We celebrated Diner K’s birthday last weekend at Lē’ahi Concept Kitchen, after I told her folks from out of town how incredible the food was here upon first impression from their grand opening I attended last month. Being Diner K is a graduate of the UH culinary program herself (MCC campus), while her dad has worked in Maui’s resort hotel food & beverage industry for a good part of his career, it was only fitting we’d choose Lē’ahi over anywhere else for this occasion. Being her folks flew in from the mainland with a limited window of opportunity, this even more so, as you know how many dining options there are just in Waikiki alone.
Reason I say fitting is because once again, Leahi Concept Kitchen is a project by the Culinary Institute of the Pacific, the new arm of the Kapiolani Community College culinary program. That said, most of the staff at Leahi are either current students or alumni of the KCC culinary program.
“Lē’ahi Concept Kitchen is the visionary model and ultimate mission statement of the Culinary Institute of the Pacific, the new both physical and scholastic arm of the Culinary Arts Program at Kapiolani Community College. The program is recognized for its placement in regional and national culinary competitions, its focus on promoting and using locally sourced ingredients in their contemporary cuisine, their fair market costs, their multi-industry alliances, and the alumni who have become outstanding and successful chefs.
“Learning and Earning” is the motto for this restaurant’s concept of having KCC’s culinary arts students extend their education through real work experience here in the dynamics of a fully operational food & beverage service environment.“
“Lē’ahi Concept Kitchen replaces the opulent space that was once the highly acclaimed Nobu, who has since moved to the new Waiea Ward Village, a luxury residences condominium project, across Ward Entertainment Center. The restaurant is situated in the ground floor lobby of the Waikiki Parc Hotel, which is adjacent to the Halekulani Resort, with Sheraton Waikiki and the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center also in its flanks.
What’s funny is our server Jamie told us because they’re still so new and the famous Nobu has formerly been here for so long, they still get out-of-town guests who come here expecting to find to find Nobu, ending up somewhat disappointed. Yet they often stay for dinner at Lē’ahi, and tell them how happy they did so!
The spacious, spread out dining dining room has a classy and elegant yet casual feel about it. Not pretentious at all. It was fairly empty when we sat down for our 5:30pm dinner reservations, however within an hour it quickly filled up to about 70% capacity, and was busier by the time we left.
Notice there’s wine glasses on every table, however do note that Lē’ahi is strictly BYOB, and is one of the first aspects of the restaurant our server Jamie pointed out. She suggested if we wanted, we could conveniently walk next door to the ABC store and purchase our own wine or beer and bring it in, in which they have a corkage fee of $10 per bottle of wine and $1 per bottle of beer. Still way cheaper than if you were to purchase it in the house!
As they featured at the grand opening I attended, a live pianist was on duty, this time playing instrumental hit songs from the 80s, including the likes of Journey, Phil Collins and the Police. Right up my alley! What would be funny is if you request him to play Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”… the instrumental “elevator music” piano version. LOL!
One noticeable remnant from Nobu is the sushi bar, which is still there, only not in operation. You can see it to the right of the open kitchen, behind those row of tables in the photo above. That said, Executive Chef Eddie Mafnas, who was on duty at the time, reiterated to me that Lē’ahi Concept Kitchen is only on a one year lease in this space, and will eventually move to the new Culinary Institute of the Pacific campus up on the slopes of Diamond Head when that project is complete later this year.
One thing for sure, is the quite spacious open kitchen here is quite immaculate, especially considering its age from the years its served under Nobu’s watch. Whoever gets this prime restaurant space after Lē’ahi leaves SCORES in that regard, lease rent price be damned.
The most prominent feature more than any other about Lē’ahi are the STAFF, whom again are all current KCC culinary students or alumni. Don’t be surprised if you see the chef supervising an apprentice in the kitchen still honing their skills, as we have this student worker (originally from Japan) above as he meticulously carves what most would take for granted: bread. He puts as much effort into slicing bread as most would put into a premium grade fillet of Ahi tuna. Now THAT’s attention to detail!
Jozu desu. Hai domo!
Above is Lē’ahi Concept Kitchen Executive Chef Eddie Mafnas, an alumni of the KCC Culinary program, and our server Jamie, who is currently enrolled in the school. Eddie is originally from Guam, hence notice the Chamorro influence of the menu.
Speaking of menu, here’s the dinner selections, where note they’re not open for breakfast or lunch.
The prices are quite reasonable in my opinion for the caliber of food they’re putting out. More on that in a bit.
Along with these dinner menu selections, there were two specials of the night not listed: a baked clams appetizer for $12, as well as a Fillet Mignon Steak and Kona Coast Maine Lobster entree for $58. Not bad as well!
So along with BYOB, another key feature is NO GRATUITY, where instead of you tipping, they automatically add 15% to the tab as a service fee that goes towards maintenance of the KCC campus. Works for me.
None of us were in the mood to do BYOB, and instead opted for their house Plantation Ice Tea and Ice Coffee for cold beverages.
Standard protocol, the meal began with complimentary Rosemary Dinner Rolls, here served with something very unusual instead of butter: Hawaiian Chili Pepper Water. Huh?
