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Sep 23, 2010

Kauai: Exciting, edge-cutting dining at Josselin’s

Organic Beet Salad   Courtesy: Josselin's
If you’re traveling to Kauai any time soon, you absolutely must dine at Josselin’s Tapas Bar & Grill in the Poipu area. The meal I had there two weeks ago was so sensational that I’ll always remember it. This seems to be a common reaction. One of the wait staff told me that a visiting mainland couple recently dined at the restaurant on the third day of their stay—and returned for dinner each of the next 10 consecutive nights.
Courtesy The Culinary Gadabout
I can see why. For one thing, they probably never ate the same thing twice—the menu is not only huge, it changes daily based on what’s fresh from sea, butcher, and fields. The menu is also one of the most innovative I’ve come across, showing a complete melding of the world's ingredients. And the presentation! Every delivery to our table was such a work of art that cameras came out and lots of shutter-snapping ensued before anything could be eaten. And then there was the pleasing shock of unusual flavor juxtaposition, of sheer deliciousness.

Courtesy The Culinary Gadabout
Just consider:
  • Scallop Pillows, Cardamom Coconut Broth, Galangal, Drunken Grapes        
  • Kauai Shrimp and Duck Taco, Organic Papaya Salsa
  • Seared Foie Gras, Duck Confit Steamed Bun, Vanilla Bing Cherry Reduction
  • Lipstick Peppers, Goat Cheese Chorizo Stuffing, Tomato Vinaigrette
  • Hamachi Tartare, Pressed Cucumber, Arugula Pesto, Aji Amarillo Sauce
  • Hamachi and Tuna Crudo, Tomato Soffritto, Tomato Jelly
  • Organic Beet Salad, Goat Cheese Fritter, Orange Vinaigrette  
  • Summer Risotto, Peach, Edamame, Eggplant, Zucchini, Tomato, Basil
  • Thai Shrimp Bisque, Red Curry, Basil, Corn Puree, Shrimp Dumpling, Orange Kaffir Foam
  • 36 Hours Braised Pork Belly, Julienne Apple Kimchee, Rosemary Orange Local Honey
  • Swordfish Tenderloin, Truffle Vinaigrette, Roasted Clams 
  • Garlic Sesame Crusted Island Mahi Mahi, Soba Noodle, Toasted Nori Vinaigrette
  • Blackened Opah, Vegetables Spring Roll, Basil Papaya Sauce 
While the restaurant calls these "tapas," they could just as easily be considered high-end dim sum or appetizers--but make no mistake; whatever you call them, they constitute something new. There are also incredibly good desserts on the menu; even a non-lover of sweets like me lusted after these creations. Libations were poured from around the world. Most of my party opted for one of the Sangrias (the Pomegranate Sangria was my fave).

Courtesy The Culinary Gadabout
One more thing about this place: the service was impeccable, but also non-stuffy, even friendly. The decor was high-styled and modern, but also comfortable. What could be better than that?

The Chef

Chef Josselin at work   Courtesy: Josselin's

Back in 1991, chef/owner Jean Marie Josselin was one of 12 founding members of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, a movement that combined Hawaii’s fresh island ingredients with the best of the world’s culinary techniques (call it “tropical fusion”). At the time Josselin was heading his first restaurant, A Pacific Café, in Kapaa, Kauai. Even then the chef was known for innovative Pan-Asian cuisine.

Chef Josselin (R) in his restaurant   Courtesy: Josselin's

By the end of the decade, Josselin presided over a seven-restaurant empire throughout Hawaii, winning major culinary awards from the James Beard Foundation, Condé Nast Traveler, Bon Appetit magazine, and others. In 2000, he left Hawaii for Las Vegas to open Euro-Pacific 808 in Caesar’s Palace (voted one of that city’s Top 10 restaurants by Wine Spectator).

But now he’s back, and the result—Josselin’s Tapas Bar & Grill—is nothing short of spectacular.

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