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Iwilei Eats: La Tour Café

This past Aloha Friday Diner A and yours truly swung by for lunch at the new La Tour Café, located at the far end Diamond-Makai side of the former Wayerhaeuser building on the corner of Nimitz Highway and Alakawa Street, a.k.a. “Big Box Alley” (adjacent neighbors include Best Buy, Home Depot and Costco). Nextdoor neighbors to them include the also-new Tanaka Saimin and Party City, while Bankok Chef is also slated as a tenant there as well.

Established by the same folks behind Ba-Le Sandwich Shops, According to Rodney Weddle, bakery chef and co-owner, La Tour Café seeks to differentiate itself from its heavily-influenced Vietnamese sister chain and focus more on having a contemporary Euro French bistro format.

Here’s bakery chef/co-owner Rodney Weddle…

What’s them colorful “things” he’s holding in that tray? Free samples of their Macarons in a variety of flavors, which were absolutely “macaron-olicious”! Those are definitely must-try pastry items here.

Let’s have a look around the joint…

I don’t know the technical name for this type of system, but let’s just say La Tour Café is “semi-self-serve”, where you walk up to a counter to place your order (shown above), to which you’re given a number that you place on your table, where a server brings the food to you…

On this visit, the place was filled to about 50% capacity, which our order took approximately 10 minutes to arrive, which is fairly reasonable. While waiting, I took more shots of all the goodies La Tour Café has to offer in their shop. Here’s a closer look at them free French Macaron samples…

Dreamsicle Macarons…

Coconut Macarons…

Blueberry Scones (YUM-OH!) and Butter Croissants…

Almond Croissants…

Cheesecake and Signature Brownies with Almonds (Good Lord, I don’t know about you, but this is makin’ me HUNGRY!)…

Looks like someone tipped them on Hawaiian Luau Barbecue Rings‘ striking resemblance in flavor and texture to the original and super-classic Yick Lung Nibb-Its!…

While I’m happy to see La Tour is selling what looks like a hand-picked selection of the Bakery’s artisan breads here, I think they should add more display shelves like this so they can offer ALL their amazing breads (which I’ll get to as bonus content later in this post)…

I also suggested that they sell their Do Chua here, which Chef said they’re considering it, yet they’re still working on what their merchandising strategy will be. Again, La Tour Cafe’s business model is set to differentiate itself from Ba-Le Sandwich Shop, leaning more on European cuisine than Vietnamese.

Albacore Tuna Sandwich on Golden Wheat Bread…

La Tour Bakery’s famous Whole Grain Corn Puffs…

Surely time and a gazillion loaves of bread and flatbread pizza will season this yet-to-be-broken-in fire-breathing hearth oven well…

Chef Rodney was so kind to take me in back and show me the kitchen, where La Tour Café executive Chef Travis Inoue (formerly of Ka Restaurant; shown with the reversed black cap) was busy cranking out orders…

On to the menu, here’s La Tour’s “House Specials” posted on a flat screen TV…

Chef Rodney noted that while La Tour offers Banh Mi Sandwiches, the Do Chua (pickled vegetables) they use has only carrots, and no Daikon. Which I suppose is an attempt to take the “asian” out of the flavor profile and try to keep it “Euro”. Or something like that.

Here’s La Tour’s main menu (takeout version is the same as the one posted in the restaurant)…

By now you’re probably wondering when the heck you’re gonna’ see what we got. Well, OK, here it is, where Diner A decided to try the Italian Sandwich…


La Tour Café – “The Italian” Sandwich: Salami, Sopressata, Mortadella & Prochiutto on French Egg Roll. Served with House Salad and Homemade Pickles. $7

And for yours truly, as soon as seen they had a French Dip Sandwich on the menu, I was ALL OVER THAT!…


La Tour Café – French Dip Sandwich: Sliced Roast Beef & Caramelized Onions on Rustic Bread served with Au Jus, House Salad and House-made Pickles. $8.

As you may know, like French Fries, the French Dip Sandwich was born in the U.S., and not France, where it gets its name primarily from the Au Jus that truly is the most critical part of this most excellent dish. And with that, La Tour NAILS this one! OMG, the Au Jus has so much delicious beefy depth and flavor, I literally drank the rest of it after I finished the sandwich, I kid you not!

