After the Shangri La shuttle dropped us back at the Honolulu Museum of Art, we were off and running again, this time to ‘Iolani Palace before it closed for the evening. From the guidebooks, I knew that there was only metered parking available at the palace, so we circled the super-long block a few times before parking in the next one down. What I didn’t know was there is metered parking available in a lot directly behind the palace—take heed!
Before heading to the palace, we made a little detour to Philadelphia to visit the Liberty Bell.
Just kidding! It’s one of the replicas given as gifts to US states and territories as part of a US Treasury savings bond drive in 1950. We were pretty tickled to stumble on it just a week after seeing the real thing while in Philadelphia for DISer InkedUpMomma’s wedding!
The only building on US soil used as an official residence by a reigning monarch, ‘Iolani Palace is located in what is now downtown Honolulu, next door to the Hawaii State Capitol building. The palace was built in 1879–1882 by David Kalākaua, the first Hawaiian king to travel the world. After seeing the grand palaces of other monarchs, he wanted a modern building to represent the new Hawaii. (The previous government building had only contained ceremonial rooms—the king and his entourage preferred to sleep in grass huts elsewhere on the property.) As a result, Iolani Palace had electricity and telephones before even the White House.
You buy your tickets around the side of the palace, something that would’ve been more apparent to us if we’d parked in the back. We’d missed the guided tours for the day, but as it turned out, the self-guided audio tour was plenty comprehensive and fascinating in its own right.
We had a few minutes to kill before they’d let in the next wave of audio tourists, so we went out back to investigate the State Capitol, which Patrick had fallen in love with on first sight (he adores mid-century Brutalist architecture, in all its poured-concrete, monolithic glory).
At the appointed time, we went up the stairs to the back, uh, porch and sat in little rows to put on the shoe covers they gave us and learn how to use the audio tour.
The audio tour starts you off in the main hall, then sends you upstairs, so you see the two floors the royal family lived on first. At the end you can go all the way down to the basement (where the kitchens and offices were) for exhibits that are more museum-style, with placards and behind-the-scenes info, and the gift shop.
Although the museum has been open since 1978, they’ve been painstakingly restoring rooms and tracking down the original furniture and artifacts all this time, so we got to see a lot more than if we’d visited 10 or 15 years ago. They’re now down to just one room left to restore, but some of the others still lack furniture, draperies, artifacts, etc. that make them look as they did during the palace’s heyday. Apparently eBay has been a boon to the historians who are tracking down original artifacts and restoring them to the palace. Items have been found all over the US and all over the world!
It hasn’t been updated in a few years, but I stumbled on an interesting blog by the curatorial staff at the palace that details a lot of this work: http://iolanipalaceinsider.blogspot.com/
OK, now I expect you all to be able to draw that staircase from memory. Ready? GO!
Just to throw you a curveball, here’s ANOTHER staircase, the one the servants used to get from the royal family’s quarters to the kitchens, butler’s pantry, china storage room, offices etc. Actually, they also used that main staircase, since the palace was not built with the hidden servants’ staircases you find in European palaces.
The Blue Room was used for informal and smaller receptions. There are portraits here of King Kalākaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani, as well as one King Louis Philippe of France, which was a gift. One thing we saw a lot of on the tour were portraits of other kings and queens—apparently this kind of gift was de riguer gift among royalty!
Thanks to WikiCommons, I can show you what the Blue Room looked like back in the day. Pretty dang close!
Next door is the State Dining Room, which doubles as a portrait gallery featuring all those gifts from kings and queens (gotta hang them all in case one of the kings or queens comes over for dinner!).
All three sideboards (along with a lot of other furniture in the palace) were made in Boston by the A.H. Davenport Company.
This room is set today for a very small gathering, maybe just the royal family. But it was frequently reconfigured for all different kinds and sizes of parties.
All of the rooms in the palace have a sort of antechamber that you walk through before you enter the room, with smaller rooms on either side of the entry way. Some of them held surprisingly modern bathrooms!
Our next stop was the (real) Throne Room. This is where they held balls, receptions and formal audiences with the King or Queen. It’s also where Queen Lili`uokalani’s trial was held (more on that in a second).
