What Hawai‘i Chefs Eat When They Go Out to Local Restaurants
Everyone envisions chefs laboring away at the hot stove, so much so that we sometimes forget they do venture out of their kitchens, eat at other restaurants, try new dishes and relax with friends around a table.
KEVIN HANNEY DIGS IN AT JIMBO.
PHOTO: MARK ARBEIT
Everyone envisions chefs laboring away at the hot stove, so much so that we sometimes forget they do venture out of their kitchens, eat at other restaurants, try new dishes and relax with friends around a table. We asked these local food experts two questions: What dish would you recommend at your own restaurant, and what dish would you recommend at another? Almost every chef prefaced their favorite dish at their own restaurant with, “It’s really hard to choose one thing,” but choose they did. Recommending a dish at another restaurant was no less difficult. The end result is a tantalizing spread across the Islands, skipping from Hawaiian to Pacific Rim cuisine, from Mexican to Indian plates, while dwelling just a bit in comforting noodle bowls.
Ron de Guzman
Executive Chef at Stage Restaurant
At his restaurant: Lamb chops ($33).
The lamb chops at Stage are popular and a personal favorite of de Guzman’s. They’re crusted with Marcona almonds, honey mustard and herbs, and served on a parsley-potato purée, alongside charred brussels sprouts. The Colorado lamb “is a cleaner lamb” than most, he says, and the crust lends a slightly sweet crunchiness to the dish. “The purée is a little different from your regular mash,” he says, because he blends in parsley, one of lamb’s classic accompaniments.1250 Kapiolani Blvd., (808) 237-5429, stagerestauranthawaii.com.
He also recommends: Char siu tan tan ramen ($8.75) and chicken tatsutaage ($6.75) at Goma Tei.
More than one chef recommended Goma Tei. What draws de Guzman is the deeply flavorful soup in a bowl of tan tan ramen. It’s a long-simmered, pork-based broth, enhanced with sesame. He orders it topped with char siu—braised, soft, not-too-fatty slices of rolled pork. A side of chicken tatsutaage, the fried, boneless chicken pieces “that’s almost like a mochiko chicken,” make Goma Tei his “favorite ramen place.” Ward Center, 1200 Ala Moana Blvd., (808) 591-9188.
Chef de Cuisine at Downtown @ the HiSAM.
At his restaurant: Pan-roasted shutome with cannellini beans ($16).
Kupihea didn’t like beans when he first started working at Downtown. But learning to cook them from scratch (adding pancetta doesn’t hurt) has made him a convert. He plates shutome atop cannellini beans, tomatoes, arugula and watercress, and brings it all together with a delicate salsa verde. 250 S. Hotel St., (808) 536-5900.
He also recommends: Ikayaki pancake at Tokkuri Tei ($7.50).
“Sushi is my go-to thing,” Kupihea says, and that’s probably what draws him to the izakaya Tokkuri Tei. In addition to sushi, his staple there is the ikayaki pancake with a miso dressing, topped with bonito flakes. The squid is bound in a thin, egg, crepelike batter. “I love the texture, the local flavor of the dish,” he says. It reminds him of a soft tako (octopus), or what he likes to call “Hawaiian bubble gum.” It comes out hot and goes well with cold Japanese beer. 449 Kapahulu Ave., (808) 732-6480.
Chef/Owner of Heeia Pier General Store and Deli
At his restaurant: Bacon-teri cheeseburger ($8.50).
“I really like our hamburger,” Noguchi says. “It’s local beef, but it’s not a gourmet burger. It tastes like a diner burger.” Even better, he brushes it with teriyaki sauce for a teri burger that’s not on the menu. The teriyaki sauce is more Japanese than local-style: “We actually have a mother tare sauce that we keep going and building and building on,” Noguchi says. On top of the teri-glazed hamburger patty, he adds sriracha, mayo, watercress. “It’s not the most popular thing on the menu (maybe because it’s not even on the menu), but it’s developed a cult following.” Heeia Pier General Store and Deli, 46-499 Kamehameha Highway, Kaneohe, (808) 235-2192, heeiapeir.com.
He also recommends: Dave Caldiero’s pasta at Town (price varies).
