The Willows was, in my dad's day, THE exclusive restaurant to take people to. It was originally built on top of a natural spring. Apparently, during my Goong Goong's time, all of Moiliili was filled with natural springs, and the young boys would swim in them and crawl through the connecting tunnels. By my dad's time, the one at Willows was one of the only ones left. As more and more construction was done in the Moiliili area, that spring dried up as well. So when Willows was renovated, they preserved the original image by creating an artificial spring and pond. Probably the coolest table at the Willows is the one in the outrigger canoe that sits on the edge of the pond.
Named for the willow trees, that are still growing over the wall of the restaurant, the grounds are kept as a lush tropical garden. It is one of the most magnificently kept gardens in the whole state. From the minute you walk in, you're treated to a visual feast of fauna growing on rock walls, hanging from trees, and everywhere you look. As you walk further in, you even cross a small arched bridge over a little stream.
The best thing about the Willows, is that they've got a really great Hawaiian food buffet, that's taken Hawaiian food and dressed it up for a more elegant setting. So you've still different types of poke, and kalua pig, and lau laus, and chicken long rice, and poi. But the poi is served in neat little cups, and there are separate cups for your long rice, and the ti leaf is easily removed from your lau lau with the serving tongs, and discarded right at the buffet line. They've taken all of the familiar flavors and dressed them up nicely. If you come on certain days, the Willows even features a trio of strolling Hawaiian muscians (ukulele, guitar, and cello). Real, melodic, Hawaiian music, like we used to sing on the porch in Hawaiiana, or at May Day, to accompany your Hawaiian food. It's the perfect way to show off our authentic culture to malahini from the mainland.
We've had many company Christmas parties at the Willows. But the most important function I ever had at the Willows was my eldest son's 1st birthday party. Having a lot of senior guests, a few children, several out of town visitors, needing someplace that was comfortable, elegant, and still Hawaiian, there was really only one place that we could go.
I've been trying to figure out where to hold my second son's 1st birthday party. Given the same criteria though, the list of contenders is really short.