When you think of outstanding food, certainly eating out at any of The Four Seasons should come to your mind. I’ve never been disappointed and Hawaii didn’t disappoint. The food and cocktails are a stand-out at The Four Seasons Hualalai Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii. On site, there are two lounges and three restaurants the Four Seasons: Beach Tree Restaurant, Pahu i’a, and Hualalai Grill.
For a snack in the afternoon, Surf Shack is a great place for snacks and delicious smoothies, such as their Chunky Monkey which is banana, peanut butter and yogurt, the Orange Carrot, which is orange juice, carrot juice, mango and banana, or the Mango Tango, which is mango, pineapple, Lilikoi sorbet, orange juice and yogurt to name a few. (not an exhaustive list).
Since I had other plans and reservations the rest of my stay there, I only had one night to dine on the grounds and ended up at the Beach Tree, an experience I won’t forget.
When I first walked in, my eyes darted back and forth between the possibility of sitting at an outside table facing a band who happened to be playing that night or sitting at the bar. Of course sitting at a candlelit table with the stars above, the ocean off in the distance and solitude all around you couldn’t be better, however since I was dining alone, I pondered whether I should sit at the bar, which still had a great view of the ocean and other people to chat with if I changed my “wanting all that solitude mood”.
While I was talking to Tommy Callero, the bartender on duty trying to make a decision, a couple former Four Season employees showed up and high-fived Tommy. Around the same time, two others in the hospitality business who worked in the area also showed up; they all knew each other of course, and given the mostly romantic energy at the tables off in the distance, my decision had been made for me, by them of course. “Am I in trouble with you lot?” I asked. Absolutely they nodded with big smiles on their faces.
Fun story after story came out on industry “stuff” and of course great info on the island itself, loaded with things to do and places to go. Not only were they about as warm, friendly and fun as the best dinner buds you’ve ever had, but knowledgeable as well.
I sampled a couple cocktails earlier in the evening when it was still light outside and “loungey”; it was during that late afternoon lull where people were in for a swim break and ordering specialty drinks, martinis, Mai Tais and appetizers. If you’re there long enough, try them all.
A great one to start with is the ceviche or the seared ahi panzanella with olives and tomatoes.
If one out-of-this-world bartender isn’t enough, I was lucky enough to have two. Jeff Strang showed up on the scene, and later, the Italian chef himself Nick Mastrascusa, who is half Silician and half Uruguaian. (pictured above left).
Does it get much better than that? Crikey, I felt as if I was injected into a family, a warm one with fun spirited personalities. But this was the Four Seasons, a large resort, right? It may be big, but attention to detail and service is something that their entire staff has nailed.
Chef Nick Mastrascusa was in the kitchen working during prime dinner hours, but since I’m a night owl, I was lucky to have him grace us with his presence towards the end of the evening. As My Hawaii Traveler says of his presence: “he exudes confidence, warmth and a charming Latin vibe. He’s never too busy to chat with guests, describing—and often demonstrating—tasty new dishes.” This is absolutely accurate.
Having grown up in Uruguay, a place known for warmth, community and family, he has brought some of those values and memories with him. They all insisted that I try the oxtail gnocchi and little did I know that the recipe includes his mother’s flour gnocchi with a “tuco” (oxtail ragout) sauce. He uses the recipe from his grandmother’s potato gnocchi, and his father’s traditional Uruguay barbecue of assorted meats and vegetables.
He told me about a community project that he (with the Four Seasons) participates in with the Waimea Middle School. They start with the students in the garden where the students do the planting and harvesting and then move to the kitchen where they work with them to prepare a meal. What a great way of getting kids to learn the importance of fresh organic produce farm-to-table style. Then, as a way to empower the kids who participated, Nick and his team feature the recipes that were prepared at the school on the Beach Tree menu. (Joseph Franzen is doing remarkable farm-to-table things with kids as well in Kentucky – see my write up here).
Beach Tree’s salads are all fresh, whether you opt for their Tricolore salad, the roasted carrot & arugula salad with prosciutto and gorgonzola or the wild shrimp, fennel, avocado and citrus salad. I opted for a hybrid of two of them. They support over 160 local farmers and fishermen and roughly 75% of their menu items come from Hawaii Island.
While I’m not a huge pasta fan these days (trust me, it’s only because of the number of carbs that are bound to go to my waistline NOT because I don’t love a good pasta), I had to order the Papardelle with wild boar ragout. You don’t see wild boar on the menu that often in the states so how could I resist? It was out of this world. People also raved about the risotto with hamakua mushroom and truffles and the lobster ravioli with mushrooms and baby leeks.
