Paving the Way for JJ

Cover Story Features

March 16, 2014

Story By: Alana Folen | Photos by: Lawrence Tabudlo

The restaurant industry is comparable to the stock market in that it’s constantly fluctuating with the comings and goings of establishments hoping to hit an all-time high in an eclectic dining scene. At times it can be a competitive field, but for those like restaurant owner and chef JJ Luangkhot, who possess a genuine passion and talent for their craft, these traits are enough to withstand the turbulent times. So, it comes as no surprise that Luangkhot’s JJ Bistro & French Pastry is embarking on 15 years of success, intriguing patrons with its Eurasian fusion integrating French culinary stylings with robust flavors of East Asia.

Born and raised in Laos, Luangkhot made a life-changing decision when he ventured miles from his home to New York City. There Luangkhot, who was 20 years old at the time, trained under Parisian pastry chef Jean-Marc Burllier of Maxim’s de Paris, a premier establishment made famous in the 1980s for its French cuisine. Twelve years later, Luangkhot made Hawaii his home and, in 1995, opened the doors to JJ Bistro & French Pastry in Aiea, prior to relocating his restaurant in 1999 to Kaimuki.

The establishment initially was based on a cafe-style concept, featuring exquisite desserts.

“From there, we expanded to include full-service dining, and our Four-Course Meal Special is one of the biggest draws,” says Luangkhot of this prix fixe menu that garners much adoration from customers.

“It used to be that you’d only see four-course meals at fine-dining restaurants. I wanted to offer the same, but at affordable prices.”

With prices ranging from $24.70 to $39.95, this lavish meal commences with your choice of Cream of Corn with Crab Soup or a green salad splashed with house ginger sesame dressing. Next comes a assortment of appetizers to tempt your palate. Choose from Trio Appetizer, which features Baked Lobster Avocado, Crab Rangoon and Shrimp Kataifi; or indulge in one of the three newly introduced starters honoring the bistro’s 15th anniversary. Enter Soft Shell Crab, Crispy Kataifi Shrimp or Baked Oysters. Priced at $8.95 apiece, each appetizer is enough to entice your palate for the main course to come.

“I wanted to set our panko-crusted soft shell crab apart — so I serve it with lemon pepper aioli sauce,” Luangkhot explains, noting that the dish also is served with a side salad.

Crispy Kataifi Shrimp posesses captivating flavors, as it features three pieces of crispy, deep-fried Kahuku shrimp nestled atop a bed of filo dough in a pool of a garlic and jalapeno sauce, which can be ordered mild, medium or hot. Pair this mouthwatering shrimp with sweet corn and apple salsa infused with red vinaigrette dressing for additional pizazz. Then, of course, the oyster lover appreciates three pieces of Baked Oysters stuffed with blue crab meat and topped with a rich but complementary blend of mozzarella and bleu cheeses.

“From now to March 23, with every purchase of a four-course meal the customer will receive one baked oyster on the house,” Luangkhot says.

And now that the palate’s been teased with effervescent flair, it’s time to wine and dine on the main course. Entree options include Baked Lamb Wellington — rack of lamb with red bell pepper and cheese wrapped in a flaky puff pastry accompanied by a side of mashed potatoes enhanced with a black pepper cream sauce — or Lobster Pad Thai. Many loyal fans of JJ Bistro & French Pastry place Lobster Pad Thai on a pedestal — and for good reason. This Thai-inspired dish features stir-fried noodles with eggs dressed with citrus XO sauce and glamorized with a world-famous Tristan Lobster Tail.

In honor of JJ Bistro’s 15th anniversary, patrons also can appreciate Rack of Lamb Stew ($22.95). Inspired and created by Luangkhot, this dish is a divine representation of his favorite ingredients.

“I love lamb, and, of course, the rack is where the best meat comes from. The rack of lamb (four pieces) sits in a savory ragu sauce sprinkled with a blend of Italian seasonings, including bay leaf, thyme and rosemary,” Luangkhot states. “The dish also comes with a side of mashed potatoes, but you can opt for a side of fettucini instead for an additional $3.”

By now, stomachs are satiated, but Luangkhot saves the best for last, which only can mean one thing — dessert, which is guaranteed to be extraordinary no matter what the craving is. And with 45 homemade sweet masterpieces to choose from, selecting one dessert is almost impossible to fathom, especially when the best-selling Chocolate Pyramid has reigned supreme for years. And although the array of desserts shine with French culinary nuances, hints of the aloha spirit also are integrated into JJ Bistro’s Lilikoi Cheese-cake. This to-die-for dessert features a home-baked New York-style cheesecake topped with fresh lilikoi puree with a jam-like consistency.

“Lilikoi Cheesecake has become very popular in such a short amount of time. It’s right up there with the Chocolate Pyramid,” Luangkhot explains. “When partaking in our four-course meal, we want diners to know that a dessert of their choice is on the house. That’s a small way of saying thank you to our guests for all of their support and encouragement throughout the years.”

Luangkhot is a firm believer that top-notch presentation and superlative tastes go hand in hand, so you can expect nothing less from his creations.

“Food presentation is a form of art,”Luangkhot says with a smile. “Everything I make is created from the heart and is very unique. I don’t want to jump on the bandwagon, I want to stand out.”

And it’s this go-getter attitude that attracts new and loyal patrons time and time again to experience the best.

JJ Bistro & French Pastry

3447 Waialae Ave., Honolulu
Monday – Saturday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Sunday, 11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.

Honolulu, HI 96816

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