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(2011 - Spring/Summer Issue)


Every year, a million visitorsarrive in Kauai, a speck in the Pacific and Hawaii’s fourth largest island.

They come to experience the Garden Isle’s laid-back charm, spectacular scenery, endless blue skies and red-hot dining scene. Rather than rely on boats and planes to bring in food, Kauai’s chefs are working with local farmers, ranchers and fishermen to give visitors a real taste of their island. From plate lunches on picnic tables to candlelit dinners in world-class restaurants, you’ll be amazed at the quality and variety of the delectable cuisine they’ve created.

New Twists and Flavours

To get acclimatized, book a table overlooking the ocean at the Beach House in Poipu, on the island’s south shore. Toast the glorious sunset with a tall Majestic Mai Tai made with coconut rum and potent Bacardi 151. The day’s fish is caught just beyond the reef where many island kids learn to surf. True to the Pacific Rim style so popular here, it may come crusted with wasabi or Hawaii’s buttery macadamia nuts, marinated in miso or napped with a lilikoi(passion fruit) and lemongrass sauce.

Nearby—everything’s nearby on this tiny mountainous island just 53 kilometres long and 40 wide—you’ll find Josselin’s Tapas Bar & Grill on the second floor of a plantation-style house in the Kukuiula Village mall. Chef/owner Jean-Marie Josselin, hard at work in his gleaming open kitchen dominated by a wood-burning oven, is clearly delighted to be back on Kauai after sampling the Vegas resto scene and wandering through Asia for three years.

“We want to give the island a new flavour, a new twist,” says French-born Josselin, a pioneer of Hawaiian regional cuisine. “We’re having fun with food and cocktails and serving small bites so you can eat as much or as little as you want.” While you peruse the ever-changing tapas menu, all beautifully presented, choose one of five tropical fruit sangrias from a roving cart. The master stuffs Japanese gyozadumplings with Hawaii’s famous slow-roasted kaluapork and introduces visitors to an alphabet of Hawaiian fish, from ahi tuna and ono (wahoo) to rich, creamy opah and a pink snapper called opakapaka. Dessert lovers, save room for decadent macadamia nut profiteroles with macadamia ice cream. 

Just when you think dining out couldn’t be more upscale, you learn that stellar New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has opened Kauai Grill in the plush St. Regis Hotel in Princeville to the north, with a view of mystical Hanalei Bay—the land called Honalee in the song Puff, the Magic Dragon. The menu in the sprawling men’s club-like dining room reads like a collection of JG’s greatest hits. Each dish is elegantly simple—take soy-glazed short ribs with green papaya-jalapeno purée and rosemary crumbs—yet extraordinarily delicious. 

Straight From the Fields

At this point, it’s probably wise to get some exercise . . . perhaps a gentle hike to a secluded jungle waterfall, a walk on a sandy beach or an adrenalin-pumping trek through the Waimea Canyon, a miniature Grand Canyon that’s just as breathtaking. Or wander through a Sunshine farmers’ market, where bird of paradise fronds sit in plastic buckets awaiting buyers and where local produce sells out within an hour. Visitors staying at condo resorts such as the Waipouli Outrigger in Kapaa or The Westin in Princeville can buy different fruits and vegetables every day to cook in their well-appointed kitchens.

Though even Kauai’s fanciest restaurants are fairly casual, it’s fun to try the ultimate in local food—a plate lunch. Look for the food truck beside the road in Hanalei Bay. A generous plate of tender leaf-wrapped pork or chicken and soupy purple taro, rather chalky tasting, costs about $8. Note the vast field of floppy taro leaves as you drive into town. After lunch, head to the busy takeout counter across the street for a cooling shave ice, topped with your choice of neon-coloured syrups, coconut, condensed milk, even cooked adzuki beans. Another unique local spot is Hamura’s Saimin Stand in Lihue. The $7 soup special is a melamine bowl of long egg noodles swimming in a fish broth crowded with greens, roast pork, won tons and hard-boiled egg. Hamura’s mile-high lilikoichiffon pie is so famous, Hawaiians from neighbouring islands order a slice to go before they board their plane home.

On the way to the canyon, foodies will also enjoy a tour and taste of Kauai Coffee, the state’s largest coffee plantation, to see how bright red coffee cherries on bushy trees are transformed into java. Further east, the 43-hectare Kilohana Plantation awaits. Imagine being invited to help yourself to ripe red lychees, apple bananas, mangoes and oranges straight from the tree! Look for cashew nuts, a kidney-bean-shaped seed suspended from a waxy red apple that must be roasted before munching. You can also tour the farm on board a vintage narrow-gauge train. In a tasting room beside the station, sample Koloa’s new spiced rum made from local sugar cane. Koloa recently signed a deal to distribute its rum from B.C. to Manitoba. 

Back at Kilohana’s airy mansion (circa 1935) dinner is served in the year-old 22º North, formerly Gaylord’s. Here, accomplished young chef Aaron Leikam incorporates more than 100 vegetables, fruit and herbs from the estate’s gardens into his daily farm-to-table menus, accented with just-caught seafood and meat from local ranches. On Tuesday and Friday evenings, a scantily-clad young man bearing a torch leads restaurant guests across the lawn to the luau pavilion for a moving Cirque du Soleil-like show portraying a Kauai legend. Visitors can also choose a traditional Hawaiian buffet dinner in the vast open-air tent before the show. With a mai tai in a plastic cup at your side, you’ll be glad you went.

Travel Planner

For more information, contact:

Kauai Visitors Bureau: kauaidiscovery.com

Adventure: adventureskauai.com

Farmers’ Markets: realkauai.com/FarmersMarkets

Kauai Coffee: kauaicoffee.com

Koloa Rum: koloarum.com

Luau and show: luaukalamaku.com

Restaurant recommendations:

The Beach House: the-beach-house.com

Josselin’s Tapas Bar and Grill: josselins.com

Kauai Grill: kauaigrill.com

Kilohana Plantation: kilohanakauai.com

22º North: 22northkauai.com

For accommodation, consider:

Aqua Hawaii Hotels & Resorts: aquaresorts.com

Outrigger at Waipouli Beach: outrigger.com

Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas: westinprinceville.com

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