Dining out, when done properly, should be a slow and delicious affair. After a look at the breathtaking images on their website [kaiwailea.com] I was eager to push aside the noren curtains and treat myself to just such a relaxed evening. My arrival before the usual dinner crush, allowed quality time with the visionary owner Osamu Kubota, whose quest is to show the world how delicate, healthy and delicious Japanese food is. Osamu is passionate, proud and has a sparkle in his eye when he speaks of his culinary fare and vision for Kai Wailea.
I loved the interior of the place; there is an elegantly curved glass stairway up to the private dining area and soon to be new bar location. It seems I had arrived just weeks ahead of a major renovation of the interior, but I liked it and felt comfortable at once.
Yasu, the manager, explained that they fly in much of the seafood fresh from Japan.
Of the 6 or so dishes we enjoyed there were several standouts worth mentioning. These are not-to-be-missed and the best of them was the Robata-Yaki sampler platter. Robatta-Yaki, simply put, is grilling. The difference is this grill uses the coveted Bincho charcoal flown in from Japan. It burns at a lower temperature and is famed for its lack of smoke which makes it ideal grilling such delicacies as unagi [freshwater eel] and ebi [shrimp] and allowing all the subtle flavors of the seafood to be the star of the dish. You wouldn’t know it burns at a lower temperature when you see the flames raging up from the grill, but it ends up perfect when it leaves the plate and hits the palette! The other not-to-miss dish is the Wagyu [Kobe steak], it too was perfectly grilled with nice charring on the outside, juicy and pink on the inside. The meat was delicious, and the mustard sauce they paired it with was outstanding, savory with hints of shoyu and miso and it brought out flavors in the meat that made a big impression!
Another dish we loved was the Wailea Roll. California Roll topped with Yellowtail, King Salmon, Tuna, Unagi, Scallop, Shrimp, Ginger Sauce topped with 3 radiant tobikos [flying fish roe]- orange, green so made by infusing wasbi into the roe & yellow with a citrus infusion. This you’ve got to see, and taste, to believe! This is a work of art with colors so vibrant they would have made Walt Disney proud. Everyone loves a California roll but when you dress it up like prom night it takes on a whole new life. The roll is enhanced with the a delicate slice of the seafood and then you get some of the tobiko and dip ginger sauce to kick up a notch… Besides being a thing of beauty it was just delicious! In hind-sight you better add the Wailea Roll to the not-to-be-missed list too!
Do you like shrimp? If you do you’ve got to try their Rock Shrimp Tempura roll. It’s a spicy Tuna roll with topped with tempura rock shrimp and tobiko. The secret behind a great tempura batter is keeping it cold and not over whipping it. They do tempura the right way at Kai Wailea, it was light as a feather and crispy and the shrimps were just a delight.
If you like it spicy, you should try the Yellowtail Jalapeño. They topped the yellowtail carpaccio with a spicy ponzu sauce infused jalapeño and then really kicked it up with a thin slice of raw jalapeño.
They paired either a Sake or a Namaske with each dish -some even served the traditional way in a glass that spills over into wooden box. You drink directly out of box- to get the flavors of the wood like the barrels that it is fermented in.
This isn’t sushi on the go, this is a lovely experience in leisure dining. Take your time, try lots of different things and enjoy!