Archive for the ‘Food & Drink’ Category

Culinary Cocktail Collaboration

March 2nd, 2016

Something told me it might not be a good idea to pursue a Q&A with famed chef Chris Kajioka and multi-award winning bartender Justin Park about their upcoming event March 26th at Park's new Bar Leather Apron. I've been to that new place, and it's very small. While it's clearly one of the greatest cocktail lounges to open since Bevy, adding the James Beard "Rising Star" nominee to the already elevated experience means no way we're getting a seat.

Learning that Chef Kajioka is nearing completion on a Chinatown (!!!!!) restaurant has the entire city - foodies or not - up in arms to try it. Many of us weren't in the 1% that could afford enjoying his cuisine when he was at Vintage Cave. I was lucky enough to know someone, and when it was so good that I had to go back as a paying customer, I had saved up for two months to do it. It was so worth it.

These two gentlemen are highly regarded for good reason; they are very talented at their craft. I'll still run the Q&A they took time from their busy schedules to send back to me over e-mail because there IS a waiting list for the event! Don't delay in reaching out! Or (better yet) expect to see more collaborations with Park and Kajioka once SENIA opens this spring.

Justin Bar, lead bartender & co-owner, Bar Leather Apron; photo courtesy Bar Leather Apron Chris Kajioka, executive chef & co-owner, SENIA; photo courtesy SENIA

Justin Bar, lead bartender & co-owner, Bar Leather Apron; photo courtesy Bar Leather Apron
Chris Kajioka, executive chef & co-owner, SENIA; photo courtesy SENIA

How did you two meet?

Justin: We were introduced by my business partner Tom Park, who is an Iolani grad along with Chris.

Chris: Tom and I went to the same high school and have many mutual friends. We also share the love for great food and wine.

When/how did you come up with the idea to collaborate?

Justin: Tom and I had the idea to do periodic collaborative events with local chefs, both established and up-and-coming. We both love good food, so why not?

Chris: We have always wanted to do something together since Bar Leather Apron opened. I admire Justin and his craft. It came together very easily, knowing we wanted to showcase a charity.

Would you say the culinary/cocktail community has grown or held steady these past 5 years?

Justin: Absolutely, it’s grown. There’s a lot more awareness and knowledge by consumers about cocktails and spirits. I’ve definitely noticed more of a willingness to try new things.

Chris: It has grown tremendously over the past five years. This is a very exciting time to be in the restaurant and bar industry in Hawaii. There are a lot of like-minded passionate people who are proud of where they come from.

Who are some of the people that influence you and your work?

Justin: My guests. When they are excited to try new things, or if they have experienced other great cocktails around the world and are excited to share their experiences.

Chris: My peers inspire and influence me, as well as my mentors whom I learned from. My son, Cade, is also a huge motivating factor for me. Total game changer.

What would be your dream collaboration if money was no issue (with who and where):

Justin: I would love to do a pop-up or guest bartending stint at Bar K, Tom’s and my favorite bar in Osaka. To experience the Japanese bar culture first hand and to see how the Japanese guests react would be amazing.

Chris: It would be in Tokyo! I would want to cook with Chef Hideki Ishikawa and Chef Joel Robuchon—I admire both of these chefs. Their knowledge, expertise of craft and true sense of what hospitality is inspires me.

Justin, have you ever paired cocktails with someone/something so exquisite!

No, but I did do an event with Chris at Leather Soul Downtown for their guests. It was great to work alongside such a talent!

Chris, those lucky enough to try your cuisine know you make best use of many different types of tastes and textures. Is there anything you would like to share for this upcoming menu?
There’s nothing fussy. I just want to make some delicious bites and have fun. It’s really not about us, it’s for the charity.

What are you most looking forward to about this event - working together? The public's response? Being able to give to the children's cancer center? All of the above? Something else? What is the MOST exciting part about this (it's all so exciting to me!)

Justin: I’m very excited to be working together with Chris. I respect what he has done so far tremendously, and am so excited to see what he does next at Restaurant SENIA! When Tom told me about Hawaii Children’s Cancer Foundation, it was a no-brainer. HCCF is such a great cause, and I am honored to be working for them.

Chris: I love collaborating with people I admire, so it will be great working with Justin and Tom and their amazing staff. I very rarely go to bars, but I really love Bar Leather Apron. Reminds me of the great bars in Japan! The main motivation was the charity. My wife’s sister passed away at a young age from cancer, so it really hits home. Children with cancer puts a lot into perspective. I am happy to give my time.

