(2007) “Aloha. Welcome to Roy’s.” The hostesses, servers, bartenders—you name it—everyone utters Roy’s Restaurant’s signature greeting about a zillion times a night. Extending hospitality is one big part of the carefully crafted Roy’s experience. Hawaiian fusion cuisine is the other. And since Roy’s may well be the only Hawaiian-fusion eatery outside of the 50th state, the restaurant has plenty of latitude to define itself.
And the definition of Roy’s? Fabulously fresh and inventively prepared seafood, plus a smattering of non-seafood items. Roy’s was initially a hit restaurant in Honolulu. It’s since grown into a chain of 33, fueled by the celebrity of Roy Yamaguchi. His six seasons of Hawaii Cooks with Roy Yamaguchi on PBS provided the perfect platform for growing a restaurant chain.
This is not your usual chain, however. Let me explain: On our last visit to the Roy’s in Naples, we were absolutely giddy over the steak tartare—first, because it’s a dish most restaurants have become gun-shy about, and second, because it was nothing short of splendid. Imagine my dismay on first perusing the Sarasota menu—no steak tartare. I learned that each Roy’s menu is a combination of signature corporate items and creations whipped up by the local restaurant’s chef. In other words, no two menus are alike.
No two décors are alike, either. The interior in Sarasota pops with citrus colors and bold artwork. The open kitchen provides a flurry of activity to observe, and the bar hops with a bright-eyed crowd sipping Hawaiian martinis, which employ fresh pineapple juice, vodka, rum and a modicum of vanilla. Roy’s is definitely the hot place to hang.
Keeping the split personality of the menu in mind, we worked our way through Roy’s signature items along with items Sarasota chef Ryan Kelly has concocted. The wood-grilled Szechuan baby back pork ribs, a signature appetizer, are not to be denied. The ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender and the flavor is a juxtaposition of sweet barbecue with searing Chinese spices. A coating of sesame seeds adds another layer of interest. My only recommendation is that Roy’s should serve these as an entrée. Five ribs are simply not enough.
Lobster pot stickers, served with butter sauce flavored with miso and togarashi, wilted in comparison to the ribs. Don’t eat them together. The pot stickers are delicate and employ subtle flavors; try them instead with the Maine lobster Sarasota roll, another subtle appetizer that relies on texture and freshness. We also ordered the Lakanilau roll, which layers a thin slice of Kobe beef over dynamite crab, asparagus and avocado and delivers a kick of salt and spice. This is another must-have appetizer. The starters range from $6 to $16.
If salad appeals, order the Maui Wowie. This signature dish combines a refreshing medley of tastes—sweet avocado, salty feta cheese and capers, crisp greens and firm shrimp.
The wealth of seafood is almost overwhelming. I had never heard of monchong, a firm white fish that’s prepared “chimichurri.” This is a killer entrée, the fish stacked on a bed of bok choy and lemongrass for a cool yet spicy taste. The starch is a fried vegetable ravioli that oozes cream cheese, while the sauce dotting the plate delivers lemon and garlic.
One of Roy’s classic dishes is macadamia nut-crusted mahi mahi. The sweetness of the nut and fish in tandem is a beautiful thing, and the perfectly crisp asparagus is an unexpected bonus. An elegantly rich butter sauce incorporates brandy and lobster—totally decadent.
The melt-in-your-mouth Misoyaki butterfish fish is served as one of a set in Roy’s classic trio. The counterpoints are a small slab of blackened ahi and a restrained grilled salmon. Three different sauces complement the trio, and the presentation is captivating.
A handful of entrées are not seafood. Chef Ryan plates a split rack of ribs and complements them with a Chinese black dragon sauce. It’s a bit of a shock, but well worth the surprise. Nearly all the entrées fall into the mid-$20s, certainly within the range of most of Sarasota’s fine dining establishments.
Desserts are decadent, too. My favorite is the macadamia nut torte with its layer of caramel frosting and nut filling. I suspect most will opt for the chocolate soufflé, though, which requires some kitchen time to prepare. It’s a dream dessert for all of you chocoholics.
A final note about Roy’s: The wine list is fun. It doesn’t slight red wine drinkers as some seafood restaurants have a tendency to do; it has a nice complement of dessert and sparkling wines; and it offers white wines from across the globe. Roy’s also has a reasonable number of wines by the glass, too—so if you’re not inclined to stay with the Hawaiian martini all night, alternatives await. Aloha.
2001 Siesta Drive, Sarasota
Monday-Saturday 5:30-10 p.m.
Sunday 5:30-9 p.m.
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