Fine dining on the North Shore? Turtle Bay Resort’s PaÊ»akai offers ocean-fresh fare in a tony setting.
One of the appeals of heading out to Turtle Bay Resort is the fact that it feels like it’s a world away from the bustle of Honolulu. It can seem as if it’s an area that exists in another place and time.
So too, does the dining experience at PaÊ»akai transport you. The only fine dining restaurant on the North Shore, its menu features what is billed as sea-to-table cuisine, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find an OÊ»ahu restaurant that’s closer to its farm source.
“We’re supplied by two farms in Pupukea,” explains Chef de Cuisine John Armstrong. Herb gardens growing on the resort’s roofs also stock the restaurant.
To get to PaÊ»akai, diners must make their way through a meandering pathway through a darkened hall. If you’ve been to Turtle Bay Resort’s oceanfront eatery in any of its past incarnations (most recently, 21 Degrees North), this is familiar. Now, as the resort has completed major renovations, the pathway is sleeker, yet just as powerful a lead-up to what one can believe will be a transformative dinner.
Throughout the walkway, signage explains the different sections of the ahupuaÊ»a, the traditional land divisions in Hawaiian culture, and how that land was used. In the kula section, the people would grow their fruits and vegetables. According to master plans laid out by Turtle Bay Resort, land just mauka of Kamehameha Highway will, in the future, supply PaÊ»akai and the entire resort with its produce. Fish was gathered makai. PaÊ»akai makes full use of makai, with its focus on fresh fish.
Likewise, the restaurant itself, with its expansive view of the ocean and deep teal color points and chandeliers that bring to mind bubbles of seafoam, channels its Pacific inspiration completely.
And chef Armstrong has plenty of experience with seafood. After high school at McKinley and Kaiser, he went to KapiÊ»olani Community College’s culinary school. Afterwards, it was on to Johnson & Wales University, where he earned his degree. He went on to work for several restaurants along the Eastern Seaboard, including the exclusive Clambake Club of Newport.
“One of my jobs, they’d send me down, [and tell me], ‘Go get the lobsters,'” Armstrong reminisces. He’d head down to the dock and gather the amount of live lobsters required. “I had to walk back with two buckets of lobsters, clawing at me to get out.” After returning to HawaiÊ»i, Armstrong worked at Nicholas Nicholas and Halekulani, before coming to Turtle Bay Resort.
“I love it here; we have fun,” he says. Part of that fun is building the menu with his team. “I always sit down with my guys; we have a meeting,” he explains. “I tell them, ‘You guys come with your ideas, and I’ll come with my ideas.'” In this way, the team builds a menu that is full of fresh takes on traditional menu items.
Take, for instance, the Ê»Ahi Tartare. It blends the idea of the bounty of both the kula and makai regions of the ahupuaÊ»a. Rich cubes of Ê»ahi are layered between crisp slices of land taro into a tower sitting on a plate adorned with dollops of chili mango salsa. It all results in a nice contrast of textures: crunchy, creamy and complementary flavors from the ‘ahi, sweet mango and subtle heat from the chili.
Other creative takes include the Ê»Inamona Crusted Scallops. The Ê»inamona adds a nutty crunch to the tender scallops that sit in a Poamoho-farmed avocado purÃ©e with macadamia nut chili oil. It’s served with a Kahuku corn relish that’s provided with nice smokiness from generous morsels of pipikaula.
Even the Iced Seafood Platterâ€”a delightful mound of the freshest ocean offerings: â€˜ahi sashimi; Hamachi sashimi; Goose Point oysters; king crab; clams and KauaÊ»i shrimp, are all given a unique twist with the saucesâ€”no run-of-the-mill cocktail sauce will do here. Instead, PaÊ»akai presents a sense of place with Hawaiian chili pepper water and soy mustard. There’s also shallot and red wine vinaigrette, as well as a whole grain mustard dip.
However, it’s not just all seafood at PaÊ»akai. Land-based standouts include the Hawaiian Ranchers Filet Mignon with green peppercorn and poha berry; Double Cut Rack of Lamb, served with roasted cauliflower mash and sautÃ©ed Pupukea kale; and the Hawaiian Ranchers Bone-in Rib Eye Steak, served with ginger, string beans, eggplant, grilled HauÊ»ula tomato and pesto Parmesan fingerling potatoes.
Favorite salads include the Grilled Mango & Goat Cheese Salad. Its crisp arugula sits atop points of grilled pineapple and mango touched with creamy goat cheese that’s dotted with macadamia nuts, and luscious balsamic vinaigrette is drizzled throughout.
End things on a sweet note with something from the dessert menu. Popular choices include the Chocolate SoufflÃ© with cream anglaise or the Signature Pie: Grandma’s Apple Pineapple that’s served with macadamia nut ice creamâ€”don’t forget to share; it serves two!
Like the rest of the menu, HawaiÊ»i flavors are evident throughout the dessert offerings. There’s the delightful Checkerboard Haupia Ice Cream Cake drizzled with raspberry sauce, Fresh Local Ginger CrÃ¨me Brulee and Waialua Mocha Coffee Cheesecake.
There really is so much to experience on this menu that chef and his team have fun tweaking its offerings every once in a while. “We have a strong following on the North Shore,” Armstrong points out, which is probably a good reason to keep things fresh.
Coming in February, there’s a special Valentine’s Day menu, but otherwise, a good way get a feel of what North Shore fine dining is like is to take on PaÊ»akai’s Five-Course Wine Dinner that features the aforementioned Ê»Ahi Tartare and Grilled Mango & Goat Cheese Salad, along with a Fresh Island Catch served with Sea Asparagus Pesto, Hawaiian Ranchers Beef Tenderloin with Stout reduction and, to end, Tropical Fruit Sorbet with chilled lychee chiso broth. Each course is perfectly paired with a glass of wine.
Eventually, you’ll have to make your way back to the bright Honolulu city lights. But know that PaÊ»akai is there, waiting for your return, ready to share its bounty and beauty with you.
PaÊ»akai is located at Turtle Bay Resort, 57-091 Kamehameha Hwy., Kahuku. For reservations, call (866) 475-2569, or visit turtlebayresort.com.