Reid, 14. July 2007, 23:11

Chef Mavro

After reading that this was listed as one of the ten best restaurants in the world by Fodor’s Choice, I was curious to try this place. I had heard it was really good, really expensive with really small portions. (A friend said he almost walked out.) My co-worker gave me a certificate to the place, which gave Larri and I the perfect excuse to finally try this place.

The restaurant only offers several different prix fixe menus–three, four, six or a special eleven course meal ($65, $71, $104, $150, respectively). You can also order a menu with a specific wine pairing with each dish, which raises the price considerably–but worth it, imo. Larri got the four course meal, while I got the six course. They actually encourage ordering this way, as it allows you to sample the different dishes. (Our waitress, Sara, was friendly, patient and put me us at ease (read: not snobby).

Before any of the dishes arrived, the waitress brought out dinner rolls. It was those small, round crusty types. The bread was a bit sweet in the Assagio mode. Solid.

Next, they brought out tiny cups of vichyssoise(sp?) with celery and a lemon foam. We mixed the soup and drank it from a thick straw. It was OK. (Larri didn’t care for it.)

The next dish was the first course. Larri had the maitake mushroom and aspargus salad. This dish came with hamakua maitake, jumbo asaparagus, braised salsify, poached quail eggs and summer savory essence of asparagus. Larri didn’t care for it, and I just thought it was OK. I think this was the first time I had quail eggs. I was surprised by their mild flavor.

My first course was seared hudson valley foie gras on spiced mango, frise lettuce tossed with foie gras glaze and mango bread. I had this was the a bordeux. This mango and foie gras pairing was nice although not spectacular. The wine was a highlight for me. I loved it! It was a sweet wine, that was a nice complement to this dessert like dish.

Larri’s second course was the day’s catch–haupu’upu (I think that’s correct; it’s a type of sea bass) in a raite sauce with fricassee of English peas, manoa lettuce and bacon. Our waitress said she loved the texture of this dish, one of her favorites. Larri and I were both disappointed a little. It wasn’t bad, but it was a bit mushy. The flavors of both the fish and the sauce were just OK.

I also had a fish dish, a confit of hamachi escabehce, accompanied with baby carrot, turnip, shallot, marinated with coriander, garlic, thyme and fried celery leaves. I love hamachi, but either the fish lacked flavor or the other ingredients overpowered it. I did like the crunch and taste of the vegetables. The highlight was the wine once again–a white wine from Hungary. So far the food was OK, but nothing really special. Besides the wine, I’m not so impressed.

I also had another seafood dish coming, Keahole lobster a la coque. This came with sauteed leeks, garlic shoots, white asparagus, avocado mousse, star anise lobster essence. The lobster was kinda dull, but the star anise added a nice subtle flavor. Add the vegetables, which came in a mustard type sauce, followed by the avocado and wine (pinot noir), and you had a really nice combination. None of the components were outstanding, but together they really made for a nice combination. This was the best dish so far.

Now on to the “main course”–the meat dishes. Larri had the Snake River farm Kobe-style beef. This came with a short-rib, pancetta Brussel sprouts, truffle accented celery root puree, pinot noir sauce. This was killer! I could have eaten each part of this dish separately. The kobe-style bavette was really good in the wine sauce. Normally, I don’t care for sauces, but this was enhanced the existing flavor of the steak without overpowering it. It was extremely tender, too, making it one of the best steaks I’ve had. Usually, when I go to a restaurant specializing in steak, I don’t feel like the steaks are worth the price. This is the first time I didn’t feel that. The short rib was solid, too, although Larri and I felt like 12th Avenue’s original version was just as good if not better. The Brussels sprouts with pancetta were awesome, too. They reminded me of cabbage and bacon that my mom makes. The celery root puree might have been better. It had the consistency and look of really soft mashed potatoes. With the truffle essence, this was outstanding. Unfortunately, Larri wasn’t as enthusiastic about this dish. (She thought it was just OK.)

