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Hau’oli Lā Hānau Hana Hou at The Willows

Last month The Willows Sunday Brunch Buffet was featured here, where I enjoyed it so much, I decided to celebrate my birthday a few weeks ago there once again. This time it was on a weekday for lunch, when the spread is a little less expansive than the Sunday Brunch, yet still impressive and satisfying. It wasn’t any big birthday bash; just Diner K and myself, and the restaurant was VERY slow, practically as if that entire buffet was prepared just for us! Aside of us two, there were only like about three other small parties of two to three each there.

We’ll start this birthday lunch off with a tall ice cold glass of Plantation Iced Tea.

Since I didn’t get to try EVERYTHING (literally) on the last visit, this time around being a “seasoned” patron, I attempted to do that. This by serving very small portions of, well, EVERYTHING!

Thankfully the lunch version of their buffet still serves all the Hawaii food favorites, as shown above, being Hawaiian Beef Stew called “Poi Stew”, Squid Luau, Chicken Long Rice, Tripe Stew and Poi. While also on there is Willows Famous Hawaiian Style Chicken & Shrimp Curry, fully loaded with all the toppings, as well as a Somen Salad.

Except for the Somen Salad, which was kinda’ “bleh”, everything else was MONEY!!! Surprisingly even the Chicken Long Rice was on-point, which it’s usually not at buffets, but this one was winnahz!

Putting the spotlight on The Willows Famous Hawaiian Style Chicken & Shrimp Curry above, notice I added “the works” of curry condiments on there: Pickled Ginger, Green Onion, Raisins and Chopped Nuts…. da’ best like that! I swear, you do not know Curry until you try it with these toppings on it. Winnahz! Especially with the raisins and pickled ginger! Almost like Chutney, but I think better! And I can see why that curry is “famous”; they really got it right. It’s kinda’ Japanese style, kinda’ local style and kinda’ Indian style all in one. And there’s generous pieces of tender chicken and shrimp in it. Perfect!

Above we have even more of Willows’ EXCELLENT Squid Luau, Cucumber Kimchi, Sashimi, Spicy Tako Poke, Baked Salmon and Tofu.

Did I say EXCELLENT Squid Luau? Yup, and it is. And get choke “squid” in it, a misnomer, as it’s actually Octopus in “squid” luau. Not only are the Luau leaves fully cooked and done properly, but they also use non-sweetened coconut milk, which I think is how it should be. Sweet Squid Luau just tastes wrong! They also salt theirs just right. Also gotta note The Willows poi is mixed thick, like about “1 finger poi” (more fingers, means more thin).

Only in Hawaii will you find a plate of Prime Rib with white rice. lol Served with a generous dollop of Horseradish and Au Jus on the side, of course!

Going back for round 3, I’m also rockin’ Prime Rib,  an “almost mooing” very rare, nicely crusted, rather small cut, served with course Horseradish and Au Jus, while also adding Lomi Salmon, Lau Lau and Poi to the equation. Only at a buffet such as The Willows can you find that kind of exotic Hapa Haole-Hawaiian combo’!

Deconstructing Diner K’s Lau Lau, buried within the generous layers of steamed-tender Luau Leaves are a chunk each of Pork and Pork Fat. No Butterfish, but at least the pork fat makes up for it in giving it “oomph” lol. The Lau Lau is pretty much “money”, except I think they could have used a little more Hawaiian Salt in the Luau leaves. Other than that, she go. I like also that they serve it still wrapped in its own Ti Leaf. That way I KNOW it was cooked the right way; not steamed in tin foil, thank you very much!

I love the squid luau so much, I went back for more! The Kalua Pig pretty good. Not as moist (fatty) as I’d prefer, but decently moist, very tender, while having a pronounced smoked “Kalua” flavor, with just enough Hawaiian Salt kickin’ it up.

Saving room for dessert, I had to sample them all this time around, where my fave by far was the Butter Mochi (at the 3 o’clock above) and the Bread Pudding right below that. The Guava Chiffon Cake was delicious (for a cake), the Strawberry Panna Cotta quite nice, Haupia was alright, Walnut Brownie and Chocolate Chantilly Cake, alright as well.

