Unfortunately, all good trips have to come to an end, and that even holds true in Hawaii. Still, there are some great ways to ease into a sendoff, and our final dinner at Chef Mavro certainly qualified as stellar, with impressive food from wire-to-wire, excellent company, and a warm setting.
George Mavrothalassitis opened his eponymous restaurant 20 years ago, earned a James Beard Award in 2003 as Best Chef for Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest, and continues to thrive. The colorful space, set back from Waikiki’s tourist zone, features water colors painted on location in a nearby botanical garden, hula drums and lei paintings. The dining room offers plenty of natural light, white tablecloths and vases filled with bright red flowers, Hawaiian ginger.
We were at the restaurant to enjoy a seven-course menu that Chef Mavro created to honor the 20th Anniversary of Hawaii Regional Cuisine. He wore chef’s whites and puka shells, invited us into his kitchen, and started us with a refreshing glass of St. Germain and sparkling wine.
Chef Mavro peeled back the crust tableside, telling tales of thyme and rosemary. He plated the juicy, red-skinned fish with spinach and a sauce of tomato, local seaweed called ogo, and fines herbes like tarragon, chervil and chives. A sauce he used to make in Provence inspired this sauce, but he added, “The addition of ogo is totally amazing.” Agreed.
Colorado lamb “Djerba” featured rosy, roasted slices of mildly gamy loin, tender and fat rimmed. The meat came with braised baby turnips, harissa-lamb jus, and a purse of brik crusted “moussaka,” with tender eggplant and thin-sliced tomato wrapped in phyllo dough. Chef Mavro said, “The lamb dish is really a reflection of who I am.” His dad moved from Greece in his thirties to Djerba in southern Tunisia before continuing on to Marseiile. Moussaka references Greece, brik originated in Tunisia, and the vegetables are all France. He joked, “My lamb smells like the backside of the country in Aix-en-Provence.” Maybe so, but it didn’t taste nearly so funky.
Chef Mavro’s tasting menu deftly led us from a fairly rich meat course to a sweet, tangy respite. His chive-flecked Hawaii Fresh Goat Cheese Mousse appeared in a soup-like, one-minute strawberry jam, which he prepared in a skillet on high heat with ripe strawberry halves, sugar and lemon juice. Frankie’s nursery green peppercorns left a lingering heat on my tongue, and spicy Ma’o Organic Farms arugula further helped to balance the “salad.”
Lilikoi Malasadas is the only dish to never leave Chef Mavro’s seasonal menu. He joked his wife said she’d divorce him if he ever removed malasadas. For his donut trio, he filled sugar-dusted brioche dough with sweet apple cinnamon, earthy azuki bean and sweet-tart lilikoi, aka passion fruit. The final ceramic ramekin hosted pineapple coconut ice cream with fresh lilikoi.
This was my only Hawaiian meal that could qualify as fine dining, and it was fun from start to finish, with premium local ingredients presented in imaginative-but-not-contrived ways and a gracious host.
Note: Oahu Visitors Bureau organized a six-day island tour, and my complimentary meal at Chef Marvo’s was part of the itinerary.