USA: HAWAII’S NEW WAVE

FROM FARM-TO-TA­BLE TO FINE DIN­ING, RIDE HAWAII’S NEW WAVE OF FOOD EX­PE­RI­ENCES AROUND THE IS­LANDS.

Vacations & Travel - - Contents - BY LISA PERKOVIC

From farm-to-ta­ble to fine din­ing, ride Hawaii’s new wave of food ex­pe­ri­ences around the is­lands.

Ex­posed brick walls, moody chan­de­liers, and a chef’s ta­ble right at the kitchen pass. Dishes like beef tartare, foie gras gy­oza, chicken liver mousse. The mood and the menu at Fête are straight out of New York, but we couldn’t be fur­ther from that con­crete jun­gle. In­stead, just down the street are sway­ing palm trees and the Pa­cific Ocean. Hawaii has come a long way from the days of food trucks and shrimp shacks, and al­though beloved by lo­cals and tourists alike, these old-school eater­ies are joined by a new wave of restau­rants, cafes, bak­eries and juice bars carv­ing a new path for Hawai­ian cui­sine. We take a pro­gres­sive tast­ing tour of the is­lands of Hawaii.

Oahu

As one of the world’s busiest beach strips, Waikiki has no short­age of eater­ies cater­ing to the tourist crowd. But it’s be­yond the beach that you will find the true trea­sures. Fête is one of them: the Brook­lyn-in­spired restau­rant in down­town Honolulu has at­tracted a cult-like fol­low­ing for its New Amer­i­can meets Hawai­ian menu. Own­ers Robynne Mai’i and Chuck Bus­sler de­scribe Fête as their “Hapa baby”, blend­ing Hawaii and Brook­lyn into dishes like a twice-fried Lu­dovico chicken that’s at­tracted a main­land fol­low­ing, along with lo­cal mar­ket fish that comes straight from the boats at the har­bour each day. Fête sits in the heart of down­town Honolulu’s trendy district, sur­rounded by small bars and speakeasies.

At Bar Leather Apron, se­cu­rity guards di­rect lost and thirsty trav­ellers down the cor­ri­dors of the Topa Fi­nan­cial Cen­ter to the mez­za­nine, where se­ri­ous cock­tail mixol­ogy takes place. Step inside and en­ter old world New York – the small space is decked out in heavy leather arm­chairs and high bar stools, while the walls are lined with one of the is­land’s best whiskey col­lec­tions. The team take their craft very se­ri­ously. Beak­ers, smok­ing tiki jars and dis­tilled essences are just the be­gin­ning. The sig­na­ture Farm to Glass cock­tails fea­ture lo­cal, or­ganic pro­duce from the re­gion. Mari’s Gar­den is a del­i­cate blend of cu­cum­ber, wa­ter­melon and yuzu, with gin, soda and cel­ery

bit­ters, while the Taket­suru Smash brings the flavours of red and green mi­cro shiso herbs to life with lemon and Ja­panese whiskey.

It’s no se­cret that Hawai­ians have a sweet tooth, and at Chi­na­town’s Sing Cheong Yuan Bak­ery, Hawai­ian pro­duce is show­cased in tra­di­tional Chi­nese sweets. The bak­ery’s sig­na­ture macadamia sesame squares are dis­played in the win­dow in large trays – it’s a no-frills ex­pe­ri­ence where you can stock up on treats for the com­ing days. Back in Waikiki, the Royal Hawai­ian Ho­tel Bak­ery is also cap­tur­ing the sweets mar­ket. The ho­tel’s executive pas­try chef Carolyn Por­tuondo has taken the is­land’s co­conut cake and turned it into a bite-sized Snow­ball tak­ing the lo­cals by storm. Lay­ers of co­conut sponge and Royal Hawai­ian’s sig­na­ture pink ic­ing cov­ered in co­conut flakes make this a sweet treat to re­mem­ber.

Kauai

A land of dra­matic shore­lines, re­mote rain­forests and one of the world’s most spec­tac­u­lar canyons, Kauai is con­sid­ered the pret­ti­est and least com­mer­cial of Hawaii’s is­lands. No build­ing can be taller than the near­est co­conut palm tree, and there is just one main road run­ning through the is­land. The pace of life is con­sid­er­ably slower, but by no means lack­ing. At the Waipa Foun­da­tion, on the north­ern edge of Hanalei Bay on the is­land’s north, the team are ded­i­cated to bring­ing the con­nec­tion to the land back to the Hawai­ian peo­ple, and the Westin Princeville has part­nered with the non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion to ed­u­cate guests, too. Sev­eral times a month, the foun­da­tion opens the 647 ha prop­erty to Westin guests for a farm-to-ta­ble ex­pe­ri­ence called He ‘Aina Ola (a nour­ish­ing feast). The evening in­cludes a tour past the veg­etable gar­den and the pineap­ple patch, a crop that takes nearly two years to ma­ture and will this year yield its first har­vest, be­fore cross­ing over the road to the beach­front wet­lands the foun­da­tion has painstak­ingly re­stored. As dusk de­scends, guests gather at the open-air ter­race for a three-course feast pre­pared by the Westin’s enig­matic head chef. Pro­duce from the foun­da­tion, lo­cal meat and match­ing wines are served – macadamia-nutcrusted fish with fresh watercress, Hawai­ian Por­tuguese bean

soup – which the foun­da­tion de­scribes as ‘ta­ble to farm’ rather than ‘farm to ta­ble’. Guests also have the lux­ury of eat­ing sur­rounded by the lush val­ley and the land, the Aina that feeds the foun­da­tion.

