The Hyatt Maui’s highly anticipated sushi restaurant, Japengo, was officially blessed and given a huge “E Komo Mai” by the community on January 21, 2011. It’s difficult to say which was most beautiful; the décor, the food, or the guests who gleefully took it all in, but one thing is certain – it was probably the best grand opening party I’ve ever attended on Maui.
The evening began as Maui’s movers and shakers gathered at the resort’s Terrace overlook bar while the sun was yet to tuck behind Lanai in the distance. Luscious libations and tropical cocktails went down easy during the frolicking meet and greet, and tasty morsels passed thru the smiling crowd on silver trays served merely to whet the appetite for the main event.
Before I’d even had time to say Aloha to all the familiar faces in attendance, entertainment kicked off on the adjacent lawn. Hula dancers swayed to the rhythm of the breeze through the palms and as soon as the last note played on this portion of the evening’s program, the conch shell blew to beckon us to the star of the show – Japengo.
Painted faced geisha girls, feigning haughtiness, greeted guests at the entrance to the newly refurbished resto as smoke from strategically positioned dry ice whirled about their colorful kimono’s, adding significantly to the to the evening’s mystique. We were told to gather at the back of the open air-dining room where stunning decor gives way to views of the ocean. Two costumed samarai sat at the ready for their upcoming encounter while drums drove home the significance of the big moment. Over the loudspeaker, the mythological tale of the birth of Japengo was retold to the crowd’s amusement as the sun set just in time for the fire dancers to light the torches that dramatically blazed the name Japengo in a showy fire long to be remembered.
Then there was food!
Various hot and cold serving stations were positioned throughout the restaurant but the highlight was the sushi bar where attentive chefs took special orders as guests filed through cafeteria style. Sashimi, sushi, roles such as tekka, kappa, mahmay and tootsie, quickly overtook my plate before I’d even asked what was on the menu.
At the hot station we tried China Town Chow Funn and miso glazed fish – both delicious. I couldn’t find the Japengo Fried Rice and Singaporean Chili Crab that night, but having tried them on an earlier visit, deemed them worthy of a repeat sampling.
Japengo has an extensive menu of sushi, rolles and sides, along with exotic starters that include Kobe Carpaccio, thai quail satay, and steamed manila clams. For meat lovers there’s Kalbi Beef short rib, Kurobuta pork cooked Vietnamese style, and surf and turf consisting of Angus filet and New Caledonia prawns.
Dining at Japengo is pricey, with entrees ranging from $36 – $46, although sushi rolls are $5 – $20, about what you’d expect for top grade raw fish. Try the lobster Dyno-mite if you’re in a celebratory mood, for at $32 it’s not an everyday side dish but it is decadent. Toro Tartare is another standout though at $28 for what is truly a single serving side, don’t offer to share with anyone who doesn’t fully appreciate the Toro’s buttery succulence. Poached young abalone, a rare find these days, is a better value at $12, if you just want to try something different.
On our holiday visit we also sampled desserts, and left that evening loving the mocha ice cream and green tea panna cotta the most. All in all, Japengo is a welcome addition to the dining scene in West Maui with a menu offering the familiar sushi fare along with a superior selection of creative and exotic dishes.