The generous portion of thinly-sliced roast beef was super tender and “beefy” onolicious as well, while the “crusty” Rustic Bread was absolutely SUPERB, arriving at the table with some residual warmth to it that gave it a fresh-baked quality about it.

Their House-Made Pickles were fantastic as well, being slightly acidic and more on the sweet side, making it a perfect contrasting compliment to the savory Roast Beef sandwich. They outta’ consider bottling and selling their House-made Pickles. I’d buy some.

Dip it…

You could dip a shoe in this Au Jus and it’d taste great…

Notice the cloudy particles of yummy-num-num-nummy beefy bits in there. I also detected what may have been shoyu to boost its “Umami” factor up several notches. Which if it was, it did a mighty fine job.

Common’, you know you want a bite of that. I see you slobbering all over your keyboard. At least I know I am. lol

The accompanying House Salad was a simple yet refreshing compliment to the savory sandwich, with crispy sliced romaine lettuce, fairly sweet cherry tomatoes and a creamy Ranch type of dressing that I swear had horseradish or something in there that gave it some “kick”…

The French Dip Sandwich was so big, I only could half in one sitting and took the other half to go…

I actually used the creamy Ranch as a condiment in the sandwich, thanks to it’s slight hint of what I think was Horseradish, which worked out GREAT!

They don’t mention it on their menu, but their sandwiches actually use “footlong” breads…

Everyone working there was very friendly and good spirit, with the only blunder being they initially brought me the wrong order, giving me an Italian Sandwich to go…

Thankfully the “issue” was immediately rectified, where soon afterward another server arrived with my correct French Dip Sandwich order. Whew.

As for Diner A, he enjoyed his Italian Sandwich, just noting that it could have used more meat and cheese, as the “meat-to-bun” ratio leaned on bun. He also did note the ensemble of Italian cold cut deli meats were absolutely elicious, which is why he wanted more.

Just as we finished our lunch, a server came around passing out free samples of their Chicken Pesto Flatbread Pizza…

And how was it? EXCELLENT! The thin flatbread crust has a hearty, nicely toasted flavor, while allowing the tasty pesto sauce to really punch out sum of its basil, olive oil, parmesan, pine nuts and garlic parts.

The generous chunks of white chicken meat was also succulent and tender as well, and not dried out at all. Rounding it out with some acidity and sweetness were the chunks of tomato that complimented the pesto, chicken and the toasty thin crust perfectly. I’m not usually one for chicken, but I’d definitely order this pizza on a future visit.

Diner C also grabbed a sandwich to go, choosing the Grilled Vegetable Panini…


La Tour Café – Grilled Vegetable Panini with House Salad and House-made Pickles. $8.50

The Grilled Vegetables consisted of eggplant, red peppers, yellow peppers, basil and spinach in a pesto sauce. She also enjoyed, only noting that it would have been better if she ate it fresh at the restaurant, as after an hour of sitting in the box, the bread became soggy from sitting its own steam. Which dining in is really the only way to go at La Tour in order to take full advantage of the fresh fresh-baked breads used for their sandwiches.

Post edit 1/23/11: On a subsequent visit a week later (this past Friday), we returned to La Tour Cafe, along with several more coworkers, where this time around, I decided to try La Tour’s Tartine Croque Monseiur…


Tartine (an open-face sandwich) Croque Monsieur : Black Forest Ham, Roasted Tomatoes, Gruyere Cheese on Pain La Tour. $8.50

How is it? I LOVE the Pain La Tour bread, which is extremely “crusty” and full of “artisan” texture inside and out, along with a whole grain flavor to it. The black forest ham and generous amount of Gruyere Cheese just EXPLODES with flavor from first to last bite, while the roasted tomatoes adds a robust, slightly acidic element to the party. If there’s anything I’d do to improve on it is add more veggies to the mix such as eggplant, mushrooms and/or bell peppers. I also wouldn’t mind a cup of their FAB’ Au Jus to dip my Croque Monsieur into. C’est si bon!

