Dining: Coasting Through Kohala's New Restaurants

Three new reasons to check out the Big Island’s dining scene.

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The bar at Monettes, which serves sophisticated  American-French food.

Photo: Olivier Koning

It’s hard not to love the Big Island’s Kohala Coast: the luxury resorts set like emerald oases in the jet-black lava fields; the rolling hills of ranching country; the sparkling white observatories on Mauna Kea. Not to mention some of the best food in the state. I had a long weekend, a plane ticket and plans to eat at three new Kohala restaurants. At times, life can be agreeable.
 

Beach Tree

Four Seasons Resort Hualalai // 72-100 Kaupulehu Dr., Kailua-Kona, Big Island // Lunch and dinner daily, 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., limited menu 3 to 5:30 p.m. // 808-325-8000 // Valet parking, major credit cards. fourseasons.com/hualalai/dining.


Inside Beach Tree.

Photo: Olivier Koning

Among its half-dozen swimming pools, the Four Seasons Hualalai has a big one beachside, complete with Jacuzzis, cabanas and, of course, a bar, in case arduous hours of reclining on a lounge chair require an immediate mai tai.

When the Four Seasons decided to do a $40-million makeover, somebody took a hard look at the prime oceanfront territory occupied by the bar and had an idea. Transform it into a casual restaurant.

Opened late last year, Beach Tree, as it’s called, is one of the most appealing Hawaii eateries I’ve seen, a series of concentric wooden decks leading down to tables on the sand. The restaurant not only has a beach; it also has a tree, a full-canopied beach heliotrope with a gnarly trunk.

Beach Tree is oh-so-deliberately low-key. It could be your friend’s lānai, if your friend’s lānai had a sunset view, 16-foot cathedral ceilings and plenty of furniture that looks rustic but is actually comfortable.

The restaurant requires shoes, but otherwise you can dress for your friend’s lānai, and relax, since the food picks up the no-fuss theme. You can get a pizza, a burger or a chicken Caesar, but that would mean skipping chef Nick Mastrascusa’s contemporary Italian-American menu—on which every single thing sounded good.

Mussels in tomato fennel? Truffled ricotta? I couldn’t choose, and I was still on the appetizers. My wife slammed her menu shut and resumed texting the kids on her phone. “You’re unusually decisive,” I said.


A former Uruguayan professional soccer player, Nick Mastrascusa is now chef of Beach Tree.

Photo: Courtesy of Beach Tree

“There’s a prix fixe,” she said. Ah, yes, on a little menu insert, three courses for $39. In context, a bargain, considering the breakfast buffet at the Four Seasons is $34.

No prix fixe for me. I had to ponder the whole menu, basking in the setting sun, sipping on a cocktail called The Cure. I hoped this improbable concoction (gin, lime, Maraschino liqueur from Croatia, Green Chartreuse) was indeed a cure—a cure for indecision.

Finally, I made up my mind—and almost immediately we had a first course on the table. Hers was called “soup and sandwich.”

“I was thinking of Alan Wong’s soup with the foie gras sandwich,” she said.

“Your expectations may be a little elevated,” I said.

 

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,September

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