It’s been a long time coming for chef Kevin Lee … almost three years in the making, in fact. Most people in Hawaii remember him from his time as chef de cuisine at Prima Kailua — and if you don’t remember him, it’s probably because he’s shy and very focused on his food. Behind that quiet demeanor is an intense and talented chef, something his peers in the industry already know.
“Pai” is shortened from “ho’o pai,” which is Hawaiian for “to execute, encourage, raise up, rouse.” Lee is hoping to excite diners with dishes and combinations that people have never seen before with flavor snapshots of his memories and experiences. He gutted the old Umami Cafe and transformed the space to include his dream kitchen, a chef’s counter, a bar, and dining tables (currently only inside, but soon will feature outside as well).
The restaurant opens tonight and will be open Tuesday through Saturday for dinner from about 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. The bar will open earlier to accommodate the pau hana crowd, of course. But enough chitchat. Here’s a sneak peek at the food, drinks, and people behind it all.
I got to try their prix fixe menu, which is a great deal at $65 for four courses (five, if you count the appetizer) and $40 for the wine pairing.
The chef’s counter also features a chef’s tasting menu with twice as many items for $135 and wine pairings for $65.
If you’re just in the mood for a snack, here’s a peek at some items on the bar menu:
The wines and handcrafted cocktails are as important as the food here, so be sure to at least have a drink while you’re at Pai. I don’t know the wine prices, but the ones I saw in preview were about $10 a glass. At this writing, I don’t have prices for the drinks.
This was just a quick preview, but we’re excited to see what else PAI has in store for us as the menu evolves.
Harbor Court lobby
55 Merchant St.