Creative, Modern Mexican Cuisine

Collin Darrell is infusing Tortilla Republic Margarita Bar & Grill with his special brand of creativity. On Kaua’i, the founder of Grow Culture is well-known for convivial and unique popup dinners. As the new general manager for the modern Mexican restaurant in Poipu, he’s hired a kitchen team experienced in farm-to-table dining.

I first wrote about executive chef Matthew Owens in the June 12, 2013, issue of MidWeek Kaua’i. At the time, he was cooking for Oasis on the Beach and had just left Vintage Cave, an exclusive restaurant in Honolulu. Now, Chef Owens is teaming up with Darrell to source local products, revamp the menu, create dining experiences in the spirit of Darrell’s pop-up dinners and refine the preparation of existing dishes.

Downstairs, the Margarita Bar’s lunch menu was a replica of the upstairs Grill menu. But Darrell drew a hard line in the sand, and now the two menus are unique. At the Margarita Bar, you can count on a fast, casual and fun environment that’s open at 7:30 a.m. for breakfast. Lunch starts at 11:30, and dinner is served until 10 p.m.

Upstairs, expect to linger over handcrafted cocktails, zesty sauces and slow-cooked meals that are refined, yet rustic.

“Instead of accepting that we’ve always done things a certain way, I’ve asked the staff to analyze what we do and why we do it,” explains Darrell. “Part of being modern anything means we have to be constantly moving forward.”

Darrell is working to replace regular cornmeal with GMO-free cornmeal, and a new Grill menu was released last week, which includes a four-course Tasting Menu ($50). For an extra $20, Tortilla Republic will pair the meal with one cocktail, one beer and one wine.

“The Tasting Menu gives us the opportunity to expose people to maximum cuisine and things they don’t usually order,” explains Owens. “It will be a guided tour of what’s interesting on the menu right now.”

Based on seasonal produce and beverage trends, the cocktail menu also has been updated. There are new margaritas, such as the Scorched Pina ($10), which combines roasted poblano peppers muddled with fresh pineapple and lime, and 2 ounces of Hornitos Reposado tequila and dry Curaçao. The rim is lined with cumin, cayenne and Maldon sea salt.

Tortilla Republic serves more than 80 varieties of tequila including Grand Leyenda, an organic reposado made for Oahu’s Just Tacos owner Jesus Santoyo. If you’re an aficionado, ask manager Val Rubio to stop by with her tequila cart.

Rotating each night, Tortilla Republic showcases about 10 sipping tequilas. They are served a la carte and prices range from $14 to $65 per snifter.

“The Grill is a fantastic place to explore creative dining options on Kaua’i,” says Darrell. “We’re striving to be a great restaurant – not just a great Mexican restaurant, but one of the best restaurants in the state.”

Each month, The Shops at Kukui’ula host a Second Saturday Art Walk. On Sept. 14, Tortilla Republic will partner with aFeinberg Gallery to create a meal inspired by the photography of Aaron Feinberg.

“We walked through Aaron’s gallery and designed a menu where flavors complement colors in his photographs,” explains Darrell. “Our DJ is creating a custom soundtrack, we’ll hang his work on the walls, and the lighting also will be inspired by his work. There will be limited seating (20 people) in our private dining room, the cost is $100 and reservations are a must.”

Second Saturday kicks off the two-year anniversary of Tortilla Republic, and it will celebrate the next four days with special events including Mexican Independence Day and a cooking demonstration during the Wednesday Kaua’i Culinary Market.

Tortilla Republic Grill & Margarita Bar, 2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka St., Koloa, 742-8884

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.

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