Hazama Is Hot At RumFire

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - June 18, 2008
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RumFire executive chef Colin Hazama
RumFire executive chef Colin Hazama

I had drinks at RumFire several times before I was able to eat there. My visits to the hot spot within the Sheraton Waikiki were short, and while the food looked good, I didn’t have time to stop and eat.

So during a couple of days’ vacation recently I headed straight for the food.

RumFire is a beautiful bar. The fact that Esprit Lounge - with its black walls and ‘80s disco ambience - ever existed in this gorgeous space in the first place is quite remarkable.

As RumFire, the windows are open to an ocean view that changes with the colors of the sky. My favorite time there is pre-sunset when the oranges, purples and blues of the end of day seem to set the bar - with its burnt sienna counters and walls, warm wood floors and orange accents - on fire.

Colin Hazama is in the kitchen. You can actually watch him at work through glass walls that confirm suspicions that he’s one of our bright young chefs to follow closely.

But you don’t actually have to see him at work to know he’s in control of the kitchen, you merely have to taste his food. Flavor and texture meet on Hazama’s plates in a rare and joyful balance. Ahi poke tacos with sea salt, Maui onion, tobiko, sour cream and ginger avocado are so good that I wish for a super-sized portion instead of the delicate tapas we are served. Crab cakes with a Meyer lemon and tarragon aioli are bursting with crab instead of bread filling, and the inside-out musubis of smoked ahi and togarashi beef with fresh wasabi relish are a skilled balance of flavors that belie this chef’s young age. Hazama’s eye for detail is impressive, but his considerable artistic talent is used only to better serve the food. Nothing is on his plates unless it adds to the overall taste. Tiny shooter glasses with sauces, miniature mahimahi tacos with perfectly portioned amounts of Asian guacamole, ginger mango relish and shaved won bok slaw are a feast for the eyes first and then the palate.

And Hazama has learned the art of looking at popular food and taking it off on a whole new path while understanding that texture and technique are skills that need to be matched by excellent taste.

Hazama began his schooling with Alan Wong, then went onto San Francisco where he worked at Roy’s and then at Gary Danko’s Mecca of contemporary American cuisine. Back on Oahu, he worked with Wayne Hirabayashi at Hoku’s, where whispers spread that the young chef had something special.

He really does - and, mercifully, what he doesn’t have is any desire to try to pair his perfectly balanced dishes with rum cocktails. The cocktails, as elegant, sophisticated and chic as they are, are best drunk alone. What for example, would you want to pair with plump, juicy scallops seared and then served with shaved hearts of palm infused with lemon truffle vinaigrette? A pina colada? I think not.

Entirely seduced by the food, I gave up on cocktails and ordered a glass of wine - although in truth, the best pairings of the night was the food with the food.

As a bar, RumFire is cutting edge and has some of the best cocktails I’ve had anywhere in the world, but I can’t wait to see Hazama in some tiny restaurant of his own, head down, passionate and leading the way for our next generation of star chefs.

Happy eating!


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