Event details (or is it already sold out? I'm guessing it's already sold out.....) otherwise it's just reservations via email yes?

We are sold out at this time, but accepting waiting list requests via

The unseen bar scene

September 25th, 2013

I love that my close friend and fellow Honolulu Pulse blogger Derin Derego mentioned his favorite under-the-radar spots last week. There must be something going on that had both of us thinking the same thing at the same precise time. It’s not like we ever really get tired of being at all the scene-y, be-seen scene spots, really.

For as much emphasis as we put on the “place to be” it’s a thousand times more cool to find your own spot. Derin called it “under the radar,” but I think it's more like “neighborhoody.” The bars where you can go by yourself, sit at the bar, talk story with the bartender and trust them to come up with a cocktail that might suit your mood. For people who have to be "switched on" for most of their day, heading to one of these hidden gems where the quality of service is truly valued can be the best way to unwind.

Restaurant & Bar Manager & Mixologist Dave Minch with some (not all) of his infused vodkas at Sway Restaurant & Bar (Courtesy of Christa Wittmier)

Dave Minch with some (not all) of his infused vodkas at Sway Restaurant & Bar (Courtesy Christa Wittmier)

Under normal circumstances, I would never put spots like this on blast — and you can bet there are a few others I will never reveal. It’s too precious to have such greatness without worrying about hundreds of others being keen on it as well. Try to grab a barstool at Bevy or Pint & Jigger after work any night they are open and you know exactly what I mean.

As impossible as Waikiki is for a townie like me, I was pleasantly surprised after plopping down at the bar at Sway to overhear someone asking the bartender how many infusions he was working on.

“Eight” he answered, pulling jar after jar of different colored liquids from a fridge under the bar.


The bartender was also bar manager Dave Minch, who watches over the spot tucked neatly away in chic boutique hotel Stay. The location is very neighborhoody for Waikiki, behind the Hyatt Regency Waikiki and next to Wang Chung’s. You pretty much need to work or live nearby to get there.

I happened to be in the area and was able to walk over. Watching condensation drip down the ice-cold bottles of Minch’s infused vodkas, I was very happy about this.

Minch said the pistachio macadamia nut was a popular choice, along with the very mixable orange-lime-pear. He had a pineapple-strawberry-habanero and a blackberry-vanilla bean, too. Most people order these straight up or on the rocks, but some of the vodkas offer endless mixing possibilities. If you decide to check him out, ask about his holiday infusions (including peppermint stick and pumpkin).

The lobby bar in the Hilton Waikiki Beach has music nightly and drinks that are less than $5 during Happy Hour (Courtesy Christa Wittmier)

The lobby bar at the Hilton Waikiki Beach offers live music nightly and drinks under $5 during happy hour. (Christa Wittmier)

Forget about finding parking if you visit Sway, but around the corner you can valet at the Hilton Waikiki Beach hotel on Kuhio Ave. (where you park to visit Mac 24/7). They have a fantastic bar in the lobby with live music nightly from 6 to 9 p.m., but also offer affordable drinks during their happy hour from 5 to 7 p.m. $3 for a beer in Waikiki with live music sounds pretty good to me. The music comes from award winning musicians including Sunway, Johnny Helm and the Pushoverse.

Live music is also back at the old W Honolulu, now known as Lotus Honolulu. The Park Restaurant is the same space you might remember, but updated with a couch area by the windows for guests to come in and enjoy music with cocktails without having to order a full dinner.

Dinner here, by the way, is fantastic. Young and talented executive chef Michael Collantes has an incredibly fun menu of interesting flatbreads and eclectic vegetable dishes I loved, including a fried curry cauliflower and crack-like brussell sprouts.

Check their website for the music schedule, as they are planning out October now.

Oh, wow. I can’t believe it’s already October. October means HIFF among other things. It’s definitely time for busy on a whole new level.

I’m ready.


Christa Wittmier has chronicled Honolulu nightlife since 2004. She is senior marketing director at Young's Market Co. of Hawaii and executive director of music for POW! WOW! Hawaii, and also helps promote the popular "Bacardi Pool Party" on Oahu. Contact her via e-mail or follow her on Twitter.

Recent Posts

Recent Comments