son’z steakhouse at the hyatt regency maui resort: where classic combinations reign supreme

Steak, baked potato, and creamed spinach are a classic steakhouse combination. Son’z Steakhouse at the Hyatt Regency Maui in Ka‘anapali has that base covered, along with so much more: New Zealand Rack of Lamb, Spiny Lobster Tail, and fresh Island Catch of the Day, along with mouthwatering appetizers and salads, plus tantalizing sides like Green Beans Amandine and Mac & Cheese Carbonara. It’s a veritable cornucopia of deliciousness!

Son’z also features another classic combination in the form of Executive Chef Geno Sarmiento and Director of Operations Don Abernathy. Both men were recently granted the additional title of Managing Partner by Aaron Placourakis, President & CEO of Tri-Star Restaurant Group, which owns Son’z. “I feel so proud to have Geno and Don as partners,” Aaron says. “They’ve both worked hard to earn the opportunity of having an ownership stake in Son’z.”

In addition to their responsibilities at Son’z, Geno and Don oversee the day-to-day operations at Tri-Star’s four other restaurants: Nick’s Fishmarket, Sarento’s on the Beach, and Manoli’s Pizza Company on Maui; as well as Sarento’s at the Top of the Ilikai in Waikiki. Geno manages the back of the house, including menu development, recipe creation, hiring and training; maintaining positive relations with farmers, fishermen, ranchers, and other purveyors; and management of food cost, inventory, purchasing, and receiving for all five restaurants. Don is the consummate front-of-the-house guy, responsible for hiring, training, and retaining a staff of more than 200.

Geno and Don have worked for Tri-Star, and together, since 1992, starting at what used to be Nicholas Nickolas in Waikiki. “Our ‘bromance’ goes back twenty-five years,” jokes Don. “I was washing dishes, and Geno worked in the pantry telling me what dishes to wash.” Both men relocated to Maui in 1998 to open Nick’s Fishmarket at the Fairmont Kea Lani. In 2004, they were instrumental in the opening of Son’z.

“I could tell from the very beginning that Geno and Don had passion,” says Aaron. “They’ve both risen steadily through the ranks to where they are now. With their leadership, we have no front/back-of-the-house rivalry. We’re all one team. And their staff members would follow them to the end of the rainbow, if asked to.”

Chef Geno’s passion for cooking was inspired by his “Lola”—a Filipino term of endearment for grandmother. As the oldest grandchild, he helped her cook their family’s daily meals. “All my cousins would go out and play, and I would be in the kitchen stirring the pot,” he recalls. Even today, with five restaurants under his purview, Geno still cooks on the line side by side with his team members. “I love being in the kitchen. If I were sitting at a desk, I wouldn’t feel like I was doing my job.” During his off time, Geno studies culinary books, learning about the origin of different dishes, as well as new cooking techniques. He then imparts that knowledge to his cooks. “I love when their eyes light up while I’m giving them new information.”

Interacting with guests is Don’s favorite part of the job, which is apparent when you see him on the floor. With his boyish grin, charming exuberance, and aloha spirit, you just know he imbues his staff members with all the tools they need to impart top-notch service to their guests.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a food writer, it’s this: When a chef offers up a tasting menu, go for it! After being asked about food preferences/allergies by Tim Gilmore, manager on duty and sommelier, Charles and I settle in and eagerly await what Chef Geno has in store for us.

Our culinary experience at Son’z begins with a sampler plate composed of four different Starters: luscious Escargot ($15) are surrounded by crunchy Calamari Fritte ($14), seductive Black & Blue ‘Ahi ($18), and decadent Seafood Crab Cakes ($18). The escargot’s flavors are light and bright; the calamari is just plain yummy with two dipping concoctions: yuzu-parmesan aioli and classic cocktail sauce; the ‘ahi tastes just-caught fresh with a subtle spiciness; and the crab cakes are chock-full of succulent seafood with a crisp exterior.

Tim has put his sommelier skills to good use with wine pairings: Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve Champagne, which complements the calamari and ‘ahi; William Fevre Chablis as counterpoint for the crab cakes; and the Clean Slate Riesling pairs well with the escargot.

Next, we dive into the Chopped Salad ($15) and Caprese ($14), both of which are visually stunning with bright colors and artistic plating.

The Chopped Salad is composed of Hana hearts of palm, shrimp, avocado, onion, feta, grape tomatoes, and watercress, dressed with caper vinaigrette. It’s a genius combination. The Caprese features bright red, juicy, flavorful Kamuela tomatoes, creamy burrata cheese, shaved Maui onions, and kalamata olive “caramel dots” for savoriness.

For our main course, Chef Geno and his team have prepared a 22-ounce Bone-In Rib Eye ($57) that’s beautifully seared and cooked to a perfect medium rare, pre-sliced, and finished with a dollop of Maitre d’ Hotel Butter that’s melting into this divine piece of meat. We’re also presented with a 12-ounce Spiny Lobster Tail ($55) that’s been grilled to a lovely golden brown, and served with drawn butter and a grilled lemon half. On a separate tray are ramekins of Sautéed Mushrooms & Maui Onions ($12), little copper pots filled with Mac & Cheese Carbonara ($13), and four different sauces for our steak: béarnaise, brandy-peppercorn, chimichurri, and Son’z Mauishire steak sauce. It’s a feast fit for kings and queens!

Tim’s adroit wine pairings consist of Chateau Leoube Rose de Provence which, with its dry herbaceousness, nicely offsets the richness of the lobster; and an assertive Frank Family Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which holds its own against the boldness of the rib eye.

Speaking of wine, earlier this year Son’z began a bimonthly food and wine dinner series called “Off da Vine.” The first event, held in February, featured selections from MauiWine, our very own local vintner, presented by winemaker Mark Beaman, and paired with a special five-course menu developed by Chef Geno. “Having the winemaker come in person to share the subtlety of each varietal and vintage with our guests makes for a more personal, connected, and fun experience,” Geno explains.

Also new at Son’z is a gorgeous new lounge and bar. Hawai‘i’s people, culture and nature served as inspiration for the striking remodel. Influenced by lava rocks and lu‘au fire dance scenes, the new bar incorporates antique brass metal and gray mosaic as accents, with wall coverings reminiscent of handcrafted kapa patterns. To maximize views, a custom stand-up ledge was added, and the bar was relocated to face the outdoors so guests can indulge in a Pacific Ocean seascape and colorful sunsets while enjoying craft cocktails, wines, and food.

Charles and I finish our Son’z dining experience with a dish of mango sorbet ($9). Its flavor is so authentic, it’s like eating a piece of fruit that’s been frozen immediately after picking. Next time, we’ll go for the Vanilla Crème Brûlée ($12), which has received rave reviews online.

Congratulations to Geno and Don, two men who are deeply committed to Son’z, and also their local Maui community.

–heidi pool

AT A GLANCE…

WHAT •

Son’z Steakhouse, serving a unique menu centered around the finest cuts of meat, and the freshest seafood.

WHERE •

At the Hyatt Regency Resort & Spa, 200 Nohea Kai Dr., Ka‘anapali.

WHEN •

Dinner is served nightly from 5:30 to 9:30pm; the bar is open from 5 to 10pm; and Happy Hour is from 5 to 6:30pm.

HOW •

Reservations suggested: 667-4506; sonzsteakhouse.com; opentable.com.

 

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