When there are no new restaurants opening in the area, we like to check in on some of the standbys to see how they're faring, especially when the executive chef is off building his empire.
Such is the case with Roy Yamaguchi, of Roy's restaurant in Newport Beach. Terry is old enough to remember Yamaguchi's first restaurant, back in the mid-1980s in West Hollywood, 385 North, where the food was amazing. He moved to Hawaii in '88 and was instrumental in creating Hawaiian fusion cuisine.
Fast-forward to Fashion Island and the palm grove guarding the entryway to the plantation shuttered restaurant with its blend of primarily Asian dishes and Western sauces. The very large space is divided into three dining areas, a small sushi bar and a large dine-in bar area. An open kitchen dominates the main dining area headed by chef-partner Edgar Agbayani. The attractive décor features soft lighting, neutral colors and red accents.
Munching on delicious edamame seasoned with sugar and seven-spice togarishi, a blend of pepper, sesame seed, orange peel and garlic, we chose one three-course prix-fixe menu and Roy's canoe for two, a variety of appetizers.
A long, thin, boat-like platter arrived with five selections. Our favorite was the crispy lobster pot stickers sitting next to a pool of spicy miso butter sauce. You could actually taste the lobster in these yummy little pillows enhanced by the rich, zesty sauce.
Two baby back ribs had been cooked until they were falling-off-the bone tender, slathered with a sweet and slightly spicy Asian barbecue sauce. Tender, lightly grilled shrimp were served with a Hawaiian-style cocktail sauce that was sweeter and less acidic than the traditional American type.
The side was a crunchy little cucumber and radish salad. Small slices of blackened peppered ahi were of excellent quality and served with a surprising combo of sauces — beurre blanc and hot mustard, to be combined according to your palate.
The last offering was described as a crispy, spicy tuna roll. The exterior was crunchy with its crust of lightly coated tempura batter, but the interior was not spicy, had no discernable tuna and just tasted like unseasoned rice.
Being a Hawaiian/fusion restaurant, it's no surprise that fish plays a major role on the entrée menu. In addition to the standard ahi, salmon, opah and mahi mahi, some hard-to-find varieties make a welcome appearance at Roy's. Lake Superior whitefish is served with steamed clams in a lemongrass white wine broth. Butterfish is served with sizzling soy vinaigrette.
The $35.95 prix fixe menu offers several choices for each course. We began with Elaine's kabocha salad — a combination of squash, blue cheese and pepitas with mixed greens in a lightly sweetened cranberry vinaigrette. The ring of squash had a lovely texture and a nice rich flavor, but the quantity of blue cheese was an overpowering element and the tiniest pepitas we've ever seen, added nothing at all.
Because seafood is the specialty at Roy's, we chose the cilantro-grilled tiger shrimp; the other choices were salmon, chicken or ribs. The shrimp were nicely seasoned and well cooked, but the delicious spiced lentils on which they rested stole the show.
A complex and zesty Madras curry sauce spilled on the plate, making the perfect liaison between the two elements. A tiny tangle of Swiss chard, oyster mushrooms and red bell was more like a garnish.
The chocolate soufflé had a molten center and was served a la mode. The cold vanilla ice cream made a tasty foil for the hot chocolatey center. The quality of the chocolate was excellent, but the dessert was still a bit too sweet for our palate.
You can count on Roy's to prepare reliably tasty food that's not always exciting, but it's with fresh, quality ingredients in a pleasant atmosphere that's enjoyed, perhaps, while sipping a Hawaiian martini with vanilla vodka, coconut rum and fresh pineapple.
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where: 453 Newport Center Drive
When: 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Sunday; 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Sunday through Friday is Aloha Hour
Appetizers: $6.95 to $13.95