Getting The Royal Treatment

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - October 28, 2009
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A bird’s-eye view of the Mai Tai Bar

I did something last week that I’ve wanted to do for 17 years. I stayed overnight at The Royal Hawaiian. I can’t tell you why it took so long, but I can tell you it was well worth the wait.

Usually when old buildings are restored, people are fond of saying that they are “returned to their former glory,” but I’m not sure the hotel looked this beautiful when it was built in 1927. From the restoration of the incredible carved-wood doors to luxurious carpeting, fabrics and a mercifully toned-down color scheme that reflects pink in a softer, gentler light, the hotel oozes beauty and elegance. It also seems like a happy place to be - and not just for the guests. I didn’t meet anyone - from the valets to the housekeepers - who didn’t seem to be enjoying the hotel. Needless to say, the service is outstanding. ...

And I think the Mai Tai Bar is now one of Waikiki’s most delightful spots. The hotel’s Web site promise of a seat at the bar offers an opportunity to “mingle with international jetsetters and Hawaii elite,” but I found the cocktalian efforts of Joey Gottesman a much more attractive reason to be there. Joey is a professional mixologist with a real passion for his trade. His attention to detail and insistence on using fresh fruits and herbs to make all cocktails from scratch is impressive. I sipped on a Bahia - a gorgeous, refreshing cocktail made with fresh blueberries, lemon cubes and Bacardi - late in the afternoon and had one of those perfect (and all too rare) moments ...


The hotel’s signature fine-dining restaurant, Azure, is certainly one of the most exciting and inspiring restaurants to open in Honolulu in recent years. Seafood is the main focus, and chef Jon Matsubara seems to have found his comfort zone here. His dishes reflect a wildly creative spirit and good taste - not always an easy balance. It turns out the chef’s creative culinary talents extend to cocktails, too. Matsubara recently won the “World’s Best Mai Tai” contest, a competition held in Kona. He created his winning mai tai using a “smoking gun.”

“I use the same technique on some dishes in the restaurant,” he told me. It obviously works well, as he walked off with the title and a rather large check ...

We had dinner outside Azure at a rather fancy beachside cabana, but next time I think I’d choose the Moroccan-inspired dining room. Lit by candles that reflect shimmering mother of pearl and shades of white around the room, it has an incredibly romantic glow ...

The next day, we spent time at Sheraton’s new pool playground, where our boys played for hours on the water slide. It might have taken me 17 years to get to The Royal Hawaiian, but it really was worth the wait ...

At a party last week to celebrate the 10th anniversary of The Pineapple Room, Alan Wong was in good spirits - and in excellent company. Joined by good friends, family and longtime staff members, the chef looked happy and well. You can credit fiancée Alice Inoue and her cooking for much of that.

“I never let Alan in the kitchen,” she says firmly. “It’s my area. I do all of the cooking at home.”

Happy eating!

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