Sunset Dining At Makana Terrace

If you shop at the Wednesday farmers market in Kapa’a, you just might see Antwon Brinson, the chef de cuisine at Makana Terrace (located in the St. Regis Princeville Resort). He’s not only shopping for family meals at home, he’s experimenting with exotic produce that may end up on the St. Regis island bistro brunch or dinner menus.

On the night my husband Dan and I dine at Makana Terrace, a blazing sunset gives everything a warm, orange glow. Laughter from a New York wedding party spills onto the outdoor terrace. Stout Greek columns frame the Hanalei Mountains, which are mirrored in reflection pools, as waves gently roll in Hanalei Bay.

“The color of sunrise papaya is beautiful, and the flavor is amazing,” says Brinson, redirecting me from the papaya-colored sunset. “Most papayas are imported and taste bland. But the Hawaiian papaya is so sweet, and the color is amazing!”

It’s Brinson’s favorite fruit, and he folds them into a Moloa’a Sunrise Melon and Crab Salad ($16). Thin strips of basil-infused local cantaloupe are rolled around a crab salad laced with Madras curry. A bright papaya puree is blended into a mustard vinaigrette. Delicate curls of fried prosciutto add a salty crunch as the combination of flavors dances on my tongue.

Growing up, Brinson helped his mother and grandmother in the kitchen and made his first dish at age 9. He remembers his mother being an adventurous cook who experimented with food from different cultures including Italy, Spain and Ethiopia.

“I didn’t realize it until I got older, but she introduced me to so many different flavors, I had a trained palate when I decided to become a chef,” recalls Brinson, a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in New York.

A world of flavor shows up in tonight’s cauliflower special. Strips of eggplant are fried, and as you take a bite, the crisp outside collapses into a creamy center. Crisp-tender roasted cauliflower is speckled with dark-brown caramelization. A tart orange sauce and fresh pineapple segments cut through the rich eggplant.

Fish at Makana Terrace is fresh and the highlight of a carefully crafted sushi menu. The Makana Terrace Roll ($25) is sumptuous with glistening cubes of spicy tuna, crunchy tempura shrimp and creamy avocado drizzled with sriracha aioli and unagi sauce.

Pair an opulent sushi platter ($28/$42) with Konteki sake ($38) and you’re in heaven. Made at one of Japan’s smallest breweries, the Daiginjo is the pinnacle of sake brewing. Premium rice from Japan and pure water from the country’s eastern mountains contribute fragrant notes of anise and banana. Light and complex, there are only 1,400 cases of this ethereal sake made each year.

Coconut Chili Marinated Prawns ($22) feature plump shrimp on a white Cheddar polenta. Mosaics of complex flavors unite in the lobster sausage, which is rolled in nori and caressed by a smoldering coconut sauce.

Gorgeous in its simplicity, the Sake-Soy Glazed Butterfish ($39) is not a type of fish, but a preparation here in Hawaii, also known as misoyaki. Any firm-fleshed fish will work, and the cooking process leaves a light caramelized coating and sweet favor. At Makana Terrace, the butterfish is placed over poached baby carrots, asparagus and baby bok choy. A light kombu broth, the color of sun-filled honey, is spooned into the base.

When Brinson falls in love with something at the market, he tries to work it into the menu via specials. After trying calamansi for the first time, he made a chicken dish glazed with the tart citrus.

“It’s interesting trying to get regional items on the menu. Some people are familiar with the local flavors and some don’t want to try something they’ve never had before,” he says. “I keep trying, though. I’m in Hawaii, and I’m going to take advantage of the local produce for as long as I can!”

I hope he does. Brinson’s food is light, fresh, flavorful and thoughtful and rightly at home at the plush St. Regis Princeville.

Makana Terrace
5520 Ka Haku Road, Princeville, 826-2242

Breakfast: 6 to 10:30 a.m. Sunday Brunch: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dinner: Thursday-Monday, 5 to 10 p.m. (closed on Tuesday and Wednesday)

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

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