I’m a morning person when it comes to optimal brain function, but given a choice, I’d rather not get out of bed. Technology has helped me deal with the dichotomy because I can now dictate my stories into my phone’s note feature, maximizing work time without missing a single moment of rest.
But, some things are worth getting up for, and one of them is every day brunch in The Artisan Loft at Dean & Deluca.
It’s a calm, small and intimate space for sophisticates in the know, making it a pleasant space to hang out morning, noon or night. For the most part, casual shoppers at the market below aren’t even aware of the second-floor dining space’s existence. That’s because most people instinctively refrain from going behind the counter at someone else’s place of business. All that’s visible from inside the market is a service door and perhaps service elevator, but it’s that elevator that leads to a different world, where glass windows stream light into a boutique space seating about 24.
It’s astounding that two, and soon to be three, Dean & Deluca stores in Hawaii are the last American outposts of this gourmet grocer. The chain’s New York flagship store in SoHo closed last month.
The first Hawaii store opened in 2016 at the Ritz-Carlton with a New York state of mind, but after a year evolved to focus on the local, which extended from adding poke to its deli cases to expanding from charcuterie boards to full-service meals upstairs. Tightly edited menus at each sitting provide plenty of wow factor despite their brevity.
Mornings offer a pleasant introduction to work being done here by executive chef Kevin Carvalho, who grew up close to the land, hunting, fishing and gathering, and lives part time on the Big Island. The restaurant is small enough to enable him to gather fruit and other edibles from his own garden for the table, as well as fresh catch from fishing excursions.
He doubles up on the ohia honey that accompanies two fluffy souffle pancakes ($18) presented in a small cast-iron pot. The honey is stirred into mascarpone, and is added to syrup that fills a small squeeze tube for those who need an additional infusion of sweetness as they eat their way to the bottom of the pot. Below the pancakes is a minute jam of seasonal fruit. To balance some of the sweetness, Iberico prosciutto salt is sprinkled over the mascarpone.
Each dish has an optional wine pairing selected by sommelier Rebecca Sinn. The pancakes are paired with Flor prosecco.
The pancakes would serve as a nice dessert to close a more savory meal. Two dishes you don’t want to miss are the bouillabaisse ($25) and Egg Osmosis ($18). The bouillabaisse is one of the best I’ve had on Oahu, with no skimping on the saffron and an eye-catching presentation in which the seafood is plated over a river rock, which helps the pour of broth retain its heat. Beyond appearance, this also prevents the Kona abalone, Kauai prawn and seared opakapaka from stiffening due to overcooking.
Before you order, you can look at the photos of the dishes on an iPad, so there’s no guessing as to what you will get. How does one picture the Egg Osmosis, for instance, vs. the more relatable Kunoa beef wagyu loco moco ($25)? With the Egg Osmosis ($18), a sous-vide Petersons’ Upland Farm egg caps a glass of swoon-inducing truffle vichyssoise. At first bite, I lamented the small size of the glass, but it was so rich that I ended up full, especially after dipping accompanying toast points into it. To make sure diners are sated, the dish also includes a couple of bites of soy-glazed braised pork belly from Pono Pork.
During pau hana hours, five grazing dishes are offered for $20 each, paired with a complimentary glass of wine. This is also a dinner option until 6 p.m. — options include margherita and duck prosciutto flatbreads, a charcuterie board, bruschetta of the day and smoked marlin pate for dipping taro and purple sweet potato chips.
Again, incorporating luxe ingredients, dishes are small but filling. Many can be shared or enjoyed individually. In some cases there are small and large options, such as a burrata caprese ($12/$20) with chopped heirloom tomatoes, micro basil, aged balsamic and guava bread croutons, and Hokkaido scallops and foie gras ($15/$26). The smaller plate offered two brown butter-seared scallops and one piece of seared foie gras with a sprinkling of lavender ash salt.
The chef’s philosophy showed most prominently in a dish of garlic wagyu ($25) featuring two medallions of beef, one topped with hoio fern gremolata, the other with pickled mustard seeds, plated with squid ink and a trio of sushi- size mounds of truffled rice. Guests who love a show might prefer a more dramatic offering of a butter sous-vide tomahawk steak ($60).
With such temptations as Kunoa Farms bone marrow ($30) topped with ahi tartar, a duo of duck (roast duck and a confit, $25) and the Alii Charcuterie Board ($40) of the day’s best selection of meats and cheeses, it’s easy to overlook the small list of sides at the bottom of the menu. But one of my favorite dishes is the side of roasted truffle Hamakua mushrooms ($6), plated with dots of Big Island lemon aioli and a dusting of beet powder. I would eat this every day if I could.
A small dice of confit potatoes ($8) was another favorite side. This may not be exciting for some, but I just happen to love potatoes in every form.
Watch for news of more extensive chef’s table dinners when Carvalho is able to offer a hyper-local experience, featuring ingredients from opihi to ohia lehua blossoms. The next one is tentatively slated for Feb. 28 and may feature a Napa, Calif., chef collaboration.
THE ARTISAN LOFT, DEAN & DELUCA
Ritz-Carlton Residences, 383 Kalaimoku St.
>> Call: 729-9720
>> Hours: Brunch 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., pau hana 4 to 6 p.m. and dinner 4 to 10 p.m. (last order 9 p.m.) daily
>> Prices: Brunch about $50 for two; dinner about $70 to $80 for two without alcohol
Ratings compare similar restaurants:
**** – excellent
*** – very good
** – average
* – below average
Nadine Kam’s restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Advertiser. Reach her at email@example.com.