Tiramisu, strawberry shortcake, and even vegan chocolate and haupia gelato cakes.
Hau Tree Is Now a Chris Kajioka Restaurant. Here’s a Taste
Waikīkī’s longtime beachside favorite gets a facelift and a modern, upscaled menu by Hawai‘i’s hottest chef.
I didn’t know the old Hau Tree Lanai—I’d been there only once—but I know a lot of people loved it. The casual, kama‘āina-friendly vibe, the unfussy menu of steaks and pastas and salads, and that iconic view: From my own visit I remember enjoying the sunset, but I also recall inflated prices typical of Waikīkī and not much about the food.
When I heard the restaurant and the entire 56-year-old New Otani Kama‘āina Beach Hotel underwent a drastic renovation under new local ownership, I was intrigued. Now the Hau Tree restaurant at the rebranded Kaimana Beach Hotel has a new team of chefs headed by Chris Kajioka of Senia and Miro Kaimukī, and chef de cuisine Alan Takasaki, formerly of Le Bistro. Their new brunch and dinner menus launched just before Christmas.
The new look is chic and midcentury modern, with an aqua theme that gives it a relaxed, tropical vibe. With the big hau tree trimmed back and the railing between restaurant and beach removed, there’s an even more open feel and the sand is inches away.
The new dinner menu focuses on smaller plates that can be shared. With smaller portions, entrees range from the high $20s to low $30s, about $10 less than before.
Kick things off with a cocktail by Jen Ackrill, former director of mixology at Sky and Top of Waikīkī. The cocktails have fun names like the hibiscus-infused Hau Tree Highball, Kapua Fizz with egg whites and edible flowers, and the signature Kaimana cocktail. There are two Mai Tais—I recommend the 1944 Mai Tai ($15) with Appleton and Kuleana rums. It’s a welcome twist on the classic, thanks to its stronger kick and boozier flavor.
The $17 tuna tartare has a twist—besides avocado, it has blue cheese, capers and an herb oil drizzle. The fresh fish is divine, the cheese subtle, and I love the salty, slightly vinegary edge from the capers.
The Maine scallops ($20) are one of my favorite dishes. Two U-10 scallops are served with pickled grapes, butternut puree, prosciutto, brown butter and sunflower. The scallops are seared perfectly with a slightly crispy crust and juicy, plump interior. The ultra-thin prosciutto crisp, coupled with the crunchy kale and sunflower seed bits, contrasts with the succulent scallops and creamy, sweet squash.
Our entrées are a mix of land and sea. The mahi ($32) comes in a soy-infused dashi with charred broccoli on the side and a risotto-like rice porridge underneath. The fish is ultra moist, even when I save half of it to enjoy the following day. The dashi has a hint of miso, and when coupled with the light ginger, it’s like a harmonious dance with neither flavor overpowering the other. The charred broccolini is topped with chile pepper, lemon, garlic and toasted bread crumbs—a stellar side with a robust flavor.
The $34 kurobuta pork chop is drizzled with a black garlic honey glaze and served with brussels sprouts and pomegranate seeds. The pork chop itself is tossed in pomegranate molasses, resulting in a balanced sweet and sour flavor, similar to that of aged balsamic. Takasaki was known for his pork chop at Le Bistro, though for more classical French versions; this one is heavenly.
We also got a preview of a new side dish. The grilled Hirabara baby romaine is like a bougie wedge salad. It’s topped with Big Island goat cheese, smoked trout roe and garlic bread crumbles—a dish so full of umami that I almost forget I’m eating vegetables. The smoky trout roe lingers on the tongue, making me wish every veggie dish were this alluring.
We’re so full that I don’t even think about dessert. Fellow Frolicker Melissa Chang vouches for the fluffy, light coconut cake ($14), but this seafood feast brought on a kanak attack for me.
SEE ALSO: 10 Favorite Breakfasts Around O‘ahu
As a sworn brunch fanatic, I can’t resist a second visit on a weekend morning. Hau Tree Lanai regulars will remember the old restaurant’s popular eggs benedict. Today’s version swaps out the hollandaise for a tarragon béarnaise. I love its thick, buttery, creaminess and slightly herby flavor. The grilled La Tour buns are still soft — no worries about dry English muffins here — and stacked with savory ham and perfectly poached eggs. And the side of roasted potatoes with salsa verde almost steals the show.
More than just a pretty plate, the $18 avocado toast—with tomato jam, smashed avocado, tomato and radish garnishes and salsa verde atop crunchy, nutty grilled semolina bread—is filling. Definitely add the soft poached egg for some yolk porn.
I can’t wait to come back to try more. Not to mention, there’s a chocolate caramel tart that’s calling my name.
Open daily for brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. 2863 Kalakaua Ave., (808) 921-7066, kaimana.com/dining