Tapas From Around The World
If you’ve lived on Kaua’i in the last 20 years, you’ll be excited to know that a local favorite has returned. Nationally acclaimed and regional legend Jean-Marie Josselin is back, challenging the palates of his devotees in a whole new way.
He teamed up with co-owner and general manager Andrew Ha to open Josselin’s Tapas Bar & Grill last May in Kukui’ula Village shopping center.
“I did Pacific cuisine for many years and it’s great, but I wanted something that challenged me,” executive chef Josselin says.
In 1990, Josselin opened his first restaurant, A Pacific CafÃ©, in Kapa’a. On the wings of that success, Josselin added restaurants on Maui and Oahu. Throughout the ’90s and early into the 21st century he became one of the most influential chefs in Hawaiian Regional Cuisine.
“At the time, doing a spring roll with Chinese duck and candied nuts was unheard of,” Josselin says of the groundbreaking era. “Now, it’s a little bit more common.”
In 2008, Josselin left the restaurant industry and spent two years traveling throughout Europe, South Africa and Asia. “I wanted to do a little bit of Mediterranean, a little bit of this, a little bit of that. I wanted to do a collection of dishes that is not necessarily one thing,” he says in his thick French accent.
Traditionally, tapas are small bites involving cold plates of clams, olives or cheese, or hot items such as stuffed mushrooms and the classic warm salted cod mixed with cream and spread on toasted baguette slices.
Josselin’s is different. The chef’s broad palette enables him to create local favorites such as the grandly presented Deconstructed Ahi Roll ($14). Clouds of mist rise from beneath a cold platter and fresh rose petals are colorfully arranged around the rim. Concentric layers of sushi rice, avocado and cucumber are topped with glistening ahi. A touch of tobiko fish roe finishes the dish.
Josselin presides behind the bar of the open kitchen, and three sous chefs line the counter with him. The sous chefs’ hands are busy at work, their ears ready for the slightest command. Looking up, Josselin scans the dining room like the seasoned captain of a ship before he nimbly reaches into the blazing kiawe wood-fired oven, the heart of the kitchen.
The Wood Oven Roasted Kaua’i Mushrooms ($11) are juicy, aromatic and earthy. Josselin has managed to capture a potato’s essence and concentrate it in a “potato foam.” The silky liquid seeps into every nook and cranny of the smoky mushrooms, a hint of truffle oil rises to my nose on a puff of steam.
Kaua’i Shrimp and Pork Shumai ($9), present as four flavorful dumplings on a bed of persimmon relish, topped with a spicy eggplant vinaigrette.
With nearly 40 menu items, the reasonable pricing encourages diners to have fun and play with different flavors.
“If you have an entree that costs $32, your commitment is to that,” Josselin says of his affordable and diverse menu. ‘Here, for that price, you can have three different tastes.”
The 36 Hours Braised Pork Belly ($21), is an explosion of flavor and generous enough to be a meal. Two tender cuts are delicately placed on a mound of creamy smashed potatoes, and a yin-yang of vanilla basil and kimchee sauces pool around a medley of wood-oven roasted vegetables. The whole thing is garnished with sweet and spicy apple kimchee.
The final bill of $82 surprises my husband Dan. The high-quality food, lavish servings and divine sangria – at $9.50, the generous libation is a bargain in itself – had him thinking it would cost more for that level of dining.
Dan looks me in the eye with shock and says, “We’ve paid a lot more for a lot less!”
When naysayers tell Josselin that local people don’t go out, they don’t spend money, he has a different take. “I’ve been here for many years. I know a lot of local people, and they want to dress up. They want to spend money, and they want to go to a place where they are going to be excited about the food, the ambiance, because we live on the island and sometimes you need that excitement.”
Josselin’s Tapas Bar & Grill,
2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka St., #F-207A, Koloa
Open nightly from 5 to 10 p.m.
Reservations are encouraged. Call 742-7117. josselins.com
E-mail Marta Lane at firstname.lastname@example.org