Forward thinking

I’ve been writing about Maui restaurants for, well, decades, and to say that I’ve become a little jaded may be an understatement.

“Give me one more coconut-crusted shrimp, and I’ll scream!” I joke to friends.

So I’m pleased to report that when we dined at Ka’ana Kitchen at the new Andaz Maui in Wailea last week, we were bowled over by every aspect of this forward-thinking, excitingly different breakfast and dinner establishment.

“If I could design the perfect job, this would be it,” says Ka’ana Kitchen’s Chef de Cuisine Isaac Bancaco, who just took off Sunday to teach a few tricks of Maui’s culinary trade to compadres at the new Andaz Papagayo in Costa Rica.

“I don’t even want to call it a job,” says the chef, who will return next week wow you, too. “The level of support from above in management and from below by my cooks is unprecedented on Maui. It’s forward thinking. I have no restrictions.”

From the moment you walk in the door, you know you’re in a different type of restaurant. Overlooking the series of cascading pools from its perch on the lower lobby level of Andaz Maui, Ka’ana Kitchen looks like the gourmet kitchen and the dining room of someone’s elegant estate.

Meander into the room, and bartenders wearing Tori Richards shirts will greet you with fun mixology cocktails, making them in front you. Don’t imbibe? Then have “mocktails” with fresh-squeezed tropical juices. Nearby, chefs prepare fun tastes that rotate each week at other exhibition counters, and you may approach them to chat.

“It’s a very city vibe, very contemporary,” says Restaurant Manager Greg Shepherd, who hosted the Patz Hall winemaker dinner there Saturday, the first in a monthly series. “Basically, it’s like our house. You can walk around with a glass of wine, chat with the chefs. This is the most nonhotel restaurant in Maui, ever. Maybe even in Hawaii.”

How different?

The dinner menu is broken down into five various categories, or themes, with three dishes created from each of the columns.

“The themes can be a farm, a farmer, a fisherman, the best produce we can find,” says Executive Chef Brent Martin, who oversees Ka’ana Kitchen as well as Bumbye Beach Bar, Mokapu Market and Lehua Lounge. The other big restaurant, Morimoto Maui, is run by the “Iron Chef” himself.

The night we dined at Ka’ana, the categories were 50th State, Surfing Goat Dairy, Gourds, Free Range and Hamakua Mushroom.

From the 50th state, we savored abalone risotto with kampachi bacon, onsen egg and saikyo miso, and it was out of the this world. I just love abalone – and I wanted to shout – with joy!

The watermelon salad with Surfing Goat Dairy’s feta along with arugula and candied walnuts also jumped out as a winner. So did the wagyu carpaccio with tamari dashi.

“Our clientele has very refined palates. They expect quality. The most refreshing part is, they are willing to trust us,” says Martin.

For breakfast, “everything is ala minute,” explains Martin. “Nothing is sitting in hot boxes. All of our fruits are carved to order; we showcase farms such as Ono organics in Kipahulu. Chef cut and peel and talk to guests.”

All juices are freshly squeezed, and all by products are dried and used in the hotel’s spa products. A new, state-of-the-art custom-made food hydrator puts other food waste into compost for Andaz’s Ka’ana Farm on Naalae Road in Kula.

No big, corporate wineries are represented, only boutique producers, such as Fred Scherrer and Gary Burke, have wine there. It’s all forward thinking and excitingly different. Do try it.