Floating New Ideas At An Old Favorite

Pagoda Floating Restaurant has updated its dining room and is making changes to its bar, too | Jo McGarry photo

The renovation of Pagoda Floating Restaurant is a study in local style. At the decades-old restaurant on Rycroft Street, there are modest changes happening that show signs of Pagoda’s commitment to local culture, local people and, most significantly, local food.

Kurt Osaki is part of the team breathing life back into the restaurant, and the changes reflect a personal philosophy.

“It’s important to us to keep the local element alive at Pagoda,” says Osaki. “The local community built Pagoda, and so in everything we do we keep the community at our heart.”

Very much in keeping with Osaki’s low-key style, the renovations at one of Oahu’s oldest hotels have taken place without fanfare, but walk into Pagoda for breakfast or lunch and you’ll immediately notice the subtle change. New carpeting, a cleaner look to the dining room and a modern bar with bright-orange walls that reflect the color of Pagoda’s famous koi, bring a contemporary feel. Attention to details – lighting and color – has given new life to the dining room.

Breakfast is already a big hit, and when the sun casts its warm morning rays onto the water, and giant ulua and koi gather to hide in shady spots beneath the tea houses, it’s hard to imagine a more picturesque, tranquil breakfast spot – surprising, since you’re minutes from one of the busiest shopping malls in America.

“It’s obviously a very special place,” says Osaki, who’s just back from a three-week tour of Japan.

“It was so interesting to be in Japan and to experience how dedicated the Japanese are to detail – especially when it comes to food,” he says. “It’s been inspiring with regard to Pagoda, because obviously it makes sense for us to continue our Asian connection.”

There are plans to introduce an izakaya element to the Pagoda bar, something executive chef Jason Takemura has been working toward for a while.

The bar and new pupu menu already reflect Takemura’s creativity – there’s Spicy Smoked Tako ($9), Sizzling Garlic Ahi Belly ($8), Kalua Duck Spring Rolls ($7) and Asian Braised Pork Belly ($10) on a menu that wouldn’t be out of place in some of the newest restaurants opening in town. And there is a host of locally inspired favorites on the new dinner menu, too. They include Seafood Linguini ($23), Seafood Cioppino ($26) and local favorite Misoyaki Butterfish ($19).

Sake Ginger Pesto Steamed Kona Kampachi ($24) and Pan Roasted Kampachi are just some of the local fish dishes that are now a nightly feature.

“Fish is a theme, of course,” says Osaki, gesturing toward the fishpond that surrounds the restaurant, “and it’s a given that we’re supporting local farms and fishermen.”

For those who fear the end of the famous Pagoda buffet, there’s no need to panic – it still runs Friday and Saturday nights.

“There are no plans to change that,” says Osaki with a smile.

Our Honolulu dining scene has undergone an exciting transformation these past couple of years. Pagoda, with its commitment to change, is a great example of how even a decades-old organization can embrace a new food culture. Today, any contemporary menu in Hawaii has to have locally sourced produce at its core. At Pagoda, they’re getting it right, one locally inspired dish at a time.

Happy eating!

Pagoda Floating Restaurant
12 Rycroft St.