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Signature Appetizers Are a Tasty Work of Art

Columns Pupu Picks

September 16, 2012

Story By: Steve Murray | Photos by: Nathalie Walker

Japengo, the year-old Pacific Rim hot spot at Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa, has appetizers as fresh and pleasurable to look at as its warm, modern interior. The ingredients are the stars of the varied and well-balanced menu, which surely deserves second, third and even fourth visits.

The restaurant’s signature appetizer is the Scallop Butter Yaki ($16). The large, pan-seared scallops are flown in fresh twice a week from Boston, topped in butter yaki and torched to a golden brown. Plated on shiso leaves and topped with black tobiko and tubular chives, it’s no wonder why so many of these sweet sea creatures have passed through the kitchen over the past 11 months. The scallops are so juicy they are almost wet, and the slightly peppery flavor and definite crunch of the tobiko adds an important textural change to this exquisite dish.

If you prefer your pupus with a bit of a kick, the Steamed Manila Clams ($15) may be what you’re seeking. The appetizer is sauteed in garlic, shallots, lemon grass, Thai bird chili, kaffir lime leaves, sambal chili sauce and clam juice. The sweet clams are deglazed with Chablis, steamed, tossed with butter and served with cilantro, green onion and crispy shallots. Oh, it’s tasty. Fresh, spicy, sweet, good for sharing and bathed in a broth just dying to be absorbed in the restaurant’s homemade bread, this appetizer is more of a meal than a menu option. That’s not a bad thing. Big is good.

In addition to the fabulous paintings, sculptures and other historic pieces at Honolulu Museum of Art, attendees of the August Moon fundraiser got to enjoy Japengo’s Crab and Shrimp Cakes. The art, both edible and not, were a big hit. The Crab and Shrimp Cakes ($16) are constructed of lump crab, chopped shrimp cakes and mixed with gobo and mayo. The soon-to-be golden patties are then panko-coated, pan-fried and served with a pan-seared large New Caledonia prawn.

A drag though lemon grass butter provides just the right amount of creaminess to the crunchy creations. And if you’re not a sauce aficionado, no problem, as with any good ingredient they are fine just by themselves.

Finally, a Pacific Rim dinner just wouldn’t be complete without sushi. Two that are especially popular are the Tengu ($21), Japengo’s most popular maki-style sushi, and the Hanamaki ($18). Both are created in a reverse California roll-style with crab, avocado and Japanese cucumber (the Tengu boasts both soft shell and snow crab), and topped with fresh seafood.

The Hanamaki boasts ahi while the Tengu has scallops. Both are topped with a spicy mayo sauce and black tobiko for the Hanamaki and orange tobiko for the Tengu. You can’t go wrong with either.

Chef de cuisine Michael Imada says, “We want to keep it simple while highlighting the natural ingredients.” He’s done just that with fresh produce from across the Islands and imported delicacies that have been carefully selected and taken several months to test and incorporate.

Japengo

Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa Ewa Tower, third floor
237.6140
Open nightly for dinner, 6-10 p.m.
Sushi bar and lounge open at 5:30 p.m.

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