By Kathleen Wong
The dining experience at Japengo at Hyatt Regency Waikiki is a satisfying feast for the senses.
Basking in the glow of red accent lighting reflecting upon dark wooden dining tables is a seafood extravaganza waiting to happen in the Hyatt Regency Waikiki’s third-floor restaurant Japengo.
Like a contemporary lounge with cushy pillows and low-key, synth-pop music, chef de cuisine Jon Matsubara matches the food with such sensory flair. From six years at Azure at The Royal Hawaiian, Matsubara took the opportunity at Japengo to lead the modernization of the Pacific Rim style into showcasing a more regional cuisine.
“Just simple and elegant,” Matsubara calls his personal style. “It’s got to be fun, and if it’s not fun, you can tell in the food.” One such innovation is a special açai sorbet with hissing Pop Rocks that awaken your palette. “It’s an experience,” he adds.
For over two years, Japengo’s experience for your taste buds is inspired by the sea and enhanced with classic Asian flavors. The scallop butteryaki ($16) starts the show with three handpicked diver scallops seared and caramelized, then topped with tobiko caviar. “It’s very simple but it’s very delicious,” Matsubara comments. The scallops are massive, thick and buttery with a nutty aftertaste … totally decadent.
The famous entrée of Japengo is the Singaporean chili crab ($49), a whopping plate of king crab legs tickled and dripping with lemongrass, fish sauce, chilies and soy sauce. Split that and the accompanying fried man tau buns to soak up the sweet glaze with a friend.
Japengo’s coconut créme brûlée ($12) is sinful in itself, served in a still-hairy halved coconut shell with a crunchy toffee and chocolate crumble. It is the perfect finisher to an island dinner. Creamy but light with shreds of coconut meat, Matsubara laughs that “people go bananas for this thing. Everybody wants to keep the coconut; I see them run to the bathroom and wash it off.”
Tropical flavors don’t end there.
Alongside a selection of wine and sake are cocktails aimed at refreshing mouths with island highlights such as mango.
A feature at Japengo that makes it the ideal spot for those expecting a nice evening is its array of pre fixe menus, ranging from a $49 kama‘aina tasting set to an $85 chef’s specialty menu, which manager Kinny So says is the most popular, and a good choice if you want to try those scallops and that crab.
At Japengo, you don’t need heels and a bowtie to have a meal—luxurious synonymous with seafood—out on the town, but you do need to expect to leave with tighter pants. Prices are aligned to most of Waikiki’s hotel restaurants but with servings that could easily go family-style.
“I want them to have an incredible experience that incorporates not only the food, but the service and ambience. I think the energy here is very vibrant,” Matsubara notes.
Japengo smoothly follows the formula for a dinner that satisfies. As long as you don’t forget your coconut shell that is.
Hyatt Regency Waikiki
2424 Kalakaua Ave., 3rd
Fl., Ewa Tower
[C:9 Waikiki Map]