Luxury Dining With Hanalei Views
Kaua’i Grill, located in the elegant St. Regis Princeville Resort, is where world travelers go for luxury and sophistication, and locals go to celebrate special occasions. Inside, red hibiscus flowers are pressed into glass entry doors revealing floor-to-ceiling windows inviting spectacular views of the Namolokama Mountain range and golden sunsets over Hanalei Bay.
Award-winning and internationally acclaimed executive chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten developed the exclusive menu for Kaua’i Grill. With 21 restaurants (and three Michelin stars) worldwide including Jean Georges, Perry St. and Spice, Vongerichten’s contrasting flavors and textures unexpectedly please and charm the palate.
While working at Rum Fire on Oahu, Colin Hazama saw an internal posting for chef de cuisine at Vongerichten’s newest restaurant, Kaua’i Grill. It wasn’t your regular application: Hazama had to compete for the position.
He flew to New York and battled it out with chefs from all over the world, winning the coveted job.
“I brought some local fish and dragon fruit and made three dishes instead of two,” Hazama says, noting that he was the only applicant to do that.
Hand-selected by Vongerichten to lead his latest culinary endeavor, Hazama’s talent combines island flavors with Vongerichten’s style.
“I create special dishes and use my expertise in local products here in Hawai’i,” Hazama says. “I’m a local boy and very familiar with all of the products, cuisines and ethnic backgrounds of Hawai’i.”
Inspired by his tutus – one of Chinese descent and one of Japanese – he smiles and adds, “I like to use Asian ingredients and integrate them into local products.”
Kaua’i Grill uses 65 percent local ingredients.
“It’s not just Kaua’i itself – I really love everything here on Kaua’i – but Hawai’i is a melting pot and I try to use things from every island,” Hazama says. “Kaua’i has some of the best avocados I’ve ever tasted; they’re nice and rich and creamy. The lychee and lilikoi are awesome too.”
Kaua’i Grill recently celebrated its first year with a Hazama-inspired Seed to Table dinner.
“We used local seafood and produce, and donated some of the proceeds to the Waipa Foundation,” Hazama says proudly.
Stephanie Kaluahine Reid, director of public relations at St. Regis Princeville Resort, thought it made perfect sense to help out its neighbor.
“They do such wonderful work and we wanted to recognize them,” she says of Waipa’s efforts to renew ties to the ‘aina, culture and traditional Hawaiian lifestyle.
My husband Dan and I were seated at a large, concave wood-paneled booth that reflects the curvature of the cream-colored ceiling. Weaving a vibrant energy in the retro-modern dining room, upbeat and jazzy music doesn’t compete with conversation, seeming to stimulate it instead. Wide-planked koa wood floors reach for caramel-colored walls with leaves imprinted on them. Burgundy votives, candy-red light fixtures and ocher tableware add splashes of color throughout the warm room.
I savored a Ginger Margarita ($14) in the plush dining room. Created by Hazama and rumored to be Vongerichten’s favorite drink, fresh lemongrass and aromatic yellow ginger come together in an island twist on the classic sweet-and-salty combination.
Delicately, we cut open the deep-fried Crispy Poached Eggs ($25). Saffron-colored yolk spills onto the lily-white plate mingling with a crunchy exterior, while briny caviar is tempered with the smooth and cool vodka crÃ¨me fraiche.
Our courteous server Alana Frazier presented Japanese Hamachi ($18). Fresh, cool yellowtail fish is a blank canvas for the Sugarloaf pineapple, Meyer lemon and wasabi, adding zest, sweetness and a little heat with every bite.
A zesty citrus-chili sauce livens up the Rice Cracker Bigeye Ahi Tuna ($20).
Rolled in crispy crackers and quickly fried, the snap of the hot and crunchy exterior complements the cool and delicate interior.
The Heart of Palm Salad ($15) combines local heart of palm, creamy avocado, sweet cherry tomatoes, fresh coconut slivers and peppery olive oil and conspire to create the perfect bite.
Grilled Black Pepper Octopus ($19) is a Hazama creation. Braised in a flavorful broth until fork-tender, the local octopus is coated in a savory black pepper jam and lightly grilled. A bed of caramelized, sweet Kula onions tame the biting jam and fresh lime brightens the flavors.
General manager and sommelier Nicolas Lorentz’s knowledge of and passion for wine is evident as he reviews the playful and eccentric list. Impressed by the diversity of the wine list, we decided to surrender to Lorentz’s expertise and let him pair our wine with the entrÃ©es.
The crisp, clean white wine had a way of cleansing my palate instead of adding to it. This is good news because the Moi ($40), is so flavorful I might request this as my last meal.
Perfectly cooked, the outer coating tastes rich, herbaceous and nutty. The jus is exquisite with a lush, buttery almost butterscotch essence. I understand why this is the signature dish. Frazier noticed my bliss, nods her head and says, “It doesn’t disappoint.” Right.
Dan orders the Wagyu Sirloin ($56). Wagyu, also known as Kobe, is a breed of cattle known for its high percentage of unsaturated fat. Prolific in Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, it’s highly prized for its rich flavor.
“It’s succulent, with pockets of meat juice!” Dan says, as he takes a sip of the red wine Lorentz perfectly matched to his meal.
An artist is clearly at work here. Each flavor is a brush stroke. Each brush stroke is a layer, creating a composite of contrasting flavors and textures. Each course is a thoughtful work of art in which knowledge and passion dance around your tongue in perfect balance.
Dining at Kaua’i Grill is an experience. “When you want an experience, you want to dine out and you want to pay money, you want to have something that you can’t make at home,” Hazama says. “Here at St. Regis and Kaua’i Grill, it’s about the experience.”
Exclusively during the holidays, Hazama has created a special five-course tasting menu for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. For an extra-special New Year’s, join him for a seven-course tasting menu and prepare to be spoiled!
5520 Ka Haku Road, Princeville
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 5:30-9:30 p.m.Friday and Saturday 5:30-10 p.m.