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Inside Feature

Japengo Abounds With Pacific Rim Flavor

Story By Kyle Galdeira Photos By Nathalie Walker
June 3 - 9, 2012

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Since opening its doors in October of last year, Japengo has established itself as one of Hawaii’s hotbeds for Pacific Rim cuisine.

However, do not be mistaken. This is not “fusion” cooking where multiple styles and influences are swirled together. Japengo’s innovative cocktails, superb sushi and an assortment of exotic flavors from around the Pacific Rim and Southeast Asia make the restaurant a cornerstone of culinary excellence within the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa.

“For us it’s very important that we don’t call it fusion cuisine — fusion, for me, I always call it confusion,” says Japengo’s executive chef Sven Ullrich. “Fusion cuisine is mixing a lot of different Asian styles and techniques together on one plate. Pacific Rim cuisine stays true to the flavors of certain regions, and keeps it authentic.

“The hair on my neck stands up when I hear the word fusion because we’re often misinterpreted and people say, ‘Oh, it’s just another fusion restaurant,’ and that just drives me up the wall,” Ullrich adds. “It is not, and we really tried very hard. We’re getting feedback from customers, such as those saying that our sushi is better than some you find in Japan, and that just gets us going.”

Upon entering Japengo, diners are greeted by an eye-popping sushi bar where only authentic Japanese sushi selections are served. Dragon Roll ($18) is one of Japengo’s top-selling sushi creations, and features a combination of spicy tuna, unagi, red tobiko caviar and cucumber — a dish that appeals to the eyes and taste buds. “Our clientele is primarily Japanese, so we had to cater to their needs,” Ullrich explains.

Another example of Japengo’s exemplary attention to detail can be found in the establishment’s effort to perfect its Japengo Fried Rice ($18), a combination of char siu pork, prawns, chicken and vegetables. “We actually flew in the chef from a restaurant in Beijing, China, to train our wok chef on the fried rice,” says Ullrich. “It sounds so simple, fried rice, but it’s really not that simple, let me tell you. It took us three weeks and trying about 50 different recipes before we found the right one.”

Like its sister properties, Japengo operated under Hyatt’s global philosophy that focuses on sourcing and providing healthy and sustainable food and beverage options for its patrons. The mantra is simple: thoughtfully sourced and carefully served. However, as Ullrich explains, implementing the strategy is a long, steady journey.

“It’s a big task, and I have to admit we’re not even close to where we want to be in the next several years,” Ullrich says. “I use the example of ‘Nalo Farms. We’re getting local produce from them including the Thai basil and the mixed greens — we order them in the afternoon, and they cut it fresh for us. That’s just the beginning. We’re taking baby steps in the right direction.”

The baby greens from ‘Nalo Farms are incorporated in one of Japengo’s favorite starters, Japengo Salad ($15). The dish also incorporates sushi grade ahi and a homemade garlic, ginger vinaigrette, which also includes hints of lemongrass and sesame oil.

Sticking with starters, Scallop Butter Yaki ($18) is torched and glazed with roasted garlic, sweet ginger and chili, and braised slightly. The mouth-watering sea fare is served with black tabiko and shiso leaf. “It’s very simplistic, but it’s a huge success,” Ullrich says. “People keep coming back for it.”

Emperor Steak ($42) features a 10-ounce cut of grass-fed beef from the Big Island served with an Emperor ponzu sauce. The dish also features Shimeji Mushrooms and Kai-lan, also known as Chinese broccoli.

To end one’s meal on a sweet note, Japengo also features a unique spin on Creme Brulee. The Japengo Coconut Creme Brulee ($10) is served in a fresh coconut that is halved, hollowed out and filled with candied coconut, with the help of cane sugar, along with the creme brulee mixture of eggs, coconut milk, cream and sugar. After the dessert is placed in the hollowed-out coconut shell, the dish is finished and served with a cane sugar glaze.

“We want people to come to our restaurant and have a lot of choices of fantastic, authentic food,” Ullrich says. “Australia will be next — we’re playing around with a recipe for a Sticky Date Pudding, and once we perfect it, we’ll have it on the menu. This is the whole vision, for customers to have the option to dine all around the Pacific Rim.”

Japengo also invites Dining Out readers to attend its next “Sake and Sushi” event scheduled for June 22. The experience consists of four to five courses, and each sake selection is paired with a variety of sushi. A sake sommelier then describes each sake for the guests throughout each course.

“Every month, we get together with our sake vendor, and last month, for example, we featured a sparkling sake,” Ullrich says of the $60 per person experience. “It was great to see so many local guests come and experience our sake and sushi pairings.”

For more information on the upcoming event, call 923.1234, or log on to Waikiki.Hyatt.com.

Japengo

  • Where
    • Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa
    • 2424 Kalakaua Avenue
    • Honolulu, HI 96815
  • Call
    • (808) 923-1234
  • Hours
    • Open Nightly
    • 5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m.
  • Website