From Hawaii’s Farms To Your TableCover Story Features
December 7, 2015
Story By: Ali Resich | Photos by: LAWRENCE TABUDLO
We all know a Chef Chai dish when we see it — and taste it, for that matter. Throughout his long and diverse career in the Islands, the renowned chef has developed a signature style of cuisine that’s always colorful, presented in a stunning way every time, and never fails to burst with massive flavors. At his newest restaurant, Chai’s Waikiki Hawaiian Fusion, patrons will recognize the menu items as masterpieces only Chai Chaowasaree could create, but they’ll see them offered in a new and refreshing farm-to-table concept.
Open for a month now, Chai’s Waikiki Hawaiian Fusion showcases local ingredients in every menu item, zeroing in on meats, seafood, vegetables, fruits and other products produced in Hawaii. Chaowasaree sees the venture as a natural progression of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, the local food movement highlighting island ingredients and fusion fare that he helped to define for more than two decades alongside other top chefs in the state. Chai’s Waikiki is a contemporary version of this vision, with dishes inspired by local culinary influences, international cuisine and flavors from Thailand, where Chaowasaree originally is from.
Roasted Parker Ranch Beef Tender-loin Salad ($15), for example, takes a traditional Thai beef salad and turns it into a modern expose of chilled Big Island meat served carpaccio-style in thin slices and spotted with fresh mango, tomato, cucumber and Aloun Farms onion. Lively lemon grass garlic vinaigrette exudes ultra brightness, while roasted peanuts add an unexpected but delightful crunch.
“The beef tenderloin is the whole filet mignon, so we use top-quality beef,” explains Chaowasaree. “When you sample the beef salad, you’re going to get so many flavors in one bite. In everything we do, we always think of flavor, presentation, texture, color — and when we say color, we mean all natural, not food coloring on the plate.”
Located near Wailana Coffee House at the entrance to Waikiki, the restaurant shares a fresh taste of the Islands with its fair share of tourists. “We want to educate our visitors about what Hawaii has to offer: the style of food, the local ingredients, the freshness,” says Chaowasaree.
But it also offers plenty for kamaaina to enjoy. Many locals have adored the chef’s island fare for decades, including the healthy Asian fusion menu offered at Chef Chai on Kapiolani Boulevard, and are now excited to experience another facet of his versatile offerings.
Locals and tourists alike instantly are rejuvenated once they try Ho Farms Heirloom Cherry Tomato Burrata Caprese Salad ($12) served with crispy prosciutto sticks. With simple alaea salt, oil and balsamic reduction seasonings, guests can taste the ripeness of various local tomatoes, each with a distinct personality. The tomatoes’ acidity is balanced with incredibly luscious burrata cheese, a mixture of mozzarella and cream.
Dishes at Chai’s Waikiki are presented tapas style with sharable portions so that customers can try a variety of plates rather than just one entrée. There’s one in particular, Foie Gras Chawan Mushi ($18), that Dining Out urges everyone to order, even if they are hesitant to try the liver delicacy. Chaowasaree perfectly softens it by making it into an Asian-style custard steamed with eggs and cream. It is absolutely beautiful when combined with buttery brioche and balanced with Ohia Lehua honey and blackberry compote.
The eatery not only shows off fresh ingredients in their prime, but it also presents them in creative ways, as is evident in Waialua Chocolate Wonton with Ube Haupia Sauce ($8). The dessert pays tribute to the fact that Hawaii is the only state that grows cacao (which chocolate is made from), and even better, it features dark chocolate oozing out of crispy dumpling shells.
As an exclusive offer for Dining Out readers, early bird diners receive a 25 percent discount from 4 to 6 p.m. with the ad on the cover. And if you’re looking for the perfect gift this season, purchase a Chai’s Waikiki gift card for $100 from now until Dec. 24 and you’ll receive an additional $25 to use next year.
THE ‘HOLY GRAIL’ OF HERBS
If you’re dining on Chai Waikiki’s Asian-inspired courtyard, check out the eatery’s fresh herb garden. HOLY BASIL is a stand-out, as this member of the Thai basil family gives off floral and peppery notes. You can taste it in Ho Farms Heirloom Cherry Tomato Burrata Caprese Salad and other dishes.
Chai’s Waikiki Hawaiian Fusion
1910 Ala Moana Blvd., Waikiki
Daily, 4-11 p.m.
Parking located on the second and third floors of Canterbury Place condo building