Rediscovering Restaurant Suntory

Jo McGarry
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Friday - June 16, 2006
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Chef Nobuyuki Aoyama relies on fresh local produce
Chef Nobuyuki Aoyama relies on fresh
local produce

The fact that Restaurant Suntory is busy with lunchtime customers on the day that I visit is something of a testament to both the food and the loyalty of its local customer base, because thanks to renovations to the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center as part of the highly anticipated Lewers Street redevelopment, the restaurant is really hard to find. Amidst scaffolding and the accoutrements of a construction site, stores within the marketplace are doing their best to promote business as usual. But it’s only when you enter Restaurant Suntory that you believe this to be true. The restaurant (a main dining room, a teppanyaki room and a sushi bar) is busy.

“We’ve always been a popular lunch time destination,” says restaurant manager James ‘Aki’ Peters “And that hasn’t really changed.”

Do people think you’re closed? I ask him as we sit down to eat at a table that looks out onto mounds of construction site paraphernalia, orange netting and the yellow plastic tape that serves as a warning to keep people out.

“No,” he says with a laugh, “they don’t think we’re closed - but they are still calling to see what’s on special and we haven’t run a special in about three or four years.”

Until now, that is. The popular, well-priced, complete dinner that drew local diners familiar with the great reputation of the restaurant is now being served again for a limited time.

“The special was incredibly popular with local customers,” says Aki, “so we thought it would be good to bring it back for a while.”

For $29 guests enjoy a Nalo green salad, sushi appetizer, an assortment of tempura, wafu steak, rice, tsukemono, miso soup and ice cream.

Suntory is arguably one of Honolulu’s most popular Japanese restaurants, and this in a city where Japanese restaurants seem to open every week.

Teppanyaki dining came to Hawaii in the mid 1960s, and Suntory opened here in the early 1970s as one of the original occupants of the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center. At lunchtime, the dining crowd is made up of local office and hotel workers who enjoy the teppanyaki grill chefs’ talents with steak and seafood, and groups who take advantage of the lunch specials. Service is speedy and there’s no doubting the quality of the food.

“We’ve always had an emphasis on using local ingredients and incorporating top quality items on the menu,” says Aki, referring to the use of free range chicken, organic shoyu, the finest quality Black Angus beef, Hawaiian sea salt, high quality tempura oil, Hauula tomatoes and locally farmed Nalo greens. The menu is extensive, with a huge range of prix fixe dinners, teppanyaki dinners and a la carte items. If you’re going for the first time, it’s worth seeking the recommendations of the wait staff to help you around the choices.

Those who’ve missed the dinner specials these past few years should be thrilled to see that they’re back, but if you haven’t tried this excellent Japanese restaurant before, then make reservations now. It might be hard to find a table as soon as the marketplace officially reopens for business.

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