Tiny Pyramid has JJ Bistro and French Pastry Fans Cheering
Yes, the chocolate pyramid is still there. But there are a few changes in the move from Kaimukī to Iwilei.
The soft shell crab BLT is a popular lunch item.
Photos: Terri INefuku
Fans of JJ Bistro and French Pastry were devastated when the longtime Kaimukī restaurant shuttered last January. Chef-owner Praseuth “JJ” Luangkhot promised he’d be back.
Now he is. Sort of.
Tiny Pyramid opened in November in Nā Lama Kukui on Nimitz Highway, the commercial complex formerly known as Gentry Pacific Design Center. The new location comes not only with a new name, but a new owner. Luangkhot handed over the reins of the business to his daughter, Natda, and returned to the kitchen full-time.
The restaurant’s interior is sleek and modern, accented by glossy white tiles and muted brick with a grab-and-go section in the back.
The restaurant is still very much a family affair, but its interior reflects the spirit of a new generation. Instead of JJ’s classic French influence (who can forget the restaurant’s giant arch, made to look like the base of the Eiffel Tower), the design is sleek and modern, accented by glossy white tiles and muted brick.
The beloved dessert case also gets a makeover. Eye-catching creations are now housed in a long flat case that allows customers to easily peruse the day’s sweet selections. The new display, I’m told, has already prompted many diners to discover items overlooked in the old location, such as Luangkhot’s gluten-free offerings, which were introduced toward the end of JJ’s run. Rest assured, his famous chocolate pyramids are still a staple here.
The new dessert case is filled with intricately decorated sweets in a streamlined display that’s easy to peruse.
Longtime customers might recognize the grab-and-go area from JJ’s early days. Wooden shelves are adorned with sweet and savory pastries, from raisin rolls and pain au chocolat to Vietnamese meat-filled pâté chaud. Along the back wall, a large drink menu advertises a variety of coffee and espresso drinks, soft drinks and juice. This section didn’t last long in Kaimukī. Along Nimitz Highway, however, it’s been immensely popular with working clientele looking to pick up a coffee and hand-held snack before heading into the office.
Dine-in customers can wander into a small back room that seats 20; however most of the restaurant’s seating is located just outside in the complex’s spacious hallway, which is where my family and I settled for lunch. I actually prefer this area; it’s great for people watching.
The baked lobster avocado may be small, but it’s bursting with flavor and crunch.
Unlike the décor, the menu stays true to its roots. All of JJ’s dishes make their return here, including my personal favorite: the baked lobster avocado ($12 for three pieces). A warm, creamy blend of lobster and cheese gets a splash of sweetness from chili aioli, and is piled on a buttery baguette so crisp, you can hear it crunch from the parking lot. Alfalfa sprouts add freshness as well as the avocado spread, minced apple and tomato. It’s admittedly pricey for an appetizer, but one I’m always sure to order.
The soft shell crab BLT ($15) was a new experience for me, and I’m told it’s popular with the lunch crowd. A whole soft shell crab is covered in panko and deep fried, then served on a toasted sesame bun with avocado, bacon, lettuce, tomato and maple Dijon aioli. The fry was well-executed and complemented the softness of the bun, but the bacon’s richness overpowered the salty, subtle taste of crab, and it was hard to appreciate both in the same bite.
The rosemary cream “noods” with chicken is perfect for a light lunch.
The rosemary cream “noods,” which we ordered with chicken ($14), came with softened carrot slivers, earthy slices of shiitake mushroom and bursts of sun-dried tomato. The sauce was incredibly light, just barely coating the noodles. It could have used a touch more rosemary, but this was a perfect choice for lunch, and one that didn’t weigh us down.
If you enjoy a sweet tomato sauce, you’ll love the Laotian pot pie.
The Laotian pot pie ($16) was a comfort to eat—a generous slab of puff pastry perched atop juicy bites of chicken, carrots, potato, zucchini and sliced onions drenched in a sweet, tangy tomato ragu. This was my dad’s favorite, and when the rest of us were too full to take another bite, he cheerfully finished off the plate.
Of course, we couldn’t leave without dessert, so my brother and I walked back inside to study our options. I managed to catch Luangkhot himself by the showcase, where he graciously answered all of my queries. (Does the almondine tart include frangipane? Yes. What is in the clafoutis? Mascarpone filling.) We made a few selections and returned to the table as the staff brought over our treats.
We could not resist the tarts: macadamia nut, left, and clafoutis.
We shared the macadamia nut and clafoutis tarts ($5.50 each). My brother preferred the first tart, which consisted of macadamia nuts encased in a sticky, caramel filling, while I favored the clafoutis’ creamy custard dotted with berries.
We also grabbed a Big Boy Blue ($3.75) from the grab-and-go wall, a sugar-coated puff pastry filled with blueberry and cream cheese. I found the pastry-to-filling ratio slightly too high on the pastry (who wouldn’t want more blueberries and cream cheese?), but it still paired wonderfully with coffee, and here, they brew a delightfully strong cup.
The Big Boy Blue is a grab-and-go pastry that pairs best with a strong cup of coffee.
Overall, we left happy and satisfied, our leisurely lunch made even more enjoyable by the service, which was friendly and attentive even as business began to pick up around noon.
The restaurant is open all day and switches over to a dinner menu around 4:30 p.m. JJ’s classic four-course menu remains a steal here at $32–$36 depending on which entrée you order, and comes with your choice of dessert from the showcase. I’m told weekly specials are in the works, though the restaurant is already so busy, there’s no time frame for when they’ll debut.
Tiny Pyramid is located on Nā Lama Kukui’s ground floor, to the left as you walk in. The exterior area seats roughly 40 and is great for people-watching.
The parking is free and seems large enough to accommodate both employees and visitors during the day. Go after 5 p.m. and I’m told the lot is practically empty, making dinner visits a breeze. Just don’t arrive too late; the building locks promptly at 9:30 p.m., which means diners can’t linger past closing, unlike in the restaurant’s former location.
I suspect JJ diners will enjoy this reincarnation as I did, though I’m especially eager to see where it goes next with new hands at the helm.
Open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sundays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nā Lama Kukui, 560 N. Nimitz Highway, Suite 102, (808) 739-0993, tinypyramid.com.