A “Tartine” is an open-faced sandwich, where here you see how the Croque Monsieur looked originally as one slice of bread topped with all that baked-on goodness, sliced on the bias, then eventually presented stacked slice on top of slice…

Summing it up, I give La Tour’s Tartine Croque Monseiur 3 SPAM Musubi, where  personally, either more veggies in the mix, OR, a side of their “BOMB-TASTIC” Au Jus to dip this into would easily elevate this up to the 4 or 5 SPAM Musubi stratosphere!

On our first visit on the previous Friday, Diner A had La Tour’s Wagyu Beef Burger locked ‘n loaded in his gunsight, and this time around he didn’t let it get away…


La Tour Burger: Wagyu Beef, Havarti Cheese, Caramelized Onions & Salsa Verde on Challah Bun. Served with Pommes Frites. $8.50

More angles of La Tour’s Burger, as always in The Tasty Island fashion, both inside and out…

Let’s “open the hood”, where it reveals the beautifully-toasted bun (bonus point for that!), along with Salsa Verde (NOT PESTO, even though it looks like it) spread on it…

The “bite” shot reveals how rare it was FLAME-GRILLED, yet on the outer surface of this Wagyu beeff patty there’s a fantastic charred crust that completely redeems any sense of under-doneness in a primal kinda’ way…

Note, while the gist of La Tour’s sandwich selections – including the Tartine and Panini items – all include a house salad and dressing, their burger ins the one exception that fittingly comes with French Fries… oh wait, excuse me while I get out my Poodle from my handbag; I mean, ehem, COUGH, COUGH, “Pommes Frites”…

How was it? Diner A apparently was tricked into thinking the “Salsa Verde” was Italian style pesto due to it’s intense green color, also noting he didn’t detect any flavor of chili that would have come from a Mexican style Salsa Verde. He also noted there was some type of Aioli sauce spread on the bottom half of the bun, but he also couldn’t detect exactly what was in it. Whatever the case, he absolutely RAVED about this burger, noting everything came together in wonderful harmony, from the nicely-toasted Challah Bun to the flame-grilled Wagyu Beef patty and melted Havarti Cheese covering it. The burger was a little too rare for his liking, but I say better under than OVER cooked. He also thought the caramelized onions were a little too overpowering. Aside of that, he had no problem whacking the whole thing in no time flat and was highly impressed by La Tour’s Burger, noting he’d certainly order it again, next around just requesting a few personal touches. As is, 4 SPAM Musubi-certified by Diner A!

Next up, Chef Rodney was so kind to bring us a COMPLIMENTARY fresh basket of Beignet (loosely what is the French take on a doughnut, pronounced “Ben-Yay”)  that came HOT OFF THE PRESS (the deep fryer)…


Beignet

OK, OK, stop the music. STOP THE MUSIC! No wait, restart the music, but make sure it’s a party song, because these here Beignet are RAGING! Seriously, OHHH——–EMMM——-GEEEEE! These are OUTRAGEOUSLY CRAZY TASTY! 10 SPAM MUSUBI!

The minute we sank our mouth into one of these confectioners sugar-covered morsels, I swear, everyone on our table practically rolled their eyes backwards, I kid you not! These Beignet are so “YAY!”, they practically melt on your tongue, as the golden crust is so delicate, as is the super-supple interior. I swear this is by far THE BEST “doughnut” I’ve ever tasted, and I’m sorry to say, but Kamehameha Bakery Doughnuts, Leonard’s Malasadas and Andagi ain’t got NOTHIN’ on La Tour’s melt-in-the-mouth, absolutely STELLAR BEIGNET. And no, I’m not giving this 10 stars because they were complimentary, as even if they were paid for, they’d still be as AMAZING as explained above.

While I don’t have enough verbal feedback to relay an accurate review of the following La Tour menu items, here’s a look at what other folks on our table ordered on this visit…


French Dip Sandwich


Chicken Pesto Panini


La Tour Salad: Spring Greens with Tomato Balsamic Vinaigrette (with chicken by special request)


LTC’s Mac ‘n Cheese side dish

La Tour is all about handing out samples of their stuff, and on this second visit it was no exception, where along with a tray of Beignet, they also came to our table with a wooden peel of their Margherita Flatbread Pizza…


Margherita Flatbread Pizza complimentary sample slices!)

