Sea of Flavors

Cover Story Features

June 2, 2013

Story By: Alana Folen | Photos by: Leah Friel

The high-paced, eclectic vibe of Kakaako’s city life is silenced for a bit at 53 By The Sea, an avant-garde, five-star establishment, vast in its regal presence and decadent cuisine. Located on Ahui Street, where the former John Dominis Restaurant once stood, 53 By The Sea welcomes diners into the lap of luxury as they enter through ceiling-high double doors, greeted by majestic views of Diamond Head, a grand staircase, crystal chandelier and other elaborate furnishings. A private dining room plays host to 150 guests and live music provides an elegant backdrop for every dining experience, whether it be classical tunes emanating from the Fazioli piano, or acoustic sounds oozing from the guitar and ukulele. A full bar and lounge area stirs up a buzz of energy, and a wine collection of more than 160 selections from around the world complements the lavish “new American” cuisine recently unveiled earlier this week.

“When we opened the doors to 53 By The Sea last September, the focus was on Southern Italian cuisine. Now, we’ve decided to change things up and gear our menus toward what chef likes to call ‘New American cuisine,’ with a large emphasis on local ingredients. Chef’s cooking style is French-rooted, so that’s, of course, the underlying foundation,” says Connor Barbaree, who serves as the restaurant’s sommelier.

The chef, who Barbaree speaks of, is executive chef Thomas Ho. Ho succeeds Chef Hiroshi Hayakawa and holds an extensive career to his name. He previously served as chef de cuisine at Orchid’s at Halekulani Hotel, and prior to that held the role of chef de cuisine at Hoku’s at The Kahala Hotel & Resort.

“I’ve kept some of chef Hayakawa’s signature dishes on the menu including Scampi Pesto, but instead of limiting our dishes to strictly Italian, I wanted to incorporate a handful of different culinary styles, concepts and ingredients into the mix,” he says. “I’m inspired to create new dishes out of curiosity and past travels, and I enjoy experimenting with different ingredients.”

The restaurant’s new lunch menu launched in April with a positive response from patrons, and as a result, the dinner menu soon followed.

“I’ve been working on the new dinner menu for about a month, and I’m glad that our guests finally have the chance to try it,” Ho says.

Currently, Kona Maine Lobster & Filet Mignon ($80) have proven to be a guest favorite, as it features one pound of Kona butter poached whole lobster in a beurre blanc sauce nestled on a bed of mashed potatoes, accompanied by a 6-ounce filet accented with a red wine reduction. Hints of asparagus, baby carrots, zucchini and yellow squash also play up the dish.

“Our take on surf and turf is fantastic, but I love our ‘Surf & Surf,'” Ho exclaims.

As Chef’s top choice, this highly acclaimed entree is a seafood enthusiast’s greatest foodie fantasy brought to life. ‘Surf & Surf’ ($39) presents four jumbo prawns marinated in herbs, garlic and olive oil, and butter-poached king crab served with brocollini and a smooth potato puree.

“As soon as we made the shift to new American fare, we were able to greatly expand our variety of options,” Barbaree adds.

Chef Ho notes that Diver Scallops and 53’s Mushroom Chicken are worth a try as well.

Priced at $33, Diver Scallops are beautiful as is, but Ho creates a masterpiece with the addition of pickled shallots, eryngi mushrooms, asparagus and corn jus.

“The asparagus and corn are locally grown,” Ho explains. “The corn jus is delicious, and consists of fresh corn juice, butter and mascarpone cheese. I added some fresh and edible pansies to the dish as decoration.

“53’s Mushroom Chicken ($35) is one of those items that always does well at lunch, so we added it to our dinner menu,” Ho adds of this dish, which highlights chicken breast and thigh, served with haricot vert, thyme polenta, oyster and cremini mushroom cream.

While it’s evident that these entrees are show stoppers, Ho says guests also should savor a unique and intricate appetizer of Lemonade Crab Cake ($19) to awaken their palates. This zestful starter features five pieces of breaded crab cake with a superlative lemon puree garnished with radish and frisee.

“The lemon puree is a blending of lemon juice, sugar and salt. We blanch the lemon peel at least four times to get rid of the bitterness,” Ho says. “The puree is then finished off with mascarpone cheese.”

The place to be for all festive occasions, 53 By The Sea invites larger groups into its multi-purpose rooms on the second floor that can seat up to 55 people.

“We are known for our wine pairings as well,” Barbaree adds, “and that’s something that is great for special events. They easily can be incorporated into our prix-fixe menus. With the transition into lighter fare, we also are adding lighter selections to our wine menu.

“The word has been spreading about 53 By The Sea, and it’s wonderful to see locals as well as visitors enjoying all that we have to offer,” Barbaree says.

53 By the Sea


Honolulu, HI 96813

Hawaii's Best
Hawaii's Best