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House Without a Key

August 13, 2015

Before my husband and I visited Oahu on our trip to Hawaii last year, we had made a list in advance of the different restaurants in the area that we were interested in trying out.  There was one particular restaurant we had both looked at, but never ended up visiting.  When we made plans to go back to Hawaii this year, my husband and I both agreed that we definitely needed to find the time to visit this particular restaurant.  No excuses this year for not dining at this particular restaurant, especially considering the fact that the restaurant was located right next to our hotel.  In fact, from the balcony of our hotel room, we could actually look down and see the restaurant!  So, one of the nights we were in Waikiki, we decided to ditch the rest of the family and just go and have a romantic dinner for two at this incredibly beautiful restaurant.


House Without a Key is an indoor/outdoor dining spot inside the luxurious, 5-star Halekulani Hotel right along Waikiki Beach.  House Without a Key is immortalized by novelist Earl Derr Biggers in his series of mystery stories surrounding the character Charlie Chan.  In one of Biggers’ novels, titled House Without a Key, Detective Chan solves a murder which takes place in a home on the precise spot in the late 1800s where the restaurant of the same name currently stands today within the grounds of the resort hotel.  Under the shade of an enormous kiawe tree, on land once owned by a sea captain, Halekulani resort rebuilt this restaurant which pays homage to the famous Detective Chan and his House Without a Key when it opened its doors in 1983.


House Without a Key restaurant has indoor and outdoor seating with tables that face out towards the gorgeous waters of the Pacific Ocean.  The restaurant features nightly entertainment provided from by a traditional Hawaiian band and a hula dancer who perform under this beautiful kiawe tree as the sun sets over the water to one side and Leahi (Diamond Head crater) looms over the land on the other side.  On a gorgeous Waikiki evening, the atmosphere for dinner couldn’t be any more romantic or gorgeous if you’re lucky enough to snag a seat right before the sun sets.  And as a bonus on Thursday nights, for dinner service, the restaurant serves what is called their Kiawe Sunset Grill.  A large outdoor grill is set up outside and you can literally watch the chefs prepare and freshly grill-to-order all of their various dinner entrees.  Luckily, we happened to be there for dinner on Thursday night and snagged a table shortly before sunset.


With such a pretty view of Diamond Head to one side and the beautiful blue waters of the Pacific Ocean lapping up against the sea wall in front of us, the setting called for some tropical drinks.  My husband ordered the E.D.B made with Chivas Regal, maraschino liqueur, grapefruit juice and lemon sour.  Served in a martini glass, the drink looked sophisticated and just fit the atmosphere.  My husband said he really liked the drink, it was tangy from the lemon sour and the grapefruit juice, but strong.  He could definitely taste the alcohol and the bar didn’t skimp on that when making the drink.  All in all, the drink went down smooth and easy and was plenty tasty.


I ordered a drink called jungle mania made with a blend of coconut, banana, and lilikoi with a splash of club soda.  The drink was definitely fruity and tropical with the coconut and the lilikoi.  The banana added a hint of sweetness to the drink, but also some volume and body so that the drink was almost like a smoothy.  And the splash of club soda just a hint of carbonation and fizziness to the drink which actually made it just seem a bit more tropical.  The drink was cool and refreshing and quite tasty.


My husband and I opted to go with 2 different appetizers to start our meal.  After all, with a view such as the one we had and the band playing and the sun setting, we planned to be at the restaurant for a while, so we might as well order some food.  First up we ordered smoked salmon.  Served along side capers, fennel and crostini, the salmon was amazing.  The salmon was incredibly fresh and the fennel fronds add just the hint of licorice flavor to help enhance the freshness of the salmon.  The crunch from the crostini and the tang from the homemade tartar sauce combined with the slight salty and briny flavor of the caper came together to form a well rounded and tasty appetizer.


The second appetizer was the coconut crusted shrimp served with an orange mango sauce.  The shrimp were of a good size, perfect cooked so that it was flavorful and tender inside, but golden brown and crispy with coconut flakes on the outside.  The crunch and slight sweet taste of the coconut flakes complimented the sweetness of the jumbo shrimp perfectly.  The tangy orange mango sauce really helped to balance out the sweet flavor of the coconut crusted shrimp.  Individually, the shrimp was terrific and the orange mango sauce was tasty, but combined together in one bite, it was tangy, sweet, crunchy and tender and made for a flavorful and fruity mouthful.  A truly tropical appetizer.