La Tour Café
888 N. Nimitz Hwy.
Suite 101
Honolulu, HI 96817

Tel. (808) 697-5000

La Tour Café takeout menu (75k PDF document; 2 pages)

The Tasty Island rating:

(5) Superb. Worthy of repeat visits or purchases. (Broke Da’ Mout’!)

P.S. La Tour Bakery sets up shop at the various farmers markets held throughout the week around the island of Oahu, where they offer an amazing assortment of artisan breads, baked goods and Vietnamese specialty items. Following is a pictorial tour of what they had on sale this past Saturday at the KCC Farmers’ Market…

Samples…

Friendly Ba-Le staff member, Cindy…


Thanh Quoc Lam, founder and owner of Ba-Le Sandwich & Bakery. Photo taken March 2009.

Needless to say, La Tour Bakery sure is makin’ plenty o’ dough!

Since we’re at KCC Farmers’ Market, I’ll close this with yet another flavor Ono Pops “flavah of the day”,  this time trying their Crackseed Lemon Peel Ono Pop…

Interestingly, according to Joe, brother and co-owner of the company, they even make their own Lemon Peel, reason being that everything that goes in their Ono Pops must be either locally produced and/or organic.

Let’s try it…

Dig, dig, dig it! It’s quite salty yet tolerable, with a kick of tartness from the lemon, rounded out with just enough sweetness. This truly is the flavor of crackseed lemon peel in the form, coldness and icy texture of a water-based popsicle. That saltiness also sort of gives the impression of being a sports drink in frozen form.  Brilliant and absolutely 5 SPAM Musubi Ono Poplicious!

Here’s Joe, brother of Josh, who are the sibling owners of the company…

According to Joe, Ono Pops will soon be available at Foodland. They retail for $3 each, which seems high for a popsicle, yet keep in mind once again that most of the ingredients they use are locally-sourced and/or organic.

9 thoughts on “Iwilei Eats: La Tour Café

  • January 18, 2011 at 10:33 am
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    You owe me for one computer keyboard, Pomai-san! :) Definitely a stop to check out… April 7 ain’t getting here quick enough – that’s when I go through Honolulu for a few days before I go back to Kwaj!

    Reply
  • January 18, 2011 at 11:38 am
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    As if the French dip sandwich and pizza shots weren’t enough, you had to bombard us with all those farmers’ market goodies! Lunchtime can’t come quick enough today. Can’t concentrate now.

    Reply
  • January 18, 2011 at 1:35 pm
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    Pomai my sisters prefer the vegetable pannis (New Year Diet) while I went for the French Dip myself. Never pass on the almond or chocolate croissants best ever.

    Reply
  • January 18, 2011 at 6:27 pm
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    Arrive at HNL, get bags, get car, hit Costco, stop at Zippy’s for a quick bite, check into hotel. This may have to be our new destination. Or Bryon’s over by the car rental place.

    Reply
  • January 18, 2011 at 6:39 pm
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    man gorgeous pics as other posters have said…thankfully i just ate dinner….but i’m hungry again!!! haha :)

    Reply
  • January 23, 2011 at 10:26 am
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    Raph, mahaloz.

    Traci, since you’ll already be on Nimitz Highway, I’d say just head on straight from the airport and hang a left on Alakawa Street and make a right into the the former Wayerhauser building and on over to La Tour Cafe. Highly recommended! Airport and inflight food ain’t got NOTHIN’ on them!

    Kelike, you MUST try their Beignet. UH-MAY-ZING!

    Spotty, “bombard” is the word. Which I did to showcase La Tour Bakery’s INCREDIBLE selection of artisan breads and baked goods, where I think La Tour Cafe should also emphasize in their future merchandising strategy.

    Chuck-san, see my response to Traci.

    Reply
  • January 24, 2011 at 6:32 am
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    Where exactly is Ilima Catering ??

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  • February 3, 2011 at 5:54 pm
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    Pomai,

    I ate there today, and it was fantastic! Had their soup of the day, which was their tomato basil soup. It came with a slice of garlic toasted baguette. Amazing! My sister had the eggplant parm open faced sandwich. Excellent! Atmosphere was clean and spacious, but the parking at that complex was tight! Definitely going again soon! Thanks for the expert recommendation!!

    Reply

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