“Any pasta dish that Dave Caldiero makes, I get kinda emotional,” Noguchi says. Noguchi recommends any of his pastas—dried or fresh—though the “pièces de résistance” are the hand-cut pastas and gnocchi. 3435 Waialae Ave., (808) 735-5900, townkaimuki.com
Chef/Owner of 12th Ave Grill and Salt
At his restaurant: Fish special (price varies).
At 12th Ave Grill, the fish changes daily, depending on what the restaurant gets in. Recent catches include kajiki, seared with peppercorn and served with a smoked Ewa tomato relish; an akule escabeche with quinoa risotto, MAO arugula and preserved Big Island Meyer lemon; grilled opah on top of a celery root and parsnip purée, dressed with a beet vinaigrette and garlic chips. 1145 12th Ave., (808) 732-9469, 12thavegrill.com.
He also recommends: Nabeyaki Udon at Jimbo ($14.70).
Like many other chefs, Hanney turns to noodles for off-duty comfort food. Jimbo is on his short list of noodle establishments and, in particular, the nabeyaki udon is his go-to. “It has a little bit of everything,” he says. “Chicken, mushrooms, egg, all things I love.” Served in a metal pot, and topped with fried shrimp and eggplant tempura, “it’s soul satisfying.” 1936 S. King St., 947-2211.
ALAN TAKASAKI: CHEF/OWNER OF LE BISTRO
Executive Pastry Chef at Kahala Hotel and Resort
At his restaurant: Apple confit at Hoku’s ($11).
Moorhouse’s favorite dessert may also be the most labor-intensive. For the apple confit, apples are first sliced paper-thin, layered with Maui turbinado sugar and left to rest overnight. The next day, Moorhouse squeezes out all the liquid and then bakes the apples at a low temperature for eight hours. A slice of this apple lasagna is served on a macadamia nut sablee (akin to a crumbly cookie) and topped with a rosemary-tinged, white-chocolate mousse and vanilla-butter sauce. Kahala Hotel and Resort, 5000 Kahala Ave., (808) 739-8780, kahalaresort.com.
He also recommends: Kimchee miso ramen at Ramen Nakamura ($11).
“I like it because not only does it have kimchee in it, but it has the fried garlic chips,” he says. Ramen Nakamura also has a spicy ramen, but Moorhouse finds the kimchi broth has more depth of flavor. (Ramen Nakamura is also BYOB). 2141 Kalakaua Ave., (808) 922-7960.
Chef/Owner of Le Bistro
At his restaurant: Wild salmon sashimi ($14.80).
During the wild salmon season (late spring to summer), Takasaki prepares a salmon sashimi with a local watermelon dressing, accompanied by endives, Maui onions and Hauula tomatoes. It’s a refreshing distillation of summer flavors. Takasaki admits its ephemerality—drawing on the short season of wild salmon and watermelon—is part of what makes this dish so appealing to him. 5730 Kalanianaole Highway, (808) 373-7990.
He also recommends: Torchon of foie gras with pineapple gelee at Halekulani (off the menu).
This was a pairing tasted some time ago, but as Takasaki describes the smooth richness of foie gras against the gentle acidity of pineapple, it’s as if the two are dissolving on his tongue all over again. “It was amazing. It’s hard to find something where the balance is just perfect,” Takasaki says. “The pineapple was sweet and tart, a little bit crunchy—that, with the foie gras, it was amazing. That was something.” This isn’t a regular dish at the Halekulani, but can be ordered ahead of time. 2199 Kalia Road, 923-2311, halekulani.com/dining.
Executive Chef at Halekulani
At his restaurant: Oxtail soup (not on the regular menu).
Garg’s recommendation is for the humble oxtail soup, a startling choice given Halekulani’s high-end dining experiences. “But if you have to ask for my absolute, absolute favorite, that would be it,” Garg says. It’s served twice a month at the Halekulani employee dining room, but “regular guests get to know [about it] through the coconut wireless and we save it for them.” What makes it so special? “It’s just the way one of the cooks makes it,” Garg says. “It’s family-style, the combination of flavors. We have a lot of people call to see if they can get some.” It’s become so popular that Garg promises, “Look forward to it coming onto the menu soon.” 2199 Kalia Road, (808) 923-2311, halekulani.com/dining.
He also recommends: Pork belly at Nobu Waikiki ($40).