My husband and I both wanted to take advantage of the fact that we were dining at House Without a Key on kiawe sunset grill evening by ordering grilled entrees.  We were told that each grilled entrée came served with a salad and some macaroni salad, Hawaiian comfort food at its finest.  My husband ordered today’s fish, which happened to be sea bass, grilled with sumac, olive oil and lemon dressing.  The first word out of my husband’s out was that the sea bass was awesome.  The flavor of the char and the charcoal of the grilled fish really shined through with just that hint of citrus flavor and tartness from the sumac, which is a herb that’s not often used but goes wonderfully with fish.  Generally speaking, my husband is already a huge fan of sea bass, but in this setting, with the outdoor grill, and the outdoor, ocean-front dining, it was just perfect.


I went with a New York striploin for my grilled entrée.  Rubbed with black lava salt, and served with a soy-lemon dressing, much like my husband, the first thing I noticed was the wonderful char, charcoal grill flavor of the striploin.  The black lava salt was the perfect seasoning for the tender steak which was cooked to a perfect medium rare as I had ordered it.  This is the type of char flavor that you can only get with a great outdoor grill that just adds that added touch of flavor to the beef.  For me, the accompaniments of the salad and the macaroni salad weren’t even needed, I just savored the flavors of this terrific grilled hunk of beef.


Not wanting our evening to come to an end to quickly, as we were enjoying the soft sounds of the band and the tranquility and beauty of watching the hula dancer as we listed to the waves lap against the sea wall and the light disappeared out of the sky, my husband and I each decided to order our own dessert.  We clearly have problems when it comes to sharing.  For my dessert, I went with the milk chocolate & apple banana torte with cocoa syrup.  I was slightly hesitant about this dessert to begin with as I’m not the world’s biggest apple fan, and unless you’re talking about bananas, any other fresh fruit in a dessert is something I generally try to avoid ordering.  Surprisingly though, what was delivered to the table was gorgeous, lovely and was much more like a cake than a torte, or at least what I’d think of as a torte, which suited me even better as I’m definitely more of a cake person. In fact, the cake was nice and light and incredibly moist.  I could taste the subtle flavor of both the banana and the apple, and I assume that adding the apple helped to keep the cake incredibly moist and light.  It was actually a terrific mix of both of the fruits so that not one flavor dominate the other.  There was a wonderful light chocolate flavor to the whole dessert which was just delightful.


Halekulani’s coconut cake with vanilla creme anglaise was my husband’s dessert of choice.  Not one who generally is a fan of cake, especially since he pretty always feels like every cake is dry and crumbly, my husband’s first reach after his first bite of this cake was, “wow.”  Much like I felt about my torte, my husband thought that his cake was incredibly moist and was not the least bit dry. I had to take a bite of his cake because it just looked too good, and my husband was right, each layer of the cake was incredibly moist, almost like the cake layers were soaked int some sort of sauce to keep it as moist as it was.  The flavor of the coconut was perfect and not at all over the top, a very subtle and light flavor with the coconut flakes added on the outside edges of the cake giving it just that little bit of added oomph of coconut flavor.  Again, this was a perfectly tropical and delicious ending to our meal, especially considering our outdoor dining environment.

Why did my husband and I not dine at House Without a Key last year?  We missed out on an incredibly memorable meal.  We were lucky enough to come back this year and rectify our mistake and you could bet we wouldn’t be denied two years in a row.  Everything about our dining experience at House Without a Key was perfect.  The restaurant’s setting inside the beautiful Halekulani resort, with outdoor dining which provided perfect, unobstructed views of Diamond Head and the soothing sounds of the Pacific Ocean just on the other side of the sea wall, not to mention the live nightly Hawaiian band and hula dancer, were just stunning.  This is all of the cliché’s you think of when you imagine the perfect outdoor setting for a meal in Hawaii, light breezes, gorgeous sunset, tropical drinks, amazing food, palm trees, and a hula dancer.  What more could you ask for?  House Without a Key was everything and more that my husband and I could have asked for, a terrific dining experience with a romantic atmosphere in a perfectly comfortable and casual setting.  It was the aloha spirit at its finest.


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