Retailer Tommy Bahama opens its first O`ahu restaurant in Waikiki.

With my hair still salty from the nearby beach breeze and the sun beginning to set over Waikiki’s waters, I stroll into Tommy Bahama on a recent evening, not to browse for a new floral maxi dress, but rather to do some shopping on the dinner menu. Th e fresh-faced, three-level store and restaurant gives O`ahu residents an opportunity to familiarize themselves with a new, more delicious facet of the brand, and sharing a dining experience for the first time at the venue is met with many pleasant surprises.

While I have always admired the luxury clothing and accessory line, I will admit I was initially skeptical that the eatery and bar could be as noteworthy as the retail side of the business. With an unacquainted palate, my inner dialogue read something like: Isn’t its specialty clothing? Is this just an add-on? Will the food actually be memorable? But my preconceived notions about what a dining venture within a retail shop could or couldn’t be were repeatedly challenged and rewritten throughout the evening.

The store ascends from the first floor’s haven of island-inspired sportswear and goods to an epicurean paradise on the second and rooftop tiers. In similar upward fashion, my positive first impression progresses with each step up the modern, curved staircase that ushers patrons away from racks of silk aloha shirts and into a relaxing space solely dedicated to upscale dining. I instantly feel as though I am on vacation in the midlevel restaurant, as warm white wood-paneled walls enhanced with coral reef-colored decor welcomes our party into this marvelous beach house. Tall ceilings and oversized windows lend grandness to the room, while an unexpected patchwork of tropical greenery makes up an awesome living wall that brings a sense of calm to the surroundings.

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Tommy Bahama builds on the idea of poke with the addition of bold flavors and textures in `Ahi Tuna Tacos.

Dishes that emphasize high-quality ingredients and seasonal fare make themselves at home in this softly lit, refreshing setting. Anyone who has dined at other restaurants in the Tommy Bahama domain knows that the appetizer to start with is World Famous Coconut Shrimp, perhaps the most signature menu item. I quickly realize why these chunks of beer-battered shrimp lightly fried with bare coconut shavings are so universally loved. When dipped into the sweet, chilled mango and papaya chutney, made piquant with a hint of mustard, the crunchy exterior and hot burst of juicy shrimp come together in perfect harmony. There’s also something about tasting coconut in a savory presentation that lets us know we are dining in the tropics.

The menu is a high-end example of the dedication to superlative quality exhibited throughout the whole company, and yet it is simultaneously easy going and approachable for those who want to let their hair down. And so Tommy Bahama becomes an ideal spot for both special occasions and spontaneous stop-ins for pupus and cocktails. Our server brings sumptuous and brilliantly handled Guava Glazed Baby Back Pork Ribs to the table, and there’s an effortlessness to picking up a slab with my hands and enjoying it alongside unfussy slaw and chive-peppered mashed potatoes that makes me feel comfortable in this dining environment. Th e hearty dish also showcases the eatery’s ability to incorporate local flavors and inspirations, as any Tommy Bahama Restaurant & Bar will have ribs on the menu, but only in Waikiki are we charmed with executive chef Andrew Warner’s mango-guava-glazed treatment of them, complete with a spirited spice rub to balance out the sweetness.

This regional aspect of the menu also comes through in one of the best-selling starters, Ahi Tuna Tacos. Th e poke rendition centers on a sesame, shoyu and caper marinade, topped with bright wasabi lime crème fraîche and tucked into crisp, puffy wonton shells. These ingredients are certifiably delicious, but they’re also emblematic of the restaurant’s ability to take local specialties and run with them in new, flavorsome directions.

As the chef brings out Braised Kurobuta Pork Belly, I am once again introduced to a different layer of the menu. I had expected this restaurant—as one of many locations, including on the Big Island, Maui and Tokyo—to have a standardized selection of offerings. But Tommy Bahama’s widely adored core menu is in fact supplemented with a slew of imaginative dishes developed by the four chefs who make up the kitchen team here in Waikiki. A round of specials—more than at any other branch—are regularly refreshed for guests’ enjoyment.

“We’re doing six specials every night— two of those are appetizers and four are entrees—and they reflect what’s coming through auction, what is available locally, on island and other islands as well. So we’re trying to make sure that we put a lot of energy behind those dishes,” explains Warner. “Yes, we have 16 locations, but they’re chef-driven restaurants … we have to share our passion somehow.”

From the patron’s perspective, I’ve come to understand that when chefs have the freedom to be inspired and create, we’ll get some remarkable cuisine. Th e pork belly special’s gorgeously tender meat contrasts with crispy edges from the griddle. Flavors of roasted garlic cilantro aioli match the pork’s richness, as do caramelized shrimp and Hokkaido scallops on top. Meanwhile, corn relish swoops in to lighten everything up. Our table then makes room for show-stealing Ginger Scallion-Crusted King Salmon, dreamed up by sous chef Ken MacKenzie. Infused with Japanese flair, the fish is steamed to supple glory in clam juice and paired with delightful miso-mustard sauce and shiitake-spotted rice.

After reveling in these specials, the best place for a nightcap and bite of dessert is upstairs in the rooftop bar and lounge, where guests nestle into chic outdoor couches that sit next to fire pits and overlook glittering Kalakaua Avenue. I take my sandals off to sink my toes into the sandy lanai, and with a classic Mai Tai in hand, I glance over at the lovely wall of fresh herbs to my right, sending wafts of rosemary and mint into the clean air. My party shares a Tommy Bahama must-have—Pineapple Crème Brûlée with white chocolate mousse—which in the Aloha State is served in an authentic Hawaiian pineapple shell. It is airy, fluffy and creamy in a way that surpasses any of its counterparts.

Indulging my taste buds in this laid-back, coastal environment embodies the true spirit of Tommy Bahama. Contrary to my initial thoughts, I grasp that the restaurant and bar do not serve as mere accessories to the retailer. Instead, the refined dining oasis is a seamless part of the overall plush island lifestyle that exists here—and an irreplaceable one at that.

Tommy Bahama, 298 Beachwalk Drive, 923-8785 or tommybahama.com