Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hawaiian Feast

This is the third and final installment about my recent trip to Hawaii. I've blogged about the flora and fauna; now it's time for the third "f," food!

My favorite meal of our stay was at the Mauna Kea Resort on the Big Island. It started with a fantastic wine tasting, arranged just for our group. Unfortunately, I was so busy falling in love with $110 bottles of Chardonnay, this is the only photo I took of that fun event. This is one of The Hubby's colleagues, looking over the 40-odd labels at our disposal:

The two sommeliers were shockingly young (mid-20s, perhaps?), but they and their boss, the...wine maitre d'?...were very knowledgeable and helpful. I've never ventured into the upper price realm of white wines; a $10 chardonnay is about my usual speed. But at $40 per bottle, and all the way up to $110 per bottle, wine gets...fantastic. I don't have the right "winey" words for it, but the better whites are--what? I'd say more mature. Sophisticated. Balanced. Elegant.

Kind of what I'd like to be, if I were a bottle of wine.

I don't know that I'll ever drop $110 for a single bottle of vino, but if I did, my choice would be the fantastic Australian vintage that I sampled, called "Leeuwin Estates Art Series 2004." Ay, chihuahua, but it was good!

Then it was on to dinner on a lanai set right above the surf. As we sat down, this adorable little bit of silver was in front of me. I almost pocketed it, right then and there. I have a huge lust for funky, vintage hotel silver, and this one just ca-aa-alled to me:

What was in it? Butter! and a yummy, eggplant-based spread similar to babaganoush:

The butter was sprinkled with the tiniest roe, which glittered like gems in the candlelight:

In the bread basket, my favorite by far was this amazingly thin, crisp, cheesy and peppery bread. I could have eaten a basketful!:

Then on to appetizers. Mine was a selection of baby beets, cherry tomatoes, walnuts, and bits of green (bean sprouts? watercress?) sitting on top of a Balsamic vinegar sauce, with the surprise of another sauce (aioli?) in the middle of the plate. You can just make out the off-white, second sauce, in the middle of the plate. The plate was nifty, too--an oblong, fatter at one end than the other. It reminded me of a dugout Hawaiian canoe:

The Hubby's appetizer was a goat cheese, battered and deep-fried (at least I think it was fried), set atop heirloom tomatoes, various greens, and a lovely sauce of some sort. I got a bite of the cheese and was pleasantly surprised--it had the taste of a blue cheese. Yum!

We both had the same entree: marlin, perfectly grilled and served atop the most delectable sauce of Balsamic vinegar, honey, and about 14 other ingredients:

But I get ahead of myself. In between courses, I kept skipping back to the huge kitchen, visible to the diners through a long expanse of glass. I took shot after shot of the bustle back there (which explains the slight gray look of some of these pictures, for which I apologize).

Anyway, I was entranced. Check out this four-part pasta-boiling pot, each quarter of which had its own handle. When the pasta in that basket is finished, the chef simply lifts it up, and the cooking water drains right out the holes back into the large pot. So four different orders of pasta can be cooking at one time. Ingenious!:

I counted as many as eight different skillets going at one time on this huge stovetop. In the bottom right corner, notice the nifty way they have of holding a cooked chop and keeping it warm. It sits on top of three skillets, which baffles the heat while the chop waits to be plated up:

Here's the head chef, working his magic (more on him later):

Somebody's getting a wonderful bunch of seafood for dinner:

Two lamb chops, arranged artistically:

Some sort of gorgeous fish, halfway to finished on the grill:

Oh, yummmm. One can never go wrong with grilled asparagus:

This is the grill chef, bending over his domain, while another gentleman in the back preps the plates for serving. Check out the size of that grill!:

Just to the grill chef's left, you can see the deep fryer with its green-handled baskets:

Okay, these two next pictures are very smokey, but that's two pieces of foie gras put onto the griddle:

Not more than a minute later, they've shrunk and seared up to a beautiful, crispy brown:

(A note: I don't eat foie gras or veal, for humanitarian reasons. I can still admire them, and I know darn well how tasty they are. But not for me, nohow.)

Speaking of tasty, here's one reason fine food tastes so unbelievably good:

Butter! Lots and lots of it. A batch of beef, grilling away:

After a while, I moved away from the grills and fryers and massive pots of boiling water to the dessert station. First thing I noticed was a pan of caramelized bits, waiting to be washed.

Oh, man, let me at it! I don't even need a spoon:

Stacks of bananas, waiting for their turn in the caramel bath:

Heaven only knows how far away these strawberries had to come to be served up in January:

The dessert line chef was scooping up the most delectable-looking vanilla-bean ice cream into a previously frozen silver coupe:

Oh, yeahhhhh, baby:

The finished product, just before it was whisked off to a happy guest:

Here she's prepping a trayful of frozen souffles prior to baking them. They are chocolate, Grand Marnier, and a half-and-half version:

One of each, please. And I'll take that stack of heavy white china plates below, while you're at it:

Caramelizing bananas for something scrumptious:

About this time, the chefs and wait staff going in and out were hard-pressed not to notice me, because I had my nose (and camera) pressed up against the glass like a child outside a chocolate shop. So, bless their hearts, they waved me inside the kitchen to watch them up close!

I was agog.

Over the high, stainless-steel counter where they set their creations for the wait staff to whisk away, I took the shot of the grill chef:

and the gal on the dessert line. I'm not sure if I have the nomenclature right, but she said she's not the dessert chef. That title belongs to a gentleman who actually creates the desserts for the hotel; she carries out his recipes and brings the creations to life.

And speaking of desserts, I scooted back to our table to enjoy mine. It was a decadent version of French Bread, made with Portuguese Sweet Bread (a Hawaiian favorite), topped with candied macadamia nuts and accompanied by some of that vanilla-bean ice cream I'd been eyeing. Oh, not to mention the tuille cookie shell and the caramel sauce under it all:

I ate up every bit and would've licked my plate, but we were in polite company. The Hubby had the half-and-half souffle:

Made uber-delectable by the addition of this incredible brown-sugar-and-butter sauce:

And, God forbid we weren't full enough after all this scrumptiosity, with the coffee and the bill, out came a plate of extra little sweets. There was a sesame cookie, a little bit of Turkish Delight made with a local tropical fruit, an I-can't-remember-what-it-was at the 11:00 position, and in the foreground, macadamia nuts enrobed in white chocolate:


But the best part of the night, really, was talking up close with this incredibly talented and gracious man, Head Chef Robert Love (below). He talked to me about culinary schools, being a chef, the state of the art of haute cuisine, and a movement to bring more chef-requested fruits and vegetables to the islands' top restaurants.

His father, Ken Love, heads up the nonprofit that is expanding the Hawaiian offerings. And coincidentally, the day before I'd read a New York Times article on the senior Love and his culinary venture.

Thank you, Robert Love, for a most memorable evening, and for inviting me into your domain.

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