The chef’s counter is my go to seat when it comes to tasting menus. The look into a kitchen, its chef, and the dishes as they are plated is an exciting experience. This, along with the promise of a French-technique driven approach to local ingredients, had me motivated to get an early reservation at the newly opened PARIS.HAWAII in Waikiki.
Adding to my excitement for PARIS.HAWAII was the fact that it was a sister restaurant to ZIGU, where I had an enjoyable experience. PARIS.HAWAII is located on the second floor above ZIGU, with the entrance located off Seaside Avenue. Like it’s sister restaurant, PARIS.HAWAII offers validated parking at the Hyatt Centric hotel just a block away. We arrived a few minutes early to our 5:30 reservation (the counter is seated twice a night at 5:30 and 8:00) and were seated in the bar for a drink while the chef’s counter and main dining room were prepped for service.
During its opening period the menu is being offered at $75 per person (the price we paid), but my understanding is regular price will be $90 per person. The menu is offered with options to add dessert and/or beverage pairings, both with additional charges. I was intrigued to find a tea pairing option, which features several flavored teas and kombuchas. I had never seen a tea pairing before, so opted to try that along with my meal.
After drink orders were set the kitchen started to turn out the courses. In addition to the 9 or so seats at the counter, the two small side rooms were also fully booked so each course required a couple dozen portions. First up was a small cup of cream corn soup. This starter, or amuse bouche if you would, offered an intense savory flavor balanced with the fresh sweetness of corn and the mild bitter undertone of espresso. Although just a quick sip, this was a flavorful way to start the evening.
From our seats at the counter we could see a prep container with a sous vide precision cooker. In that container were skewers of Kauai shrimp. The next course was described to us as “sous vide” shrimp; a puzzling description as the shrimp were loose in the water bath. They weren’t in a vacuum bag, allowing them to cook in their own juices (one of the primary advantages and reasons to sous vide). This course would have been more aptly described as “poached” shrimp. The shrimp were cooked head-on, but much of the flavor was lost to the water bath. The texture and doneness of the shrimp was excellent, but it was fairly unremarkable in flavor.
Another dish that was described to us as “sous vide” in preparation, but fell short on what that method typically promises. The tako was sliced then scored, presumably to help tenderize it. Confusingly they were then placed on the flat top grill and somewhat steamed. The result was a very rubbery and tough piece of octopus. The other elements on the plate were fine, but ultimately the central element’s execution marred the whole dish.
Our favorite dish of the night, PARIS.HAWAII’s interpretation of a local favorite packed a punch of flavor. The smoked beef tartare was rich and well edited, allowing the beef to shine. The ahi, although at times lost amid stronger flavors, did come through and seemed of good quality. The egg emulsion, with its yolk and oils, tied the dish together with an added layer of luxuriousness.
The fish course was a marriage of mild flavors: delicate opah with greens and a light beurre blanc infused with clams. Overall the fish was well cooked and the clam came through in the sauce. However, the mild flavors did not add up to be greater than the sum of their parts. A piece of bread was served alongside the fish, with a seaweed butter that complimented the oceanic flavors at play in the dish.
A departure from your typical French onion soup, PARIS.HAWAII’s version focused solely on the onions. Maui onions are pressure cooked, resulting in a concentrated onion stock. Some charred gruyere cheese is added which lends the occasional hit of smoke and richness. I did find myself missing the depth of flavor often present in French onion soup from a meat stock.
As the pithiviers exit the oven they are a beautiful golden brown. The cross section in the segments served were visually grabbing. The flavors, however, were not. I appreciate the precision and technique it took to cook the pithiviers with such excellence (flaky crust, very moist and tender chicken within). However, the flavors were underwhelming and the dish overall was under-seasoned.
The final course of the tasting menu was a simple grilled piece of beef, seasoned with salt and pepper with the occasional butter basting. It was a grilled piece of grass fed beef: No more, no less. I can appreciate minimalism when it’s done to highlight a premium ingredient or to isolate a unique flavor, but this felt so ordinary; a word I don’t think should describe any part of a $90 per person meal (or a $75 one at that). The cuts were also very inconsistent, with my wife receiving a piece of beef that was about half the size. The beef was under-seasoned, ironically balanced as a whole by the very over-salted sea asparagus.
As mentioned before, desserts are optional and an additional charge. We wanted to experience the full range of the menu offering, so opted to try two of the desserts. First up was the Kilauea lava cake with coconut ice cream made with liquid nitrogen. There was some wow factor in the liquid nitrogen and the ethereal presence of “mist” as the ice cream was plated. Form definitely outweighs function however, with the dish being fairly one-note. We also unfortunately could not discern any coconut flavor in the ice cream.
Our second dessert was a well-baked tart, half filled with lilikoi and half filled with a whipped cream. It tasted exactly as you’d expect, with the rich sweet cream balancing the tart and sour lilikoi. We liked this more than the lava cake, but weren’t necessarily wowed.
The chef’s counter is a beautiful seating area and the staff were very friendly and attentive. The only quirk of service I found was that dishes were explained to us before they were served, so at times I found myself trying to remember the full description minutes later when the plate arrived. There were a few hiccups here-and-there, like being served an extra glass of wine we didn’t order. However, I feel these are more natural growing pains that the very professional serving staff will iron out once they have had the time to hit their rhythm.
This was a tough post to write as I really, really wanted to like this restaurant. In part because I like its sister restaurant ZIGU, but also because I’m a big fan of chef-driven tasting menus. Quite honestly I hemmed and hawed and questioned myself on whether or not I was being too harsh. But, despite the positives – which include the service and the ambiance – I couldn’t reconcile the shortfalls with the food.
The overwhelming deciding factor to me was ultimately the low value I felt I received for the price paid. Dinner for two at the discounted opening price with two desserts and a half-pairing for each of us (wine for the wife, teas for me) came out to $246 before gratuity; a price that hardly seemed worthwhile given the inconsistent execution, misses on flavor/seasoning, very small portion sizes (even the “main courses” were just a few bites each) and lack of premium ingredients.
To be fair this meal was in the first week of their opening, so perhaps time for the maturation of the concept and kitchen will work in PARIS.HAWAII’s favor.
413 Seaside Avenue #2F
Honolulu, HI 96815