New Chef And New Sushi At Roy’s Hawaii Kai

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - January 12, 2011
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Roy’s Hawaii Kai Executive Chef Chris Garnier

If your new year resolutions include a commitment to becoming more adventurous when eating out, then you might want to take the drive over to Hawaii Kai, where Roy Yamaguchi’s flagship restaurant has made some significant - and exciting - changes to the menu.

Newly in charge of the famous open kitchen (following the departure of longtime executive chef Ronnie Nasuti, who’s now at Tiki’s Bar and Grill in Waikiki) is Chris Garnier, who began his career at Roy’s as a busboy more than 20 years ago.

“I used to stand and look across the million-dollar view,” he says, “and imagine I’d be back here. It was always a dream.”

Garnier’s been busy working at Roy’s Restaurants these past two decades, starting on Guam and then helping open restaurants around the Mainland until he wound his way back to Hawaii last year to assist Jackie Lau, Roy’s executive corporate chef.

“I’ve come full circle,” he says, “and it’s so great to be back home and in my old stomping grounds.”

What’s exciting for diners, and particularly those who haven’t visited the restaurant in a while, are the changes Garnier is bringing to a menu that now includes new sushi and a rotating list of locally inspired specials.

“It’s challenging and it’s fun for us,” says Garnier of menu items that include carpaccio of opakapaka and house-smoked ribeye steak.

The new-style sushi heads away from the carb-loaded, rice-filled hand rolls and nigiri toward a freer, lighter, more-artistic interpretation of sushi with fresh opakapaka served with a drizzle of vinaigrette, or fresh onaga served with a mignonette sauce. It’s sushi with exploding citrus flavors and vibrant colors, and it’s certainly worth making the trip to Hawaii Kai to try.

But Garnier and the team also stay true to Roy’s preference for French techniques, pairing local ingredients and paying homage to the classic, rustic dish cassoulet by adding seared Kona abalone. “The Kona abalone is so soft, like butter,” says Garnier. “It’s perfect in the cassoulet. It’s phenomenal.”

And there’s a free-range - though not entirely humble - roast chicken that should warm the hearts of those in search of simple, yet, cutting-edge perfection. Jidori chicken (the Kobe beef of poultry) is first cooked sous vide, then pan-crisped to order and served with a balsamic sauce. “We really encourage people to try the chicken,” says Garnier.” It’s really something different.”

And those who recognize Garnier from a photo taken 20 years ago that hangs at the entrance to the restaurant may also recognize someone else who made an appearance at the original Roy’s barely 20 years ago. If there’s something about the shy smile, dark, glossy hair and somewhat comfortable-in-the-kitchen attitude of the youngest line cook, it’s because that’s Roy Yamaguchi Jr. in the kitchen learning the trade.

“He’s doing really, really well,” says Garnier of Roy’s newest employee. “We’re proud to have him as part of our exciting team.”

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