Dining: Coasting Through Kohala's New Restaurants

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


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The soup was tomato, fresh, rich and smooth, dotted with basil, but the grilled cheese sandwich seemed like an afterthought, half-melted cheddar between two unbuttered slices of baguette. “Oh, even you can do better,” she said.

She gazed at my appetizer. “It looks strange, but I’m still envious,” she said. “What is that on your salad, an egg?”

A poached egg atop frisée and asparagus. You cut the egg and the yolk drips onto the crunchy, slightly bitter frisée. Instead of croutons, there were cubes of pork belly, cooked perfectly crispy. Think of it as bacon on steroids.

The entrées provoked more envy. Hers was a fist-sized knot of linguine with prosciutto, sweet peas and radicchio—nice ingredients, but the cream sauce was so thickly reduced, so ponderous with lipids, that it filled you up in a few bites.

“Can I have some of yours?” she said.

Fear jolted me. My entrée was appealing: a deeply infused, red-brown oxtail ragoût on a bed of feather-light gnocchi. “OK, but not all of it,” I said.

Although the oxtail cried out for wine—and Beach Tree has 70 wines available by the glass—I’d become intrigued by bartender Steve Preston’s cocktails. The Cure was so improbably good, I ordered something called a B.G.O.I.T.

B.G.O.I.T. stands for “Big Glass of Iced Tea”—a base of real tea plus a passion-fruit-infused vodka, lime, agave nectar and an ingredient I’d never heard of, Red Stag cherry bourbon liqueur, which gave it just the right touch of sweet fire.

The prix fixe came with a pleasant dessert—a flan tart with ice cream, surrounded by poached apricots. The apricots were grown by Big Island ag pioneer Tane Datta in Kealakekua—and, poached, they were a marvel, warmly apricot-flavored, a touch of spice perhaps, firm yet melting on the tongue.

That would have been the best thing on the table if I hadn’t ordered the banana split. Three scoops of Tahitian vanilla ice cream, one topped with Waimea strawberries in lime, another with caramelized fresh pineapple, the last with house-made chocolate sauce with 30 percent caramel. Even the bananas were touched with caramelized sugar. It would be hard to imagine a better banana split. In fact, for my money ($12), it’s up there with the Tarte Tatin at Niu’s Le Bistro as the best dessert ever.

On the beach. You had to love it.

Dinner was about $180. As resort dining goes—three courses, plus drinks, coffee and tip—reasonable enough. Work on the grilled cheese sandwich, though.
 

Monettes

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, 62-100 Mauna Kea Beach Dr., Kohala Coast, Big Island // 808-443-2850 // Dinner nightly from 6 p.m. // Valet parking, major credit cards, monetteshawaii.com.


From Monettes: Hamachi sashimi and hearts of palm on a Himalayan pink salt brick.

Photo: Olivier Koning

Monettes is a privately owned restaurant tucked into the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, an offshoot of a celebrated Boulder, Colo., restaurant called Flagstaff House, owned by brothers Scott and Mark Monette.

About a year ago, I’d checked in late at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, desperately hungry. Nothing was open. I ended up at Monettes bar, where, mirabile dictu, I could get a coq au vin with foie gras, simmering in a copper pot, simple, powerful, heartwarming stuff, restoring life in my travel-worn body.

Months later I met the Monettes’ chef who whipped up that dish, Matthew Zubrod. Zubrod had flown over for the Oahu food and wine festival, Hawaii Food & Wine Paradise. It was my job to match a wine (Delectus Petite Sirah) with Zubrod’s braised shortribs. Once again, I was impressed.

“Come to the Big Island,” he said. “I’ll cook you dinner.”

Invitation finally accepted. We were doubly lucky, because in addition to Zubrod, owner Mark Monette, chef of Flagstaff House, also happened to be on the Big Island, wearing whites and cooking up a storm right next to Zubrod.

What would you like? Oh, just send out anything, small portions, maybe five courses. My wife, who seemed intrigued by the pleasures the menu promised, had a request. “You think they could make different courses for each of us?” she asked. “That way, instead of five, we’ll get to taste 10 things.”

First course, hers: a lobster soup, not quite a bisque, thickened with rice, not cream, and touched lightly with a trio of Thai flavors, kaffir lime, lemongrass, chilis.
 

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