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Chef celebrates delicious success

Cover Story

February 18, 2019

Story By: Kyle Galdeira | Photos by: Lawrence Tabudlo

Crispy Whole Fresh Fish with Sundried Tomato Citrus Beurre Blanc (part of anniversary menu, $30 a la carte special)

As esteemed chef Chai Chaowasaree reflects on his 30 years of culinary achievements, he counts his blessings. Chaowasaree started with almost nothing after coming to Hawaii from Thailand about three decades ago, but he managed to open award-winning restaurants, launch a top-rated cooking show that aired for 15 years, publish popular cookbooks and even serve as executive chef for Hawaiian Airlines for eight years.

“It’s a true American dream, and I really count my blessings and appreciate the local people in Hawaii who support us, because not everyone can do what we’ve accomplished,” says Chaowasaree. “I’m very proud.”

Chef Chai Chaowasaree with his daughter Joy Saetung (top right), sister Niki Garcia and mother Chun SaeChueng
Photo courtesy of Chef Chai

Chaowasaree grew up learning how to cook in his mother Chun SaeChueng’s restaurant in Thailand. Chef Chai eventually opened Sing-ha Thai Cuisine in 1989, and the rest is history, as on March 1 Chaowasaree will mark 30 years of serving Hawaii as a restaurateur.

After years of adapting and updating at his previous restaurant ventures in Waikiki and Aloha Tower Marketplace, Chaowasaree continues to perfect his iconic award-winning island fusion cuisine at Chef Chai, located on the ground level of Pacifica Honolulu on Kapiolani Boulevard. Chef Chai, which also impresses with spectacular interior design elements, serves up a contemporary look and feel, features a private dining room and also offers seating at the spacious full bar as well as on its outside patio.

As part of the anniversary celebration, Chaowasaree wants to reintroduce some of his and customers’ favorite signature dishes.

Diners can enjoy a special anniversary set menu including Chai’s signature Caprese Salad, Crispy Whole Fresh Fish and White Chocolate Amore all for just $50 (Feb. 17-24 only).

Kataifi and Macadamia Nut Crusted Jumbo Black Tiger Prawns ($15)

“The food evolves all the time, and you have to evolve around what’s happening and what’s hot,” says Chaowasaree. “Supporting local is very important. If you do the same thing you did 30 years ago, you won’t survive. People want more than a dinner, they want that experience. So if you offer something unique and different, they’ll come.”

Crispy Whole Fresh Fish with Sundried Tomato Citrus Beurre Blanc is available a la carte for the special price of $30 from Feb. 17 to 24 only (one per table). The fresh fish is served with steamed white rice or steamed coconut milk ginger brown rice.

“Local people love crispy whole fish,” explains Chao-wasaree. “It looks exotic and the sauce we offer has evolved from a traditional spicy Thai sauce to a fusion sweet-and-sour sauce to the current form of Thai chili ginger sauce — this week, ask your server to try one of the three sauces.”

Ho Farms Heirloom Cherry Tomato Burrata Caprese Salad with Prosciutto and Aged Balsamic Pearls (part of anniversary menu, $15 a la carte)

Ho Farms Heirloom Cherry Tomato Burrata Caprese Salad with Prosciutto and Aged Balsamic Pearls ($15) is a “non-traditional” take on caprese that features burrata cheese, which is similar to mozzarella but is softer and creamier, and locally sourced tomatoes.

Kataifi and Macadamia Nut Crusted Jumbo Black Tiger Prawns ($15) is an iconic dish that Chef Chai continues to serve after years of rave reviews. The appetizer is served with fresh pineapple and a bouquet of organically grown baby greens.

For dessert, guests must try White Chocolate Amore Gelato Truffle ($9). The popular heart-shaped classic featuring white chocolate gelato filled with raspberry sorbetto and served with raspberry guava puree was originally created for first-class guests aboard Hawaiian Airlines. It’s a perfect option for those celebrating Valentine’s Day a week later.

Tasty Tones
Chef Chai’s Monthly Full Moon Concert with Robert Cazimero is extremely popular among local diners and Hawaiian music fans. The next edition is slated for Tuesday, Feb. 19. Dinner ($79 per person) gets underway at 6 p.m., and the concert and hula show starts around 7 p.m.

Everyone Loves Happy Hour
Take advantage of Chef Chai’s delectable pupu and drink specials from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays (at the bar only). “Our happy hour is very popular and includes half-priced appetizers and drink specials,” says Chai Chaowasaree, whose restaurant has been honored for excellence by multiple food and travel specialists. “For our local guests who don’t want to drive into Waikiki, Chef Chai is very convenient on Kapiolani Boulevard, ” he adds.

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