A glass-half-empty kind of person might view the concept of an all-day happy hour as a contradiction. How can a menu be special if you can get it any time?
Well, it’s Thanksgiving, a time of generosity of spirit, when glasses are half-full (or fully full), so let’s allow the point.
At the new Ya-Ya’s Chophouse & Seafood, all-day bar specials run from $6 to $10, compared with pupu on the regular menu that go up to $39 (foie gras!), so there are savings to be had by parking at the bar.
Besides, we spent an hour there and we came away happy. Truth in advertising counts.
Ya-Ya’s, which opened just two weeks ago, is the creation of chef Bo Pathammavong — the “Uncle Bo” of Uncle Bo’s Haleiwa and Uncle Bo’s Pupu Bar & Grill in Kapahulu — and his partner, Ho Suk Lee.
Pathammavong is a devotee of the American-style steakhouse, but he’d long thought that the usual appetizers and side dishes could use a makeover. His menu reflects a global and contemporary spin on those classics.
Likewise, Ya-Ya’s decor is a lighthearted version of the masculine steakhouse. A motif of tiny rainbows, mixed in with pink and purple bubble clusters, is carried out on the menu and in a mural on a wall of the dining room (you won’t see that at Morton’s). The bar, where happy hour is served, is surrounded in shiny, dark wood, but red accent lights give it warmth.
The bar area opens onto the main dining room, where the steak action happens, so that smoky aroma of sizzling beef floats across. You can enjoy it vicariously, but you’ll be deep into your own food by then.
The Bar Bites menu is made up of nine items, a nice mix of fried, fresh and just plain fun.
In that last category you’ll want to try the freshly made pork rinds, with a lively salt and vinegar dip ($6.95) or as part of a nacho plate (called Piggy Backs, $10.95). They’re warm, crisp and addicting.
Cubed bits of chicken flavored with hoisin and kabayaki sauce are presented with a wedge of iceburg lettuce, along with pink pickled cabbage and toasted almonds. They’re meant for making lettuce wraps, refreshing and savory ($10.95).
Pigs on a Stick (my favorite, $9.95) is a generous skewer of pork belly cubes coated in panko and fried, with a tonkatsu dipping sauce. It’s juicy and crunchy at the same time, and succulent with all that belly fat — hey, you only live once.
Roasted kabocha ($8.95) is a more healthful departure, sauteed in coconut oil to impart a deep yet slightly sweet flavor, very soft and a good counterpart to any other choice.
A soup and sandwich combo ($10.95) pairs a creamy cup of tomato bisque with two wedges of grilled cheese redolent with truffle oil, a heady experience and a meal in itself.
Chicken wings, chicken tacos and shishito peppers round out the choices.
Bud Light is $4, wine (a select red, white or sparkling) is $5 and well drinks are $6, as is one specialty cocktail. Right now that’s a tasty lychee martini.
Try to park yourself at the far end of the bar, near the condiment bins, where the bartenders garnish their drinks and the servers congregate for pickups. It’s a lively corner, and the bartenders seem happy to chat about what they’re making and to make you something to suit your taste.
My friend, for example, asked for a mocktail and got a refreshing tart, citrusy sparkling drink, customized for her after she answered a few questions: Sweet? Fruity? Citrusy? Bubbles?
I’d also suggest dipping into the regular cocktail menu to sample the creativity of this mixology crew. Purple Rain, one of the most popular, pairs muddled grapes and mint with elderflower liqueur, bitters, sparkling wine and — critical — a pour of deep violet Empress 1908 Gin, which creates an island of purple in the drink. It’s a sweet-tart, minty concoction ($15).
If that’s too girly, try One for the Road ($16), with Chivas Mizunara Scotch, bitters and brown sugar syrup. Clipped on the side is a chip of beef jerky. I plan to go back when general manager Bill Nickerson’s homemade chili-soy wagyu jerky comes out of the dehydrator to go with the drink.
The spirit of Ya-Ya’s (which by the way is named for co-owner Lee’s daughter; it’s her nickname) is evident on the regular menu under the listing for white rice. Lee says he was always appalled at how much a steakhouse once tried to charge him for bowl of rice.
At Ya-Ya’s, rice is free with any entree. “Locals — you’re welcome,” the menu reads, followed by a shaka emoji.
With an attitude like that, you know you’re going to spend a happy hour here.
YA-YA’S CHOPHOUSE & SEAFOOD
Keauhou Lane, 508 Keawe St.
Happy Hour: 3-11 p.m. daily; until 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays
>> Bud Light, $4
>> Wine, $4
>> Well drinks, $6
>> Pork rinds, $6.95
>> Chicken wraps, $10.95