The Westin’s sis­ter prop­erty, the St Regis Princeville Re­sort, brings the best of lo­cal pro­duce to the ta­ble in a set­ting that is more suited to fine din­ing. Its restau­rant, Kauai Grill, changes its menu to suit sea­sonal pro­duce, but also to show­case lo­cal Hawai­ian sup­pli­ers. The whole Kona lob­ster with young beets and crys­tallised ginger vinai­grette is a show­stop­per. On the south­ern side of the is­land, the Sher­a­ton’s RumFire restau­rant of­fers a unique con­cept where guests can give back. Ta­ble 53 is one of the best seats in the house and is stun­ning at sun­set with a pri­vate booth look­ing straight out at the ocean. And you’ll want to linger un­til well af­ter dark as all pro­ceeds from food and drink con­sumed at this ta­ble go to the Chil­dren’s Jus­tice Cen­ter of Kauai.

Maui

One of the first chefs to el­e­vate the ‘farm to ta­ble’ con­cept to fine din­ing in Hawaii was Ty­lun Pang. While Pang, the long­stand­ing head chef at the Fair­mont Kea Lani Maui

Re­sort’s Kõ restau­rant, grew up in Hawaii, he cut his teeth in restau­rants across the United States, Asia and South Amer­ica. Kõ show­cases the cul­tural melt­ing pot of Hawaii through dishes like Korean BBQ pork, Ja­panese tem­pura, Chi­nese fried rice, Filipino spring rolls and Hawai­ian poke. His sup­port of small-scale lo­cal Maui pro­duc­ers like Surf­ing Goat Dairy and Moloka’i veni­son gives his menu a breadth and va­ri­ety that has won it many awards. Look­ing out across the Fair­mont’s tran­quil adults-only pool and sprawl­ing grounds, Kõ is a pop­u­lar spot for sun­set cock­tails. Come morn­ing, Kõ’s bar is trans­formed into a juice bar, as part of the Fair­mont’s Inspire your En­ergy well­ness pro­gram. Well-bal­anced green juices and cold teas made from lo­cal pro­duce like Molokai sweet potato, beets and cel­ery are served grab-and-go style, of­ten fea­tur­ing herbs from the ho­tel’s own kitchen gar­den.

The Fair­mont sits on the man­i­cured ocean­front of Wailea, the re­sort re­gion in Maui’s south fa­mous for crys­tal-clear wa­ter where guests can see whales breach from their bal­conies. To the north, the land­scape changes dra­mat­i­cally. The 100 km Road to Hana hugs the coast­line, but winds its way through dense rain­for­est, past dra­matic wa­ter­falls and tow­er­ing

eu­ca­lyp­tus trees. With more than 60 one-way bridges, the road is not for the faint-hearted but yields to vis­i­tors a glimpse of Maui’s wild heart. Road­side food trucks and cafes have popped up to cater to road­trip­pers, but you’ll find lo­cals fill­ing up the pic­nic ta­bles, too. Brad­dah Hutt BBQ Grill, just be­yond the town of Hana, is le­gendary for fresh pulled pork tacos, driz­zled in home­made BBQ sauce. Huli Huli Chicken, down at Koki Beach, is an­other favourite. In­ter­est­ingly, the road is fa­mous not just for its tight turns and stun­ning vis­tas: shacks sell­ing ba­nana bread do a steady trade in minia­ture loaves made fresh each day. There is fierce com­pe­ti­tion among bak­ers, but you’ll find some of the best at the cheery

Half­way to Hana stand.

Hawaii Is­land

More com­monly known as the Big Is­land, Hawaii Is­land is a place of ex­tremes. With the world’s most ac­tive vol­ca­noes ris­ing up from the ocean floor, the is­land is split into two sides: Hilo, prone to al­most con­stant rain; and Kona, fa­mous for its black-sand beaches and end­less sun­shine. Mega re­sorts have popped up along the Kona coast, but it’s across on the Hilo side that you’ll find a slice of old-school Hawaii. Hilo’s down­town harks back to the 1920s, with many of the build­ings a study in the style of Art Deco ar­chi­tec­ture. Or­ganic food stores sit side by side with char­ity shops and record stores.

The Big Is­land Juice Co. is one of the bright spots in the small town, its big black­board of smooth­ies like Tan Lines, Mon­key Fuel and the Big Kahuna, are a tongue-in-cheek take that proves they don’t take them­selves too se­ri­ously. Us­ing fresh lo­cal fruits, they’re a hearty meal and a great way to start the day. Acai bowls over­loaded with ba­nana, gra­nola and macadamia but­ter are a very healthy start to the day. On the other end of the spec­trum, Hilo’s most fa­mous eatery is Ken’s House of Pan­cakes. Open 24 hours a day, this old school diner’s claim to fame isn’t just su­per-sized servings and se­ri­ously good pan­cakes. The wall over the till is cov­ered in signed celebrity pho­tographs, with sev­eral by ac­tor Dwayne John­son (a.k.a. The Rock), whose un­cle owns the diner.

Whether you’re af­ter fine din­ing that takes your taste­buds to the cut­ting edge of cui­sine, sim­ple fare that show­cases the fresh­est the ocean and the farm can of­fer, or com­fort food that hits the spot, Hawaii’s is­lands are a foodie par­adise. •

Open­ing im­age: Ohana plat­ter from KÕ, Fair­mont Kea Lani Maui. Clock­wise from left: Bar Leather Apron; Fête in­te­rior;Dish from the He ‘Aina Ola Farm Tour, Westin Princeville.

Clock­wise from left: Crab Crusted Catch of the Day from Ta­ble 53; Ahi on the Rock from KÕ, Fair­mont Kea Lani Maui; and Ta­ble 53 at Sher­a­ton’s RumFire Restau­rant.

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