12th Avenue Grill

Saturday, June 24, 2006 17 No tags Permalink 0


Finally! Since opening nearly two years ago, I always intended to visit 12th Ave Grill but despite living just 5 minutes away, never managed to make it until tonight. Too many place to eat and never enough time! I came with my family on a pretty calm Friday night. Reservations were for six pm and we were quickly seated as soon as we walked in.

Occupying the location of the old Mongolian BBQ, I never expected 12th Ave to be such a success. But lo and behold, they’ve made the pages of Food & Wine and other national magazines. Everywhere you turn, chowhounds are whispering with a blend of longingness and jealousy about their sinfully addicting macaroni & cheese. Yay for the success of local restaurateurs!

If the bread basket gives any indication of a restaurant’s culinary aptitude, then we were definitely at the right place. A basket bearing three types of warm starchy goodness and a little dish of creamed butter just begged to be torn apart. It was hard to pick a favorite of the trio as the soft tomato loaf sweetly studded with bits of dried tomatoes and torn basil was just as inviting as the crusty browned baguette. Buried at the bottom was a bread similar to the baguette, only a tad sweeter with toasted walnuts. Needless to say, we polished off the basket rather quickly!

This was my main purpose for visiting. The Baked Macaroni & Cheese ($5.95). That much for a little ramekin of mac & cheese you say? Oh yes. And I didn’t feel gypped at all. I have a secret place at the bottom of my heart that holds a cultivated love for Easy Mac (shhh!) But take the “crude” and classy it up and I’ll love that just as much. A deep ramekin holding perfectly cooked macaroni mixed with a creamy blend of their house smoked parmesan and spices was topped by an oh so buttery crisp toss of savory bread crumbs. Oh dear it was good. Soo good that my sister demanded another for herself!

Easy to make at home, but how many people actually take the time to fry up a couple of mozzarella stuffed raviolis for themselves? That’s what restaurants are for! The Crispy Fried Ravioli ($8.95) featured a duo of round ravioli stuffed with fresh mozzarella, basil and proscuitto. Deep fried then placed on a bed of arugula and fresh tomato coulis, I enjoyed it very much but felt that it was a bit too heavy, especially after the Macaroni & Cheese. I was disappointed by the coulis which didn’t taste much different from plain old tomato sauce, but it made a great dipping companion to the baguettes.

One of our “lighter” dishes, the Spinach Salad ($9.95) arrived in a deep bowl filled with healthy green baby spinach with shaved cremini mushrooms and chopped tomatoes. The salad was toss in a warm bacon vinaigrette and finished with two rounds of crispy fried goat cheese. Man, they work their cheeses here – 3 for 3 so far! A simple salad done well. I though the combo of goat cheese with bacon worked together well. Oh heck, how could you go wrong with fried cheese and fried pork at the same time.

The Cinnamon Braised Shortribs ($19.95), according to me were, holymoley good. The cinnamon flavoring was very subtle but key to the smokey sweet taste. It reminds me of the role the spice places in pho – no immediately apparent but crucial to the success of the dish. The ribs were so tender there was no need to bother with a knife. A nudge of a fork and the meat fell apart in the most delicate manner. Supporting the ribs was a base of horseradish mashed potatoes with roast garlic aioli and broccolini. Some potatoes were left in chunks, a plus in my books and as the sole flavoring agent, the horseradish was very strong. Perfect if you like that distinct flavor, which I do, but overkill for my sister.

My dad had the Kim Chee Steak ($18.95). A skirt steak marinated in their housemade kim chee sauce, char grilled to rare (per my dad’s request) was served on steamed rice along with sautéed bell peppers and sweet onions. I have no idea how this dish tasted. My dad ate it with such gusto and enthusiasm that I figured I’ll come back another time and have it for myself. Conclusion? It must have been good!

Coming up right behind the macaroni & cheese, the number two reason for coming was to try the BREEEAD PUDDING. But guess what? It was taken off the menu upon the arrival of the new pastry chef Sami C. I was sad. No bread pudding? What? How can? How upset was I? Almost to the point of ordering NO dessert. Gasp. However the special of the night was a Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp ($6.95) and since rhubarb is rare on the dessert (or any) menu in Hawaii, it was pretty hard to turn down. We added a scoop vanilla ice cream ($1.50), but I think any crisp or crumble should automatically come with ice cream! It was fine, but far from extraordinary. The crisp topping was my favorite part, buttery and rich, it also managed to be light with a delicate crunch at the same time. The actual fruit beneath was beyond sugary sweet – I love rhubarb fruit for it’s tart sweetness, but there was so much sugar in here that the unique flavor of the fruit was nearly lost. I honestly don’t get it. Am I the only person in Hawaii not absolutely smitten with Sami C.’s creations, from her work at Grand Cafe, Nicos, Sam Choy’s and now 12th Ave? Maybe our tastebuds don’t agree. But one thing’s for sure. I miss Lisa Siu and her bread pudding! What’s that little candle sticking up from the ice cream? Why, it was my birthday :)

Service was excellent and everything went smoothly without a hitch. Our water glasses were constantly refilled and there’s a certain hum, energy or vibe to the restaurant that keeps you at once energetic and relaxed. It’s a small place, seating around 60 people. And with an open kitchen and casual yet classy feel, you’d feel equally welcome in heels and black dress or short and slippers. American bistros like this come a dime a dozen in NYC, but 12th Ave Grill is definitely a one of a kind in Hawaii.

