the banyan tree at ritz-carlton, kapalua: signature restaurant reopens with renewed flair

BANYAN_Keep Calm and Chive OnGracious, refined restaurant table service never goes out of style. And when it’s complemented by delicious, beautifully presented farm-to-table cuisine, you’ve got an impeccable pairing. Such is the case at the recently reopened Banyan Tree at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua.

It’s one of those moody late afternoons Kapalua is famous for: a cool breeze ruffles the treetops; the sinking sun dances among mostly grey clouds; and the scent of impending rain showers is in the air.

The Banyan Tree is situated on the lower portion of the Ritz-Carlton property overlooking a huge expanse of bright green lawn and Kapalua’s raw, untamed coastline. Inside, stone flooring in the entry and lounge areas flows seamlessly to hardwood plank flooring in the dining room—its rich, dark hue perfectly matches the chair frames. ­­­­­Orange and purple striped chair pads and purple Chilewich placemats lend a pop of color plus a feeling of hominess.

Affable manager Craig greets Janet and me, and shows us to our table. His introduction to the cocktail, regular, and vegetarian menus is both thorough and inviting. He explains that Executive Sous Chef Kenneth Sniffen and his talented team members can also convert any item on the vegetarian menu to a vegan preparation.

The Banyan Tree’s focus is farm-to-fork dining, garden-to-glass cocktails, and a seasonal menu prepared with simplicity for the perfect flavor balance. Many of the mixologist-crafted cocktails and culinary delights are prepared with fresh herbs, fruits, and vegetables from the resort’s own two-acre sustainable organic garden, which may be explored on a chef led, complimentary interactive tour Mondays at 10:30am. In addition, the restaurant’s new concept supports more than 30 local farmers and ranches on Maui.

Our server Nick hails from Iran via Australia and California, which results in attentive table service with an international flair. Janet and I peruse the extensive list of Banyan Tree signature cocktails ($16 each), and enjoy reading the description of each. Someone definitely had fun with this menu! With Nick’s help, Janet selects the “Keep Calm and Chive On,” which is “built over hand-picked kaffir lime leaves and garden fresh chives infused into Grey Goose Vodka with a savory balance of Martini and Rossi Bianco, kalamata olive brine, and aromatic celery bitters.” It’s served icy cold with a sea salt and fresh black pepper rim. True to its name, Janet finds it to be smooth, yet subtle.

I’ve opted for the “Thymeline”: “Sip from our garden with this refreshing cocktail muddled ‘a la minute’ with fresh cucumber, garden harvested thyme bruised to perfection with Tanqueray Gin, house made fresh lemon sour, and a honi (kiss) of locally sourced sea salt.” It’s served on the rocks with a dash of seltzer and an additional fresh aromatic thyme and cucumber accoutrement. The oh-so-fresh cucumber positively sings on the palate, and the intriguing combination of flavors is more than satisfying for a savory cocktail fan such as myself.

Janet and I have selected two appetizers to begin our meal: Crispy 5-Spice Duck Buns ($16) and Harissa Lamb Meatballs ($18). Warm, pillowy buns envelop crispy duck that’s bathed in hoisin-sesame butter, and garnished with pickled carrots and a variety of uber-fresh micro-greens. The duck buns are sweet, savory, crunchy, and velvety smooth all at the same time. For the second appetizer, four golf ball-sized savory lamb meatballs sit atop a bright ginger-carrot puree, and are accompanied by toothsome grilled flatbread.

While Janet and I munch on our appetizers and continue to enjoy our cocktails, we peruse The Banyan Tree’s refined selection of wines by the glass and bottle. Champagnes and sparkling wines hail primarily from France, while whites and reds are mostly domestic selections from California, Oregon, and Washington. Pink wines are making a comeback these days, and The Banyan Tree offers a lovely Domaine de Nizas Rose 2013 ($52 bottle/$14 glass). Lustrous silvery salmon pink in color, the wine features aromas of strawberries and cherries in cream with a silky, dry-yet-fruity medium body and a tangy, Meyer lemon and pepper accented finish. It’s a perfect wine for our climate, and can be enjoyed with food or just sipped leisurely.

Next, we are presented with Pickled Beets and Savory Granola ($17)—a visual as well as culinary delight. Generous chunks of picked golden and ruby-red beets are nestled among a medley of greens and Surfing Goat cheese. The salad is dressed with creamy avocado vinaigrette and garnished with slices of hard-boiled eggs that have been pickled in beet juice so that the whites are bright purple in color. Every bite of this salad is a delectable explosion of flavors.

Nick tells us this evening’s Island Seafood Feature ($39) is onaga, which appeals to Janet. I’m not going to lie—I have an intense craving for steak, so I opt for the Seared Filet Mignon ($42). Janet’s entree is composed of seared-to-perfection and incredibly moist onaga presented atop a luscious one-two punch of bright green sautéed asparagus plus asparagus puree. Alongside are sweet shimeji mushrooms and subtly flavored potatoes confit.

My plump and juicy filet mignon is beautifully seared on the outside, yielding to a perfect medium rare doneness. It’s served atop a bed of Maui onion marmalade and garden chard—both bursting with flavor—and accompanied by the most addictive crispy fingerling potatoes you’ll ever eat. Move over french fries! These little beauties are indeed crispy on the outside, while tender and fluffy on the inside. Prepared with Surfing Goat Dairy feta and a hint of lemon zest, it’s the tastiest potato dish I’ve had in a long time.

Although we didn’t sample them on this visit to The Banyan Tree, signature menu items include the Banyan Tree Bouillabaisse (a decadent seafood dish with scallops, prawns, onaga, and tako, complemented by a fresh lemongrass-Kona lobster broth—$45) and the House Pappardelle and Bacon (house-smoked bacon, garden fresh kale, and macadamia nut pesto, along with a crispy poached egg, that come together as a playful interpretation of a pasta carbonara—$34). The latter entree also makes an appearance on the vegetarian menu, minus the bacon.

By now, the sun has set, darkness has settled in, and the anticipated rain showers have indeed materialized. Blazing tiki torches light up the outdoors; inside, wall-mounted candle sconces give the dining room a warm glow.

Janet and I order two desserts—Flaming Macadamia Crème Brulee ($13) and Tiramisu ($13). The crème brulee gives off such an intoxicating aroma you just know it’s going to be heavenly. And it is: creamy and dreamy, and served with a coconut shortbread cookie and fresh strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries. The tiramisu is served playfully in an oversized coffee cup. Its layers of flourless cake, mascarpone cream, and Kona coffee chocolate are an absolute delight.

Fortunately, as our meal at The Banyan Tree comes to an end, so do the rain showers, allowing Janet and I to stay dry on the walk back to our car. On the drive home, we remark upon how Kapalua has really come into its own as a culinary destination over the past year or so, and The Banyan Tree is definitely a major player.

–heidi pool

AT A GLANCE…

WHAT •

The Banyan Tree, offering a redefinition of island dining and cocktail concepts with a continued focus on seasonal and local ingredients.

WHERE •

The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua Resort

1 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Kapalua.

WHEN •

Dinner is served from 5:30 to 9:30pm, Tuesday through Saturday.

HOW •

To make reservations, which are highly recommended please visit the website at http://www.ritzcarlton.com/kapalua or call 665-7400.

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