The Kahala’s ‘star’ restaurant gets a new look, menuCover Story
April 29, 2018
Story By: Caroline Wright | Photos by: Lawrence Tabudlo
For almost 55 years, The Kahala Hotel & Resort has attracted a wide range of high-profile clientele, from the Dalai Lama to Queen Elizabeth to the Rolling Stones. Locals and tourists also have been drawn to The Kahala’s beaches, ballrooms, luxury suites — and Hoku’s, its fabled signature restaurant.
Named for a dolphin born in The Kahala’s lagoon, Hoku’s, built in 1996, became known worldwide for eclectic cuisine and spectacular views. Earlier this year, the restaurant underwent a major renovation, its decor and furnishings given new life via remodeling and modernizing.
Resorttrust Hawaii, which purchased The Kahala in July 2014, worked with its Japanese parent company’s design and architectural team on the multi-million dollar renovation. “They wanted to take the restaurant in a new direction, and refresh the concept and atmosphere,” says restaurant manager Wes Zane. “The redesign provides a more approachable feel.”
Intriguing textural elements, including bronze marble inlay, coconut shells and black granite, offer stimulation for the senses. Custom-made light fixtures resemble hoku, or stars, and booths have been updated with gently curving partitions reminiscent of waves.
With the installation of granite counters, a new salamander and fryer, retractable heat lamps and a spectacular combi oven, Hoku’s kitchen also received a significant update. And its menu has undergone a metamorphosis as well.
“This menu is so different!” exclaims chef de cuisine Eric Oto. “It’s more modern. We wanted to make it less intimidating — elegant, but not stuffy.”
A local boy and avid fisherman whose dad was a farmer, Oto is reverent of sustainability, local ingredients and island culture. His exciting new menu includes four distinctive sections whose names are thematically inspired.
Ka Lawai’a (“The Fisherman”) spotlights Hoku’s spectacular seafood dishes. Kona Kampachi Crudo ($17), an appetizer made with aji amarillo and sustainable farm-raised kampachi from the Big Island, is a standout here. “We don’t do much to it,” says Oto. “We want to let the kampachi speak for itself.”
In Ka Mahi’ai (“The Farmer”), the focus is on farm-to-table favorites. In this category, Local Goat Cheese Duo ($17) includes cheeses from Maui and Hawaii islands, plus roasted beets, pear, avocado mousse and lilikoi. “People rave about this dish! Everything in it is local,” says Oto.
From the section called Ka Holo Kahiki (“The Voyager”): Charred Spiced Octopus ($19) is inspired by lomo saltado, a classic Peruvian steak dish, and contains dark purple Peruvian potatoes. “And it has a little French influence, because I take local olena and do a turmeric soubise,” Oto adds. “This category is a playground.”
The dishes in the fourth section, Kilo Hoku (“The Steersman”), have a special connection to Oto’s life and experiences, including Crispy Moi ($38). “Moi was once only for ali‘i (royalty),” says Oto. “I remember catching my first moi at Bellows. I was so excited to bring it home to my dad!”
Also from Kilo Hoku: Certified Angus Beef Rib Chop (market price), a 28-ounce dry aged bone-in ribeye perfect for ohana-style sharing. The steak receives a rub of Oto’s own blend of house-smoked Alaea salt and herbs.
Here’s a sampling of highlights from Chef Eric Oto’s Tasting Menu
$130 per person; $175 with wine pairings
LOCAL GOAT CHEESE DUO
Surfig Goat Dairy & Hawaii Goat Dairy roasted beets, Asian pear, avocado mousse, spicy lilikoi, pistachio
Pairing: Henri Bourgeois, “Les Baronnes” Sauvignon Blanc, Loire Valley
CRISPY SKIN MOI
Hamakua Ali’i mushrooms, lemongrass soy vinaigrette, long bean, dried scallop-nameko mushroom rice
Pairing: Donnhoff Estate Riesling, Nahe, Germany
PRIME FILET MIGNON
(Supplement with 2 ounce A5 Miyazaki Wagyu strip loin/$30) Charred hearts of palm, Brussels sprout, shallot potato puree, burgundy jus
Pairing: Trefethen Estate, Cabernet Sauvignon Oak Knoll, Napa Valley
HAWAIIAN CHOCOLATE CREMEUX
Crisp macadamia nuts, white chocolate mousse, tangerine sorbet
Note: complete menu available at kahalaresort.com