Chai’s Waikiki revamps

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Almost a year ago, Chef Chai Chaowasaree opened his Waikiki restaurant in the former Singha Thai space as a take-out plate lunch venue. At the time, I was surprised to see such a casual approach to Chai’s food, and apparently so were many customers. His brand is so strong as a high-end chef that people weren’t taking to the styrofoam containers and plastic forks.

DSC07779So, he re-evaluated his restaurant. He revamped. And this week, Chai’s Waikiki Hawaiian Fusion opened to the public with some classic favorites as well as some new dishes unique to the Canterbury Place location. We got to try some of his new dishes:

DSC07712To start, you get Chai’s standard amuse bouche of seared ahi katsu, plus pita bread with his signature satay spread. Don’t fill up, as this is addicting.

DSC07717He also has new cocktails at the Waikiki location; from left, the Sunset My Thai and the Waikiki Donkey (their version of a Moscow Mule). The My Thai is really strong, though, so mix it well and drink slowly.

DSC07728To start, we had a roasted organic Big Island beet and Puna goat cheese bruschetta. This is a fork-and-knife kind of dish, but that’s okay. The earthy beets with the bright tomatoes and herbs are pulled together with the goat cheese, which gives the flavors some heftiness.

DSC07718We were also surprised by the grilled octopus with spicy barbecue garlic gochujang sauce and cucumber salad. It’s actually not too spicy, and the barbecue sauce is not too strong so the octopus flavor can shine through. It’s also very tender.

DSC07736Having just got back from Singapore, I was taken back to Asia with the spicy “suicidal” wings with Thai chile, Manoa honey, garlic and cilantro. It’s sweet, salty and hot, with a prickly spiciness that stabs your tongue and keeps you coming back for more.

DSC07732The foie gras chawan mushi is actually more of a foie gras spread than an egg custard, but we loved it anyway. It’s served with just one piece of toast, which isn’t enough, and a nice fennel slaw. If you get this, order more pita bread on the side for it — even better if it comes to the table steaming hot. We spread this on the hot pita and it melted like butter, but that gave it an even richer flavor. Don’t think too hard, just eat it.

DSC07739You can’t see the burrata cheese here — it’s wrapped in the zucchini. Chai’s version of caprese includes Ho Farms heirloom cherry tomatoes, balsamic reduction, alaea sea salt, and young ginger carrot gel. The flavors here are much more intense than most caprese salads, which stand up to the rich burrata.

DSC07744At many Vietnamese restaurants, you’ll find a “shaking beef” salad. Here, Chai classes it up with his own roasted Parker Ranch beef tenderloin salad with lemongrass garlic vinaigrette. It’s very light for a meaty dish, but with lovely citrusy flavors to go with the beef. This is definitely a must-try.

DSC07755One of our absolute favorites of the night was the poached Kona lobster with corn, Hamakua mushroom and truffle risotto, and a lobster reduction. It’s not super rich, but still tastes very decadent. The mushrooms and especially the corn add pops of texture to the risotto, which we loved. There isn’t a lot of truffle flavor, though, unless it was overpowered by the other ingredients … but this honestly doesn’t need the truffle, it is delicious on its own.

DSC07762The eggplant rollatini with roasted leek and parmesan cheese sauce is proof you can be vegetarian and still be a little splurgy. This has beautiful, rich flavors that are almost strong enough to be meaty. Almost.

DSC07758The hoisin marinated Maui Nui venison was definitely not the most photogenic, sorry. Since we were sharing plates, two of us eat our meat medium rare, and the other two like it well done. If you’re going to order it well done, though, you might as well order something else. The well-done meat was kind of dry and tough, whereas the medium rare piece was perfectly plump and juicy.

DSC07768At first glance, this looks like a plain plate of pineapple, but I promise it is anything but. Frankie’s Nursery in Waimanalo created a special honey pineapple, which is super low acid and high sugar. The fruits are tiny, but cost about $15 each, but they are worth it. When you taste it, I think you’ll agree that this tastes like birthday cake. Yeah, it’s that good.

DSC07773Unique to the Waikiki restaurant: Waialua chocolate wontons with ube haupia sauce and fresh berries. Chocolate lovers will enjoy this oozy treat.

DSC07777Chai has a coconut cheesecake that is so light, you’ll think you’re eating regular white cake. The best thing is the Tahitian vanilla creme anglaise, so be sure to dredge each bite through it.

DSC07771We ended with Chai’s signature heart-shaped white chocolate amore truffle with raspberry guava puree. It looks rich, but it’s pretty refreshing.

Chai’s Waikiki Hawaiian Fusion is open for dinner nightly; parking is in the building for a $6 flat rate.

Chai’s Waikiki Hawaiian Fusion
1910 Ala Moana Blvd. in the Canterbury