Basalt's new menu is worth a trip to Waikiki

A menu overhaul makes ABC Stores' upscale eatery a good deal for locals
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I have to admit, I didn't try Basalt for most of its first year in business. There were a lot of kinks being worked out, plus they were bringing new ideas to life for breakfast, lunch, dinner AND happy hour. They just celebrated their anniversary, and now that the dust has settled, it seems that there are some pretty nice signature dishes that people can count on for the long run.

Chef Keith Kong Basalt

Executive chef Keith Kong has been revamping, revamping and revamping the Basalt menu. We went to a series of media tastings, and most items made the cut, while some new ones were added. And if you hit it right, the offerings can be incredibly affordable. At happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. daily, selected drinks are $3 to $5 and selected food is $2 to $9 ... at the same size as the same items on the dinner menu. From 5 to 6 p.m. daily, you can get a sunset three-course prix fixe dinner for just $39, at the same sizes as the same items on the dinner menu (including an entree of prime rib or Hokkaido scallops). At dinner, you can do a chef's tasting menu of six items for $65. 

They've also added some breakfast items, so if you wake up early enough, you can get dishes like these, which are as instagrammable as they taste.

basalt buttermilk charcoal pancakes
Charcoal buttermilk pancakes, $12.
wagyu loco moco
Wagyu loco moco, $14.

The charcoal color doesn't affect the taste of the buttermilk pancakes, but that does add quite a bit of drama to the presentation, which you social media peeps will love. For something a little heartier, the loco moco was at the top of my list, especially since they use wagyu in their burger patty. I didn't get to photograph a full-sized avocado toast, but I did get a bite, and that would probably be my choice to start the day (hipster or not). Basalt also has the usual suspects: Fried rice, omelettes, granola, done their way.  

seared ahi farro
Seared ahi and farro, $18.

My favorite item at lunch was the seared ahi and farro, which is a more healthful appraoch to a poke bowl. I actually love farro, which is apparently a superfood grain, and the jalapeno-soy vinaigrette gives it a good burst of flavor without being too strong. Vegans can also get their vegetable piele, a creative plant-based dish that even omnivores will love.

basalt duck empanadas
Duck empanadas: $5 at happy hour, $10 at dinner.
basalt adobo chicken wings
Adobo chicken wings with chicken skin cracklings: $8 at happy hour, $13 at dinner.

The BIG deals are really at happy hour. From $2 French fries to a $9 charcuterie platter, you can't go wrong filling up on the small plates, which are the same size at dinner but at about half the cost. The duck empanadas are the big winner, filled with roasted duck meat, aged goat cheese, brandied cherry, pickled jalapeno and avocado lime crema. My favorite is the adobo fried chicken wings, which are slightly crunchy outside and tender inside, with a slightly spicy vinegar sauce on the side. This is served with ... you ready for this? ... CHICKEN SKIN CRACKLINGS. Yes, chips made of fried chicken skin. They should just make a whole bowl of these on the side.  

basalt tiradito
Basalt tiradito, $15.

There's a lot of fresh fish on the Basalt menu for appetizers, but our waiter, Juan, seems pretty good about steering people to the stuff he likes. He had us try the tiradito, which is a Peruvian take on sashimi with amarillo sauce and corn salsa. It's served with a nori tuile, which is a nice touch for adding crunchiness. I'm hooked! The blends of flavors and textures are a perfect reflection of the prevalent Japanese influences in South America, and vice versa. 

Brand new at Basalt: Lamb chops, $39.
Two Lady Farmers pork shoulder, $25.
Vegetable risotto
Vegetable risotto, $21.

Diners in the know will be wondering why I don't have a photo of the Basalt prime rib in this blog. Well, because you already saw it in Mari Taketa's blog about it! I checked out the other new things, including the brand new achiote spice-rubbed, grilled lamb chops (top), a tasty and different way to eat this familiar meat. Another new item that was surprisingly good was the pork shoulder — I often find pork dishes to be plain and dry, but this was served with an IPA mustard jus and sauce verte, a mellow but rich and warm complement to the nicely seasoned meat.

As with lunch, the dinner menu has a vegetarian-friendly entree in the vegetable risotto, a classically creamy dish with edamame and carrots for texture, as well as fennel pollen. True to the surprises in the new menu, that parmesan crisp adds the cheese element in an innovative way.

If you're looking for the meal deal and get the $39 prix fixe menu from 5 to 6 p.m., this is what one set of the choices looks like:

basalt lobster bisque
Lobster bisque, $6. 
Hokkaido scallops
Seared Hokkaido scallops, $27.
lilikoi creme brulee
Lilikoi creme brulee, $9.

I put the a la carte prices next to the dishes so you know what they cost if you order them on their own. Actually, when you think about it, $42 isn't such a bad deal, either, but $39 sounds better. You'll find the lobster bisque has an intense depth of flavor. The prime rib is one of the entree choices, but I got the scallops instead, which is one of their signatures (and much lighter). 

calamansi lime meringue
Calamansi lime meringue tart, $8.

I did like the lilikoi creme brulee on the prix fixe menu, but if I were ordering a la carte, I'd probably go with the calamansi lime meringue tart, but that's just personal preference. I love citrusy desserts, so if that's your thing, you will, too.

Basalt has come a long way since its opening a year ago, with locals who live or work in Waikiki buzzing about the value and quality (especially at happy hour). I'm actually looking forward to going back.

They make it easy for locals, too: Parking in Hyatt Centric is validated for up to four hours. 

Basalt Waikiki
2255 Kuhio Ave.