New Restaurants Open on Oahu
New Releases: We check out three new restaurants, two big time, one better.
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Finally, a mahi filet, on a paella rice that was a little soupy, but, to its credit, actually tasted of saffron. The fish was surrounded by all the high-end seafood you might want: a plump sautéed scallop and two prawns that aspired to be lobster tails, so large were they. It was enough seafood to justify being a $39 special.
Dinner was $420 with everything, including tip. “Next time we’re eating at the buffet restaurant,” said my wife. “It had laulau.” (The buffet, I checked, was $49.95.)
“Isn’t the buffet where they have Breakfast with Mickey?” said our older daughter, with a deep undertone of reproach. “I wonder if I can get my friends to go with me sometime.”
Hyatt Waikiki, 2424 Kalakaua Ave., 923-1234, Wednesday-Sunday Lounge 5:30-10 p.m., Dinner 6-10 p.m. Free validated valet parking, major credit cards.
As I walked onto the third-floor pool deck of the Hyatt Waikiki, the history seemed to tug at my sleeve. In the mid-1970s, Chris Hemmeter’s $75-million Hyatt was the newest, hippest, most spectacular thing in Waikiki.
Jimmy Borges sang at Trappers. In the basement, Spats was Waikiki’s upscale disco (anyone remember disco?).
Upstairs on the third floor was Bagwells 2424. Waiters in tuxedos would bring entrées to the table covered in silver domes, which they whisked off all at once, so you could ooh and ahh at chef On Jin Kim’s artful nouvelle-cuisine plates.
As the Hyatt was eclipsed by newer development, Bagwells was transformed into Ciao Mein, a Hyatt chain concept that combined Chinese and Italian food on the grounds that everyone liked one or the other or both. It was hotel think: something for everyone.
Now, with the third floor of the Hyatt getting a $20 million makeover, there’s a new pool and two new restaurants, SHOR (steak and seafood and highly enjoyable) and, taking over the old Bagwells/Ciao Mein spot, the even newer Japengo.
Japengo is an exonym for the country that people who live there call Nippon. In ancient times, Chinese called the country Cipan Guó, which sounded like Cipango to Marco Polo, and got turned over time into both Japengo and Japan.
Japengo, the restaurant, is a dazzler, deep amber and gold with black accents. It’s large, 160 seats, lounge with couches, booths on the perimeter, tables in the back, a private dining room. The menu, more than most hotel menus, reflects the way Hawaii eats, with Asian favorites from a range of cultures.
The menu lists a baker’s dozen maki sushi rolls, like crispy salmon skin, or a combo of snow crab and crunchy softshell. The spicy tuna roll is one of the best I’ve encountered, quality ahi, not heavily mayo’d or overseasoned with Sriracha. It even comes with a heaping portion of the ahi mix piled on top of the cut-up roll, just to make sure you get your $14 worth.
The gyoza grabbed my attention, big, plump dumplings, stuffed with gingery pork mix, served with the traditional red-vinegar sauce. Classic Chinese food, done well.