I don’t now what it is about Soft Serve Ice Cream machines, but every time I know there’s one at buffet dessert station, I MUST make a cone! lol As you can see, I’m a  plain vanilla kinda’ guy.

To my surprise, our server brought me a complimentary “Molten” Chocolate Macadamia Nut Muffin Cake for my birthday! Yay! A beautifully paired strawberry “flower” to go with it for good measure. And look, I’m just one year old again! This is now a 1st baby’s birthday luau! lol!

I forget exactly what the name of this cake is, but it’s like a molten chocolate cake, without the molten chocolate within it. Yet the cake itself is almost “molten”, being super soft; almost like a fudge-cake if you will. While again I’m no cake fan, this was really ono! It was especially good eaten together with that soft serve vanilla ice cream cone!

Speaking of server, here she is for a shot with the birthday boy. While I can’t remember her name (sorry, didn’t write it down), she was EXCELLENT, very friendly and attentive, always clearing plates and keeping our drinks topped.

Dang man, I’m getting up there in age. Look, I already need reading glasses! Pretty soon I’ll be sitting on the bench in front of the the supermarket feeding the birds. Or sitting at the local McDonald’s at 5am every day telling stories to complete strangers while drinking free coffee refills. Or strumming my ukulele with the other old futs at Ala Moana Beach Park. I’m still waiting for my AARP membership  to come in the mail. lol

I have a better idea for retirement than feeding the birds in front of the supermarket: instead I’ll sign up as a volunteer voyager on the Hokuleia! If not, I’ll just hang out here at The Willows every day on this docked shrunken-down version, eating soft serve ice cream refills. lol

Seriously though, The Willows has a really neat property in the heart of Mo’ili’ili. It’s this garden oasis tucked between an urban/suburban sprawl that you’d never expect. Yet once you enter it’s like, “wow, this place is neat!”I was actually surprised to find out the Weinberg estate owns this property, as they do many other properties in industrial areas around Honolulu. I always thought The Willows restaurant company itself owned it.

Wrapping it up, if you’ve never been or haven’t been in a while, I highly recommend The Willows buffet. For the very reasonable price of $25.50 per adult for the weekday lunch buffet, the staff are wonderful, the selection is great, and, while you’re not going to get say, top-shelf sushi-grade Ahi, most dishes are on-point and excellent in quality and flavor.

The Willows
Lunch Buffet
901 Hausten Street (turn right off S. King right by Longs; formerly Star Market)
Honolulu, Hawaii   96826

(808) 952-9200
www.WillowsHawaii.com

The Tasty Island rating:
4 SPAM Musubi (excellent!)

The Tasty Island related links:
• The Willows Sunday Brunch Buffet v.2.2017


22 thoughts on “Hau’oli Lā Hānau Hana Hou at The Willows

  • March 26, 2017 at 10:34 pm
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    Happy Birthday!!

    I love the Willows, too! I was so sad when it closed in early 90’s since it was a favorite place to go with my parents in the 50’s – 60’s.

    Reply
    • March 27, 2017 at 12:44 am
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      khs68,

      Thanks! That surely would’ve been tragic if Willows wasn’t saved and reopened when they closed back then. It really is an incredible property with so many amenities for hosting events, from a full wedding chapel, to banquet rooms and a full bar. Plus that cool ground-shooting water fountain the keiki can have fun running through.

      Note, they removed all the Koi and other fresh water fish from the pond. I’m guessing to save maintenance expense, and probably because they were having mosquito and other pest problems. Now I believe the water is chlorinated and sand-filtered through a swimming pool-type system to keep the algae away.

      Reply
  • March 27, 2017 at 10:04 am
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    I remember my Dad telling me the water in the fish ponds came up naturally from the ground. He said that whole Moiliili area had underground water at the time.  When he worked with the Board of Water Supply project to excavate to build University Square, he said there was so much water coming up making digging and laying foundation difficult. In fact, he caught a catfish and brought it home to put in the pond we had at our Palolo home.

