The Right Latitude For Fresh Food

Chef de cuisine Aaron Leikam (left) and general manager Todd Oldham in a field of pineapple and rosemary

When I first learned about the transformation of the iconic Gaylord’s at Kilohana Plantation into 22°North, a restaurant based almost entirely on the farm-to-table concept using as many Kaua’i-grown products as possible, I admired the plan but wondered how much variety there would be.

What I have learned is that in the hands of a talented chef and kitchen staff, there is more variety than I ever imagined possible.

Todd Oldham, the restaurant’s general manager who is also a chef by trade, says the public’s response to 22°North since it debuted in July and its eat-what’s-grown-here concept has been powerful. Diners are learning how important it is to support local agriculture and how much healthier it is for them to be eating food that was grown only 15 or 20 minutes away, he said.

Oldham says the wide range of items on the menu and the lower pricing is intentional so that Kaua’i folks can feel welcome.

“We wanted to have it affordable where people feel comfortable enough to come once a week,” he says. “We wanted to create more of a neighborhood hangout for people who live in Lihu’e or who come through Lihu’e.”

It’s all working.

At 22°North, taste sensations range from fried green tomatoes, spiced potato samosas and olive poppers as appetizers (the olives aren’t Kaua’i-grown, but the other ingredients are); gazpacho, salads, stuffed eggplant, uku (gray snapper), A’akukui ranch beef tenderloin, to, oh my, the desserts. More on those later.

Molasses-black pepper-glazed smoked N.Y. strip steak with heirloom potatoes, roasted baby carrots and rustic salsa

22°North, named for Kaua’i’s latitude, still features the wonderful open-air dining we all loved at Gaylord’s, the kind where you can see friends across the courtyard and say hello. The night my friend Virginia and I arrived for dinner, we were spotted by three friends and joined them, making for a fun, lively evening of passing around plates, sharing pupus and tasting each other’s meals.

Chef de cuisine Aaron Leikam, the architect behind 22°North’s extensive and remarkably affordable menu, chose as our appetizers: the olive poppers ($5) stuffed with Kaua’i Kunana chevre with house-smoked bacon-tomato vinaigrette; and the tuna crudo ($13), which is sashimi with a spiced eggplant caponata, pine nuts, raisins and caper-raisin emulsion. I also tried the fried green tomatoes with a buttermilk chive dressing ($11) for the first time and now have a new favorite. The spiced potato samosas ($9) are both savory and sweet with Moroccan spices, shaved carrots, watercress, Kaua’i honey and sherry vinaigrette.

I tried gazpacho for the first time and was amazed at how just one spoonful burst with flavors.

Our dinner was like a buffet with all of us sharing our choices. My favorite was the stuffed eggplant with braised white beans, spinach, red onion, capers, raisins and balsamic vinaigrette, a filling yet light-onthe-body meal. The moi, a delicate, moist fish that was reserved for ali’i in ancient Hawaii, was delicious, as was the uku. The braised lamb shoulder was thinly sliced, served in a slightly peppery sauce. Though I am a light eater of meat, I would have enjoyed an entire serving of the juicy, flavorful strip steak, but alas, I passed the plate back to its rightful owner. Dinner choices are priced from $19 to $30.

Now for my favorite part of our dinner: the desserts. I usually avoid sugar so I’m no longer a large dessert consumer, but 22°North’s desserts knocked my socks off and are worth every calorie, and then some. The panna cotta was nearly light as air. The doughnuts are light as air. Round like malasadas or doughnut holes, they’re made from the most delicate dough imaginable, dusted with sugar, and are the perfect size to pop into your mouth. You can order some to go for your family at home in case you’ve eaten your whole order. (You will.)

The dessert menu also included a mango pie and a kabocha squash tart with macadamia nuts, both of which were delicious, and a variety of floats, the thought of which gave me a flashback to making floats after school when I was a teenager.

The menu at 22°North normally changes two times per week based on fresh ingredients the staff has been able to find on Kaua’i from farmers markets, local ranchers and fishermen, what is being harvested at Kilohana on farmland behind the restaurant, and from Cultivate Kaua’i, a company that provides products grown by Kaua’i farmers to restaurants and hotels.

Chef de cuisine Aaron Leikam delivers a side of green beans to Valerie Rekward while Virginia Beck looks on

The restaurant extends its sustainability practices to other areas of its operation, including coasters, which are die-cut from recycled wine cartons into whimsical shapes of rubber slip-pahs and pieces of bread; and to drinking glasses, which are made from recycled wine bottles.

“The local clientele is really proud of the sense of place that 22°North provides, and they also like that we are keeping money on island,” Oldham says. “That’s huge for people, and we’re thrilled to be doing our part.”

22°North at Kilohana Plantation

Visit online for an idea of menu selections and to make reservations: www.22northKauai.com or call 245-9593.

Open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch,; dinner 5 to 9:30 p.m.; Sunday brunch 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

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