12th Avenue Grill
1145C 12th Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96816
(808) 732-9469

17 Comments
  • anonymous
    November 30, -0001

    Happy Birthday!!!!!!

  • anonymous
    November 30, -0001

    did you make a wish for bread pudding to be put back on the restaurant’s menu before you blew out the candle on top of the rhubard crisp?? Or did you stick to the original mercedes benz wish.

  • anonymous
    November 30, -0001

    Hey Kathy – A most Happy Birthday to you! Bummer about the bread pudding, though.

  • Robyn
    November 30, -0001

    MOZZERELLA STUFFED RAVIOLI WEEOOHH that looks good.Happy birthday!

  • anonymous
    June 24, 2006

    wow..that looks gooooood

  • Kathy YL Chan
    June 25, 2006

    Hey Ed!Mmmm, it was!Hey Aaron!Thanks man! Just one more year till I’m of legal drinking age…not that I intend to or anything…hehe!

  • anonymous
    June 25, 2006

    Happy Birthday you! Great writing as usual…mmm…and good looking food too!

  • Kathy YL Chan
    June 26, 2006

    Hey Pallavi!Thanks! Hope your internship at the magazine is going well :)Hey Ron!LOL! No benz for me, I’d be so scared of crashing it! My actual wish was…oh wait…it won’t come true if I reveal it! :)Hey Reid!Thanks! I was more sad than the average person would be over lost bread pudding, but it was an excellent evening!

  • J. Lo
    June 26, 2006

    Happy Pre-Birthday! :) Mmmmm, rhubarb crisp. I made a rhubarb strudel for dinner yesterday. And I’m especially fond of Rhubarb jam. You should try the kim chee steak. I thought it was fantastic (well, as far as steaks go). I went to this market on Saturday and they had bread pudding. I thought about your bread pudding obsession and decided that, for your sake, I would eat it. Sadly, I was very disappointed by it. I prefer a more custard-like texture….what I got was starchy, dense, and loaded with a few too many sultanas and nuts. Sad. I wasted $4 on a crappy piece of bread pudding. Anyway, enjoy your birthday! Birthdays are a good excuse to eat out excessively and without restraint. Use it to your advantage, man!

  • Su-Lin
    June 26, 2006

    Happy belated birthday! What a terrific meal to celebrate!

  • Kathy YL Chan
    June 27, 2006

    Hey Justin!Ah, don’t worry about the wasted pudding – I’ve spent my share on dissapointing dishes! Oooh, rhubarb! We need to get more of that in Hawaii, it’s kinda sad how few people even know what rhubarb is here. Pooh, oh well. More for us :) Enjoy the rest of your internship!Hey Su-lin!A simple and fulfilling dinner with family is all you really need:)Hey Robyn!It waaas good – but I bet not nearly as cheesy as your Balthazar soup!

  • J. Lo
    June 27, 2006

    “Bread is the only food I know that satisfies completely, all by itself. It comforts the body, charms the senses, gratifies the soul, and excites the mind. A little butter also helps.” – Jeffrey Steingarten in “The Man Who Ate Everything”Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread?…Eat that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.” -Isaiah 55:2Some quotes for you from one bread fanatic to another. :)

  • elmomonster
    June 27, 2006

    happy birthday kathy! and what a meal! i’m not much for mac and cheese but your pics and decription is making me salivate just the same. and fried pork and fried cheese! fuggedaboutit!

  • anonymous
    June 28, 2006

    hi kathy! you will never believe what happened, but i guess you will have to because it’s happened! so i was on the internet searching for vietnamese dessert recipes and google gave me this link. i started reading your blog because the pictures were so beautiful and the writing was also very captivating. THEN i read your profile and i was like… I KNOW THIS GIRL!!! what a coincidence!

  • anonymous
    June 28, 2006

    p.s. could that mysteriously intriguing fruit be dragon fruit? Hylocereus undatus?

  • anonymous
    June 28, 2006

    oops sorry, the anonymous above was me!

  • Kathy YL Chan
    June 29, 2006

    Hey Justin!Those macaron pics you have on Facebook look mighty attractive!Hey Elmo,Thanks man! In the end, fried anything is an awfully delicious weakness, hehe!Hey Yim!Neato! oooh, I can’t believe this blog is actually google-able, lol! I wish it was dragon fruit…hmm, maybe I’ll show it to my grandma and ask her now that I’m home. Enjoy the rest of your summer (half over already!) and see you fall :)

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