Restaurant Review: Turtle Bay Resort’s Ola (Oahu, Hawaii)
Our meal at Ola, the principal restaurant at the posh Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s North Shore, was one of the things I was most looking forward to, yet it turned out to be one of the trip’s biggest disappointments.
We ate there on a Saturday and coming from the Ko Olina area, it took about an hour to drive there. This is mainly because one, travel on any Hawaiian island may not be a far distance but still takes a while due to a lack of highways and other main roads and two, once we made it to the North Shore, traffic literally crawled along Interstate 83 which is not surprising since on the other side is the beach, parking is a constant clogged nightmare, and it was a Saturday over a holiday weekend with perfect weather.
Back to the Turtle Bay Resort-most of you may know it as the setting for the Hollywood comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall. What’s funny is that the resort looked nothing like in the movie. Sure, the lobby area was stunning and like many other Hawaiian resorts, the incorporation of the outside with the inside is always a nice touch, but did it look anything spectacular? Not really. I had contemplated staying there but ultimately decided against it due to the high room rates; after the drive there with all the congestion and seeing in person how secluded an area it was, I’m really glad we didn’t.
Ola’s big draw is that it’s literally right on the beach. While it has some tables “inside” (i.e. on wooden floors and under a roof) many of its tables are outside which is what we opted for. Our reservation was at 5:30 which is when they start serving dinner. In Hawaii in October the sun sets about 6:05ish (unfortunately the location of the resort is not ideal if you actually want to see the sunset).
Although it took a couple of minutes after being seated to be greeted by our waiter, once he came over he was immediately charming and knowledgeable and rattled off both the evening’s specials as well as the restaurant’s most popular selections for both appetizers and entrees. I kept it simple by just ordering water but D ordered a bottle of one of Kona Brewing Company’s selections (this is a famous brewery over on the Big Island). We were also served warm bread with a delicious flavored spread.
We started off by sharing the Cheese Plate ($14.95) consisting of the chef’s selections of three cheeses and served with crostini, togarashi spiced marcona almonds and mango chtuney. I never asked the waiter what the cheeses were but they were all good. I was pleasantly surprised by the cost of the plate since while many food articles on Hawaii are extremely expensive when compared with the mainland, this was not. (In comparison I’ve seen many cheese plates on menus here in Pittsburgh that cost more than the cheese plate at Ola.) The chutney was definitely a nice touch and had a bit of spice to it.
As I was in Hawaii and wanted to keep with tradition since my other beach side dining experience at Merriman’s on Maui, I ordered a seafood dish, Togarashi Glazed New Zealand King Salmon ($28.95) accompanied by Okinawan Sweet Potato, Kahuku Corn, Edamame, Mixed Peppers, and an Asparagus medley. I’m not a huge salmon fan but I do like to eat it on occasion. I hadn’t thought at the time to suggest how I like it cooked (I’ve been to restaurants where they ask this). Unfortunately, it came out a lot rarer than I would have liked.
D went with the Grilled Ribeye Steak ($36.95) which was cooked in a red wine and rosemary demi glace and came with roasted garlic, mashed red potatoes, and asparagus. He had some to take home with him as it was a lot of food.
When we got to the point in the meal where we were basically stuffed from our entrees, it really went down hill. Although earlier our waiter had checked on us numerous times and was extremely attentive, during our meal, a large group of about eight people was seated in his section. We were seated close enough to them to garner that they were a high maintenance group what with their loud conversations, multiple bottles of wine, etc. It was around then that the waiter disappeared for long bits, making it impossible for our plates to be cleared, and to see a dessert menu (while normally I abstain from dessert on vacation I did indulge and had purposely not overeaten so that I could comfortably eat dessert).
It got to the point where I literally just wanted the check so we could pay and go but D wanted to order dessert. When our waiter finally did come over to see how we were doing, he rattled off the dessert selections orally; we opted for the Tahitian Vanilla Creme Brule. And it was then that we waited some more, more than we should have for such a simple dessert selection. Exacerbating the situation was that some sort of fly contingent made a terrible nuisance to anyone sitting near the lit tiki torches (we of course were). So while the waiting was bad enough, we were also having to slap flies away from our bare skin every couple of seconds. Thankfully they were not of the biting variety. But the large group next to us was also seated near a faux torch and they actually had the waiter remove the light bulb (because there was no one else that could have handled that?). So that of course added to our waiting and waiting.
By the time our creme brule was finally brought out, I was so turned off that I immediately asked for the check, at which he seemed surprised by my abruptness. For the rest of the time we were there, he was attentive.
It’s not a slight against the food at Ola as it was very good, just a perfect instance on how bad service can really mar a meal. Case in point-we were seated near to tables of two just like us and those couples were finished and long gone before our dessert ever came. This was on our second night on Oahu but thankfully meals for the rest of the trip were a lot better.
More in this series!