New on the Big Island: Red Water Cafe, Waimea

John Heckathorn
Yes, that's uni (sea urchin) floating on a shiso leaf atop the vichyssoise at Red Water Cafe, Waimea, Big Island

The Red Water Café opened at the end of last year, in the old Fujimama’s/Edelweiss location right in the heart of the Big Island’s most fascinating town, Waimea.

"This location used to be called the Red Water back in the old days," said our server Kanani.  "It was kind of a rowdy bar."

The new Red Water is casual, but only thing that’s really rowdy is the menu, with goes for startling East-West juxtapositions.

For instance, the vichyssoise (cold potato and leek soup) is topped with uni (which, not to put too fine a point on it, are sea urchin gonads).

My dining companion reacted with horror, but it was remarkably mild uni.  My only disappointment was that the uni was not integrated into the classic vichyssoise.  Instead it floated, sequestered from the soup by a shiso leaf.

It was almost as if the chef expected you to hate the uni and have to mollify your tastebuds with the vichyssoise.

Similarly, the Thai Caesar was a nice and cheese-y Caesar salad topped with Thai-spiced calamari.  A startling juxtapostion, but the match-up was like a blind date that wasn’t going well.  It was just calamari (good) atop a classic salad (good), but the two didn’t make any significant connection.

More successful was the filet mignon atop the Asian vegetables, including bok choy and some great kobucha pumpkin, coming alive in the butter sauce.

And the vegetable tempura was both unexpected and well-done.  It included, among the onion slices and large mushroom caps, an entire large bok choy leaf, still vibrant inside its crispy panko coating. 

How do they do that? I asked the server.  "I don’t know," she said.  "They’re good at it."

Save room for the ricotta cheesecake with carmelized pineapple.  Light but powerful.

Dinner is reasonably priced, which is always a relief on the Kohala Coast.  With a couple glasses of wine (sauvignon blanc worked well with everything but steak), it was still only $130 for two.

As we were proceeding through dinner, we noticed that the music in the dining room was remarkably melodic and deft.  No wonder.  Sitting in the corner playing his heart out was guitarist Charles Brotman. 

What was a two-time Grammy winner doing in a neighborhood eatery, even if it was in his neighborhood?  You expect him at the Four Seasons Hualalai, not a place that says of its dress code: "If you’re dressed, you’re code."

"We just came here for the first time to eat last week," said Brotman.  "The sushi was so good, I said yes when they asked me to play."

We didn’t get to the sushi.  Next time.

Red Water Café, lunch and dinner daily, sushi bar only at dinner, 65-1299 Kawaihae Road, Waimea (Kamuela), Big Island of Hawaii, (808) 885-9299,