Our adventure in paradise was winding down, and there were still a handful of places that we wanted to check out before our departure. Chief among them was a Thai restaurant named Bamboo located up on the northernmost tip of the Big Island in Hawi. So after another gorgeous morning on Hapuna Beach, we hopped back in the car and headed up to North Kohala. Hawi is a quaint and quiet little town with a handful of galleries and craft shops and a great little shave ice counter. Based on everything I’d read, I was expecting a lot out of Bamboo, but it actually wound up being the biggest disappointment of the trip.
The space itself was a lot of fun, with strands of colorful twinkling lights strewn about and all manner of kitschy décor from wooden Tucans to hanging Balinese umbrellas. The atmosphere was totally relaxed, the wicker chairs were deep and comfortable, and I settled in with one of their (mediocre) Mai Tais. We started with an order of chicken satay pot stickers, which I found to be very strange – the grilled chicken was ground up and mixed with peanut butter (!) and ginger to create a very dense, sticky filling which was then stuffed into a thick, doughy wrapper and steamed. It was definitely unique, but not necessarily in a good way.
Worse were the actual main dishes, neither of which had any flavor whatsoever. We decided to go vegetarian for this course, so I opted for a veggie and tofu stir fry with Thai coconut sauce and my partner ordered grilled tofu. We essentially got the exact same dish, only mine had udon noodles in addition to everything else. The vegetables were just fine – broccoli, green peppers, cabbage and zucchini topped with whole shelled peanuts. And the tofu was well cooked, not rubbery like you get sometimes. But overall the dish was very bland and flavorless, the coconut sauce was mild and the noodles were limp – more steam than fry. I requested some Sriracha, and instead they brought me a housemade sambal, which would have been awesome if it hadn’t tasted like stewed tomatoes and chili pepper flakes. It was the bland leading the bland. We had enjoyed so many awesome meals on this trip though, that it didn’t really get us down. We simply shrugged our shoulders and went back to the beach.
On our final night in Hawaii we didn’t want to venture too far from Puako, so we popped down to Waikoloa Village to visit the mall and eat with the tourists. I kid, I kid. We figured a dinner at Roy’s would be a fitting farewell to the Island, so off we went. Roy Yamaguchi was one of the first chefs to really popularize Hawaiian fusion cuisine in the 1980’s and he has since gone on to build a franchise restaurant empire all over the United States. This probably explains the very corporate, almost sterile feel of the restaurant. It’s spacious and sprawling with lots of mood lighting and beautiful people standing around the very noisy bar.
And while the enormous kitchen may look like a conveyor belt, the food is actually not bad at all and the service is friendly and professional. After we sat down, our server brought us a complimentary bowl of edamame that was quite tasty, with sesame oil and Hawaiian salt and other assorted spices. There was a nice 3 course prix fixe “Fusion Sampler” for $43 that sounded like a bargain, so I curtailed my sense of irony and ordered the macadamia nut-encrusted Mahi Mahi for the main dish. But before that came out, I was served my final pupu of the trip: a cute trio of appetizers, including a tiny rack of spicy Szechuan baby back pork ribs, a bamboo skewered grilled white shrimp and a couple of char siu pork spring rolls.
The filet of Mahi Mahi was served in a duo of sauces – on one side of the bowl was a rich sauce made of “Maine lobster essence”, and on the other side was a very creamy beurre blanc. The Mahi Mahi was a pretty meaty fish, and together with the rich sauces I could hardly get through half of the filet. It was tasty, but pretty decadent. My partner ordered a filet mignon with Malaysian steak sauce, cranberry beans and roasted beets that was superb. The sauce was a nice spicy curry that went well with both the beans and the meat.
Finally, we ended the meal with Roy’s signature dessert, a melting chocolate soufflé with W&J Graham’s Six Grapes Port. I was pretty full from the fish, and I normally don’t go in for sweets, but this soufflé was fantastic – a crusty chocolate cake that oozes hot dark chocolate when you crack it open. It was a wonderful way to end our stay. As we left the restaurant, I noticed that the art gallery next door had a gigantic advertisement in the window for NEW GLASS BY DALE CHIHULY! It was a hilarious reminder that we would soon be heading home.
In the end, it was a great vacation and I once again have to give props to the amazing contributors over at the Chowhound message boards who are always enlightening and rarely steer me in the wrong direction. All told though, it’s good to be back in town and I can’t wait to start writing about local food again. I hope you’ve enjoyed the side trip!