It’s a Far East food extravaganza at Japengo.
Japengo chef Michael Imada has managed to delicately balance the multi-Asian fare at the Hyatt eatery by spotlighting the top one or two dishes from ports like Singapore, Tokyo, Shanghai, Manila and Korea, as well as Moloka‘i (in a side dish) and Paris (dessert). Imada stays true to each country’s distinct attributes throughout preparation and plating of these offerings—he knows the best plates from these countries were perfected long before he picked up a knife; and he presents them in all their straightforward glory. That is, beautifully plated, not short of portion and full of flavor.
Of course, the latter is done by acquiring the best ingredients, which he does—local and fresh when possible, without beating diners over the head with it. But the king crab legs of the Singaporean Chili Crab that form the heap just delivered to the table couldn’t have come from nearby.
A lovely complement to the spicy crab is the Korean Style Kalbi Short Rib, which arrives with a small plate of homemade kim chee, namul and watercress, evoking the accompaniment-laden dishes found at more traditional Korean eateries. But the beef commands the spotlight here, in all its tender, slightly smoky goodness, pre-cut into bite-sized cubes. Again, in true Korean fashion, the chef leaves the oversized rib bone—completely cleaned of meat—on the plate for those keen on inhaling the marrow.
Next comes the Miso-Glazed Wild Salmon, a fish not associated with Hawai‘i in any regard, yet somehow this ample-sized slab filet maintains moistness while floating atop a pillow of white rice. The mirin butter reservoir in which it sits is utterly elegant—a fine complement to the saikyo miso that gently glazes the topside of the fish.
To accompany these hugely flavorful main dishes, a simple side of the house-made fried rice makes the perfect compliment. Made up of 24 ingredients, the lightly crisped top gives way to caramelized onion, char siu pork, plump bay shrimp, sweet egg, shiitake mushroom and a host of other gems that don’t overpower—ideal for a “side” dish—yet can boost any of the main plates it’s paired with.
Working backwards, there were a few starters worth mentioning that should not be missed. The Scallop Butter Yaki was an eyes-closed, chew-in-slow-motion fantasy. Topped with a generous dollop of black tobiko (essentially caviar without the heavy salt intake) and served over a single shiso
leaf, this was nothing short of an “experience,” with huge, bursting scallops seared, yet absolutely tender throughout.
The next intermezzo was the equally elegant Torched Hamachi, a dish that was rumored to be a huge hit at the shuttered Colony restaurant (also at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki), and now tucked into the Japengo menu. Here, a two-bitesized slab of yellow tail is topped with a kaiware-sesame-lemon “spread,” and then torched, which crisps the sauce as well as the top of the hamachi. The result is a unique take on a Japanese staple, exploding with flavor.
Desserts did not over-power, nor disappoint. The Japengo Cooonut Creme Brulee with chocolate shavings was a highlight, as was the surprisingly light Molokai Sweet Potato Cheesecake, a purple pillow of a dessert. Chocolate profiteroles were light on the sweetness, delicate on the texture (the pastry was airy, the hazelnut gelato silky).
There’s no reason to fear a jaunt through the regions covered by Japengo’s menu; it’s almost certain that patrons would be more than pleased to rack up frequent flier-diner miles at this sure-to-please venue.