Chef Siu can ‘Rise’ to any occasion

Jo McGarry
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Friday - December 05, 2008
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3660 On The Rise owners Russell Siu and Gale Ogawa

3660 On the Rise has been one of Honolulu’s favorite restaurants since it opened its doors 16 years ago. Chef-owner Russell Siu and partner Gale Ogawa had a vision of opening an upscale “plate lunch” place that almost immediately turned into a relaxed, casual fine-dining restaurant with great locally influenced flavors.

If you ask Siu or Ogawa for a definition of the food, they’ll say its Euro-Island, which is much like Pacific Rim. The “Euro” comes from Russell’s culinary experience, and the “Island” influence is obvious. What’s quite remarkable about 3660 is its menu. There’s a balance of local flavors, a little French influence and a lot of creativity with both local and imported ingredients - all resulting in dishes that simply cannot be removed from the menu, lest customers protest.

I stopped by the restaurant last week to chat with Siu and Ogawa about some of the signature dishes and why they think they work.

Jo McGarry: So I remember you telling me that originally all you really wanted was a place that served local food. Can you believe its been 16 successful years already?

Gale Ogawa: No! (laughs). But that’s right about the beginning. Originally we were always trying to bring flavors to people they would already know and recognize.


J.M.: I want to talk about some of the greatest dishes on the menu. The catfish has to be one. It’s such a great dish. How did that come about?

G.O.: Well, local people love whole fish and catfish, and originally we were trying to do a whole catfish, but it was hard to find, so we found these filets of Idaho cat-fish and they were fabulous. Russell tempuras two filets and serves them with a ponzu sauce - that’s kind of like a sweet teri sauce with citrus. It’s probably one of the all-time favorite dishes.

J.M.: The N.Y. steak has always been one of my favorites - that’s an excellent steak that seems really, really simple.

G.O.: It’s simple, but it’s very well-seasoned. It’s not just thrown on the grill. The seasoning is the key.

J.M.: What are some of the all-time great dishes that will never leave the menu?

G.O.: The ahi katsu. There’s the catfish of course, and the snapper (Chinese Steamed Filet of Fresh Snapper) ... dishes like that will never go. That’s why we have one side of the menu devoted to the classic dishes.

J.M.: So is it easier when you have a menu filled with dishes people love, or is it harder?

G.O.: (laughs). It’s not really hard, but the challenging thing about it is that people have their favorites, and that’s what they want to see on the menu. It becomes challenging when you want to add something new. And then often you try something once and people want that to stay on the menu. We have these short ribs, for example, and we used to rotate them out, and we tried taking them off the menu and they’ve now been on for about six years!

Crisp honey ginger shrimp served with a terrine of choi sum

J.M.: Russell, I’ve always said that you have this great ability to recognize what local people want to eat. You do it at Kakaako Kitchen where there’s a really extensive menu of favorites, and you do it here on the finer-dining level. What’s your secret?

Russell Siu: No secret, we just want to make food that tastes good and that’s not overwhelmed by other flavors. To me, I want the taste to be foremost.

G.O.: Russell’s style has always been about letting people taste the food.

R.S.: Some people concentrate so much on the presentation and on the style that by the time it gets to the table it’s not hot - and that’s not good.

J.M.: So how do you go about creating dishes that have great longevity?

R.S.: We think about the protein first and then how we will balance the entire menu. Then there’s the style of cooking - is it going to be grilled or braised or whatever - and then there’s the kind of sauce and then what local ingredient can we use where people recognize the style. It’s about having people recognize an ingredient and then say,‘wow that tastes like ...’ and they remember something they perhaps ate when they were younger, or at their mom’s house, but it has a twist to it.

J.M.: So you get ideas from everywhere?

R.S.: Yes, my mom’s cooking was mostly American, my grandma was Chinese, and so I have tastes in my mind, flavor profiles, from growing up and from their cooking. I play with them and add different ingredients to create dishes that are similar - but different.

J.M. How do you describe your food to people who’ve never eaten here?

G.O.: It’s food that we enjoy eating. It’s really all about creating food that we enjoy. And we also want them to know that it’s a restaurant about food and not about intimidating fine dining. People feel comfortable here and our staff is casual. They’re good - but they stay out of the way so the guests can have a great experience.

J.M.: Do you have favorites on the menu?

RS: We always have a salmon dish - and right now we have one that’s simple so that flavor really comes through. There’s a little glaze on top and some pickled onions, a little citrus sauce ... it all comes together nicely.

G.O.: The butterfish is one of my favorites (Soy Sake Glazed Fillet of Butterfish) and there’s the ahi (Masago Arare Crusted Ahi Steak).

J.M.: Do you think the menu will ever get any bigger?

G.O.: No! We can’t get any more wood (laughs) - the kitchen can only do a certain amount perfectly and we don’t want to compromise that by making the menu larger.

3660 On the Rise 3660 Waialae Ave. Honolulu 737-1177


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