The pork belly at Nobu has at least one loyal fan: “I could eat that every day and not get bored of it,” Garg says. Garg loves sharing this slightly spicy and rich dish with others—he goes for the large, big enough for two or three to share. Waikiki Parc, 2233 Helumoa Road, (808) 237-6999, noburestaurants.com/waikiki.
Chef/Owner of V Lounge
At his restaurant: Margherita pizza ($14).
When asked for his recommendation, Briceno says, “I can’t say Prima,” referring to the crowd darling topped with pancetta, truffle oil and a runny egg. Instead, he prefers the much simpler Margherita—in essence, a cheese pizza—made with San Marzano tomato sauce, hand-pulled mozzarella di buffala, and garnished with a simple basil leaf or two. 1344 Kona St., (808) 953-0007, vloungehawaii.com.
He also recommends: Short ribs pipikaula-style at Helena’s Hawaiian Food ($5.20 for small, $10.40 for large).
Helena’s pipikaula-style short ribs are a clear favorite for Briceno. “I love the texture, love the flavor,” he says. Like pipikaula, these meaty ribs are dried—at Helena’s, you can see them hanging over the kitchen stove—for a chewy, juicy bite. “I just love Helena’s,” Briceno says. “I go all the time; they know my order.” 1240 N. School St., (808) 845-8044, helenashawaiianfood.com.
CHEF SAVAS MOJARRAD FROM THE OLIVE TREE CAFÉ EATING HAMACHI KAMA FROM YANAGI SUSHI.
PHOTO: MARK ARBEIT
Chef at Home Bar and Grill
At his restaurant: Kimchee or Wafu steak ($17 for 12 ounces, $23 for 16 ounces), tater-tot nachos ($9).
"Our two most popular dishes are the tater-tot nachos and negitoro—aahi with green onion coulis—almost every table will have one,” says Nakasone. “But, at heart, I’m a carnivore, so I’m gonna eat steak.” Home’s specialty steaks come in two varieties: kimchee or wafu. The kimchee is topped with an egg and kimchee (of course), whereas the “lighter” wafu is a Japanese-style steak served on onions and mushrooms braised in kabayaki sauce, and covered with grated daikon and green onions. 1683 Kalakaua Ave., (808) 942-2237.
He also recommends: All-you-can-eat yakiniku at Sikdorak ($19.95).
Nakasone hardly ever eats at home, his own home, that is. “The only thing I eat every week, religiously, is noodles, whether pho, cake noodles, ramen,” says Nakasone. “Lately, I go to Sikdorak the most.” It’s a 24-hour, all-you-can-eat yakiniku place. “We just gorge ourselves on protein—beef tongue, pork belly.” 655 Keeaumoku St., (808) 949-2890.
Chef/Owner of Himalayan Kitchen
At his restaurant: Fish coco vindaloo ($16.95).
Due to Nepal’s geography, Nepalese cuisine, like modern-day Hawaii cuisine, melds a variety of ethnicities for a unique flavor profile. It’s only natural, then, that when Basnet brought Nepalese food to Honolulu, he would add some of Hawaii’s best ingredients, such as tropical fruit and fish, to the pot. Basnet’s favorite dish at Himalayan Kitchen combines the fresh catch of the day with Nepalese-style flavors and spices. He simmers the fish in a ginger, onion, tomato, and coconut-based curry, for a Nepal-meets-Hawaii dish. 1137 11th Ave., (808) 735-1122, himalayankitchen.net.
He also recommends: Crab fried rice at To Thai For ($16).
Basnet’s recommendation centers around fried rice. His favorite is the crab fried rice down the street at To Thai For, where fried rice is elevated with chunks of crab and fresh Thai spices. “It’s perfectly spiced for me,” he says. It’s not on the menu; you have to ask for it. 3571 Waiaalae Ave., (808) 734-3443, itstothaifor.com.
Executive Pastry Chef at Morimoto Waikiki
At his restaurant: Haupia semifreddo ($12).
Though Skurnick says picking just one of his desserts is like picking a favorite child, when pressed, he names the haupia semifreddo. It’s an ice cream sandwich, but done up Morimoto-style, it becomes a whimsical plate of haupia ice cream between two crisp matcha wafers, surrounded by clouds of green-tea sponge cake and cubes of coconut-water gelée. Magenta micro amaranth sprouts from Nalo Farms and honey from Manoa finish this elegant dessert. Waikiki Edition, 1775 Ala Moana Blvd., (808) 943-5900, morimotowaikiki.com.
