andaz maui at wailea’s ka‘ana kitchen: tantalize your taste buds at maui’s new resort

kaana kitchenImagine a restaurant where the dining experience is as meaningful as the food itself. Such a restaurant now exists on Maui, thanks to the recent opening of the brand-new Andaz Maui at Wailea, where Chef de Cuisine Isaac Bancaco is serving up a cutting-edge menu at the resort’s Ka‘ana Kitchen restaurant.

Situated on the site of the former Renaissance Wailea Beach Resort, the much-anticipated Andaz opened with a splash this past September. Janet and I were eager to check out the place, and jumped at the opportunity to dine at Ka‘ana Kitchen.

As we drive up to the front of the property, the youthful landscaping to our left features a bronze statue of a Hawaiian kane, his head adorned with haku lei, vigorously pulling on a rope attached to a large fish hook that’s anchored in a sizeable rock. Although inanimate, you can sense this man’s strength as he engages in providing for his ‘ohana. To our right is a lengthy marble walkway leading into the property. It’s nearing sunset, and the lobby ahead is bathed in a golden light that gives it an otherworldly aura.

Ka‘ana Kitchen is one level down from the lobby, at the foot of a deep-hued, curved wood staircase. After being seated, Janet and I take in our surroundings: a sleek, shiny exhibition kitchen where sous chefs and bartenders are busy at work, complemented by the ubiquitous Wailea sunset view we all cherish.

Server John, who’s also a sommelier, comes by to explain the menu, which is unlike any other we’ve seen on Maui—categorized by purveyor, with vertical columns that progress from lighter fare at the top to heavier at the bottom. John tells us items demarcated with the Andaz symbol (an orchid-type flower petal) are considered entrée-type dishes. Since ka‘ana means “to share” in Hawaiian, John tells us the cuisine was designed to be served family style, consistent with the traditions of our host culture. This evening’s selections are divided into five categories: Surfing Goat Dairy, Anuhea Asparagus, Sub Surface, Ahi Caught by Chad Miyake, and “Free Range” from Upcountry Ranchers.

To aid us in menu contemplation, John tempts us with an extensive list of specialty cocktails, beers, and wines. “Our bar program here at Ka‘ana Kitchen is ‘bar none,’” he declares. Janet is in the mood for something traditional and orders a Vodka Gimlet. I’m feeling adventurous this evening, and select the Beijing Peach ($16) made with vodka, jasmine tea, white peach, lime juice, and sugar.

While the bartenders are mixing up the magic, John consults with us on our food selections. We’ve chosen six different items, and he helps us divide them into three courses. He did, of course, give us the option of enjoying each course separately but, in the interest of time (it is a weeknight, after all), we agree to double up.

Our cocktails arrive, and Janet tells me her gimlet is just right: strong enough, sweet enough, sour enough, and smooth, with no one ingredient overpowering the others. My drink is a lovely golden color to match the sunset, and the flavors are nicely blended with a hint of sweetness at the end.

Chef Isaac himself brings our first two dishes: Watermelon Salad ($14) with feta, horseradish, arugula, and candied walnuts; and Asparagus Sauté ($23) with kabocha gnocchi, aged goat cheese, red wine, and brown butter. Chef Isaac maintains a presence in the open kitchen, keeping a watchful eye on the dining room. “Anything you need, just let me know,” he says. “I’ll be right over there.”

When Janet and I lay our eyes on these plates, we know we’re not in Kansas anymore. A vivid fuchsia-colored brick of compressed Moloka‘i watermelon is garnished with the four other ingredients, while five circles of raspberry vinaigrette that uniformly diminish in size from left to right tantalize from alongside. The explosion of flavors, ending with a sweet burst at the end, is in perfect harmony with the visual aspects of the dish. The asparagus sauté is like contemporary comfort food with a sophisticated flavor profile. What’s not to love?

For our next course, we’ve chosen Ceviche ($18) from the Sub Surface section and Center Cut Ahi ($45) caught by fisherman Chad Miyake. The ceviche is unlike any we’ve ever seen or tasted: six delicate morsels of onaga have been bathed in Tahitian lime and coconut, and are presented with avocado slices, mint, and pieces of taro chips. The artistic presentation is reminiscent of butterflies. The ahi dish is composed of three generous squares of perfectly seared fish, atop a bed of sliced cucumber and avocado, and topped with Kula sofrito, tomatoes, piquillo peppers, and watercress, providing a wondrous blend of complex flavors. It’s served with tasty cumin-infused rice, that’s served in a petite cast-iron pot whose lid food runner Kevin had lifted with great flourish.

Having consumed our cocktails, it’s time for a glass of wine. John recommends the Costa de Oro 2010 Pinot Noir from California ($20 a glass). It’s served slightly chilled at what John declares to be an optimal fifty-seven degrees. The pinot is full-bodied, yet low in tannins, and it’s smooth as silk. John leaves the bottle on the table, and when Chef Isaac stops by to check on us, he nods his approval, and tells us it’s his favorite wine. It’s easy to see why.

Our third course consists of Makawao Farms Chicken ($36) and Grilled Ribeye Cap ($21). For the first dish, three substantial pieces of chicken are fried just like Grandma used to, and served alongside three puffy malasadas that are light as air and practically melt in your mouth, and a mound of papaya slaw. John says it’s Ka‘ana Kitchen’s version of the southern staple chicken and waffles. It’s a fascinating mix of savory and sweet. The ribeye cap is perfectly seared on the outside and mouthwateringly tender on the inside. Janet is not much of a meat eater, but she confesses this is her favorite dish of the evening.

I know it’s hard to believe, but we have (mostly) saved room for dessert. John particularly recommends the Coconut Sundae ($14), and who are we to argue? Janet is the dessert person of our dynamic duo, and she’s absolutely in heaven with coconut ice cream atop a white lamington, whose granular texture nicely complements. A decadent chocolate glaze and macadamia nuts bring it all together, providing a pleasant contrast of textures around a coconut theme.

Needing just a bit of sweet to end my meal, I ask John to bring me a sample of the honey meringue ice cream that accompanies their Farm Fruits dessert plate ($11). With a small dollop of liliko‘i on top, it has a most unique texture: part ice cream, part meringue, and not too sweet. Perfect for me, the not-really-a-dessert-person.

Ka‘ana Kitchen is the ideal showcase for Chef Isaac’s talent for using local ingredients to make stellar dishes. And the open kitchen where you can watch all the action helps make dining at this sophisticated new restaurant and resort truly an adventure in eating.

–heidi pool

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