Our ohana recently celebrated Diner M (my mother’s) birthday with lunch at The Willows Restaurant, a hidden oasis in the heart of Moi’ili’oli. Following is a pictorial* walkthrough of the dishes served at the buffet on our visit. Enjoy.
Sushi condiments: Shoyu, Wasabi and Sushi Shoga
Teriyaki Chicken Karaage
That wraps it up. The Willows lunch buffet, including everything you’ve just seen, currently runs Monday thru Friday from 11am to 2pm @ $19.95 per person, $9.95 for keiki 10 and under and 10% off for seniors 65+.
Let’s check out a few plates now, starting with my Hawaiian spread…
Clockwise from top left (10 o’clock): Chicken Long Rice, Lomi Salmon, Tako Poke, Poi, Laulau, Ahi Poke, Spicy Ahi Poke (center)
Even at “all you can eat” buffets, some folks still “eat like birds”…
Prime Rib, Shrimp Curry and Nigiri Sushi (bit in half)
Da’ Willows “Ultimate Mix Plate” lol….
My dessert plate…
The verdict? Everything LOOKS great. However, the Chicken Long Rice was HORRIBLE. Whoever cooked that needs a lesson on CLR 101. I think the problem was they put chicken stock in it, as it almost had this Campbells canned soup flavor going on, while there wasn’t any essence of ginger whatsoever. The Laulau was tough (undercooked) and flavorless, as was the Kalua Pig bland, with hardly any smoke flavor, where it seems they’ve all but entirely omitted salt by default in any of the above said dishes. Thankfully they provided a bowl of Hawaiian Salt at the Hawaiian Foods station to compensate what wasn’t added in the kitchen. And this is coming from someone who’s highly sensitive to salty foods.
The Nigiri Sushi was just OK, but you could tell the rice they used wasn’t premium grade, which I suppose for the price of admission is too much to expect. The poke flavor was good, however it was a tad stiff and certainly not at its freshest best.The poi was super fresh, which thankfully helped compensate for any of the aforementioned shortcomings (all hail fresh Poi!).
The Thai Shrimp Curry was quite nice, especially with the crushed nuts and raisin accoutrements. Thankfully, the highlight dish nailed it, as the Rosemary, Garlic and Hawaiian Salt crusted Prime Rib was EXCELLENT. Tender, juicy and cooked perfectly medium rare (my cut), with the crusted edge punching plenty of beefy flavor throughout the cut.
The Tiramisu, Strawberry Panna Cotta and Flan desserts I selected were all scrumptious as far as buffet desserts go, where I have no complaints.
Summing it up, I give The Willows lunch buffet 2 SPAM Musubi, where the less-than-stellar dishes took away some of the enthusiasm from the good ones. They need someone who REALLY KNOWS how to prepare good Hawaiian food in that kitchen, considering that’s a major component on their buffet menu. For $20 per person with all they have to offer, I suppose you can’t expect the very freshest ingredients, but if they can’t do it right, then just don’t put it out. This, I’m referring to the poke. Don’t put out 3 different varieties, if all of them aren’t fresh. Just put out 1 good fresh one instead. I give them “props” for selection, but don’t compromise the quality of the dishes for the sake of that. I’d rather eat at a buffet with 10 STELLAR choices than one with 50 average choices.
Service was certainly friendly and courteous, and of course there’s the “oasis” ambience that is The Willows property, neatly hidden in the middle of Honolulu’s concrete jungle. Here’s a look around….
The Willows “Bellagio show”….
All said, while there were shortcomings here and there with the food, overall we had a wonderful time celebrating mom’s birthday for lunch at The Willows. Huge mahalo to Aunty Nalani and Uncle Jesse for hosting the party. Muah!
901 Hausten Street (near the old Moi’ili’ili Star Market off S. King Street)
Honolulu, Hawaii 96826
Tel. (808) 952-9200
The Tasty Island rating (for the weekly lunch buffet):
(2) Good. I’m glad I tried it. (Ono)
*Photos shot with an entry level Canon Powershot A470.
• The Willows – Yelp reviews