    Reply
    • March 27, 2017 at 10:42 am
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      khs68,

      Ah, you’re a Palolo Girl. You must have spent your fair share of days in Hobbietat. On a newer note, have you ever tried Your Kitchen, right up the street from there, next to North Shore Grill? The best Japanese style Pork & Tamago Gohan bowl ever! Awesome natural fruit flavored shave ice as well!

      There’s a story on the Mo’ili’ili Karst Formation caves here.

      Reply
      • March 27, 2017 at 1:10 pm
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        Has Your Kitchen re-opened?  Someone mentioned the note on their door said they would in December, but it was still there in February.

        Reply
        • March 27, 2017 at 3:07 pm
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          Kiele,

          Total bummers! You’re right. Looking at Yelp, Your Kitchen has in fact PERMANENTLY CLOSED. Yelpers are stating the owner(s) moved back to Japan because of a family illness.  There was/is a sign in front that says the business is up for sale as a turnkey operation for $35k.

          Someone’s got to get the recipe and technique for making their amazing Pork Belly Tamago Bowl!

          Reply
  • March 27, 2017 at 11:06 am
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    Nah, we just lived in Palolo two years, moving back to McCully when I was seven.

    Yes, I’ve tried Your Kitchen – the pork, japanese loco moco, and shave ice. So oishii.

    Thanks for the link. Very interesting.

    Reply
  • March 27, 2017 at 12:47 pm
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    Oh MAN does that look Ono!!! Especially the curry.  Now Ima gonna have to dig out my “Kaigun” Kare recipe and have at it. I’m glad the quality is good. Not so with a lot of other buffets – Used to go to the Pagoda buffet quite often back when but my son and I went last year for the Sunday Brunch… Blehhhh. Waste of 75 bucks… I’ll have to try the Willows this year

    Regards!

    Haru

    Reply
    • March 27, 2017 at 3:12 pm
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      Haru,

      The last time I had the Pagoda Buffet, I thought the quality and taste wasn’t so hot either. I wonder if Pagoda still has those MASSIVE Ulua circling the water around the restaurant. We’re talking da’ kine super huge Ulua you see guys land in fishing tournaments. Total trip!

      I really gotta’ try the Sunday Brunch at Hoku’s in the Kahala Resort. Same price of $75, that includes top shelf meat and seafood dishes, including AYCE Rack of lamb, Goose Oysters and Maine Lobster Tails! That also includes made-to-order ala carte specialty dishes! Plus right on Kahala Beach!

      Reply
      • March 28, 2017 at 9:32 am
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        Yup! Still got them. There’s that one YUUGE white one still there – Lord that thing must be at least a hundred years old… Was really disappointed with the quality of the food and the prime rib was cold – the attitude of the guy at the carving station was worse… Our waitress had a lot of Aloha though. I’ve done the Hoku’s brunch and you’re right – it’s very good. Should have gone there instead…

        Happy Birthday by the way!

         

        :D

        Reply
  • March 28, 2017 at 4:26 am
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    Happy Birthday Pomai! Looks like you had a fabulous lunch!

    Reply
  • March 28, 2017 at 1:28 pm
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    Happy Birthday Pomai.. Hope to see you in November thanksgiving.

    Lets cook up a storm.

    Reply
  • March 29, 2017 at 10:05 am
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    I read your last post too about the Willows.  I am happy that you liked it — I respect your opinion re food and restaurants.  Last time I went to the Willows was in Feb 2014, and it sucked big time.  I used to love it but vowed to never return.  I also used to love to the Pagoda Floating Restaurant, but this past Feb 2017, it also sucked.  I was afraid that all my old time favorite buffets for local style food were all gone.  But your opinions have caused me to add back the Willows to my list of places to eat.  I will probably be back in Honolulu in June, so I will try to make sure I go for dinner one night.

    Reply
    • March 29, 2017 at 12:07 pm
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      Alan,

      Well, that was just my experience with two very recent visits. If you go on Yelp, the last 4 reviews say it was TERRIBLE. The latest review on there being 3/16/17.

