Culture Editor Tom Wilmer reports from the Big Island of Hawaii where he discovers a romantic dining destination at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Kohala Coast.
Everyone I’ve ever met who’s stayed at the legendary Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Big Island of Hawaii —invariably speaks in reverential tones about the place, and they’re quick to voice a desire for a reprise visit. And those who’ve never had the pleasure of making a date with the Mauna Kea, often mention the resort as tops on their must-do list—typically inspired by the raves of their friends who who’ve been there, done that.
The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is a special destination-resort that touts an astounding multi-generational fan base. There are many who’s grandparents stayed there in the 1960s, and their parents first took them there as kids, and now they are making pilgrimage-holidays with their kids at the Mauna Kea.
The centerpiece of the resort’s setting is the seductive beauty of crescent-shaped Kauna’oa Bay–and the fine-dining establishment, Manta, overlooking the bay with ultra-romantic al fresco dining.
Whether or not you’re staying at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Manta is a killer place for a bayside buffet breakfast, Sunday brunch, and of course a romantic dinner date—ideally out on the pavilian overlooking the bay, framed by palms and plumeria.
That’s the big story—the nuances that make Manta a must-do are predicated on the chefs’ culinary philosophies that honor and meld the multi-ethnic roots of the islanders, along with paying homage to the Hawaiian’s Polynesian roots through utilization of “canoe crops”.
Sourcing local/fresh from the farmer and sea are anchors of the culinary arts at Manta.
Manta sources everything imaginable from Big Island farmers, and the restaurant even put on special dinners—shades of a wine maker dinner–where a farmer or two will join the festivities and talk-story about their passion for producing fresh, local, healthy food with Manta’s dinner guests.
Seafood doesn’t get any fresher, as the local fishermen’s catch is delivered daily to the kitchen’s back door.
Executive Sous Chef, Rio Miceli was raised on the island but honed his craft in Healdsburg, California, and subsequently fine tuned his skills at the New England Culinary School before returning to settle in on the Big Island.
Miceli’s duties include menu development, and innovations at Manta as well as the resort’s other dining venues.
A taste of Manta’s culinary offerings include a killer Kona Kampachi Sashimi and the Keohole Lobster Papperdelle with garlic cream, summer squash and pork belly lardon for starters.
Tempting entrees include Hawaiian Sweet Potato Encrusted Ahi, and the Mac Nut Encrusted Mahi Mahi.
Wendle Lesher, Director of Food & Beverage at the Mauna Kea and the neighboring sister property Hapuna Beach Resort, works with Miceli developing innovative new dishes.
Lesher also drives creativity in partnership with the mixologists, and plans special culinary events. Lesher’s latest passion is working with local beekeepers.
In addition to doing his part to provide onsite beehive habitats, the distinctive and incredibly flavorful Mauna Kea honey is utilized by the chefs and is available for purchase by the guests.
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