Review: Pa‘akai at Turtle Bay Resort

The North Shore resort has a new high-end restaurant.


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Photos: Jennifer Fiedler

 

The white tablecloth experience isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to eating on O‘ahu’s beachy North Shore. But as part of a recently completed $45 million facelift, Turtle Bay Resort has quietly updated its suite of restaurants, and Pa‘akai, the fanciest of the bunch, is worth a look.

 

Housed in the former location for 21 Degrees North, the restaurant bills itself as a “sea-to-table” experience. While both seafood both local (Big Island kampachi, Kaua‘i shrimp) and imported (king crab, clam) is featured heavily, meat and veggie lovers will also find much to like on the rest of the menu, which highlights locally sourced ingredients.

 

If the weather is nice, request a table on the balcony, which overlooks the pool bar and sunset. The interior, with its white tablecloths, air conditioning and tinted windows, nearly untouched from the 21 Degrees North days, can get a little stuffy.

 

The menu, created by chef Conrad Aquino, does a good job in navigating that tricky through-line when it comes to ingredient-focused cooking—too much chef-y stuff can muddy the concept, while not enough feels too spare. The dishes here strike the right balance, with little twists and inventive presentations for high-quality ingredients that dress up the plate for a fun night out.

 

 

Poke, dressed tableside from small wooden calabash-style bowls containing ‘inamona (roasted kukui nut), limu (seaweed), sea salt (the restaurant’s namesake pa‘akai) and shoyu and chili pepper water to taste, gives a super fresh makeover to what has become a prepared supermarket deli staple ($14). A vegan option, made from sweet potatoes and mushrooms, is equally delicious.

 

The Himalayan Salt Block ($34 for two) has an interactive spin; a heated black block made of salt is brought out to the table, along with plates of raw Big Island filet mignon, Kaua’i shrimp or locally grown veggies, and you cook the ingredients at the table.

 

On the entrée side, the crispy whole fish (kampachi on the menu, opakapaka when we visited; $74) is a stand-out. The fish comes out deep-fried and whole, standing on its belly, with head and tail intact—a simple concept made special by a theatrical presentation. Served with sweet-potato puree and two dipping sauces, ponzu and lemongrass-chili, the dish is substantial enough for two or three people.

 

Desserts skew classic—cheesecakes, crème brulee—but are well executed. The chocolate soufflé, served with crème anglaise, was rich, warm and gooey—a perfect cap to the meal.

 

Pa‘akai, Turtle Bay Resort, 57-091 Kamehameha Highway, 293-6000, turtlebayresort.com, open Tuesday through Saturday 5:30 to 10 p.m.

 

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