April 11, 2012 | 11:34 AMChef Kono Akao has just opened Kono's on the Green, one of the only restaurants on the mauka side of Piilani Highway (Highway 30) in Kihei. Although you wouldn't think that slight elevation would boast such gorgeous views, the place is breathtaking. The spot has been closed for five years and Akao has done some major renovation. The place was last well known for hosting some great house music and late night dancing, but Akao has no plans to go in that direction. Instead, his menu is huge and the focus is simply on great food.
"I want a place where the whole family can come eat and get what they want," he says. "Father might want a nice steak, mom wants a spectacular fish dish, but the kids don't want to eat that. So I have options like spaghetti and pizza, too. We want to please everyone."
That's hardly an easy task, but Kono's on the Green is approaching it with a lot of finesse. They serve breakfast (8am-11am), lunch (11am-2pm) and dinner (5pm-9:45pm), with the dining room doing pupus and drinks only from 2pm to 5pm.
Breakfast runs the gamut from the classics like multi-flavored pancakes, French toast, Eggs Benedict and omelets. Kono's Sunrise Breakfast is eggs and roasted red potatoes for $6, and they also have bagels, Loco Moco, steak and eggs and corned beef hash. Prices range from about $5 to $15 for the fancier, meatier meals. The most surprising breakfast items are the Morning Organic Salad and Fresh Baby Spinach Salad ($6-8). It's about time someone admitted salad is a great way to start the day.
The dining room is split into two sections, with table seating and a lounge containing low comfy couches that surround the front windows that run ceiling to floor. It's a nice set-up because even if the lounge is occupied, those seated in the dining room can still see over to the view. There's a grand outdoor lanai to enjoy as well, should you prefer open-air dining. You can get the full menu in any of these locations as well as the bar.
The restaurant is decked out contemporary in dark colors and beautiful lighting. The globe lights that hang over the bar are gorgeous. The bar also features fine cocktails and beers on tap, ranging from $3.50 to about $9.50. Bar Manager George Salamack says the specialty cocktails like the Absolute Lemonade and Ocean vodka Cosmo. The wine list is formidable and they have quite a few sakes, too.
Manager George Kitagawa says he and Akao learned the restaurant business from old school Japanese chefs who threw pots and yelled in their faces with more wrath than Gordon Ramsey. They laugh about it now, but say it has established a commitment to excellence and the discipline to succeed.
Akao also owns the Kihei Italian eatery Antonio's, and was careful going into another restaurant endeavor. They both believe in the food coming out of Kono's and Akao's ability to spread his wings with the bounty of local ingredients and his own style of French and Japanese fusion.
The night I dropped in I sampled the poisson du jour, and got a lesson from Chef Akao in sauce au epices. He let me gawk at the spice list he keeps on his iPhone for this sauce. It was incredible! The fresh fish of the day was opakapaka, pan fried and served with this French sauce that uses more than 30 spices for its sublime flavor. The presentation was gorgeous with more fresh herbs stacked up and over the fish as well as poached leeks, grilled tomato and asparagus. Add a few drops of basil oil to the epice and this amazing dish is just $30. Other sea inspired dishes sounded wonderful: seared ahi with sautéed mushroom and spinach, salmon with ponzu, scallops and lobster ($26-36).
To get a taste of the land portion of the menu, I tried the Kurobuta pork chop ($32). Kurobuta pork is a Japanese specialty that has its roots in the English pedigree Berkshire pork traditions. Kurobuta is known for its juicy marbled meat that's a tad darker and more flavorful than run of the mill pork.
Akao serves his bone-in with a generous portion of meat, caramelized and crusted just right on its exterior. The roasted red potatoes and mixture of Big Island Alii mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms complete the dish, which is served with mustard seed sauce and an apple cider and creme fraiche. It's a traditional dish with classic styling that's executed well.
When Kitagawa came by to check on me, I had to finish every morsel of meat off the bone before they took the plate. Other land menu items include rack of lamb, duck breast, strip loin, rib eye and filet ($28 to $36).
The dinner menu is well rounded with appetizers like wild mushroom olive and pine nut ravioli, ahi carpaccio, beef tataki and more, all ranging from $9 to $15. Soups and salads run $7 to $10, and there's also pizza and pasta from $12 to $24.
The lunch menu is also full of options that include salad, sandwiches, panini, pizza, pasta, burgers and steak ($6-$15). The pupu menu is just a segue from lunch with "Fries that don't need ketchup," shichimi-seared ahi, a burger, pizzas and quesadillas. It's also just about the only time you can't get a fantastic salad in the restaurant.
Kono's on the Green
Elleair Golf Club
Piilani Hwy and Lipoa St., Kihei
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