With chef Gilles Epié’s arrival at the Turtle Bay Resort as its new executive chef, Oahu now has three Michelin-star chefs in its midst. The other two are Maru Sushi founder Takeshi Kawasaki and Graham Elliot at Pounders at Polynesian Cultural Center. It’s quite a coup for the resort to bring Epié to the North Shore. He started his training at age 14 alongside chefs Alain Senderens and Alain Ducasse at Lucas-Carlton in Paris, then traveled the world to study global cuisine before returning to Paris. He gained fame at age 22 for being the youngest chef to have earned a Michelin star at Pavillon-Des-Princes in Paris in 1980. More Michelin stars followed at La Vieille Fontaine, his own restaurant Le Miravile, and La Petite Cour.
His career eventually led to Los Angeles where he introduced Provencal-style cooking to L’Orangerie and opened Chez Gilles before returning to Paris to run his own restaurant Citrus Etoile from 2005 to 2017, and to the United States again before arriving in the isles.
His new home is Alaia, the restaurant that replaced Kula Grille, part of a resort renovation that has introduced a world-class chic sophistication to the property, with plenty of open, yet cozy spaces in the lobby that invite guests to enjoy the evening entertainment or the glow of a fire pit. Meanwhile, the dining room has been refurbished with a clean, elegant global aesthetic with the sand and earth colors of a bedouin encampment, and a handful of wood-framed booths that add to the feeling of bringing the outdoors inside.
The resort’s North Shore setting comes with the need to accommodate patrons for whom there are few nice sit-down options for miles around, yet still want what they want. This puts Epié in the unique situation of serving guests who range from those who know his background and want the full French Michelin experience, to visitors with kids who just want a plateful of french fries, or who want a burger after coming in from the beach or pool. To his credit, he juggles both sets of expectations with the aplomb of someone who’s been immersed in the restaurant world all his life and understands hospitality means putting any vanity aside to accommodate all.
My dinner guest laughed at me for “ordering Italian pasta at a French restaurant.” But, hey, it was one of the dishes I was craving, and intended or not, I don’t think of Alaia as being a French restaurant. Since moving to this country, Epié has been recognized for creating modern French dishes with America’s melting pot influences and a regional, sustainable ethic, with veggies straight from the property’s farm.
It’s tempting to start overeating right away when you’re presented with ciabatta-style dinner rolls and La Conviette French butter in its bonbon-style wrapper.
From there, it’s perfectly fine to graze on starters that are generously portioned and share a main plate. Starters range from Italian burrata ($26) graced with baby tomatoes, pomegranate and basil, to a composed salad of cooked spinach topped with sweet Kona lobster ($49) and crunchy tobiko, sitting in a pool of coconut milk with an accent of wasabi.
Also from the sea is a refreshing dish of baby rock shrimp ($26) and diced avocado marinated in citrusy leche de tigre like classic Peruvian ceviche. Two more starters not to be missed are the caramelized octopus ($28) accented with smoked paprika and harissa aioli, accompanied by a lightly mashed salad of baby potatoes, and my favorite dish of the evening, the saffron fish soup, meaai kai kopa ($21). The chef does not skimp on the saffron, and flaked ono, ahi and mahimahi add to the soup’s rich body, with fillets of mahi giving its final heft. As much as I tried to resist filling up on bread here, once again, a giant “crouton” blanketed in Gruyère de Comté was my downfall.
Seafood comprises half the entrées, and these dishes seemed most pedestrian just because so many restaurants offer preparations similar to a sake-soy shutome ($30) and pulehu ahi with tamari ($45).
The simplicity of preparations is understandable given Epié is still in the getting-to-know-you stage in working with local fish and other homegrown ingredients.
I was most drawn to the filet mignon ($50) with Parmesan and peppercorn sauce, and satisfying linguini bolognese ($28) that combined pork and beef in a fresh, light tomato sauce, finished with shaved Parmesan.
You can add sides of french fries ($10), roasted asparagus ($11), mashed potatoes ($11), candied sweet potatoes ($16), grilled squash and zucchini ($10), and other veggies to round out your meal.
Desserts included a Valrhona chocolate cake ($18) and mango soufflé glacé ($21), a refreshing frozen custard topped with a layer of mango and a sprinkling of lime zest that gave it a pretty confetti finish.
Turtle Bay Resort
57-091 Kamehameha Hwy., Kahuku
Hours: Breakfast 6:30-10:30 A.M., Dinner 5-9:30 P.M
Prices: Dinner about $100 to $120 for two without alcohol
Nadine Kam’s restaurant visits are unannounced and paid for by Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Follow Nadine on Instagram (@nadinekam) or on YouTube (youtube.com/nadinekam).
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