October 18, 2021


Simply The Best Food

2020 Hale ‘Aina Award Winner: Rigo Named Finest New Cafe in Hawai‘i


Picture: Olivier Koning



“This spot was dark, it appeared kind of unfortunate,” says Atsushi Iwasa, general supervisor at Rigo. “We felt we ought to make anything in listed here. Make this area extra content.” The room on Kapahulu Avenue experienced been boarded up and desolate for about a year following Genki Sushi departed in 2017. Rigo crammed it with light-weight and luxurious, punching out walls and permitting sunlight stream in by way of flooring-to-ceiling home windows, creating chartreuse leather banquettes alongside the glass and tucking turquoise onyx tabletops into cozy corners. The opulence extends into the kitchen, with the flashy purple-mosaic tiled Stefano Ferrara oven—handmade by a 3rd-era oven maker in Naples, Italy—and the decidedly more understated, but just as costly, Josper charcoal oven and grill from Spain, possible the only 1 in the point out. With it, Rigo’s chef, Masa Yoda, pairs distinct cigarette smoking chips with diverse proteins, these kinds of as the daring taste of mesquite with lamb chops and the a lot more delicate cherry wooden for fish and scallops.


“Be a candle, or the night time,” reported one more Yoda. Rigo selected light, and it was this exact same wondering that compelled Rigo to pretty much double its menu throughout a pandemic that hit much less than a year soon after it opened. Whilst other places to eat contracted, Rigo expanded its choices and stayed open 7 days a 7 days, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.


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From remaining: front supervisor Jimmy Otake, chef Masa Yoda and Atsushi Iwasa. Photo: Olivier Koning



“Alot of locations are reducing menus,” says front manager Jimmy Otake. “We recognize that. But we believed it would be superior for the shoppers if they experienced extra merchandise and new goods because they’ve been locked down, seeking to go out but couldn’t. We constantly consider in the customer’s issue of check out, creating choices. That is a single of the company’s philosophies.” Japanese restaurant group Enormous owns Rigo and about 30 eating places, mainly in Tokyo. (In a Japan These days job interview, Large founder and CEO Yoshihiro Shinkawa suggests he arrived up with the restaurant group’s title following viewing the browsing motion picture Significant Wednesday. “I try to remember just one character hunting up at the significant waves and calling them big. It just stuck with me,” he reported.) Its 10 corporation values, translated from Japanese, are printed out on a posterboard tacked in close proximity to the kitchen area. 1 of them is: “Do not hammer the nail that sticks out. Extend IT OUT!” And so, though Massive operates 11 Rigo places to eat in Tokyo, all 11 menus are distinctive. “Our CEO doesn’t want to make a chain,” Otake says. “People lose fascination in chain restaurants. It does not make you energized. That is why he helps make them all different so you have a distinct expertise in every 1.”


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Seafood paella. Picture: Olivier Koning



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Chilled pasta with Hokkaido scallops and bok choy dressed in soy sauce and sesame oil. Picture: Olivier Koning



When each Rigo has a foundation menu of pizzas, pastas and tapas, this sort of as the Spanish tortilla and marinara pizza with garlic, anchovy and oregano, Yoda produces his individual dishes. This, combined with a restlessness during the pandemic, resulted in a slew of new goods, such as little plates of marinated eel in saor, a Venetian sweet and sour preparation grilled sirloin with foie gras and braised daikon a cicinielli pizza topped with fried, little fish.


SEE ALSO: Rigo Serves Spanish and Italian Dishes and A single of the Most effective Spending budget Wine Menus Close to


But like Rigo’s interior—where you can brunch in the sunny open dining room, dine in the intimate wood-paneled lounge or obtain in a previous lender vault remodeled into a moody private space that’s come to be far more preferred in pandemic days—there are dishes for all needs. Want Italian that leans conventional? Get a vintage margherita pizza or a a bit spicy arrabbiata tomato sauce tangled with smoky mozzarella and clean spaghetti from Onda Pasta, Honolulu’s have Roman pasta-maker. Want Italian-Japanese? There’s a chilled pasta with Hokkaido scallops and bok choy dressed in soy sauce and sesame oil, and a yellowtail crudo glowing with shaved fennel and yuzu kosho. There are even Spanish flavors with Japanese touches, as in croquetas, fried balls of mashed potato and chorizo sprinkled with black sesame salt, but also Spanish played straight in the kind of a comforting nevertheless gorgeous Kaua‘i shrimp and seafood paella. And dishes that emerge from the charcoal oven never come to feel tied to any particular cuisine, marrying the pretty much universal adore of grilled food items in the form of a pork chop, kissed with the scent of hickory chips, and meaty and juicy to its core.