For my dish I had the roasted mountain meadow lamb loin. This came with spiced green olives, chickpea puree and confit big wave tomato. The spiced gren olives were crushed and sprinkled on top of silver dollar sized lamb. The lamb (a bit gamey) and the chickpea puree was just OK. The big wave tomato (which the waitress said took fourteen hours to cook) was awesome–sweet, concentrated tomato flavor! I was a bit disappointed at first, but taking a bite of all the ingredients together, and I started really enjoying this dish, especially finishing it off with the wine (a red from WA). It wasn’t very daring, but it made for a very satisfying combination.

My dish was followed by Big Island goat cheese mousse. This came on top of a anis-biscotti and white peach with maple syrup accent and hirabara baby greens. The wine was a Spanish white wine. There was a huge dollop of goat cheese, which I probably should not have finished. It went well with the peach, maple and biscotti. I think I would have enjoyed this more if I ate less of the cheese. The wine was awesome once again.

I think after this dish they brought up watermelon in champagne gelatin with some mint. Good and refreshing.

Finally, dessert. Larri had the lilikoi malasadas with pineapple-coconut ice-cream with guave coulis. The waitress this was dish was on the original menu, and I can understand why. It not only has that tropical-Hawai’i thing going, but it’s good. The malasadas were lightly fried (they were filled with lilikoi cream), and just tasted yummy with everything. Not super daring or original, but good nonetheless.

I had the chocolate feuillantine. This was a hazelnut chocolate marquise (basically a bar of chocolate), chilled mocha parfait (a small block of ice-cream), espresso granita (shaved ice on the top of the parfait) and a small dollop of grapefruit marmalade on the side. This is not a dessert I would choose, but all the ingredients worked nicely together, again, especially with the wine.

OK, so the verdict? I loved this place. The best fine dining experience I had was at the now closed, Padovanni’s*. This is definitely up there–the wine being a big reason for that. Imo, the quality of the food here is definitely above restaurants like Roy’s and Alan Wong’s–primarily for the blend of blend of flavors. Then again, I never had wine picked specifically for each dish–at those places.

The wine was a huge part of my enjoyment of the meal. It’s really interesting the effect the wine had on me. It wasn’t just about taste, but the sensation that you get from drinking a good wine. Your taste buds sparkle, become more alive. The scary thing is that I could have drunk bottles of the wine I had. (That’s one of the reasons I never wanted to get into drinking wine.) Just writing about this makes me wish I could drink some more now.

The other part of my enjoyment had to do with the blending of different flavors, the way these flavors and textures formed a complete dish–especially when the combinations seem unnusual or improbable. This is just as much a stimulation of the mind as the pallette, and it takes real skill and artistry to pull this off. There are dishes where the individual components can taste good, and, in fact, the entire dish tastes OK, but they don’t come together really well. (See the review above regarding Epic.) When you find a chef that can bring these flavors together in a subtle and sophisticated way, it can be a real pleasure. If you don’t care about what I’m talking about, then Chef Mavro is probably not worth the price.
The portions are small, although I was full by the end of the meal. (However, Larri and I ate a two or three pork hash and half moon three hours before the meal.)

Some comments about the service and ambiance. The service was very good. They were real attentive about refilling water and rolls. Our waitress wasn’t stuffy and basically didn’t bug us. The ambiance reminded me of a Waikiki hotel–you had nice vases of tropical flowers and paintings of Hawaiian themes.

I’ve been thinking about the difference between my experience of Padovanni’s and Mavro’s. I longed for the food at P’s days after we ate there. With Mavro, it was the combination of ingredients, but mainly the wine that sticks in my mind. In one sense, the individual components of the dishes at M weren’t very special but the combinations really worked well together. At P’s it was different. Well, I had the salmon confit, which was almost like a broth-stew. Larri’s steak with foie gras was killer by itself. At M’s you have a mini meal with starch, vegetables and an entre and they’re good together, but not individually. I’d go back to P’s just for the food. I don’t know if I’d want to go back to M’s without the wine.

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