cane & canoe: new chef, new vision

CaneCanoeChefI absolutely adore Kapalua. My love affair with this remotest of resort areas on Maui’s west side began in the 1980s on my first trip to Hawai‘i. My husband and I had booked our accommodations at Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club in Ka‘anapali. When we arrived, we were informed the Marriott was overbooked, but that they’d placed us at what was then the relatively new Kapalua Bay Hotel. To put it simply, we were completely blown away by the property.

Back then, the Kapalua Bay Hotel was the place to stay on Maui, known for its understated elegance and superb location. We even saw Wayne Newton and his entourage one day at the swimming pool! I was heartbroken when the hotel was razed in 2006 to make way for luxury condominiums. After some turbulent times and ownership changes, the property was rebranded the Montage Kapalua Bay in 2014. Lucky for me, the property has retained its immense appeal, and still puts me under its spell every time I’m fortunate enough to pay a visit.

Montage Kapalua Bay’s signature restaurant, Cane & Canoe, has recently undergone a change as well, in the form of new Executive Chef David Viviano. Chef David most recently worked at the St. Regis Aspen Resort & Spa in Colorado, where he held the unique title of “CheF&B”—performing double duty as both executive chef and food & beverage director.

Although he’s only been on Maui since late July, Chef David has already made his presence known by winning “Best in Show” at Lahaina Plantation Days in October for his Crispy Suckling Pig with Maui onion ravioli, brown butter parsnip puree, and pickled carrots.

“Being new to the property, there are many things I want to do to put my own stamp on the restaurant,” Chef David tells Janet and me in a pre-dinner chat. “There are a lot of great anchor dishes on the menu, but I’m adding items to round it out and achieve my vision for Cane & Canoe.

“I’m embracing the name—cane from the land, and canoe from the sea,” he continues. I’ve expanded the steak options to include more premium beef, but I also want to highlight all the great fish in the Hawaiian waters. So the snapshot I have in mind is when you think Cane &Canoe, you think steak & seafood.

While musician Kalani plays mellow Hawaiian-style music at just the right volume to be a perfect backdrop for the evening, server Marc brings us a basket of freshly baked rolls—both French and Moloka‘i sweet potato—with ramekins of butter and an interesting looking concoction he says is taro pesto. The rolls’ aroma makes it seem like we’re sitting in the middle of a bakery, and the taro pesto is so scrumptious you could spread it on a rubbah slippah and it would still be delicious!

Cane & Canoe’s cocktail menu includes the Kapalua Butterfly ($16), which pays homage to the signature cocktail from the old Kapalua Bay Hotel, which we enjoyed on our last visit. But this evening, Janet and I are in the mood for wine. She opts for a glass of Brut Reserva Avinyo Cava from Penedes, Spain ($13), while I go with my new favorite varietal—rosé: Clos Cibonne Tibouren from Cotes de Provence ($16). Janet’s cava is a traditional Catalan sparkling white wine that’s both fresh and vibrant. My rosé is crafted using a rare grape and unique aging process. The result is a superb wine that’s food friendly, and holds its own with bold flavors.

Since Chef David’s Crispy Suckling Pig appetizer (22) is an award winner, it’s practically mandatory we try it! The aroma smells intoxicating as Marc brings the dish to our table. It’s earthy and creamy, with perfectly roasted duroc pork accompanied by pillowy Maui onion ravioli, presented atop a luscious brown butter parsnip puree, and garnished with picked carrots, Maui onion slices, and microgreens.

Next, we practically inhale the Opakapaka Ceviche ($19). Chunks of fresh-from-the-sea opakapaka are combined with Big Island hearts of palm and pineapple, surrounded by a gorgeous papaya puree, and accompanied by crisp Moloka‘i potato chips for scooping up this bright, lively ceviche whose textures happily dance on the palate.

Janet and I agree the Kumu Farms Organic Greens ($15) is one of the tastiest salads we’ve eaten in a long time. Shaved market vegetables are dressed with a sophisticated poached Asian pear vinaigrette, and served alongside a generous swipe of positively addictive wasabi-pea romesco. The just-picked freshness of the greens, combined with the vinaigrette and romesco, results in a highly memorable combination of flavors.

Embracing Chef David’s steak & seafood concept, for entrees, Janet and I have chosen Steak Frites ($42) and Grilled Mahi Mahi ($43). “The Steak Frites just went on the menu last week,” Chef David had told us earlier. “We started with a traditional French bistro dish, but we’re making the fries with ‘ulu (breadfruit). Instead of traditional Béarnaise, we’re using yuzu as the acid, which gives it a lot of brightness. And we round it out with asparagus, because it pairs so well with Béarnaise.”

The mahi dish is composed of a generous filet that’s been nicely charred with the grill marks to prove it. The filet is uber moist, and nestled atop a bed of aromatic rice with fresh green curry underneath. Hearts of palm, macadamia nuts, grapefruit, and yuzu provide the finishing touches.

For the vegetarians among us, Chef David has created Soba Gnocchi ($34). “We take a traditional Italian gnocchi, but instead of using straight flour, we substitute buckwheat flour, which gives it that soba essence,” he explains. “There’s a porcini puree on the bottom, as well as snap peas, pea shoots, and pickled green onions. It’s an earthy dish that I really like. It has a rustic quality, and represents what I like to cook: beautiful, natural-looking food.”

General Manager Robert Comstock stops by our table to make sure we’re enjoying our meal. He tells us Cane & Canoe’s pastry chef, Tomoko Nohina, recently spent a month in her native Japan honing her craft. The result is cleaner, more refined desserts, with several incorporating molecular gastronomy.

Janet and I have agreed on the Roasted Pineapple Napoleon ($14), which Chef David has described as “deconstructed Napoleon.” “It’s a glass of chiboux cream [combination of pastry cream and chantilly], with puff-pastry cookies, roasted pineapples, and pistachios. You can do a build-it-yourself thing. It’s become one of our signature desserts.”

We love everything about this dessert: the puff-pastry cookies are crisp and not too sweet; the roasted pineapple has a decadent depth of flavor; the cream is rich, but not heavy; and who doesn’t love pistachios?

Chef David is just beginning his own love affair with Kapalua. “I’m so happy to be here with my wife Christina, and our 14-month-old son Dean Joseph,” he says. “We’re really enjoying ourselves, and it’s great to be part of the Montage family. The Montage Kapalua Bay is a very special place. It’s one of the best properties in the world, and it’s exciting to be part of it.”

–heidi pool

AT A GLANCE…

WHAT •

Cane & Canoe restaurant, serving creative, modern cuisine that celebrates Hawai‘i’s diverse cultural influences, while showcasing its freshest, locally sourced ingredients.

WHERE •

At the Montage Kapalua Bay, One Bay Drive, Kapalua.

WHEN •

Open daily. Breakfast is served from 7 to 11am; dinner from 5 to 9pm. There’s live entertainment nightly from 6 to 9pm.

HOW •

Reservations recommended: 662-6600; montagehotels.com/kapaluabay/dining/.

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