By Diane Ako
Park Restaurant, which my friends and I tried for the first time last fall, has a new executive chef, Yoichi Saito, who brings with him a new style of delicious, inventive cuisine.
I'd heard lots of good things about the restaurant after it opened last August. Located in The Lotus Honolulu, overlooking historic Kapiolani Park and majestic Diamond Head, it originally offered a Mediterranean menu. However, with Chef Saito now at the helm in the kitchen, Park will feature his “New American Urban Cuisine with an Asian Influence.”
“Great food has no nationality,” says Chef Saito. “New American is really a mix of the traditional with the influences of the various cultures around us mixed in.”
Coming from an eclectic culinary background has given Chef Saito the mindset that ignoring cultural boundaries in food preparation is the only way to produce truly inspirational and outstanding cuisine.
Chef Saito’s regular menu includes items such as freshly-baked flat breads, Jim Beam-Truffle Mac & Cheese, Japanese-Memphis Ribs, Hanger Steak Satay, Sous Vide Pork Belly, Red Wine Braised Lamb Shank, Chicken Two Ways, Soy Glazed Grilled Ahi, Misoyaki Salmon, excellent side dishes – Saito’s Brussel Sprouts with dried tart cherries, kalua bacon and lemon have been a huge hit! – and scrumptious desserts. The menu is also evolving, and there will be seasonal and special tasting menus offered throughout the year.
Chef Saito has decades of experience in both Japan and the U.S. He started cooking at the age of 16, focusing on Osechi-ryori, traditional Japanese foods to celebrate the New Year. After that he was hooked, and entered the Tsuji Cooking Academy in Osaka, one of the most prestigious culinary institutions in Japan. There, he studied French, Italian, Chinese and Japanese cuisines, as well as confectionaries. Chef Saito is a very adept pastry chef, and creates beautiful and tasty Japanese confections, as well.
From 1989 through 2000, Chef Saito worked at the Hilton Osaka Hotel (banquets, French cuisine), Kappou Kasagi in Osaka (sushi and traditional Japanese cuisine), Hananoren in Tokyo (French-Asian fusion), La Rochelle (Iron Chef Hiroyuki Sakai’s French restaurant in Tokyo), and Angelo, also in Tokyo (French-Italian fusion), where he was executive chef.
In 2000, Chef Saito moved to the U.S. and was the executive chef at Wasabina, a Japanese-Italian fusion restaurant, in New York. During his time there, Wasabina received outstanding reviews from The New York Times and other local publications for their delicious, distinctive cuisine.
In 2002, Chef Saito was recruited by actor Joe Pantaliano to work as head chef at his Asian fusion restaurant (French-Thai-Vietnamese), Bamboo Café Bar, in Norwalk, Connecticut. After two years and positive reviews, Chef Saito moved to Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s V Steakhouse in NY .
From 2004-2008, Chef Saito was the chef de cuisine, and then the executive sous chef, at Roy’s at Pebble Beach, CA. Chosen by Chef Roy Yamaguchi as the representative chef from Roy’s, Chef Saito was invited to participate in the 1st Annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine culinary event in 2008, where his cuisine was praised for its flavor and inventiveness.
In 2009, Chef Saito returned to the East Coast to open his own restaurant, Saito, in Greenwich, CT, where he enjoyed excellent reviews, success, and a very loyal following for five years. One of his programs was a tasting menu offered to only ten patrons, which proved so popular the seats were sold out well in advance. Chef Saito hopes to start a similar program at Park this year.
"We’re honored and excited about having Chef Saito on board as our executive chef,” said John Henry Felix, Managing Partner. “After starting during a busy holiday season and a sold-out New Year’s Eve, Chef Saito has really created a stir in culinary circles, making Park the hot new place for exceptional food. All of us at Park look forward to introducing Chef Saito’s cuisine to many new patrons this year!”