Robust Dishes At Kaua‘i Grill
In November 2012, Maxime Michaud left his sous chef position at St. Regis’s Nalu Kai to become chef de cuisine for the resort’s premier restaurant, Kaua’i Grill. Around the same time, fans of internationally acclaimed and Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten thought he no longer created the food when Kaua’i Grill became part of the Culinary Concepts portfolio. In 2006, Vongerichten and Phil Suarez partnered with Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. to create an international, multi-concept restaurant and licensing business, Culinary Concepts Hospitality Group. This new business develops, owns, operates, manages and licenses world-class restaurant concepts created by Vongerichten.
Growing up in Seyssel, France, Michaud worked by his father’s side to learn the basics at Auberge de la Rotisserie du Fier, a restaurant Pierre Michaud has owned for 24 years.
During his five years of culinary, hospitality and management school, Michaud apprenticed at Le Bateau Ivre, a Michelin two -star restaurant in Lyon, France. After graduating, he worked for a French chef in Texas, went back home to help his father, and then landed at Lagoon, the premier restaurant at St. Regis Bora Bora owned by Vongerichten.
Michaud replaced Garrison Price, the former chef de cuisine at Kaua’i Grill, when Price went to New York as a corporate chef for Culinary Concepts. Together, the two created 13 new menu items that are deceptively bold. Young, seasonal produce looks dainty and unassuming but it’s woven with full-bodied flavor creating surprisingly robust dishes – a bold contrast to the delicate vegetables of spring.
A blend of English peas lays the foundation for Spring Pea Soup ($12) with Parmesan foam and brioche croutons. Sweet pea flavor swirls in the vibrant green soup, and it’s light, almost a broth. A drizzle of frothy Parmesan foam is packed with intense cheese flavor. Together, they make a magnificent bowl of soup.
Baby carrots are marinated with anise, chili pepper and citrus and roasted at low heat in the Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad ($16). They are crisscrossed with creamy avocado and placed on a bed of sour cream. Toasted pumpkin and sesame seeds are folded into a salad of clover sprouts and cilantro, and dressed in a citrus vinaigrette. The carrots are just tender and their flavor is bright, tart and a little spicy, with a warm hint of cumin. The perfect bite contains a little of each, and is a delight in taste and texture.
One half of a deboned, organic chicken ($37) is roasted and served with a sweet ginger puree that’s as smooth and colorful as a saffron-colored silk scarf. The chicken tastes like chicken, and I see a happy hen pecking her way through grassy pastures before landing in Michaud’s kitchen. The accompanying baby bok choy is simply blanched, highlighting the grassy taste and crisp stalks.
Six ounces of premium Wagyu Beef Tenderloin ($59) is marinated for a few hours in soy, kaffir lime leaves, oranges and garlic. The tender beef is grilled and served with a rich onion jam, sauteed spinach and a zesty tamarind mustard. The meat is extremely tender and juicy; the onions dissolve on your tongue, but not before leaving a sweet flavor in your mouth – it’s like melted onion butter. The mustard sauce is spicy, sweet and silky, and the greens are soft and dripping with flavor.
I’m glad I saved room for dessert, because the Rhubarb Cheesecake ($12) is plush and delicious. A scarlet red streak of hibiscus syrup divides glossy rhubarb sorbet and a square of rhubarb cheesecake. The cake sits on a crumbly, crunchy crust and is topped with yielding yet dense rhubarb – almost like they lovingly cooked it in a sweet syrup, dried it off, and compressed chunks of the favored spring vegetable.
“My job is to make sure the food is of the highest quality,” says Michaud. “Before I was hired as the chef de cuisine, I went to New York and trained with the corporate chefs that work for Jean-Georges.
“I can guarantee this is still a Jean-Georges restaurant,” Michaud concludes, “and we invite you to come and try our new spring menu.”
5520 Ka Haku Road, Princeville
Tuesday-Saturday 5:30-9:30 p.m.
Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.