It didn’t take long after landing in Hawaii that I realized why this place is so perfect . . . almost too good to be true. Not only is the scenery breathtaking and the weather perfect, there is a HUGE Japanese influence on the cuisine. To me, there couldn’t be a more perfect place in earth. Perfect weather, gorgeous hiking, beautiful beaches, and phenomenal Japanese food? Ahi poke on every street corner and macadamia nuts (my favorite!) readily accessible everywhere?
Ummm . . can I move there, like now?
Roy’s is a perfect example of what this Hawaiian-inspired, Asian influenced food is all about.
Roy Yamaguchi, a Japanese chef born and raised in Tokyo (whose father was born and raised in Maui!), is the founder of Roy’s. He moved to Hawaii in 1988 after training at the Culinary Institute of America in New York and training at French restaurants in Los Angeles. Chef Yamaguchi became the first Hawaiian to win the James Beard Award. His cooking became so popular, Roy’s started to and continues to grow, now at 31 locations worldwide.
We had the opportunity to try Roy’s twice: once in Maui and once in Kauai. I’ll start with our meal in Kauai first, since that was the more typical Roy’s experience. Our dinner in Maui was on Thanksgiving. Even though I ordered some classic Roy’s dishes, Bryan insisted on getting their turkey special (heh, complete with mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, and a kale salad. Definitely not typical Roy’s food!).
Roy’s in Kauai
Roy’s in Kauai is located in a shopping area about a 5-minute drive from our resort at the Sheraton in Poipu. We came here on our second evening in Kauai, right after our unforgettable morning helicopter ride and afternoon dive with the turtles. After having experienced Honolulu and Maui first, we were immediately surprised at the the slower pace of life on the island of Kauai. Stores close early, there’s really no nightlife, and around 8PM the shopping plaza surrounding Roy’s was virtually a ghosttown with barely any people walking around.
Soon after we sat down, a bowl of edamame appeared at our table.
One thing I love about Roy’s is the free, unlimited edamame that you get at the beginning of the meal. Who needs bread when you can eat edamame? They flavor it nicely (I think it’s sprinkled with salt and togarashi) and it’s cooked perfectly – fresh with just a slight crunch in the texture and not at all mushy. We polished off the first bowl and asked for seconds at least once, if not twice!
As predicted, I had to order the poke on the menu, in this case the Smoked Poke Trio ($15.50), a trio of salmon, Hawaiian ahi, and Big Island kampachi tossed with sweet onion and Ho Farm tomatoes in a light citrus soy-based dressing. It was pleasant, with very fresh fish and light, simple flavors.
We also tried the Hiyashi Chuka ($11.50), a chilled Japanese somen salad which included confit ahi tuna, pickled onions, and crispy Brussels sprouts tossed in a simple sesame soy dressing.
The Blackened Island Ahi ($20 appetizer / $40.50 entree size) came with a spicy soy mustard and a jet black nori (seaweed) puree. The fish was excellent in quality (and just barely cooked!) and the sauces were fun. Pictured above is the smaller appetizer size.
Asian Pesto Steamed Hawaiian Kampachi ($41.50) came over homemade udon noodles, maitake mushrooms, and snow peas in a Chinese style ginger soy mushroom broth. The broth had a nice, rich, earthy flavor, and the noodles were chewy and pleasantly al dente. Bryan really enjoyed it.
Dessert was an Upside Down Pineapple Cake, made with local pineapples. It was fine – pleasant but not particularly memorable.
2. Roy’s in Maui
We came to Roy’s in Maui on Thanksgiving. Yes, it was definitely an unconventional place to visit on Thanksgiving. We chose this restaurant partly because it was convenient (walking distance from our hotel!), available, and we knew we would be tired after a day of diving (we got SCUBA open water certified on Thanksgiving Day!).
The Roy’s in Maui faces a golf course and has beautiful views out its expansive windows. We arrived right around sunset (5:30PM during the fall!) and it was beautiful.
Our hotel is right on the other side of the golf course!
