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Gourmet Getaways: These Two Beachy Restaurants Are Worth the Long Drive

Roy’s Beach House and Fish House at Ko Olina offer relaxed, indulgent experiences out of town.


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Misoyaki butterfish

Misoyaki Butterfish, a trademark dish of chef Roy Yamaguchi.
Photos: Steve Czerniak

 

Meetings, projects, errands: Sometimes townies need a break. These pulse-slowing excursions to the far shores of O‘ahu wrap scenic views together with delicious dining.

 

Roy’s Beach House

Humid in town, breezy out here. After the drive from Honolulu, the salt brine in the air, waving palm fronds and weirdly absent crowds make us remember, oh, right! We’re on an island. A gem of an island. Here at Turtle Bay on the northern tip of O‘ahu, the whitecaps and wind feel like a psychic massage. And they’re making us hungry.

 

Roys Beach House interior

 

This isn’t a drive we make often. Cutting through the center of the island or over the Pali and along its windward coast, it’s just over an hour; heading east on Kalaniana‘ole Highway and stopping for a dip at Hanauma Bay or a hike at Makapu‘u Lighthouse, it can be a full day. However we get here, we’re celebrating our urban escape (read: no disposable plates or picnic tables). We want a little pampering.

 

Which brings us to Roy’s Beach House at Turtle Bay Resort. Opened last summer, Roy Yamaguchi’s entire beachside eatery is open-air, making it feel like a giant lānai; rattan and hardwood patio furniture add to the effect. Mats on the floors catch any sand trekked in, and a new deck extends the dining area out over the beach. If you remember this space when it was Ola, the difference is subtle but striking. Roy’s Beach House feels like you’re in Yamaguchi’s own upscale weekend bungalow.

 

Prime Rib

Herb-crusted prime rib.

 

And if, like fans from Hawai‘i Kai to Waikīkī to Kapolei to Ko Olina, you know Roy’s restaurants or his more recent Eating House 1849 locations, the menu will also feel intimately familiar. Hello, misoyaki butterfish and Szechuan pork ribs! The single page of choices reads like Yamaguchi’s culinary victory lap.

 

So we tuck into our appetizer sampler of blackened ‘ahi sashimi with buttery mustard soy, tempura-fried miso butterfish makizushi, a pork rib, and shrimp with kim chee and gochujang. It’s the first course of three in Beach House’s $60 prix fixe menu, a good deal considering the generous portions and that, à la carte, the same apps and an entrée are nearly $60 without the dessert. The ‘ahi is as good as the first time, which is saying a lot for a chef who opened his Hawai‘i Kai flagship restaurant nearly 30 years ago. But then we recall, as we reach for a second piece, Yamaguchi immediately won a James Beard award.

 

Fried chicken

Fried chicken with country gravy.

 

The mahimahi is juicy and tender (market price), with a reward of toasted mac nuts, and the mashed potatoes have a sticky denseness we like (skip the overly anise-y lobster sauce). But the fried chicken ($27), while plump and moist, turns out to be barely battered breasts—and what is the point of fried chicken if not gloriously batter-fried thighs and drumsticks? This one is almost, well, healthy.

 

Pineapple upside down cake

Pineapple upside-down cake with a scoop of ice cream.

 

Other winners: The tart, rich Brussels sprouts and cauliflower dressed with yogurt honey and a hint of curry ($15) are nearly worth the drive by themselves and come in an impressive mound; and the pineapple upside-down cake holds its sweetness in balance and delivers a remarkable texture that’s lightly crisp on the outside and moist within. We hear the tiramisu is even better; we’ll be back for that one.

 

Around us are locals celebrating birthdays and visitors enjoying the coastal seclusion. On the beach in front, the last swimmers have come in and there are only the wind and waves. Yamaguchi, we hear, had long wanted a place on the beach. Now we see why. Roy’s Beach House is a good thing for the North Shore.

