With Hawaii a 10-hour plane ride away, we recently opted for the next best thing: a 10-minute cab ride to the James Beard House for Chef Chai Chaowasaree’s Hawaiian feast. Originally from Thailand, Chef Chai Chaowasaree has spent years honing a unique fusion of Hawaiian and Thai flavors.
Once adorned with fresh Hawaiian leis, we joined the house patrons and sunk our teeth into hors d’oeuvres that carefully borrowed from both cuisines.
- Kataifi and Macadamia Nut–Crusted Kauai Prawns with Pineapple Vinaigrette
Sautéed Escargot–Hamakua Mushroom Tartlets with Chili–Ginger Sauce
- Ahi Katsu with Wasabi–Curry Sauce and Tomato–Mango Salsa
- Grilled Huli-Huli–Style Chicken Summer Rolls with Thai Peanut Sauce
- Spicy Lemongrass–Oxtail Soup Shooters with Ho Farms Cherry Tomatoes, Hawaiian Chili Water, and Lime
The appetizers shown above were the stand-outs in the first round. The Summer Rolls featured exquisitely marinated, tender chicken slabs and a spicy, umami peanut sauce. The Ahi Katsuan was an explosive mouthful of sweet, spice and tart flavors, crunchy on the outside and succulent within.
Dinner menu & wine pairings
- Kona King Crabcake with Big Island Rainbow Baby Vegetable Salad and Raspberry–Guava Vinaigrette/ Birichino Vin Gris 2010
- Like a technicolor Kandinsky painting rendered in comestibles. A light, fresh, summery dish that offset the Vin Gris perfectly (My one complaint: I’d only ever eaten dried mushrooms after they’ve been soaked, and found the little morsel’s rock-hard consistency out of keeping with the rest of the dish).
- Coconut Milk and Lemongrass–Poached Kona Lobster with Creamed Aloun Farms Corn, Lobster Reduction, and Baby Corn Shoots / Champalou Cuvée Des Fondraux Vouvray 2010
- Alas, a picture of the lobster was virtually impossible to capture. My camera faltered here, but I can assure you that it was a satisfying and beautiful dish.
- Hawaiian-Style Barbecued Lamb Chop with Zinfandel Demi-Glace, Mashed Potatoes, Sugar Snap Peas, and Roasted Bell Peppers / Carol Shelton Lopez Vineyard Monga Zin Old Vine Zinfandel 2008
- By the third entree I was ready to burst but the lamb was impossible to resist. My belly pleaded for mercy as I savored its perfect gamey softness.
- Deconstructed Beef Tenderloin Wellington with Mashed Hawaiian Taro Root, Oven-Dried Tomatoes, and Waialua Asparagus / Vita Nova Pikake Family Reserve 2007
- I almost shed a tear as I ate this dish, partly because I was impossibly full, but also due to its sheer magnificence. If there was ever a meal that spoke to both feminine and masculine sensibilities, it would be this: a no-nonsense disc of perfectly-cooked steak crowned with delicate, flaky pastry. Exquisite.
- Waialua Chocolate Mousse with Toasted Haupia Cake, Raspberry–Guava Purée, and Exotic Fruit
- This wasn’t just any chocolate mousse cake, no siree! Its ingredients were all Hawaiian, including a rare and complex semi-sweet cocoa.
The night ended with a calming cup of “blooming flower” jasmine tea. My friends and I sat in amazement watching the tight bud of tea blossom gently into the flower you see on the right.
Chef Chai Chaowasaree unique and marvellous cuisine can be found at either of his two restaurants in Hawaii, Chai’s Island Bistro and Singha Thai Cuisine, so be sure to make them a feature of your next island vacation.