When Huge opened its 1st cafe in 2005, Italian foods was common in Japan, but Spanish virtually nonexistent. Shinkawa, Huge’s CEO, decided to blend the two cuisines, like a superstar shining her star electric power on an missed expertise. It appeared to function, presented how many Rigos are now in Tokyo—and so it built sense that for Huge’s to start with cafe outside the house of Japan, it would export Rigo to Honolulu, a area with a Spanish restaurant landscape as barren as Tokyo’s the moment was. Huge purposely avoided Waikīkī since “we preferred to concentrate on the locals—being aspect of the group is the major section of opening a restaurant,” Otake says. And for all the converse of luxurious, Rigo Honolulu leans economical. Most dishes are less than $20, and extremely few crack $30. Its wine record offers intriguing wines by the glass for under $10 and bottles below $30. With its something-for-almost everything come to feel, Rigo is reflective of Substantial as a business.


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Colorado lamb chops. Image: Olivier Koning



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Photograph: Olivier Koning



Since the initially Rigo, Massive has opened a slew of other concepts, including Thai Vietnamese and contemporary Mexican, and even a distillery and espresso roaster, as well as New American restaurants serving fried rooster, deviled eggs and club sandwiches, along with kefta meatballs, poke and salade nicoise. When perusing Huge’s menus, which include Rigo’s, inquiries bubble up: Where by do cuisines commence and stop? Will their lines become obsolete, even, as globalization carries on to accelerate, pandemic be damned? Tradition, much too, is at any time shifting, even in a position as notoriously shut as Japan. Huge’s restaurants go versus Japanese stereotypes of restraint, of minimal choice, of generations devoting their lives to a single craft. Big suggests that Japan doesn’t just aspiration of sushi, but also of spectacle—Rigo Honolulu is spare when compared to Huge’s other dining establishments in Japan, which call to head Vegas’ maximalism. At Rigoletto in Shibuya, Tokyo, an overall wine cellar is suspended from the ceiling at Hacienda del Cielo, an undulating chandelier is modeled soon after a Mayan snake deity.


SEE ALSO: 2020 Hale &lsquoAina Award Winners: The Finest Restaurants in Hawai‘i


Even for his company’s philosophy, Shinkawa attracts inspiration from American-style services: At Huge’s dining places, servers seem about a table from commencing to end, as opposed to the Japanese personalized, in which servers operate the complete flooring, not tied to ideas nor any 1 desk. Price No. 4—“Hospitality is becoming equipped to exchange eye speak to, smiles, and hugs”—is taken from American restaurateur Danny Meyer’s playbook. The aforementioned value No. 7, the 1 about stretching out nails that stick out, goes in opposition to Japanese convention, but is ingrained into Enormous. In current decades, Japan has grow to be famous for emulating cultural touchstones, every little thing from American denims to Scotch whisky to French pastries, arguably surpassing the originals even. Now, it’s as if Huge is tackling a thing a great deal additional sophisticated and abstract: American hospitality.


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Rigatoni bolognese. Image: Olivier Koning



Born in Niigata, Shinkawa was elevated in the food items sector. He started out operating in his parents’ cafe when he was a boy, joined Suntory when he was 18 and then World Eating, just one of Japan’s most well known cafe groups. Its cafe Gonpachi in Tokyo hosted President George W. Bush and was the product for the izakaya in Get rid of Monthly bill, while its La Boheme in Los Angeles, opened in 1991, continues to be well known today. As Shinkawa rose from a busboy to COO, Otake claims he turned identified as the “god of company.” After 22 a long time at Worldwide Eating, he left to start out Large, instilling principles culled from his ordeals operating internationally.


Otake insists that Substantial even now embodies components of Japanese tradition, nonetheless. The company’s philosophy features two phrases: hyakunen hinshitsu and machi no shisan, or “100 a long time of quality” and “asset to the metropolis.” Rigo might be one of Honolulu’s newest and brightest eating places in an ever-shifting landscape manufactured even more unstable by the pandemic, but Otake claims: “We don’t want to open eating places for a shorter time period of time and change places. Like a papa-mama cafe in your neighborhood and a restaurant that locals appreciate, we want to be just one of the features to construct a community, which in the extended run gets to be an asset to the community.” It’s probably this ideology that guides Rigo absent from the gimmicky choices of other new places to eat and toward refreshing dishes rooted in old cuisines, a philosophy that extends to its interior structure, which feels at the same time novel and basic. Rigo satisfies our twin wants for pleasure and also comfort—needs that will eternally be with us. And, Substantial hopes, Rigo will be, too.


885 Kapahulu Ave., (808) 35-9760, rigohawaii.com