A Royal Celebration, Starbucks Stars

Chefs Darren DeMaya, Jon Matsubara and Colin Hazama. Jo McGarry photo

The 85th birthday celebrations at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel reminded me that there can be great grace and splendor in aging. Surely one of the world’s most romantic spots, the Waikiki landmark looks better now than she did a decade ago, and signature restaurant Azure has giving Waikiki one of its most impressive dining rooms.

Jon Matsubara is in charge of the Azure kitchen, and Jim Weisiger is responsible for the impressive food and beverage program.

Fresh fish is the focus, and the beachfront restaurant offers daily specials from the Honolulu Fish Auction alongside highly artistic and tasty dishes created by Matsubara. If you’re looking for a seriously romantic location to celebrate with your Valentine, there’s hardly a better spot.

While at The Royal, I spent some time chatting with Matusbara’s colleagues from neighboring Sheraton Waikiki, Colin Hazama and Darren DeMaya. Hazama, a highly skilled and hugely talented young chef is back at Sheraton as senior executive sous chef after a stint on Kauai at Princeville’s Kauai Grill, while DeMaya oversees the all-local menu at Kai Market.

The three spent some time a few months back in New York promoting local produce, and cooked together at one of New York City’s best-known brownstones, The James Beard House. The trio’s menu included Kona baby lobster, Waipio Valley fern shoots and lomi lomi ahi.

“It was incredible to be able to share our local produce with people in New York,” says Hazama. “The response was really positive” …

It’s no secret that I believe incompetent hosts and undertrained wait staff to be the downfall of many a restaurant, so I am always on the lookout for great service. A shining example of a crew that does its job with an incredible amount of enthusiasm can be found at Starbucks on Alakea Street (by Central Pacific Bank). The staff offers such consistently high levels of service it deserves to be commended by management/owners. Friendly, smiling faces greet the steady stream of morning customers, orders are often ready before regular clients get to the counter, and the mix of laughter, efficiency and a general camaraderie with clients make this Starbucks stop a joy. The crew is an affirmation of all that is good about service when it’s done with enthusiasm and a desire to be the best. And while I should know every barista by name, I’m sorry that I don’t: Paul and Ray, please pass on the thanks of your grateful customers to the rest of the staff. You deserve an award for keeping genuine enthusiasm alive in the face of the stressful morning rush hours …

And speaking of rushing, we are sometimes in such a hurry to share good food news with you we get a few of the facts wrong. Last week we told you about the great sandwiches made at Good Eats.

Unfortunately our headline sent many of you scurrying to South King Street to find the East Coast-style deli, when in fact Good Eats is on South Street. Boar’s Head meats and a selection of fabulous fillings make this one of the best sandwich stops in Honolulu. Check it out at 627 South St. or call ahead: 521EATS (3287) …

Happy eating!