Chef Mavro’s Autumn Menu Gives New and Returning Diners a Lot to Look Forward To

The menu, which debuted in late September, highlights the chef’s forest-to-table vision.


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Onaga Provencale

ONAGA PROVENÇALE
PHOTO: Katrina Valcourt

 

For many, Chef Mavro is a special-occasion restaurant, reserved for anniversaries, birthdays or romantic evenings. So diners might not realize the restaurant, which celebrates 20 years this year, is constantly changing it up throughout the years, experimenting with new trends, techniques and ingredients. “My favorite ingredient is always the one I’m going to find tomorrow,” says chef George Mavrothalassitis.

 

What distinguishes Chef Mavro’s latest menu, and perhaps the restaurant as a whole, is its focus on forest-to-table. Rather than have farms grow specifically for a dish, as was the case with Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine and the farm-to-table movement, Mavrothalassitis says he’s currently more interested in ingredients that are already available locally, such as ‘ulu, warabi, soursop and jackfruit, and figuring out how to use them in new, intriguing ways.

 

Chef Mavro launched its new autumn menu (Mavrothalassitis prefers “autumn” to “fall” because it’s more romantic) on Sept. 25. “I used to change the menu religiously every season on the 21st or 22nd, and change everything at once,” Mavrothalassitis says. But now, with the availability of some ingredients year-round, “I remove them because I’m tired!” Some of the new dishes have already been on the menu for a few weeks, since sometimes the kitchen gets a new ingredient in the middle of the season, “and we get very excited and we start.”

 

The restaurant currently offers three menus: a set four-course anniversary menu with some of Chef Mavro’s favorite and most popular dishes over the past 20 years (including the salt-crusted onaga); a five-course seasonal menu where diners can choose each course except dessert; and a seasonal nine-course grand tasting menu (you can get a vegetarian version of this, as well). We tried four of the dishes available on the five- and nine-course menus, as well as the seared foie gras (nine-course only) and the lavender and honey dessert (five-course only).

 

Foie Gras

SEARED FOIE GRAS
Photo: Katrina Valcourt

 

We started with the foie gras, glazed with sherry vinegar and served on a buttery slice of brioche. The “forest” element here is pickled jackfruit, which adds a nice acidity to the dish. Everything at Chef Mavro is enhanced and transformed by wine pairings, and the Selbach-Oster riesling, with tropical fruit notes, somehow complements both the foie gras and the jackfruit perfectly.

 

Next we tried the onaga Provençale, a firm day-boat catch steamed and served with fennel, tomato, zucchini, lemon, capers and Pernod, an anise-flavored liqueur. The tomatoes reminded me of pasta sauce and I wished there were more than two on the plate. The fennel, which I’m more familiar with as a dried seed packed with flavor, is much more subtle in this preparation, with the Pernod and lemon the strongest flavors we picked out. The 2017 Domaines Elie Sumeire Côtes de Provence rosé was my least favorite of the pairings, as it tasted a little sterile on its own, though it mellowed after a few bites.

 

Onaga

ONAGA PROVENÇALE
Photo: Courtesy of Chef Mavro

 

The Keāhole lobster was my favorite dish of the evening. It comes with eggplant prepared two ways: one, a slice of eggplant with miso; the other, burnt eggplant skin puréed with black sesame. The purée is so creamy and smoky that just a small dab will do. “It’s a beautiful combination,” Mavrothalassitis says. “I think it might be my favorite.” Toasted hazelnuts add texture and toastiness when combined with a 2014 Ladoix 1er Cru from Maison Capitain-Gagnerot.

 

Lobster and eggplant

Keāhole lobster
Photo: Courtesy of Chef Mavro

 

We were excited to the try the pork Indochine after Mavrothalassitis told me the dish uses starfruit. “Starfruit looks beautiful ... tastes like nothing,” he says. “So we pickle it and suddenly, wow.” He’s right. It almost overshadows the pork loin and crispy skin from 2 Lady Farmers in Wai‘anae (I couldn’t hear my dining partner over the sound of my own crunching, which she could also hear), vermicelli, Thai basil and green papaya in the dish, if only because we’ve never had pickled starfruit before. But we wanted to drink every last drop of the star anise consommé pooled in the bottom.

 

Pork Indochine

Pork Indochine
Photo: Courtesy of Chef Mavro

 

The Moroccan-inspired lamb à la tajine dish, with turnips, harissa jus, chickpea purée, tapenade and a side of couscous with raisins and cranberries topped with dried coconut, wowed my dining partner with its tender, flavorful medallions and a light touch of saffron. The rich lamb comes from Elysian Fields, which has very high standards for its meat and only sells to select restaurants, including The French Laundry in California. Because of this, it doesn’t taste gamey at all. The Châteauneuf-du-Pape we drank was the most complex of the wines so far but didn’t overwhelm our palates.

 

Lamb

Moroccan-inspired lamb à la tajine
Photo: Courtesy of Chef Mavro

 

Finally, for dessert, I was particularly entranced by the Hungarian muscat wine, which restaurant manager Steve Mar says is a 5 out of 6 on the sweetness scale. How can such a sweet—almost unbearably sweet—wine taste less sweet after a bite of ice cream and marshmallow? That’s the magic of Chef Mavro’s brilliant staff and the art of pairings. The dish features a Maui lavender ice cream bar, toasted five-spice marshmallow, plum and orange slices, an orange honey gel and mac-nut praline. The five-spice and toasted nuts (possibly my new favorite thing, based on this and the lobster dish) keep the dessert from being cloying.

 

lavender and honey dessert

LAVENDER AND HONEY DESSERT
PHOTO: COURTESY OF CHEF MAVRO

 

“What is important on the menu is to try to use the local resources,” Mavrothalassitis says. “I’m always open to what is going on and I’m always curious.”

 

1969 S. King St., open 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, menus start at $98 for four courses to $185 for nine courses, wine pairings and certain items cost extra, (808) 944-4714, chefmavro.com. Read more about Chef Mavro’s tasting menus and what has made the restaurant successful over the past 20 years in the upcoming December issue of HONOLULU.

 

READ MORE STORIES BY KATRINA VALCOURT

 

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