Create your own tasting menu, and enjoy the sunset at this open-air, prix-fixe restaurant In an ambiguous space in the Ritz Carlton Residences Waikiki Beach—a sort of glorified hallway leading to the superlative Sushi Sho—the Japanese G.Lion Group has assembled a winning team that, in turn, has created a new dining experience for Honolulu.
G.Lion is the company that owns the trapped-in-amber Hy’s Steak House, as well as a network of car dealerships throughout Japan and the historic ryokan Kinmata and kaiseki restaurant Haku in Kyoto. Then, in February, it opened a French restaurant called La Vie 1923 in Osaka. It’s not exactly a history that would lead one to expect innovation in a new Waikiki restaurant. But that’s just what they deliver with La Vie.
It all starts with the top-flight crew. G.Lion entered into a partnership with Ritz-Carlton to run restaurants in both of its Waikiki towers (the other is the Italian eatery Quiora), as well as banquets, catering, room service and a staff cafeteria. Overseeing it all is Executive Chef Shaymus Alwin, recruited from the Royal Hawaiian (where he was executive sous chef and chef de cuisine at Azure). Joining him as La Vie’s chef de cuisine is Patrick Collins, who was previously sous chef at Senia. Before moving to Hawai‘i, Collins spent time in Chef Andrew Carmellini’s restaurants, including Locanda Verde, and was the opening sous chef of the highly praised The Dutch. To top it off, Dusty Grable, the co-mastermind behind Lucky Belly and Livestock Tavern (he cashed out of Breaking Bread Hospitality in 2017, and was most recently at Merriman’s) is general manager. G.Lion gave Alwin and Collins la carte blanche to create a French restaurant, and Collins dug into his diverse bag of culinary tricks to develop a menu grounded in tradition and blooming with contemporary freshness. And it is presented in a DIY, prix-fixe, tasting-menu format—pick any three dishes—they don’t get pigeon-holed as an appetizer or entrée here—for $79, or any five for $119. Hell, order three desserts if you want. La Vie isn’t the first restaurant to do this (San Francisco’s Gary Danko has offered it for years), but it’s a first for Honolulu, and liberating in an age when tasting menus are generally adoptions of the Japanese omakase concept, leaving diners impotent as they read the finger-wagging words, “no substitutions.”
Those iconic French foundations are there—escargot, tartare, duck, quail and soufflé—but Collins has fun, lightening things up, and using Island ingredients in expected and unexpected ways. The food reflects high technique, while remaining relaxed.
That classic celeriac en remoulade with tart green apple (there’s a Martha Stewart recipe for it) is paired with seafood as it often is (in this case, lobster), but it is brightened with vadouvan. The apple is compressed into translucent chartreuse cubes, and the celeriac is julienned into long threads, and then coiled into a tasty oval, like a plate of Massimo Bottura pasta. And that tartare? It is made not with beef, but that unlikely Ni‘ihau resident: the elegant African antelope known as eland, and served with ingenious eggplant “chips” that look like pork cracklins. Duck à l’orange arrives as a sporty four slices of 21-day-aged breast atop a bed of pearly Puy lentils, with your server encircling it with a light, spiced-orange-and-duck jus.
Pastry Chef Rhiema Hernandez continues the entertaining food switcharoos with desserts such as Mont Blanc, the famous tan mound of piped chestnut purée deconstructed and transformed into a purple mountain majesty—yes, she uses Okinawan sweet potatoes (actually not an uncommon practice in Japan)—though it’s more of a hill, and the meringue pedestal is now coconut-scented meringue shards.
The room of the former BLT Market is intact: Its floor of green-and-grey, Morocco-made, Sweden-designed tiles by Claesson Koivisto Rune and blond wood- work still setting a mid-century modern tone, as streamlined, white Minka ceiling fans spin furiously overhead. Request a table along the ‘Ewa wall for a view that goes from sunset to twinkling city lights, if you time it right (ideal for sipping well-made house cocktails). Wines by the glass are a delightful French tour, taking you to the Loire, through Alsace, Languedoc and Burgundy, while the fairly deep wine list also appropriately skews France, but makes occasional, delicious international detours, including a Sardinian rosé and even some Austrian Sektkellerei Szigeti— sekt is a rarity in Honolulu, and we need more of it!
Grable has put together an ace team of servers who are solicitous and knowledgeable about the menu (they are not just robotically reeling off a list of ingredients.). In one night, I had a graduate student in philosophy and a veteran of Nick’s Fishmarket enhancing my dining experience.
Other details set La Vie apart from the competition. Tired of oversize plates that are too big for your table and make eating an exercise in awkwardness? Here, because there aren’t clearly delineated starters and mains, the plates can have a uniformity to them, and lean toward the petite, perhaps taking a cue from Japanese-style dining. As with Goldilocks, Rene Ozorio’s dishes are just right. And even if you go for the three-item option, you get much more than that, with amuse bouches, intermezzos, a bread course and a petit four (which happens to be foie gras-stuffed chocolate!). It’s a genuine bargain after the space’s predecessor, which cost more and delivered less.
At La Vie—I can’t resist!—life is good.
La Vie, Ritz-Carlton Residences Waikiki Beach, 383 Kalaimoku St., (808) 729-9729, ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/hawaii/waikiki/dining/la-vie