen (not a smart thing to do in front of customers). I took that as a sign all was not right, and didn't want to send anyone into a potential war zone.


Gentry Pacific Design Center, 560 N. Nimitz Highway / 538-0597

Food **1/2
Service ***
Ambience ***
Value ***
Hours: Breakfast 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. and lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, limited menu 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays Cost: Less than $10 per person for lunch

Ratings compare similar restaurants:
**** - excellent
*** - very good
** - average
* - below average

It appears to be peaceful now as EAT caters to a steady clientele of area employees and those who discover it while there on business. The menu reads exceptionally well, with simple breakfast items of bagels, scones ($1.95), breakfast sandwiches ($5.75) and two eggs, meat and toast ($6.25), hitting all the right notes at lunchtime for those who like to eat fresh, contemporary fare. While I love the combinations of salads, fresh vegetables, sandwiches and pastas, and plan to eat here more often, I do have to warn that food tends to be a hit or miss here, so you might hit a few sour notes before finding what's palatable to you.

One of the sour notes comes from a simple salad of chicken and warm avocado over 'Nalo greens ($8.50). Warm avocado is rarely a good idea, and the chicken, in addition to basking in an eye-wincing vinaigrette with the greens, turns out dry.

YOUR BEST BET will be the sandwiches, such as hot pastrami and Swiss with buttermilk coleslaw, three-cheese ($6.25 for goat, brie and cheddar), Reuben ($7.75) or Cuban ($7.75) panini. All the panini come with slices of the house's sweet pickles.

I tend to be more critical in the flesh than in print out of fairness to restaurateurs. I figure a certain amount of leeway is necessary, considering no one's perfect and not every dish will be flawless every day. But here, little things did add up. Like sending out burnt panini. This actually didn't distract as much as I thought it would from the overall flavor of the kalua pork Cuban with melted Swiss cheese, but if it's more black than golden toasty, one might want to start over or risk having it sent back to the kitchen anyway. There are too many people out there who are handy with a cell camera and eager to send their food photos out to their social networks, so beyond flavor, restaurateurs should also be thinking of their food's telegenic properties.

I appreciated a gyro ($6.95) made with thin-sliced lamb, rather than a processed loaf, but here, they forgot the tzatziki sauce. Another time, a simple pasta tossed with oil, feta and minced olives didn't have enough of the latter two ingredients to flavor the entire dish, leaving it rather bland.

As much as I like the menu and some of the heart-healthy intent of the place, it's the careless aspects that would make any patron hesitate before recommending a restaurant wholeheartedly to friends, not knowing whether their experience will be good. Given the extent of competition in this town, 50-50 odds are not good enough.

You'll increase your odds with the BLT ($6.50) made with sugar-spice bacon, combining the two things most are apt to love: sugar and fat. Yum!

And what I love most about this place is an attention to vegetables, because few restaurants make them so deliciously available in manageable portions.

For $2.25 you can get a share portion of sherry beets or buttermilk coleslaw. A wonderful, crunchy jicama slaw is $2.49, and in place of fries, roasted garlic red potatoes ($2.75) are far better for one's health. Other treats are asparagus drizzled with lemon and Romano cheese ($4.25) and a saute of Alii mushrooms ($4.50).

Those Aliis also top EAT's mushroom Swiss burger ($7.99), but their chewy texture works better for me as a side dish, not as a layer you have to contend with before getting to the burger patty. Next time I might just get the sugar-spice bacon and gorgonzola burger ($8.50) instead.

As for dessert, cookies, carrot cake and other sweet treats line the counter where you place and pick up your order.

EAT Cafe has the potential to be a nice place for a Saturday brunch, but it's too quiet on the weekend for them to offer a full menu at full staff, so only a handful of sandwiches, salads and specials are offered. Follow them on Twitter @Eathonolulu to keep up with those daily specials and other enticers like cool lemonade on a hot day and free Wi-Fi.


Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Advertiser. E-mail

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