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for February 18, 2004

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Wahinis Wherever
by Your Diva, Robin Pastorio-Newman

Between Valentine's Day and Mardi Gras, in the absolute dead of winter, falls the birthday of Your Darling, Your Diva, Your One True Love. Coincidentally, this is also the time of year when the holiday blues lift, organized sports are reduced to speculative trash talk, and retailers recognize - again - that perhaps they should've toned down the White Sales ads for Martin Luther King's Birthday.
Winter weather fails to amuse. Despite TV's desperately pandering Sweeps Month, everyone's bored and restless. This leads to birthday soirees that - begging your pardon - really take the cake.
An eagle-eyed confrere spotted a Star Ledger review of Lee's Hawaiian Islander, two Hawaiian-themed Chinese restaurants in Clifton and Lyndhurst. Hearing the siren song of the tiki bar, we made reservations for a Sunday afternoon that was not a Hallmark-sponsored Saturday night holiday.
On Sunday morning, a friend said, "The restaurant burned down. I went to their website and saw pictures." But our reservation was in Lyndhurst, maybe the fire was in Clifton? Yes, it was, but before that was sorted out, we had this conversation with Mom:

Moi: An amusing turn of events - our restaurant may be in ashes.

Mom: Perfect! You did burn down the kitchen.

Moi: Mom, I was eleven. But Happy Anniversary!

Lee's Hawaiian Islander in Lyndhurst (and not in cinders) was at the other end of online directions that included several mysterious corners where we were instructed to turn but not which way, such that we considered getting out of the car and sniffing for pineapple. Fortunately, it's a giant pink building on a corner even the outest of out-of-towners can't miss. Inside, the décor is pure tiki, complete with secluded booths downstairs, bamboo everywhere, and an upstairs so dark we needed menus printed in Braille.
Your Beloved sometimes feels underdressed at family gatherings without a pair of children under the age of five. Between three of our statuesque sisters, we have matching four year olds and a pair of one-and-a-half year olds. For four little boys you need either a crash-proof restaurant or eight adults with arms like Plastic Man. The tiki motif was a big hit with the small children who responded to "Those puffer fish lamps look just like 'Finding Nemo!'" with horror and ... more horror.
Easily distractible adults will find the Sunday afternoon hula show both exciting and perplexing since the show's emphasis is on teaching the culture and less on actual dancing. Single-minded children will find the audience participation part of the show tremendously diverting. Until the dancing started, the whole group ... including people who dislike children and were alarmed to find them under their chairs:

Friend: That missing baby is UNDER MY ASS!

...had to keep a constant toddler headcount; after grass skirts started swishing, we could all get back to drinks served in pineapples and lives of degradation and sloth.
Our waiter was initially alarmed at the prospect of serving a party of twenty with food and beverages of an incendiary nature, but he warmed up after he served us appetizers that were indeed on fire. We weren't speculating as to the cause of his mood change, but noted that he cheered up even more as he sang "Happy Birthday" in Chinese. We applauded when he burst into "Feelings." We left him a huge tip for putting up with children underfoot and adults who couldn't remember their drink orders.
How was the food? It was unspectacular, but that wasn't even a little important. You go to a Hawaiian restaurant for the silliness. Lee's Hawaiian Islander does not disappoint.

©2004 Robin Pastorio-Newman

All material ©2001-2014 Sean Carolan, except as noted.


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