Better Without Butter? Yes!
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Chef Chai — just the name itself has a cool ring to it.
The new restaurant, named after its creator Chai Chaowasaree and located at Pacifica Honolulu on Kapiolani Boulevard, is, believe it or not, even better than the chef’s former Chai’s Island Bistro at Aloha Tower Marketplace, which closed on New Year’s Day. Chai’s Island Bistro already was an award-wining eatery with amazing Pacific Rim cuisine, service and entertainment.
So what’s different? At Chef Chai, the food is still exquisite, but the style of cooking is much healthier. For example, dishes are prepared without butter (except for a few desserts), and with more herbs and spices. And longtime customers (Chai’s Island Bistro was open for 14 years), will be happy to know that the chef has brought over many of his signature dishes, but with slight changes that he says are better for you, such as replacing Atlantic King Salmon with Wild New Zealand King Salmon, and his famous Grilled Mahi with Thai Red Curry is now made with halibut.
“Chef Chai is Asian-fusion cuisine with an emphasis on being healthier, lighter and contemporary,” explains Chaowasaree. “To me, if all the chefs on the island cut out or reduce butter from their cooking, you would see a difference (in people’s health). It’s better for people and I think it’s the chefs responsibility. When people go out and eat, they don’t know what they’re eating, they only know if it tastes good or not.”
According Chaowasaree, the inspiration to change the way he cooks came from his father’s passing about six years ago. His dad suffered from Alzheimer’s and as he started to lose his memory, Chaowasaree wanted to learn more about the disease and would research it online.
“It triggered the importance of a healthier diet and everything in moderation,” he says. “In the last two or three years of my dad’s life, I don’t think he knew the difference (in his loss of memory), but it really affected the people who cared for him, and to see my family go through that was very sad.”
Everything on the menu are original creations by Chaowasaree. A popular starter is Spicy Garlic Gochujang Shrimp and Apple Kim Chee Summer Rolls ($14), featuring grilled shrimp marinated in the Gochujang Korean chili paste, and served with baby greens, radish sprouts, Granny Smith green apple kim chee in rice paper.
Stop in for happy hour from 9 p.m. to closing (the restaurant is open from 4 to 11 p.m. nightly), and enjoy a great happy hour menu with a great selection of pupu dishes that are served in the same portion as the regular menu but at half the price.
For happy hour, Chef Chai recommends Rosemary Garlic Pork Tender-loin with Hoisin, Scallions in Chinese Bau Bun ($7 happy hour, $14 regular) and Fresh Ahi Tartar in Mini Waffle Cones ($8 happy hour, $15 regular), which is six bite-size pieces of ahi poke made with onions, green onions, sesame seeds, Japanese shichimi and a variety of seven chilies and sea salt, served in a flaky waffle cone with an avocado mousse at the bottom.
The ambiance of the restaurant is very modern with indoor and outdoor seating, a full bar, and a private room that can seat up to 25 people. Valet parking is available, as well as street parking on Kapiolani Boulevard after 6:30 p.m.
“We are just very pleased with this location and proud of what we produce,” says Chaowasaree. “I hope everybody appreciates what we are trying to do, and I hope other chefs see this and also offer healthier options.”
1009 Kapiolani Blvd.
4 to 11 p.m. nightly