Brett Villarmia Shakes Things Up at Rum Fire Waikiki

The truffle burger.

Photos: Amy Hanson

Rum Fire at the Sheraton Waikiki welcomed local boy Brett Villarmia to the kitchen this July to update its lackluster “Bahwaiian” menu of chilidogs, wings and nachos with a fresh Island kick. The restaurant’s menu is 90 percent new (favorites like kim chee fried rice and edamame remain), and seven new cocktails are offered, while their extensive happy hour menu has shrunk to only five pupu.

Sixty percent of the ingredients in Villarmia’s dishes originate locally. The majority of Rum Fire’s heavy Baja fare has been nixed in place of fresher options; say goodbye to the pork empanadas, chicken burritos and beef tostadas.

Even the drink menu is slimming down—the new skinny chi-chi ($11.50) boasts only 145 calories. Rum Fire’s mai tais have been redone using old Lahaina rums and Lehua honey, and the sexy wahine is now made using sake in place of gin.

Villarmia, Chef de cuisine at Bali Steak and Seafood at the Hilton Hawaiian Village immediately before moving this summer, has also worked under Alan Wong, Russell Siu and Wayne Hirabayashi. He describes Rum Fire’s new menu as social comfort food.

The spicy ahi poke.

We visited the restaurant to try the new menu at 5 p.m. last Saturday, and there were few open tables when we arrived. Villarmia popped out to give us his recommendations.

Asked to name his favorite new menu item, Villarmia didn’t hesitate. “The truffle burger,” he says. “It encourages you to drink a little more.”

The burger ($16) was impressive. Sitting on an onion brioche bun and layered with caramelized onions, truffle cheese aioli and spicy greens from Nalo farms, it definitely has more character than the BBQ burger it replaced.

Villarmia also selected the Ho Farms Tomato Medley ($10) for us to try; a modest serving of fresh, firm mozzarella littered with baby heirloom tomatoes in a vinaigrette of pickled juniper berry, mustard seed, clove, bay leaf and fresh ginger. The vinaigrette was just right, but the tomatoes lacked flavor.

Besides the chef’s picks, we also tried the crisps and dip ($12), spicy ahi poke ($16) and the pan roasted Island catch ($28). The crisps were French bread thinly sliced and baked, paired with edamame hummus. It was good, but unexciting; we left it unfinished. The poke was piled with Maui onion sambal and sea asparagus, one of Villarmia’s favorite local ingredients.

The pan roasted Island catch.

The Island catch was my favorite: a thick filet of Hawaiian monchong, rubbed in a macadamia nut romesco and sitting atop a bed of sautéed chard and bacon bits. The fish was tender, buttery-moist and perfectly seasoned.

Villarmia says he has seen a positive change in Rum Fire’s traffic, and our server agreed. “It used to be that happy hour was always busy, and then slow the rest of the day,” she said. “Now we are consistently more busy.”

Give Rum Fire another try—it might surprise you.

2255 Kalakaua Ave., 922-4422, food served 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily, limited menu available from 9:30 to 11:30 p.m,