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Food & Dining // Table Talk
Jo McGarry

Fine-dining Fun In Oceanside Elegance

You might think that a visit to Azure, the finedining restaurant at The Royal Hawaiian, would be something of a stuffy affair. The grand Moroccan-inspired dining room, creative menu and world-famous view across Waikiki beach might easily intimidate the average diner. Step inside this breezy, elegant, oceanside restaurant, however, and you might be surprised. Beyond the suit-clad managers and kiawe-smoke glass domes, there’s an underlying playfulness that can lead to an evening of the finest – and most fun – dining.

The easy ambience of Azure is thanks, in part, to the influence of director of restaurants Jim Weisiger, who’s assembled a team that projects professionalism without pomp.

“We want people to enjoy,” says Weisiger, himself an effortless host. “Of course we want people to remember the food and the wine at Azure, but what we really want them to remember is that they had a great time here.”

It’s not hard to have a great time at Azure, particularly if you trust your dining experience to executive chef Jon Matsubara. Alongside seasonal offerings and the kind of farm-fresh produce you’d expect from a restaurant that prides itself on serving fish acquired fresh daily from Pier 38, there also is a five-course tasting menu, small plates or the opportunity to just let Matsubara do his thing.

“Cooking is all about sharing,” says the chef. “When you come to Azure, a lot of the menu is designed around things I’ve tasted and want to share.”

You don’t have to look far to see that much of what Matsubara wants to share has been influenced by his family roots and by local food.

“Much of my cooking has been influenced by my father,” he says, reflectively. “He used to cook on weekends – he’d take us to Tamashiro Market or to Chinatown to buy whole fish. He’d watch Harry Kojima on TV and we’d get whole onaga to try, and big cherrystone clams that he’d cook with black beans and pork … he really got us excited about food.”

Today, that excitement translates into dishes such as sake-steamed Manila clams, Hawaiian swordfish poached in aromatic duck fat, grilled Colorado lamb chops and Kona lobster-stuffed Dungeness crab. One of the most popular dishes on the Azure menu is Matsubara’s lasting childhood memory.

“For my birthday, my dad used to make a steak with creamed corn from a can, and butter mushrooms,” recalls Matsubara. “Our Hawaii Ranchers Rib Eye Steak with creamed Kahuku sweet corn and Hamakua mushrooms and crispy shallots is basically the same dish.”

Comfort food transformed.

And beyond Matusbara’s childhood memories, you’ll find dishes such as Smoked Hawaiian Swordfish poached in Duck Fat ($34) that’s served with Okinawan sweet potatoes, tomato salad and sea asparagus from Kahuku, or in a Kiawe-Smoked Petite Hawaii Ranchers Butter-Poached Filet with Foie Gras ($29).

There’s nothing too stuffy about the wine or cocktail list here, and wait staff are happy to offer pairing suggestions of wines or hand-crafted cocktails. It’s hard to go wrong with a glass of Trefethen Dry Riesling at $12, or a Vita Nova Merlot by master winemaker Jim Clendenen at the same price. And, as part of the fun is sitting back and letting the food take center stage, you might consider asking for pairing pours with every course.

“We have about 12 to 14 wines by the glass,” says general manager and sommelier Mike Swerdloff. “They’re fantastic, and they’re all designed to complement Jon’s food.”

Happy eating!

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