Chef Yuya Yamanaka Hits the Islands' Fine-Dining Scene with a Forceful Yet Elegant Hand

Mari Taketa | June 6, 2019 | Food & Drink National

Chef Yuya Yamanaka prepping in style

It’s not easy to score a reservation at the chef’s counter at Paris.Hawaii—hardly surprising, considering there are only eight front-row seats to a twice-nightly show where premium local ingredients are presented with French techniques and Japanese tastes and aesthetics.

The eatery is quaint and charming.

The resto is an edgy section of Waikiki, tucked around the corner on Seaside Avenue, where wrought-iron gates beckon you into a tiny courtyard, up a flight of stairs and into an unexpected world. There’s a hush here—recessed lights illuminate a sleek, dark cocoon where a young team in starched chef’s jackets execute a choreographed eight-course progression led by chef Yuya Yamanaka.

The toque is young—only 31 years old—and comfortable on the edge. He helped open Clown Bar in Paris’ 11th arrondissement to rave reviews from The New York Times and scored a best bistro award from the 2015 Fooding guide. Still, feeling out of sync with the French capitol’s hyperintense culinary scene, the Hokkaido native moved to Hawai‘i and took up surfing before he was tapped by Japan’s Zetton Inc. (think Aloha Table and Zigu) to open Paris.Hawaii. The pedigree and the formula for the upscale eatery: French cuisine using Hawaiian ingredients on prix fixe menus ($85) that change with the seasons.

Craft bartender Jacob Cordeno prepares drinks.

Standouts include the amuse-bouche identified only as Hawaiian Espresso—a demitasse whose foamy cap wafts the aroma of coffee and a mere tiny hint of the boiled cornhusk base; take a sip and you’re rewarded not with coffee, but a light potage of sweet local corn. A single garlic shrimp—cooked sous-vide, lightly seared and served whole—is perfect with some local butter and garlic on a bed of mayonnaise dusted with seaweed powder. Pristine ahi poke crowned with a delicate Big Island beef tartare in a sunny pool of lightly poached egg whites and yolk, all drizzled with olive oil and dusted with citrus powder, is revelatory and stay-on-the-brain good.

Most emblematic of Yamanaka’s approach is his Maui onion soup. Cubes of Gruyere cheese are torched inside the bowl—a nice touch. But it’s the soup—made only from caramelized Maui onions whose juices are coaxed out in a pressure cooker, with no added stock—that is most amazing, not only for its intense sweetness, but for the shock it produces among local gourmands who have known the sweet onion all their lives. Your menu, when you go, may present different courses, but it’s almost a guarantee that the onion soup will be there.

Kilauea lava cake ($18)

Pairings for the dinner include wine and local teas; if you go the cocktail route, you won’t be disappointed by the Local Basil Gimlet, gently scented with rosemary syrup, a creation inspired by the basil from the garden of restaurant Manager Andrew Haberer’s mother. You might be tempted to linger at the bar before heading back down to the bustle of Waikiki. It won’t be a bad idea.

413 Seaside Ave., 2F, Waikiki, O‘ahu

Seatings Sun.-Thu., 5:30 & 8pm


Photography by: PARIS.HAWAII