Keoki’s: fun and a food lover’s paradise

When in paradise, wear your tiara. We did when visiting Keoki’s Paradise at Po‘ipu Beach to taste what’s new on the menu this month. What’s always on the menu is fun.

“It’s the aloha. It’s our mission,” says John Poehnelt, the dining room manager. He means it. We got a copy of the restaurant’s employee handbook, and the mission statement reads:  “Have Fun, Make Money, With Aloha.” We like the way the handbook tells you to say no, too. “The only way to say ‘no’ is ‘no problem.’” Nice.

“You feel more like a guest in a home than a customer at a restaurant,” John says. (At Keoki’s, you’re almost immediately on a first-name basis.)

Seated in a spacious, open air dining room circling a pond surrounded by lush foliage and tropical trees, we learn that some guests feel more than at home.

“We had an Australian bachelor party jumping into the pond,” he says. We tell John we are sorry we missed it. John looks a little worried, but we assure him we don’t jump into ponds, even with Australians, while wearing our tiaras.

Wedding parties with cheering and dancing are not unusual at Keoki’s, which also features a long, lively bar from which the subtle strains of live music waft over the diners.

“The bar’s phenomenal,” says one of the restaurant’s newer waiters, A.G. Ghannam.

Kaua‘i has a way of attracting repeat visits from tourists, as in year-after-year repeat visits, and John tells us that some tourists have been coming back to Keoki’s, too, for so many years that they’re on a first-name basis with the staff.

Our waiter is Tony Brun, who tells us, “this is a place locals come to,” meaning it passes muster on the food and fun front with tourists and islanders alike.

He’s proud of the ambiance, the scenery, and we are forced to interrupt.  “Are you married?,” we ask Tony. “Yes,” he replies. “Happily?” we ask. “Yes,” he replies. Hmm. We call out to the oh-so-charming A.G. “A.G., we have a question for you.”

We know some of our female readers fall in love with men who bring them food —  and who wouldn’t — so we feel compelled to ask … for their benefit.

Speaking of food, what’s new on the menu of this well-loved restaurant is Kiawe Cold Smoked Marlin on the list of pupu. The fish is fresh, and the flavor of the fish isn’t covered up with the pickled daikon, red onion and capers, mango cilantro salsa and cilantro horseradish drizzle. The flavor of the fish is celebrated with just the right, delicate touches. Is it permitted to worship a chef?

Also new is the seafood risotto, which features generous, lightly seasoned portions of lobster, shrimp, scallops and fresh fish over a chardonnay herb risotto. Have we used the word amazing yet? No? Good. It’s amazing. If you are not starving, you’ll consider sharing this generous serving, but you’ll forget all about sharing after the first few bites.

We share a piece of Kimo’s Original Hula Pie, the size of a small mountain, which almost embarrasses John.

“I had a couple celebrating their 60th anniversary. One was 85, the other 88, and they both had a full meal, and they both had the hula pie,” John says.

Favorites at the restaurant don’t all revolve around seafood. Their prime rib and filet mignon standards get rave reviews, as do the grilled Thai shrimp pupu with lemongrass, ginger, cilantro and guava dip.

Also a favorite are crab cakes served with Bartender Uemura’s Pahoehoe Sauce served on soba noodles — a meal in a pupu. Speaking of the delightful bartenders at Keoki’s, women who love men who bring them food also tend to be fond of men who bring them cocktails. “Bartender, can we ask you a question?”

For more information, call 742-7534 or visit www.keokisparadise.com for directions.

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