How to Build the Perfect Plate at a Brunch Buffet in Hawai‘i
With 100,000 possible flavor combinations, you need a strategy. Here are two.
“Brunch is not a trend,” Anthony Bourdain once wrote. “It is a profit center.” Whatever the jaded savant was drinking that day—a buzzkill mimosa?—he obviously never navigated the buffets at the Halekūlani’s Orchids or the Four Seasons Resort O‘ahu at Ko Olina, where dazzling ingredients and cost-no-object flourishes would make them worthy of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s bucket list. (You remember him best as the author of the first great book on food ever written, The Physiology of Taste, or, Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy.)
ILLUSTRATION: KYLE FEWELL
At Orchids and the Four Seasons, you will eat like a god. But, as a mere mortal, you must enter knowing that you do not possess a god’s immortal appetite. Instead, come prepared with a dining strategy that will allow you to indulge your fantasies without losing sight of your limitations. Here, the guiding light of the chefs themselves—Richard Polhemus of Ko Olina and Christian Testa of Halekūlani—may come in handy. We asked for their personal strategies, mindful of the interplay of savory, sweet, salty, sour and umami.
One takeaway: Since the sensory cells in the buds renew themselves about every seven days, it’s important to follow a sequence that keeps those taste-tinglers from shutting down early. And since 100,000 flavors are possible if the five tastes and 10 levels of intensity are taken into account, not to mention temperature, touch and smell, the calibrations definitely require more self-discipline than the average buffet bruncher may have practiced.
But, as Brillat-Savarin said, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are.”
Here’s how to show your right stuff on a perfect plate.
Photo: Courtesy of Four Seasons Resort O‘ahu at Ko Olina
Four Seasons Resort O‘ahu at Ko Olina
“I’d start with a beer-mosa: a little IPA with fresh citrus juice, orange or grapefruit, with Aperol bitters to round things out.”
“I would always start with the raw. Cold proteins are less filling. The poke chef has three different stations every week, with a plethora of ingredients. I leave it up to him. Then get the crab legs and the shrimp and of course the fresh oysters; I take those to the grill station and ask them to grill my oysters for a minute.”
“The next thing I tackle is the cold noodle bar. Asian cold noodles have pretty mild flavors and go well with assorted Japanese pickles and our cold dashi broth.”
“I drink coffee throughout—it’s local and strong.” And, “visit the fruit bar. The sugars help you to digest.”
Next, “the tapas table for the Italian cheeses and roast cauliflower romesco—something bright and a little salty.”
“The grill station sometimes has a line, so it’s good you’re already eating. Order one or two of everything: lobster tails, steak, ham. And pick up an assortment of sauces.”
“Stop by the carving station on your way back to the table and pick up a nice serving of lechon kawali—pork belly deep-fried to get the skin crispy, served with pico de gallo salsa.”
“To finish off strong, try another digestive cocktail, something with bitters in it. The bloody mary will also stimulate the digestion.”
Now, go for “the items that are super popular like eggs Benedict; pancakes; the flatbread station, where you might try a Spam and eggs flatbread. Or my favorite: chilaquiles, tortilla strips and eggs, cheese, salsa to spice it up a little bit.”
“At the dessert bar, after [more] coffee, you can choose malassadas, crepes, amazing pastries. We do a really nice liliko‘i cheesecake parfait. Our pastry and baking staff change it up every week.”
Photo: Courtesy of Orchids at Halekūlani
Orchids at Halekūlani
To begin, “not a mimosa, but a sparkly wine, a prosecco from Veneto, such as LaLuca.”
“Because I am from Genoa, Italy, I generally start with an antipasto first course: olives, roast red peppers, Parmesan, salami, marinated artichokes. Then I go for sashimi and our homemade gravlax. And poke.”
“Now I go with something light: our burrata cheese, freshly made, and accompany it with real prosciutto di Parma.”
“At this point I would switch to a glass of chardonnay. I never drink coffee with a meal—I don’t like the flavor with food.”
To cleanse the palate, “Try a little sorbetto, some watermelon juice or melon.”
“Here, I like to go for our homemade ravioli with crab and lobster sauce. Our chefs prepare this right in front of you. And the catch of the day: mahi, monchong, opah.”
“At the carving station, get a slice or two of prime rib—it’s very high quality, and traditional. And go for the pig, everybody loves it. Lechon-style, crispy skin. It’s marinated for days.”
“Normally people start with the heavy stuff, the pancakes and the waffles and the omelets. But wait until now, and you won’t fill up too soon. Now you can enjoy them.”
“I like to finish with some ice cream, some chocolate and some fruit. Many people, of course, will try our famous Halekūlani coconut cake.”