Restaurant Insider with Anne Lee: Eating House 1849 by Roy YamaguchiRestaurant Insider
February 21, 2021
Story By: Anne Lee | Photos by: REID SHIMABUKURO
ANNE LEE speaks with Roy Yamaguchi Group of Restaurants chef/founder ROY YAMAGUCHI
Roy Yamaguchi’s flagship restaurant is Roy’s Hawaii Kai, which opened in December 1988. In the Roy Yamaguchi Group of Restaurants, there’s also Roy’s Waikiki, Roy’s Ko Olina, Roy’s Waikoloa on the Big Island and Roy’s Kaanapali on Maui, as well as Eating House 1849 at International Marketplace in Waikiki and Poipu, Kauai; Goen Dining + Bar in Kailua; and Humble Market Kitchin in Wailea.
“All of our restaurants are built on creativity and creativity is extremely important,” says Yamaguchi. “We are not perfect and we strive every day to make our food better, and that is what makes all of our group of restaurants evolve.”
This week, the renowned chef shares his culinary background and what’s good to eat at his namesake iconic restaurants.
AL: How did you get into the restaurant industry?
RY: When I was 16, I decided to take home economics with my buddy in high school with the intention of being around all the girls. But I actually enjoyed the course. One day, we set up the classroom where we could cook a meal for a guest of our choosing, so I invited my school counselor. I made a turkey, which he really enjoyed. A couple weeks later, he had asked me what I was going to do for the rest of my life, which I really didn’t know at the time. He said that I should really consider becoming a chef because he enjoyed the meal that I prepared for him. He went out and did some research and found out that The Culinary Institute of America, which had moved from Connecticut to New York, was the best culinary school the nation had to offer. I applied and got in, and the rest is history.
AL: Tell me more about your upbringing.
RY: I was born and raised on a U.S. Army base outside of Tokyo. After I graduated from The Culinary Institute of America, I went to California and worked at some prestigious restaurants at the time, such as L’Escoffier, L’Ermitage, Le Serene, Michael’s and Le Gourmet in the Sheraton Plaza La Reina. In 1984, I opened my first restaurant 385 North in Hollywood. One day, my cousin called from Hawaii, and said she and her husband drove by this building and thought that it might be interesting for me to look at, as she felt that it would be a good spot for a restaurant. I was intrigued and came to Oahu to visit the location and thought that the Hawaii Kai location would be a good neighborhood spot.
My father was born and raised on Maui. As a kid, I would spend every other summer on Maui with my grandparents, aunts and uncles. Getting off the airplane, our first stop was Tamashiro Market. My grandfather owned a couple of restaurants in the Wailuku and Kihei areas back in the early 1940s, and also the popular Yamaguchi General Store. He was very passionate about food. Food was always in our DNA. As kids, it was our lifestyle to hunt and fish. I learned at an early age what farm-to-table truly meant.
AL: Tell me about the first year that Roy’s Hawaii Kai opened its doors.
RY: We opened in 1988, and again, I picked that location specifically as a destination restaurant. I wanted a residential area, specifically a neighborhood, as I wanted to be a part of the community.
I wanted to give job opportunities and also attract diners within the area, to have an identity within the community.
AL: Tell me more about your other restaurants.
RY: After Roy’s, the next concept was Nicolina on Maui. It was kind of a fun restaurant. Then came Princeville Tavern on Kauai. After that, I opened the Eating House 1849 on Kauai, I wasn’t sure if it was going to be another Roy’s, but, I felt the time was right to open a different concept on Kauai because of the setting and the shops surrounding the area. I felt Eating House would fit well within the center.
AL: Tell me more about Eating House 1849?
RY: Eating House is based on a gentleman by the name of Peter Fernandez, who supposedly opened the first restaurant in Hawaii back in 1849. The restaurant was called Eating House. In 1849, and there was a lot of trade and imports coming to Hawaii.
The concept of the menu was combining that with some of the new stuff that was being introduced to Hawaii and embracing the different ethnicities that makes Hawaii, Hawaii. The food heritage here was made up of all the plantation workers.
I envisioned them bringing food from home and sharing it with their friends and appreciating the flavors from all of the different cultural backgrounds. That is what you will find at The Eating House.
AL: What dishes are we featuring today?
RY: From our Land and Sea offerings, we have our tender braised short ribs with charred garlic chive chimichurri, Yukon mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts ($38).
Our build-your-own local catch (price varies) dish is unique. Guests can choose how they want it prepared and all-inclusive based on the fish choice. You first choose the fish: mahi mahi, Kona kampachi, salmon or monchong (subject to change).
Then, the cooking preparation: sautéed, grilled, tempura or jun. Then, the sauce preparations: pancit noodles, minted nampla green papaya, truffle garlic caper beurre blanc, housemade chigae soup, red Thai curry, sizzling serrano ginger vinaigrette and tri caviar shiso shallot infusion.
Under the Rice and Noodles category, one of the popular favorites is the Seafood Paella ($43), made with tomato saffron rice with Portuguese sausage, lobster, shrimp and clams.
On our Small Plates category, the ume glazed pork belly bao buns ($15) are also a fan favorite.
AL: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
RY: One of my favorite dishes that I created at Eating House is the Pork and Crab Pillows ($16). They are like dumplings filled with pork, shrimp and more, and come with a Chinese-style chili shoyu vinaigrette.