The Spicy Tuna Roll ($15) was suggested by our server, who said it was his favorite. This is not your everyday spicy tuna roll. Roy’s version is “panko crisped” and served with kabayaki. Essentially, the roll is flash fried with panko bread crumbs and then served with a kabayaki sauce, that sweet, thick soy sauce that’s often brushed on top of unagi (eel). A bit of wasabi aioli and decorative greens complete the plate. It was fun and tasty, not authentic, but definitely very Hawaiian fusion.
I have always liked variety (this is why I prefer tapas and small plates over traditional entrees), so I was most drawn to an “entree” titled Roy’s Classic Trio ($40). It was, in essence, a “greatest hits” plate where you could sample three of Roy’s classic dishes: the Jade Pesto Steamed Monchong, Blackened Ahi, and Macadamia Nut Shutome.
The first one was a Macadamia Nut Crusted Hawaiian Shutome served with Kona Maine lobster essence. Macadamia nut crust is very popular in Hawaii (you see it everywhere!) and this particular version was fine. The Shutome, a type of swordfish, was steaky and less delicate than I preferred (I like my swordfish cooked medium rare!), but otherwise the flavors were OK.
The Blackened Island Ahi came with a spicy soy mustard and a nori puree. This fish was fresh and cooked a perfect rare the way I like it. This was probably my favorite of the three (can you tell I really like ahi tuna from Hawaii?).
The last one of the trio was an Asian Pesto Steamed Hawaiian Monchong with a Chinese style ginger soy sauce. This reminded me a lot of the steamed fish dishes you get in Cantonese restaurants. It was OK, but I didn’t find the flavors particularly novel or exciting.
All in all, Roy’s Classic Trio was perfectly enjoyable, though none of the three classic dishes really blew me away. I prefer seafood and Asian food to traditional Thanksgiving fare, so I was happy to have this option. However, overall I preferred the seafood at Mama’s Fish House and Merriman’s.
Bryan’s Three Course Thanksgiving Meal
If you’ve ever wondered why an Asian fusion restaurant would serve turkey on Thanksgiving, it’s because of people like Bryan, who insist no matter what that they have to eat a traditional Thanksgiving feast on Thanksgiving.
Bryan grew up eating traditional Thanksgiving dinner every year every since he was a child. His mom makes an amazing Thanksgiving meal, and it’s been an eye-opening cultural experience for me to be able to enjoy it. I had Chinese hot pot every year, plus my mom never liked turkey (or most poultry, for that matter), so we seldom ate it growing up.
Here’s Roy’s version of Thanksgiving, which is . . . surprisingly . . . . very non-Asian.
This cream Corn Soup was actually delicious. It was thick and creamy, with a lovely sweet corn flavor.
The second course was Kale Salad with tomatoes, pomegranate seeds, walnuts, and a fresh ricotta. It was refreshingly, healthy, and “fine” according to Bryan (man of few words).
Bryan really enjoyed the Roasted Turkey, which was as classic as it comes. There was nothing Asian about it. Traditional stuffing, gravy, some asparagus shoots, and fresh cranberry sauce. Of course, nothing (from a restaurant, that is, – Hi Bryan’s Mom!) will ever touch the Thanksgiving meal we had at Daniel Boulud’s eponymous restaurant in New York City last year. Nevertheless, this was good turkey, and it fulfilled Bryan’s wishes to have that traditional Thanksgiving meal on Thanksgiving.
Dessert was a simple Pumpkin Pie that was just a little less traditional. It came with a whipped pumpkin frosting as well as some cute leaf shaped cookies. It was tasty – nothing particularly special – but good comfort food.
For fun, I ordered a Chocolate Peanut Butter Souffle, which was actually pretty amazing. When you cut open the chocolate souffle, peanut butter oozes out. It’s like an adult version of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. This may have been a special. I don’t think it was on the normal menu.
In summary, Roy’s is a solid place that fully embraces the fusion of local ingredients with various Asian influences. Those who love Asian flavors in general will enjoy exploring the menu. The food is executed at a reasonably high level, and the menu works. Prices are on the high side, but then most restaurants of this calibre in Hawaii are expensive. It’s the nature of the location. All in all, it wasn’t my favorite restaurant in Hawaii, but I would be perfectly happy to go back.
This post is part of a larger series on our two week trip to Hawaii. Other posts in this series!
Roy’s Koloa (Kauai)
2360 Kiahuna Plantation Dr
Koloa, HI 96756