He also recommends: House charcuterie platter at Salt ($18).
“When one is surrounded by sugar all day, [he gets] a serious craving for salt,” Skurnick says. He recommends the house charcuterie platter, which includes local, house-cured meats, such as the bresaola, shaved, dried beef; cotechino, a cooked salami; lomos, cured pork loin; braunschweiger, a pork liver sausage; and coppa, cured pork shoulder. Salt, 3605 Waialae Ave., (808) 744-7567.
Chef/Owner of Olive Tree Café
At his restaurant: Tarama salata ($6.69).
Mojarrad is a man of simple, clean flavors, as evidenced by the menu at the Olive Tree and in his recommendations. His favorite dish at the Olive Tree is the tarama salata appetizer, a Greek fish-roe spread served alongside pita. When he can get his hands on it, Mojarrad will make tarama salata with mahi mahi roe, “one of the most prized roe,” he says but, usually, the restaurant takes an imported salted roe from Greece and mixes it with olive oil, bread, fresh lemon juice and garlic for a thick spread studded with crunchy roe. 4614 Kilauea Ave., (808) 737-0303.
He also recommends: Hamachi kama at Yanagi Sushi ($15.95).
Hamachi kama, or yellowtail collar, offers up fatty, tender pieces of fish, if somewhat awkward to eat. At Yanagi Sushi, the kama is broiled and served with a wedge of lemon, “so it reminds me of Greece,” Mojarrad says. “Greeks put lemon on everything. The kama is oily, but it’s excellent and delicious.” 762 Kapiolani Blvd., (808) 597-1525, yanagisushi-hawaii.com.
CHEF ROBIN LEE OF NOBU WAIKIKI EATING THE QUATTRO FORMAGGIO AT J.J. DOLAN'S.
PHOTO: MARK ARBEIT
Executive Chef at Nobu Waikiki
At his restaurant: Kurobota pork belly, ($20 for small, $40 for large).
"You can’t go wrong with the Nobu classics—yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño, black cod miso,” Lee says. “But a special that we do here, that you can’t get at any of the other Nobus, is our pork belly.” For this off-the-menu dish, Kurobota pork belly is cooked slowly in duck fat, then pan-seared “so it’s crispy on the outside, meltingly tender on the inside,” he says. The pork is swiped with spicy miso and paired with sautéed brussels sprouts. Waikiki Parc, 2233 Helumoa Road, (808) 237-6999, noburestaurants.com/Waikiki.
He also recommends: Quattro formaggio at J.J. Dolan’s ($17).
“My latest thing is pizza,” Lee says. He admits he may be starting a pizza war between the J.J. Dolan and V Lounge camps, and, while he turns to both pizzerias to satisfy his cravings, at the moment, the four-cheese pizza at J.J.’s tops his list. It’s not hard to see why: This decadent pie is laden with havarti, brie, Gouda and fontina cheeses. 1147 Bethel St., (808) 537-4992, jjdolans.com.
Chef at Hilo Bay Café
At his restaurant: The fish special (price varies).
"I always recommend the fish special on my menu,” Ketner says. “It changes every day. We get whatever fresh fish in the morning that’s at the market, and we develop the dish to the fish. Each fish is different, so you have to treat it differently.” Recent specials included a pan-roasted bigeye ahi with sautéed spinach and potatoes in a Dungeness-crab curry cream sauce; blackened ono with smoked bacon and sweet-corn polenta, asparagus tips, a green chile sauce and snow-crab guacamole. 315 E. Makaala St., Hilo, (808) 935-4939, hilobaycafe.com.
He also recommends: Prime rib at Kaleo’s Bar and Grill ($25).
Admittedly, it was difficult to get Ketner to name a place—he eats most meals outside of the restaurant at home with his family—but, in the end, he settled on Kaleo’s prime rib. There are few plates as classic as a prime rib with mashed potatoes; it’s apropos that Ketner, who has his own meat and potatoes dish on his menu, orders this on his nights off. “It’s seasoned well and properly cooked, with an au jus that isn’t watered down,” he says. 15-2969 Pahoa Village Road, Pahoa, (808) 965-5600, kaleoshawaii.com.
