I remember when Neiman Marcus opened in the Ala Moana Shopping Center. This high end, much-too-classy-for-local-kine-stuff department store sat its buttocks right smack in the middle of the shopping center. I remember people talking story about whether it could stay in business, how the local industry and store owners would feel and all that kine mabajaba. Many were unhappy, firmly believing this mainland chain was trying to change our shopping habits, our area of gathering and thus our lifestyle. But I suppose Neiman’s played it’s cards right, because nearly a decade (or more?!) later , it’s doing hefty business. And not just from the Japanese tourists!
Neiman’s signature restaurant, the Mariposa is located on the third floor hidden between shelves of wine and walls of cocoa and tea. How appropriate that it’s just footsteps away from the glass cases bearing Fauchon’s pink boxes filled with jellies, macarons and bitty truffles and the ivory brown and blue of Mariebelle classically chic delicacies. The Mariposa is where ladies who lunch, lunch. It’s where they go to rest their tiny Prada clad feet after a tireless morning of Louis Vitton and Chanel marathons. And this is the perfect place for them because the food portions are appropriately miniscule (but we’ll get more into that later :)).
That would be me in the bottom left corner, oh so busy contemplating the menu – crap, too many choices!
I come here for one reason only. And even I’ll admit it’s quite stupid. For these babies:
Ay yah! Popover!!! They are ridiculously easy to make a home, but unless you plan to eat a dozen or so within 15 minutes, before they turn cold and slightly deflated, then there’s really no point. Mere convenience aside, these popovers are SPECTACULAR! Oooo YES! They are like, how do I say?…LIKE THE BEST THINGS EVER. Yeah, that’s what I was trying to say. It’s got this perfectly light crisp and incredibly buttery crust. It’s hot, it’s thin crackly, buttery, all these wonderful vocab words…And that just the outside. Once you’ve crack open the shell of golden brown joy, the innards, why that’s a whole universe of difference, moist, with a nearly brioche-type doughyness, it like…holy crap. Just so good. I don’t know what to say. Just. Just. You gotta go eat it. It’s the only solution.
To make things more indulgent is the little dish of butter that accompanies the popovers. They used to send out poha berry butter, but in the last years or so, the repertoire has expanded to include, strawberry, honey, pineapple-papaya and my personal favorite, lilikoi. Man, I must have been lucky that day cause lilikoi was on the menu. The whipped butter is soft and sweet with the light citrusy tang of the summery lilikoi fruit. It’s divine.
They only give out one popover and this makes sense because they are rather large in size (but the inside is practically hollow, so maybe not that large!) The waiters, if you smile at them and bat your eyes, have no problem giving an extra, especially when they can tell you realllly like them. The problem arises when you want a third. And I always do. They kind of look at you in shock, with a what-they-hell-happened-to-the-first-two expression, then pause with a smile, as if you were playing a joke with them. When they finally realize you’re serious their smile deflates into a bummed out look as if they missed out on the joke. Only there is no joke! You just wanted another popover. Sigh. It’s complicated.
A dainty cup of chicken bullion arrives moments after the popovers. Very light and just a tad sweet, these little “extras”/amuse bouche rarely received in Honolulu restaurants often do the trick for returning customers.
I rarely order drinks with lunches, but the atmosphere in the restaurant calls for, if not demands, that you do so. Make sure to visit Reid’s site for a review and awesome pictures of the restaurant. The lightly brewed tea comes barely sweetened and is perfectly cool and refreshing (cause you know, we’ve been up to some exhaaausting shopping).
My friend who came to visit from Japan had the Steamed Mussels ($20). A dozen or so mussels in a clear rich broth and quarters of stewed tomatoes was served slightly lukewarm. Nonetheless, the mussels were sweet and tender, each one gently giving up it’s place in the shell. On the side was a decent size cut of toasted baguette to soak up the broth. Ahhh, I miss the days of moules frites!
The Ahi Salad ($18) is beautiful thing. Unfortunately my dog, Buddy a five pound Pomeranian could finish the entire dish in ten seconds flat and still be starving. I usually shake my head at small dishes and not because I support gluttony (though I can be a glutton at times) but because I like feeling I got a good deal (it’s the Chinese in me). This salad is TINY. But it’s okay, cause I’ve had three popovers, with four dishes of butter and I probably shouldn’t eat anything more. Six thin cuts of ahi are quickly seared and sprinkled with pumpkin seeds. Simple, eh? But good. As long as you use good quality fish, it’s hard to go wrong. This takes up about 10% of the dish. When the say salad, they mean it! Butter, Romaine, Manoa in shades of dark purple, a rich green, the summery colors of grass, a whimsy twirl of healthy orange carrots and a cut of sweet roma tomatoes make the remaining 90%. It really is delicious, especially with the slight tang of the garlic based vinagrette. The veggies are so fresh and vibrant in colors, I actually crave a piece of lettuce. It maybe a place for dainty, lets-check-out-whos-wearing-what kind of meals, but while the cuisine is predictable it’s also excellent. I don’t aspire to be Gucci attired lady who lunches, I’m a girl (oh crap, I just turned 20 – do I not qualify for “girl” anymore?!) who really likes to eat. And when good food comes a calling, I’m running there!…Chanel shoes and all :)
Neiman Marcus, Ala Moana Center
1450 Ala Moana
Honolulu, HI 96814