Elegance and martinis at 21 Degrees North
|This tataki of 'ahi is served on a bed of charred veggies. For dessert, ice cream flavors include basil, port wine or orange truffle with chocolate. Formerly the Cove restaurant, 21 Degrees North is part of the Turtle Bay Resort.
Photos by Rebecca breyer The Honolulu Advertiser
By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic
Formerly called the Cove, this lovely hexagonal dining room steps down into a multitiered circle, its plush carpet accented with rich koa paneling, steps and banisters. Tall perimeter windows offer ocean and pool-area views. The atmosphere is elegant, relaxing and welcoming, almost lodge-like. The stage is set.
When seated, you are given both a wine list and a martini menu featuring you guessed it 21 different martinis ($7 each). If, like me, you are a purist and believe there to be one, and only one, martini gin and a whisper of dry vermouth you'll be surprised by the myriad concoctions on this list, most made with vodka.
Take, for instance, the French martini (flavored with pineapple juice and Chambord raspberry liqueur), the lemon-drop martini (citrus-flavored vodka, lemon juice and Cointreau), or the mochatini, amped-up with finely ground coffee beans and creme de cacao.
The cuisine is described as contemporary island cuisine with a French accent. Meal service begins with an amuse bouche, a creative taste from the kitchen meant to stimulate one's appetite.
On my first visit, a mound of brunoise-cut (tiny diced cubes) glazed carrots with a candied walnut was brought out. I clearly tasted maple and wasabi, a smart pairing of sweet and sharp flavors. I later learned that dark rum also was a flavoring component of this dish. My second visit saw a smidgen of kalua pig atop a fried wonton wrapper, with a subtle tomato salsa.
Puree of cauliflower ($10) is a gentle and creamy soup, served with cured apple, with a decidedly coconut-milk finish. The chilled red and yellow gazpacho ($9) is a popular soup choice, cool and refreshing tartness accented with a basil, crab, and pickled-onion salad.
An appetizer such as the tataki of 'ahi ($13) is quite a feat of construction. The 'ahi is placed atop pieces of crostini, which have been spread with mushroom and olive tapenade. Alongside are rigatoni filled with a sun-dried-tomato goat cheese, with charred ratatouille at the base of the plate. It's a fun dish to eat, more whimsical than wow, but worthwhile nonetheless.
Pan-seared scallops ($13) were sea-sweet and served over what is called "fresh corn polenta" on the menu, and drizzled with earthy truffle-shiitake vinaigrette. The polenta is quite satisfying, but much closer to creamed corn than to polenta, so be advised.
Entrees primarily lean to the sea, with just one choice each of beef, lamb and duck. The pan-seared Pacific sea bass ($32) is placed on a cloud of whipped garlic potatoes knee-deep in shellfish broth. This was quite flavorful, but nothing in the menu description prepares the diner for the reality of the dish the soup-like treatment. So, again, be advised.
Tarragon butter-braised lobster tail ($32) is accompanied by orzo risotto, asparagus and roasted shallots, in a citrus butter sauce. This was too sweet for me (as many of the dishes here are) but I realize that many people enjoy sweet tastes. Grilled tenderloin of beef ($29) is draped with a teriyaki veal reduction, plated with broccoli, tomato salsa and crispy shallots.
Macadamia-crusted rack of lamb ($32) appears on fried polenta, with grilled pineapple, mint chutney and a ginger-veal reduction. This is an untraditional approach to an old favorite dish, executed and presented well. Pear-ginger-glazed duck breast ($28) is matched with some delicious side flavors. The braised cabbage, apple and duck confit salad is yummy. And the butternut squash puree is an excellent match for the rich and meaty duck breast.
When it's dessert time, you should try the homemade ice creams ($7). They are spectacular, even for a non-lover of ice cream such as myself. Flavors like fresh basil and port wine are inventive, brave and incredibly satisfying. Orange truffle with chocolate, and cinnamon, are more standard tastes, but no less fabulous. The chocolate ganache cake ($7) is better than the chocolate souffle ($10) and will do the trick for chocoholics.
The latitude of Hawai'i is 21 degrees north, a clever name for this restaurant. Andrew Manion-Copley, formerly of the Lodge at Koele on Lanai, is Turtle Bay's executive chef. Robert Dalzel is chef de cuisine for 21 Degrees North, a fine new getaway on the North Shore.
Reach Matthew Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org.