A recent trip to the Aloha State included a non-stop exploration of the local food scene. In this last of three posts (check out recs for Kauai and Oahu), I look back at our favorite gastro memories from Hawaii, the Big Island, which include furikake crusted ono, hot pepper cheese balls, and lilikoi mousse.
My wife loves hot peppers and – though I don’t have her extreme tolerance – I do, too. So when we found a small stand in the Hilo farmers market selling Cheez Doodle style snack balls coated with fresh ground Hawaiian hot peppers, we couldn’t resist. The flavor morphed from artificial cheese to a smoky, yet floral, capsaicin burn that was so compelling that I had to contain myself from eating the whole bag in a single sitting.
Hawaiian master chef Alan Wong started out years ago at this beachside beauty at the Mauna Lani Bay resort before going on to build his own empire. Recently appointed chef de cuisine Allen Hess carries on the restaurant’s prodigious pedigree with an impressive new menu that highlights locally sourced proteins and produce. The furikake crusted ono with tempura fried green beans and ginger dressing was a tour de force – the plate went back practically licked clean.
Every morning we stayed at this historic home-turned-inn overlooking Hilo, we were greeted with a colorful spread of fresh fruit (seen above). Much of it was grown on the property, and the platter often included guava, passion fruit, figs, several kinds of papaya, dragon’s eyes, and white pineapple. There were also thick slices of freshly baked Hawaiian sweet bread, which were the perfect AM treat after they were toasted up and slathered with local butter and homemade lilikoi butter.
Chef-owner Peter Merriman is one of a core clutch of Hawaiian chefs helping define modern island cuisine. Fresh caught fish and locally raised beef star in many of the entrees, but it was the dessert course that I found the most fetching. The Hanaoka Farms lilikoi mousse has been on the menu since the restaurant opened and it’s easy to see why. Smooth, creamy, slightly tangy and not-too-sweet, it was a picture perfect finale.
This jaw-droppingly gorgeous bed and breakfast is well situated on nearly 30 acres, where a rainbow of fruits and coffee grow in abundance. Every morning, this beautiful bounty is showcased at the meticulously crafted breakfasts courtesy of musician-turned-master-chef Brian Conaway. His apple banana pancakes topped with toasted coconut, bits of toasted macadamia nuts, coconut whipped cream and house-made lilikoi syrup were a highlight of the trip (and a reason why we can’t wait to return for a much longer stay).