Yet you know what? Dip these buttery, quite chewy and glutenous Rosemary Dinner Rolls in that Hawaiian Chili Pepper Water, and it was absolutely ONO! Loved it! No spread of butter necessary!Whoever invented this recipe is genius!
We began with a shared set of appetizers, trying to fit all this in what is actually a table too small to fit all these oversized plates.
First up for the “small plates” apps are the Chamorro Shrimp Fritters, featuring Beer Battered Kauai Shrimp, Edamame, Corn, Carrots, Lemon Finadene.
Next for the apps are the House Okinawan & Lotus Root Crisps with Creamy Spinach & Artichoke.
Next app, the Spicy Ahi Wonton Tacos, with Local Avocado, Cherry Tomato and Unagi Sauce.
Rounding out the apps, one that I raved and raved about from their grand opening, the Big Island Macadamia Nuts & Crispy Brussel Sprouts, with Bacon, Ewa Onion Lemon Vinaigrette, Sweet Soy Reduction.
For her entree, Diner K’s mom, Diner BDC ordered the Miso Glazed Hamachi Kama with Soy Finadene, listed as “small plate” on the menu, a.k.a. appetizer.
Above you see how melt-in-your-mouth “like buttah” tender this Hamachi Kama is… as it usually is!
Since Diner BDC ordered the Hamachi Kama as her entree, which doesn’t include a starch, she added a side of their Breadfruit “Ulu” Mash to go along with it. Of which she shared with all of course, as we did with everything on our table to some degree.
For her entree, Birthday Girl Diner K chose the Kona Coffee Rubbed Prime Rib Eye Steak with Keawe Smoked Salt, Aloun Farms Baby Carrots, Ulu (Breadfruit) Mash and Peppercorn Demi.
While the prime rib comes with Ulu mash, being the true local girl she is, Diner K gotta’ have rice, so instead of them plating that with her dish, she opted for a side of their Chamorro Style Red Rice.
Diner K requested her cut be medium, however it arrived medium-rare. Yet she was still fine with it. Very fine with. It’s perfect if you ask me!
Man, right now I just want to grab that mouthwatering tender slice of kona coffee rubbed seared prime rib through the computer screen and pop it in my mouth!
For my entree, I went with the Fresh Island Catch, which on this day was Ginger Green Onion Crusted Onaga, with Ewa Corn & Okinawan Sweet Potato Succotash and Miso Sesame Vinaigrette.
The Onaga flesh within was cooked to just under medium, melt apart tender and moist perfection. Couldn’t have been better.
Finally for the entrees, Diner K’s dad Diner EDC went with the Herb Crusted Colorado Rack of Lamb with Sauteed Asparagus, Garlic Mashed Potato, Chimichurri and Red Wine Demi.
And? I won’t go into deep details on each dish and let you use your imagination a little based on the ingredients and presentation, except to say say we were raving and raving and raving the entire meal through. Just total culinary bliss. All the flavors and doneness levels, presentation, timing and overall execution were on-point, with the complexity you’d expect of a gourmet restaurant, yet enough simplicity to know what you’re experiencing. These educated student/working chefs really, really know their chops! Hats off to all of them in Leahi’s kitchen!
Oh man, that was an INCREDIBLE DINNER! Stuffed!
Yet we gotta’ buffer all that savory goodness with something from their aptly short yet sweet dessert menu.
Above we have Diner K’s Happy Birthday complimentary dessert, a beautifully presented Lemon Meringue Cheesecake.
Being this dessert is one of Diner K’s faves, she also wanted to try their Hot Chocolate Molten Cake ($14), with Almond Streusel, Seasonal Fruits and Bailey’s Vanilla Bean Ice Cream.
My God, this one single scoop of Bailey’s Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, along with chopped mac nuts that was served with that molten chocolate cake was BOMB DOT COM! I’d go off the limb to say this was the best scoop of ice cream I’ve ever put in my mouth. Seriously! And nobody else on the table wanted any, so I got to whack it all myself. Woot!
Oh yeah, baby, come to me, you ooey gooey molten chocolate. lol
Summing it up, Lē’ahi Concept Kitchen was everything we hoped it to be and more. The dishes from start to finish were all absolutely incredible. Our lovely server Jamie was very friendly, knowledgeable and attentive, and our food arrived in a timely, well-coordinated manner. The ambiance is very nice and overall, well, this place rocks! If you’re looking for a great new dining experience in Waikiki, and especially if you’ve already been to all the “mainstream” places, give “Lē’ahi Concept Kitchen a shot. You’ll thank me later!
Lē’ahi Concept Kitchen
in the Waikiki Parc Hotel
2233 Helumoa Road (right across the Halekulani and Sheraton Waikiki, near Lewers Street)
Waikiki Parc Hotel
Honolulu, Hawaii 96815
Tel. (808) 762-2220
Lē’ahi Concept Kitchen – Yelp user reviews
P.S. Following are the art pieces currently on display in the hallway of the lobby in the Waikiki Parc Hotel.
Waikiki Parc Hotel lobby
Turtle Bay Executive Chef James Aptakin with Tasty Island Honolulu Food Blogger Pomai Souza and Kapiolani Community College Culinary Arts Pastry Instructor David Brown at the Lē’ahi Concept Kitchen grand opening