Chef de Cuisine at Merriman's Waimea
At his restaurant: Loco moco ($12.95).
It's not a really good loco moco— it’s bacon and eggs for dinner. “You don’t see eggs at dinner anymore, it’s kind of an old-school way of eating, and in a lot of Asian cultures,” Hess says. For his interpretation of a loco moco, house-cured, thick-cut bacon is complemented with a poached egg and a coffee barbecue sauce. A soft-poached egg, when broken, becomes the gravy for this not-your-usual loco moco. Macadamia-nut rice sops up any errant yolk. 65-1227 Opelo Road, Waimea, (808) 885-6822, merrimanshawaii.com.
He also recommends: Hawaiian-Style Misoyaki Butterfish at Roy’s (appetizer $19, entrée $39.50).
“All in all, it's a real tasty dish,” Hess says of the misoyaki butterfish at Roy’s. “It has a spicy, lomi-tomato relish, and the fish seared a la plancha gives a caramelized flavor to the misoyaki.” It’s served with rice, which soaks up the richness of the fish and sauce. 250 Waikoloa Beach Drive, (808) 886-4321, roysrestaurant.com.
Chef at Blue Dragon
At his restaurant: Grilled shrimp and scallops with mango habañero coulis ($28).
Bunnell marinates shrimp and scallops in tequila and lime zest before grilling, and then fi nishes the seafood with a mango habañero coulis that’s “very fresh and tropical,” he says. “The sauce is my favorite part about it. It’s kind of spicy and a little bit sweet from the mango.” He serves it with sautéed vegetables—zucchini, summer squash, chard, collard greens, kale, green and yellow beans—“whatever our farm has available that week.” A wedge of grilled avocado provides a perfect, creamy accompaniment. 61-3616 Kawaihae Road, Kawaihae, (808) 882-7771, bluedragonhawaii.com.
He also recommends: Meatball calzone at Café Il Mondo ($10.75).
A café of the world hides in Honokaa. Bunnell’s recommendation comes easy—he’s just returned from lunch at Café Il Mondo, where a variety of calzones draw his appetite. In particular, there’s the meatball calzone—meatballs with marinara sauce, basil pesto, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese, baked into a homemade dough. 45-3626 Mamane St., Honokaa, (808) 775-7711, cafeilmondo.com.
NORIO YAMAMOTO: CHEF/OWNER OF MONSTERA
Chef/Owner, and Wes Monty, Owner of Monstera
At his restaurant: Tuna tataki ($17.95).
Yamamoto, the sushi chef at this sushi bar/izakaya/noodle house, recommends the tuna tataki so wholeheartedly, he says it’s “100-percent guaranteed” you’ll like it. Humility or a language barrier prevent him from pinpointing what makes this dish so special, except to say: “Combination of everything, very unique.” Lightly seared tuna, ponzu, garlic aioli, what’s not to love? The Shops at Mauna Lani, 68-1330 Mauna Lani Drive, No. 111, Kohala Coast, (808) 887-2711, monsterasushi.com.
He also recommends: Paneer makhni at Shivalik Indian Cuisine ($15.95).
If you think it’s odd for a Japanese-restaurant owner to recommend an Indian dish, Monty says, “I just like good food, the cuisine doesn’t matter.” The paneer makhni is a fresh, non-melting Indian cheese cooked in a creamy tomato sauce, resulting in “great flavor,” he says. 75-5669 Alii Drive, Kona, (808) 326-9889, shivalikindiancuisine.com.
Chef/Owner of Village Burger
At his restaurant: Hawaiian Red Veal burger ($8.50).
Village Burger is a burger joint and, yet, the choices of patty alone—beef, red veal, Kahua Ranch Wagyu, even a Waipio taro burger—can make ordering a hamburger a paralyzing affair. Goto helps with his recommendation: the Hawaii Ranchers red veal patty with tomato marmalade and goat cheese, on a brioche bun. The sweet and tangy tomato marmalade—tomatoes and onions cooked down with red-wine vinegar and a bit of sugar—eliminates the need for ketchup. 67-1185 Mamalahoa Highway, Waimea, (808) 885-7319, villageburgerwaimea.com.
