June 13, 2012 | 10:35 AMIn a swift motion of edible kismet, Alan Wong's newest restaurant Amasia has opened on Maui in the Grand Wailea. I've been a fan of Alan Wong ever since my friends, Jane and Bob Brown, had their remarkable anniversary dinner at his King Street Oahu restaurant and brought me his cookbook New Wave Luau. Suddenly, I was onto Alan Wong.
His fresh twists on island food were more than intriguing: they are fearless leaps into fusion food, Wong's way. Flavors, textures and visuals can be unusual, but the base of his dishes are the familiar flavors of our island culture–kalua roast pork, dashi, shiitake, li hing mui, tomato, pineapple and sweet potato.
If you look up the word Amasia, you'll find that it's a future supercontinent predicted by plate tectonics, one that we won't see in our lifetime. Alan Wong uses the name here to offer a taste of our culinary future. The space formerly known as Kincha was originally built by Takeshi Sekiguchi, developer and original owner of Grand Wailea, as his own private club to entertain VIP guests. Wong's team kept much of the original design, tatami rooms, private dining areas and 800 tons of rocks brought in from Mount Fuji, but $3 million went into renovations, kitchen updates and bar upgrades. "The bones of Kincha remain," Wong says.
The heart of the restaurant is East meets West. Here Wong mashes up street food, home recipes, bar food, hibachi grilling and our melting pot of appetizing cultures.
"Amasia is a contemporary style of eating that borrows from ethnicities all around the world," says Wong. "You take these ethnic influences we have in our immigrant past, the sugar and pineapple plantations, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Hawaiian culinary traditions. Then I combine it with food from travels to Singapore and Peru, taking little things from here and there."
He says his vision is to create the ultimate international izakaya. The menu is divided into hot and cold pupu, robata (the grill), family style (larger portions to share), raw, maki (rolls) and desserts. The handcrafted cocktail menu exudes the same creativity as does the wine and sake list, in which Wong says the drinks will always match the food. You will find his signature private label Alan Wong Wines on the menu, one of my favorite being the Kitchen Sink red. Wong says he blends all his wines himself to reap the benefits of creating flavor profiles specific to his foods.
He was not afraid to borrow from favorites at Alan Wong's on Oahu, like the whole tomato salad that was grown by Richard Ha on Hawaii Island. It's a a flutter of thinly sliced cucumbers beneath a whole, juicy tomato topped with delicate sprout tops and served with tangy li hing mui vinaigrette. Serving the soup and sandwich as a rich toasty wedge balanced on top of a martini glass of soup is also swiped from King Street. Wong says items will be on the chopping block as he plays with the menu, listening closely to patrons and making way for new and seasonal items.
From the raw menu, the chirashi is a spectacular deconstruction of the traditional bowl rice dish. Instead of vegetables, chunks of fish and egg meander together over a glass bench. The Surf and Turf is a seared beef-wrapped roll with shiso and uni. The Farm Roll is full of agricultural goodness. Here, raw edible art is as visually pleasing as it is indulgent–witness the Kona Kampachi with buttery kampachi, surprising corn nuts and cubes of sweet potato immersed in a lilikoi jus.
When you're first seated, the server brings a bit of ban chan and marinated olives with your drinks to get the appetite rolling Korean-style. As you peruse the menu's mind-boggling number of dishes, you'll vow to come back to try this or that because there's no possible way to get to it all in one sitting. Of course, that didn't stop me from trying.
The robata grill is wood-fired, and the delicious char is perfect on fresh sweet peppers, hamakua mushrooms, jidori chicken and beef tenderloin. It's a great way to nibble through the menu with chopsticks. In hot pupus, you can find opulent favorites from around the world like fried oysters, bambucha potstickers, empanadas, chowder and duck bao.
Dessert has to be spectacular when you have so many precedents, and it stood up exceedingly well. I fell in love with the ice cream sandwich: honey rice granite, candied peanuts and caramel popcorn okoshi ice cream but there is something for everyone.
"There are a lot of memorable dishes," says Kevin Peterson, food and beverage director at Grand Wailea. "Personally, my favorite is the whole chili garlic Dungeness crab. It explodes with flavor and it's one of those dishes where you can't be afraid to use your hands. The bread that accompanies it is perfect for dipping in the flavorful sauce. For dessert, a must try is "The Coconut." It's haupia sorbet molded into half a coconut with a chocolate shell and served with fresh fruit. It's not just aesthetically beautiful when it's served to you, but tastes as good as it looks."
When I ask Wong about his contacts with Maui farmers, he says he is still developing the relationships. He has spearheaded a movement early on in his other restaurants of supporting local agriculture and fostering relationships as far as Hawaii Island for quality ingredients that impact our local economy. In this realm Wong is passionate about educating the keiki and says this will be the key to balancing our local economy in the future.
"Our company's definition of sustainability is to make decisions today that our grandchildren's grandchildren can enjoy," says Wong, "Kids can effectively change the decision making process, they can make the change happen. Our goal is to teach the kids to buy local, have the kids think sustainable."
Located in the Grand Wailea
3850 Wailea Alanui Dr.
808-875-1234 x. 4900
Maui's Intrepid Food Taster: Will Eat and Drink Anything
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