Kona Report: KTA, Palazzo Aikalima Gelato, Aloha Angel Cafe, Kenichi Pacific, etc (long, with a happy ending)
I already reported on our few days on the Volcano side of the Big Island during my recent quick trip to Hawaii:
Here’s the somewhat longer report on the Kona side:
We tend not to eat out a lot on our Big Island trips, and this time was no exception. Lots of delicious meals cooked in our cottage’s full kitchen and enjoyed on the lanai. Our ‘B and B’ of choice not only has a nice kitchen, but the owners kept us in lovely fresh eggs retrieved daily from the chickens that have the free run of the place (we enjoyed waaayyyy too many egg salad sandwiches for our own good), as well as equally delicious papaya. A link to this wonderful, highly recommended and CH friendly spot is below.
One piece of bad news from the perspective of someone who likes to cook in Hawaii: is it my imagination, or has the KTA grocery store (on Palani Rd in Kona) gone downhill? I’ve always loved shopping there, but this trip it was sort of a bust, particularly for fresh seafood. We did get some really lovely fresh Ono there one night, but the poke selection seemed very limited, their tanks were mostly empty, and there were lots of previously frozen options. Check packaging carefully when buying seafood there. Almost as distressing, they appear to have cut back on local produce, and local brands of staples. One of my favorite aspects of stocking up at the KTA used to be that (in contrast to Safeway) you could find a number of local salad dressings, bbq sauces, breads, jams… ….but the selection was definitely down on those items. Produce was also limited (some of that could have been seasonal, but it was less than I remember from my last trip, exactly two years ago and also the last week in March). I did get a delicious pineapple, even that was imported (only from Maui however. :-) ) Worst of all, unlike my last visit there were NO local ice creams: only standard brands I’d find in my local Safeway.
One bit of good news on the ice cream front: there is a relatively new, family run gelato place in the same shopping Center as the KTA, just three doors down. Palazzo Aikalima indulged us while we sampled a number of flavors: the ginger was much too sweet, but I loved the passionfruit, which was quite tart and full of flavor, as well as being fat free and dairy free. The blueberry was also excellent, even if it didn’t seem as appropriate for Hawaii. I’d say fruit flavors are the way to go here. For $9 you can get a pint to go, with up to three flavors. The ‘pint’ we were given seemed closer to a quart: generous scooping here. Worth a stop. Ba Le, a branch of the Hawaiian Vietnamese noodle and Bahn Mi chain, is almost next door, so combining a quick and cheap sandwich or bowl of noodles with some gelato might be a worthwhile lunchtime detour.
One day while wandering around in the Captain Cook area we were hungry and stopped into the Aloha Angel Café for lunch. We’ve had some nice meals there in the past, and their lanai is still quite pleasant with a lovely view, but the food and service weren't up to par this trip. Hubby’s chicken cesar was overdressed; the local catch in my fish sandwhich was quite overcooked. Portions were small, prices a bit high. Next time, I’ll go a bit further down the road to the Coffee Shack. The owners of our B and B recommended it highly, and another hound also praised it:
The rest of our meals were ‘at home’ until our last night, when we decided to try Kenichi Pacific, which has gotten a few good mentions on the board. What a great find! We made a reservation, and since we arrived a few minutes early, were pleased to discover that they have a serene, comfortable full bar complete with some cozy couches and a very nice specialty drink and sake list, where I enjoyed a very good icy vodka martini.
The bar was quiet, but the restaurant was busy and we were a few minutes late being seated. No problem, we not only got a profuse apology, they gave the two of us a great table: a large comfortable booth along the wall opposite the sushi bar. The dining room is fairly small, with lots of wood and sleek lines; very attractive, though the view out the windows is only of a shopping center parking lot. There is also a very nice looking semi private room and a patio, also overlooking the shopping lot. When we made the reservation we were asked if we preferred to dine inside or out: inside is the way to go here, IMO.
The menu is billed as ‘Japanese fusion’, but personally I’d describe it as Pacific Rim cuisine, along with a sushi bar and a tempting a la carte tempura selection. Whatever you want to call it, we enjoyed the following:
Three orders of nigiri sushi, two pieces per order, with real wasable (Yum! Two dollars extra, well worth it): we had yellowtail, scallops and ahi. All three were impeccably fresh, well-cut, good rice, delicious.
Grilled mahi mahi on a bed of eggplant puree: this was hubby’s dish, and he loved the combinations and creative presentation. I thought it was tasty but can’t remember the details, and it didn’t make as positive of an impression as my dish.
I had seared ono, still raw on the inside, served sliced in medallions in a ponzu emulsion, with wild mushrooms, a few crisp string beans, and a few freshly made sweet potato chips, all served on a Hawaiian sweet potato puree. It sounds a bit busy, but it wasn’t at all: a beautiful and delicious combination of flavors and textures. Portions on both mains were generous.
For dessert we shared a molten chocolate cake with some very good caramel chocolate chip ice cream and a bit of raspberry sauce around the edge. As one of the few women in the world who is not overly fond of chocolate, this is never my favorite, but hubby loved it and it was an excellent version.
The wine selection is very limited, but the sake selection is very good, and my choice, recommended by the server, was nice. (lost my notes on which one it was, unfortunately). Service was very good: attentive, friendly, professional in every respect.
Total for three orders of nigiri with the fresh wasabi supplement, two mains, one dessert, a small pitcher of premium sake, a club soda, and tax and generous tip was about $140.
It was an excellent meal and I would return in a heartbeat. You can find plenty of meals of similar quality in San Francisco in that price range, but on the Big Island, Kenichi Pacific is a standout. Highly recommended!
Silver Oaks Ranch B and B:
Palazzo Aikalima Gelato
74-5588 Palani Rd #17
In the Kona Coast Shopping Center
Aloha Angel Café:
79-7384 Mamalahoa Hwy
Kainaliu, HI 96750
(dinner on theater event nights only
Keauhou Shopping Center
78-6831 Alii Dr, Ste D-125
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii 96740
Phone: (808) 322.6400