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Jun 18, 2007 12:28 PM

Review: The Hualalai Grille by Alan Wong, Kona

Pack your survival kit, grab some flares and if you go at night hire a tour guide or a knowledgeable local especially if you haven't been to the Big Island or the Four Seasons Hualalai before. When calling for directions the hostess said to look for the big tree. Not exactly the easiest thing to do as the sun is setting. And after all this searching, the "big tree" was a little bit bigger than a Charley Brown Christmas tree.

Once you finally do find the property, the road to Oz strangely passes another resort and wins through a residential neighborhood. At the end of the road, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, appears the majesty of the Four Seasons resort.

The restaurant is set in a lovely open air space, like a lanai, that overlooks the golf course. It feels like you are on a deserted island that you can call your own.

The tasting menu is a must. It starts with the signature dish of "Soup & Sandwich" but this is no ordinary soup and sandwich. The soup is a chilled red and yellow soup, with each color in its own half of the bowl. The sandwich is a foie gras, kalua pork and grilled cheese sandwich. The combination may sound strange but works wonderfully. The tomato soup helps to cut through the richness of the foie gras while still allowing the flavors of the sandwich to shine through. It also comes with a wonderful seafood cake composed of lobster, shrimp and crab. It is lightly held together with mayo and the sweet, delicate flavors of the seafood to be the star.

The next course is pan seared diver scallops with a pork hash risotto. Huge diver scallops are perfectly seared with a nice golden brown crust and the delicate interior allows the natural flavor of the scallop to rise to the top.

The fish course is ginger crusted onaga (ruby snapper) with a miso sesame vinagrette. This delicate fish is perfectly cooked and the ginger crusting gives it a sharp bite that is perfectly paired with the fish. The saltiness of the miso also helps to bring out the flavor of the onaga.

The meat course of short ribs is nothing short of spectacular. Braised to perfection the meat falls off the bone to give the taster a mouthful of pure beef flavor. The accompanying soy glaze adds a hint of saltiness and sweetness.

The signature Chocolate Crunch Bar is unlike anything Hershey's or Nestle ever made. The chocolate is not overly sweet and the infused macadamia nuts add texture and saltiness, as well as helping to cut down the sweetness of the chocolate.

This is one of the best meals I've had in my life and worth every penny. It's actually pretty affordable compared to some other restaurants.

The Hualalai Grille by Alan Wong
72-100 Kaupulehu Drive
Kailua Kona, HI 96740
(808) 325-8525

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  1. Sounds like the same menu as King Street - love that kalua/foie gras sandwich!! You made me hungry!

    1. Just took a look at the menu on King Street, and yes, they do have a lot of similar items on the menu. I would still try the restaurant on King Street if I had the chance.

      Yeah, the kalua pork/foie gras sandwich is very good.

      1. Thank you for your review. It's been about two years now, but we got a rec. on the Hualalai from a server at another Kona-side spot. His brother was the sous-chef and was running the show the next night. We let him make reservations for us, and he must have been under the impression that we were food-writers, or something. While we've been fans of AW's, since King St opened, we did not know about Hualalai Grille.

        We arrived at sunset and ordered a bottle of Puligny-Montrachet for starters, and that was the last thing that we did order. An endless procession of food began arriving, and many of the dishes were the same as your description. The sommelier insisted on doing a pairing for each course (11 per each, in all), and I took him up on it. Nothing was even close to being just good - it was all great. I tried to keep tabs on the dishes, but soon fell far behind. We tried to reconstruct the evening, the next day, but kept missing a few courses.

        It was from my glowing reviews of Hualalai Grille, that I came to know many of the folk in the AW front-office, and have received several H/Us on special events, both on the Mainland and in the Islands. Great group!

        We had just done Pahu i`a a few nights before and were very impressed on all aspects of it, food, service, wine and setting. However, though different, Hualalai Grille blew them away, but mostly in the area of abundance and service. It seemed that we had about six servers at our table, but they did not intrude - really tough task. Heck, I think that there was a stream of servers, kinda' like the prospectors climbing the pass to the gold fields, but these were going both ways, as the food flowed, and flowed and flowed...

        Needless to say, next trip to the Big Island will include Hualalai Grille (and Pahu i`a too).

        Thanks for the memories. I just wish that I had been able to keep notes on everything. There was time, as we essentially opened them up, and were the last diners to leave that night, but just too much great food.


        1 Reply
        1. re: Bill Hunt

          Glad to hear that you also had a great meal at the Hualalai Grille. Definitely one of the best meals I've had. Yes, the staff are certainly friendly and attentive, and the rapport that you have with AW's office certainly doesn't surprise me.

          I had heard mixed things about Pahu i'a, although most were good. Will try it on my next visit to the Big Island.

        2. It's been a couple of years since we were there, but the Hualalai Grille was by far the best dining experience we had on the Big Island. I had an heirloom tomato salad there where the tomato was sliced up but served so it appeared in tact... it was beyond amazing. I'm glad to hear it's still as good as I remember. Thanks so much for sharing. We can't wait to get back there...

          3 Replies
          1. re: food_for_thought

            The tomato heirloom salad I had there was at best mediocre, also a couple of years ago. I decided to skip Hualalai Grille on my last trip to the Big Island in March.


            1. re: susancinsf

              I'm getting the feeling from reading reviews that they started out great, did a big downhill slide, but now have pulled it back up... way up. I'll be there in Dec. & want to check out.

              1. re: torta basilica

                Do report back if you go....would love to hear some uphill reports for sure!

