First Look: La Vie at the Ritz Carlton Waikīkī

Dusty Grable and Shaymus Alwin lead the crew at a new, modern-French restaurant.
Ni‘ihau antelope tartare
Photos: Martha Cheng


[Update 8/4/19: The tonka bean ice cream is no longer on the menu.]

One of the desserts at La Vie is illegal. I don’t mean that as a metaphor, as in “it’s so good, it should be illegal,” but as in, it has an ingredient that has prompted FDA busts at restaurants in America.


So, I’m sorry for spilling the tonka beans. But if you’re curious about the flavor of this spice that comes from a fruit native to Central and South America—and you should be, because its aroma is like fresh cut grass with hints of almond and reminiscent of tobacco—then you might want to get to La Vie fast, in case they have to yank the tonka bean ice cream that accompanies the chocolate soufflé.


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La Vie, on the eighth floor of the Ritz Carlton, where BLT Market once was, officially opened Aug. 1. High notes during a hosted media dinner included that tonka bean ice cream, as well as a Ni‘ihau antelope tartare served with fried puffed—get this—eggplant chips, scented with cumin and as crisp and light and satisfying as a chicharron. Shaymus Alwin, previously of the Royal Hawaiian, leads the kitchen at La Vie, and Dusty Grable, best known for his part in Lucky Belly and Livestock Tavern, manages the front. Grable says if they can sell those eggplant chips to Trader Joe’s, he could retire right now. I think it’s a brilliant idea. (So Trader Joe’s, I hope you’re reading … and the FDA, I hope you’re not.)


Asparagus and poached egg


Entrées that sound promising, like aged duck breast and the scallops with grapefruit and bergamot, are upstaged by the appetizers and desserts. Take the asparagus, paired with a velvety richness delivered by mushrooms and a poached egg, accented with crunchy buckwheat (ooh, one more Trader Joe’s idea: Buckwheat Pops in lieu of Corn Pops). And another dessert shines: a violet-colored Mont Blanc, made purple with ube, which provides a surprisingly similar texture and taste to the more traditional chestnut. Cassis gelée and shards of coconut meringue make this dessert a lively take on an old French favorite.


Mont Blanc


The tonka beans (legal in pretty much every other country except for the U.S., which bans them because they contain coumarin, a toxin that’s also present in cinnamon) and other unexpected delights like the eggplant chips and ube Mont Blanc show a chef excited to experiment. So while I hope the tonka bean ice cream stays on the menu, if it can’t, it's likely what the kitchen replaces it with will be just as adventurous and surprising.


Three courses are $79, five are $119. Open 5 to 9 p.m. daily, 383 Kalaimoku St., (808) 922-8111,


Read more stories by Martha Cheng