A Woohoo Experience At Wahooo
Wahooo Seafood Grill & Bar in Waipouli offers two of my favorite things: upscale seafood cuisine and dining alfresco in Kaua’i’s clean, fresh air. From our table on the lanai looking out onto the serene scene of coconut palms swaying in a large field adjacent to the restaurant, my dining companion, John, and I decided to take our time with dinner and taste a little bit of everything.
Wahooo’s owner John Borales, who cooks at the restaurant six nights per week, brings his personal touch and extensive preparation to all of his dishes, including mulling over new recipes for as long as one year before adding them to the menu. Wife Melanie, who has the enviable job of taste-tester, has probably been busy sampling a lot of good food, as Wahooo’s new menu will debut in October.
Hilo-born Borales got his start in the restaurant business at age 15 when his mother talked him out of picking pineapples on Moloka’i to take a higher-paying dishwashing job near home. He soon graduated to cooking, working at Holiday Inns on Kaua’i, in Florida and Oahu, returning to the Kaua’i Surf in 1976.
“I wanted to make Kaua’i my home,” he says, and he embarked on his entrepreneurial career, co-owning House of Seafood in Poipu for 10 years.
Now almost 10 years after opening Wahooo, Borales finds he is still learning.
“You think you know so much but you find you’re just a baby,” he said. “There’s a lot of trial and error to this day.”
Wahooo’s menu choices are broad, making our job easy and fun.
Wahooo’s appetizers range from shrimp cocktail classic to braised escargot, and features sashimi, oysters, steamed clams and crab cakes. We chose the crab-stuffed mushrooms with artichoke hearts, all covered with a delicious hollandaise sauce.
Then we decided to try something new to both of us: Wok-fried Soft Shell Crab, a specialty often found on the Mainland in which the crab is eaten whole: shell, claws, meat and all. Our waitress said she grew up eating soft-shell crab and loves it, so we decided to go for it. I plunged in, biting into the shell, which was soft as billed, and found I liked it and ate the whole thing. John chose to eat everything but the shell. The waitress said it might be an acquired taste.
We followed our appetizers with bowls of rich, hearty Blue Crabmeat Chowder. We were beginning to fill up, but eating in the open air, with a lovely light Kaua’i breeze brushing past us on the lanai, we felt relaxed and knew we could take our time.
Wahooo’s main courses include seafood and chicken pasta, nine varieties of fresh fish, steaks, prime rib, lobster, king crab legs, prawns, pork chops and combination dinners.
We chose the Mahi Mahi with Crab Meat Filling, crusted with macadamia nuts and pineapple-papaya salsa, an order of Baby Back Ribs and the Crab-stuffed Baked Potato. The portions were large and we were happy to know we would have leftovers.
The mahi was delicious; the crab meat and fruit salsa accompanying it just right. The ribs were the most wonderful I’ve had in years: tender, moist and very flavorful. I asked Borales, a kind man who exudes warmth, how a restaurant that specializes in seafood could make such delicious ribs. He said the secret is marinating them for two days in a Chinese five-spice blend.
As if we hadn’t eaten enough, we split a dessert of Bananas & Cream, a chocolate caramel “tulip” filled with the restaurant’s ultra-light and creamy homemade vanilla ice cream with bananas grilled in butter and liqueurs – delightful and less decadent, we hoped, than the full order of Banana Patch Flambe, which we watched a honeymooning couple sitting nearby order and devour.
Of course, this isn’t a one-man operation. Borales says the staff at Wahooo has become like extended family, including Daniel Cabral, a cook who worked with him at House of Seafood. “I’ve watched them grow and come along with us,” he said. “It’s nice to see.”
Wahooo is now hosting an open-mic night every other month, featuring exceptionally talented local musicians. A pupu buffet is available those nights along with the entire regular menu. The next open-mic dates are Sept. 12 and Nov. 7 from 3 to 10:45 p.m.
Wahooo Seafood Grill & Bar’s appetizers, soups and salads are priced from $6 to $23; pasta, fresh fish and other entrees from $19 to $49; desserts from $8 to $19. Wahooo is located at the corner of Kuhio Highway and Pouli Road in Kapa’a, just south of Foodland. Lunch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; dinner 5-9:30 p.m.; Happy Hour from 4 to 6 p.m. Reservations recommended. Call 822-7833.