He also recommends: Saimin at Nori’s Saimin and Snacks (small special $7.45, large special $8.45).
Nori’s Saimin and Snacks may be an hour and 15 minutes away from Waimea, but Goto makes the drive for the saimin and company (Nori’s owner is a good friend). He goes to talk shop over a bowl of saimin: “The noodles have a really good texture, and I like the broth,” he says. 688 Kinoole St., Hilo, (808) 935-9133.
Chef de Cuisine at 22° North
At his restaurant: Porcini-rubbed, grilled Aakukui Ranch New York Strip Steak ($32).
At its simplest, this is a grilled steak served alongside potatoes, Maui onion rings, Kauai blue oyster mushrooms, all anchored by a natural jus. For Leikam, though, the beef is an ode to Kauai: “Duane Shimogawa of Aakukui Ranch does an excellent job of raising and selecting his cattle,” Leikam says. “The flavors that come through his product truly have the flavors of Kauai. The tropical grasses that they feed on are definitely pronounced in his meats.” 3-2087 Kaumualii Highway, Lihue, (808) 245-9593, 22northkauai.com.
He also recommends: Carnitas plate from Monico’s Taqueria in Kapaa, Kauai ($14).
Leikam is nostalgic for Mexican flavors, having worked with Rick Bayless at Frontera Grill. He finds comfort in the carnitas at Monico’s: “The dish is simple and always done well. It is a feel-good meal.” 4356 Kuhio Highway, Kapaa, (808) 822-4300, monicostaqueria.com.
Roy's Restaurants' Corporate Chef and Opening Chef at the Tavern at Princeville
At her restaurant: Buttermilk fried chicken, sautéed kale and mashed potatoes ($18), Tavern’s pie ($9).
“Roy's thing is fried chicken— it’s his favorite thing to eat,” says Lau. With those kind of expectations, just throwing chicken into the fryer at Yamaguchi’s latest project—American comfort food at The Tavern—wouldn’t do. “It probably took a good year to get it to where he said, ‘That’s it,’” Lau says. “There are many steps included in it; it’s a Tavern secret recipe, you could say.” It’s served with mashed potatoes and kale grown in The Tavern’s 5,000-square-foot permaculture garden. To complete The Tavern experience, Lau also recommends The Tavern pie, “a really, really rich, dark, Big Island chocolate pudding with Hawaiian salted caramel on top.” 5-3900 Kuhio Highway, Princeville, (808) 826-8700.
She also recommends: Menudo at Mariachi’s ($12.50).
Lau is “pretty partial” to Mariachi’s menudo, a tripe stew with hominy and chilies. “They do a really good job with it; it reminds me of my mom’s food,” says Lau (who’s half-Mexican). “It’s hard to find good menudo, so when you find something that tastes great, you go.” 3501 Rice St., Lihue, (808) 246-1570, mariachiskauai.com.
PHOTO: COURTESY MAMA'S FISH HOUSE
Chef/Owner of Market Fresh Bistro
At his restaurant: Haleakala braised lamb ragu on fresh pappardelle ($15).
For Pardo’s recommended dish at Market Fresh Bistro, he takes a whole 40- to 50-pound Haleakala lamb, breaks it down, sears it and braises it over the course of two days along with Kula vegetables and a handful of herbs from the restaurant’s garden. San Marzano tomatoes brighten the ragu, and it’s finished with pecorino cheese. The thick, meaty sauce is spooned over fresh pappardelle pasta for a deeply comforting dish. 3620 Baldwin Ave., Makawao, (808) 572-4877.
He also recommends: Pancakes at Tasty Crust ($3.50).
“I love tasty crust pancakes. I get them whenever I get the chance,” Pardo says. “They’re just delicious— they’re big, they’re fluffy, they’re really, really good. ”The other appeal of eating at this family-run business, which began in 1944, is that, sometimes, he’ll see other chefs. “It’s the kind of place we like to eat, hole-in-the wall, mom-and-pop-type of places,” he says. 1770 Mill St., Wailuku, (808) 244-0845, tastycrust.com.
Executive Chef/Owner of Io Restaurant
At his restaurant: Veal porterhouse with fresh Hawaiian peppercorn-brandy sauce ($44).
