Setting Fire to ‘Brûlé’

Columns Ono, You Know

January 1, 2017

Story By: Ali Resich | Photos by: BODIE COLLINS


At any given moment, chefs in kitchens around the world are taking their blowtorches to the top of crème brûlée-filled ramekins, putting the finishing touches on one of the most classic desserts in existence, as they caramelize layers of sugar crystals into a glass-like sheet of sweetness.

The flame-kissed treat, whose names translates to “burnt cream,” is believed to have originated in France circa the late 17th century, so it’s safe to say this fine-dining staple isn’t going anywhere. Though it is ubiquitous on dessert menus, it’s easy to forget just how much skill and precision it takes to get crème brûlée just right. Bake the classic custard too long and you’ve got a firm, eggy mess, and just a second too much on the caramel torching can result in black, scorched disappointment.

I recently got a wee taste of what it takes to finesse crème brûlée at 3660 on the Rise, where chef de cuisine Lydell Leong was brave enough to give me a lesson in firing up that signature sugar coating. I’m pleased to report that I did not burn the place down (it was a close one), but I did get to sample some mind-blowing dessert, both there and at another signature dining spot in Waikiki.


As I went to town firing away 3660’s Harlequin crème brûlée ($9), the sweetest S’mores-esque aroma permeated the restaurant, thanks to the layer of dark chocolate mousse that is incorporated into the dessert. This truly dreamy, fire-roasted essence of the chocolaty crust is what makes the eatery’s brulee so special.

3660's Harlequin crème brûlée ($9)

3660’s Harlequin crème brûlée ($9)

“The chocolate mousse adds another layer of flavor that you wouldn’t necessarily get with a standard crème brûlée,” confirms Leong, noting that he uses high-quality, raw cane sugar for the topping.

Now, let me tell you, the restaurant’s traditional vanilla custard is not to be overlooked — it puts the crème in crème brûlée. The kitchen uses real Tahitian vanilla bean, and you can see speckles of it in the custard with each spoonful. What I love most about the crème in this dessert is that it is especially creamy, like a sumptuous pudding, and it becomes milk-chocolate magic when mixed with the rich brown layer of mousse above.

The next time you visit the Kaimuki mainstay, which has been perfecting Euro-Island Cuisine since 1992, I trust that you’ll save room for this dessert. And as we kick off 2017, Leong shares that the eatery is very close to revealing its new menu, so you’ll want to stay tuned for that.

3660 on the Rise

3660 Waialae Ave., Kaimuki

Honolulu, HI 96816


Vanilla may be the standard flavor for crème brûlée, but the dessert’s custard base actually serves as an ideal foundation

for a near-endless list of flavors. Over time, the collective culinary world has jazzed up crème brûlée with the likes of coffee, lemon, strawberry, etc. But if you’re talking about the treat here in the Islands, you have to go for one with some solid tropical flair.

Japengo's Coconut crème brûlée ($13) FILE PHOTO

Japengo’s Coconut crème brûlée ($13) FILE PHOTO

You can find it at Japengo Steak & Seafood, where Coconut crème brûlée ($13) has long pleased patrons of the upscale Waikiki eatery.

In this beautiful creation, coconut water and shavings are blended into the custard, the latter of which adds a nice crunchy surprise to the usually smooth interior. To create a glorious symphony of flavors alongside the coconut, Japengo adds toffee crumble with a hint of chocolate to the mix, rendering this dessert truly irresistible.

In addition to munching on Coconut crème brûlée, you’ll want to explore all of the new offerings Japengo has in store for you. The restaurant now offers a menu that showcases steak and seafood at their best, while a new bar area is well suited for pupus or pre-dinner cocktails.

“The menu is more steak-focused,” confirms chef de cuisine Joseph Rose, when describing the recent updates. “We have a large selection of steaks that are simple, cooked on the grill and basted with a mix of local butter and roasted beef fat.”

And those who were in love with Japengo’s signature starters and quality array of island seafood and vegetables can rest assured that they have remained on the menu.

Japengo Steak & Seafood

Hyatt Regency Waikiki Beach Resort & Spa
2424 Kalakaua Ave., Waikiki

Honolulu, HI 96815

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