son’z maui at swan court in the hyatt regency: dining doesn’t get much finer than this

Swans are some of the most elegant creatures on Earth. So it’s fitting that an elegant restaurant like Son’z Maui overlooks a peaceful lagoon where graceful white swans glide by enormous open wood casements, delighting diners and creating a romantic ambiance.

My husband Charles and I can’t help but feel like royalty as we descend the dramatic curved staircase leading from the Hyatt’s lobby level down to Son’z. You can almost hear the trumpet fanfare announcing our arrival! After being greeted warmly at the maitre d’ station, we’re escorted to our lagoon-side table. It’s windy this evening, but the breeze feels cool and refreshing.

Server Dave suggests we try one of the specialty cocktails. He recommends the Son’z Mai Tai, which follows Trader Vic’s original recipe, the Mangotini, or the Kula Strawberry Martini. I go for the Mai Tai (a touch of lime and mint, orgeat syrup, splash of pineapple and orange juice, Castillo light rum, topped with Whalers dark and Cruzan 151 rum). When presented, it’s in two colorful layers—I stir it all up and it turns a pleasant bronze color. It’s rich and flavorful, and the mint really makes it pop. I can see why it’s at the top of the list! Charles has opted for hot tea, selected from a well-stocked tea chest.

Meanwhile, Dave’s assistant Alain has brought a plate of foccacini (lovely little bread puffs tossed with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper) and roasted ciabatta bread. We peruse the extensive (and I mean extensive!) wine list, and notice an interesting statement on the very last page: “These wines have been selected by our staff because of their unique qualities, terrific value, and global notoriety.” This short list contains selections from California, Europe, and South America which pair well with Son’z menu items, and range in price from $35 to $100 per bottle.

Dave is by far the best server we’ve encountered in quite some time. His knowledge of the menu and helpful suggestions make us want to order one of everything. Alas, we cannot. So for starters, Charles and I decide to share the Yukon Gold Potato Gnocchi Caprese ($16) and the Hawaiian Yellowfin Ahi Sashimi ($18). The ahi is creamy in texture and accompanied by Asian slaw that is slightly sweet, but not overpowering. The pickled ginger makes my tongue tingle in a pleasurable way. The gnocchi caprese is such a gorgeous presentation I sit and stare at it for a few moments before indulging: petite potato pillows and nuggets of buffalo mozzarella surrounded by juicy yellow, gold, and red tomatoes that give the dish an autumnal look. It’s drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and 25-year balsamic that is so mellow Charles uses ciabatta bread to mop up what’s left after we devour every other morsel of goodness.

At Son’z you can order half portions of their salads, which is a nifty way to ensure you’ll have plenty of room for the main event. I order the Son’z Chopped Salad (Hana hearts of palm, rock shrimp, avocado, Maui onion, feta, and grape tomatoes—$15 for a whole portion), and Charles opts for the Olowalu Vine Tomatoes with gorgonzola-walnut pate, olive oil, and Kula strawberry-white balsamic ($13 for a whole portion). The chopped salad is a healthier twist on the traditional version that contains salami and other processed meats. The rock shrimp are tender and juicy, the onion doesn’t overpower, and the feta adds a subtle salty bite. Charles’s Olowalu vine tomato is so fresh it tastes like it was just picked. The gorgonzola-walnut pate is earthy, savory, and complemented by fresh basil leaves to give it a peppery element, while the strawberry-white balsamic vinaigrette adds a sweet component. Both salads are winners in our book.

The décor at Son’z is tastefully understated with soothing earth tones and a bevy of geometric lines, from the hexagonal insets in the ceiling to subtle shapes on wall coverings, chair cushions and backs. Tables are generously spaced, and a waterfall in the lagoon has three cascading streams that diminish conversations at neighboring tables.

When Dave mentioned earlier that the fresh fish of the evening is opakapaka ($39), I knew I had to have it—it’s my absolute favorite fish! Charles had his eye on the Roasted Free Range Chicken “Hunter Style” ($34). When Dave remarked, “Some restaurants put a chicken dish on the menu just to have one, but this is really beautiful,” it was all Charles needed to hear. Other tempting entrees include Grilled Rack of Lamb with chevre (goat cheese) gnocchi, baby artichokes, blanched garlic puree, and apple-fig chutney ($42); and Grilled American Kobe Beef Meat Loaf with potatoes au gratin and local mushroom sauce ($31).

My opakapaka is prepared picatta style with artichokes, caperberries, local Meyer lemon, sweet potato hash browns, and “overnight” tomato puree, which Dave says is actually roasted in the oven overnight. The fish is perfectly prepared—succulent, yet it flakes nicely—and the hash browns are sublime. (I have to confess I have a real weakness for hash browns.) Charles declares his hunter-style chicken to be a real man’s dish. It’s smothered in a rich cacciatore sauce—you just know the chicken had to have braised in it for hours—that’s halfway between a red wine reduction and gravy, and accompanied by porcini and morel mushrooms, braised local root vegetables, pancetta, and black truffle potato gnocchi. Charles happily consumes the entire thing!

Earlier Dave had suggested some wine pairings for us: my glass of 2009 Infamous Goose Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand ($9) is lovely and dry with notes of lime and grapefruit. Charles’s CF Wines Riesling from Rheinhessen, Germany ($10) is medium-dry, pure, and intense with green apple, spice, and mineral notes.

Son’z General Manager Ron Panzo stops by to make sure we’re pleased with our meal. By now, a perfect half moon surrounded by a glowing aura has made its appearance in the sky over the lagoon. This is truly the dining experience people long for when they come to Hawai‘i. “Every day when I come to work, I have to pinch myself to make sure it’s real,” Ron says.

Dessert man Leon tells us all sweet indulgences are made in house. We can smell the spicy aroma of the Portuguese Sweet Bread “French Toast” with sautéed bananas Foster ($11.95) as it’s brought to our table. It’s absolutely divine. The Meyer Lemon Cheesecake (also $11.95) is just about the lightest, airiest cheesecake I’ve ever tasted. Also on the menu are “Liquid Desserts,” a commendable selection of cognacs, ports, and dessert wines ranging from $7.50 for a glass of Quinta do Noval L.B.V. port, to an extravagant $140 for a glass of Remy Martin Louis XIII.

Wow. Charles and I feel like we’ve been on vacation for the evening, and we can hardly wait for a special occasion so we can return to Son’z. Too bad our anniversary isn’t until May. Perhaps we’ll have to invent a reason to come back…

For reservations please call 667-4506.

–heidi pool

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