Just came back from our favorite of Hawaiian islands - we think of Kauai as "Hawaii Unplugged." There is one thing that continues to mystify us, though - and that is the seemingly insecure cooking scene in Kauai where eateries feel they need to "dazzle" with complicated and incongruous themes in cooking. Sure, we're all bummed that A Pacific Cafe (formerly in Kapaa) is dormant, but I think there is this immediate opportunity for a chef who would focus on fresh ingredients, of which may abound (particularly from the sea) and preparing them simply and with precision. With that said here are our observations:
Kilauea Lighthouse Bistro (in Kilauea) - If you consider yourself a chowhounder, avoid this place at all costs. We stayed in Kilauea, and thought this place would deliver - no, it's exactly what I mentioned earlier - bizarre ginger-encrusted ahi, whereby the ginger snuffed out all reference to the fish it was hugging. Mainland cooking techniques (i.e. blackened this, blackened that) are applied to subtle Pacific "catch of the day" - don't go there.
Casa di Amici (Poipu) - Charming staff, giving it their best effort with seeming enthusiasm. The chef needs to chill out. You cannot manage this many flavors on a plate - coconut scented spinach, red beet mash, sweet corn salsa. These sides were served with every single entree. The experience was jarring.
Cafe Hanalei, Princeville Hotel (Princeville) - We stopped here after the extraordinary tour at Na Aina Kai botanical gardens. The views are worth it, but we should have known that hotel food wouldn't deliver. I went for grilled snapper - way overcooked. Nice wine selections by the glass, however, and a damn good espresso.
Smoothies at Mango Mammas (Kilauea) - This place has the battle of the North Shore smoothies won by a mile. All of us Kauai die-hards love the sincerity of Banana Joes, and Joe's is definitely the place to buy your fruit, but smoothies at Mammas rock, selection is tremendous, and they focus on organic fruits. Cocounut and almond macaroons were "melt in the mouth." They are less than a mile away from each other.
Breads at Kilauea Bakery (Kilauea) - Fantastic homemade breads - favorites turned out to be Whole Grain Spelt and Sourdough from a Guava starter. They are in the Kong Lung Center - a bit pricey, but totally worth it.
The Beach House - I can't believe I'm recommending this place - it still is honeymoon central, so you have to just accept that a few flashbulb prom shots will be taking place on the lawn in front of the wall of glass. They just added to the menue a dry rubbed pork topped with a banana salsa and a sweet potato mash. It was succulent and completely worked. This is not my kind of place, but definitely my kind of heartfelt dish.
Roy's - Best wine list on the island, best service on the island, and moderately respectful of fresh fish. I had a grilled grey snapper with a simple beuure blanc tied with a passionfruit glaze. It worked, wasn't too sweet. They need to get rid of the thing they call a chocolate souffle - it's another version of "molten" chocolate cake which can only be described as "gooey."
I won't criticize Postcards in Hanalei as our dinner there was tasty and earthen and well-intentioned. They, too, could benefit from pulling back a little. We had moments, such as the scrumptious taro cakes, concocted from produce coming from the adjacent field.
Wish we had gone back to Hanalei Dolphin on this trip - which we remember to be simpler in repertoire. They are a fish market until 5 pm, after all.
Hope this helps all of you. Our vacation wasn't predicated on gastronomic adventures. The geography and vibe delivered an amazing week. We are definitely coming back.