Apologies in advance for the loooong review (and the lateness). This is a review of my Ka'ana Kitchen dining experience 9 months ago.
My wife and I stumbled upon the ANdAZ hotel while vacationing in Maui. We decided to dine at their restaurant: Ka’ana Kitchen. Many other reviews have done an excellent job of describing the innovative dishes and kitchen, dining room, and staff. I want to focus on what makes Ka’ana so different and, apparently, successful.
A New Hotel with a New Restaurant.
As a new five star hotel (opened 2013) one would expect the dining room to be very nice and perhaps sophisticated with a corresponding menu. But Maui ANdAZ Senior management decided to do the unexpected instead of the expected. In my opinion, they have taken fine dining off the map and are exploring unchartered waters.
The Dining Room - Fine Dining in a Casual Atmosphere.
The dining room has high ceilings and all windows facing the ocean to give it an open, airy feeling. About a quarter of the tables are on the restaurant balcony that overlooks the cascading pools and the ocean beyond. The remaining three quarters of the tables inside have a view of the ocean or horizon through the windows and large doors that are opened.
The warm, casual atmosphere is created by three things: The casual staff uniforms, the absence of table clothes by using what appears to be teak tables, and the friendliness of the entire staff.
Creating a Chefs Table Experience
In most cities you can hire a private chef to shop and come to your home to prepare custom, gourmet meals for small parties or groups. The food is prepared in front of you in your own kitchen near where you dine. You can interact with the chef and are close to the cooking process, sounds, and smells. The atmosphere is informal, not formal. The food is excellent and service is great.
In some celebrity fine dining establishments, they have the “chef’s table” which is a table placed in the kitchen. Customers, for an additional charge, can dine next to the pass through window/counter and see how a celebrity chef runs a five star kitchen first hand.
The biggest difference between Ka’ana Kitchen and any other restaurant is the presence of the line cook’s part of the kitchen in the dining room. And that is where the restaurant draws its name from.
By placing the kitchen in the middle of the restaurant, I think Ka’ana Kitchen has tried to give all the restaurant patrons more of a chefs table type experience. Because of the proximity of the kitchen to the customers, you can’t help being more connected to the food preparation.
I do not think “open kitchen” adequately describes just how open the kitchen is: Cooking islands located in the dining room proper. There are no barriers between where the line cooks prepare dishes and the dining area. So the average customer experience is more integrated with the kitchen compared to even the best fine dining restaurant.
Somehow the chefs run this kitchen without accumulating piles of dirty cookware, making an inordinate amount of noise, and scattering food fragments on the floor. All the while they are under pressure to produce innovative, artful, world class cuisine in front of an audience. And they make it look easy. Impressive!
Ka’ana purchases directly from about a dozen local farm/seafood vendors. As such, whatever is in season for those farms is what is featured on the menu. The chefs develop dishes around the ingredients and not the other way around. So the menu changes frequently and the freshness of the ingredients comes through when you taste the dishes. Excellent food quality.
The menu is organized by vendor or food type in columns rather than by the type of dish. The evening we went there, the first menu column had three small dishes with ingredients primarily from Surfing Goat Dairy. The second column had two small dishes and one main course each of which centered on asparagus. There were five columns in all. Innovative.
The dishes, small or large, are easily shared or eaten as an individual entrée (just like a chefs table in your home) We ordered four dishes: Watermelon Salad, Asparagus Saute, Onaga (white fish), and Grilled Ahi. Each dish was original because of the preparation, accessory ingredients, and sauces. All of them were delicious and had a very artful presentation. Excellent
Service – Proactive & Attentive Fine Dining
First, the service staff at Ka’ana Kitchen is outstanding. I can’t say enough about how well trained they are. When entering the restaurant, the maître de (Anthony) walked up to greet us instead of waiting for us to reach him. He made eye contact with us the entire time he spoke to us. As we went through dinner service, we could not help but notice that every employee made eye contact with us when we looked at them. And each asked if we needed something. We felt that the entire staff was serving us, not just our server, Sam. Service that is proactive and attentive.
Most restaurants have a few great staff, some good staff, and a few average or poor ones. Ka’ana Kitchen’s management seems to be determined to create a culture of unparalleled service. It seems they want every employee to take responsibility for excellent service, not just a few.
Second, the wait staff are well trained about the menu, which is a given for a fine dining establishment. But our server, Sam (Samantha), was also well versed with how the ingredients in each dish complimented and worked together to create unique flavors. She talked about each dish in a conversational manner, not as a sales person or a robot rattling off a memorized list. I remarked that I was surprised at the depth of her knowledge about the dish. She told me that the servers really had to study each dish.
Third, Sam knew all the steps required to provide true table side service which is one of the hallmarks of fine dining. Not in a stuffy or showy way. Although low key, all of the cues for fine dining were there. Replacing dirty napkins, clean utensils after each course, quick removal of dirty plates, etc, etc. The table always looks clean.
After deciding on the dishes, the server discusses then recommends in what order the dishes will be served. The order of the service, in a way, creates the structure (courses) of the meal. As mentioned, clean silverware is set after each course.
If asked, the sommelier will recommend wine pairings for each course, which I allowed them to do. I enjoyed two different reds with our meal. Both were excellent selections in themselves and paired well with the food.
Since the order of serving the dishes is not conventional or fixed, the kitchen staff needs to adjust to whatever order the customer and server decide upon. The kitchen staff becomes part of the service experience. In addition, patrons can visit the kitchen area of the dining room anytime to see how dishes are being prepared. Again, the kitchen becomes part of the dining experience.
A Totally Integrated Experience
Ka’ana Kitchen has created an integrated dining experience between the customer, kitchen, food, and dining room. There are many fine dining cues but they are inserted where applicable into the total dining experience.
Most restaurants can be broken into discreet areas: service, food quality, atmosphere and price. Ka’ana has rewritten this formula so that the boundaries between each area are integrated and thus blurred. One thing is clear though; they have made a huge bet that excellent quality food, service, and atmosphere can render top prices secondary in the customers mind. In this, I think they have succeeded. I look forward to going back. Excellent all the way around. Five Stars. I’d give them six if I could.
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