The grand opening of new restaurants is nothing like we’ve seen in decades. And there is no slowing as more eateries come on line. Yauatcha and Tsukada Nojo are the latest to open their doors, welcoming diners to experience a modern Hong Kong-style tea house and contemporary izakaya, respectively. And a third, Wisp Restaurant, has opened in a spot that has been quiet for three years.
One of the most anticipated openings this year, Yauatcha (pronounced Yaow-ah-cha) redefines the traditional Chinese teahouse. Stainless steel carts are absent from the room, which has a Feng Shui vibe with tall columns of blue glass juxtaposed by brick walls and pendant lighting. No detail has been spared on the décor and the same could be said about the cuisine and, of course, the variety of teas, including the calming tender branch hibiscus.
Dim sum baskets filled with venison puffs, prawn-and-chive dumplings, Shagnhai siew long buns and roast duck in a pumpkin-shaped puff release aromatic plumes as the lids are removed. In the open kitchen, staff members—currently led by Michelin-starred chef Ho Chee Boon of Hakkasan Group, which founded the first Yauatcha in SoHo, London— can be seen hand stretching noodles and performing a choreographed dance as they prepare such house specialties as jasmine-tea-smoked pork ribs, Kona kampachi in homemade soy sauce and the tableside-shredded crispy aromatic duck served with homemade pancakes. Desserts here are edible art pieces, from the rose-shaped strawberry délice to the Tropical Dome. Take home some macarons for an added treat. Open daily for lunch and dinner. International Market Place, Third Floor, Grand Lanai, 808.739.9318
The izakaya to the Japanese is what the gastropub is to Americans. Dishes are meant to be shared in a communal setting, a point well made at Tsukada Nojo, a popular chain from Japan that opened on Kalākaua Avenue next to the Micronesia Mart. Named after a region in Miyazaki, Kyushu, Tsukada aims to source its ingredients from local nojo (farms), having already established relationships with Aloun Farms, Maui Farmers’ Cooperative Exchange and Kaneshiro Farms.
Almost all the dishes here will have some green component, whether it’s as minor as the green onions with the hamachi jalapeno or the main star as is with the slices of saikyo-miso avocado. A few of the must-tries include the Nojo chicken nanban, tender chicken fritters dipped in a soy vinaigrette then topped with a house tartar sauce; Nikumaki rice ball, a pork belly-wrapped rice ball in sweet soy ginger sauce; “tacos” compose of chicken-curry and wrapped in sliced radish; and the house- special bijin nabe, a chicken-based collagen — hence the dish’s nickname “beauty pot” — soup with garland chrysanthemum, zucchini, watermelon radish, tofu, chives, enoki mushroom, maitake mushroom, aburaage, green onion and tsukune meat ball. Open daily for lunch and dinner. 1731 Kalakaua Ave., 808.951.4444
The room has been quiet since 2014 when Park closed its doors and Lotus Honolulu at Diamond Head guests were stranded with no in-house dining options. But the cobwebs have now been dusted and Wisp has been a welcomed addition to the Waikiki dining scene.
One of the appetizers that is certain to draw attention is the ram-lette, a fluffy omelet that’s folded with noodles, Spam, fishcake and scallions, then placed atop a pool of ramen sauce. It works well and other chefs will probably soon—if not already—follow with their own iteration.
Other worthy starters include the Kaua‘i shrimp cocktail served with a zesty lomi tomato; brine-kissed Kusshi oysters from the Pacific Northwest; and the sashimi omakase, which will include a tasting of four different types of fresh fish. For a leafy beginning, try the Nalo Farms mixed green salad drizzled with a red vinaigrette.
Entrée selections range from $15 for a Kulana Beef cheeseburger to $39 for a herb-roasted rack of lamb. Priced in between is the Garlic Lover’s Steak ($24), which is complemented with a bold port wine reduction, and accompanied by a choice of white rice or garlic mashed potatoes. For $5 more, the 10-ounce Harris Ranch prime rib is pan-seared and served with a horseradish mousse. Open daily for breakfast and dinner. Lotus Honolulu at Diamond Head, second floor, 2885 Kalakaua Ave., 808.791.5163