A Fanciful Fusion of Flavors
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The owner and chef of JJ Bistro & French Pastry loves French cooking, in large part because the French have a plethora of ingredients to work with.
“We try to put all the basics of French cooking combined to the Asian tastes,” says JJ Luangkhot. “Most of our dishes are signature items that you can’t find anywhere else.”
While JJ Bistro now features a wide range of entrees and desserts, it got its start as a pastry shop. The tantalizing display case at the front of the restaurant shows off more than 45 delectable treats to choose from. Popular items include Chocolate Hazelnut ($4.95), Black Currant Cassis ($4.95), which is a delicate mousse cake, and Frou Frou au Chocolat ($5.25), a light cake with white chocolate and strawberries.
Many of the desserts draw upon traditional French influences, but Luangkhot says he finds a lot of inspiration from local ingredients as well. One example is Lilikoi Cheesecake ($5.25).
“Hawaii is known for its lilikoi, so we wanted to combine the lilikoi with the New York style cheese-cake,” he says. “That has become one of the bestselling items.”
It might be tempting to make a meal out of desserts alone. But if you’re looking to have a main dish, one popular item is the Seafood Brioche ($14.95), a French-style butter loaf stuffed with shrimp, salmon and scallops. It’s all surrounded by a shiitake and leek black pepper cream sauce.
With his range of culinary interests and expertise ― he learned to cook Asian cuisine from his family and trained under a renowned French pasty chef ― Luangkhot constantly is whipping up new concoctions.
“Right now, we have a lot of lobster dishes that we have created,” says the chef.
One such dish is Poached Lobster Tail with Garlic White Wine Sauce ($18.95 for a single tail, $29.95 for a double tail), which features a whole lobster tail bathed in white wine sauce, shiitake mushrooms and vegetables over fettuccine.
Another lobster creation is Wild Mushroom with Cheese Ravioli ($14.95), which is topped with lobster meat and comes with a choice of tomato sauce or black pepper cream sauce.
“I like to see what is on the market and what I can create from that,” Luangkhot explains.
On the Side
While JJ Bistro & French Pastry is now an award-winning restaurant, it began as almost something of an accident. When chef and owner JJ Luangkhot emigrated to the U.S. from Laos, he didn’t have plans of becoming a chef — he was just looking for a job. Using the cooking skills that he had picked up from his mother, he landed a baker’s job at a high-end French restaurant in New York City.
“The chef gave me the opportunity to learn,” he recalls. “I learned the technique of French cooking, and I already had the basics of Asian food.”
When he moved to the Islands and opened JJ Bistro, he combined Asian taste with French style and presentation.
“When we first started, we focused more on pastries,” he says.
After a couple years, Luangkhot began to expand the menu by including coffee and light meals such as sandwiches and salads.
“Then we kept adding on pasta dishes,” he says. “We got a lot a lot of feedback about our food, and it was getting really popular. So we kept adding on to the menu.”
Soon, it seemed the restaurant was outgrowing its space. In 2007, JJ Bistro & French Pastry expanded into the space next door for a larger dining area.
“After we added about 60 more seats, I had to figure out how to fill the room,” he says. “So I came up with the concept of the 3and 4-course meal with a fixed menu.” The fixed menus still remain among the most popular options, in part because the dessert course allows guests to choose from more than 45 delectable items.
Contact Christina O’Connor at email@example.com
JJ’s Bistro & French Pastry
3447 Waialae Ave., Honolulu
Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.