During our visit to Las Vegas for the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, the fine gentlemen from Cambridge Audio invited us out to dinner at Roy's Hawaiian Fusion, a Pacific Rim/Pan Asian restaurant with 30 locations in 8 states, Guam and Japan. I was somewhat familiar with Roy's from our trip to Hawaii a couple years ago. It was an option for dinner when we were on the island of Hawaii, but other restaurants in the area where we were staying were more highly recommended. Still, when the guys from Cambridge Audio told us they were taking us to Roy's, I was intrigued and hopeful.
Roy's got its start 24 years ago when chef Roy Yamaguchi opened his first restaurant that featured a fusion of far eastern and western food fare. Yamaguchi, who was born in Japan to a Japanese mother and a Hawaiian father, spent much of his youth in Tokyo, but often vacationed with his grandparents on Maui. After graduating high school in 1974, Yamaguchi studied at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, and upon graduation from the C.I.A. he moved to Los Angeles and began a journey of working in some of the finest restaurants in Southern California.
In 1984, Yamaguchi (pictured right) opened the acclaimed 385 North restaurant in Los Angeles - a fusion of European and Far Eastern foods. He was named the California Chef of the Year in 1986 and 1987 and was acclaimed by Bon Appetit magazine for the merging of classic European cuisine with Asian fare.
Yamaguchi moved to Hawaii in 1988 and opened his first Roy's restaurant in a suburb of Honolulu. His vision of Hawaiian cuisine went further than the local stuff that was served to tourists at luau's. Yamaguchi melded the bountiful local foods from sea and land with classic European cuisine to create a new concept in Hawaiian regional foods. Yamaguchi then partnered with 11 other Hawaiian chefs (including Beverly Gannon and Peter Merriman) to develop "Hawaiian Regional Cuisine" - a concept that raised the bar when it came to using locally raised foods in Hawaii. The chefs worked together to conceive and promote Hawaiian cuisine as something more than Spam and poi.
Food and Wine Magazine proclaimed Roy's as "Honolulu's crown jewel of east-west eateries." Conde Nast Traveler named Roy's as one of their Top 50 restaurants in America in 1991 and 1992. Yamaguchi garnered the James Beard Award for best chef in the Northwest/Pacific in 1993, the first Hawaiian-based chef to win the prestigious award. Yamaguchi partnered with Hawaiian Public Television to produce a show called, "Hawaii Cooks with Roy Yamaguchi", a cooking show featuring Hawaiian Regional Cuisine that ran for six years and was seen on 200 PBS television stations in all 50 states.
After opening his second Roy's location in 1992, Roy's looked to expand to the U.S. mainland opening his first restaurant outside Hawaii in the mid-90's. Yamaguchi partnered with OSI Restaurants in Tampa to develop the mainland locations (OSI also owns Outback Steakhouse, Carraba's, Fleming's Steakhouse and Bonefish Grill). OSI and Yamaguchi mutually own the 22 mainland locations and Yamaguchi solely owns the six Hawaiian Roy's, as well as the one in Guam and the one in his native Japan.
The Las Vegas Roy's Hawaiian Fusion opened in 2000 and I'd seen it a few times as I drove by it on Flamingo (see map), but never really paid attention to it until after going to Hawaii in 2010. Many of the Roy's locations feature a chef who is also a minor partner in the location. Percy Oani was the longtime executive chef partner at the Flamingo location, but recently left that location to become chef partner at the La Jolla, CA Roy's location. The former sous chef at the Flamingo location, Quy Trinh, became the chef partner at the west Las Vegas Roy's location in 2010, but was named chef partner for the Flamingo location after Oani left to go to California in 2011.
Upon arrival, we were escorted to a private room toward the back of Roy's. A prix fixe menu with Cambridge Audio's name at the top were placed on the table - a nice little touch by Roy's, if you ask me. The table was set for 16, but a couple three people from both our company and from Cambridge Audio couldn't make the dinner due to previous commitments. I sat next to Peter Brown, the C.O.O. from Cambridge Audio and we immediately began to reminisce about our great dinner at Morton's during his trip to Chicago last fall. "That was one of the most fabulous steaks I've ever ate," Peter said. "I'm looking forward to coming back out to Chicago sometime."
