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Pau Hana Patrol: Bethel Union, Chef Chai

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / JULY 11
                                Bethel Union’s charcuterie board features a fulsome selection of cheese and cured meats, varying by day.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / JULY 11

    Bethel Union’s charcuterie board features a fulsome selection of cheese and cured meats, varying by day.

BETHEL UNION

1115 Bethel St.; 524-0447. Happy hour 3-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays.$-$$

This charming little Italian bistro in Chinatown was opened about two years ago by the same group that runs the pizzeria J. Dolan’s and Ferguson’s Pub.

It’s an especially convenient spot if you’re going to a show at Hawaii Theatre, across the street. But don’t make that your only reason to go. Bethel Union is worthy of a visit anytime, especially for pau hana, when you want something relaxed and casually refined, where you’ll feel comfortable in street clothes or office attire.

Bethel Union has an airy, spacious feel, with white stucco walls, brick trim and a long, beechwood bar that stretches nearly the length of the main dining room. The piece de resistance, however, is the back patio, an open-air space festooned with festive lights.

The menu offers a nice selection of happy hour items, most discounted a few dollars from the norm. True to Italian fashion, many items feature cheese in some shape or form, none more satisfying than the Burrata Caprese, cheese made from buffalo milk, with a texture so soft and creamy that it barely surpassed liquid. Served with crostini and marinated tomatoes with a basil and balsamic reduction garnish, it was soothing as well as tasty.

Bethel Union’s charcuterie board was one of the more generous I’ve encountered, both in terms of variety and quantity. The price (around $22) and items change based on availability, but that day there were three different cheeses, from hard to soft, four kinds of sliced meat, including a delicious Serrano ham, along with fruit, nuts and other garnishes. With a glass of red wine, it would be perfect to pick at for an hour or so.

We also had the Chicken Parmesan Skewers, very tasty.

Happy hour beverages are a good deal, with house wines and select seasonal beers at $6 and well drinks for $5, a discount of $1 to $3 dollars.

For just $8 you can get a specialty cocktails, such as the Dios Mio, a margarita made with habanera tequila and campari. It had a spicy, zesty sensibility, perfect for an afternoon refreshment.

CHEF CHAI

1009 Kapiolani Blvd.; 585-0011. Happy hour 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays (bar area only). $

Chai Chaowasaree is a name well known to Hawaii gourmands, and deservedly so. For three-plus decades, he has been blending the tastes of his homeland of Thailand with Euro­pean and local flavors to bring his own twist to the Hawaii Regional Cuisine scene.

Chef Chai does not disappoint in any respect. To ponder the menu requires a bit of careful consideration and thought.

Happy hour service is available in the elegant bar area, off to the side of the main dining room, with both bar seating and a few small tables.

Customer service is another area of excellence. The staff was well-informed about the menu and very patient in explaining it. They seemed to enjoy talking about the food and sharing their knowledge about it.

The happy hour menu is exceptional, well beyond the snack items usually found in that category.

One would not expect escargot to be a “pupu,” for example, but there they are, sauteed with prawns and Hama­kua mushrooms and a garlic chili cream sauce. This was not just a treat of taste but also of texture, with each ingredient having differing degrees of chewiness. Similarly, the seafood tortellini, with lobster sauce, sauteed corn and edamame, was a wonderful blend of rich flavors and colors.

There were fun items as well, like the Ahi Tartar in Mini Waffle Cones. The dish looks like a bunch of little ice cream cones filled with fresh ahi, with a bit of wasabi in the cone. They’re perfect for a bite-sized burst of rich flavor, soft texture and crunch. Same with the gravlax salmon roulade, filled with cream cheese and crab meat, which had a crisp provided by cucumber instead of the crunch of a cone.

Drinks specials are simple: $3 for a Bud; $5 for wine or well cocktails; martinis for $8. We had a lychee martini and a cosmo, both perfectly satisfying.

A bit of advice: Check the Blaisdell Center calendar. If there’s a show, the place will be full in the hour or so up to showtime, then empty out once the show begins. Also, be prepared to pay $6 for valet service.

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