Dining Review: 5-Star Big Island On A Budget

I rarely do restaurant reviews. The main reason is that even though I try restaurants around the state regularly, there simply aren’t many that I feel moved to write about.

We had a five star dining experience last week on the Big Island, however, that won’t completely blow your budget. It’s The CanoeHouse at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel. If you read further I’ll tell you how for $40 you can enjoy a 3 course dinner including wine.

Location. Oceanfront and secluded; no cars. Just walking along the beach to the restaurant has a calming effect with the anticipation of something memorable ahead. We were there at sunset which was spectacular as you see from the opening photo. Many of the tables are open air so we dined under the stars and felt the trades blowing.

Food Review: Jeff is the ultimate critic and chef. He’s also very honest about what he does and doesn’t like. Here’s his overall assessment of the food:

“Flavorful without the heavier feel and taste typical of gourmet food in Hawaii. Good balance. Clear, clean European sophistication yet an island feel using local ingredients. Beyond trite Eurasian.  

Merrimans and Daniel Thiebaut both paled by comparison.

The quality, quantity and service were all spot on. The only things I didn’t find exceptional were the desserts. We had the Sweet Potato Beignet with Puna Goat Cheese Snow and Kona coffee ice cream and and assortment of sorbets”.

Favorites: The appetizers scored highest overall in our opinion:  Ahi Tuna Napoleon, Day Boat Scallops and Waimea Beets and Honokaa Goat Cheese Ravioli. Kabocha Squash Soup was delicious. For the entree we had Shutome (local swordfish) and Big Island Shellfish Bowl.

Chef James Ortiaga: As a bonus, we met their new chef who comes from the New York Four Seasons’ Cafe Pierre and L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon. He told us not to expect Macadamia Crusted Mahi. James instead wants to challenge diners’ expectations and showcase delicacies unique to Hawaii. He was right.

Service: Professional, attentive and understated.

Best Deals: For travelers on a budget, there are two prix fixe menus that offer a good value. This is nonetheless a splurge for us and for our budget oriented followers. It was worth it considering the food, service and location of The CanoeHouse.

The first one is $40 and called “Meat Free Monday.” Included is appetizer, entree, dessert and glass of wine. Offered only on Monday, this menu pays homage to Sir Paul, Stella and Mary McCartney’s environmental campaign.

The Chef’s Menu is available nightly for $60. It features a selection of starters, entree and dessert. Included is a glass of wine with the entree and coffee at conclusion.

Reservations and information: 808/881-7911

Address: Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, 68-1400 Mauna Lani Drive, on Big Islands’ Kohala Coast.

Photo Credits: Beat of Hawaii. Pictured is sunset from our table at The CanoeHouse and our appetizers.

Disclosure:  This meal was complementary (although our stay there was not). There was no expectation of a review.


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1 thought on “Dining Review: 5-Star Big Island On A Budget”

  1. Had a very similar experience at Brown’s @ the Fairmont Orchid on the Big Island in 2009. Lovely 3 course dinner and wine for about $50 pp. Setting was perfection, service impeccable, experience totally memorable. It was an ‘early bird’ deal – but well worth it. We watched the beautiful Hawaiian sunset and witnessed the torch lighting and Conch blowing. I booked via Open Table – couldn’t have been easier.

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