 

Beach house seating

 

Roy’s Beach House at Turtle Bay, 57-091 Kamehameha Highway, Kahuku, 808-293-7697, roysbeachhouse.com, open daily, Lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Bar bites from 3 to 5 p.m., Dinner from 5 to 10 p.m., Takeout counter from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

 

Fish House

You know, we never made it past the pool. We’d come to the Four Seasons at Ko Olina with vague thoughts of a day involving the beach, some outlet shopping—and brunch, definitely brunch. For $46, the three plated courses at Fish House run an indulgent 10 a.m. through 4 p.m. on Sundays, which is why we wafted across the island from town with vague and happy thoughts.

 

Fish House

Photo: Courtesy of Four Season Resort O‘ahu at Ko Olina

 

Bloody Mary
Brunch features a make-your-own bloody mary bar.

We knew all about the seafood towers and oysters at dinner, the poke and local fish and lobster. Fish House has been open since last summer in its open-air spot overlooking the Four Seasons pools and the uncrowded sands of Ko Olina’s first beachy lagoon. But Sunday brunch is newer and we’d heard promising things.

 

The main difference from dinner? The brunch menu is fun! Everything is—the make-your-own bloody mary bar ($16), the wind sweeping tourists on stand-up paddle boards across the lagoon. But we’re talking about a menu with monkey bread, 50 First Dates liliko‘i pancakes and Three Little Pigs biscuits, and that’s just the first course. There are sweets and savories, salads, sandwiches, meats, eggs and even ramen. In fact, there are 17 choices in all, including seven with seafood.

 

We’ll say this first because we hardly ever say it: Everything we tried was good. Most things were memorable, in fact. The liliko‘i pancake looked like a plump omelet, folded over with a small fistful of haupia cream inside; against a schmear of liliko‘i glaze and a spear of grilled pineapple, it was a play of sweet and creamy and juicy with the smallest hint of tang. Lobster chilaquiles hid a good portion of claw meat in a small tower of soft nachos, scrambled egg, avocado purée and cotija cheese.

 

Lobster chilaquiles

Lobster chilaquiles.

 

Papaya bowl

Papaya bowl with granola, hemp seeds and bee pollen.

 

Even the simplest wedge salad worked well—butter lettuce laid against a single poached shrimp, fresh crab meat, rendered bacon and a softly boiled egg half, brought together by 808 dressing (a play on Thousand Island). Cauliflower salad came under a mound of frisée in a pool of cauliflower purée with rendered bacon chunks; it ate like an upside-down chowder.

 

Third course? We were too full. The menu ramps up to a big finale, so come hungry. The Crab Louis XIII burger is open-face, a full-size patty under a cheesy crab cake under avocado slices under a fried egg, all served with fries. The day’s catch, nairagi or marlin, we tasted for the sake of tasting. It was juicy and indulgent on its bed of garlic fried rice, which was simple and al dente, just the way we like it.

 

Fish House seafood tower

The Fish House serves seafood towers in two sizes: The manini (shown here) goes for $85 which offers a bounty of shrimp, oysters, crab claws, half a lobster tail, poke and sashimi.

 

After that, who could think of shopping or beachgoing? We could barely move. In that frame of mind, we made it over to poolside, where it seemed like a good idea to relax over pretty tropical cocktails. A Hawaiian trio started playing. That sealed the deal. We settled back and waited for sunset. We could play tourist, too.

 

Fish House interior

 

Fish House, Four Seasons Resort O‘ahu at Ko Olina, 92-1001 Olani St., Kapolei, 808-679-0079, fourseasons.com/oahu/dining/restaurants/fish_house, Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Lunch Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Dinner daily 5 to 11 p.m., Happy hour daily 3 to 5 p.m. 

 

Takeaway 

If you’re going on a round-the-island or North Shore excursion, Roy’s Beach House is a good midway point for lunch. Pūpū prices are the same as dinner, but sandwiches and salads offer lighter options, and entrées are considerably cheaper. As for Fish House’s famous seafood towers: Don’t worry, they’re available at Sunday brunch as well.

 

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