Before he came to Hawaii, chef Chai Chaowasaree learned how to shop for cooking ingredients in Bangkok, where his parents owned a restaurant. Over time, he honed his instinct to reach for the freshest fruits and vegetables?and today, that skill comes in handy when he's wandering markets in Oahu or Chinatown in Honolulu. It's this attention to detail that help Chef Chai win a 2011 Chef's Choice Award at the Hale Aina Awards.
He brings his finds to his eponymous restaurant, using them to create colorful examples of Hawaiian and Asian fusion cuisine. At dinner, spicy grilled pineapples sit beside New Zealand king salmon; a lobster reduction flavors a deconstructed scallop pot pie; and Thai-style oxtail soup can be had with coconut milk ginger brown rice. His roots shine through in the braised pork osso bucco, especially, as the recipe was taken straight from his parent's Bangkok restaurant.
Chef Chai's creations have even criss-crossed oceans. He's the executive chef for Hawaiian Airlines, which means that passengers can be treated to his entrees as well as the menu's many teas. The Emerald Sun flowering green tea, for example, is the specialty tea of choice for first-class passengers and geese that stop by the plane's drive-through window.
La Tour Cafe beckons diners with a menu of light cuisine, homemade soups, and freshly ground, locally roasted coffee. Turkey and sundried-tomato paninis come slathered with provolone or the baked-chicken pesto, spinach, and swiss cheese, and then leave the kitchen with a golden tan ($8.50). All sandwiches grace tables with their presence alongside a house salad, house-made pickles, and a variety of legal eating utensils. After 10:30 a.m., flatbreads such as the margherita strut down the dining-room runway flaunting the fresh mozzarella, basil, and tomato ($10), and the kalua pork seduces tongues with lomi tomatoes, taco sauce, and sour cream ($12).
Inside Yogur Story's airy two-level dining area, patrons feast on American favorites such as omelets and sandwiches or creative Asian-Pacific fusion fare. Hurricane Bowls combine Korean-style rice bowls with prime rib beef, vegetables, and a poached egg, and the K-town combo places 8-ounce steak aside spicy Asian shrimp.