[Hanalei, Kauai] Bar Acuda Review
Photographs accompanying the review here: http://www.girleatscity.com/2011/10/bar-acuda-hanalei-kauai-hawaii.html
The restaurant is set back in a shopping complex in Hanalei, near a Bubba's Burgers and a Java Kai (a local chain that, incidentally, makes great coffee and good smoothies). It looks like it was plucked straight out of Napa Valley, with its open kitchen, beautiful, dark wood interior, hanging light fixtures and tapas-centric menu. This may be no surprise when you consider that the chef owner, Jim Moffat's, San Francisco restaurants, 42 Degrees and The Slow Club, helped earn him a place among Food and Wine Magazine Top 10 New American Chefs of the Year in 1996. The menu echoes the locavore ethic and flavor combinations of the Bay Area, too.
During a recent meal, a bowl of roasted tomato soup with basil pesto was rich with the concentrated taste of roasted tomatoes. It was actually too concentrated in terms of salinity, since it was left boiling with the lid off on the stove for a good long while. (We noticed in part because we were seated at the bar in front of the open kitchen and the pot was right in front of us.) But flavors were well developed. A dollop of basil pesto was a clever accompaniment, though the pesto was quite muted in comparison to the tomatoes.
A classic beet salad with local arugula, gorgonzola, candied walnuts and a citrus vinaigrette included good quality ingredients, especially the tender, flavorful local arugula, which could easily have commanded center stage as the headline ingredient. Large slices of golden beets were sweet, the vinaigrette dressing was nicely restrained and in general, the salad was well executed, without making any waves.
A slightly more risque salad of local North Shore honeycomb with Humboldt Fog goat cheese and crisp apple came garnished very thoughtfully with a salad of celery leaves and other greens. Lovely, darkly flavored honey went perfectly with the oozy cheese, served at a good (room) temperature and medium crisp, sweet apples (possibly Braeburn). I really enjoyed this dish.
An order of banderillas (skewer) of grilled flank steak with honey and chipotlé chili oil, on the other hand, incorporated honey a bit less successfully. The sauce was too sweet for my tastes and obscured the good, natural taste of a high quality cut. The steak was, however, grilled to a perfect medium rare.
Seared sea scallop with mashed potatoes and truffle reduction came with a single sea scallop perched atop buttery, whipped potatoes. The scallop showcased a beautiful golden crust, but was slightly too rare inside. It's impossible for a truffle reduction to be other than wonderful and the deeply flavorful sauce was so good, we stuffed down every bite of potato on the plate, despite being full bursting, just so we could use it as a vehicle for the sauce.
A final dish of seared Hawaiian fish (mahi mahi on the evening we went) with oyster mushrooms and marsala reduction was another safe, solid dish. A generous fillet of mahi mahi was nicely cooked and still moist inside. I found a single scale on my piece, but I'm not terribly devastated by such minor slips: the fish I make sometimes isn't perfectly scaled, either. Mushrooms were well cooked and flavorful. The mushroom-heavy jus / sauce on the plate tasted more like a dashi to me than a marsala reduction.
Bar Acuda hardly seems to advertise at all, unlike a plethora of certain mediocre joints, but it manages to draw a fair number of customers, probably because the food is both very good and, for the quality and locale, fairly priced. Menu offerings may not be as strong as what a top tier San Francisco or New York City restaurant can offer at its best, but this place could hold its own in either town. Certainly on Kauai, you could do much, much worse after a long day of hiking or surfing.
55161 Kuhio Highway
Hanalei, HI 96754
Bar open daily at 5:30, Dinner daily at 6:00