Escape To Old Hawaii In Koloa

A giant monkeypod tree stretches 50 feet into the air. It’s about as wide as it is tall, creating a cocoon of sorts. I hear a trickling stream and come upon a koi pond in the lava. Birds chirp, trees rustle and the sun is warm on my shoulders.

The seclusion is enchanting.

“People tell me, ‘Oh, we can’t find you,’ says Mona Gonzaludo, manager at the Plantation Gardens Restaurant and Bar. “And I say, ‘But isn’t that a good thing?'”

The restaurant is tucked inside the Moir Estate, across the street from Poipu Shopping Center in Koloa. When you turn off Poipu Road and into the Outrigger Kiahuna Plantation, the sounds of traffic are silenced.

Originally owned by Hector Moir and Alexandra “Sandie” Knudsen, the manor made of lava stone was a wedding gift from Sandie’s father in 1930.

Hector, who was the manager of the Koloa Sugar Plantation, was known for holding elaborate galas for the Island’s sugar plantation society.

“Sandie started these gardens as a hobby,” Gonzaludo tells me as we sit on the large, covered lanai facing the Pa’u A Laka Gardens. “It was a unique thing to see cacti on the South side, especially in Hawaii.”

Pa’u A Laka means the “skirt of Laka,” the Hawaiian goddess of hula. The garden is on the West side of the restaurant, and 80-year-old cactus trees stand sentinel, towering more than 20 feet in the air, and honor a sacred hula temple that only legend remembers.

Walking the paved pathway to the restaurant entrance, you can see some of the more than 1,200 orchid plants tucked into lava rocks throughout the estate. Some rock piles have been left exactly as ancient Hawaiians placed them. In the gardens, a grinding stone from the sugar mill sits on the lawn flanked by kahuna lapa’au pounding implements and bowls. A whaler’s melting pot, memorializing Koloa’s bustling whaling port, contains water lilies.

If you’re lucky, you will see “Tata” Ben, who tends the orchid garden and likes to talk story. “Tata told me watering an orchid once a week is too much,” Gonzaludo recalls. “He said, ‘Feel it – if it’s dry, then it’s ready to water.'”

It is a sensual pleasure to eat surrounded by nature, and Plantation Gardens does a wonderful job creating meals that are in harmony with its surroundings.

“It’s Pacific Rim Cuisine with Hawaiian influences,” says Gonzaludo. “We specialize in fresh fish and our flavors are light.”

Shutome, a tender and mild Hawaiian swordfish, was the day’s grilled fresh fish ($24.95). Resting in a pool of sweet and mildly spicy red curry sauce, the generous portion of fish is surrounded by baby bok choy, Maui onion and a fresh cucumber salad.

For those who want a variety, the Chef’s Trio (28.95), offers a sample of three of the restaurant’s entrees: seafood Lau Lau, in which mahi, prawns and scallops sit on a bed of julienne vegetables dressed in Asian vinaigrette; skirt steak nestled on top of grilled vegetable quinoa and finished with a red wine jus, and seared ono that luxuriates in a bath of thick tomato “broth” with soft chunks of breadfruit, eggplant, avocado and fennel.

For dessert, house-made crème fraîche tops a sweet lilikoi cheesecake. Cool and tangy, it’s a fantastic ending to a light meal.

Soulful Hawaiian music floats softly from inside the vaulted dining room. Wood-planked floors, lazily spinning ceiling fans and palm fronds etched into glass windows speak of bygone days.

“We have an authentic feeling of a place that you can come home to, to relax and be outside and eat,” says Gonzaludo.

Plantation Gardens Restaurant and Bar

2253 Poipu Road, Koloa
742-2121
Reservations recommended; go to OpenTable.com.
Open for dinner nightly from 5:30 to 9 p.m.; Bar 5-10 p.m.PGRestaurant.com

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