Ala Moana Center
1450 Ala Moana Blvd.
I have been patiently, patiently biding my time, waiting for lines at Café Lani to simmer down — no easy task when you’re as impatient as I am.
It’s the latest venture from Japanese restaurant company Pierthirty, which also brought to Hawaii Gokoku Sushi a couple of years ago and, most recently, Tempura Ichidai. Since Café Lani opened earlier this year, crowds waiting to get a table have been taking up what has seemed like most of the sidewalk outside the restaurant at all hours of the day.
There are two things that stop me from trying a new place right away: long wait times and too much hype — both of which Café Lani was getting. But peeks through expansive windows that revealed a bright, really beautiful room and freshly made bread were enough to pique my interest. So I decided to beat everyone to it, going to breakfast at 7 a.m. on a weekday and dragging Metro staff writer Paige Takeya with me.
It worked. We were seated immediately and after asking my incredibly patient waiter a slew of questions, I settled on the Café Lani Healthy Set, which came with siphoned coffee (that I swapped out for hot tea), unlimited fresh bread, a small freshly squeezed juice (I tried the mixed berry) and Avocado Salad as my entrée.
The mixed berry smoothie, made with fresh fruit, was sweet but not overwhelmingly so. My Avocado Salad, too, was filling but light, with spring greens, broccoli, sliced grape tomatoes, asparagus and a lemon wedge for added flavor and texture. The avocado was generous and creamy, and the balsamic vinaigrette was sweet and tangy.
I would order it again, which is more than I can say for Paige, who tried the very pretentiously put together Jar Egg — a fancy way of saying she ordered a poached egg served atop mashed potatoes in a jar, with vegetables and bacon on the side. Clearly catering to enthusiastic Instagram foodies, who really just like to take photos of everything they eat (I am guilty of this, too), I’d be sticking up for the dish more if it had exhibited any semblance of flavor.
As Paige puts it, everything on her plate — the mashed potatoes, egg, vegetables — somehow managed to taste a lot like nothing. Adding salt and pepper helped, but it certainly was a disappointment, considering how prettily everything was put together.
There was something, however, we’d both return for again, long lines be damned: the freshly baked bread. Dear God, if I had half the concentration for it right now, I’d compose a sonnet for this bread.
The bread items are deceptively small enough so that you think you’re able to eat more than you physically can, and I sampled four different varieties that morning — croissants and Danishes that were buttery, flaky, sugary and crisp. Instead of serving it only with butter — ‘cause, you know, that’s so last year — Café Lani also provides a scoop of cream cheese, melted chocolate and this little fresh fruit-syrup concoction that you (again, pretentiously) have to mash together to create your own jam. Begrudgingly, I admit that the DIY jam was my favorite topping.
I think Café Lani is on the cusp of something great. I plan on returning for an early morning breakfast to order the Café Lani Continental Set, which will get me unlimited fresh bread and a glass of juice and tea — all I really want, anyway.
And — SIGH — maybe I should just suck it up and wait in line for dinner one day soon. Paige tells me a pasta dish she had there was much better, and, of course, there are those elaborate-looking parfaits I’m told are its best feature.
FOOD TO TRY NOW
It’s almost cherry blossom season in Japan, and since 2010, Starbucks has been offering a special Cherry Blossom Frappuccino in its Japanese stores. Well, now they’re letting the U.S. in on this, too — but you only have two days left because the Cherry Blossom Frappuccino (released March 15) is available only through Sunday (March 20).
This blend features strawberries and cream with a white chocolate sauce and matcha drizzle. All that gets topped with whipped cream and sprinkled matcha.
Sadly, other Japan-specific items like a Sakura Blossom and Strawberry Latte or a Sakura Blossom and Strawberry Frappuccino Blended Créme won’t be making an appearance in the U.S. this year. But we can hope for next year, right?