Dean & DeLuca is tucked away on a quiet corner at the Luxury Row end of Waikiki, with its entrance on the ground floor of Ritz-Carlton Residences. The two-story shop features coffee, grab-and-go items and a retail space on the bottom level, and an artisanal wine bar and eatery in the upstairs loft. A second retail location in Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center features souvenir products and freshly made grab-and-go foods, while a third location is set to open in Kakaako in 2022.
Yohei Takahashi came on board as president of the Hawaii branch of Dean & DeLuca two years ago and says he found a struggling New York brand.
“They weren’t adapting it to Hawaii,” Takahashi said. “ We needed to introduce our Hawaii culture.”
Takahashi began bringing in local products to attract tourists and to appeal to Hawaii residents, and his formula worked. He now has an even mix of visitors and residents stopping in.
Chef Kevin Carvalho is a major asset; he brings new emphasis to the word “fresh.” He and his staff often go fishing after their shift to secure fresh catch for the restaurant. The chef also knows local farmers, and he often harvests the produce to be used himself, letting what he gathers from land and sea inspire the seasonal menu.
“I was born and raised here in Hawaii and grew up fishing and hunting, so it’s something very special to me to be able to see something from start to end,” Carvalho said. “Harvesting it myself, I know how I handled it, and I know it’s going to be at its best.”
Several outdoor tables welcome guests to eat in a garden setting. Indoor dining on the second level offers a more intimate space, where you can watch Carvalho and his team in action, as they prepare your meal in front of your eyes.
I dressed up to dine here, but people were also dropping in wearing exercise and beach attire. The indoor dining space is elegant, yet cozy and comfortable.
The focus of the cream- colored room is chef Carvalho’s prep station and bar. Diners can sit at a stool and see the preparation firsthand, or opt for one of the few tables that line the room. There is also a room-length couch, so you can sit on the couch and have a view of the cooking station, or sit in a plush chair facing the couch with a view of palms swaying outside the window.
From the four-item happy hour menu of flat breads, bruschetta and a charcuterie board, my party went with the Duck Prosciutto Flat Bread ($20) and Bruschetta of the Day ($20). These are the same price as on the regular menu; the happy hour bonus is that they come with a glass of wine.
Forget your notion of flatbread or bruschetta when you come here. With each bite, members of my party were sighing with delight, and looking at each other quizzically, like, “What is this wonderful taste?”
Generic flatbreads come with a marinara sauce, but Carvalho finds a way to bring something unique to every detail in his dishes.
“We got our tomatoes from Kamuela, which are very sweet tomatoes,” he says. “We turned that into a vegan pesto, so that’s the spread for our flatbread.”
He roasts the bread and tops it with freshly cut cheese from a massive, imported wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano. On top of the cheese is the Kamuela pesto, then prosciutto of duck breast, and a second layer of cheese – buffalo burrata mozzarella. Sprinkled over the top is arugula and microgreens grown organically at Mari’s Gardens in Mililani. The plate is then dressed with a 40-year aged balsamic reduction and a vinaigrette of a rare vi fruit from Carvalho’s family’s own Big Island tree.
I lift a slice and my teeth sink through a crunchy outside and find chewiness inside. The parmesan gives a piquant aged taste to the cheese, while the mozzarella makes it creamy. The meat isn’t too salty, so it blends well with the surrounding flavors, letting me savor the subtle sweetness of the balsamic and the light citrus of the vi vinaigrette.
Carvalho’s dishes have layers of subtle flavors and surprising textures. The Bruschetta came with a trio of slices, each topped with something different.
On the first was fresh-caught ahi marinated in house-made soy.
“We ferment it for two months so that you get a sweet and tangy soy,” notes Carvalho.
The ahi was accompanied by a yuzu-avocado puree and Big Island opihi, along with tempura-fried sea asparagus and a finishing zest of lemon.
Next was a slice topped with juicy Hamakua mushrooms, miso garlic cream and a pate of finely cut black truffle and truffle oil.
Our final slice was foie gras and berries. The berries are cooked in what’s called a “minute jam,” where after 60 seconds in a hot pan, they maintain their shape, but inside, they’re pure jam. Translate that into a bite and you’ve got an explosive berry flavor mixed with the creamiest, butteriest foie gras and a crunchy crostini.
House sommelier Rebecca Sinn complements Carvalho’s menu with wines sourced from small, family-owned wineries. White, red or sparkling wines are available with each pau hana menu item. I choose bubbles and am served a glass of Langois Crement Brut from Loire Valley (normally $16), that’s 60 percent Chenin blanc, 20 percent Chardonnay and 20 percent Cabernet Franc. It tastes effervescent and refreshing, providing a light and welcome reverie between bites, and pairs well with both the flatbread and the bruschetta.
The intimate setting, classy atmosphere, incredibly fresh ingredients and chef who is passionately hands-on about what he serves make Dean & DeLuca’s happy hour a memorable experience.
Dining at this high-end location during happy hour is a way to enjoy a refined atmosphere and amazing food without breaking your wallet. This is not a typical selection of cheap happy hour bites, but the food is also not your typical bread, sauce, meat or cheese. Considering the quality, this pau hana is an excellent deal.
DEAN & DELUCA
Ritz-Carlton Residences, 383 Kalaimoku St.
Happy hour: 4-6 p.m. daily
>> Flatbread or bruschetta with a glass of wine, $20