During state functions, the band or orchestra would play out on the terrace.
Once we’d finished touring the “public” rooms on that floor, we were directed to take the elevator up to the private, family rooms of the second floor. Guess that staircase wouldn’t be as shiny if they let us all tramp up and down it!
The upstairs hall was more than just a passageway. The royal family would sometimes take their meals or just hang out there together.
Although, it was kinda awkward that they weren’t allowed to sit on the furniture…
After the Hawaiian monarchy was overthrown, Iolani Palace was used as government offices and all the furnishings were sold off. This is what the museum has managed to recover so far from the King’s bedroom (the quilt is a replica).
Seems like a decent amount until you see an historical photograph of the King’s bedroom in all its overstuffed Victorian glory:
In the study adjacent to the King’s bedroom we learned that all the electric lights in the palace were controlled from the basement, where the generator was—there were no wall switches. The king set up a schedule with his steward that dictated when the lights in each room would turn on and off. Sounds mighty inconvenient today!
The King displayed artifacts from his travels in his study.
Because so few people had telephones, they were all connected. The King could pick up this receiver and call anyone in town who had a phone! But I think he mostly used it to communicate with his steward in the basement office.
The Gold Room, also known as the Music Room, is one of the more recently completed renovation projects. They’ve done a fantastic job!
Both King Kalākaua and Queen Liliʻuokalani were accomplished musicians and songwriters. Sheet music for some of their songs is displayed here.
The Queen’s most famous composition, “Aloha Oe” (“Farewell to Thee”), is arguably the song most associated with Hawaii (and it’s the lullaby Nani sings to Lilo in the hammock in Lilo & Stitch!). Queen Liliʻuokalani composed it after watching two lovers bid each other goodbye, but it wasn’t transcribed until her 9-month imprisonment in one of the rooms of the palace after the monarchy was overthrown. It has since come to be considered the Queen’s lament for the loss of her country.
Each of the corner rooms upstairs has a small sitting room in its farthest corner. We weren’t allowed to go into any of them, but you can kind of see this one through the doorway.
Directly across the hall is the room where the Queen was imprisoned. In 1893 she was deposed by a group of American and European businessmen (with the help of US Marines and sailors) who didn’t like her proposal for a new constitution that restored the monarchy’s veto power and returned voting rights to native Hawaiians and Asians. In 1895 she was arrested after a failed counter-revolution, although she denied any knowledge of it. She was forced to abdicate her throne and was put on trial in the Throne Room. Upon her conviction she was sentenced to 5 years’ hard labor and slapped with a $5,000 fine. The sentence was commuted to imprisonment in this room.
After 9 months’ imprisonment, the Queen was released to house arrest until the Republic of Hawaii issued her a full pardon and restored her civil rights in 1896.
Being in this room made us terribly sad for the injustices done to the Queen and the Hawaiian people. In the center is a crazy quilt she and her lady in waiting (who voluntarily joined the Queen in her imprisonment) started to chronicle her imprisonment. It features ribbons and scraps of fabric from their own wardrobes, along with messages that document significant events in the Queen’s life. There are also important dates in the timeline of the overthrow of the government, names of friends and supporters, and patriotic ribbons and badges that all combine to make the quilt a strong political statement.
The next room over is the last one waiting to be restored. Originally it was occupied by various royal family members.
The last room we visited was the Queen’s original bedroom.
When you’re done with the audio tour, you can take the elevator down to the basement level and tour the exhibits on your own. They were getting ready to close by the time we got down there, so we dashed.
Part of the kitchen…
The butler’s pantry…
One of the offices where the King’s steward worked…
There was also an exhibit of royal jewelry and other possessions, including this beauty…
On our way out, Patrick stayed behind to shoot a bazllion more photos of banyan tree roots, while I wandered off to explore the spooky burial ground!
OK, don’t judge, but even though we only had an hour til our dinner reservation at fancy-schmancy Alan Wong’s Restaurant, I really wanted to try the famous Leonard’s malasadas in Waikiki.
There’s almost always a line, but we were lucky enough to be the first in a wave of customers, so we didn’t wait long.
