When Chefs Get Romantic

Jo McGarry
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Wednesday - February 06, 2008
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Ola chef/owner Fred De Angelo
Ola chef/owner Fred De Angelo

Ever wonder what the owners of some of the most romantic restaurants in the nation do when they’re in the mood for love? I spent some time last week chatting with chefs to find out where they head when they need to get romantic.

As you’d expect from one of the most famous chefs in America, Roy Yamaguchi’s idea of romance is rooted firmly in the kitchen - but not necessarily his restaurant kitchen.

“I would love to cook up a sensual, romantic dinner for my date at home,” he says. “Tableside works best because it’s a personal gift from me to someone special. A dinner for someone you love is about saying ‘This is for you and only you,’” he says, adding that he hasn’t been out on a Valentine’s date in more than a decade.

I pointed out, quite accurately, I thought, that there are hundreds of women who’d go weak at the knees at the thought of Roy Yamaguchi cooking dinner for them and he thanked me, giving the wry smile that has been known to make lesser food writers swoon. If he ever does manage to find a date on Valentine’s night, he says he’ll head to Alan Wong’s.

“To me,” says Yamaguchi, “romance is all about the total experience, not just the room or the food. Food that is sexy in presentation sets the tone and becomes the icing on the cake.”

Or on Roy’s chocolate soufflé.

D.K. Kodama owns a couple of very romantic restaurants. His steak house in Waikiki is gorgeous, and he eats there often with wife Lori. “I think that going out for dinner is definitely one of the most romantic ways to spend an evening,” says the amiable chef, adding that he and Lori eat “everywhere.”

“The most romantic Valentine’s I ever had was on a cruise ship,” he says. “I decorated the room with hearts and balloons, and the whole thing was special. I don’t remember what we ate, though.”

On the North Shore, Ola at Turtle Bay is one of the most romantically appointed restaurants in Hawaii. It sits right on the beach and is booked out months in advance for Valentine’s. But after a busy night at the restaurant, chef/owner Fred De Angelo’s idea of romance involves a hibachi and late-night dining with wife Cheryl. “The most romantic night we ever had was a picnic over at Kahala one Halloween,” says Fred. “We were kind of doing the opposite thing from everyone else.”

And finally I asked Chef Mavro about his idea of romance. The French are supposed to know about such things and, after all, Chef Mavro, his eponymous King Street restaurant, has been voted one of the 10 best restaurants in the world.

“Romantic food should be smooth and sweet,” says the chef. “Like the Keahole lobster curry at my restaurant, where the natural sweetness of the lobster matches perfectly with our curry sauce.” Mavro’s idea of romance is a sunset walk with wife Donna along the beachwalk between the zoo and Kaimana Beach, followed by a cocktail at the Hau Tree Lanai Bar and then dinner at home. “We actually do it quite often,” he says with a smile.

Oh, and if you do still need to find a restaurant with great food, and more importantly some empty tables, try Side Street Inn. The incredibly popular restaurant/bar home to culinary stars and top chefs is unusually quiet on Valentine’s night, despite dinner specials worthy of the finest restaurants. “People don’t think of us as romantic, I guess,” says chef/owner Colin Nishida with a grin, “except when they find out that everywhere else is fully booked!”

Trust me, for foodies, it doesn’t get much better than Side Street Inn any night of the year.

Happy eating!

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