What McDonald loves about this dish is the way the fruitiness of the fresh peppercorns in a classic brandy sauce play against the veal. In addition, the accompanying roasted root vegetable risotto—made up of kohlrabi, beets, daikon and heirloom carrots—is sourced from the restaurant’s own farm. 505 Front St., Lahaina, (808) 661-8422, iomaui.com.
He also recommends: Seared ahi and foie gras at Lahaina Grill ($31).
This unctuous dish is served with a fig compote and glazed with a Maui onion duck demi-glace. “What makes it so memorable is the perfect execution of cooking on the foie gras and ahi, coupled with the richness of the foie gras blending with the tuna,” says McDonald. “The demi pulls the two elements together perfectly.” 127 Lahainaluna Road, Lahaina, (808) 667-5117, lahainagrill.com.
Executive Chef at Mama's Fish House
At his restaurant: Fresh fish, Hawaiian-style ($40).
It was hard to nail down down Bateman on a single dish—he kept drifting among seven different preparations of fish, from papio to moi to uku—but, in the end, he settled on the fresh fish sautéed with butter and coconut milk. He seemed slightly embarrassed to be recommending a dish that resembled a luau plate, in such an upscale restaurant as Mama’s, but he didn’t need to be. The fish is accompanied by Hawaiian wild pig, trapped in macadamia-nut orchards on the Big Island; lomi-lomi salmon; fresh poi made in-house with Maui taro; Molokai sweet potato; tropical Island fruit; and an apple banana baked with sugar, rum and butter. It’s a perfect representation of “blending our fishermen with our farmers and making it really good,” says Bateman. 799 Poho Place, Paia, (808) 579-8488, mamasfishouse.com.
He also recommends: Braised lamb shank with lemon risotto at Capische ($38).
“I love the braised lamb and risotto,” says Bateman. “It’s such a simple dish, and yet they do it really well. The lamb is so rich and the lemon risotto balances it well.” A savory herb broth is the finishing touch to this course. Hotel Wailea, 555 Kaukahi St., Wailea, (808) 879-2224, capische.com.
Chef de Cuisine at The Banyan Tree
At his restaurant: Seafood sausage with pumpernickel and béarnaise ($23).
Vasquez favors this dish as much for its taste as its inspiration. He says, “I always like to tap into the creative medium of my cooks and, one guy, Aaron Palone, is a sausage artisan. He makes sausages at home and this reminded me of my earlier career in Chicago where I handcrafted everything from scratch, from pastas to sausages. Also, Chicago being a sausage-grinding community, it was an homage to my hometown, [while] showcasing Hawaii’s finest seafood. We chose Kona lobster, Molokai shrimp, local snapper and scallops because the flavor profiles were a hit.” Ritz Carlton Kapalua, One Ritz-Carlton Drive, Kapalua, (808) 669-6200.
He also recommends: Ratatouille crêpe at Paradise Found Crêperie ($9.95).
At this small eatery in Lahaina, Vasquez recommends the ratatouille crêpe, with the traditional stew of eggplant, squash, peppers and tomatoes, folded into a freshly made crêpe with garden herbs and mozzarella. 170 Papalaua St., Lahaina, (808) 661-1747.
SHELDON SIMEON: CHEF DE CUISINE AT STAR NOODLE
PHOTO: NINA LEE
Chef de Cuisine at Star Noodle
At his restaurant: Pohole salad ($8).
Born and raised in Hilo, Simeon grew up eating pohole (ferns)—at baby luau, parties, from his grandparents’ backyard. “When developing the menu [at Star Noodle],” he says, “I knew I wanted something on the menu that ties to my roots.” He combines the pohole with dried shrimp, shredded ika (cuttlefish), kombu (kelp), onions, tomatoes and sesame oil for a sweet, salty and umami-filled bite. 286 Kupuohi St., Lahaina, (808) 667-5400, starnoodle.com.
He also recommends: Sansei’s shrimp dynamite at Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar ($12.95).
For this pupu, tempura-battered rock shrimp are tossed with masago aioli and unagi sauce. “The creaminess works well with the crunchiness of the rock shrimp,” Simeon says. “And it goes well with Kirin Ichiban. Or a couple of sake shots.” Sansei, Kihei Town Center, 1881 S. Kihei Road, No. KT-116, Kihei, 879-0004, sanseihawaii.com.