Malasadas are Portuguese doughnuts, but they seemed way better than regular doughnuts to me—they didn’t leave that greasy mouth coating, for one thing. The plain, unfilled ones come covered in sugar, cinnamon sugar or li hing (sweet and sour sugar). The custard choices are vanilla, dobash (chocolate) and haupia (coconut), with a rotating fruit flavor of the month. In February it was pink guava. We couldn’t decide, so we bought a dozen and vowed to share them with The Roots (which almost didn’t happen after we tasted them).
There are only a couple of benches, so we took our box of hot, fresh malasadas to the car. We each took a bite, looked at each other in ecstatic surprise, and then—45 minutes before our dinner reservation—devoured half of the box, swapping flavors so we could try them all. (Don’t worry, The Roots: I promise we didn’t slobber on your malasadas!) Maybe we were just hungry and didn’t know it, but oh my goodness, we couldn’t stop eating them, they were so good. Patrick kept exclaiming, “I could eat the whole box!” My favorites were coconut and plain.
Thirty minutes later we rolled up to the valet at Alan Wong’s, sheepishly brushing malasada sugar from our pants as we got out of the car. I’d been warned that the restaurant was in less glamorous part of town, but looking around it was easy to feel like you’d taken a wrong turn. I didn’t even see a building tall enough to have a fourth floor with a restaurant on it until we rounded the last corner. Look for the understated sign and the valet stand.
There’s barely a lobby, just a few feet of tile and then the narrow elevator that seems like it only goes one place. At the top, the elevator door opens to reveal a bustling and inviting space, with cheerful hostesses greeting you from their stand.
I was immediately impressed by the friendly service. Alan Wong’s is one of the top restaurants in all of Hawaii, with some of the highest prices, but the warm Hawaiian hospitality shines through. They maintain some of the flourishes of fine dining while still projecting a welcoming vibe that makes you feel like you belong there no matter who you are or what you’re wearing.
I’d noted our anniversary on our reservation, and I was delighted to see they’d personalized our menus and had the staff sign them. But I got giddy when I saw they were made out to “Carrie and Patrick Hayward”—I love it when people think he has my last name!
One section of the restaurant is a glassed-in terrace with views of the hills (no ocean view here, folks—the focus here is the food!), but I didn’t mind that we were seated inside. As we looked around, we realized that pretty much everyone around us was celebrating something. Alan Wong’s must be the go-to special occasion place in Honolulu!
We were too busy eating to get any other pics, so here’s one from the Interwebz…
The reason we picked it over the other top restaurants in town was that we can do impeccable French food or killer sushi or complicated haute cuisine any day of the week in L.A. What we wanted was a fine dining experience that was uniquely Hawaiian, and Alan Wong’s fit the bill. Plus, President Obama eats here every chance he gets—how can you go wrong?!
But I think what really endeared the restaurant to me was that they let us SPLIT one tasting menu instead of forcing us both to order it—something I’ve never encountered in fine dining! It was a fantastic opportunity for us to sample a lot of different dishes without breaking the bank or our tummies.
I was so excited, I decided we should spring for the $6 butter tasting. Yeah, that’s right, a butter tasting!
Normally you get your choice of rolls from the basket of the roving bread guy, plus a crock of compound butter. With the butter tasting, they bring you three different types of organic/locally sourced/small batch/blah blah blah SWANKY butter! All three came from Oahu’s Naked Cow Dairy. One was salty, one was mild, and one tasted like cheese. I liked them all!
The “Tasting of the Classics” menu started with two appetizers. The Chopped Ahi Sashimi and Avocado Salsa Stack on Crispy Wonton, Spicy Aioli and Wasabi Soy was very good, with fresh, snappy tuna and a lovely ripe avocado.
But my favorite (I think my favorite thing of the whole night) was the swankiest grilled cheese and tomato soup you’ll ever eat – Chilled Vine-Ripened hamakua springs Tomato Soup, Grilled Mozzarella Cheese, Foie Gras, Kalua Pig Sandwich. There were two distinctly different tomato soups swirled into a yin and yang, with a tiny sandwich so rich that even I could only manage a few bites. The acidic tang of the soup perfectly cut the buttery richness of the sandwich, though.
