Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mediterranean Gourmet: An Intimate Luau

When is a luau, not a luau? The answer is when it is at the Mediterranean Gourmet in Hanalei, Kauai. Having done several reasonably good interpretations of this feast made legendary by the royal luaus of the Kamehameha kings, my wife and I had the good fortune to try an intimate luau at the Mediterranean Gourmet last year while at our timeshare in Princeville, Kauai.

This year was a first for us; returning for a second luau at the Mediterranean Gourmet. We also were celebrating our thirtieth anniversary. That was a first, too. There are four reasons why I recommend this so highly; the location, the food which is always fresh and good, the intimacy which brings us closer to the performers and the Hawaiian family that performs here every year.

Family Hula Halau is authentic, fun to watch and steeped in the traditions of Kauai. Coppin Colburn, the patriarch of the family, is a good musician and performer who connects with his audience as soon as he takes the mike. He also enjoys playing with fire, twirling twin-lit batons so fast a ring of fire appears at each hand. They even performed a special dance to honor our 30th anniversary, which made our celebration even better.

The Mediterranean Gourmet has an imaginative wine list that is well-paired to the cuisine. After our tropical drinks, perfectly made, we ordered a bottle of Don Olegario, Albariño, which soon became two.  This Spanish white is one of my favorite wines. The Albarińo grape comes from the Rias Biaxas region of Spain, which is just above Portugal on the Atlantic coast. The coastal influence yields wines with great acidity, minerality and bold fruit flavors. I’m reminded of French Sancerre when I drink these wines, but at a much lower price point.

Imad Beydoun, the owner, takes personal charge, overseeing that all the dishes are in place and continually replenished. From first pass through the line until last there will be freshly made dishes of Kahlua Pork, various seafood and chicken dishes and an array of Mediterranean cuisine-inspired entrees. The servers are well-trained and attentive, which enhances the intimate feel of this luau.

At the end of their performance, everyone is asked to join hands while we all sing Aloha Oe. If you are not deeply moved by this rendition of one of Hawaii’s most beautiful songs, you should check your pulse. Hearts are warmed, new friends are made, and everyone leaves with their spirits lifted. This is the only luau I’d return to time after time because it is Kauai’s best luau.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bouchons Hanalei Grill & Sushi Bar

Teamwork is usually associated with team sports, but that is one of the things that most impressed me about Bouchons Hanalei Grill and Susi Bar. Everyone seems to be on the same page: making your dining experience fun and delicious from first drink to the last bite of dessert. Located in the town of Hanalei on the north shore of Kauai, it rests in the heart of Hanalei Bay, one of the most picturesque and photographed spots on earth. 

The location and atmosphere are perfect as my wife and I both love fresh seafood and views that include Mt Waialeale, which channels water down its long mountain streams to Hanalei Valley below. I already knew from previous visits that we would enjoy a night out at the grill. The second story restaurant is open to mountain views and fresh sea breezes. One has to be on the beach in Hanalei Bay to get a better perspective of what it’s like to be in this timeless place on Kauai’s North Shore.

Tyler, Chris and Jeffrey run the sushi bar and serve up some of the best raw seafood I’ve ever had. In fact, I seldom go for the sashimi and stick with the less challenging sushi; even when I’m in the islands. Not any more, when I can have Hamachi belly that melts in the mouth and salmon that makes me wonder why I always cook it. The coconut prawn in sauce were divine, and this was after I’d already had their calamari and crab cakes. 

The sashimi and prawn were complimentary and much appreciated as our plan to have appetizers and a drink before making dinner turned into a full dining experience. Besides we were having too much fun to leave early. Bouchons has that affect on folks.

Special cocktails, a good if brief wine list and premium sake choices provide all the accompaniment needed to make it work. After a Chopin martini we settled on glasses of Erath Pinot Gris. Oregon has a way with Pinot Gris, also known as Pinot Grigio that few can rival. Is it really fair that Oregon excels at Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris?

We finished up with a grasshopper pie, a big wedge with fudge dripping down the sides. I felt I was reliving my childhood when Country Club mint chocolate chip was my favorite ice cream. Only this was way better.

Mike at the bar and Mike the waiter sharing their enthusiasm for the place plus our waitresses taking our picture or making recommendations all reinforce what makes this place so special. Teamwork and a love of what they do. This is the number one place to go for great food, atmosphere, and fun. Be part of the team at Bouchons, I guarantee you’ll wish you’d joined sooner. Aloha!