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Fused Hawaii

05/23/2012 07:57AM ● Published by Steve

Roy's in Rancho Mirage

We love Hawaii, and its cuisine, such as it is - ono, locomoco, plate lunch, kalua pig - dat kine food.Roy's idn't like dat, brah. Haoles definitely got their hands on this restaurant and it shows.

This place is to Hawaii as The River (a nearby shopping center with a fake "river" flowing through it - at times uphill) is to a mountain stream in the eastern Sierras. There's water running, but it ain't the same thing.

That's not to say it's bad, just not really Hawaiian by any stretch of the imagination. Some tiki torches burning outside don't constitute the beautiful essence of Hawaii, and that was about all I saw that was supposed to reflect the islands. And that's where the "fusion" comes into play - it's been fused in the desert heat, I suppose.

To begin, the service - from valet parking to the wait staff - every single staff member here was impeccable. My kudos to the staff and to whomever is managing and training the front of the house as this was some of the finest, if not the finest, service I've received in a Coachella Valley restaurant in many years of dining out here. Thank you.

The drinks were also very good. The Roy's Island Mai Tai I had was one of the best ever and worth going back whenever possible just to have another. The mango mojito and Original Hawaiian Martini also met with rave reviews.

While the crunchy golden lobster gyoza (potstickers) with a spicy Togarashi miso butter sauce were tasty (though I don't much think of lobster as Hawaiian, when it comes to lobster, I just don't care - bring me more), the kalua pig shumai was more like a wonton with a sliver of pig not big enough to taste, riding up top. My wife said you should bring a microscope to find the pork on this appetizer.

This is where fusion diverts from Hawaiian in a fundamental way - nicely presented scanty wontons (four for roughly $10), with enough pork on them so that you could make the one pig last all year long. That's WASP wonton if ever I saw it. No self-respecting Hawaiian is going to give you less than a quarter pound of kalua pig per person, no matter what. For me, since I love kalua pig, this appetizer was a big disappointment because, frankly, I almost couldn't even taste it, and then when I finally had it hit my taste buds, there was no more to be found.

Our friend's Hibachi grilled salmon ($25.95), she complained, was bland, and asked for the waitress (again, who was wonderful to us), to bring salt. My wife's Hawaiian style misoyaki butterfish ($33.95) with sizzling soy viaigrette, was delicious with a great texture, but almost too salty (not too salty to prevent me from stealing another bite!).

Since there was no entree with kalua pig (since when is braised lamb shank with brussels sprout white bean cassoulet Hawaiian - fusion or not?), I went for da kine Hawaii Kai style beef short ribs ($26.95). Wonderful (thanks chef!).

These did not disappoint, and where the kalua pig could almost not be found, there was plenty of the beef to go around. Granted, the scoop rice and scoop mac salad was replaced by Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and almost no veggies (the Hawaiians would be proud), but they were quite yummy, so I can live with that, no problem.

We ended the meal with Roy's Melting Hot Chocolate Souffle and coffee, both of which were excellent.

For entrees, you'll run mid-$20 range to nearly $40, plus appetizer, salad, dessert (you do not want to miss the souffle), and drinks (or the mai tai).

Forget the Hawaiian - evidently the sea breeze doesn't reach this far inland and evaporates before it can get out here to Rancho Mirage, playground of the presidents.

We rated the service as excellent, the food as very good, with some flaws and some places where it stood out, the atmosphere as very good though more upscale Asian than Hawaiian, and the value as average as it really seemed you were paying a bit more than would be reasonable for this kind of corporate chain establishment with no view, right on the highway.

Will we be back? Perhaps. Most likely for happy hour, drinks and a salad, or the souffle.I know Roy Yamaguchi is a James Beard Award-winner, and that heritage shows at Roy's. But like other chefs (Wolfgang Puck comes to mind) who have expanded their vision into a chain of restaurants - 31 of them in this case - something that may have been their initial creative spark of genius, gets reduced to other chefs (often with other visions of their own) translating that vision, and something seems to get lost in the process.

While Roy's is overall a good dining experience (if not a great value), it isn't exceptional, and that's one reason we'll continue to turn to independent restaurants where the chef is putting out his or her own vision (sometimes for better, sometimes not), and where the spark hasn't been lost somewhere amidst the corporate growth.

Roy's Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine
71959 Highway 111
Rancho Mirage, CA 92270
(760)340-9044
Sunday-Thursday: 5-9 p.m.
Friday & Saturday: 5-10 p.m.
Aloha Hour: Nightly, 4:30-6:30 p.m.

Food+Drink dining restaurant coachella valley roys rancho mirage hawaiian fusion aloha hour yamaguchi highway 111 mai tai souffle
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