This Romantic Spot Inspires Spontaneous Proposals and Famous Rockstars
Love is on the menu, and tableside drama is the rule, when the evening sun goes down at Michel’s at the Colony Surf.
[Editor’s Note: We have received news on Jan. 18 that a sale of Michel’s to Japan’s Watabe Wedding Corp. has gone into escrow. Click here for the full story.]
Photos: Aaron Yoshino
Stepping into the foyer of Michel’s at the Colony Surf, an intimate, 45-seat jewel box that hugs a strip of beach between Sans Souci and the Outrigger Canoe Club, you’re faced with a stunning coup de théâtre. A wall of glass blazes like a giant Imax projection, giving the front tables a ringside seat to a vast, unobstructed sweep of horizon.
No wonder that, on a recent visit, 12 of the 20 tables were reserved for honeymooners and couples celebrating anniversaries. With waves breaking, a scatter of canoes tugging at their moorings and, directly in front, a wedge of sand with a handful of bathing figures, Michel’s gold award selection as Most Romantic Restaurant could almost seem a foregone conclusion.
But Michel’s doubles down with its flamboyant specialties du maison, flambéed tableside: lobster bisque flamed in Cognac ($18); beef tenderloin au poivre in Jack Daniels ($50); crepes Suzette in Grand Marnier ($16); fresh pineapple in dark rum ($16); foie gras and strawberries sautéed in port ($22). It’s a veritable Fireman’s Ball.
“We have tuxedo waiters doing flambé dishes tableside,” says Eberhard Kintscher, better known as Chef Hardy. “Cherries Jubilee, Steak Diane.” The waiters not only finish, carve and plate in public, they do so under the gaze of an audience expecting transcendence. It reflects Kintscher’s and general manager Philip Shaw’s vision of operatic opulence.
As might be expected, many customers come from Japan. But for residents, Michel’s has also been the place to celebrate major anniversaries and accomplishments. “A lot of locals have never seen flambé,” says majority owner Andy Anderson. “It’s nice to watch the faces of these kids from all of our different communities when they come in and all of a sudden see a flame kick up three feet in the air.”
Born in Hamburg, Germany, Kintscher did his apprenticeship in a hotel in Baden. “It was old-style kitchen brigades, you learned each position—saucier, chef de partie, executive sous chef.” After serving the officers at NATO’s Belgium headquarters and hotel stints in Switzerland and Holland, he helped open The Bistro, one of Hollywood’s great power restaurants. “As a chef, you keep all the good recipes, and The Bistro was very well-known for its souffles. We probably have the best in the state.”
His arrival in the Islands in 1990 placed Kintscher with Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine original Gary Strehl at the Hawai‘i Prince Hotel. Today, “We don’t take any shortcuts,” he says. “The fish is whole and fresh, the meat is prime grade. Abalone, the big ones, are from Santa Barbara; our salad greens are from Hirabara on the Big Island, about as good as it gets.”
Under Kintscher, tableside drama is the rule. A glance down the row of 20 window tables reveals towers of steak tartare under construction, caesar salads being tossed, slices of chateaubriand for two falling off the knife. Everywhere, little blue flames flicker like campfires.
“We do have the nicest setting in Hawai‘i, that’s for sure,” says Kintscher. “Right on the sand. The swaying palm trees outside. The water is nice and calm. We have the torches. The last couple of weeks we’ve been having a Hawaiian monk seal lolling on the beach.”
And then there are the proposals.
“If everything falls into place,” says Kintscher, “and you have a good waiter, the food is good, the lights are dim and you want to be serious about asking the girlfriend to be your wife, this would be the place.”
However, having a reputation for raising romance to a state of perfection can pose problems, especially when corporations fall in love with you. “We get one or two offers a year to buy us out,” Anderson says. This past fall, one such offer made the papers—from Watabe Wedding Corp., a romance machine that offers weddings at Ko Olina and is publicly traded on the Tokyo exchange.
The recent election may have stalled what felt like an elopement to Island fans of Michel’s. “We live in a world where an election comes and goes, and people back off on making an investment,” Anderson says. It may also be that, while the location on the ground floor of the Colony Surf may be prime Gold Coast, the restrictions that come with operating under a condo agreement impose a profit ceiling. “We can’t really go into breakfast or lunch,” he explains. “Because of the condo, we can’t have too many people, too many crowds. It’s successful as a dinner house.”
That success stems from manager Shaw and Kintscher’s long partnership. When Anderson asked Shaw to take over Michel’s 19 years ago, he was coming from managing childhood friend Roy Yamaguchi’s first Hawai‘i Kai restaurant. “Roy and I were military brats together in Japan,” Shaw says. For Michel’s, he hired Kintscher away from Philippe Padovani’s restaurant.
When he left Roy’s, Shaw brought along a young guitarist; today, now-acclaimed Jeff Peterson gives private concerts from a stool, where, he says, “I’ve seen more green flashes than anyone.” He was also a witness the night a famous rock band reserved half the room for dinner to celebrate the end of two years of touring. “They’d planned to go hit some clubs but they really felt the vibe ... the peace, the view of the sea, the moon on the water.” After dinner, U2 went down to the beach. “Before you knew it everyone was taking off their clothes and going skinnydipping. Even Bono’s 400-pound bodyguard went in the ocean.”
The waitstaff was on hand to offer one more tableside service: fresh white tablecloths to dry off.