This well-intentioned restaurant at the Fairmont Kea Lani in Wailea has a brave mission: to elevate bygone sugarcane plantation-era food from peasant to high cuisine. (Ko is Hawaiian for sugar.) The resort’s culinary department asked employees to share their family’s cherished, handed-down recipes and the resulting menu is a tribute to Hawaii’s cultural melting pot.
The idea hasn’t always translated well into reality. We’ve been disappointed in the past on several occasions; while we appreciated the resort’s initiative to serve local cuisine made with fresh, local ingredients, we ultimately gave Ko a pretty rough review.
Since then, we’ve had one thing new to the menu that we love: the paniolo (cowboy) rib-eye steak. Rubbed in red Molokai salt and raw Maui sugar, this prime cut of meat is served with pohole fern shoots. Pohole ferns are a local delicacy that grows wild in damp forests. When blanched, they’re tender, crunchy, and leave a funny numbness on your tongue.
Even so, the restaurant is undergoing a massive renovation as we go to press, so we are refraining from giving a full review. (Because, well, because we can’t.) When it re-opens, we’ll give it another chance, particularly because we always love Ko’s contributions to local food festivals. The small plates they serve at, say, The Taste of Wailea, part of the Maui Film Festival each June, have made us wonder if the golf course location inspires more cooking magic than the resort kitchen.
Hopefully, when the restaurant re-opens (possibly by February 2012) the food will rise to the occasion of its new surroundings, which promise to be quite beautiful.
Address: 4100 Wailea Alanui Dr., Wailea, South Maui
Location: Fairmont at Kea Lani
Parking: Lot, Valet