We had a couple servers for the evening and one of them came around to take our drink order. Roy's has a number of signature drinks including their house mai tai. I got one of those. It was just OK - it seemed to be a little short on rum. I had better mai tai's in Hawaii. I switched to a red wine after that - one that they had ordered for the table and which I forgot to take a picture of to remember the name. Actually, the wine was very good.
The first course of the evening was brought out to the table. It was a medley of appetizers including Szechuan Baby Back Ribs, seared shrimp on a skewer, lobster potstickers, and a Hawaiian ahi poke that was sided with a spicy rayu sauce along with wakame salad (wakame is a Japanese/Korean sea grown green) blended with sea salt from the Hawaiian island of Molokai.
The ahi poke was the best of the lot. It was seared on the outside and was very flavorful. The rayu sauce, which is basically a sesame seed oil infused with hot chiles, gave the ahi a good spicy bite to the taste. The rest of the appetizers were rather pedestrian. The skewered shrimp were underwhelming. The lobster potstickers were just OK, as well. They were topped with a miso butter sauce that was pretty nondescript. And the ribs had a smoky Szechuan taste, but were sort of tough and unappealing after the first bite.
The next part of the meal featured the salad. It was a plate of mixed greens topped with a lilikoi dressing, bleu cheese crumbles, onions and pecans. Now, I love anything to do with lilikoi - I fell in love with anything to do with lilikoi when we were in Hawaii. Lilikoi margaritas, lilikoi syrup - lilikoi goes with anything and makes it that much better. But the lilikoi dressing at Roy's was underwhelming. There was a hint of sweetness like you get with lilikoi, but it didn't have that WOW taste that I'd grown to love with lilikoi.
The main entrees for the prix fixe menu are similar to what you would find on the regular menu at Roy's. While many items are the same from Roy's location to Roy's location, each chef is allowed to infuse their own signature items on their local menu. The prix fixe menu allowed choices from five different entrees including an 8 oz. beef filet, blackened ahi, and a macadamia nut encrusted mahi mahi. All three I considered before I opted for the blackened ahi.
Here's my blackened ahi, which I'm not certain it was blackened at all. It was topped with some pickled cabbage - it may have been bok choy - and placed upon a bed of rice and a green leaf, also indescribable, with a pool of spicy soy mustard butter sauce which didn't seem to be all that spicy.
The ahi tuna, although not blackened the way I think of blackened fish, was still fresh and flavorful. It was a thick chunk of fish, almost two and a half inches thick. It had a great texture to it and had a little bit of marbling for that fatty tuna taste that is oh so good. I was happy with my ahi filet, other than the fact that it wasn't blackened and the sauce was rather bland.
However, others at the end of the table who got the ahi tuna weren't happy with it. My colleague John felt the tuna was "fishy" in taste and not all that great. A couple of the Cambridge Audio guys - Brits who know a little bit about fish - also felt their ahi tuna was not up to par.
Peter, who was seated next to me, got the macadamia nut encrusted mahi mahi. He declared it to be "excellent". I was not keen on macadamia nuts before our trip to Hawaii, but quickly fell in love with those rich tasting morsels when we were on the Big Island. But I'm not certain that I'd care for them with fish.
A nice touch to end the evening was a dessert tray (which I didn't participate in) and some champagne, complements of the guys at Cambridge Audio. We toasted our friendship and the hope for a stellar year in 2012. It was a good evening all the way around.
Even with mixed reviews from those in our party, I thought my meal at Roy's Hawaiian Fusion was interesting and above average. But I'm not certain that in the future I'd seek out a Roy's to have a meal. I don't know, I always have trouble finishing posts like this. I did like Roy's, but it didn't trip my trigger as some place that I absolutely have to go back to. If someone suggests going to Roy's in the future, I won't say no. But I may look for alternatives first.