Tropical getaways

In case you missed it, here’s my review (of sorts) of Hula’s Island Grill and Tiki Bar that appeared in Thursday’s Go! section of the Monterey Herald. I’ll be reposting my reviews and stories from my weekly column for the Herald here on my blog along with extra photos that didn’t appear in print.

On a whim, I joined some friends for dinner at Hula’s on Friday night. I don’t know what inspired us to go here — probably because it was just a short walk from both the office and our respective apartments.

We got there early — and good thing, because Hula’s is a popular hangout that gets crowded with locals and tourists alike on the weekends.

Nothing like a plate of spicy edamame to kick off the weekend.

Hula’s is a good place to grab a drink after work — I’ve got many friends who partake in Hula’s signature strong, tropical libations during the restaurant’s happy hour (Tuesday through Saturday, 2 to 6 p.m.; Sunday and Monday, 4:30 to 6 p.m.).

But none of us opted for booze on Friday night. Instead we sampled some small bites (pupus), starting with sweet potato fries (a basket for $6), spicy edamame ($4) and calamari ($7).

A rather disappointing plate of calamari.

The calamari was a large steak cut into thick strips. The texture was a little slimy and rubbery, and the calamari was drenched in a thick, gooey sauce. I suddenly understood why some people don’t like calamari — this plate of calamari even turned off a calamari fanatic like me.

I much preferred the spicy edamame. There was a decent portion of soybeans, sprinkled liberally with salt, dried chile flakes and fresh slices of Serrano chilies.

A plate of spicy edamame. Tears come to my eyes just looking at these suckers!

Wow, these certainly had some bite to them! As I sat popping edamame into my mouth, I could feel the heat building.

In theory, I was going to split the edamame with one of my friends. But after a few pods, it proved too spicy for him, and he conceded that I was on my own. This was going to be interesting . . .

I decided to pace myself with some sweet potato fries to cut the spice from the edamame. I hoped the starch of the sweet potatoes would absorb some of the heat.

By now, the spice from the edamame was getting stronger and stronger. I could feel it in the back of my throat, but I kept going, mostly as a matter of pride when my friends bet I wouldn’t be able to finish the whole bowl solo.

“Amateurs!” I proclaimed, and a statement I feared I’d soon regret.

A short while later, my entrée arrived — cubano pork tacos ($14). The two tacos had a heaping portion of slow-roasted pulled pork, served over taco slaw on corn tortillas, with habañero aioli on the side.

The tacos weren't bad, but felt a little pricey at $14.

The pork was well cooked — though a few bites were a little too roasted and dry. The accompanying taco slaw was refreshing — a good sweet complement to the salty pork.

In between bites of the pork tacos, I was polishing off the last of the spicy edamame. By now, my lips were tingling, my eyes were watering and my face was bright red. Any minute now, I was expecting to do my best Looney Toons impression with smoke coming out my ears! “Only a couple more, only a couple more,” I thought to myself.

All done--thank god!

Just when I thought I couldn’t last any longer, I did it — I popped that last soybean into my mouth. Never have I felt such satisfaction and relief.

As tortuous for my tongue as that plate of edamame was, dinner was entertaining and lively. Sometimes that’s just as important as the food, no?

Next time I’ll skip scalding my lips and go for something milder, like the seaweed salad ($4) or the pulled pork plate ($15).

Hula’s Island Grill and Tiki Room is located at 622 Lighthouse Ave. in Monterey. 655-4852 or www.hulastiki.com.

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