Dining: Coasting Through Kohala's New Restaurants
Three new reasons to check out the Big Island’s dining scene.
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First course, mine: Hamachi sashimi, presented on a heavy pink slab. “What is this?” I asked the waiter.
“A Himalayan pink salt brick,” he said.
Oh, sure. I looked it up later. Turns out there is such a thing, mined in Pakistan.
“A salt brick imparts a nice flavor to whatever you put on it,” says Zubrod. “I put the sashimi on top of hearts of palm, because if you don’t eat it right away, the fish gets too salty.”
I wouldn’t know. I ate it right away.
Second course, hers: The waiter approached the table, bearing two plates. My wife spotted the foie gras and said, “I believe that one’s for me.” A nice slice of foie gras, fortunately big enough she couldn’t finish it all.
It’s always a problem what to serve under the foie gras. Chefs tend to go sweet—compotes and pastries. Once I got it served on french toast with chocolate sauce (not quite as bad as it sounds). Zubrod put his atop a slice of pineapple, a good as well as regionally appropriate idea. Pineapple is naturally sweet, but also acid. Zubrod grilled the slice with a little chili oil and black pepper.
Second course, mine: An oyster baked in a corn bread crust and a crab cake, with corn and jalapeno relish. You’ll have to give me a pass on this course. I ate it, but I was so focused on getting my share of foie gras, all I remember is the oysterish blast and the muted zing of local yellow jalapeño.
Third course: This was the fish course. First, a firm fillet of ono, wrapped with a band of prosciutto, in a butter sauce given a pleasantly sharp edge by capers.
The second: an onaga fillet atop sautéed bananas, roasted red peppers and a dab of macadamia-nut risotto. Sounds terrible, right? Like one of those “Hawaiian-style” recipes gone totally wrong. Here, it worked: the vegetative edge of the peppers cut the sweetness of the banana, and the textures were perfectly controlled.
Fourth course: Break out the hats and hooters! We got two meat courses that we could hardly believe.
Hers: a quail lollipop, that is, a French-trimmed quail drumstick wrapped in pancetta. “That’s Mark’s classic,” laughs Zubrod. After putting in a couple of decades in various Ritz-Carlton hotels, Zubrod cooked for a while in a small Aspen restaurant near Flagstaff House. “Mark used to bring that to every food event we did together. I kept telling him, No, no, you can’t do the quail again. But he loves that dish.”
Rightly so: simple, direct, powerful flavors—Monette’s signature—served with a mushrooms and a dab of polenta.
Mine was even better, if harder to figureout: a square of steak—What is this? It doesn’t exactly taste like beef, but it’s tender. It’s buffalo, atop a risotto. But risotto with—what? Tart dark cherries? It turned out they were something called jaboticaba, also “trunk cherries,” from an exotic fruit tree cultivated by Tane Datta of Adaptations, who also grew Beach Tree’s apricots.
After two great meat courses, it didn’t seem like the meal could go anywhere more interesting. I underestimated the kitchen.
Dessert, savory: Truffle cheesecake. And no, not chocolate truffle cheesecake. Black truffles with their deep, dark fungal flavors, in a rich savory cheesecake, a green salad on the side. I was blown away.
“Thought I’d send that out instead of a cheese course,” said Zubrod. “I stole that recipe from my mentor at Ritz-Carlton.” That mentor would be Yvon Goetz, who’s now garnering a reputation at a Los Angeles restaurant called The Winery.
Dessert, sweet: This didn’t look like much. A coconut lemon tart on one side of the plate; on the other, a small mound of poached pineapple and papaya. The lemon and the coconut shined through the tart; the fruit, poached in a simple syrup, tasted exactly right.
“That’s one of the best dinners we’ve ever had,” said my wife. I had to agree. Tasting menus at Monettes change constantly. They run $75 to $120 apiece, and, if you’re going to have buffalo, foie gras and truffle cheesecake all in the same meal, figure the high end.
Parker Ranch Shopping Center // 67-1185 Mamalahoa Highway, Kamuela // 808-885-7319 // Open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. // Major credit cards, free parking, villageburgerwaimea.com.
You cannot live by multicourse dinners alone. Sometimes you need a burger. On the Big Island, you drive up to the ranching town of Waimea and eat at Village Burger.
Village Burger is owned by chef Edwin Goto, who used to do multicourse dinners with the best of them. Goto was the chef who put the Lodge at Koele on the culinary map. Under his direction, the Lodge once won the triple crown in the Zagat Hawaii Guide: best food, service and ambiance.
Goto went on to Manele Bay on Lanai and then the Mauna Lani on the Big Island. He’d moved to the Big Island, he told me, so he could spend his time talking to ranchers and farmers—“the most honest people in the world.”
From the Mauna Lani and its big salary and five restaurants, his next move was—his own burger joint in the Parker Ranch Shopping Center, a tiny place with hardly any seats.
Still, all that time talking to Big Island ranchers and farmers paid off.
Goto’s Village Burgers are made from pasture-raised Big Island beef, antibiotic- and hormone-free, select cuts of which Goto grinds and hand-shapes daily.
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