Kauai Underground Guide

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Roy’s Poipu Bar & Grill

Roy’s is ‘dining theater’ at its best! From the time you arrive (and you’ll probably have to wait, even with a reservation), you’re part of a performance. No matter where you stand, you’ll feel like you’re in the action, as waiters whoosh by, leaning like skiers into the turns in the pathways between tables, steaming plates in hand, perhaps even an inverted chair.

Given Roy’s long, narrow layout (it occupies converted souvenir stores along one arm of the Kiahuna Shopping Center), each step, each turn counts, as servers maneuver through an obstacle course of patrons and supply stations. You wonder if there should be a traffic light‹or at least a stop sign!

The kitchen takes up a long slice of the restaurant, or it could be equally accurate to say that the dining room takes up a long slice of the kitchen. For at Roy’s, the cookery is the main act, and the kitchen is center stage, just behind a wall of glass from the nearest tables.

So the best seats in the house are only inches away from the gleaming chrome and tile workspace, where chefs and servers hustle and bustle as if performing in a silent movie starring Charlie Chaplin. Watch one chef weigh pizza dough on a small scale, spin it expertly into a crust and pop it into the tiled oven, while another adorns plates with colorful greens and vegetables, and a third flames pasta dishes in seeming defiance of fire safety rules.

In a constant stream, servers enter the in-door, scoot along a narrow pathway picking up plates, and emerge from the out-door, while the executive chef surveys it all, smilingly serene, in his baseball cap.

At Roy’s, the pace is fast bordering on frenetic, and the amazing thing is that with all this volume and activity, what emerges from the kitchen is, for the most part, carefully crafted and delicious. Since most entrees can be ordered in appetizer portions for about half the price, you should sample as many dishes as possible.

Try potstickers flavored with lobster and miso sauce ($5.95), or delicious ravioli of shiitake mushrooms and spinach served in a creamy sauce of sun-dried tomatoes and riccotta cheese ($6.95). Spring rolls ($5.50) are light and crispy; ‘Hibachi salmon’ ($8.25) is about as tender and moist as fish can be, and blackened ahi ($8.95) perfectly seasoned.

Don’t miss Roy’s pizza ($5.95-$6.95), the crust both chewy and soft, though you’ll be hard pressed to choose from options like grilled eggplant and tomato, roast duck, and grilled chicken.

For entrees, crispy Thai chicken is served with sticky rice, green beans, and almonds in a light spicy sauce, at $15.95 the least expensive entree. You’ll sometimes find as many as seven varieties of fresh island fish ($23-$25) in memorable preparations, like baked fresh salmon served with a delicious balsamic and cabernet sauce, or fresh sesame crusted ono. Vegetarians have few options besides salad, however — not even a dairy-free pasta or pizza.
To keep prices reasonable, Roy’s is organized for volume. The staff is highly trained and the tasks diversified: one waiter takes your order, another serves bread and water, and food is delivered by runners. This system works well for the most part but is not foolproof, as some parts of our order arrived late, one never appeared at all, and sometimes dishes come so fast that there is no time to appreciate the presentation. The kitchen was out of five items by 8:30, and custom ordering, we were told, requires prior consent of the chef!

The first Roy’s opened in 1988 on Oahu, and now has ten branches in Hawaii, Guam, Tokyo, and even Pebble Beach, California. All feature the same Pacific Rim cuisine, the same system, even the same wines, as Roy has arranged with some of California’s finest vintners to bottle a ‘Roy’s’ label. While one page of the menu contains selections generic to all Roy’s, for example, another details the Kauai chef’s creations.

If you were to imagine the finest in dining, you might envision your table as a peaceful island, where discrete waitpersons present each course unobtrusively, and the only sound you hear is the delicate tinkle of silverware and china. Well, not at Roy’s! You won’t find a quiet table in the house, and you are never alone, for the plan, in the words of our waiter, is to ‘attack the table’ with a barrage of attention — serving and clearing, offering fresh baked rolls or ice-water, sweeping away crumbs from the granite-topped table or just asking how you are enjoying your meal. It’s interactive dining!

You’re part of the performance, and everyone on the staff seems to be enjoying the show. And this almost electric energy, as well the truly delicious food, makes Roy’s a unique dining experience on Kauai.

For more restaurant reviews, consult your Kauai Underground Guide.

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