“What makes life special?  To me, it’s the fleeting micro-moments that happen as we are going about our day-to-day lives.  It is a combination of scents in the air, tastes on the tongue, laughter mingled with music and being surrounded by loved ones and close friends. These are moments that make me stop and savor.”

– Chef Vikram Garg of TBD…

A RESTAURANT WITH AN EXPIRATION DATE

Pop-up restaurants were all the the rage a few years ago and continue to be fairly popular even now. These exciting flashes of culinary experimentation from a new concept or visiting chef can help add some short-lived variety to the local culinary scene. These popups, designed to last as little as a day to perhaps a few weeks, are fleeting. Time, or rather the lack thereof, is as much a key ingredient to these concepts as any you’ll find in their kitchens. TBD… Hawaii leans in to the concept of a short-term existence with its deliberate use of the TBD acronym accompanied by an equally deliberate use of an ellipsis (…). But, unlike other pop-up restaurants that burn a very short fuse, TBD… has given itself a little more shelf life with a current predetermined closing date of June 2021.

The kitchen and concept of TBD… are led by Chef Vikram Garg, best known locally for his years at the Halekulani, where he oversaw the hotel’s culinary programs at La Mer, Orchid’s, and House Without a Key. Chef Garg’s roots in Indian cuisine are evident throughout the menu, which utilizes a variety of Indian flavors and spices. The revamped kitchen includes a tandoor oven, in which several of TBD…’s entrees and appetizers are cooked. The cocktail menu, created by mixologist Francesco Lafranconi, contains many of the same spices and ingredients that can be found in TBD…’s food.

HOW'S THE FOOD? TBD...

Lentil Chips at TBD...
Lentil Chips

Although a very simple dish, these lentil chips (sometimes referred to as papadum) were full of flavor. The thin, crispy chips were savory, with a mild undertone of curry and spice.

Jamon Iberico at TBD...
Jamon Iberico - Tomato raisin jam, naan, cheese

TBD… is the second recent restaurant opening to feature the famed Jamon Iberico ham on its menu. The rich and nutty ham was served atop a round of naan. The drizzle of oil gave each bite an extra layer of luxuriousness, while the mild funk of the cheese helped to cut the intense flavor of the ham itself. If you’ve never had Jamon Iberico before, I’d recommend picking off a piece from this dish to taste it all on its own. It is quite delicious.

Tomato Tartare at TBD...
Tomato Tartare - Burrata, Nigella seed cracker

Of all the dishes I had this one felt the most detached from the rest of the menu. The creamy burrata cheese and sweet tomato created a delightful flavor combination, but one that ultimately felt similar to your typical mid-range Italian restaurant. I didn’t dislike the dish. I just felt it could have been a bit more unique or connected with the Indian-influenced flavors of the other dishes.

"TFC" Tandoori Fried Chicken - Greek yogurt, raw mango chutney, herbs

The star menu item from the tandoor oven is a massive age tomahawk steak (which Chef Vikram is cutting in the featured image of this post) that rings in at $169. If I was with a larger party I would have given this a shot. Nevertheless, I wanted to try a dish that would be cooked in the tandoor oven, which led to this plate of “TFC”. On the surface these look like your typical fried morsels of chicken, but once I took my first bite I was greeted with a myriad of Indian herbs and spices. The chicken was moist and tender, but the crust remained crispy. I also appreciated the cooling and sweet balance provided by the yogurt and mango.

Lamb shank at TBD...
Lamb Shank - Tamarind braised, 'ulu mash, gremolata

I love lamb and a braised lamb shank is one of my favorite preparations. I haven’t had an Indian-inspired lamb shank since my visit to the now closed Saffron in Minneapolis back in 2015, so I was excited to try TBD…’s take on the protein. Describes as “fall off the bone”, this lamb shank was just a little short of that. The meat was very tender, but needed to be coaxed off the bone with fork and knife. The sweet yet tart presence of tamarind mellowed the gaminess of the lamb. The ulu mash was thick and felt rich in texture, but was not heavy on the palate. The one shortfall was the gremolata, which didn’t feel like it added much to the otherwise delicious plate.

'Ulu fries at TBD...
'Ulu Fries with tamarind ketchup

‘Ulu (Hawaiian breadfruit) has gained some popularity in higher-end restaurants as of late. The local starch can be prepared in a variety of ways. I’ve had ‘ulu fries in the past which were soggy and unappealing in texture. Thankfully TBD… does a good job in the preparation of the breadfruit, which yielded a lightly crisp texture. Much like the ‘ulu mash in the lamb shank dish, these fries felt lighter and less filling than their potato-based cousins. Tamarind ketchup, with its sweet and tart flavors, helped to cut into the oiliness of the fries.

Mango kulfi at TBD...
Mango Kulfi - Gastronaut yogurt, pistachio, 23k gold

We’re right in the heart of mango season and TBD…’s upscaled take on an ice cream popsicle was packed full of the sweet flavor of mango. Visually the dessert is striking, with its bright colors and playful plating. The kulfi itself was light and refreshing, but still had its trademark creamy texture.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS

It was obvious to me that the kitchen at TBD… was being led by a seasoned chef. Apart from a few minor nitpicks, the food we had was well executed and delicious. Indian cuisine can be very forceful with many bold herbs and spices, and so I appreciated Chef Garg’s restraint as he showcased his roots in subtle yet meaningful ways. Although I had just the one dish from the tandoor oven, that dish proved that it’s presence is far more function than gimmick.

Service was excellent, almost unbelievably good for a restaurant that’s only been open for 11 days. Our server was very attentive, courteous, and engaging with us throughout the evening. The timing of food from the kitchen was nearly perfect. I didn’t feel rushed or overwhelmed with too much arriving at the table at once. The atmosphere of the restaurant is a somewhat “refined casual” if you would. I was seated in a full dining room, but could carry on conversation without issue.

The only part of my experience at TBD… that I could construe as potentially negative is the price point. Granted the restaurant is located in Waikiki, I did feel that the price per plate was still a bit higher than I would have expected. In addition to the food above my tab included one cocktail and two non-alcoholic beverages. The total bill before tip was $180 for two people, which places TBD… well into the fine dining tier of restaurant price points in Honolulu. It’s in comparing TBD… to other restaurants of similar price where my perception of dollar value suffers a little bit.

All that being said, I do think that TBD… is worth checking out at least once before they close up in a couple of years. My gut tells me that I’ll be back again at least once more before then.

SCORECARD

Food 90/ 100
Service 95/ 100
Atmosphere 80/ 100
Price Value 75/ 100
Overall Score 86/ 100

TBD…
Lotus Honolulu Hotel
2885 Kalakaua Ave
Honolulu, HI 96815
Ph: 808.791.5164
www.tbdhawaii.com