Fans of Wong’s cooking would likely stage a protest had he not included the wildly popular Richard Ha’s Whole Tomato Salad on Amasia’s menu. The chef expertly poaches and peels a perfectly ripened, bright red orb, surrounds it with thin cucumber slices, then perches it on an insanely delicious, remarkably sweet and savory li hing mui dressing.
Wong has repeated another dish with a cult following among his O‘ahu clientele: the soup and sandwich. It’s as far from the classic deli lunch combo as it gets – fresh yellow and red tomato purees locked in embrace inside a martini glass, topped with parmesan crisp upon which sits a mini grilled cheese bedecked with kalua pork and smeared with an all-important wisp of foie gras.
In these signature items from his established menus, Chef shows us where he’s coming from, but Amasia differs in many ways from Wong’s other dining spots. First, the interior is unique, with dual sushi bars, a robata grill, tatami rooms and a dining pavilion floating above a stream that winds through the restaurant’s interior. You’d have to fly to the Land of the Rising Sun to experience a more convincing Japanese decor, yet this is not a strictly Japanese restaurant. So what is it?
“This is essentially a resort restaurant,” Wong points out, “so we created a menu that allows people to dine here three or four times in a week and have a different experience each time.”
The majority of items on the menu are served as small plates and meant to be shared. The concept is similar to tapas in Spain, mezza in the Middle East and izakayas in Japan. “You know how people enjoy hanging out with friends at a backyard barbecue, having a bite of this, a sample of that. . . . That’s the idea here,” Wong explains.
The extensive appetizer menu is inspired by global classics, yet each dish displays the chef’s handiwork, be it a touch of whimsy, an unexpected sensory delight, or a decidedly Hawaiian interpretation of a standard. Take a peek into Chef’s passport with a taste of loukanika sausage, served at the robata grill, spiced with cardamom and Greek yogurt. Ahi stands in for veal in Wong’s novel reinvention of the Italian standard, aptly retitled “meatballs with angry sauce.” Order a plate of marinated Spanish olives and you’ll be surprised by a chorus of li hing mui harmonizing with the savory fermented fruits.
During a turn as guest chef in Peru, Wong became familiar with leche de tigre, a ceviche marinade purported to be both aphrodisiac and hangover cure. He’s made the citrusy, chili-infused melange all his own by substituting Japanese yuzu for the lime in “tiger’s milk,” into which he drops raw uni (sea urchin) and serves it in a shot glass.
In Wong’s hands even an ordinary dish such as maki roll – spiced tuna – is innovative, with crispy potatoes a replacement for the usual rice, while the lomi lomi salmon roll is graced with elegant tomato-water gelee, elevating the lu‘au staple into a sublime snack. A tom yam kung roll is the clever chef’s sushi-fied version of the famed Thai soup.
The chef’s cooking evolution also explains the title of his latest endeavor. Amasia is the name scientists gave to the supercontinent that will form 50 to 100 million years from now, if (as plate tectonics suggest) Asia and North America merge into one.
Wong has wisely assembled a pedigreed staff for his new showcase. Their combined dossiers read like a Who’s Who of the culinary world. Chef de cuisine Chris Damskey has worked with Jean-Georges Vongerichten; sushi chef Jeff Ramsey trained with Jose Andres in Washington, D.C; and sous chef Dee Ann Tsurumaki formerly headed up the Felix Restaurant at the renowned Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong.
Together, Wong and his team have created an innovative dining experience where guests can discover many of the best flavors of world cuisine right here at the epicenter of the approaching transcontinental merger – Maui, Hawai‘