Perfecting the Pagoda Experience
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A visit to Pagoda Floating Restaurant on Rycroft Street is almost a daily ritual for Mr. Park, who is perhaps the restaurant’s most loyal customer. On this particular morning, he’s brought in a new guest to experience the superlative local comfort food and serene oasis complete with a surrounding fish pond and Japanese garden setting.
“We’ve named our Oxtail Soup after him (Mr. Park),” says Pagoda’s executive chef Jason Takemura, who also is a restaurant partner along with Duane Kurisu and Kurt Osaki.
As Dining Out catches up with Takemura over savory Kim Chee Oxtail Fried Rice, the nearly 200-seat eatery is bustling with locals and visitors alike who quickly are ordering their favorites from the breakfast menu.
If you haven’t been to this longtime establishment recently, there’s no better time than now. We bring you the latest and greatest from Pagoda Floating Restaurant.
DO: Pagoda Floating Restaurant has been a family favorite since it opened in 1964. What does the establishment offer its patrons today?
Takemura: Pagoda always has been a place that the locals have loved coming to, so when my partners and I took over, we really wanted to make an effort to support local and utilize local ingredients, from fresh fish, meats and produce. Originally, the cuisine here was Japanese-American inspired, buffet-only. Then, in 2010, we decided to offer daily sit-down service for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with the emphasis on local comfort food — flavors that a lot of the kamaaina grew up with.
For those holding a large gathering or party, we have three ballrooms that guests can take advantage of. The largest one can seat up to 420 people. These rooms are perfect for hosting wedding receptions, birthday parties, business and corporate meetings, and graduations. We updated our banquet menus to feature restaurant dining in a banquet setting, and that’s hard to come by.
DO: Ever since you became partner and executive chef for Pagoda, the restaurant has undergone somewhat of a makeover, correct?
Takemura: Yes, the restaurant was a little run down and outdated when we took over, so we renovated the space and built a full bar, redid the carpeting, got new furniture, changed up our style of service and renovated a couple of the ballrooms.
DO: Besides its cuisine, Pagoda also is known for its tranquil outdoor tea houses and gigantic fish pond. Tell us about this signature setting that’s attracting diners.
Takemura: We have three private tea houses (available by reservation only) on the water. The smallest one can seat up to 10 people, then we have one that can seat up to 14, and the largest tea house can seat up to 20 people. This outdoor oasis is very Japanese inspired, and about two months ago we did a re-landscaping of the pond, enhancing it with more waterfalls and vibrant greenery.
Our fish pond is now home to a lot of local fish as well, including moi, palani, oio, papio and ulua. And two weeks ago, we added 150 Kodama koi from Japan to our pond. These specific koi are show quality. Everyone loves the fishes!
DO: Pagoda is considered a staple on Oahu’s dining scene. Generations of families have grown to love it here. Would you agree?
Takemura: Oh, definitely! Pagoda is a very family-oriented establishment. A lot of people, no matter what age, have memories of coming to the restaurant for special occasions, and new memories are continuously being made with younger generations. We’ll be celebrating Grandparents Day by hosting a brunch with Frank De Lima Sept. 8.
DO: That’s great! Pagoda’s menu appeals to all ages and tastes as well. What’s a favorite among the keiki?
Takemura: A lot of kids have been loving our Peanut Butter Banana Stuffed French Toast ($11.50). It’s a relatively new item on the menu and we dust it with powdered sugar and top it off with butterscotch banana sauce and whipped cream. Your choice of bacon, Portuguese sausage or link sausage also accompanies the French toast. This dish is available until 1 p.m. daily. It’s important that we make the kids happy, too.
DO: That sounds delicious! What are some other hot items that patrons have been gravitating to?
Takemura: Our Kim Chee Oxtail Fried Rice ($10.50) is a popular breakfast and lunch item served with two eggs, any style. Baked Oysters ($13) is my take on the traditional Oysters Rockefeller. It’s a recommended appetizer with bacon, creamed spinach, truffle hollandaise and tobiko. And, of course, our Sake Soy Braised Short Ribs ($21) are popular among the dinner crowd, made with grass-fed, local Big Island beef and served with wasabi mashed potatoes, and Hamakua mushrooms and sauteed zucchini. We’ve also added our top-selling Oxtail Soup ($13) and Mr. Park’s Oxtail Ramen ($14) to our dinner menu.
DO: For patrons who prefer a buffet-style dining experience, what can they expect from Pagoda’s brunch and dinner buffets?
Takemura: We feature our dinner buffet ($16.95 for children ages 5-8, $35.95 for adults) Friday through Sunday from 5 to 9 p.m. Highlights are Roasted Garlic Rub Prime Rib, Crab Legs, our famous Shrimp and Vegetable Tempura, Whole Steamed Kona Kampachi, our sushi bar, poke bar, a full salad bar and dessert station. There are easily more than 30 items to pick from. Our Sunday brunch buffet ($15.95 for children ages 5-8, $32.95 for adults) runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and people love our waffle station and omelet station, in addition to our Prime Rib, Crab Legs, Eggs Florentine and more. We offer 15 percent off for seniors and 10 percent off for military.
DO: What is your culinary background?
Takemura: I studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Portland, Ore., and upon graduation I worked my way down the California coast. I gained experience at Pebble Beach Hotel, Roy’s in Pebble Beach, San Luis Obispo and Newport Beach. When I moved back home, I became executive chef at Chai’s Island Bistro, and was then offered the opportunity to open Hukilau in Executive Centre in downtown Honolulu. In 2011, I came on board with Pagoda.
DO: You’ve been perfecting your culinary craftsmanship for 15 years now. What inspires you?
Takemura: I like to cook things that I enjoy eating and customers inspire me, too. We have some patrons who are here five days a week, if not more! I’ve built great friendships with our guests.
DO: What are your hopes and dreams for Pagoda in the years to come?
Takemura: My hopes are to continue to move in the same direction that we’re going and to bring the locals back to Pagoda.
Pagoda Floating Restaurant
1525 Rycroft St., Honolulu
Breakfast Daily, 6:30 a.m.-1 p.m.
Lunch Monday-Friday, 11 a.m-2 p.m.
Happy Hour Daily, 3:30-6:30 p.m.
Dinner A la carte 5-9:30 p.m., nightly Buffet 5-9:30 p.m.
Friday-Sunday Sunday Brunch 10 a.m.-2 p.m.