Jeff insisted that I try the Short Ribs, braised with a carrot puree and that if I didn’t agree that they were the best ribs I ever had….I was certain that he wanted me to order them so he could have a bite he was so passionate about them, but he declined even when I offered, maintaining a huge smile on his face as he watched me dive into heaven.
They also have more classic and traditional items on the menu, like a Shrimp Scampi with baby spinach, a Chicken Marsala with a Mascarpone Polenta, a Rib Eye with potatoes, lemon and parmesan or the Fresh Catch of the day, which is most definitely fresh given that the ocean was almost within reaching distance from the kitchen.
Since I had an army of experts around me, there was no shortage of recommendations for dishes to try and that was after they all had an opinion on the wine menu. My strongest knowledge is of California, South African, French, Italian and Australia wines in that order. And, I have reasonable experience with Washington and Oregon Pinots and Argentinian Malbecs. That said, there are always wines from all regions on every menu I see that I’ve never heard of or never tried, especially when the wine menu is extensive.
Despite the fact that we were sitting in a top notch resort on the beach, the prices of the wine by the bottle was incredibly reasonable, even moreso than many of the restaurants in San Francisco. (it’s a pet peeve of mine — San Francisco seems to charge higher for their wines, particularly by the glass than most other places I travel to on a regular basis). When I’m in France, Italy, Spain, South Africa and pretty much anywhere in South America, you can drink wine like a King (or Queen) for about half the price as northern California.
So, we tasted, starting with the Primitivo Layer Cake Puglia (was a tad too light for my second course dishes but a good bet for the salads). I was curious about the Barbera Bricco Buon Natale from Santa Barbara but didn’t go there, but did taste a Tocai Friulano Palmina and the Dolcetto Palmina from the same region. (I was surprised how many wines from Santa Barbara they did have on the menu).
What most excited me were the reds in the same regions that always excite me: California, Tuscany and France: it’s a style/taste thing for me I think regardless of what I’m eating. The 2005 Trinity from Godspeed Vineyards (yup, it is from Napa Valley) was divine (a split of Cabernet, Malbec and Syrah).
Everyone loved the spicy Pinot from Patricia Green Cellars, and although it was drinkable, it didn’t quite have me at hello like the Tuscan Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Le Volte Sangiovese/Merlot/Cab blend. (it was an ’09). Another great blend worth calling out was the Chateau Lyonnat St. Emilion (85% Merlot, 11% Cab and 4% Cab Franc) from France and the Paul Hobbs ‘Crossbarn’ Cab from Napa. (don’t recall the year). And, a top notch choice that will even turn a bad food experience into a good one is the Tuscan Tignanello from Antinory winery. It had me at hello and then some.
If that wasn’t enough to end my evening (have never been a big dessert girl), Nick in his excitement to share things that ‘matter in life,’ disappeared and came back with a bottle of Grappa – his personal collection. “Where’s it from?” I asked. “Carlos,” he replied. “Where’s Carlos?” I stupidly wondered. Carlos is a friend of his, so alas, it was homemade. It turns out that no one bottle is identical to another one, so each opening is a special treat. A special treat it was and my lucky evening.
As I looked out onto the beach and saw that very special tree that seemed to have some kind of spiritual energy every time I looked at it (the beach tree), which was front of my favorite pool and hot tub on the property, basking in a very rich evening of great conversation, incredibly warm people, to-die for food, a chef who was as equally passionate about food as he was grappa, and a whole bunch of palette wine surprises, the gratitude poured in as the smile widened. I watched Jeff give one of his old colleagues a hug and took in their laughter and warmth as if they were all one big family rather than employees at a top notch resort in Hawaii.
It was indeed, a perfect evening.
See my write up on The Four Seasons Hualalai Resort. For more posts on Hawaii, check out this section. To experience nature, botanical gardens and rainforest by segway, check out this post. For photos on the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. For more on Hawaii and food/wine only, go here. For Hawaii and lodging, here. For more on Hawaii and arts, go here.
Photo Credits: Sunset photo of Beachtree with table/chairs — Travel AgentCentral, photos of Nick (from Nick) and evening shot of restaurant from distance: Four Seasons site. All other photos from Renee Blodgett.
Note: Beach Tree hosted my dinner however all of my opinions expressed are based in my personal experience and my over-the-top thumbs up couldn’t be more honest.