KAPALUA - Have you been to The Plantation House Restaurant lately? The spectacular setting perched high above Kapalua Resort hasn't changed, but its interior decor, eclectic cuisine and wine offerings certainly have.
On a recent visit to The Plantation House with friends, I was treated to a gastronomic sampling of Executive Chef Jojo Vasquez' locally sourced and island-inspired dishes, not to mention tasting excellent California estate wines paired with each dish. This combination of exciting cuisine and premium wines has The Plantation House leading the way as a food and wine destination restaurant.
As for ambiance, the restaurant has been rejuvenated with vanilla cream walls, chocolate brown carpeting, caramel cushions and colorful glass sculptures. At the entry, you're greeted by a floor-to-ceiling glass enclosed wine room with an impressive array of wines. The dining room is enhanced by nature's backdrop of aqua blue sky, marine blue sea and brilliant golf greens. Once seated near the open-air lanai, I hoped the new menu would match this unparalleled setting. Chef Jojo more than met the challenge.
Executive Chef Jojo Vasquez looks at a local farm. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE PLANTATION HOUSE.
Named one of the Best Chefs America in 2013 and one of Hawaii's Rising Star Chefs in 2012, Vasquez has worked as executive chef at Morimoto Waikiki, chef assistant on the "Iron Chef America" TV show, and as chef de cuisine at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua. He moved to The Plantation House in 2013 to help guide the restaurant into a new era. Jojo's approach to cooking includes an almost-scientific study of natural ingredients and flavor combinations. He pays tribute to local food sources from neighboring farms and island waters and adds Asian seasonings and diverse techniques from the Mainland and Europe to further refine his brand of Hawaii cuisine.
From Chef Jojo's spring-summer menu, we started with a luscious Pea Soup flavored with smoked bacon, lime creme and cumin crumbs and accented with Napili Flo Farms pea shoots. That primed us for the next course: Kauai Shrimp in etouffee gravy made with Adoboloco's Hamajang smoked pepper hot sauce. The butterflied, full-body shrimp were served on a scallion-polenta cake, finished with lime creme and begonia blossoms from Napili Flo. A triple burst of flavor with bright citrus against smoky pepper soothed by the cream made this dish unforgettable. Our entree was Braised Beef Short Ribs in red wine with fresh root vegetables served on spicy parsnip puree and topped with baked kale chips. The colors and textures were a delight and put a spotlight on the chef's artistry.
"You can tell it's spring in this menu," said Chef Vasquez.
Highlighting its wine selection, The Plantation House now features a monthly Winemaker Series. When we dined in May, one of my favorite wineries, Grgich Hills Estate, was featured by the glass and bottle. In June, Silver Oak wines from Napa Valley and Alexander Valley along with Twomey Cellars from Napa and Russian River Valley will be offered at greatly reduced prices.
General Manager Chris Kaiwi explained, "We offer highly rated wines for good value during the entire month. They're available for breakfast, lunch and dinner."
Another tribute to the restaurant's food and wine concept is Saturday's Kapalua Wine and Food Festival Winemaker Dinner with Morgan Winery. Owner Dan Morgan Lee will be on-hand to describe his artisanal, vineyard-centric wines from the Santa Lucia Highlands of Monterey. Chef Jojo will create a culinary palette of local and global ingredients to match the distinctive wines.
The reception begins at 6 p.m. with passed appetizers: Crispy Shrimp and Quail Egg, Scallop Ceviche with Papaya Confetti, and Cornmeal Donut & Smoked Salmon with Horseradish Cream. These will be complemented by Morgan's Double L Vineyard Riesling and Metallico Un-Oaked Chardonnay.
Dinner begins at 7 p.m. with four courses: Kampachi Tiradito with ogo, shaved radish, citrus and aji amarillo peppers paired with Morgan Sauvignon Blanc. The next course is Chilean Sea Bass in Bearnise with Kumu Farm organic beets and rye-cumin crumbs served with Double L Vineyard Chardonnay. An entree of Peking Duck & Foie Gras Mousse served over fondant potato, red cabbage puree and toasted hazelnuts will be paired with Gary's Vineyard Pinot Noir. For dessert, dig into a Chocolate Sphere with raspberry panna cotta, sable Breton soil and hibiscus gelee topped with mango and raspberry fluid gel to be matched with Morgan's G17 Syrah. All wines are 2012 vintage.
The Plantation House-Morgan Winery dinner is limited to 35 guests at an all-inclusive price of $195 per person. For reservations, call 669-6299. Visit theplantationhouse.com for information.