The Waimalu Shopping Center has served as Leeward Oahu’s casual restaurant row for more than 40 years, home to anchors Zippy’s and Kapiolani Coffee Shop, with many of the dominant island ethnic cuisines represented by small restaurants sandwiched in between.
A couple of my longtime favorites have been Jin Joo for Korean food and Jackie’s Diner for pastele plates. And for decades, diners have also been able to enjoy Hawaiian, Japanese and Chinese selections here as well. None of this is surprising, but at the moment the center seems to have entered experimental mode. New additions include Tandoori Corner, with its mix of smoothies and Himalayan plates, and now, Christie’s, an unassuming name for a place with huge aspirations.
If the tone of the menu and the appearance of the dishes seem familiar, it’s because chefs Desmond Teves and Matthew Espiritu spent time in Roy’s kitchens, and the DNA is unmistakable, re-purposed in an are that hasn’t seen much of this retro 1990s-style plating and saucing.
Before, area residents might have driven to Ko Olina or Honolulu for similar fare, but now they can stick a little closer to home, a blessing at a time when there’s no end in sight to high gas prices.
Beyond the food, the heart of the restaurant is the warm and eager-to-please Christie Morikawa, who also owns a yakiniku restaurant, Jang Su Jang, in neighboring Waimalu Plaza.
Morikawa’s a real people person, and said, "I love the people I meet (at her other restaurant). Everyone’s so special, and I want to do something for them, so I decide to open with different food.
"It’s not that I want to accumulate for myself. As long as I can take care of the bill, I want to take care of society."
She and her daughter Kimberley really care what their customers think, and in the times I was there had been actively quizzing guests about what they liked, what they didn’t like and how they might do better. That’s what I like to see, though it’s to the point where if you don’t eat all the food on your plate, they seem alarmed. I must tell them to relax. Sometimes there’s only so many sweet potato fries one can eat.
Waimalu Shopping Center, 98-020 Kamehameha Highway, 484-4511
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays
Cost: $25 to $35 for lunch for two; $50 to $60 for dinner for two
Ratings compare similar restaurants:
RIGHT NOW more people are finding their way to dinner here than lunch. Dinner is generally viewed as more of a special-occasion time, with people more willing to shell out for $20 entrees. For those who want to ease into the menu, prices at lunch time are lower, with many entrees replaced by sandwiches. Appetizer and salad costs are same as at night, but oh, what you get for the price! For the quality of ingredients used, you’d pay much more in Honolulu.
Christie’s pepper-crusted ahi salad ($12) could serve two, encompassing a huge layer of spinach topped with corn kernels, cubed potatoes, crumbled egg and a generous helping of seared ahi, the whole plate rimmed with grape tomato halves.
A California-style black angus burger ($10) is char-grilled and topped with two strips of bacon and a chunky version of guacamole.
A couple of the real treats are a dish of balsamic grilled shrimp and pasta ($14.75), with thick tubes of penne enveloped in a mellow tomato sauce strewn with strips of basil and chunky summer vegetables. A keeper. So are the fork-tender lilikoi BBQ char-grilled braised short ribs ($20, same as dinner), which you might find habit-forming.
Appetizers in the evening weigh in on the heavy side, with such selections as lilikoi sauce-coated baby back ribs ($10.95), furikake beer-battered shrimp and chips ($9.50) which I have yet to try, and deep-fried pork dumplings ($8.50) that have the heft of crispy gau gee. It’s served with a spicy Sriracha aioli and rich unagi kabayaki sauce.
I ordered Hawaiian purple heart sweet potato and crab croquettes (two for $9) with no great expectations, because most crab cakes in this town are not that great. They appeared outwardly dry, and when I saw the vast purple interior, I figured it was more sweet potato than crab, but was pleasantly surprised by the intense crab flavor.
Seafood lovers will find more of the pepper-crusted seared ahi at market prices, and oven-baked macadamia nut- and dill-crusted salmon ($16.95). When I visited, the fish of the day was herb-crusted mahimahi, but even better than the fish was its accompaniment of mushroom and asparagus risotto.
Christie’s original kalbi short ribs ($19.95) are straight from her other restaurant. Other selections include a bleu cheese-crusted rib eye ($19.95) and popular lemon- and thyme-roasted chicken ($15.25).
Herb-grilled filet mignon ($21.95) paled next to the lilikoi short ribs mentioned earlier. Rounding out the menu are "guest choice" pastas, at $14 to $19, which offer options of pasta (linguini, penne or fettuccine), sauces (lemon butter beurre blanc, classic tomato, creamy Alfredo, creamy mac-nut pesto) and toppings (shrimp, chicken, steak, seafood, vegetables).
I was always too full to enjoy dessert, but for the record you can leave having tried chocolate mousse ($6), a fruit medley ($6), cheesecake of the day ($7) or Mama’s homemade banana bread pudding ($6).