MORIMOTO ASIA WAIKIKI
shoulder injury sidelined world-renowned chef Masaharu Morimoto’s promising baseball career, so he turned to a more precise skill, sushi-making, in his hometown of Hiroshima, Japan. He opened his first restaurant by age 24, joined the original Nobu in 1994, and opened his first namesake restaurant in Philadelphia in 2001. Morimoto Asia Waikiki joins the ranks of his global culinary empire.
Morimoto Asia Waikiki serves as the signature restaurant of the ‘Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach. The dinner-only service offers wowfactor at every angle. Glance outward to take in the gentle breeze, Kuhio Beach sunset, and pedestrians along Kalakaua Avenue. Turn inward, and you’ll be amazed by the flair within the glass-encased exhibition kitchen.
“I love the islands of Hawaii and Waikiki Beach, in particular, has a special place in my heart,” says Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. “My menu is like a tour of Asia through some of my favorite dishes, including our extensive sushi menu, mapo tofu, Singapore curry noodles, and Hainanese chicken rice.”
Morimoto’s Pan-Asian dining experience reflects the chef’s travels throughout the continent, including interpretations of dishes from China, Korea, Japan, and Thailand. What the menu lacks in focus, it makes up for in flavor. The lively ambiance is the ideal backdrop for a celebratory meal. And if you and your dining companions have wildly different palates, there are plenty of options on the expansive menu.
First-course highlights include the chef’s famous spicy tuna tacos, served in a wonton shell and garnished with rayu (Japanese chile oil), spicy aioli, red onion, olive, tomato, guacamole, jalapeno and micro cilantro; and crispy pork belly, beautifully balanced with jalapeno, Thai chili, cabbage and an earthy duck salt. For a mid-course, consider sharing a surf-n-turf sushi roll, stuffed with U.S. wagyu beef, shrimp tempura and asparagus, decadently drizzled with goma (sesame) sauce, gochujang aioli, and eel sauce.
There are more than 20 entrée options for the main event, from hand-carved Peking duck served with steamed flour pancakes to a dramatically presented crispy whole fish with papaya carrot slaw and spicy tobanjan (chile bean) sauce. Meat-eaters with deep pockets can enjoy ishiyaki A5 (the highest graded wagyu beef in the world) at $28 per ounce. But don’t dismiss budget-friendly finds like spicy mapo tofu with miso pork, the signature dish of Chengdu, China.
The beverage menu spans from sake and shochu to wine, bubbly, and craft cocktails such as the Casual Encounter, prepared with Rain Vodka, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur and a splash of lemon juice. 2490 Kalakaua Ave. Tel: 808-922-002. www.morimotoasiawaikiki.com
If there is one restaurant in Honolulu that represents the island cuisine evolution, it is La Mer, ensconced in the legendary ocean-front oasis, Halekulani . Owner Robert Lewers erected the original property in 1907, which consisted of a beachfront home and five bungalows. Several iterations and owners later, the hotel now consists of 453 rooms, but still retains an air of elegance and intimacy.
La Mer, Halekulani’s signature restaurant, recently received the Five Diamond Award by AAA for the 30th consecutive year, making it one of only five to hold the title for more than 25 years among 60,000 hotels and restaurants spanning the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Chef Alexandre Trancher was appointed Chef de Cuisine in 2012 and brings Michelin-star restaurant experience to the venue with a menu the seamlessly integrates classic French technique with local ingredients and traditions.
Trancher’s seasonally driven menu is an exercise in restraint, relying on the pristine treatment of ingredients and an Instagram-worthy presentation that has diners tasting with their eyes as much as their palates.
A recent tasting menu featured roasted scallop with cuttlefish leaf and orange-scented caviar butter sauce, beef tenderloin with truffle mousseline and Périgueux sauce (a Madeira wine sauce with truffles), and an indulgent cheese plate consisting of warm petit Basque cheese with pine nuts and shallot vinaigrette.
For a more impromptu experience, consider a respite at Halekulani’s recently opened Cattleya Wine Bar featuring Mediterranean tapas-style dishes from chef Christian Testa. The Italian-forward wine menu is brief but includes hard-to-find picks like sparkling Lambrusco from Emilia- Romagna and Tascante, Ghiaia Nera from Sicily, both of which pair beautifully with bruschetta, Straccialtella Pugliese, and Prosciutto de Parma. 2199 Kalia Rd. Tel: 808-923-2311. www.halekulani.com/dining (anticipated reopening, July 2021)
DIAMOND HEAD LUAU
The modern luau, established in 1819 when King Kamehameha II created a more secular and inclusive celebration, continues to be a part of Hawaiian culture and food, and is a bucket list experience for anyone visiting the islands. Oahu boasts a unique interpretation by presenting a farm-to- table luau on the grounds of the Waikiki Aquarium. Diamond Head Luau’s intimate stage offers all of the flairs of Polynesian dances and fire acts, but the real star is the thoughtful menu that showcases local farmers and culinary traditions.
The experience begins before dusk with a stroll through the Waikiki Aquarium. The aquarium dates back to 1904 and has become one of the island’s benchmark tourist attractions, in addition to its commitment to increase public awareness of the conservation of marine life and reef habitats. More than a dozen exhibits showcase the ocean world with the mesmerizing jellyfish undulating in the Ocean Drifters Gallery, drawing quite a crowd.
Arrive with an appetite because there’s plenty to sample among Diamond Head’s offerings, beginning with a traditional Mai Tai (ironically, invented at Trader Vic’s in Oakland, California). Bountiful fruits and vegetables provide a cornucopia of flavors, with a few notable standouts. The Caprese salad gets a makeover thanks to Hoʻio (Hawaiian fern) instead of basil. You’ll want to replicate the smoked marlin dip with taro chips for your next dinner party, as well as the lomi-lomi salmon. Diced and served raw with tomato and onion, the brightly flavored side dish is like a marriage of pico de gallo and poke.
Poi will likely elicit “love it, or leave it?” among your companions, but no luau is complete without the starchy mashed taro root. For most, the taupe-colored paste is an acquired taste. Still, its place among Hawaiian culture runs deep for its nutritional value (high in vitamin A and complex carbohydrates) and easy digestibility.
Meat-eaters will embrace the rustic offerings of rotisserie Huli Huli chicken with a sweet and savory brown sugar-soy glaze, bone-in kalbi short ribs, and Kalua pork, perhaps Hawaii’s most famous dish. Traditionally cooked in an imu (an underground oven), the slow-roasted pork may be the most decadent bite of your Oahu getaway. You’ll inevitably try to replicate it at home with a slow cooker or Instant Pot, but nothing comes close to eating Kalua pork with your fingers as the sun sets on Mamala Bay. (Tip: If your schedule allows, book for Friday night and enjoy the weekly Waikiki Beach fireworks display, viewable from the aquarium grounds. 2777 Kalakaua Ave. Tel: 808- 926-3800. www.diamondheadbeachluau.com (Temporarily closed at press time. Please visit their website for reopening dates.)