the restaurant at hotel wailea: innovative cuisine, impeccable service

restaurant-viewI still remember when the property at the top of the hill in Wailea was named Diamond Resort, and catered nearly exclusively to a Japanese clientele. Several years ago, it was rebranded as Hotel Wailea, and in 2015 this gem became the first and only Relais & Chateaux property in the state of Hawai‘i. As an adults-only resort, Hotel Wailea ranked #4 on the list of “30 Best Resorts in Hawai‘i” in 2016’s Conde Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards, and has also been honored by that same magazine as one of the “Top 16 Most Romantic Hotels in the World.”

Last summer, Hotel Wailea continued its metamorphosis by naming Maui native son Zach Sato as chef de cuisine, and unveiling a new culinary concept for its dining establishment, now called The Restaurant at Hotel Wailea.

Chef Zach has a passion for showcasing Hawai‘i’s history and culture by working with homegrown flavors. He is a strong believer that sourcing the finest available ingredients is the best means for crafting exceptional cuisine. His menu for The Restaurant appeals to an international palate, and features seasonal, island-grown offerings. Highlights include dishes prepared with fresh produce from Hawai‘i purveyors like Hirabara and Tamimi Farms, as well as local seafood ranging from snapper to ‘ahi tuna.

After growing up in Hali‘imaile and Pa‘ia, and graduating from King Kekaulike High School, Chef Zach ventured to San Diego, California, where he graduated from the San Diego Culinary Institute. Prior to joining Hotel Wailea, Zach spent more than a decade honing his cooking and leadership skills in the kitchens of renowned Chef Peter Merriman, who is one of the original 12 founding chefs of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine. “I worked at nearly all of Peter’s restaurants on O‘ahu, the Big Island, and here on Maui at Monkeypod Kitchen,” says Chef Zach. “But when this opportunity at Hotel Wailea came my way, I knew it was time to do my own thing.”

Chef Zach’s “thing” is to provide guests with not only a special dining experience, but also a meal heightened with flavor fusions that are unexpected and executed perfectly. “I take great care to ensure each dish is intentional and thoughtfully created around ingredients that are fresh and in season,” he says.

It’s one of those exquisite evenings Maui is famous for when Charles and I arrive for dinner at The Restaurant. We’re thrilled to discover that although the chef and menu concept have changed, the management and wait staff have not. We’re greeted as old friends, having last year dined at the hotel’s previous restaurant.

Every table on The Restaurant’s second-floor lanai provides a commanding view of Hotel Wailea’s gardens and water features, along with a shimmering Pacific Ocean backdrop. Charles and I have arrived just in time for sunset, and a cool breeze washes over us as we watch the sun make its nightly descent in a blaze of color. Speaking of color, it’s not often that I’m presented with a black napkin to place atop my black slacks—a thoughtful gesture that’s indicative of a restaurant staff that pays attention to even the smallest detail.

Our primary server this evening is Sole (pronounced So-lay). He’s being assisted by young Miles. That’s one of the aspects I appreciate about dining establishments such as The Restaurant: young people being given the opportunity to apprentice under a more seasoned mentor. It’s win-win all the way around. In fact, shortly after arriving, we’re paid a visit by Aziz, who was our server for our previous dining experience at Hotel Wailea, and his son, Kainoa, who proudly tells us since we met him last year he’s moved from assistant server to food runner. Later in the meal we have the opportunity to see Kainoa in action, and he does a splendid job of explaining each dish as it’s brought to our table. Aziz is pleased that Chef Zach is leading the team. “His connections with local farmers ensure we can serve all local produce, and his flavors are simply amazing,” he says.

Our dining experience begins with a glass of prosecco, and an amuse bouche: panzanella salad with lobster, red and yellow tomatoes, and croutons, dressed with zesty basil vinaigrette. It’s served whimsically in the bowl of a large spoon with a graceful curved stem, which sits atop a square of black slate with irregular edges. The amuse bouche is a little explosion of brilliant flavors—light and bright.

For our first course, we’ve chosen the Hand-Rolled Potato Gnocchi ($16), prepared with pumpkin, sage, and balsamic brown butter. The aroma alone is enough to make Charles and I swoon, and each bite is pure comfort. We wipe up every bit of the brown butter with fresh-baked wheat bread from the selection that was brought earlier to our table, which also includes light-as-a-feather mini biscuits and crisp lavosh.

Next, we try the ‘Ahi tartare ($23). “Try” is a definite understatement. It’s more like we inhale this uber-tasty, gorgeous preparation composed of shimmering chunks of garnet-hued ‘ahi, juicy pear, silky egg-yolk gel, nutty sesame, and crunchy pine nuts. Served alongside are delicate rice crackers, dusted with espelette (French red chili powder), that literally melt in your mouth. Charles and I never want this dish to end.

Sole stops by to check on us. He also exudes enthusiastism about Chef Zach. “We appreciate that he’s a local braddah,” he says. “He brings such heart to his cooking. He was pretty much given a blank slate here, and we love what he’s come up with.”

The Hirabara Farm’s Young Kale Caesar Salad ($16) is an unexpected surprise. When Kainoa brings it to our table, we immediately inhale the nuttiness of the Parmesan Reggiano and the green earthiness of the kale. But this is not your typical kale salad: the leaves have been chopped so finely you can barely recognize it as kale, it’s so light. Charred grapes sing in the mouth with a condensed natural sweetness, marcona almond slices provide a complementary texture, and briny baugna cauda brings it all together. Charles is not typically a kale fan, but he is now.

For entrees, we’ve chosen Local Snapper ($48) and Macadamia Nut Crusted Colorado Lamb Chops ($49). The snapper this evening is onaga, and it’s stunningly moist and delicate. It’s served with cauliflower puree and florets, tempura-battered pohole fern, and sauce vierge, all of which is wickedly delicious. The lamb chops are bathed in luscious jus that’s poured at the table, and accompanied by charred broccolini, date chutney, and the most seductive caramelized onion potato puree you’ll ever put in your mouth. Both entrees are brimming with sophisticated flavor and texture combinations.

For dessert, it’s Hawaiian Lava ($14): hot salted caramel chocolate lava cake served with banana nut ice cream, graham cracker cookies, and a wedge of marshmallow that pastry chef Marko Krancher lights on fire at our table with Bacardi 151 rum. I’m immediately transported in my mind back to making s’mores in the campfire on the beach in Santa Cruz, California, where I grew up.

Charles and I predict Chef Zach is well on his way to making a name for himself on the local culinary scene and beyond. “Top Chef,” anyone?

–heidi pool

 

AT A GLANCE…

WHAT •

The Restaurant at Hotel Wailea, serving Chef de Cuisine Zach Sato’s version of hyper-local fare that’s rooted in respect for fresh and pure ingredients.

WHERE •

Hotel Wailea, Relaix & Chateaux, 555 Kaukahi St., Wailea

WHEN •

Dinner is served nightly from 5:30 to 10pm; lounge open from 5 to 10pm.

HOW •

Reservations are recommended:

874-0500; http://www.hotelwailea.com and http://www.opentable.com.

 

 

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