      I understand buffet restaurants can be hit or miss, and looking at Yelp, it really can be at The Willows. I guess we just lucked out on who was cooking and managing the kitchen on our visits.

      While when I have a good experience and say a restaurant is highly recommended, the only thing I always cringe when saying that, is if someone takes my advice, goes there and has a bad experience. Just to be safe, before you go to The Willows again, check Yelp and see what the latest trending reviews are there.

      The Willows – Yelp user reviews

      Reply
  • March 31, 2017 at 2:49 am
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    Thanks Pomai.  Your “caution” is wise, but even your pics of the food show that the items  now look far superior to what I experience back in 2014.  The poke was not only poorly seasoned, but the pieces of fish were diced so fine, you would have not guessed it was poke.  It would have been better (at the time) for them to make “lomi” style poke.  And all the other stuff I liked were poorly seasoned too!

    Reply
  • March 31, 2017 at 9:57 am
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    Can anyone lead me to the best fish and chips in Honolulu?  Not the similar sized frozen type found at most restaurants and using cod not ahi.  Appreciate it.

    Reply
    • March 31, 2017 at 10:55 am
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      al lum,

      Good Lawd, now THAT’s the question of the century!  I would search high and low for the “best fish ‘n chips on Oahu”!

      My favorite WAS Alexander’s Fish ‘n Chips out in Kihei, Maui. This was back in the late 90s to early 2000s, when they were in their prime.

      They offered 3 kinds of fish to choose: Ahi, Mahi Mahi or Ono. And their batter was a tempura-based style, lightly seasoned with what I think was thyme, parsley and oregano.

      And they made their cocktail sauce and tartar sauce, along with lemon wedges and malt vinegar to kick it up.

      Their fries was just OK, but their Fish, of the Fish ‘n Chips equation were BOMB DOT COM!

      I know Snappers Bar & Grill, in the basement of the Discovery Bay in Waikiki always touts their Fish ‘n Chips, however one Yelpers said it was “nothing to write home about”. Couldn’t find any other places Yelpers mentioned that were notable either. Like anything else deep-fried, Fish ‘n Chips are usually one of those hit or miss dishes.

      Reply
    • March 31, 2017 at 1:46 pm
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      Haven’t been there in a while (since he opened the new restaurant) but I liked Nico’s Fishmarket’s fish and chips. The fish is fresh (not frozen) and the breading is crunchy brown. The fishmarket was the original Nico’s where you go in to order, pay and you get a “buzzer” that you take to a table outside. When the buzzer goes off, you go in to pick you your food. It looks like the fish and chips is still being served at the fishmarket and the restaurant.

      Reply
  • April 1, 2017 at 3:01 pm
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    Fish and Chips

    Definitely a Hawaii fail. We should have best in nation with Monchong, Mahi, Ono and Opah. Instead it goes from bad to hit and miss. And I don’t know why no one makes British style thick fries with them. Got to go to Seattle for good fish and chips. And it is everywhere there.

    For fast food, I would say Teddy’s bigger, where the generous pollock (a member of Pacific cod family) serving is cheap and filling.

    For fresh, Dukes is the most reliable, as it is on its fresh ahi taco. (Gaylords on Kauai has an even better fresh fish taco, changes, but usually Mahi, Ono, or Opah. Pricey, but this is a fancy lanai restaurant for business or date)

    Now find me a really good Reuben sandwich since New York Deli closed.

    Reply
  • April 1, 2017 at 3:55 pm
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    Pat,

    I always wanted to try making Fish ‘n Chips with Monchong or Opah, being their such fatty, oily fish. I bet it would rock!

    As for really good Reuben, not exactly that, but a close cousin, you MUST TRY the “Pho-strami” Sandwich from Piggy Smalls, sister restaurant of Pig & the Lady, specializing in Vietnamese-fusion cuisine.

    The smoked Pastrami beef brisket is seasoned with Pho spices, laced with pickled mustard seeds, all piled high on a crusty French Roll, served with a Pho dipping Sauce, ala French Dip Sandwich style and tangy Vietnamese Pickled Vegetables. By far one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had. Period.

    First Byte: Piggy Smalls

     

    Reply

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