Chef Chai Returns With New Location, Menu
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Following two months of feverish preparation and menu creation, diners will be pleased to know that Chef Chai Chaowasaree is back in business.
Chaowasaree is now serving his iconic award-winning island fusion cuisine at the aptly named Chef Chai on the ground level of Pacifica Honolulu Building on Kapiolani Boulevard across from Neal Blaisdell Arena.
The restaurateur and heralded chef closed Chai’s Island Bistro at Aloha Tower Marketplace on New Year’s Eve after 14 years, and following two months of preparation, opened the doors to Chef Chai at Pacifica Feb. 28. The culinary wizard remained busy through the two-month respite by continuing to operate Singha Thai Cuisine, jetting around the world as executive chef for Hawaiian Airlines, and hosting charity events such as a recent fundraiser for Ballet Hawaii.
“You know, with the last two months, even though we weren’t open yet, there was no layoff at all,” Chaowasaree says. “There was planning for the new menu, catering — we do a lot of catering, that business is doing really well — helping Hawaiian Airlines with their menu changes and training our staff. It’s a lot of work, but I’m excited that we’re finally open because people have been calling … we couldn’t have opened soon enough!”
The new restaurant was designed by Sukamorn Chuen Yee with a contemporary look and feel, while also reflecting Chaowasaree’s personality and food. Light and glass accents are used to create an “upscale but down-to-earth” feel, and the restaurant features fine Swarovski crystal pendants and glass bubbles, chandeliers and textured stone.
A private dining room is available, as is seating at the spacious full bar as well as on the outside patio area, which features eye-catching fire towers fronting Kapiolani Boulevard.
While Chef Chai’s menu boasts a wide variety of Asian-influenced choices for all tastes, it is noticeably missing one ingredient: butter.
“Hawaiian Airlines is very focused on serving fresh and healthy food, and I’ve taken that concept to the restaurant by not serving anything with butter,” Chaowasaree explains. “I want people to be healthy. To me, if you have a good-quality product, you don’t have to do a whole lot to it. The ingredients are so fresh and flavorful by themselves, why would you want to ruin the experience by covering them in butter? I let the ingredients speak for themselves.”
Chef Chai serves up a host of healthy starters, including Fresh Ahi Tartar in Mini Waffle Cones ($15). Customers also enjoy Hauula Tomato Caprese Salad ($12), which features the juicy tomatoes and mozzarella cheese stacked atop a bed of aged balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil, and includes fresh micro basil and crispy bacon bits.
Chaowasaree also offers a salad that plays to all senses, as the Poached Pear and Rainbow Vegetable Salad ($12) includes brightly colored cauliflower from the Big Island paired with tomato, cucumber, goat cheese and candied walnuts.
“The pear salad looks so beautiful; it’s very stunning and colorful,” Chaowasaree says. “It’s local and new, not many people are doing anything like this. About half our menu, including our signature items, is the same as the Island Bistro, while the other half features new items like this one.”
Entrees at Chef Chai, such as Vegetable Terrine with Green Curry Sauce ($25), are accompanied by a choice of steamed white rice, steamed brown rice with coconut milk and fresh ginger or mashed potatoes. Customers also have the option of mashed Okinawan purple potatoes or zucchini linguini for an additional $2.
For dessert, Chaowasaree recommends Chocolate Crunch Bar ($9), a treat that resembles a decadent candy bar complete with a crispy, crunchy layer. The dessert is served with fresh berries that pair perfectly with the chocolate, as well as a raspberry guava puree that ties all the flavors together.
“At the old restaurant, a lot of customers focused on the entertainment, but here, we want them to focus on the food, service and ambience,” says Chaowasaree, who grew up helping at his family’s restaurant in Thailand from the age of 10. “Each restaurant has its own uniqueness, and we want customers to experience that. We want to excite the younger generation of diners.”
Chef Chai at Pacifica is open nightly for dinner, and customers can look forward to a special late-night (after 9 p.m.) menu in the near future, as well as the integration of lunch service.
1009 Kapiolani Blvd. Honolulu
Open daily, 4 – 11 p.m.