Floating A New Local Menu At Pagoda
Wednesday - March 23, 2011
You need only mention Pagoda and its floating restaurant to encourage most local people to share a story of a family reunion, a graduation party, baby luau or the hotel’s famous, Friday night all-you-can-eat crab buffet.
But if you’ve been under the impression that Pagoda’s “floating” restaurant had closed after the hotel’s sale last year, you’re not alone.
“Even we thought the restaurant had closed when we first came to look at it,” says executive chef Jason Takemura, who’s been charged with revolutionizing Pagoda’s menus.
While breakfast and lunch service did stop for a while, Pagoda is again under new management and open for business.
“People are rediscovering the restaurant since we’ve reopened for daily breakfast and lunch,” says Takemura, “and the dinner buffet is getting really busy.”
While the “old” Pagoda menu got stuck somewhere around 1982 and seemed unable to move forward, the new Pagoda intends to pay homage to local favorites while elevating the food to a level befitting a 21st century Hawaii restaurant.
“The style of cooking we’re doing represents the kind of food that a lot of local people grew up with,” says Takemura, who spent time honing his skills as executive chef at Chai’s Island Bistro and Roy’s at Pebble Beach, and currently heads the culinary team at Kurt Osaki’s
Hukilau, Honolulu. “We’re keeping the favorite foods and bringing in fresh ingredients, new flavors.”
Expect to see excellent representations of local dishes such as oxtail soup, beef stew, saimin, sushi, fresh fish and rice, but also look for food that reflects the culinary course Hawaii has charted these past few decades. I’m describing the menu as “Pacific Rim, local style,” and I’m happy that some of the dishes are directly influenced by Takemura’s family mealtimes.
“My mom and my grandmas were amazing cooks,” he says, admitting that he still keeps his Grandma’s well-thumbed cookbook of favorite Japanese dishes in his kitchen.
Changing the menu - and the culinary identity - of a restaurant like Pagoda is no easy feat, but Takemura is embracing the challenge.
“So far we’re getting great comments from the guests,” he says.
On the new - but by no means complete - menu you’ll find creative and fun food that’s well-priced and well-executed. Crispy Rock Shrimp and Kalua Spring Rolls ($6), Shiitake Mushroom and Shrimp Dumplings ($6), Cajun Cobb Salad ($12) and Ahi Katsu Salad ($12) are strong examples of the change in direction, and at lunchtime a selection of sandwiches for around $10 include Prime Rib, Blackened Mahimahi and a classic burger with a great chipotle aioli dressing.
Kalbi ($12), Kim Chee and Kalua Pig Saimin ($11) and Steamed Mahimahi served Chinese style with sizzling bok choy, ginger sauce and stir-fried veggies ($14) are further examples that there’s a lot to be excited about as this menu develops.
The nighttime buffet is still going strong Wednesday through Sunday, but you’ll find a lot of new dishes including at least three or four daily chef’s specials joining the signature crab legs and prime rib.
At $25.95, Sunday brunch here remains one of the best-value all-youcan-eat deals in Honolulu, and with Easter a mere four weeks or so away, Pagoda, with its energized new menu, seems like a perfect place for family brunch.
While still a work in progress, there’s a lot of good energy at Pagoda. The Japanese garden, waterfall and koi pond offer something unique in the busy city center. With its committed team of local owners and an enthusiastic young chef with a good grasp of local cuisine, I’m hopeful of good things and a strong future for this Honolulu landmark.
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