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Discover culinary treasures at Tropica

By Staff | Jan 7, 2010

Chef de Cuisine Rich Hinojosa presents exquisite cuisine: (clockwise from center) Golden Potato Gnocchi, Pacific Bouillabaisse, Tenderloin of Beef, New Caledonia Prawns, Tropical Tres Leches, Roasted Pork Belly, Seared Diver Scallops and Ahi. Photo by Rob Reed.

KAANAPALI — Rain? What rain? We longtime Maui residents know it never rains in Kaanapali. But there it was pouring rain as we were setting up our photo shoot for the cuisine at The Westin Maui Resort’s oceanfront Tropica Restaurant and Bar near the Kaanapali Beachwalk.

Along with other dinner guests, we were quickly whisked into the spacious sheltered lounge, where one can still dine in splendor surrounded by the cascading waterfall, sparkling koi ponds and today, instead of the usual golden sunset, the stormy sea!

And making our rainy evening experience a sheer delight was meeting the very affable Chef de Cuisine Rich Hinojosa from San Antonio, Texas, where he grew up with a heavily influenced Spanish and Mexican background.

“My mother is a phenomenal cook, and my aunts did a lot of cooking as well, thereby introducing me to a variety of foods in my early years,” said Chef Rich.

“Growing up in Texas, one is exposed to various cultures and cooking styles, such as German, Mexican and Puerto Rican. I personally favor seafood, and at age three, I enjoyed raw oysters and clams. On my eighth birthday, I requested a roasted duck, and my mother baked it dark, crisp and delicious. I also ate lots of lobster and scallops when I was young.”

Chef Hinojosa graduated with a Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management Degree from Arizona and Scottsdale Culinary Institute.

“After classes were completed, I moved to San Diego to begin my professional career under Chef James Boyce as chef de partie at Azzura Point, the signature dining room at Loew’s Coronado Bay Resort,” said Chef Rich.

“The following year, I continued my culinary career with Chef Boyce at Mary Elaine’s at the Phoenician. I held the positions of tournant, sous chef and chef de cuisine of the Praying Monk. In 2000, Mary Elaine’s received a fifth star from Mobil, a fifth diamond from AAA, as well as the Wine Spectator’s Grand Award,” he continued. “Most recently, I was the executive chef and owner of Crave, a private catering company in Arizona specializing in intimate, multi-course wine dinners in client’s homes.

“My responsibilities at Tropica include overseeing the culinary operations, whereby I plan day-to-day and week-to-week schedules for the restaurant’s culinary team. I am also responsible for the menu development and ensuring high consistency level of the menu. I work closely with our purchasing team in purchasing quality food products, as well as partner with local vendors and farmers for a true farm to table experience,” he explained.

“In my present role, I am inspired to heighten senses and tease the palate with a winning combination of Maui’s famed local ingredients and Westin’s branded cuisine. Tropica Restaurant and Bar encompasses the elements of taste, balance, presentation and service. When you put that right by Kaanapali Beach, it is a truly unique experience.”

The intriguing menu offers a selection of many different preparations to delight the most discerning palate, and the ambiance in this cozy, relaxed setting certainly enhances one’s dining experience.

Chef Rich generously served tasting courses of many entrees, beginning with succulent Seared Diver Scallops in a soul-satisfying Braised Fennel Puree with Big Island tomatoes, angula and a fingerling potatoes. This dish initiated a stellar beginning to the banquet that followed.

One of the “Fire Kitchen Specialties” is, surprisingly, Roasted Pork Belly! Now that’s a first! Slices of the succulent meat are paired with sweet and sour Kula onions and charred Kapalua tomatoes in balsamic and jalapeno oil. This was followed by a superb Golden Potato and Pistachio Gnocchi enriched with a flawless Meyer Lemon Cream Sauce that just melts in your mouth.

Not even halfway through this superb sampling, and Chef Rich’s innovative talent became evident.

Chef Rich continued his savory feast with sweet New Caledonia Prawns and miniature slices of green beans, chive and uni butter, followed by a huge bowl of Pacific Bouillabaisse. It is just unforgettable crammed with a Kona lobster half, local fish, clams, mussels, scallops, shrimp, saffron potato aioli and a focaccia crostini — such a robust flavor you’ll not forget!

Thick and juicy is the Ocean-fresh Ahi, charbroiled to medium rare with roasted tomato cous cous, sea beans (similar to lentils), mizuna and ali‘i mushrooms with an opal basil reduction.

A remarkable Tenderloin of Beef, a half-pound cut, is sheer perfection balanced on a fondant potato with parsley pesto and braised endive. It’s crowned with a luscious poached egg, and when touched lightly with a fork, a lava flow of golden yoke spews forth! It is a brilliant dish to behold!

And to top this bountiful banquet is a moist Tropical Tres Leches — a golden cake macerated in three milks (coconut, local Haden Mango and raspberry). Not only the end of a perfect repast, but 50 percent of the cake’s price is donated to their Aloha Fund to support local and national charities.

“With most people becoming cost-conscious these days, we have created an affordable menu for visitors and local residents to continue enjoying a distinctive dining experience,” said Chef Rich. “At Tropica Restaurant and Bar, we offer a Three-Course Tasting Menu at $33 per person with delicious choices for appetizers, entrees and desserts. It’s featured from 5 to 6 p.m. and 8:30 to 9:30 p.m.”

“One of my fortes is in creating Multi-course Wine Dinners that are not only a treat to the palate, but visually exciting. I’m personally involved in the various steps ranging from preparation and selection of menu items to presentation, service and wine pairing,” he added. “Our wine list is consumer-friendly and certainly compliments our cuisine.”

So whether it is rain or shine, at Tropica you’ll discover culinary treasures that titillate the palate. For reservations, call 667-2525.

Pau for now…