Story by Becky Speere | Photography by Mieko Horikoshi
In July 2020, The Mill House Restaurant announced it would be closed until further notice. Not one to hang up his hat, executive chef Taylor Ponte, Maui Nō Ka ‘Oi’s 2020 Chef of the Year, grabbed Natasha Joslin, the senior sales and events manager at Mill House (and his BFF and partner), and went rogue. They created a new catering venture called Kamado, a business offering private dinners and pop-ups.
Three months later they masterminded this collaboration dinner with Wailuku’s newest tropical cocktail bar, Esters Fair Prospect. The warm temperatures are dissipating into darkness in Wailuku town as my husband Chris, MNKO publisher Diane Woodburn, our friend Maria Ljubic and I settle into the al fresco terrace at Esters Fair Prospect on Main Street. It’s eight o’clock and we are hungry; we’ve all held out on eating today in anticipation of this event. “I looked at the menu online and knew it would be a lot of food,” says Maria. And she was right.
Suzanne Navarro, co-owner of Esters, introduces us to the tropical bar concept created by herself and co-owner Jessica Everett as she serves coupe glasses of MauiWine’s Lokelani sparkling wine. “This will go with the amuse-bouche to start off our evening,” she says. “Chef Taylor will be bringing it by shortly.” The dish turns out to be a large Maine oyster on the half-shell served in a pool of spicy ginger sugo (sauce) with crunchy slivers of cucumber.
Diane eyes the oyster warily, admitting she is not a huge fan of this sort of shellfish. Regardless, she dives into it like a pro and surfaces with a smile. “That is the best I’ve ever tasted!” she says. “It was really good!” The briny sweet Wellfleet oysters are flown in daily from the East Coast by Maui Prime, and pair beautifully with the ginger and citrusy spark of the wine.
For the first course, Suzanne arrives bearing cara cara orange-hued cocktails with a bamboo-skewered kaffir lime leaf (a.k.a. makrut) balanced on the rims. We take cautious sips, and as the combination of vodka, citrus and orgeat flavors meets our lips we unanimously declare it a winner. The accompanying dish is Kona kampachi crudo in a coconut and lime leche de tigre sauce softened with macadamia nut oil, a delightful start to our culinary quest.
Next arrives Taylor’s Kula corn salad with Kaua‘i shrimp and whipped Mexican cotija cheese. “I love using local ingredients, and Kaua‘i shrimp is one of Hawai‘i’s best seafood products. Enjoy!” he says. I whisper to Chris that I love this salty-fluffy cotija and shrimp combination and tuck away the flavor memory for future at-home creations. Jessica, who is also the resident mixologist, works another perfect pairing, blending smoky mezcal and lime with a sweet corn stock and finishing it with a mist of cilantro and spicy chili oil.
Taylor’s next dish, Okinawan sweet potato and mahimahi — a classic pairing at many Hawaiian restaurants — takes an eastward turn to the West Indies. “I have thirteen different spices in this Caribbean-inspired dish,” notes Taylor, and I immediately detect allspice, coriander and star anise in the roasted purple sweet potatoes. A cane sugar molasses reduction marries perfectly with the tender chargrilled fish and is further enhanced by Suzanne’s next cocktail, which is served in a Tom Collins glass: a blend of rum, coconut, amaro, house-made orgeat and lime over crushed ice. (See Mixology for The Sea Hag recipe)
An intermezzo of refreshing cucumber, cinnamon and mint granita cleanses our palettes in preparation for the final savory course: poached lobster on a mango curry emulsion. The harmony of curry spices intertwined with cardamom lobster stock and fruit is irresistible. I relish each slice of warm lobster meat in slow motion, dipping the morsels into the yellow curry sauce until I have swabbed the plate clean. Maria exclaims, “It’s all so good, but I can’t eat anymore!” Yet, as the dessert course arrives, she is the first to dip her spoon into the rich coconut lime chiboust with rum syrup and crunchy meringue florets.
A divine cocktail laced with pineapple rum from the Cognac region and walnut bitters caps off the night.
It’s been nearly eight months since Taylor’s last Chef’s Table at the Mill House as we go to press, and although Chef and the venue itself are missed by many, he hasn’t skipped a creative beat in the kitchen. See you at the next Kamado pop-up, or perhaps even sooner at Esters.
Kamado | kamadomaui.com | IG @kamadomaui | firstname.lastname@example.org | (808) 281-7979
Esters Fair Prospect | 2050 Main Street, Wailuku | estersmaui.com | IG @estersmaui | (808) 868-0056