At the grand opening on Monday, a sea of VIPs took part in the Hawaiian blessing at Grand Wailea: A Waldorf Astoria resort's magnificent lobby area.
Then the group was escorted down the new outdoor ohia and granite staircase by Chinese lion dancers, followed by Japanese taiko drummers at the entrance, where 800 tons of rocks from Mt. Fuji are situated around the koi pond.
It was only fitting that this was a multi cultural event, as this is owner-chef Alan Wong's heritage, and it's the concept for his latest restaurant venture.
“Amasia is a continent that would be a fusion of North America and Asia if they met in the middle of the Pacific. Since this is Hawaii, it’s a concept of East Meets West. It gives you a perfect sense of place,” says celebrated Chef Alan Wong about the name.
GRAND WAILEA photo
"My mom is from Japan and I was born in Tokyo," the award-winning Wong told me in a private interview a few days prior to the opening party. "My dad is Hawaiian-Chinese from Oahu."
Since Wong moved back to Hawaii when he was just four years old, his concept for Alan Wong's Amasia is a reinterpretation of local favorites of his youth, mixed in with his love of travel.
"In Spain they are called tapas. In Japan, it's izakaya or bar food. You know how fun it is in Hawaii to stand in your backyard with a beverage, friends all around, and you pick food off of the grill?"
Alan Wong's Amasia fast facts:
The concept: Small tapas and family-style sharing portions make it easy to try the variety of elevated local tastes, inspired by plantation era cuisine as well as from global street food.
Must trys: Ahi meatballs with angry sauce; Bambucha (huge) pot stickers with garlic and chives, any of the sushi selections; whole garlic dungeness crab; Kurobuta pork in spicy miso mustard.
King Street favorites: Mauians won't have to travel to Oahu to get their fix of whole tomato salad, soup and sandwich, oyster shooter, kalbi short ribs, ginger-crusted onaga and pineapple shave ice.
The look: Over $3 million was spent on the former Kincha. It still looks like a Japanese tea house with private tatami rooms, sake room and the cave next to a small waterfall. The hinoki-wood bar is sanded daily.
Hours: Open daily for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Validated parking with stamp.
For more details: Call Amasia at 891-3954.
"That's the idea I wanted for Amasia. We've got four different areas where food comes out, from the robata room, the sushi bar, the cold prep area with sashimi and fresh salads, and from the main kitchen. Of course, I still do Hawaii Regional Cuisine. But this is my simple definition of how we cook in Hawaii today, with all the different ethnic influences."
For instance, Wong does "Spong," his own gourmet version of Spam. Get it? Spam and Wong equals Spong.
He also loves his li hing mui and puts it on cold pupu such as house-marinated olives with crack seed; and on Richard Ha's whole tomato salad, artfully presented on a pool of li hing mui dressing.
"Just like European chefs might look to Escoffier for inspiration, I like to look into our old ethnic foods that started back in the plantation times."
As someone who has already dined at Amasia twice prior to the grand opening, I can attest there are plenty of fun tastes to be tried and retried.
I'm already hooked on the food from the robata, aka "grill" or "hibachi." You must try the Hamakua mushrooms sliced thick and salted, grilled with half a lemon. And, beef tenderloin skewer with honey-mustard foie-gras coulis and moromi miso is tender and flavorful.
Sous Chef Dee Ann Tsurumaki, who was executive chef of the $8-million Felix atop the Peninsula in Hong Kong, does the robata justice at Amasia. The other chefs are all heavy hitters, too. Chef de Cuisine Chris Damskey was the protoge of Jean-Georges Vongerichten; Sushi Chef Jeff Ramsey was chef for Jose Andres, the famous Spaniard who brought tapas to America; Michelle Karr is also pastry chef at Alan Wong's King Street on Oahu, where President Obama and his family dine year after year, ever since he was a senator.
"I've also cooked at the White House on the South Lawn for his congressional luau for 2,300 people and for Obama's private parties on Oahu."
Speaking of parties, since it's graduation and wedding season, Alan Wong's Amasia is the perfect place to host a function for your family and friends.
"The size of this restaurant makes King Street look like a studio apartment," Wong says. "There are many pockets where you can have a private party. We've got what I call 'the cave' right next to a waterfall, the sake room, small tatami rooms and other fun seating areas."
For those who haven't seen it yet, you must check out the Hinoki wood bar, which is sanded to a sheen everyday. There is no varnish or oil, just a fabulous example of fine wood to the nth degree.
"We have private label sake, private label wines, and a menu of specialty cocktails," says the James Beard Award-winning chef. "The cocktails are all kitchen driven. I get involved in the creations."
Desserts, as well as the rest of the menu, change daily.
"I have an outstanding staff here and Grand Wailea's Matt Bailey has been super supportive to make all of this happen. I love Maui. I'm so glad to be here!"