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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, February 5, 2006

Cabanas menus go beyond the beach

Christopher Gee prepares everything from whole Island fish to T-bone lamb to gourmet sandwiches.

Photos by Randy T. Fujimori

Wayne Hirabayashi and Carlos Salazar have launched new menus.


Where: 5000 Kahala Ave., Kahala Mandarin Oriental, Hawaii

Call: 739-8888

It seduces. It stimulates. It intoxicates. And it's the quintessential spot for a one-night — or even day — dining affair on the beach.

Aah ... Cabanas.

"It's a paradise oasis," said Tedde Thompson, communications director for the hotel, which will be re-named The Kahala as of Mar. 1. "The sound of swaying palm fronds, ocean waves and tradewinds sweeps guests away."

As couples held hands and toasted to a dipping sun last Saturday at this seaside grill, they appeared to be lulled in what Thompson charmingly called their own little "cocoon."

Actually, it was their own small tent.

Cabanas comprises of 12 open-air, bedouin-like structures that are staked into prime beachfront real estate. Canvas white curtains are tied back but can be closed for more privacy or to shield against inclement weather.

Recent menu changes help warm the body during those gusty tradewind days. For example, the clam chowder ($14, for lunch only) consists of a velvety broth made with a pearl barley base — as opposed to the traditional potato — and teems with cannellini beans, clams, shrimp and bits of bacon.

While executive chef Wayne Hirabayashi still satisfies guests' appetites for such "poolside" fare as hamburgers — which is not just an ordinary patty covered with ketchup and mustard; this one is dressed with avocado, white cheddar, bacon and sauteed onions — he has added items that could easily be served during dinner.

The miso Tasmanian salmon ($22) and lobster salad ($28) are cases in point.

Served with tsukemono and placed atop a bed of creamy edamame puree, the flaky salmon fillet is charred then sprinkled with pellet-sized bubu arare (baby rice crackers) for added crunch and texture.

To call it a "salad" undermines the depth of the next dish, which features a prized Antarctic lobster tail that's grilled then presented on a bed of Nalo Valley greens mixed with wedges of Asian pears and slices of heirloom tomatoes, all surrounded by a moat of gazpacho vinaigrette. Heavenly!

While it may be a "grilled cheese sandwich ($16)," this one is a gourmet version made with white rye bread and piled with Spanish Serrano ham and accompanied by refreshing strips of orange-marinated jicama (pronounced he-Ka-ma, which is a Mexican yam) fries.

If you think all french fries are created equally, think again.

Cabanas' chefs Christopher Gee and Ryan Loo have reinvented all-American shoestring potatoes and covered them in aged balsamic vinaigrette ($8), sprinkled them with fresh herbs ($8) and topped them with fried blue crab meat ($12).

"I've got to give credit to Chris and Ryan," said Hirabayashi of the two chefs, who oversee the kitchen during lunch (Loo) and dinner (Gee). "They took my direction and ran with it."

What's been a nice side effect with this new lunch menu is that people are now enjoying a glass of wine with their meals, according to food and beverage director Carlos Salazar.

"It's great to see people in their wet bathing suits sipping on wine," he smiled. "It shows that their indulging in a resort lifestyle."

Wayne Hirabayashi and Carlos Salazar have launched new menus.
With singing bamboo chimes and a starlit sky, an evening at this al fresco restaurant offers a lasting impression.

So, too, does the food.

The duet of ahi tartare appetizer ($18) is one that your taste buds won't soon forget, especially the one that's prepared with a fiery blend of garlic aioli, wasabi and orange tobiko.

The latest entree to be added is a grilled Wisconsin T-bone lamb ($32). Topped with a citrus gremolata and served with a side of mushroom jus, the T-bone offers a taste of striploin and filet in a single blissful bite.

Two-and-half pound fresh whole Island fish are still the mainstay here and so are the jumbo prawns ($26 for a half pound), which sit in a ragout puddle of Waimanalo Valley pear tomatoes and seasonal beans, and spiked with a red curry butter sauce.

Side dishes are served family-style and meant to be shared. These include the towering baked herb potato trio ($9), champagne-braised Swiss chard topped with bits of pancetta ($10) and a creative vegetable "pasta" ($12), featuring thin strands of eggplant, carrots and zucchini.

For dessert, a "deconstructed" — according to waiter Tanner — white chocolate tiramisu ($8) is an absolute must-try.

This certainly isn't the traditional version.

Then again, nothing about Cabanas is traditional, including its picture-postcard view and seductive, bistro-style cuisine.