A Hearty Meal At Roy’s New Tavern

The Tavern at Princeville general manager Don Jimenez (right) and Lani Watson serve dessert to Lincoln Gill

I’ve always been a fan of Roy Yamaguchi’s restaurants since I first tasted the acclaimed Hawaii chef’s version of Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine. So I was excited to try his new concept, The Tavern at Princeville, but I didn’t know what to expect. Roy’s in a tavern atmosphere?

What I found was a menu full of hearty, stick-to-your ribs dishes including buttermilk fried chicken, beef stew and half-pound burgers, served downstairs in the Prince Golf Clubhouse with its huge half moon-shaped windows that provide breathtaking views of the ocean and the North Shore’s lush mountain ranges.

There also are nightly specials, most of which are similar to what you would find at a more formal Roy’s restaurant, so you can experience the best of both worlds in one casual dining environment.

The Tavern, which opened Sept. 23, is the first of its kind, created by Yamaguchi in memory of his summers spent playing as a child in his grandfather’s tavern in Wailuku, Maui, explains Don Jimenez, The Tavern’s general manager. If the Kaua’i restaurant does well, he adds, the concept might be replicated elsewhere.

The feel of the restaurant is, as my boyfriend Lincoln says, “taverny” – lively people engaged in conversation with each other, enjoying the food, the views and most of all, each other.

“About 65 percent of our crowd is locals,” says Jimenez, a local himself who first came to Kaua’i 40 years ago to surf and has remained on the North Shore ever since.

I found it wonderful to spot quite a number of people I knew, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years.

Grilled lamb T-bones

The menu, developed by Tavern chef Sabre Kennedy and corporate chef Jackie Lau, is an eclectic variety of comfort food that changes every couple days, Jimenez says. There also is lighter fare, including salads, flat breads, daily soup specials and sides of veggies. There are no fish dishes on the regular menu, but Jimenez says there are usually two fish specials every day.

Menu prices are quite reasonable for the portions and quality, averaging $9 for appetizers; $13 for salads or burgers, $25 for entrees and $8 for desserts. Beer and wine range from $4 to $15 per glass; wine by the bottle also is available. Refreshing cocktails, such as the Guava Lemonade made with Old Lahaina light rum, Cruzan guava rum, fresh lemon juice and a splash of Sprite, cost $10.

The portions are filling. As one diner patted her stomach on her way out past our table, she remarked, “It’s a lotta food.”

Most of The Tavern’s food products are purchased locally, and those unavailable on Kaua’i are procured from small family operations as much as possible, Jimenez says.

The Tavern also has its own quarter-acre permaculture organic garden tended primarily by server Adam Young and restaurant manager Walter Beaver, who spend 15 to 20 hours per week taking care of it. Customers are welcome to tour the garden, Beaver says.

How does their garden grow? With spinach, kale, tatsoi, arugula, radishes, daikon, tomatoes, eggplant, fennel, dill and much more.

“We try to feature the things we are harvesting on specials. The chef hasn’t had to order herbs for a month,” Beaver says proudly.

Upon entering The Tavern, we were greeted warmly by several servers wearing shirts with the Tavern’s motto, “Good Food & Drink,” which is definitely truth in advertising. When we were seated, a 5-foot-tall daily specials board was placed alongside our table.

The Tavern is a fun, casual place for hearty, home-style food and spending time with friends and is popular with locals

We began with the special of ahi poke, $16. Perfectly seasoned and true to Roy’s quality, the fish melted in our mouths. Our server, Kaua’i girl Lani Watson, also brought us a sample of pupus including the most flavorful hummus I have ever tasted topped with fried chickpeas, and several pates and flat breads. All were a delicious and light beginning to our meal.

I ordered a $5 glass of champagne, wondering what I would get for $5, and found it was quite nice: sweet and smooth. That Roy’s would offer such a great value gave me a warm feeling, literally and figuratively.

We loved the mushroom asparagus soup with Dungeness crab and curry crème fraiche, $9, another special that night. The flavor of each ingredient came out and perfectly blended with all the others.

I ordered the ahi katsu for my entrée, $33, a high-quality piece of fish served with the most wonderful fried rice I’ve ever had. Must’ve been something about the maple bacon and Portuguese sausage in it that did the trick. I tried to balance out the oils with a healthy and very flavorful side of caramelized cauliflower, $7, ordered off the menu.

Lincoln had the grilled lamb T-bones, $28 – three remarkably meaty T-bones served atop two crispy polenta cakes, local mushroom ragout and mint-tomato jus. Lincoln absolutely loved this dish, exclaiming no less than four times while devouring it, “I definitely would have this again!” Watch the nightly specials board for its reappearance.

Of course, we were filled to the gills by this point but felt it was mandatory to try out the desserts. We highly recommend the Red Velvet Parfait, a cream cheese mousse with crunchy streusel and sweet berries for $7. It was a perfect ending to a wonderfully hearty and satisfying meal.

We will return for more good food, drink and friends.

The Tavern at Princeville is open with a bar menu from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and its full dinner menu from 5 to 9:30 p.m. A lunch menu is in the works. Call 826-8700.

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