Fresh And Local At Caffé Coco

I wrote about the new ownership at Caffé Coco in the Sept. 1, 2011, issue of MidWeek Kaua’i. Since then, Hollan Hamid has settled into her restaurant and made it her own.

“Caffé Coco has been around for so long, I wanted to keep the good parts,” explains Hamid, “and change the menu so we could support local farmers. If I can’t get it from Kaua’i, then I get it from the state. To me, that’s important. It tastes better and it’s better for the planet.”

Hamid’s passionate streak for gluten-free vegan food made with fresh, organic and local ingredients took control, and now the menu features colorful, nutrient-dense meals that satisfy and nourish. If the words “gluten-free” and “vegan” put you off, don’t worry, you don’t have to be on an alternative diet to enjoy the food.

Former owner Ginger Carlson’s tofu pot stickers ($8.50) with banana chutney and mango sauce are still on the menu. So are the Purple Sweet Potato Samosas, ($6), also served with banana chutney and filled with a flavorful blend of local sweet potatoes.

The Vietnamese Summer Rolls ($10) are new, and they’re tucked into an oversized coffee cup that sits on a bamboo biodegradable plate. The rolls are filled with rice noodles, Kailani Farm Greens, local Napa cabbage and fresh herbs grown at Caffé Coco. A tangy pool of house-made peanut sauce has squiggles of sriracha, in case you like it hot.

Menu items such as Pasta D’Alba, which used canned tomatoes, have been replaced using fresh ingredients. Local Tomato Bruschetta ($12) is served on chewy ciabatta bread and topped with tomatoes from Growing Strong Farm or Kaua’i Fresh Farms. Basil from the restaurant’s herb garden and shallots are tossed in, and a reduction of balsamic vinegar is drizzled over the top. This is listed under “Pupus,” but I think it makes a satisfying meal.

The Coconut Macnut Ono ($29), features a 5-ounce filet surrounded by a rich sauce made of organic coconut milk, lemongrass and basil, and it’s garnished with black sesame seeds. It comes with jasmine rice, a green salad and seasonal roasted vegetables. Tonight it’s creamy eggplant that Hamid got at the farmers market the day before.

“A lot of times, local families drop off produce,” says manager Lei Kurz. “As long as we know it’s organic, we’ll take it.”

It’s not just the menu that has changed. Caffé Coco no longer serves lunch and is now open for dinner every day. Last year, diners ordered from the front counter, and then dined al fresco out back. Now, there’s tableside service, new chairs, white tablecloths and votive candles.

At night, tiki torches and clear carnival lights add a charming Hawaiian backyard feel.

Outside dining means bugs, so when I left the house, I remembered to slather on Second Skin Naturals. My husband Dan didn’t. No matter, the mosquitoes have vacated the outdoor dining area. Mr. T’s Pest Control has been spraying the property for eight months with a nontoxic citronella and peppermint formula.

Mason jars packed with local mangos or organic blueberries are topped with a sugar-coated biscuit. The cobblers ($8.50) are topped with Papalani Gelato, and come in a gluten-free version as well.

The Not So Chunky Monkey ($8) has a gluten-free brownie for its base.

Chocolate banana sorbet from Papalani Gelato fills the crust, and a sprinkle of toasted macadamia nuts adds crunch. It’s garnished with a gluten-free chocolate chip cookie from Hamid’s Hippie Cafe line, which can be found in local health food stores.

A new keiki menu includes fish and rice, cheese quesadillas, pasta with butter and Parmesan, and grilled cheese sandwiches.

“It’s food kids like,” says Hamid, who also caters weddings and teaches vegan workshops, “but we serve it with organic carrots and cucumbers, so it’s a little healthy.”

Caffé Coco 4-369 Kuhio Hwy., Kapa’a
822-7990
Open daily, 5-9 p.m.
Live music most evenings

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

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