Island Steak House Hits a Hy NoteCover Story Features
October 9, 2016
Story By: Ali Resich | Photos by: Lawrence Tabudlo
The iconic Hy’s Steak House in Waikiki is just shy of celebrating its 40th anniversary come Nov. 11. Not only is the eatery reaching a landmark moment few businesses in the restaurant industry achieve, but it’s doing so in style, having recently been voted the People’s Choice for Best Restaurant by Honolulu Star-Advertiser readers in this year’s Ilima Awards. When looking back at how the fine-dining establishment has been able to solidify its place in the hearts of kamaaina diners, it’s clear that Hy’s has stayed true to its identity as an American steak house, while effectively supplementing its menu with a range of fresh, local and innovative offerings embraced by both regulars and a new generation of customers.
Walk into the regal steak house today, and you’ll be enchanted by the same ornate woodwork and works of art that have adorned the walls since Hy’s first opened in 1976. You’ll smell the seductively smoky aroma of the signature kiawe-wood broiler — the only one of its kind in a Hawaii steak house — which continues to cook wet-aged USDA Prime steaks over an open flame, and you’ll find the tuxedo-clad waitstaff, a rare sight today, even among other fine-dining restaurants, carving Chateaubriand steak tableside, mixing Caesar salads and setting classic flambé desserts aflame.
It’s all part of the unique tradition that will forever be known as Hy’s. “Some things are too good to give up,” shares general manager Marc Nezu. “Those are the things that are beloved and people will always come back for.”
And yet, Nezu also acknowledges the establishment’s dedication to keeping its dining experience progressive at the same time. “I think it’s important to introduce new things as well to find that balance,” he says.
In recent years, Hy’s has supplemented its traditional menu with contemporary specials and one-of-a-kind events that speak to current dining trends. Recognizing his guests’ desire to try a wide range of meats, executive chef Justin Inagaki has introduced specials that showcase game meats at their best. Bison Ribeye with Herb-Bleu Cheese Compound Butter ($60) is one such special sourced from Colorado. Though it is full of robust flavor, the meat is leaner than your typical ribeye, but still beautifully tender. Additionally, its gamy essence is subtle and earthy, balanced nicely by the flavorful butter.
Another special along the same lines is Maui-Nui Venison Tender-loin Appetizer ($15), which also showcases Inagaki’s pension for incorporating a plethora of local ingredients into a steak-house menu. Like petite truffled jewels, the slices of venison are served on beds of creamed spinach and corn porridge spotted with Ewa sweet corn. “The hunters catch (the axis deer) wild on the slopes of Haleakala.
The animals eat berries and fruit up in the forest, so the meat is milder. You wouldn’t think of it as venison,” the chef says of the meat, which has a natural sweetness to it.
In addition to Hy’s exciting specials, the restaurant now features a revamped wine program, complete with an expanded wine collection, more high-end sips available by the glass and a team of certified sommeliers in-house to advise guests on the perfect red or white. The eatery also has been offering monthly wine dinners hosted by local boy and Master Sommelier Patrick Okubo, as well as other unique evenings, like a recent guest-chef dinner in collaboration with culinary guru Chai Chaowasaree.
In honor of its 40th anniversary, Hy’s plans to offer special events throughout the upcoming year, including more wine dinners and a chef’s table series next year. Nezu, Inagaki and the whole team at Hy’s add that sharing their appreciation for their patrons is central to their anniversary celebration.
“More than anything, we really value our local clientele,” says Nezu. “After so many years, we’ve gotten to know so many on a personal basis. I’ve been here 22 of those 40 years, but we have staff that have been here since day one. We’ve served kids who are now grown up and bringing in their kids, so that’s really cool and most important for us. It’s more than just business — we’re apart of the ohana in Hawaii.”
New to Hy’s first-rate wine menu, Local Cheese Platter ($30) is an ideal pupu or after-dinner nibble. The assortment features two Big Island goat cheeses — one havarti-style and the other a soft crottin-like chevre — paired with rich brie, salami and fruits. Giving the platter even more local flair are house-made jams highlighting Big Island jabuticaba (Brazilian grape berry) and lilikoi jalapeno flavors, as well as dehydrated pineapple slivers from Kunia-based Hawaiian Crown. Be sure to ask one of the sommeliers on staff for their wine pairing suggestion.
Hy’s Steak House
Waikiki Park Heights
2440 Kuhio Ave., Waikiki
Dinner Nightly, 5-10 P.M. (Last Seating At 9:30) Happy Hour, 5-6:30 P.M. In The Bar And Lounge
Complimentary Valet Parking Available