The nine-hour plane flight gives just a hint of the remote locale and isolation of the Hawaiian Islands. Before our trip I researched restaurants, farmers markets, farms and dairies on the islands and discovered it is easy to find chefs who are devoted to serving local products on their menus. As I thought about this I realized the logic of the Farm to Table movement taking a strong hold in a remote agricultural location with a wide range of micro-climates.
Anyone can imagine that this state provides its residents and guests with some of the best fish and seafood offered up by any ocean, but would you also think that it houses one of the largest ranches in the country?! Of course, we assumed we would find exotic fruits and ice cold coconuts, but how about the most aromatic tomatoes I have ever eaten?
Yes, tomatoes ( or tom-ah-toes, whichever)! It is one of those rare moments now seared in my foodie memory. We dined at the home of Judy and Wayne, who asked Memoirs to prepare a wonderful meal for us. There, on a plate with Nalo greens with local cherry tomatoes, were the most aromatic Roma tomatoes with a French dressing and an orange, port, balsamic reduction. Served with a goat cheese tart. The tomatoes smelled so good that I did not want to eat them, just inhale for a while, as one does a great wine or scotch. This was a problem in that it was such a lovely paced dinner I had to eat them. They were wonderful. (It really makes me curious about the undergrowth where they were cultivated, since it is said tomatoes will take on flavors of herbs planted with them.)
Part of our trip was scheduled around the Kapa’a, Kauai, Wednesday 3 pm Farmer’s Market. Before we arrived I was excited we would see what Kauai has to offer from the farmer’s trucks. Seemingly 3 pm is an odd time though. Once on Kauai, a local made an offhand remark about rush hour traffic from 2 to 4 and people getting off work at 3 in the afternoon…huh? I still do not know what time locals start their work day. But I did discover the accuracy of this rush hour comment. It was reinforced when we arrived at the Farmer’s Market at 3:12 with the first wave already leaving. Another local told us the farmer’s were mostly packed up by 4 or 4:30, so don’t try to arrive at 5. Again, totally accurate. By 3:12 had I missed much already.
Normally I walk through a market, assess where the best vendor is located and backtrack to them after a full survey. Do not do this in Kapa’a! Fresh greens were already gone leaving vast stretches of empty tables. This is clearly a place where people take their food seriously, know ahead of time who has the best produce and no dilly-dallying as though you are on vacation. Good thing I was looking for just enough variety for one meal for the two of us. We found escarole, eggplant, cherry tomatoes, minneolas, fresh ginger and ice cold coconuts. We also found local honey, mangosteens and cultivated rambutans, shown above. People were generous with us, giving out tastes of unfamiliar fruits and veggies.
Kauai also is the site of our most memorable meal. Before knowing about Memoirs in Honolulu, I found Oasis restaurant in Kapa’a, Kauai. The online descriptions clearly revealed a menu devoted to showing off the best of local foods. Later I discovered Memoir’s Chef Peter Foster’s connection in advising Chef Zach Sato on the Oasis menu. Finding Oasis is a bit of an adventure. It is located behind a resort and poorly marked on the street in true Hawaiian fashion. Once we found it, on the beach with the sun setting, we were shown to a table not far from a large group celebrating Chinese New Years Eve. The attentive service was outstanding and better than in many white-linen-stuffy establishments. Ninety percent of their menu is local Kauai produce, including the goat cheese with leek ash rolled in spiral fashion and sliced to show off the ash. This simple twist of the traditional dish was fresh and evidence of the creative spirit of the chefs. I ended the meal with a Wooten apple banana spring roll and caramel gelato. An apple banana is a Hawaiian banana that is smaller than a standard banana and a little more firm, so it held up well to the deep fried spring roll technique. Served sliced at an extreme angle, the spring roll plate included perfect textural contrast with complementary flavors. Yum!
I must say, Hawaii was not my first choice for a vacation destination. However, I became delighted as I learned how much Hawaiians care for the quality of their produce and take great pride in their ability to be sustainable with terrific variety. If given the opportunity I will return to delight in the foodie opportunities available on these islands.