Makai Tasting Menu Hits the High Notes

Features Inside Feature

April 5, 2015

Story By: Kyle Galdeira | Photos by: Nathalie Walker

Like a finely tuned orchestra, Japengo’s popular Makai Tasting Menu is crafted to produce a crescendo of flavor, as the seafood symphony brings forth some of the best fare Hawaii’s waters have to offer.

By working with local fisheries, farmers, dairies and ranchers, Japengo has elevated the notion of crafting sustainable Hawaii regional cuisine, taking diners on a journey from “mauka” to “makai” with every dish.

As proof of the Hyatt’s commitment to sustainability, Japengo’s cuisine revolves around the brand’s philosophy of “food that is thoughtfully sourced and carefully served.” This concept resonates throughout Japengo’s Makai Tasting Menu ($95, plus tax and gratuity, available for parties of eight or fewer), which was crafted by chef de cuisine Jon Matsubara and recently introduced to diners. The seven-course menu features some of Japengo’s most popular selections and signature dishes, which are both light and refreshing, as well as rich and hearty.

“This probably is our most refined menu,” Matsubara says. “Being the only restaurant at the Hyatt, we wanted to offer a really high-end tasting menu, and had a lot of fun with this. Because we’re in Hawaii, and there’s so much fresh seafood available, we can put together a nice variety of flavors.”

Situated on the third floor of Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa’s Ewa Tower, Japengo offers an inviting atmosphere, where diners are treated to some of the best locally grown and sourced ingredients available. Matsubara estimates that at least 70 percent of the menu contains these local products, which he enjoys cooking with and bringing out their unique flavors.

The Makai Tasting Menu begins with an alluring Oyster Shooter composed of fresh Kumamoto oyster, quail egg, caviar, a slight hint of sesame chili and homemade ponzu sauce, which ties together all the flavors. Guests then receive Sashimi of Hamachi, and the fresh fish is accompanied by toasted garlic, shaved jalapeno and tojo sauce, along with locally sourced greens.

“The Kumamoto oyster is my favorite because it’s really sweet. It’s a great way to start off and activate the palate,” Matsubara says. “The Hamachi is a crowd favorite — buttery and fresh, served cold with a nice radish salad.”

The menu then rolls on with Scallop Truffleyaki. The succulent signature seafood dish is torched, lacquered and served with an Italian black truffle and potato puree, which “marries really well with the scallop.” Sake Steamed Kona Abalone is next to emerge from the kitchen. The Big Island sourced abalone is prepared with enoki mushrooms in a savory, “light, not too aggressive” broth, which features sake, escargot butter with garlic and herbs, clams and bacon dashi.

Singaporean Chili Lobster Tail serves as the fifth course in the sought-after Makai Tasting Menu, and the signature dish boasts aromatics provided by lemongrass, coriander, chilies and shallots, in a sauce that starts off sweet, and ends with a spicy kick. In addition to enjoying the succulent lobster tail, diners can enjoy the sauce with Mantou buns — perfect for dipping.

Matsubara follows up the lobster with Japengo Bouillabaisse, a popular Asian-inspired seafood concoction composed of kaffir lime leaves, Thai curry and saffron which, when combined, serve as “a great vehicle” for fresh Alaskan King Crab, clams, scallops and shrimp.

“We serve the bouillabaisse with our garlic bread, which is a baguette with lots of garlic and herbs, so it’s perfect for sopping up the sauce,” Matsubara explains.

The incredible dining experience culminates with Tiramisu for dessert. This “crowd favorite from back in the day,” when the restaurant was known as Ciao Mein, returns by popular demand. Diners can delve into the rich combination of Kona coffee, mascarpone and ladyfingers, as they enjoy great company and an elegant, welcoming ambiance.

“If you like seafood, this definitely is the way to go because you get a little bit of everything,” Matsubara says. “The flavor profiles go from light and crisp, to rich and full-bodied. A lot of my experiences from traveling are also incorporated, so we try to add a ‘global touch’ to each dish.”


Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort and Spa Ewa Tower, Third floor
2424 Kalakaua Ave.
923-1234 or 237-6180
Daily, 6-10 p.m. (Happy Hour, 5:30-7 p.m.)
Note: Guests of Japengo are treated to complimentary validated valet parking.

Honolulu, HI 96815

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