It's sexy, Zen-like and oh-so chic. In fact, word is starting to spread like wildfire that Japengo is Maui's hottest new restaurant and bar combo.
"We just opened December 23rd and we've been full every night," says Director of Food and Beverage Peter Donnelly of the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali, where Japengo is located.
"We've been very well received, by both resort guests and locals. It's so exciting to see such positive responses."
Restaurant Chef Gevin Utrillo (left) and Sushi Chef Jay Ledee are longtime Hyatt Maui employees who are tempting diners with modern Asian-inspired flavors with a Hawaiian flair.
The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo
Situated in the former Cascades on a bluff overlooking the ocean, Japengo was infused with a $5 million face-lift. Plus the foods are inspiring, and there is a high level of service as well as Hawaiian hospitality. This one's a real winner, folks.
But if you are from the Mainland, you may have heard of Japengo before. That's because the original one is still at the Hyatt in La Jolla, Calif. I even dined at a second one in Lake Las Vegas, Nev., when a Hyatt was located there.
"Last year, Peter and I flew to San Diego and checked out the concept," says Hyatt Maui's Executive Chef Matt Smith. "We wanted to redefine it and make it bigger and better. It was a long development process. We researched authentic dishes and brought it to a whole new level."
Where: Lobby level and oceanfront at Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali.
Hours: Open daily. Lounge and bar is open from 4:30 to 11 p.m.; dinner is served from 5:30 to 10 p.m.
Sushi Lounge: Seats 49 diners in air-conditioned comfort. Enjoy refined izakaya (Japanese pub food) along with the freshest sushi.
Moon Bar: Take a walk on the lunar side with panoramic views, ethereal elements.
Grand opening: Come and enjoy the party Saturday, Jan. 22, at a cost of $95 per person. It includes jazz band, signature cocktails, food stations and silent auction.
For reservations: Call 667-4727 or visit www.mauihyatt.com.
For instance, the menu items consist of Hawaii's freshest, locally grown products, coupled with exotic ingredients from the "ring of fire," where neighboring Pacific Rim countries are.
"Japengo creates a fun, culinary adventure showcasing modern Asian-inspired flavors with a Hawaiian flair," says Smith. "We've got items from Indonesia, Singapore, Korea, China and Japan. Of course, sushi is a big part of the picture."
So bring the whole family - as there are plenty of cooked entrees in addition to the delectable raw sushi options.
Starters include Thai quail satay on green papaya salad and Tahitian lime, and curry-dusted calamari on harusame noodles with chukka salad and sweet grapes. Wow! Talk about adventuresome.
Wok-fired and roasted entrees include Tengu's kalbi-beef short rib, a proprietory composition with Korean kochujang sauce and roasted bone marrow; and Vietnamese-style Kurobuta pork chop with asparagus, eggplant and portabella mushrooms, all kicked up with jalapenos.
"There's not a lot of fuss," Chef Smith says. "We are letting our quality products speak for themselves."
In addition, Japengo procures its seafood items only from people who care about the environment and advocate sustainable catch in harmony with nature.
I will say the menu is pretty extensive and many small sides and sushi items let you spend as little or as much as you'd like. One dish not to be missed is the Singaporean chili crab in spicy sauce.
The plateware was created by Heath Ceramics in Sausalito, Calif., a very small artisan craft company, so presentation is as good as it gets.
The Hyatt also spared no expense in the renovation. The $5 million that went toward Japengo was just part of the $15 million total that went to revamping the hotel's guest rooms.
Wailuku's Island Design Center came in strong with an update of a Japanese fishing village. Remember, views are panoramic, so it is striking, indeed.
Diners first follow the Village Alley Walk to a variety of distinctive settings, each one unique. Covered in mossy green and rustic porcelain tiles, the walk can take you to the Sushi Lounge, say, or the Moon Bar, or the open-air dining room.
"I really want to emphasize the bar and the lounge," says Donnelly. "We opened up the views, put in a petrified stone bar with back- lit silk parasols. It's a great place for sushi plates and appetizers."
Restaurant Manager Jonica Reid, who hails from Mama's and Cane & Taro, etc., says mixologists designed all the cocktails, such as the Roppongi Fling, named after a trendy area of Tokyo. A progressive sake- and-wine list is also in place.
Sushi Chef Jay Ledee brings in fresh catch from the Tsukiji Fish Auction in Tokyo and uses fresh wasabi root from Kona along with Big Island abalone, lobster, hirame, ogo and Paia soybeans.
"I try to get as many local Maui products as I can," says Restaurant Chef Gevin Utrillo, a Lahaina boy. "From Olowalu tomatoes to Kula lettuces to Alii Kula lavender and so much more."
"With this exciting transformation, we are reinventing the resort that invented it all," says General Manager Michael Jokovich, about the Hyatt Maui, the first destination resort in the world.