Do you need Hawaii right about now? Do you want to look at palm trees while drinking something long, cold and fruity, served to you by someone in a flowered sarong? Me too. And although the palms were only in pictures, I got just that at Leilani's of Hawaii
It may strike visitors as somewhat peculiar that those sarong-clad waitresses are working a room that looks more like a turn-of-the-century New Orleans chophouse than anything remotely islandish. But during a Baltimore December, you take your Hawaii wherever you can find it.
"Leilani" is, of course, Leilani Wallace, the effervescent Maui-born restaurateur whose warm ways and unusual Continental-Hawaiian cooking made her Pigtown place, Lloyd's Cafe, something of a cult item. Making the move was a brave thing to do; Scarlett O'Hara's and Maxie's did not have good luck in this location. And instead of the cafe's intimate, plant-filled atmosphere that helped promote that "family" feel, the new space offers spruce-green walls, beveled glass windows and crystal chandeliers, all of which have a formal grandeur that's amusingly at odds with the tropical theme.
This being Leilani's place, we expected friendly service and interesting cuisine attractively presented. And we got it. But I'll admit to a little disappointment with the food, which lay heavy both upon the stomach and the wallet.
We took the waitress' suggestion and began the meal with an appetizer platter for two, an assortment of moderately tasty, moderately greasy hors d'oeuvres -- chicken teriyaki on skewers, bacon-wrapped barbecued shrimp, stuffed mushrooms, bacon and puff-pastry twists, etc. -- which would not have looked out-of-place on one of those Polynesian pupu trays, or at a Hawaiian wedding.
Paupiette of chicken with shrimp, scallops and crab, topped with watercress sauce ($16.95), and mahi-mahi with crab stuffing ($18.95) looked almost identical. The chicken breast had a teriyaki tang, and the mahi-mahi was scented with anise, but both were heaped with a crab imperial so rich it made me a little woozy. And here, nothing exceeds like excess: As if the imperial wasn't more than enough, the fish was also slathered with a sweet-and-sour sauce studded with chopped macadamias.
Leilani makes superb pineapple-macadamia mini-muffins. But she didn't make the desserts, which included a pretty fruit-topped cheesecake and a dacquoise-filled almond-mocha cake sweet enough to make Willie Wonka's teeth ache.
Yes, we've had better food. But if you need a little Hawaii, right this very minute? Be there. Aloha.
Leilani's of Hawaii
Where: 889 N. Howard St.
Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight daily.
Credit Cards: AE, MC, V.
Features: Continental and Hawaiian-inspired dishes.
Non-smoking section: No, but staff will try to accommodate non-smoking customers.