In the dining room of Hakone at Hawaii Prince Hotel Waikiki, Now Plating sits down with an all-smiles chef Masami Shimoyama. The Japanese restaurant, which simultaneously opened with the hotel back in 1990, has grown in bounds of success over the years.
Without a doubt, the credit goes to Chef Shimoyama and his vision for bringing quality food to Hawaii diners.
“This man opened (Hakone),” director of food and beverage Ward Almeida says.
“It’s been 25 years,” Chef Shimoyama thoughtfully adds.
Assorted nigiri (part of buffet, $56)
Chef Masami Shimoyama
Snow crab (part of buffet, $56)
Hakone is best known for its buffet, which includes a wealth of traditional Japanese cuisine. “Chef Shimoyama’s expertise really is in the art of a la carte-type dishes,” Almeida comments. “For example, we have a sake dinner event coming up, and Chef’s skills just come out in regards to quality and presentation.”
The sake dinner ($100) will be held Monday, Oct. 26 at 6 p.m, and will feature a five-course menu put together by Chef Shimoyama, and sake pairings for each course, selected by Hakone’s manager and sake sommelier Ikuko Shimizu.
Shimizu was the first female sake sommelier in the state, and alongside Chef Shimoyama, the sake and food combination is not the only perfect match at Hakone. The business team of Chef Shimoyama and Shimizu truly has allowed the restaurant to become what it is today. “As far as Hakone is concerned, we are very fortunate that we have so much talent at the head and in the leadership of Chef Shimoyama and Ikuko,” Almeida beams.
When describing the sake dinner, Shimizu explains that “all sake pairings will be from Kubota Sake Breweries, in addition to Chef’s menu.” You can call to make reservations or go online. Make sure to also inquire about the free sake sampling nights (dates vary) that Shimizu occasionally hosts.
The constant for Hakone is its buffet ($56, $28 for children ages 6-10), as diners continue to come back time and again for it. Long tables are packed with platters of assorted sashimi, baskets of shrimp tempura, snow crab legs, beef shabu shabu, sukiyaki and so much more. Additionally, there’s a dessert section and a sushi station, behind which you will find Chef Shimoyama working away to serve the most fresh, delicious and quality pieces of fish imaginable.
The sushi is so good that there even is a limit to how many pieces — six to be exact — of nigiri or temaki you can order in one trip to the sushi station. However, Almeida is quick to mention that “there is no limit to how many times you can go up.” After all, it is all you can eat.
“Locals really like our shrimp tempura,” Chef Shimoyama shares. “We go through 500 pieces of shrimp tempura a weekend!” When asked about the fish used for the sashimi and sushi, Chef replies, “We use what’s most fresh,” as he consciously buys from local fish markets. However, there are very few lengths Chef Shimoyama wouldn’t go to in order to give his customers the best. For instance, sushi delicacies such as uni (sea urchin) are specially ordered overseas and shipped, regardless of the price.
Across from the ever-popular Prince Court buffet, Hakone offers the simpler tastes of Japan, inviting you to experience something truly unique. As Almeida, Shimoyama and Shimizu sit in Hakone’s dining area, they laugh over Chef’s picture of when he first started Hakone, insisting that he hasn’t aged at all. And although it has been 25 years since its opening, Hakone continues to be just as vibrant and special as Chef Shimoyama was and still is to this day.
Hawaii Prince Hotel Waikiki
100 Holomoana St., Honolulu
Tuesday-Thursday, 5:30-9 p.m.;
Friday-Sunday, 5:30-9:30 p.m.;