I had been told on several occasions that there isn’t much around Au’lani. Not so, at least not anymore. There are tons of shops, both big chains and small mom-and-pops, as well as restaurants. While getting ready for our trip to Hawaii, my wife came across reviews for a place called Monkeypod Kitchen, right across the street from Au’lani. We went on the first night of our trip, our first real meal on the island. It was a heck of a way to start.
Monkeypod Kitchen emphasizes farm-to-table cuisine, which seems like a great concept given the bounty of local seafood and produce available. The idea of sourcing local, sustainable products was made famous by legendary chef Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA. It’s been there since 1971, which makes it about 2000 years old in restaurant years, and is considered a true “Mecca” for foodies from around the world. Before becoming a world-renowned chef, she taught at my alma matter, Cheltenham High School, just outside of Philadelphia. That makes her extra cool in my book.
After a brief wait, we were seated on the second floor deck, overlooking the road and in full view of the resort. The weather was magnificent, low 70s with a light breeze, perfect for an evening meal.
Our server was very friendly and extremely knowledgeable about the menu. We settled on the Monkeypod Mai Tai for our adult beverage, which became something of a staple of our trip. Not being a drinker of hard alcohol (I’m more of a beer guy), I don’t really have much of a frame of reference. But the mai tai was absolutely delicious, and surprisingly strong. One of our companions chose the pineapple cider for their beverage, which was more bitter and sour than I would have expected.
My wife and I shared the lobster deviled eggs for our appetizer. They were expensive, at almost $5 for each little piece, but they were so good I almost fell out of my seat. Each individual part is great; the egg and lobster are perfectly poached, and the filling has the right balance of mustard and mayo. But it’s the olive oil and fresh lime that bring it all together, and it borders on magical.
For our entrees, our table was united in our decisions. Both gentlemen went with the saimin (say-MIN as in “mint”), and both ladies chose the fish and chips, which we’ll tackle first.
With farm-to-table in mind, these fish and chips were made with mahi mahi caught that very morning. The freshness of the fish was incredible, as was everything else on the plate. The tempura batter was light and crispy, the fries were excellent and everything was perfectly seasoned. The kimchi was, well, kimchi. If you like kimchi, it’s good. The house-made ketchup was a little more balanced than your regular Heinz (which is quite sweet), and the malt vinegar aioli was truly great. The mayo tones down the vinegar to the point where it isn’t overwhelming; you get a little bit of the acidity and tang, but not so much that you can’t taste anything else. Both ladies enjoyed it.
Saimin is an island specialty. It grew out of a hodgepodge o culinary influences brought to Hawaii by Asian immigrants, like Japanese ramen and Chinese mein. This one seems to have been created with tourists in mind, and features chicken broth (instead of the more traditional dashi) along with kalua pork and more familiar vegetables like green beans, broccoli and red onion. I’ve had traditional ramen many times, but this is something wholly different and absolutely amazing. Everything works together in harmony. The pork is incredible, the noodles are perfectly al dente and the vegetables still have enough snap to add both texture and flavor. The real surprise here is the mint, which takes everything in a deliciously different direction.
Stuffed, exhausted and brain dead from traveling, we decided to pass on desert. However, our overall experience was so terrific we decided to go back a second time to check out their happy hour, offering drink specials and half-priced pizzas.
We had an equally fantastic server our second time around. My wife once again got the lobster deviled eggs, while I ordered the corn chowder (which was delicious and had a lovely heat to it). One of our companions ordered the Pumpkin Patch ravioli appetizer, with spinach and chèvre (goat cheese). I didn’t get a chance to sample it before it was gone, but it looked lovely.
Each of us ordered a different pizza, and normally I would go into details on each, but I know this article is getting pretty long and I should wrap things up. Suffice to say each was very good, including a different kind of pie than you typically find; poached pears and arugula (pictured below).
Also, this time there was desert. Monkeypod’s speciality is cream pies. We ordered a chocolate and an apple-banana. Both were outstanding.
Here’s the bottom line, folks. We absolutely loved this place. It was an outstanding experience, from start to finish. If you’re staying at Au’Lani or somewhere else in Ko Olina, you really need to check this place out.
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