          2. Just stumbled onto this post. Hualalai Grille holds a special place in our hearts. We stayed at 4-S Hualalai on our honeymoon and dined at HG twice. Their tasting menu was nothing short of fantastic as were the wine pairings. In fact, that was the meal that turned me onto tasting menus. I've been hooked ever since.
            HG was such a nice surprise for us. The resort really advertises Pahu'ia as their "signature" restaurant. It is very good and the scenery was second to none, but the food and the service was not on the level of HG. I remember the concierge musing while we were making reservations at HG that it's too bad HG wasn't located where Pahu"ia was.
            I can't wait to go back. Everything about the 4-S Hualalai resort was 5-star.

            10 Replies
            1. re: climberdoc

              Glad to see that I was not the only person, who loved Hualalai Grille.

              I think that the OP experienced a lot more than the food and general service. However, maybe I was reading between the lines.

              For us, it is a definite #2 in the Alan Wong group.


              1. re: Bill Hunt

                I'm curious about you, Bill Hunt.
                You seem to comment on every Hawaiian report.
                Are you some sort of Hawaiian culinary specialist?
                Do you live here?

                1. re: S Marquis

                  Bill has probably dined at our high end restaurants (on all islands) more than most of us who live here. If you check through his posting history you will find numerous entries ranging from highly detailed reviews, including wine commentary, to brief comments such as the one above. I know when I'm recommending a spot to a friend planning a visit or even one who lives here, I always suggest they check Bill's posts. I would venture to say that Bill is one of the most valued contributors to this forum.

                  1. re: Yoshio


                    You are too kind. Even though we have disagreed on a very few spots, it is YOUR posts, that I reference. I always enjoy your input, as you have a wonderful perspective, that I, unfortunately, lack.

                    Please keep up your great efforts, and the sharing of your unique perspective, as others WILL benefit from those.


                  2. re: S Marquis

                    Nah, I do get to travel there about 2x/year, and greatly enjoy fine-dining in the Islands. We've been fortunate enough to stay on almost every side of every Island, except Molika`i. Hope to rectify that soon.

                    We also frequent many of the restaurants, that form the "Golden Triangle" of Hawai`i chefs, and know many of them.

                    We always hit a few of our favs., but try to work in several that are new to us.

                    When it comes to cheaper, local fare, I know little. Yes, we do some, and I report on those. However, we usually do a breakfast, then "save ourselves" for an evening meal," with linen tableclothes. Usually, lunch finds us on some golf course, someplace.

                    Through dining at some of the top spots, we usually get some great recs. from the major chefs, and their staff. Months in advance of major events, we get e-mails, inviting us to join in the fun. Sometimes, we can do this, and are likely to do so. Other times, we are elsewhere, and have to RSVP, "thanks, but no."

                    When it comes to the "everyday" spots, I always defer to the locals, and to Torta Basillica [SP?], because they/she dines everywhere, all of the time.

                    Also, please note that many of my comments are prefaced with, "haven't dined there in X years, so this might well have changed." Maui is a perfect example, as it's been over 5 years, since we were there. Same for Lana`i. It's been too long to really help someone today. Still, since we're there so very often (though never often enough for us), we do hit a lot of spots, and I want to share my most recent experiences, with travelers to Hawai`i. Unfortunately, they are most likely to be higher-end places.


                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                      just curious...mahalo nui...I'll read your "current" reports with greater interest

                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        Just saw this - thought I was more 'high-end' in Hawaii & local in SoCal. Silly me - no one does high end Hawaii like Mr. Hunt - your reviews amaze me! I think we first disagreed on La Mer, but I was a bad luck token, as you had problems with your wine service your following visit. We agree 100% on AW's Chef's Counter. Hate to say it, but I wasn't all that impressed with Hualalai in Dec, but I believe in my brief review somewhere, I noted that we did not do the recommended tasting menu, and just split an appetizer & entree, we were so stuffed from previous dining adventures. I also feel the Pineapple Room has been on a downhill slide - we had incompetent service bordering on surliness last visit. Back to Mariposa for me!

                        Did you ever get to 3660? Still want to get back & confirm that my initial very positive impression was correct. And I want to try Top of Waikiki next trip - maybe this summer. Just got horrible news - the annual sales meeting at Kona Village Resort (nothing better than a free ocean front hale...) has been changed to Austin, Texas next year - no offense to Austin, but shoot me now...

                        1. re: torta basilica

                          Over the years, we've dined at 3660 on the Rise, maybe 5 times. Each time was excellent to great. Have not been over the last three trips, because of time. In a couple of instances, I wish we'd done it again, rather than a few others.

                          Thanks for confessing why our wine service went to heck, at La Mer. I was just blaming it on Randy, the sommelier! Food was still very good, but it seemed that there were at least 2 "cylinders" mis-firing that night. Have not returned, but will probably do so, not next trip (no time on O`ahu), but the one following that. I'll X my fingers (hoping for what I know they are capable of) and will report.

                          Next Hawai`i reviews will be from Maui, which is now scheduled for early December. I promise to not take so long to get the reports posted.


                    2. re: Bill Hunt

                      What is your #1 Alan Wong restaurant?

                      1. re: climberdoc

                        King Street, without a doubt. The Big Island restaurant is a close second. Considering our wonderful treatment there, I would place it very close to King St. Pineapple Room is down the list, but then we did a dinner, and most folk here think that lunch is the better. Our "New Wave Lu`au" does not count, as it was a special event, and Pineapple Room was just the venue.

                        If you do King Street, please do the "chef's counter," and go with the tasting menu, plus the sommelier's pairing for wine. You will not be disappointed. Other than too small a space to take adequate notes, and a frenzied pace (in the kitchen, just over the counter), it is wonderful, and should not be missed.

                        Tell Leigh and Kathy that we said "hello," from the Mainland.