Affordable, Kaua‘i-grown Cuisine

Nichole Barbour serves Gary and Jillian Seals Kunana Dairy fried chèvre and mixed greens with Maytag blue cheese

Hukilau Lanai owners Ron and Krissi Miller specialize in making upscale cuisine affordable and bringing Kaua’i-grown produce, Kaua’i-caught fish and Kaua’i-raised beef to the restaurant located in Kaua’i Coast Resort behind Coconut Market Place in Kapa’a.

They make a point of creating an environment in which everyone feels welcome.

“When people dine here, I want them to feel comfortable, like they’re friends dining on the lanai,” says executive chef Ron Miller.

My husband Dan and I certainly felt that as we sat with our friends Gary and Jillian Seals and Mieko Aoki on the charming covered lanai enjoying a fantastic view of the ocean and manicured grounds.

In fact, the Millers are friends with many of their customers, having managed the restaurant before purchasing it in March 2010 after a one-year sabbatical. In the restaurant’s herb garden, the couple fondly recalls how it all came about:

Adam’s Poke Nachos

“We knew we wanted a restaurant but we didn’t know where, so we took a year off and traveled. Still searching, we came back to Kaua’i and everything just fell into place.”

They immediately began seeking out local purveyors of produce, beef and fish. Deeply embedded in the community, they buy vegetables from Cultivate Kaua’i, chèvre and spinach from Kaua’i Kunana Dairy. Kaua’i Farmers Co-op supplies a weekly CSA (community supported agriculture) box, Dante Farms provide mixed greens, herbs, microgreens and arugula.

“Kaua’i Fresh sells us cucumber and tomatoes, warabi is from Glenna, mushrooms are from Kaua’i Fungi and Hamakua Heritage, avocados are from Manny Hodges, the vanilla beans are from the Tanakas and the vanilla extract is from Hawaiian Vanilla Company,” says Ron. “The lilikoi are from the neighbor kid’s fruit stand.”

Restaurant managers Manda McPhee and Angela Hoover drive the green initiatives. Their innovations include donating leftovers to the Salvation Army, kitchen scraps are picked up by a local pig farmer, vegetable oil is recycled for bio-fuel, an on-site composter feeds their herb garden and leftovers are tucked into biodegradable containers.

Hukilau Lanai owners Krissi and Ron Miller

Ron’s ingredient-driven and inexpensive menu makes fine dining an enjoyable option. The five-course tasting menu at $28 – or, if you prefer, matching wine with each course for only $40 – is a downright steal! Gluten-free and vegetarian options are available.

With musician Steve Mu’s contemporary Hawaiian music softly lilting on the breeze, our pupus arrived: tangy barbecued ribs ($11) in a Hawaiian vanilla bean hoisin sauce and garnished with a relish of watermelon rind pickled in li hing mui. The ribs were so tender, Jillian said they were “dripping off the bone,” and Mieko, delighting in the relish, inspired us all to clamor for a bite.

Sous chef Adam Phelps’ Poke Nachos ($13) are a fantastic combination of crispy wonton chips, ahi poke, avocado, tobiko fish roe and a wasabi cream sauce. So good, Bon Appetit magazine has requested the recipe.

Our polite server Nichole Barbour brought us squash blossoms provided by Kauai Farmers Co-op. A seasonal Thursday night special, they’re stuffed with pepper jack cheese then deep fried and drizzled with lemon aioli – these delicate bites are not to be missed.

We all shared scrumptious bites of Wally’s Steak Crown Royal ($28), flavorful medallions of beef tenderloin in a rich Crown Royal demi-glace. The

Hukilau Mixed Grill ($27) is a generous dish of fresh island fish, sugarcane-skewered shrimp and creamy orzo in a Thai chili coconut sauce.

Wally’s Steak Crown Royal

Chef Ron serves only fresh, local fish, and today the special is uku, a deep-water snapper that is sweet and moist with a meaty flake, served with basil mashed potatoes, Dijon thyme cream sauce and garnished with beets “that you can dance to,” according to Gary.

Dessert was a sweet elixir of the luscious and tangy Lilikoi Chiffon Pie ($8) and Hawaiian Vanilla Bean Crème Brulee ($9), a delicious combination of creamy custard and crunchy caramelized sugar.

With its deep commitment to the community, fresh island food and green initiatives, Hukilau Lanai is a business you can feel really good about supporting.

Reservations strongly recommended; please specify dietary restrictions at time of reservation. Call 822-0600.

Open for dinner 5-9 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday.

Live music every night. Become a fan on Facebook for daily poolside lunch

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