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First Look: Goen Dining + Bar in Kailua

Chef Roy Yamaguchi launches new concept restaurant with casual, stylish Pan-Asian food, comforting noodle dishes and creative cocktails.


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Goen Dining + Bar Kailua

Goen's outside dining space.
Photos: Robbie Dingeman

 

Goen quietly arrived this week, in the Lau Hala Shops that once housed the Kailua Macy’s and before that, Liberty House. It is the first restaurant to open in the new space and a new concept from chef Roy Yamaguchi, who describes it as “approachable, comforting, Pan-Asian/American” with a Hawai‘i twist.

 

He explained that a casual neighborhood eatery makes more sense to him in the Windward O‘ahu community than a duplicate of the original Roy’s in Hawai‘i Kai.

 

“I wanted to do something different,” Yamaguchi says. This venture is called Goen Dining + Bar, serving a mix of small-bite appetizers, salads, sushi specialty rolls, along with more substantial main dishes averaging $8 to $28 a plate.  

 

The restaurant occupies a 3,500-square-foot slice of Alexander & Baldwin’s new shopping and dining complex. It seats a total of about 100 at tables and in the bar, with 2,500-square feet inside and another 1,000 in outdoor space that faces the parking lot.

 

Goen Soba

Cha soba with grilled flank steak is served in a bowl made by local company tropical clay Hawai‘i.

 

We sampled some of the introductory menu this week. It will be changing with seasonal offerings, Yamaguchi says, and as the restaurant settles in under executive chef Francisco Adolfo, who spent five years working in Roy’s restaurants on Maui. Some initial menu standouts include a bowl of light green soba noodles in a bright soy broth topped with tender slices of flank steak along with enoki mushrooms and greens; a crab-topped slaw salad with rice noodles and cabbage tossed in a nam pla (fish sauce common in Southeast Asian cooking) Thai-style vinaigrette with roasted cashews.

 

One of my favorites was an appetizer: Beets cooked until tender, but still firm, arrived lightly coated in a cilantro pesto with a wedge of Humboldt Fog goat cheese to spread on crunchy slices of grilled bread. The flavors complement each other enough to convert even the beet skeptic at our table. Goen dishes are more casually presented, still pretty but less precisely plated than Royʻs signature restaurants.

 

Goen beets

Beets with cilantro pesto and humboldt fog goat cheese.

 

Guests dining at other tables praised the house pho, with chicken and long squash, a dish that looks especially comforting as we head into cool rainy nights; the salmon with garlic, choy sum, pickled eggplant and hijiki rice; and the kampachi crudo with cilantro and kaffir lime in a pepper-yuzu-garlic mignonette.

 

Goen Cocktails

Nippon 75 (left) and Ko‘olau Sour.

 

Honolulu-based architect Brian Fujiwara provided the clean, open design. The décor feels comfortable with muted grays and brick, planters filled with fresh vegetables and an indoor-outdoor approach that feels inviting, like your friend’s well-kept backyard lānai. Residents are already calling out the names of friends dining as they walk up. The restaurant seems ripe for success in Kailua by providing a dinner option that doesn’t directly compete with others nearby but offers good food, wine, beer and cocktails and an inviting ambience. Fun cocktails include a Nippon 75 riff on a French 75, a mai-tai style Rip Taiʻd and our favorite, Ko‘olau Sour, with liliko‘i, rye and the zesty surprise of a lemon pepper garnish, all $13 each.

 

Goen Planters

Kalo, Rosemary, cherry tomatoes and other vegetables and herbs grow in planters bordering the Lānai.

 

The restaurant served the first practice meals Nov. 18, with friends and family, then opened to all guests Nov. 20, initially dinners only, with plans to add lunch, then brunch.

 

Goen Roy Yamaguchi
chef roy yamaguchi

About that name? Goen is both a five-yen coin whose graphic elements also represent agriculture, water and industry, and a homonym for a strong bond of friendship. Yamaguchi says he intended it to reflect the agricultural history of Kailua rather than the Japanese tourists who now visit by the busload.

 

One of the founders of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine, Yamaguchi is a leading chef who now runs 11 restaurants in Hawai‘i and is affiliated with another 15 throughout the U.S. For decades, he’s focused on sourcing local to get the freshest ingredients in the most sustainable way while supporting local farmers and businesses.  

 

“We want to be good stewards,” Yamaguchi says. “I’m not here to take anybody’s business. We’re here to stay.”

 

Yamaguchi is proud that the menu doesn’t duplicate Roy’s traditional dishes. It opened with just four desserts, including a pair of mochi, one stuffed with Nutella, the other cookie butter; and a version of halo halo. When pressed about the possibility of adding a certain iconic dessert, he says he’d consider the often-requested must-order-20-minutes-ahead chocolate soufflé. (My trainer would be among the Kailua residents who might never have reason to leave Kailua if that happens.)

 

Goen Dining + Bar, 573 Kailua Road, Suite 109, Kailua, (808) 263-4636, royyamaguchi.com. Dinners, 5 to 9 p.m. daily, On Nov. 26, lunch begins daily from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., brunch is expected to come later.

 

READ MORE STORIES BY ROBBIE DINGEMAN

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