Kailua Eats: Formaggio Grill & Wine Bar

When I heard a wine bar and bistro was opening in Kailua, I was happy. No, I was ecstatic. After spending 15 years in the SF Bay Area, you get pretty used to fine dining and great wine lists.  So Formaggio came on the scene and my reviews are mixed. Why?

First, it is expensive.  Not French Laundry expensive – but still Overly Expensive.  Second, the food sometimes just isn’t that great. Mostly, it is “pretty good,” but overall, it is hit or miss. I seems like it depends who is back in the kitchen that night. Not consistent, not fabulous. So therefore prices are high in relation to what you are getting.

There are a few standouts, however.  The “Lobster Bisque to Live For”, for one. This is not the “best” lobster bisque I have had. That title belongs to Lindsay’s over in the Cape Cod area of Massachusetts.  But this one is pretty good, if your timing is right. That means, if you get a batch that hasn’t been sitting in the pot for too long. When it has, the consistency and color changes, it is darker and thicker with more of a film. I have had it fresh and not so fresh, on different visits.  Also, when Formaggio first opened, they were topping the bisque with huge chunks of lobster and an attractive claw piece.  More lobster than you could eat in one bite.  Lately, it is pretty lucky to get your bisque topped with a bite and at that, a pretty sad, chewed up looking piece. For around $12 a bowl, the lobster should at least be in good shape.

What else is good at Forgmaggios? The burgers and panini sandwiches – Lobster Panini $16.99, Kobe Burger Panini $15.99, Vegetable Panini $12.99 – Ouch! The truffled French Fries, at $7.99. This makes Formaggio a nice choice if you are lunching in Kailua and don’t mind spending the dough.

And Formaggio is also a GREAT place for Happy Hour.  It serves pupu sized dishes, like Filet Mignon Tacos, Sauteed Calamari, or Shrimp on Toast for only $6. Along with these nicely priced dishes, they have daily wine and beer specials.  Speaking of wine, they alway do have a very nice, large and constantly updated Wine List.  So cheers also to Formaggio for that. It is and has been, since opening, a standout in Kailua and on the entire island of Oahu with regard to its wine list.

But do yourself a favor and don’t go for dinner.  And if you do, don’t order the Beef Bourgionon. That is unless you are feeling like a can of Dinty Moore beef stew. It tastes pretty much the same.  I am not even sure if they use wine in the sauce and the beef in the dish is fatty and sparse. At $21.99 for this dish, I think I would pass.  Other entrees such as Prime Boneless ShortRibs ($34.99), Chicken Breast Milanaise ($19.99) and Barbecued Ribs ($29.99)  are fine, but pricey.

Formaggio, please take cue from another Kailua restaurant that recently seems to have LOWERED its prices.  Or take a look at a restaurant like Brasserie du Vin, in Honolulu, that is more of an authentic European Bistro – reasonable prices, delicious food.  Isn’t that what you are trying to be?

Service here can be excellent.  Most of the time it is excellent. But on occaision, you may get a little attitude from a server.  After all, THIS restaurant is the trendiest place in Kailua, has a good location, good hours of operation and a great wine list.  Live music on some evenings also makes it a fun place to stop by for a night on the town.  And on a Kailua-scale, it is a place to see and be seen.

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