Story by Becky Speere
I haven’t been here since Capische was in this location,” says Diane, my friend and publisher of Maui Nō Ka ‘Oi Magazine. “It’s been years.” We sit at a table at The Restaurant at Hotel Wailea and marvel at the locale. The open-air venue sits high above Wailea, looking out over the treetops with a 180-degree view of the ocean, Kaho‘olawe and Lāna‘i. It’s the perfect place to watch the sunset — a fiery display of orange and gold.
As dining editor, I’ve had the good fortune to eat here more than a few times over the years, and even though the chefs and menus have changed, I’ve never been disappointed.
“Tonight’s dinner is being prepared by the new executive chef, Jon De Paz, who joined The Restaurant in July of last year,” I tell Diane. “He’s worked at what I consider to be some of the top restaurants in America, such as The French Laundry in Napa, Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia, Eleven Madison Park in New York and The Peacock Inn in New Jersey.”
I’ve been wanting to eat here since De Paz arrived, and while perusing the prix fixe menu, I have an idea: I ask our server if the chef could choose for us instead. “Let me check and get back to you,” she says. “In the meantime, look over our great wine list.”
“We should let the sommelier pair our wine with the food,” I suggest to Diane. She nods. “They’ll know the best pairing with De Paz’s food better than you or I would,” she says.
The menu here changes (almost) daily, and tonight their list of fresh island fish includes onaga, ‘ahi, farm-raised Kona kanpachi, diver scallops and, my favorite, Kaua‘i shrimp. Our server returns with good news: the chef will gladly send out a special experience for us. Our first course is pickled red beets with marinated strawberries topped with a fluffy bavarois cream. The sommelier pairs this with an M. Chapoutier Viognier. With hints of peach and minerality, it is the perfect foil to the acidity of the dish. A whisper of quality olive oil and a dash of salt enhance the piquancy of the strawberries, and I savor each tender bite.
I ask our server for a cabbage dish that is plated atop a bed of whipped tofu cream. Those of us who grew up in Hawai‘i ate plenty of cabbage, which was typically boiled to death and then served with canned corned beef or stir-fried with kalua pork. In my home we topped it with a generous squirt of ketchup and a hearty dash of Tabasco.
But no ketchup is needed tonight: De Paz prepares the cabbage confit, braising it in duck fat until the leaves are tender and the edges are charred and caramelized to an almost bitter blackness. To round it out: a garnish of burnt juniper and carrot emulsion. Diane and I agree that this is one of the best cabbage dishes we have ever tasted. It actually reminds me of one I had at Senia on O‘ahu, the award-winning restaurant of chef Chris Kajioka, who currently serves as the culinary director here at The Restaurant at Hotel Wailea. My next course is ‘ahi crudo capped with a lacy tuile and served with dollops of black truffle and heart of palm purees. Diane’s golden-seared scallop arrives on a creamy bed of mushroom risotto with potato crumbs, and both dishes pair nicely with our 2017 Hubert Brochard Sancerre. “The French always get the wine right, and this is perfect with my scallop,” Diane says.
The sommelier delivers a Truchard Winery Pinot Noir and a Melville Pinot Noir Private Label as our entrees arrive — mine a generous portion of seared onaga with heart of palm chimichurri and Diane’s a crispy Kona kanpachi with fried kale and hon-shimeji mushrooms. “It’s almost too pretty to eat!” says Diane. The juxtaposition of textures and flavors is captivating, and every bite is as gratifying as the last.
For dessert I choose the chocolate hazelnut torte with toasted caramelized nuts, and Diane picks the gold-leaf-dappled pineapple upside-down cake. And even though we are only two at the table, De Paz generously sends us a third dessert: a red wine-poached pear with crunchy kataifi and mascarpone cream. This decadence plants an enthusiastic exclamation point on our evening.
Dinner was as much a visual as it was a gastronomic experience, with foods of every color of the rainbow and an alchemy of flavors and textures — the perfect meal. We exit, sated and genuinely gratified. “Well, I’ll be back sooner than a few years!” remarks Diane. “De Paz is quite the talented and innovative chef.” I couldn’t agree more, and smile in anticipation of my next visit to The Restaurant at Hotel Wailea.
The Restaurant at Hotel Wailea, 555 Kaukahi St., Wailea | (808) 879- 2224 | IG @therestauranthw | FB @therestaurantathotelwailea