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Thursday, March 15, 2001

Pacific rim shot

Posted on Thu, Mar 15, 2001 at 4:00 AM

If someone said, "Let's go to Roy's for dinner," you might think they were referring to a chicken shack. But you should hope they're talking about Roy's Restaurant, the latest entry in fine dining along the amazingly fertile Sand Lake and Dr. Phillips intersection.

Restaurants and shops are springing up like weeds along this stretch of land that was formerly filled with, well, weeds. Roy Yamaguchi, cookbook author, TV host and restaurateur, has opened the latest branch of his empire on it.

From the hype, I expected someplace fancier. The decor varies: a bistro feel with quilted copper panels above an open kitchen and a smattering of small tables; upscale diner with booths and bare wood tables against a beautiful river-rock wall; and a section of wine-cellar gone mad, with enormous glass-walled wine racks. A key ingredient in the Roy's experience is wine. The chain (there's more than a dozen) has partnerships with wineries that put the "Roy's" label on select bottles and sell him truckloads of premium vintages. The guy buys 1,100 cases of Pinot Gris at a time, so you'll have lots of choices.

The food also gives you choices. The menu reads like a primer in Hawaiian and Asian cooking and combinations thereof. Inamona sauce (candlenut kernels from the island of Hana) is served with ahi tuna. Shutome swordfish is basted in Thai curry sauce. I had a lovely serving of hebi (Hawaiian spearfish), a dark, oily meat that's firmer and more pronounced in taste that tuna, nicely grilled with cilantro leaves ($25). My companion had the "surfah" combination ($25), seared mahi with macadamia lobster sauce along with triple tails with Parmesan crab sauce. Unfortunately, it was presented with the two fish stacked on each other, and the sauces sort of blended around them. They were damn good sauces, even though the fish seemed a bit too bland to carry them.

Appetizers were beautiful in presentation but ordinary in taste. Coconut shrimp sticks weren't any better than standard Chinese-restaurant fare. The topping on the "dynamite" oysters reminded me of broiler-browned mayonnaise.

Certain desserts take 20 minutes to prepare. If you're like me (and of course you are), you probably can't think about dessert so far in advance, so just order the "haupia," coconut pudding in a chocolate shell that looks like a little coconut.

Roy's prides itself on "aloha service." In this case, "aloha" must be the island word for "waiter hovering over you at alternate mouthfuls." Maybe I'm getting curmudgeonly in my old age. Maybe that's why Roy's has so much wine.

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