Sandra worked the bar at Hukilau Lanai restaurant
like a pianist who intimately knows the keys of her musical instrument. She reached left for one bottle, while her right hand reached right for another. She stretched her arm above her head for a wine glass. She spun behind her, opened a refrigerator hidden below the cabinet and pulled out a bottle of white wine, tugging out its cork and filling the glass. All the while, she carried on a conversation with my husband and me, sitting on two of the six, tall, teak chairs at the small bar in the open-air restaurant behind Coconut Marketplace shopping center.
We'd opted for the bar when we arrived at 6:00 p.m. to find the wait for a table at the Kapaa restaurant already one hour long. It was the weekend after Thanksgiving. "It looks like a busy holiday weekend," I said. Hukilau Lanai gets 4.5 stars at UrbanSpoon
Sandra swung a computer monitor around and tapped its screen. She swiped a piece of paper spit out by a mini-printer and snapped a faux leather folder around it. "We're always busy," she said.
Uncle Billy strummed his guitar and sang Hawaiian songs across the lobby, surrounded by guests sitting in comfy sofas and plush chairs.
The restaurant gets so busy they serve drinks, pupus (appetizers) and, even, dinners out here, in the open lobby and at the bar. For Kauai, the restaurant is “upscale casual.” For Waikiki, it’s more casual.
We chose the Hukilau Lanai, because I was craving a dish of theirs—Adam’s Poke Nachos. It's the kind of dish you crave. The kind of dish you order every time you come. Ahi poke, Kamuela tomato, avocado, tobiko, and inamona drizzled with wasabi cream and served on crisp wonton chips. And it didn’t disappoint. Oh, no. The serving size is healthy for an entrée, if you choose.
The other dish I usually order here is the Lobster Curry Bisque, but this night—after a big Thanksgiving feed—I was in the mood for pupus. I couldn’t get past appetizers on the menu and ordered Sweet Potato Ravioli, made with roasted Okinawan sweet potato and Kilauea feta cheese, and Lobster and Goat Cheese Wontons, stuffed with lobster, local goat cheese, and mac nuts and topped with a guava plum sauce.
There is a large fish menu at Hukilau Lanai, supplied by local fishermen, but the husband was craving a hunk of the Awesome Local Mushroom Meat Loaf—I know, I know—made with island-raised beef, locally grown mushrooms, red-skin smashed potatoes and smothered in brown butter sauce.
When his meat loaf was served and before his first bite, he ordered dessert: “Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory” Warm Cake with an oozing, chocolate center and a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on the side. Because he knew it takes 20 minutes to prepare.
Pupus run $9 to $13 here. Entrees $18 to $28. Desserts $6 to $10. For Hawaii, that’s affordable. When the place opened almost 10 years ago now, I remember the line “20 under $20 when it came to their wines. Now, though, the line has been tweaked to “20 for $20 something.” Still not bad.
The food is good enough at Hukilau Lanai to keep me coming back on a regular basis—more than just an anniversary or birthday. But there’s something else about the place. Three things, actually. One, many items can be prepared gluten-free. Two, the owners, Ron and Krissi Miller, are truly, good people. As evidenced by, three, their green practices.
Like everyone these days, Hukilau Lanai buys from local farmers and fishermen. They participate in local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) at the Kauai Farmers Co-Op. They recycle cardboard, glass and plastic. But they also donate leftover food to the Kauai Salvation Army. All edible food waste is picked by a local pig farmer. Spent vegetable oil is recycled locally into bio-fuel. Excess vegetable scraps and coffee grounds go into an on-site composter to feed their herb garden. Wine corks are collected and used in potted plants. Styrofoam take-out containers have been nixed in favor of bio-degradable ones. Office paper is shredded and used on the herb garden. What’s more, a dedicated manager oversees the implementation of daily green practices and continually researches new ones.
Good food and a good conscience. An unbeatable great pair.
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 5-9 p.m.