A visit to the Big Island isn’t complete without a stop at this culinary waypoint.
The intersection of art, dining and nature on the Big Island isn’t hard to locate for global travelers. Triangulation on those three pillars will bring a visitor to one destination Mauna Kea Beach Hotel’s Manta Restaurant. The feast begins visually as soon as you step on-property. Spaces unfold and vistas are sparingly revealed as you meander through this storied hotel that embodies a Rockefeller’s lasting vision.
The culinary draw that sits perched on a gentle bluff with an incomparable view brings you to that virtual junction where your other senses will shortly be competing for attention. Like the undulating waves of the serene ocean below, your own senses, too, will begin to ebb and flow in a harmonious interplay as Manta’s magic begins to take hold. Take in the quiet splendor of Kauna‘oa Bay while daylight permits, and prepare to be torn—you won’t know whether to look out over the water; back toward the dynamic action in the showpiece kitchen, onto the artfully plated dishes to come; or simply gaze into the soulful reflections of a din- ing partner’s eyes.
As the sun sets, bathing teak tables with the warm light of the fading day, your view of the intimate cove evolves. Nature recedes, and its vivid details become the broad strokes of nearby canvases. Manta’s setting floats above it all, and serves as the venue for a meal that will not only be memorialized by the culinary artistry of executive chef Rio Miceli and his team, but also by the feeling of being in a special place, and an iconic one at that. While there is no exclusive on fine dining these days, dinner here will have you sit under a wayfarer’s star while each of your senses is delicately piqued and teased by the enchantment that unfolds at Manta.
Miceli strives to ensure that the menu at Manta fully leverages the bounty of both mauka and makai. It evolves with the best in meat and produce from local farmers and fishermen, staying true to the tenets of Hawai‘i Regional Cuisine. Seafood offerings such as the creamy Keahole Lobster pappardelle and mac nut- encrusted mahi mahi with yuzu ogo beurre blanc were standouts.
For the more carnivorous, the res- taurant’s 30-day-aged Island beef ribeye—one of Miceli’s own personal favorites—is a must-try. While I prefer to savor a good steak on its own charred merits, sans additional sauces, the sides which accompanied the medium-rare offering—fried ulu hash, sautéed Waipio fern shoot and a cilantro purée—marry well with the hearty flavor of the delicately marbled steak. If you haven’t had ulu (breadfruit) yet, do give it a try. Ulu is not as sweet as yams, but not as basic as potatoes, and has a texture similar to yucca—a perfect starch in my opinion. Lamb is also on the menu, which as expected, comes from pastoral Ni‘ihau.
Although not every item on the menu hails from Hawai‘i, Miceli makes every effort to incorporate local ingredients within each dish. For instance, seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras is finished with a tart, yet sweet Puna poha berry compote and honey gastrique (the resort’s ever-busy apian associates produce their own honey in onsite hives).
And no meal is complete without a sweet ending. Manta’s dessert selection runs the gamut from fruity to creamy to downright decadent. Mid-meal, your server will certainly give you the option to order the signature Kona Coffee soufflé to time it to your meal’s progression; order it, you must. Light-as-air, yet inexplicably rich, this unique devour-by-the-spoonful dessert blows any variant of “lava cake” out of the water as it slowly vanishes, spoon by savored spoonful.
By dinner’s end, nature-willing, the restaurant’s namesakes in the inky waters below may begin their own nightly dining ritual in the bay. Feast your eyes on the sight of the ocean’s majestic gliders, looping in for a cloud of krill and plankton. The magic of Manta casts its spell, and your sixth sense is duly rewarded.
Manta at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, 62-100 Mauna Kea Beach Dr., Waimea, (808) 882- 5707 or maunakeabeachhotel.com