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New Restaurants Open on Oahu

New Releases: We check out three new restaurants, two big time, one better.


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Japengo executive sous chef Jeff Szombaty.

Similarly, the eggplant and tofu plate took the Chinese restaurant flavors of salt-and-pepper pork (salt, Szechuan pepper, green onion, those little Thai bird peppers) and applied them to lightly battered eggplant slices and tofu squares, a dish that I am going to crave for a long time.

The entrées were not as dazzling. The Chinatown pork ribs reminded me of growing up in California. We didn’t know from char siu in California. What we ordered were “Chinese spareribs,” which were coated in a thick, red paste of honey (or often sugar), hoisin, dark shoyu, five spice and red food coloring. They were, in effect, char siu on the bone.

That’s what Japengo’s are as well, except they are a lot richer, meatier spareribs than we ever got at White Horse Chinese Restaurant in Oakland, Calif. They ought to be, since they cost $36.

The kalbi arrived, as it does at many a Korean restaurant, on a sizzling platter, but it was overcooked, the sugary kalbi marinade virtually carbonized by the heat, toughening up the obviously high-quality meat. It was $37.

One of my friends had already complained to me that the fried rice was $25. To be fair, that’s for quite a large serving. You can buy just a heaping rice bowl full for only $8, and you might consider it. It’s stuffed with shrimp, char siu and chicken.

However, what you really want among the starches are the kim chee mashed potatoes, a beautiful orange color, just the right touch of spice, a few bright green edamame thrown in for texture.

Desserts are where Japengo shines. Should you desire something sweet while out on the town in Waikiki, you’d do worse than end up in Japengo’s lounge ordering from the dessert menu.

The fresh coconut crème brûlée comes in a hollowed-out half coconut. The profiteroles with hazelnut ice cream are fine, although the most dazzling thing on the plate is the scatter of macadamia nut brittle and chocolate that at first seems like mere decoration.

But allow me to praise the dessert you are unlikely to order: the chilled papaya soup. The soup, virtually pureed papaya, not too gussied up, comes in a pitcher. You pour it over those perfect bits of fresh fruit that you only seem to get in high-end hotels—cubes of pineapple, crescents of papaya and jackfruit—and eat it with lychee-ginger sorbet. A sane sweet at the end of a big meal.

The meal was $200 with tip for three of us, only me drinking, a daigingo sake, since the wine list lacks the kinds of wine that go well with Asian foods.

I was lucky enough to have been given a Hyatt Ohana card, which offers a 20 percent discount at Japengo (also at SHOR and the new SWIM bar, although it may have limited utility in a bar since the card doesn’t discount drinks).

The Hyatt won’t tell you about the Ohana card, but will give you one if you ask, and discount the meal you’re currently consuming. That takes some of the sting out of the menu prices, which may be the otherwise enjoyable Japengo’s biggest problem in attracting a local audience.

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Honolulu Magazine July 2020
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