Chef Mavro: Tapping into Hawaii’s Finest Ingredients

Hawaiian Food Honolulu

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.

Chef Honolulu
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.

Hawaiian Food Honolulu
Our Amuse Bouche contrasted rich vichyssoise with airy Sumida Farm watercress foam.

Hawaiian Food Honolulu
The first full course spotlighted ruby red Ahi Tartare and briny Osetra sturgeon Caviar from France, plated with colorful (and crunchy) taro chips, plus streaks of savory ponzu sauce.

Lobster Honolulu
When we were in the kitchen, Chef Mavro was cutting lobster tails, and we soon learned why.

Hawaiian Food Honolulu
Keahole lobster risotto featured rice with good bite, firm white asparagus, “essence of lobster” and those cross-sections of lobster tail, which cradled sweet, silky lobster meat.

Hawaiian Food Honolulu
Dayboat snapper baked in Hawaiian salt crust appeared on a wood plank.

Hawaiian Food Honolulu
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.

Hawaiian Food Honolulu
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.

Dessert Honolulu
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.”

Dessert Honolulu
Pre-Dessert involved sweet Molokai watermelon in champagne gelee with sliced basil.

Dessert Honolulu
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.

Dessert Honolulu
Mignardises were outstanding, with cassis macarons, espresso truffles and guava pate de fruit.

We finished with cups of 100% Kona Coffee from Honolulu Coffee Co.. HCC founder Ed Schultz, who joined us, also co-owns Kaldi’s Coffee in St. Louis, another peak specialty coffee performer.

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.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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