When I got on the plane headed to Disneyland last Friday, having a fantastic dining experience was at the bottom of the list of my expectations for the weekend. I would have put securing a starring role in a major Hollywood motion picture above finding a great restaurant. True to my anticipations, the food at Disneyland — with the exception of a few episodes rising to the pinnacle of mediocrity — was, in a word, appalling.
Being at a loss as to where to have dinner, I punched up Yelp, a site I famously turn to as a last resort for recommendations. The first four hits, I kid you not, were for snack carts in the Disney park. Since we weren’t going to wade through merry makers to eat pretzels, I picked a place that had extremely favorable reviews, Roy’s Hawaiin Fusion Cuisine, despite being seriously turned off by the name. My concerns were not warded off by the tiki torches blazing in front of the restaurant.
My wife and I were already nervous as the kids had been going at it hard all day in the park, and as if on queue our three-year old lost it the moment we walked through the door. This is a scene that will send most hostesses reeling, but ours that night stood undaunted. With grace befitting a saint, she showed us to our table, thrashing toddler in tow.
Micheal Ruhlman’s marvelous book The Making of a Chef has many lessons, but none for me more memorable than if the front of house is to make parents happy, they need to make the kids happy, a lesson that Roy’s has made central to their experience. Our waiter positively doted on our three kids and they soaked it up. Each child was served an assortment of snackables while we perused the menu, quesadillas, celery, and fruit, a brilliant strategy because hungry kids are fussy kids. When the six year old mentioned offhandedly to us that she might like some more, her plate was replenished unprompted seconds later.
A frequent complaint we have for kids menus at restaurants, even ones that are otherwise amazing, is that the food from them is phoned in, littered with perfunctory vegetables or, worse, featuring hot dogs with ketchup, but not so with Roy’s. My oldest got braised short ribs from the kids menu which were outstanding, particularly bitter for me due to my less than satisfactory preparation of them recently. The sauce was hearty, rich, and had a beautiful clarity that only comes from time and care. I would order these short ribs.
My littlest had penne with cheese sauce that was surprisingly really good, clearly from the use of high quality cheese*. I might also add that she asked for chop sticks with which to eat the pasta and our waiter grinned broadly and handed her a pair without the slightest hesitation.
The restaurant was not just a treat for the kids, but also for the adults. For an appetizer we split the recommended Ekolu Tuna Roll, a trio (yes, I begrudgingly said trio) of tunas with varied preparations, from raw to seared. The quality of any raw tuna preparation is predicated on the freshness of the fish, a factor of obvious concern to the chef at Roy’s. The slightly spicy slightly sweet roll intrigued and delighted.
My wife ordered Thai Basil Pesto Grilled Tiger Shrimp with Asian Gazpacho and Kabocha Squash Dumplings. The shrimp were sweet and perfectly prepared but the real treat in the dish were the dumplings, little pockets of perfectly seasoned squash the exploded flavor when you bite down.
Based on our waiters recommendation, I ordered Hawaiian Style Misoyaki Butterfish. Again, the fish was cooked beautifully as were the accompanying vegetables. I don’t have a lot of experience with Butterfish, but the flavor was amazing, and I managed to escape without the famed orange anal leakage.
We opted for the highly recommended Hot Chocolate Soufflé and Pineapple Upside Down Cake and neither my wife nor my kids nor I were disappointed. I would describe the soufflé more as a chocolate lava cake, and I suspect its name was an attempt to distant it from the oh-so-over trend to serve them, but this did not detract from the desert. Their practice of using the highest quality ingredients continued with the use of exceptional chocolate. The pineapple upside down cake was soft and moist, not suffering from the excessive sweetness that so often cripples this desert.
Once the check came, my wife and I were in a Zen like calm, not having a care in the world. The kids were not antsy as they so often are at the end of dinner, but were chatting delightfully to each other (something I had frankly NEVER seen). Not tempting fate, I ushered the kids out while my wife gushed to the staff about how thrilled we were to have eaten there.
If you are looking for the cutting edge of modern food, then Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine is probably not the place for you. Their food is made with great care and skill, flavorful and delightful but otherwise unremarkable. However, the job of a restaurant first and foremost is to make the customers happy, and Roy’s stands with few others in achieving this so completely.
* Our kids are cheese bigots. When my eldest was four while visiting a friends house, the friend’s mother asked her if she would like some cheese. After an excited “Yes, please!” the mother handed her a Kraft single. She looked at it for a moment and said, with no air of pretension, “I am sorry. I said I would like some cheese.” It is moments likes these that I am filled simultaneously with great pride and horror.