Dear Muffie: I’m dying to tell you about the new place called Hula’s I tried in Santa Cruz last week . . . – you know how Courtney Love always says that “God is in the details,” well, this new island-surfing theme place (where the old China Szechuan used to be) is detailed right down to its bamboo ceiling fans and carved tiki tchotckas. I expected Don Ho to be sitting at the bar it was so Hawaii Five-0 decorated. But Muff, the food was more like Hawaii Uh-Oh. If you eat with your eyes, Hula’s Island Grill will appeal. But if you need more than a Mai Tai, this kitchen needs to do some fine tuning (“fine tuning” is restaurant reviewer-speak for “fix the food!”).

Don’t get me wrong. This place looks great! Rattan-lined walls, antique black and white photos of Hawaiian surfing royalty and the chic little booths are upholstered in vintage 30s tropical print fabric. Lots of red sconces and decadent red lights hanging down over the full bar. (Interesting that there’s yet another full bar down on the lower end of Pacific Avenue…a mere stone’s throw from Little Tampico, The Catalyst, 515, and Blue Lagoon.)

Okay, so the decor’s very “Tiki Noir” but problemo: Muffie we couldn’t really tell if the gigantic chunks of meat in our Poke pupu were ahi or beef or what. Hard to tell what you’re eating when the light is red, the room is loud and the food is over-salted. Know what I mean? Did I mention the salt factor? Here’s a pupu head’s up: maybe if they had just called it “bar food” . . . . There’s a whole lot of money involved here, and the owners have two other stores in the Monterey Bay area. So how come I got the impression that nobody in the kitchen was tasting the food before it went out to the dining rooms? The atmosphere at Hula’s is outrageous — now the food just needs to catch up.

Muff – we had a terrific lunch two weeks ago in Balboa Park at the Japanese Tea Pavilion. Great sushi, fresh salmon over sticky rice and a luscious bowl of soba noodles with tofu, almonds, grated carrots and a dusting of nori. This is now on my short list for when I’m in San Diego – I’ll tell you more about that visit soon.
See you next time I’m in The City. Love, Chrissie