I’ve been a die-hard fan of the Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui (www.Fairmont.com/KeaLani) in Wailea Resort since it opened in December 1991. In fact, I was fortunate to stay at the property in its opening month. But it had been awhile since I enjoyed my most recent stay in this all-suite beachfront resort. So it was natural to notice a few subtle changes. No doubt that the most pleasant of these was the addition of Kō, an al fresco eatery that offers cuisine reflective of the many cultures of Hawaii’s sugarcane plantation era.
Drawing its name from the Hawaiian word for “sugarcane,” Kō is the culinary creation of Kea Lani’s Chef de Cuisine Jake Belmonte. Conceptualizing Kō from stories shared by his father who was a plantation worker in the early 1930s, the chef’s menu is inspired by the culinary cultures introduced by each new wave of arriving immigrants that came to the islands to work in the sugarcane fields – Hawaiian, Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese, Koreans and Japanese. It’s also a reflection of his personal family traditions, customs and experiences with the island’s delicious diversity.
According to Chef Belmonte’s well-calculated design, each dish celebrates the cultures of the plantation workers with an emphasis on sustainability. But don’t be confused. This isn’t local-style plate lunch “grinds.” It’s gourmet fare to the max. Toss in a staff that’s excited about sharing this unique cuisine and a dining under the stars experience that’s Hawaiian to the core, and Kō more than hits the mark for Wailea’s unique dining options.
With no coaxing necessary, I opted for the hotly hyped Ahi “On the Rock” – sashimi spiced with orange ginger miso sauce served next to a hot rock on which I seared it to my own liking. Being a seafood fanatic, I complemented the appetizer with The Makai Catch. This fresh daily haul – opakapaka on my evening – can be wok-seared with spicy black bean sauce, broiled with miso butter, coated in a macadamia nut crust or prepared with lemon-herb butter. Needless to say, it was all a mouthwatering dream.
Other specialties include “Lumpia” Filipino Spring Rolls made from the chef’s treasured family recipe, Lobster tempura with a trio of sauces, Maui Cattle Company “Paniolo” Rib-Eye Steak, and Coconut Curry Lamb Chops marinated and grilled with mango-mint salsa.
My only regret was that I had only one night to enjoy this fare. Kō is just one more reason why I’ll return to Kea Lani as often as possible.
For more about the Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui
A freelance writer based between Honolulu and San Diego, Dawna specializes in destinations and adventures in the Hawaiian Islands, Mexico, the South Pacific and Western United States. Her stories have appeared in publications that include The New York Times, Global Traveler USA, San Francisco Magazine, Los Angeles Magazine, Smart Meetings, Family Fun, Hemispheres, Outside and Travel Agent Magazine. She is a frequent contributor to TravelAge West, a bi-weekly magazine targeting retail travel agents and wholesalers in the Western United States. An avid marathon runner and photographer, Dawna is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers. Visit www.dawnarobertson.com