Chef reaches into the frosty drawer and pulls out a bag of dark red ‘ahi fillets. He admires the catch for a moment, then announces, “Let’s get to work. It’s time to blacken this ‘ahi.”
He rolls the fish in a concoction of spices and soon the room fills with the succulent scents that only great cooking produces. Chef plates the seared ‘ahi slices alongside a mixture of chopped avocado, red onion, mango and papaya “to cut the heat of the blackened fish” and drizzles it with a sauce made with lemon butter, sake and Chinese mustard that makes my mouth water.
Next he assembles fresh oyster shooters by topping the raw mollusks with house-made gazpacho and a dollop of homemade cucumber and yuzu gelato. Before the guests arrive, he fries tiny blini and tops them with smoked salmon, creme fraiche, chopped egg and capers, caviar style. He cooks pork-belly chunks that will be served at the main meal with succulent scallops, plated with cippolini onions slow roasted in Pernod and butter.
Soon the guests arrive, each one commenting that “something smells really good in here.” Rhonda makes sure everyone has her specialty drink in hand, while the charismatic Aaron introduces guests to one another. He then bids them onto the lanai to enjoy the sunset making its fleeting appearance over the ocean beyond. Everyone seems to be floating on air.
Aaron had once told me that he uses the same philosophy to entertain at home as he does in his restaurants: make each guest feel like a star.
“Good service is about anticipating your guests’ needs,” he explains. “Anyone can get someone something that they ask for, but getting it before they ask, that’s the goal. Also, I believe in being old-fashioned. Dining is about making sure [the ladies] are always cared for, first, last, and everywhere in between.”
This, from the man who gave his wife a chainsaw for Mother’s Day? Aaron smiles. “As the Greeks say, ‘Why would women want to be equal to men, when they are way above men?’”
We step outside to a four-course dinner being served on the lanai. The moon casts a glow over the ocean. Tiki torches blaze; the sound of a distant conch shell drifts up the hill from the resorts below. Between rounds of laughter, a guest toasts Aaron and Rhonda, thanking them for inviting him to dine this evening “like royalty.” Stars form a canopy overhead, and as they clink their crystal goblets together, each guest at the table also appears to be twinkling.