Koa 156°: a high degree of deliciousness

When partners Seth Adams and Bryce Sorenson of S&A Hospitality purchased the oceanfront restaurant on Front Street in Lahaina formerly known as Koa’s Seaside Grill, they rebranded the establishment as Koa 156°, paying homage to its longitudinal coordinate of 156°W. Along with the new name came a new executive chef: Dan Vesey, who made a name for himself as chef de cuisine at the historic Riverhorse on Main, Park City, Utah’s top-rated restaurant. With 16 consecutive Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Awards, Riverhorse on Main is lauded by restaurant critics and the dining public alike as one of North America’s top culinary destinations, and a Park City culinary gem.

“When I came to Maui in 2016, my goal was to bring that award-winning mentality to Koa 156,” says Chef Dan. “The overall vision I had from the beginning was to create a chef-driven restaurant, where I’m free to follow my inspiration, and utilize all of the wonderful ingredients this island has to offer. Our goal is to create a wonderful dining experience, while offering food that genuinely makes people happy.”

In May of 2017, Chef Dan unveiled his new menu, featuring fresh local seafood and produce, quality meats, and creative vegetarian options that are not only tasty, but beautifully presented as well. “My approach to developing the new menu was small steps,” he says. “I wanted to retain the customers who enjoyed Koa’s Seaside Grill in the past, while slowly introducing my style of cooking and getting new customers interested in what we’re doing.” The result is a new dining concept for Koa 156 that transforms gastronomy into art.

Susan and I are commemorating her birthday the evening we dine at Koa 156. Since a birthday celebration isn’t complete without a cocktail, in our opinion, Susan goes for the gusto with the Kaua‘i Mojito Slammer (rum mojito, liliko‘i, and splash of soda), while I’ve chosen the Lana‘i Lemonade (citrus vodka, lemonade, rosemary, and ginger)—$12 each. Both concoctions are presented with floating purple orchid blossoms, and are refreshingly excellent.

Server Lisa does a stellar job of explaining the menu and making recommendations. Since everything is better with bacon, we choose for starters Bacon Wrapped Scallops ($18), followed by Lump Crab Cakes ($16). The scallops are sinfully delicious little beauties encircled with nicely seared smoky bacon strips. The texture of the scallops is creamy, and not at all chewy. They’re topped with a savory pumpkin-seed pesto and strips of dehydrated lemon peel that have been revived and sweetened with simple syrup, and sit atop house-made pineapple jam that’s quite outstanding. We find out that Chef Dan makes many of his ingredient components from scratch: from jams and marmalades, to sausages (on the breakfast menu), to breads such as foccacia, sourdough, and Hawaiian sweet bread.

The crab cakes are golf-ball sized morsels with an uber-light fried coating, and luscious crabby interior. They’re served alongside a fresh corn salsa that has our taste buds dancing, and a schmear of velvety, citrusy lemon aioli that serves as the perfect counterpoint.

Next, Sous Chef Cord Munoz brings us a little surprise: blue marlin ceviche, prepared with juicy red and yellow heirloom cherry tomatoes, slices of red jalapeno, and microgreens, along with Moloka‘i purple sweet potato chips for scooping up the chunks of goodness from our local waters. “Chef Dan is a great mentor,” volunteers Cord. “He’s taking the restaurant in a great new direction.”

And that new direction includes upgrading Koa’s interior. “The new owners have given me and my management team the opportunity to reevaluate every aspect of the restaurant, from introducing new building materials, to the choice of our color scheme; and from serving plates to specialty cocktails,” Chef Dan enthuses. “When I first got here, I could see I had a lot of work ahead of me. There were repairs to be made, staff to educate, menus to change, and the overall ambiance needed improvement.”

Chef Dan did retain the gorgeous koa high-top community table in the center of the main floor, which serves as the perfect centerpiece, while giving a nod to the restaurant’s name.

For our salad course, Susan and I have selected Koa’s Green ($11), a tasty mélange of local lettuce varieties, cherry tomatoes, radishes, and cucumbers, dressed with red-wine vinaigrette, and topped with a goat-cheese croquette, and sprinkled with toasted sunflower seeds. The croquette lends an unexpectedly unique flavor and texture, while the vinaigrette leans to the oily side, it all comes together very nicely with another lovely presentation.

Birthday girl Susan is in the mood for a burger, and the Wagyu Burger ($21) has caught her eye…and palate! The juicy, succulent beef patty is served on a buttery brioche bun with applewood smoked bacon, tangy truffle mustard, and melted cheddar cheese. A pile of French fries that are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside complete the package.

For my entrée, I’ve chosen the Miso Ginger King Salmon ($38). It’s a generous portion of wild-caught salmon atop blanched green beans and a ginormous, wildly delicious cornmeal “rice cake,” all sitting on a sauce made with gochujang honey. It’s sweet, but not too, and lends a fun “breakfast for dinner” feel to the dish.

Speaking of breakfast, Koa 156 also serves that meal, as well as lunch. Breakfast features favorites like Macadamia Nut Pancakes with seasonal berries and liliko‘i whipped cream ($14); customer favorite Biscuits & Gravy, featuring housemade sausage gravy and biscuits ($13—add eggs your way for an additional $3); and Banana Cream French Toast with pecans and apple bananas and topped with whipped cream ($15).

The lunch menu includes a BLT on Hawaiian sweet bread with applewood smoked bacon, tomato, herb aioli, and sweet potato chips ($15); Daily Catch Fish Tacos in flour tortillas with roasted tomato salsa, avocado, cabbage, and a serving of white rice ($18); and Jerk Chicken Bowl with black beans, rice, and mango salsa ($16). Hungry yet? I definitely am.

To bring our birthday celebration to a close, Susan and I dig into Banana Cream Pie ($10). Fluffy banana custard is layered in a dark cookie crust, with decadent whipped cream, candied pecans, and a bruleed apple banana slice. It’s quite simply a lovely and satisfying dessert.

Chef Dan’s goal at Koa 156 is to have the menus always evolving depending on season, introducing new ideas, and just having fun with it all. “I have several menus to work with—from breakfast and lunch, to happy hour and dinner—and I always seem to be changing one or another, and jotting down notes on what to improve or what direction I feel like taking; seeing what works and what doesn’t. It’s my promise that we will always be open for all three meals daily, and that I will always do my best to create delicious flavor combinations and beautiful plate presentations that I hope customers find unique and can’t get anywhere else.”

–heidi pool

AT A GLANCE…

WHAT •

Koa 156°, serving contemporary and traditional dishes, combining classical methods and techniques with unique ingredients, resulting in delicious flavor combinations and beautiful plate presentations.

WHERE •

830 Front Street, Lahaina Town.

WHEN •

Breakfast is served 9am-1pm; lunch is 11am-3pm; Happy Hour 3-4pm; and dinner is 5pm-close

HOW •

For reservations please call: 667-7737; visit http://www.koa156.com.

 

 

 

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