Our next course wasn’t on the tasting menu—I’d seen it on the regular menu and could not resist ordering something called “Poki-Pines”! It was crispy wonton-wrapped ahi poke balls with avocado and wasabi sauce.
These were also fantastic: crunchy and creamy and salty and tasting of the ocean. Normally you probably wouldn’t order these and the ahi and avocado salsa stacks, but we can’t get enough sushi, so we were A-OK with it!
Next came the Ginger-Crusted Onaga, Long-tailed Red Snapper with Miso Sesame Vinaigrette, Organic Hamakua Farms Mushrooms and Corn.
Another home run! Like the other dishes, this one had a perfect balance of flavors and textures, with soft and crunchy and salty and sweet all in one bite.
The Butter-Poached Kona Cold Lobster with Keahole Abalone, Eryngii Mushrooms and Green Onion Oil was really nice, but I wish I’d had the menu in front of me so I could remember all the different things I was eating. I’ve had abalone a few times now, but I still feel like I don’t really know what it tastes like cuz it’s always just little crunchy slivers.
Another very cool thing the restaurant did was let us get a tasting portion of one of the entrees on the main menu that Patrick had been eyeing before we decided on the Tasting of the Classics. That way we didn’t feel like we’d missed out on anything!
The Macadamia Nut-Coconut-Crusted Lamb Chop with Asian Ratatouille, Roasted Garlic Smashed Potatoes and Red Wine Lamb Jus arrived along with the last tasting menu item. I’m no lamb connoisseur, but I do know it was tender and juicy. But the best thing about it was the coconut macadamia topping. “It’s like dessert!” as my dad used to always say (mostly when he was trying to get me to eat fruit).
Interestingly, the last thing we had was our least favorite, even though it had sounded like it would be our favorite: Twice-Cooked Shortrib, Glazed and Grilled “Kalbi” Style with Gingered Shrimp and Ko Choo Jang Sauce. It’s just cuz it was so spicy—if I’d known, I would’ve asked for it to be prepared mild or with the sauce on the side or something. But since I don’t speak Korean, I had no clue that “Ko Choo Jang” means “Will Melt Your Eyeballs”…
When we eat in fancy places, Patrick always reminds me that the desserts never live up to the meal, but I always order one and be disappointed anyway. (It’s usually something like a smear of unsweetened dark chocolate accompanied by cocoa nibs that could pass for coffee grounds and a tooth-shattering sugar decoration.)
But this one turned out to be fantastic! The Waialua Chocolate “Crunch Bars” were layers of chocolate macadamia nut crunch and bittersweet chocolate mousse that tasted kind of like a swanky Kit Kat bar, but with a delicate, dissolving crunch rather than the soggy-styrofoam texture of the popular candy. And you could actually taste the chocolate in the chocolate mousse. They came with a double-chocolate mini cookie and a thing that I don’t know what it was… like a brown-sugary nut ball thingy? It was tasty!
Our waiter also surprised us with an anniversary dessert that was perfect for Patrick, a strawberry tart.
On top of that, we were sent home with a free box of Alan Wong’s signature chocolate-covered macadamia nuts! We were soooooo full but SO glad we’d picked this place for our one nice meal. I think it was probably the best meal we’ve had anywhere in years. And it cost us about what we would have paid for ONE person’s meal and center-section seating at the Paradise Cove Luau. I was so happy we’d opted for this instead.
On the way back to Aulani we stopped at the Target, which is just off the highway and only about 5 or 10 minutes from the resort. Patrick had forgotten his swimsuit (on a trip to HAWAII!) so we had to pick one up. And also a cheap plumeria hair clip for me (which I delight in telling people came from Hawaii… from Target), and some bottled waters to have in the car on our road trip, and some more granola and almond milk for Patrick, and a copy of Lilo & Stitch (which we were shocked to realize we don’t own), etc., etc. You know how it is with Target. Somehow we managed to get out of there for less than the $50 that you always end up spending at Target no matter how short your list is when you walk in.
By the time we got back to the resort, Nate and Jensey had arrived, so I took them their malasadas and spent some time catching up with them in their room. They were put one floor up from us and one room over, so they actually had a view of something besides the roof, lucky stiffs! Hopefully a shot or two of their view will turn up in the photos they took.