Monday, August 11, 2008

Roy's Hawaiian Fusion

Julie working the line.

While eating seasoned crustaceans on the Magothy Crab Deck, Kate and I got into a discussion about Hawaiian fresh fish. Specifically, that I should take Roy D's boat, go fishing and bring the fish back home with me. A nice idea but a logistical nightmare - especially when it's relatively easy me to order fish shipped overnight from Hawaii. Just a few phone calls and that ahi tuna will be here tomorrow, but it won't be cheap.

As our discussion progressed to types of fishes available in Hawaii, one of them pushed to the front of the line: the butterfish. What does it taste like? Well, that's an easy fix. We'll just go over to Roy's later.

Which is how we found ourselves at Roy's on a Sunday night after lunch at Magothy Seafood and early evening cheesesteak at Jeno's. As expected at 8pm, the house was bustling. Both the Chef Rey, and his sous Mike are friends of mine. In fact, I've known Mike for over fifteen years. He's a recent addition to the lineup here at Roy's but neither of them are anywhere in sight.

Maryland Crab & Smoked Salmon Roll - smoked salmon wrapped around blue crab with dill creme fraiche.

I called Mike to ask where he was. Of course, the one night I do come in to eat, both of them are off. Happily, Kate spots Julie working the line so we at least know one person here as we take a couple of seats at the bar fronting the theatre-style kitchen.

Kate's in the mood for "bubbles" and we start off with a round of Domaine Chandon Rose. Since we've been eating non-stop for the past six hours, our intention is to order a couple of dishes to share and sample the flavors. I don't know if Mike called the house or not but within minutes, a couple of appetizers "courtesy of the chef" arrive, along with a bowl of edamame.

The sushi roll of Maryland Crab and smoked salmon was good. A nice balance between the two, along with some sort of crunchiness that we couldn't identify. The steamed pork dumplings were wrapped in a green wrapper that I thought about pondering more but didn't. They were pretty good too.

Steamed Pork & Seafood Dumplings - firecracker dipping sauce.

Had this been another occasion where we hadn't been eating for hours on end, we would have torn through the apps with reckless abandon. But since we had been eating non-stop, we needed to properly pace ourselves for this chapter of our journey.

Next up was the Ahi Poketini, a melange of minced yellowfin tuna, caviar and avocado. To be honest, I'm a poke hog. I love poke. I can't get enough. Give me a big tub of ahi poke and a bowl of steamed rice and I'm very, very happy. For me, my favorite poke is fresh chopped tuna, sliced white onion, a little garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil all mixed together. Roy's version is much more upscale with caviar for saltiness and truffle oil in place of sesame, with the avocado and creme fraiche adding some body and creaminess. It's nice, it's fancy but, as I told Kate, it is in need of a liberal application of soy sauce.

Drizzle a bit of soy sauce and, ah, much better. While the truffle oil is cool and all that, at heart I'm still a Hawaiian food traditionalist.


For our main course, we went with the misoyaki butterfish. Years ago, when Roy's first opened, I used to dine there a lot. If not bi-weekly, then at least once a month. I got to know much of the management and staff back in 2001 and 2002. Then I had an experience there with an assistant manager that just confounded me when he told a dining companion that she should not come to a seafood restaurant expecting to eat steak. Granted, this girl was a difficult, demanding Southern Belle Mess who tried our patience all the time, but I couldn't oblige a manager who stood there insulting a customer and insulting his own establishments' food at the same time. I didn't go back for several years.

Throughout that time, the butterfish was one of our favorite dishes. It's rich, creamy and buttery texture is just beautiful and it's covered in a miso slash teriyaki glaze that just compliments it perfectly. The butterfish is definitely the highlight of Roy's menu and this one didn't disappoint. True, the glaze was thinner and drier than I remember, but the texture of the fish was still there. And layered on steamed white rice satisfies my most basic carnal desires (okay, well maybe not exactly carnal).

Big Island Ahi Poketini - wasabi sour cream, avocado & tobiko caviar.

While the butterfish was good, I couldn't help but think that it wasn't as good as I remembered it. Something was missing, I thought. But couldn't it just be that I've hyped the memory in my mind so much that the reality couldn't possibly be the same? Without a doubt.

Sitting there with someone like Kate makes for interesting conversation. Most of my friends think it's cool to watch a kitchen in action, but a pro like Kate can actually appreciate the activity. We could watch and figure out their flow, fascinated by how different and equipped their kitchen is from the one in which she toils. Is that the same rainbow trout special that was sitting there thirty minutes ago? Nah, the imperial crab filling is shaped differently than the one we saw on order earlier. Not that it would have bothered either of us.

Hawaiian Style Misoyaki Butterfish - chinese sizzling soy vinaigrette.

Of all the menu items, the chocolate souffle is my brother's favorite. It's on his "must have" list whenever he eats here. Kate's a chocolate lover, so it was on our list as well. The souffle takes twenty minutes to cook and we told our server at the outset that we were going to order that. Why he wanted to wait until after tbe butterfish to ask our order and fire it was beyond my understanding.

Service wasn't bad. In fact, it was pretty good - with the exception of the very scripted sounding approach describing the menu and the specials that pushed us towards the most expensive items, not to mention the rather brusque manner in which our plates were cleared.

Roy's Melting Hot Chocolate Souffle - flourless chocolate cake with a molten hot center served a la mode.

Finally the souffle came and it was pretty good. Wish I could say it Rocked Our World because these guys are my friends, but it was good. Nicely executed but it wasn't one of those dishes I couldn't help myself from eating. Of course, it could be that we had been eating non-stop all day...

720 B Aliceanna Street
Baltimore MD 21202

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