Heating up a business lunch at Pineland Chinese Restaurant


HONOLULU -- A business associate came to Honolulu last week bent on getting my signature on a contract.

Where would you like to go for lunch, Matthew? he asked. Its on the corporate account, so moneys no object. 

Illusions of (dining) grandeur danced upon my taste buds. Would it be La Mer, Alan Wongs, the Bistro?

No. We would power it up at Pineland Chinese Restaurant, where the menu is so inexpensive you dont need a corporate account.

And if you cant close the business deal over kung pao and spicy eggplant, you dont belong in this town.

I decided that if he couldnt handle chopsticks -- and the spices -- he wouldnt get my signature. Call it corporate posturing.

Pineland is dingy, drab and delicious.

It sits on upper Keeaumoku Street, like a lonely Buddha, waiting to share its joy and magic. The mom and pop proprietors toil away in this enterprise seven days a week, nurturing our appetites and feeding our souls.

We started with something on the mild and sweet side, mushu shrimp, manageable and confidence-building. I had him right where I wanted him. Advantage, me.

Next, I thought Id accelerate the pace by ordering something with attitude -- kung pao chicken -- to see how my dining companion would handle the heat.

This magical combination of flavors and textures is one of my favorite things; the best kung pao in Hawaii, bar none.

With nary a glisten upon his brow, he remained focused and clear.

Chalk up one for the city slicker.

Sensing a shift in the momentum, he zeroed in for the kill. But Id have nothing to do with that.

It was time to call in the big guns. The spicy eggplant was on its way.

Id see what he was really made of.

The Pineland power play was now fully engaged. The owners of this unlikely deal-making dreamland smiled graciously, unaware of their role as my culinary accomplices.

Well, this fleshy, nuclear, wok-a-doodle-doo eggplant dish stopped him in his tracks with its sneaky heat.

His upper lip trembled and his eyes got teary.

He was losing his edge.

The knockout punch arrived when he got up to locate the pitcher of ice water. I delighted at this sight and almost began my victory jig.

This was a true win-win situation.

Pineland wins for down-and-dirty, delicious dining.

My business associate won my signature on his dotted line, and I won because I realized that I am the architect of my own power lunch dreams.

Game, set, match and check, please.

Matthew Gray, owner of Hawaii Food Tours (800) 715-2468, is a former food writer and restaurant reviewer for Hawaiis largest daily newspaper, the Honolulu Advertiser, and is considered one of Hawaiis top food and wine experts.

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