HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER

THE WEEKLY EATER

“When some friends wanted to try the menu, I tagged along, intending only to share a few photos on my food blog at takeabite.staradvertiserblogs.com, but I was wowed by the strong flavors and pure bravura on display, so wanted to share the menu with the nongeek set as well.”

August 7, 2013

Mavro’s summer menu delights

with color, flair

Nadine Kam, restaurant critic

Four Stars (highest rating) for Food, Service, Ambience and Value

Summer is the season for travel, but even if you can’t leave home, you can live vicariously through friends who are proficient with a camera and are ready and willing to share photos of what they’ve seen and done on their vacations.

George Mavrothalassitis, aka Chef Mavro, does most sojourners one step better, seizing on the sensory experience of ocean, gardens and terroir of a destination, and bringing to his kitchen memories of those scent and flavor profiles for the rest of us to savor.

The new summer menu at Chef Mavro is a gustatory postcard of his vacation in Provence. In translating his experience to the table, the James Beard Award-winning chef showed why he remains one of the best in the islands, through four- ($85) or six-course ($128) prix fixe dinners, or an 11-course grand degustation ($175 per person for whole table only). Wine pairings are $55, $63 and $98, respectively.

The “Provence Honolulu Express” menu is inspired by finds and techniques gleaned from kitchens of the south of France, with the best of locally sourced ingredients, and it seemed best to try everything. When some friends wanted to try the menu, I tagged along, intending only to share a few photos on my food blog at takeabite.staradvertiserblogs.com, but I was wowed by the strong flavors and pure bravura on display, so wanted to share the menu with the nongeek set as well.

Dinner started with an amuse bouche of creamy chilled kabocha curry soup, with accents of salty bacon in a coconut mousse and the slight bitter crunch of cocoa nibs.
The amuse set the tone for the rest of the meal, full of lively, surprising touches that set off pleasurable flavor explosions on the palate.

Chef Mavro Summer dish Abalone Tarama

A confit of Big Island abalone is served with pita bread and tarama — a Greek-style fish roe mousse — foamed and wrapped in a cucumber slice.st of the meal, full of lively, surprising touches that set off pleasurable flavor explosions on the palate.

A confit of Big Island abalone came next. For this dish the chef went back to his Greek roots. His father’s secret to cooking abalone was to use almonds, which Mavro now uses to finish his own dish. The abalone is cooked at low temperature so it’s tender, drizzled in lime juice with a touch of Hanapepe salt and served atop a tzatziki cucumber-almond milk Greek caviar mousse, and garnished with a cucumber ring full of foamed tarama and a crisp sliver of house pita bread.

Next up was the chef’s upscale version of an ahi bowl, with spicy big-eye ahi topping a bowl of steamed basmati rice. The luxe touch is a velvety sea urchin and aleppo pepper aioli dotted with bits of ogo. Drawn onto the plate is a line of shoyu powder, adding its umami effect when sprinkled onto the dish. I could have stopped eating here and been fully satisfied. My mind was telling me to stop eating the rice, which would fill my stomach quickly, but it was so delicious I polished off the whole thing.

An Indochine-style poached Keahole lobster came next, served over long rice beside Kurobuta pork kau yuk. A pour of tamarind and lemongrass broth with crustacean essence was added. This was heaven.

Compared with what had come before, the seared onaga registered as plain, though the work that went into its sauce was no less intense. The dish had a calming effect before the second main course and finale, as though the chef were orchestrating a performance. The fish is served over bitter burgundy-braised radicchio with raito, or rayte, red wine sauce that the chef discovered in an 1897 cookbook. This “pinot noir essence” is finished with vegetable broth, capers, confit tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil and air, for a bubbly effect. He topped the onaga with its fish skin “chicharron,” which he says is not to be tried at home. My friends wished it could be packaged like pork rinds.

Entree choices for the six-course menu are a meat lover’s Wagyu and braised short rib with chimichurri sauce and parsnip puree (add $28) or squab breast baked in papillote with savoy cabbage and chipolata. With the squab, you get the chef’s personalized service as he arrives at the table to open the paper pouch, plate the bird and gently pour on the jasmine tea-squab jus. A thigh is served on dandelion greens with a tart poha berry salad.

I’m partial to the lamb that comes with the four-course meal. The mushroom-dusted Niman Ranch lamb loin is seared and served with lamb jus, accompanied by eggplant caviar, julienned snow peas and a pair of thin toasts topped with green and black olive tapenade.

Big Island Goat Cheese Ice Cream Arugula

Arugula leaves surround goat cheese ice cream and one-minute strawberry-rhubarb jam. On top are honey candy crumbles.

Just when we thought we could eat no more, an arugula-goat cheese salad arrived like dessert, with the greens surrounding a refreshing helping of Hawaii Island goat cheese ice cream, one of many wonders served up by Mavro’s new pastry chef, Elizabeth Dippong. All were sweetened with Mavro’s strawberry-rhubarb minute jam and finished with the honeycomb crunch of Elizabeth’s Volcano Island Honey CandyPre-dessert was a block of translucent champagne gelee set to show its contents of red watermelon forming a floral pattern.

At this point we were moaning and groaning about not being able to eat another bite. But small nibbles of lychee with Valrhona white chocolate, yuzu cream, pistachio semifreddo and candied basil led us to finish this dessert as well, except for the bitter Campari gel.

We also finished the savory guava-olive oil sorbet that came with the next dessert, but ended up taking home the rest of it, as small as it was. The Madre Hamakua chocolate and cocoa nib dacquoise was too good to allow to go to waste. It’s served with a confit of mango with the gentle heat of the Turkish pepper urfa biber, and the crunch of chocolate feuilletine.

It was, from beginning to end, a meal worth remembering.

——— Nadine Kam‘s restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Advertiser. Reach her at nkam@staradvertiser.com.