And I Can Cook, Too

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Just Like Living In Paradise
Jan. 13, 2006
The good news? My husband’s corporate retreat was being held in Kona, on the Big Island of Hawaii. The better news? My birthday was the same week. The best news? The very low “spousal” rate being offered to those who wished to bring their wives. My bags were packed before the words were out of his mouth. We were off to Kona Village Resort, Hawaii’s only all-inclusive resort destination.

Check in was conducted in an open-air pavilion, without computers, credit cards, or (gasp!) room keys. You’ve heard me right – there are no keys at Kona Village Resort. There are also no telephones, radios, televisions, or electronics of any kind. Lap-top and cell phone use in public is not allowed. Rather than hotel rooms, guests stay in private hales (houses). Ours was the Hawaiian Sands, a two-room suite with an ocean view, and surrounded by enough land and foliage to convince us we were the only people around for miles.

After check-in, we proceeded to the lunch buffet. Needless, to say, I was disappointed to hear the word “buffet”. Having spent years serving them, I avoid them at all cost. My despair turned to delight as we previewed the most stunningly fresh buffet I have ever seen. Las Vegas, step aside. Kona Village Resort has raised the bar. Beautiful salads of spinach, baby lettuces and locally grown micro-greens were followed by equally lovely vegetable offerings: eggplant, asparagus, artichoke hearts, haricots verts, each lightly garnished or dressed with light and flavorful dressings. Pasta salads were presented with creativity and thought. Udon Noodles with traditional garnishes of sesame, fish cake, tamago, and nori competed with tortellini salad served with broccoli and red pepper in the lightest possible black pepper dressing to be my favorite choice. Cold seafood offerings followed the salads. Specialties like Dungeness crab or jumbo shrimp Cocktail took turns on the menu. Oysters, clams, and muscles on the half shell were offered every day, as was Ahi sashimi, which was the beautiful deep red of highest quality belly cut. Fruit soup joined such local fruits as rambutan, dragonfruit, and the requisite pineapple. Hot dishes ranging from Ahi Burgers and Baked Ham En Croute to Moussaka and Rosemary Rack of Lamb were available for those who wanted heartier fare. Finally the dessert table offered a large variety of sweets including Macadamia Nut Pie, Vanilla Mousse, and an Ice Cream Sundae Bar.

Other than eating, my primary activity for the week was whale watching. Late winter/early spring is whale season in Hawaii; thousands of them migrate there every year. During the winter months on the Big Island you can see them every day, slapping, breaching, and diving back into the deep with a flip of their tales. KVR’s Shipwreck Bar provided the perfect location for whale watching, and Barman Corky promised a complimentary drink for every breach we could spot quickly enough for him to turn around and see it. (Fortunately for everyone, whales are fast) Cocktail hour over, we wandered off to dinner. KVR has two dining rooms: Hale Manoa, and their fine dining restaurant, the not-included Hale Samoa. I didn’t find much difference between the two, and opted to have most of our dinners at Hale Moana.

The dining was as fine as we could hope for. Menus changed nightly, and some of our favorites dishes included the Coconut Crusted Scallops, which were perfectly crispy and served with a spicy Thai curry. The Chilled Creamy Cucumber Mint Soup was light and refreshing. Grilled Monchong (pomfret) Over Lobster Fried Rice was surprisingly wonderful, with an unexpectedly generous amount of lobster meat. The Hawaiian Spiny Lobster with Garlic Lime Sauce was sweet and succulent. Each week, the resort offers two alternatives for dining: Paniolo (Cowboy) Night, and the Friday Night Luau. The Paniolo Night was fantastic fun: with live music in the background we dined on falling-off-the-bone BBQ ribs, tender Parker Ranch steaks, and grilled Maine lobsters. Again, the assortment of side dishes was stunning and fresh.

An 8-year resident of Hawaii, I have been to more than my share of Lu’aus, and they are pretty much all the same. Not so at Kona Village Resort. Instead of dried out Teri Chicken and Baked Mahi Mahi, KVR offered a wide variety of sushi, roasted taro (the staple root vegetable of the traditional Hawaiian diet), seared Ahi, and, of course, Kalua Pau’a, otherwise known as roast pig. The Pua’a is salted and laid in an imu (underground oven), covered with banana leaves and roasted over hot lava rocks and kiawe wood. Moist and tender, it is Hawaiian comfort food. Lomi-Lomi Salmon and Fish Lu’au were among the delicious side dishes. Following dinner we were treated to a wonderful performance of dance, chanting, and story telling. KVR boasts it’s Lu’au to be the oldest one on the Big Island, and it is certainly the best I have ever attended.

I highly recommend Kona Village Resort to anyone who is looking for a truly peaceful vacation. The location, and service can’t be beat. And the food, of course, is divine.

Make At Home Kalua Pua’a
5 lb Boneless Pork Butt
3 Tbsp Hawaiian Salt (substitute Kosher Salt if necessary or try Halen Mon Smoked Salt [www.cutlery.com] and reduce the amount of liquid smoke by ½.)
1 tbsp Liquid Smoke
1 Banana Leaf (substitute 2 whole, unpeeled bananas)
4 Ti Leaves to cover (substitute aluminum foil)

Pre-heat oven to 325°. Liberally stab the roast with a fork. Rub the roast with salt, being sure to rub salt where you have pierced the meat. Rub in the liquid smoke. Either wrap the roast in the banana leaf, or place whole bananas in the pan with the roast. Cover with either Ti Leaves or Aluminum foil. Roast for 3 ½ hours, or until the internal temperature of the meat is 165°. Discard all leaves, shred the meat, and serve hot.

If you’d like your own above ground imu, go to www.lacajachina.com.

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