Gracious dining in Hawaii’s most gracious town
|I hope someday Hollywood discovers Hilo. The small, picturesque town perched
on the edge of a tranquil and an impossibly blue bay would be the perfect
locale for a movie. Think of a sensitive coming-of-age film starring bratty
Lindsay Lohan, or a thriller in which Ashley Judd is chased throughout Volcanoes
National Park by a serial killer.
I thought of Hilo's movie-star good looks as I parked my rental car near the corner of Keawe and Waianuenue streets. The area, with its turn-of-the-century buildings still in pristine condition, looks like it belongs on a movie set or in a theme park. I was visiting that corner of Hilo town to have dinner at Restaurant Kaikodo, a recommendation of one of my colleagues. I didn't know much about the eatery, except that the food was good. Once I caught a glimpse of the place, I knew I was in for a treat.
Kaikodo is as gorgeous as the surrounding area. The restaurant, which occupies the bottom floor of the old Bishop Trust Building, has a high ceiling, large picture windows and a fabulous interior design that seamlessly marries Asian and Western decor. Chinese doors sit next to Japanese screens, alongside an English bar and below Murano glass chandeliers. Kaikodo is without a doubt one of the most elegant restaurants in all of Hawaii.
Immediately upon arrival, my host seated me at a small table near the window. Even though the restaurant was beautifully appointed and filled with beautiful people, I chose to face the window and gaze out at the rest of Hilo. As if on cue, a heavy rain fell throughout the town.
My thinking was that I was going to take the when-in-Rome approach to dining at Kaikodo, ordering dishes that had ingredients grown on the Big Island. Therefore, my meal started with Farmers' Market Tomato Salad ($7), a powerful mixture of tomatoes, Maui Onions, fire-dried pecans, Maytag bleu cheese and coconut dressing. I was hoping to get a taste of real tomatoes, not the familiar rock-hard fruit that is grown for transport, but the salty nuts, sharp onions and intense cheese completely overshadowed the fruit. Pass the water and the Tic Tacs.
My entrée, Achiote-marinated Fillet Medallions ($34), was as subtle and elegant as my salad was bold. The steak was sliced in thin, bite-size pieces and covered by a smoked corn sauce, which looked heavy and savory, but was actually light and sweet. The starch, a gratin of new potatoes and cilantro, also looked hearty, but it wasn't oily and didn't detract from the tender, gently seasoned filet.
My favorite bit of culinary cleverness was the grilled avocado, with melted fennel and leeks. The small, cooked fruit had all the creaminess and richness of a luxuriant, buttery sauce, without the heavy aftertaste (hopefully without the calories, too). Once you swallowed it, it was gone.
Keeping with the theme, I finished the meal with a Strawberry Shortcake ($6), which featured Waimea strawberries, country biscuits, housemade strawberry sauce, mango slices and whipped cream. I figured I couldn't get much more indigenous than that, and it turned out that I had made the right decision. Kaikodo's shortcake is one of the best desserts I've ever had anywhere. The strawberries, sauces and other fruit were the perfect balance of natural sugars and syrups. And the country biscuits? I don't know what country the recipe for the biscuits came from, but I want to become a citizen.
The rain had stopped when I left Kaikodo. The storm had only lasted about 30 minutes, just long enough to wash off the day's grime. The town looked shiny and new again, ready for another day. Maybe it's better if Hollywood stays far, far away.
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