A Taste Trip To The Mediterranean
Located in Hanalei just before Ha’ena, the Mediterranean Gourmet sits on a patch of green grass overlooking the ocean. Inside, distressed red tile and colorful curtains give it a distinct Middle Eastern feel. Folds of sequined cloth billow in the breezy dining room and whales breach in the distance.
Owner and executive chef Imad Beydoun grew up in Beirut, Lebanon.
“My mom would put me on a chair and I would stir everything,” Imad recalls of the war-torn days that shoved his childhood indoors. “When I was 10, she showed my how to cut tomatoes, how to squeeze them with my hands for the lubia,” a rice dish with green beans. “Food was fun in my house.”
“We take foods from around the Mediterranean – Lebanon, Greece, Spain, France and Italy – and blend them with fresh influences from Hawaii,” says managing owner Yarrow Beydoun. “We make everything in house, selecting seasonal and local produce first.”
The husband-and-wife team just received its sixth Hale ‘Aina award since opening in 2006. “It feels like, yes! People notice what we do,” Yarrow says of Honolulu magazine’s coveted award that judges 5,000 restaurants.
“Every year our goal is to do a better job than the year before – and I don’t mean financially,”Yarrow says of the restaurant’s modest business plan. “We want to make our menu better, to make our atmosphere better.”
The house hummus ($8.95) is served with pita bread and adds Pacific flair with fresh ginger. “I’ve been eating hummus all my life, and I just thought, let’s try it with ginger,” says Imad, who also makes a sundried tomato hummus and a curry hummus.
“We have a lot of locals and they love the food,” Imad says. “Some clients drive here from Po’ipu to eat hummus!” he laughs. “To eat your hummus,” Yarrow reminds him.
Watermelon Bruschetta ($7.95) is a sweet and savory combination with juicy tomatoes from Oahu. “We eat a lot of watermelon in Beirut,” Imad says of the popular appetizer that is drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar. “Here, we blend it with feta cheese and basil.”
Tabouleh Salad with Hummus ($12.95) is a classic Middle Eastern dish abundant with fresh tomatoes and parsley. “This is my very favorite dish,” Yarrow says of the light and cool salad, flecked with wheat bulgur and tossed in a light lemon dressing.
The creamy Babaganush ($8.95) is sweet when it first hits my tongue. Then a mild sesame flavor from the tahini is followed by fresh garlic. “We bring out the eggplant’s sweetness by oven roasting it first, and then we fire roast it over the grill,” Yarrow says.
Fresh ginger also has found its way into the deep-fried Spinach Fatayers ($8.95). “We hand-roll phyllo dough that includes spinach, onions and sumac,” Imad says. “Sumac is ground berries and they are very good for you.
“There are thousands of spices in the markets back home,” he says of the spice blends his mother sends. “My mom grinds the spices by hand before she blends them.”
Imad’s favorite comfort food is Lahkme Benadora ($16.95), a finely diced, grass-fed flank steak marinated in a seven-spice blend and cooked with tomatoes, fresh jalapeno and red onions. “It’s one of those dishes that you just dig in with your hands and a piece of pita bread,” Yarrow says of the stew-like mixture that sits on a bed of hummus.
Every night features live music or belly dancers, except luau Tuesday ($69). “We work with Coppin Colburn and his family hula halau,” Yarrow says of the two-and-a-half-hour family-style luau.
While you can expect some Tahitian and fire-knife dancing, Mediterranean Gourmet encourages the Hawaiian legacy. “There is a strong emphasis on hula dancing. We want to keep it more traditional and focus on what’s Hawaiian.”
“We make everything for the luau,” Imad says of the buffet-style menu.
“We serve kalua pork, fresh island fish, teriyaki chicken, lomi lomi salmon, fresh salad and Hanalei poi,” adds Yarrow.
The menu also includes pepper steak stir-fry, vegetarian chow mein, steamed rice, potato macaroni salad, taro rolls, haupia cake and Island fruit salad.
“I love seeing our regular customers,”Yarrow says, adding that there is a daily 10 percent kama’aina discount. “They come in every week with their kids and families. I have so much fun socializing with them.”
5-7132 Kuhio Hwy.
Lunch: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Dinner: 4:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Happy hour daily, 4-6 p.m.
Half price wine Wednesdays