Waikiki-style Asian fusion converts even the fussiest eater, finds Martin Silk.
First, I need to just admit it: I don't like ginger. I can eat it when it's mixed with garlic and other herbs and spices but I don't want it to be the star of the show.
A ginger stir-fry? Nope. Gingerbread? Yeah, maybe a little crumb.
For me, ginger just doesn't have that umami taste that makes me salivate.
So you clearly understand my dilemma when, scanning the menu of Roy's Waikiki, I find that the biggest steak coming out of their kitchen is smothered in a ginger-based salsa.
I could always forgo the huge ribeye for the smaller filet mignon with soy reduction, but I'm here to eat red meat and lots of it.
So in Hawaii's premier Asian-fusion, fine-dining restaurant, I do the unthinkable and order the big steak with the ginger on top.
Japanese-born, US-trained chef Roy Yamaguchi started this restaurant in 1988 and it still draws crowds of diners keen for the old favourites and the new stuff. Local ingredients and classic preparation are done right.
The restaurant is throbbing with the voices of happy diners when we arrive, the hum hits me as soon as we walk in past the wine fridges. The kitchen is loud too, chefs are everywhere hurriedly plating dishes, shaking sizzling pans over stove tops and opening and closing ovens and fridges.
Aproned waiters hover throughout the dining room pouring wines, laying out new cutlery and scraping the crumbs off the table with a little flat piece of metal between courses.
Our starter is Kampachi Crudo — slivers of raw amberjack with white soy, garlic aioli and little slices of jalapeno. The marinade coats the firm but tender fish flesh which I hold in my mouth for the flavour. It's sophisticated and subtle.
Next come local pork and beef pot-stickers (dumplings) and a wedge salad with beef carpaccio, bacon, dill and gorgonzola remoulade. The sweet crunchy butter lettuce and paw paw mingle with paper-thin slices of raw beef in my mouth, all dripping with that classic, funky, bitter blue cheese sauce.
The pot-stickers are something else entirely. The little half-moon shaped dumplings glisten on the outside, waft with steam and are scarred with yellowish-brown crispness on the edges from a quick pan-fry. The real surprise is the tantalising broth trickling down my chopsticks and chin when I bite into one.
After I finish them I try to scrape up of drops of the deep rich red-brown salty, smokey, fatty liquid from my plate with the side of my fork for just one last taste.
Then comes that big steak. This weight of meat sits atop a miso sauce and aside a little bowl of sticky rice — I like how they prioritise ingredients at Roy's.
The Hawaii Ranchers graze their beef on open pastures. I can almost smell the grass as I eat.
It's brown and crusty on the outside and pinky-crimson in the middle with a meaty scattering of sauteed brown mushrooms on top.
But what of that ginger salsa, you ask? Well, the offending spice has actually been mixed with finely chopped spring onions, some garlic and a hint of sesame oil. The salsa cuts right through the ironiness and fat of the enormous steak without drowning out the beefy flavour.
Do I still dislike ginger? Yes.
But would I smother my steak in that ginger salsa again? Of course.
Hawaiian Airlines has a round trip from Auckland to Honolulu for $989, including taxes.
There's almost no end to Waikiki's tourist attractions, which include surfing, snorkelling, hiking, shopping and fine dining.
Hawaii's premier ocean sports festival, Duke's OceanFest, to be held from August 18-26, includes surfing, volleyball, swim, stand-up paddle-boarding, tandem surfing and surfboard polo events, as well as Hawaiian music, films and food.
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