Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hollering "Uncle" at Uncle Bo's

Baby Back Ribs

Back home in Baltimore, my "go to" place and general evening hang out is Woodberry Kitchen. I know the owner. In Honolulu, The Bob's "go to" place and hang out is Uncle Bo's Pupu Bar & Grill. He knows the owner and continually raves about it.

Doc Rhee, V, Christine and DJ Un-G are heading home tonight so the plan is to meet at Uncle Bo's and enjoy a farewell dinner. I've heard so much about this place and how good it is that I'm interested in checking it out for myself - and maybe because this is The Bob's "go to" place that I'm projecting too many of my own expectations on the place.

And when your expectations are so high, how can any place live up to them? Maybe that's just a recipe for disaster.

Spicy Tuna Wraps

As with many things in Hawaii, meeting times are kinda here nor there. The plan is to meet at 6:30pm at the restaurant. Some got there early, others (like me) got there later, like around 7pm. The restaurant was busy but not packed to the gills like I've heard it can get.

Those that got there early, ordered early. The rest of us got there and, well, did a lot of waiting.

In short, our waitress was atrocious. Absolutely, unbelievably horrible. If it wasn't a general ignorance about the food and the ingredients, it was the inattentive/poor service that took a long time to ask for our drink orders and God Knows When we might actually be able to order something to eat. The girl would disappear for extended periods of time. Maybe she was serving others, maybe she was blowing one of the kitchen staff, maybe she was having drinks at the bar - whatever she was doing, it certainly wasn't attending to her tables.

Opakapaka Chiang Mai

Granted our table of eight expanded and contracted during the time we were there. Early attendees ate then left. The rest of us arrived and waited. I can understand some level of concern about who is who, but it requires the server to actually come to the table to see who has departed and who has arrived for anything to happen.

Then, when we finally were granted the opportunity to order drinks, we were required to hand over our credit card to "open a tab."

Sorry, but I'm here to eat at a restaurant, not drink at the fucking bar.

I can understand being asked for a credit card to open a tab when I'm standing at the bar, but when I'm sitting at tables with friends for table service??? That's some audacious bullshit in my book - and a guarantee that this will be the last time I subject myself to this kind of "service."

Opakapaka Chiang Mai

So, the owners have a hip and happening spot that's mindful of their guests' credit cards, will they be as mindful of the food they serve?

I'm interested to know more about the appetizers, specifically the fried oysters - are they fresh or frozen? Fresh, the waitress assures me. Where are they from? She doesn't know. She looks like a deer in headlights. She stalls. She hems and haws. How about asking the kitchen, I suggest.

Is it me or am I asking too much in expecting the server to know the origin of their food? Or at least to go and ask the kitchen of their own volition? Instead, I get the feeling that perhaps she thinks I'll just drop the question altogether alleviating her need to actually work.

Wok Fried Sweet Chili Calamari

By this point, some other appetizers have hit the other parts of our table. Items like the Thai-Style Steamer Clams and Ahi Poke. Sree warns me that some of the food here tends to the sweeter side of things and to watch out for that. I taste the clams and they're decidedly sweet. Sweetness can indeed be cloying in savory dishes, but this isn't just cloying, it's pretty darn sweet. Almost in your face sweet.

I ask the waitress for a recommendation. A fish recommendation since that's what I'm in the mood for. I don't know why I'm doing this because my faith in our server has already been lost. Maybe I'm just a masochist. She recommends the Baked Opah Mauna Kea and I ask her if it's sweet. She doesn't quite understand. I re-phrase the question, asking if the sauce with the fish is as sweet as the clams. She acknowledges that it is. Drop that selection.

House Mixed Greens

Falling back on something less risky, I ask her about the Roasted Garlic Ribeye Steak. Where is the beef from? Is it commercial? She doesn't know. Again, we play fifty questions before she goes off to ask the kitchen. Christ, maybe I am expecting too much. She returns sometime later with an answer: it's from Washington. Gee, glad we got that question answered. I give up trying to ask more and just order the steak.

Fresh Made Ahi Poke

The fish in the ahi poke is actually quite nice. Good quality tuna seasoned nicely. The problem is that it's more vegetable salad than ahi poke. There's more of everything except the fish. When you get it, it looks pretty sizable and you think you got a deal for ten bucks. Then you realize that it's mostly vegetables and hardly any fish and suddenly that great deal looks pretty lame.

Fried Oysters

From there, it was more of the same. The baby back ribs were just lame. Boiled ribs, slightly charred but the seasoning just doesn't do anything for the ribs. They fall short. I'm glad it wasn't my order. House Mixed Greens? Boring. I'll pass. The Opakapaka? Also too sweet. Pass.

The highlights were sweet calamari. They were actually good with a nice balance of sweet to spice. And the tuna wraps were interesting. Not too memorable, but in this dinner of memorably bad, that's a good thing.

Finally, my food arrives. Now, I had ordered the Fried Oysters from the Pupu menu and I fully expected them to arrive before the steak. Unhappily, they both arrived at the same time. WTF?

Garlic RibEye Steak

I took a moment to ponder why our waitress decided to order/fire both courses at the same time. It's just stupid and makes no sense. I thought for a moment about sending one back or asking her about it, then decided against it because it would only raise my ire - and I'm trying to enjoy an evening out with friends.

The oysters were fried nicely but were extremely watery - not the briney-ness you'd expect but watery. Maybe this is just punishment for ordering oysters in the summer months. But can't say they were bad though. Dip it in the cocktail sauce and it helps.

The steak, on the other hand, was a disappointment. Not because it was bad (it tasted decent enough) or that it was improperly cooked (it came out a nice medium), but the roasted garlic overpowered everything else, clashed with the flavor of the steak and seemed contrived and overly gratuitous. It was like someone thought they were being cute and clever by dropping a crapload of roasted garlic over a cooked steak and charging more for it. The garlic was burnt, bitter and paired horribly with the steak.

It would have been so much more successful if the kitchen stayed with simple: salt and pepper to season and simple grilling. Please, stop trying to be clever and go with simple.

Uncle Bo's
559 Kapahulu Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96815

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