A Return to the Stage: Ron de Guzman is Back with New Dishes



Misoyaki salmon

The Honolulu Design Center’s resident restaurant, Stage, has been through a few identity changes in its short lifetime. It opened in 2007 with much fanfare, its designer digs promising perfect plates of food and ultra satisfied palates. But then it didn’t really deliver. The food was just OK; the prices were not. Not a great combination. Then executive sous chef Ron de Guzman moved into the executive chef position and things started to change. For the better. De Guzman created a menu that was both familiar and inventive, and those of us who swore off the place went back to give it a second (and third) chance and were happy we did.

Now, after a short stint away, de Guzman is back at the helm and doing what he does best: stylish food that tastes good. About a year ago, he left to work at Sam Choy's restaurant on Hickam Air Force Base to "try to lay low and see if I could stress less," de Guzman says. "That didn't quite work out." Then, after a brief interlude with his mentor Lance Kosaka at the Top of Waikiki, he decided to return to Stage. He's revamped most of the menu, except for "the lamb dish and the [hamachi] sashimi—I cannot touch that, it's part of my contract," he says. "Nah, just joking."

We tried out the new menu over lunch; there’s something about going to a fancy-pants place during daylight hours that feels like you’re cheating on your SATs. And we love it. You get all the stuff you’d get if you went at night, without the price tag (and you can wear slippers—the nice kind, of course).

At Stage, they wholeheartedly embrace the lunch crowd with a reasonably priced menu and, our favorite? The three-course prix fixe lunch menu for $26. Sitting down to a three-course midday meal could be this generation’s answer to the two-martini lunch. Because that much good food—we’re talking dinner portions on a lunch budget, here—needs to be eaten slowly. That’s what you tell your boss.
 


Graham-cracker crusted calamari (left) and meatloaf.
 

For the prix fixe we like the misoyaki salmon nestled tenderly on a bed of green tea soba noodles, followed by the vanilla bean panna cotta. We also like the homestyle meatloaf, (though we’d like it better without the truffle oil) and we love the brownies a la mode. But then, how do you convince your boss that a nap really does increase productivity?

Off the a la carte menu, the graham cracker-crusted calamari is a good choice. It’s a nice contrast in texture and flavor. The graham cracker gives the bouncy squid an earthy sweetness that at first seems misplaced, but two rings and a few crisp tentacles later and there’s nothing but harmony in every bite. And De Guzman has always made a great burger. Some things never change.
 

Stage, 1250 Kapiolani Blvd., Honolulu Design Center, 2nd Floor, 237-5429, stagerestauranthawaii.com
Lunch entrees from $15 to $20, lunch prix fixe $26; dinner entrees from $23 to $40, 4-course prix fixe dinner $55
 

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