The Plantation House Restaurant & Clubhouse Date back to 1991, its stately architecture tamed by the magnificence that surrounds. Perched above the lush emerald slopes of Kapalua Resort’s Plantation Course, The jagged tops of Norfolk pine trees frame the fairway against the grandeur of Maui’s northwestern coastline. Beyond the horizon, the sun pierces through a veil of clouds draped over Moloka‘i casting rays of brilliance onto the water’s surface.
One of Hawai‘i’s most revered toques, Chef Jojo Vasquez has helmed the kitchen for almost six years. He composes beautiful plates quite naturally, and has a penchant for local seafood, and edible blooms grown by Napili Flo Farm about 10 minutes away from the restaurant. His menu of mostly local ingredients expertly done in classic French cookery sings with keen flavors, simplicity and balance, and a profound reflection of his diverse cultural influences.
As a young kid in Chicago, Vasquez learned to prepare foods from his Filipino heritage while helping at his father’s side catering gigs. Shortly after culinary school and starting his career at home, he moved to Atlanta to work in the kitchen of Michelin starred chef Gunther Seeger. Los Angeles was next, where Chef Troy Thompson brought him into The Ritz-Carlton fold that eventually led Vasquez to Kapalua, Maui, in 2005 where he helmed the Banyan Tree Restaurant’s fine-dining kitchen into modernist times.
But Vasquez wasn’t done learning from the finest of mentors. When famed Chef Masaharu Morimoto chose him to spearhead the opening of his namesake restaurants in Napa, Calif. and Waikiki, he sharpened his skills and palate for Japanese cuisine while adding a few notable television credits to his belt battling alongside Morimoto in the Iron Chef stadium for its first two seasons on the Food Network.
So what can one expect from a classically trained Filipino-American chef, who is raised in Chicago, inflected with a bit of California and Atlanta, has strong Japanese sensibilities and enamored with Hawai‘i harvests? By the taste of it, an ambitious mosaic of culinary styles executed with precision and care.
The crostini is a lovely start for any meal with Surfing Goat Dairy chevre and sweet rubies of Kumu Farms roasted beets, sprinkled macadamia nut dukkah—Egyptian spice mix—for earthy texture and red wine vinaigrette for a hint of tartness. Supple ‘ahi poke are served in fried wonton shells, sriracha mayo, ogo and perfectly ripe avocados. Herb and garlic-marinated shrimp is lightly sautéed, placed in a bowl of housemade Bloody Mary sauce, diced avocado, ogo, radish and served with a tableside spritz of Maui’s Ocean Vodka and a smear of wasabi on the rim for good measure.
The mains include tender monchong on supple Kula corn and scallion risotto, tomatoes marinated in olive oil, sherry vinegar and chives, and topped with a tousle of watercress. There is an assembly of caramelized Hokkaido scallops, resting on a bed of puréed curried squash, garnished with pickled cauliflower, and frisée salad, that’s dressed in oil and lime juice and finished with fried shallots and scallion oil. Roasted chicken breast is brined overnight and served with Brussels sprouts fricassée—an aromatic medley of red bell peppers, onions, garlic, butter and red wine vinegar—finished with kochujang sauce. Fourteen ounces of beef short rib braised for at least four hours until tender is served with tomato rosemary ragout and creamy polenta, grilled asparagus and fried Maui onions.
The kitchen especially shines in the monthly tasting menus. Sous chef Maggie King, who honed her skills at the supremely skillful kitchens of Vintage Cave, Town and MW Café, designed the most recent one, which highlighted exceptional chardonnays and a pinot from Burgundy, France. At $75 for three courses or $105 with wine pairing, it’s quite a steal in these parts.
The dinner opens with an amuse of truffle mousse quail egg with pops of wasabi tobiko—a clever play on the traditional deviled egg and delightful when paired with a complex 2014 Chardonnay from Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon, Macon Prisse. Fried green tomatoes are cured with curry paste overnight, layered with a vibrant crab salad folded in with cucumber, radish, shiso and creamy avocado vinaigrette that lend richness to this version of a southern classic, and coaxes brightness from the chardonnay. Succulent Kaua‘i shrimp is poached in umami-laden shiitake kombu broth, and the broth is then aerated over grilled endive and marinated tomatoes. The earthy dish is delightfully paired with a luscious 2013 Chardonnay, Antoine Petitprez, Saint-Romain, Côte de Beaune. The last main course is a prime flat iron steak accompanied with a sweet and tangy liliko‘i jam, cured egg yolk, and peppery arugula that help evolve a delicate 2014 Pinot Noir, Domaine Michel Gros, Hautes Côte de Nuits.
To finish, pastry phenom Chef Yi Song makes exquisite desserts like a delicate parfait of frozen hazelnut praline mousse with calamansi curd, ruby grapefruit and chocolate sable for added crunch. A vanilla milk shave ice is indulgent on a bed of haupia ice cream and an ethereal cloud of hazelnut espuma, and brûléed caramel crème. Velvety silky soft cheesecake with a wreath of fresh fruits, and the milk chocolate and liliko‘i mousse are both simply divine.
When one arrives at the Plantation House restaurant, the sun-washed dining room and backdrop that welcome guests is a panoramic dream, and lucky for us, the kitchen translates the splendor outside into a thoughtful, cultured and elegant cuisine, one plate at a time.
Plantation House Restaurant, 2000 Plantation Club Drive, Lahaina, (808) 669-6299