Sure, James Beard Award-winning chef Alan Wong cooks for President Obama and family when they’re in Hawaii, and he’s wowed world leaders when he’s done a luau at the White House, too.

Alan Wong’s Amasia at Grand Wailea can intimidate some, due to Wong’s credentials and the fact that it’s a stunning $3-million restaurant overlooking koi ponds, ohia-wood bridges and tons of rocks shipped in from Mt. Fuji.

In fact, the Japanese tea house look with paths over bridges to private tatami rooms, sake room, sushi room, robata room and cave next to a small waterfall was designed for your fine-dining comfort.

So the new happy hour with affordable prices and smashing local tastes is quite a pleasant turn of events – and now that locals are starting to hear about it – it surely will become the place to see and be seen in the South Maui resort area.

All you have to do is come to Amasia and enjoy the happy-hour party from 5 to 6:30 p.m. nightly. Manager Nicholas Spurgeon has opened the lounge area to food service, a place previously used only for those waiting to be seated.

On a recent visit, my friend and I decided the lounge offers the best seats in the house for people watching as we munched on local prawns flash-fried in butter with garlic, black pepper, smoked Spanish paprika and lemon; and Molokai sweet-potato chips housemade with mustard and salt that really paired well with fabulous imported Japanese beer such as Hitachino.

As we sipped and savored, we spotted Mala Wailea restaurant partner Shep Gordon and others from our perch.

“We really want people to come in and check out the half-off happy-hour menu,” says Executive Chef Chris Damskey, who is an East Coast protoge of acclaimed chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

“We’re not using any different products than what we use on the dinner menu. We want to entice you with fun cocktail and pupu, and hopefully you’ll stay for dinner and/or come back again.”

The ahi poke has a nice spicy kick to it, and the sashimi is thickly cut and served on a rectangular black platter. The short ribs are braised for hours with soy sauce and served on Korean ko-choo-jang sauce; pork adobo empanadas are baked and served hot with papaya mustard.

“All of our fresh ahi comes from the Kona Coast,” says Chef Damskey. “And while our poke is straightforward, I dare not say that it’s traditional.”

Fun waiters such as Juan Pablo Velilla, who is from San Andres island, Columbia, will bring you happy-hour specialty drinks such as the Concubine, a sexy version of the Lemon Drop; and the Loca Vore Mai Tai with Maui rum and sugar and Falenum made from Big Island mac nuts.

You may also sit at the Hinoki-wood bar, sanded every night. Happy hour pupu prices range from $3 to $12; and specialty drinks from $7 to $8. Call 891-3954.