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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Aulani's Restaurants in Review




Photo credit: Ami Brundick-Eller

The captivating Disney resort Aulani is nestled in the lush Hawaiian Island Oahu.  It is worlds apart from “real” life and perfect for a romantic getaway.  As with most any Disney resort, you can leave the property, but you in no way have to.  I don’t know about you, but I associate “romantic getaways” with good food…may be why I’m fluffy!  In any case, restaurants on property are something special if for no other reason than they are located in a picturesque region complete with palm trees and the bluest ocean as a backdrop.

So let’s start at the beginning shall we?  With breakfast at the ‘Olelo Room!


"Olelo Room; Ami B-E

There are several options to satisfy your hunger first thing.  Both of the sit down restaurants serve breakfast as well as the ‘Olelo Room, which is a counter service located just off the Makahiki restaurant on the first floor of the main building.  I woke earlier than my husband and decided to walk down to ‘Olelo and bring back breakfast.  Most of it was typical continental faire, but an added bonus was real Hawaiian coffee and fresh Papaya.


'Olelo breakfast; Ami B-E

The café has another clever feature.  The Hawaiian word ‘Olelo means language, and behind the bar area is the Hawaiian language “spelled” out for you.  Did you know that ‘Iole means “mouse?” I enjoyed a very pleasant conversation with a nice “Auntie” before heading back to my room.


photo credit: Ami Brundick-Eller


photo credit: Ami Brundick-Eller


Moving on to lunch, we’ll visit One Paddle, Two Paddle.  This counter service restaurant is tucked away around the back of the upscale ‘Ama ‘Ama restaurant.

One Paddle, Two Paddle; Ami B-E
Sure, they have your burgers, but they also have more island-y selections such as pulled pork, fish tacos and chicken or tofu lettuce wraps.  Sides are a choice of Taro chips or slaw made with sea asparagus, which is surprisingly very yummy.  This place is not the fastest service on the island, but you’ll appreciate the fresh taste.  Walk around to the side of ‘Ama ‘Ama and enjoy at a poolside table!

Chicken lettuce wraps; Ami B-E


Fish tacos; Ami B-E


Cocktail hour will beckon you to a little place called Off the Hook.
This sits right by the pool and has a bit of a view of the ocean.  Try to time it right with sunset and you will have a show as well!  Our visit was for drinks and appetizers.  They have several beer selections from local Kona brewery and an array of mixed cocktails.  I enjoyed a Pineapple Papaya Cosmo, which was as beautiful as it was tasty!


photo credit: Ami Brundick-Eller

We tried two different appetizers: Kobe beef sliders and shrimp with peanut sauce on sugar cane skewers.  In all honesty, I thought the shrimp could use a little tweaking.  The peanut sauce didn’t have the kick I usually enjoy and overall the flavor was a little bland.  The Kobe sliders, on the other hand, were juicy and scrumptious- this is coming from a non-burger person too.  Service has a little ways to go.  I am keeping in mind the fact that this place is only a baby…the grand opening hasn’t even happened yet.  Our server, Rochelle, was sweet as can be and embodied that beautiful aloha spirit, but when it came to being on top of our order…well, let’s just say that a more experienced waitress saw fit to check up behind her.

photo credit: Ami Brundick-Eller


photo credit: Ami Brundick-Eller









The bar itself was quaint.  I loved the décor and the feeling and the ambiance.  I honestly didn’t mind having to wait on our order.


Off the Hook at sunset; Ami B-E



Off the Hook
For dinner tonight, let’s visit ‘Ama ‘Ama- Aulani’s signature restaurant.  Right off the bat, the ambiance is to die for!  There is a story behind this restaurant and, I admit, it captivated me!  The restaurant is open air but consists of several different rooflines.  Aulani is oriented on honoring true Hawaii.  This restaurant is no exception.  Each roofline represents a new generation in one Hawaiian family.  Originally, this family lived in a very simple dwelling with a thatched roof and was designed to be at one with the sea.  They were fishermen and their lives depended on those gifts from the ocean.  As members were added to this Hawaiian family, so were additions made to the home.  Updated décor and rooflines were added in as well.  A fountain in the middle of the restaurant boasted modern features as well as an old water spigot and fish details symbolizing the family’s dependency on the sea.

Inside the older Ama Ama house-fishing net; Ami B-E

Water feature at 'Ama 'Ama; Ami B-E
The last streamlined building was the most modern.  I loved that this place told a story of history and Hawaiian culture.  Whether I was dining there or not, I was constantly captivated by it and enjoyed looking for details that might share more of the story.

he "Newer" building; Ami B-E

The "older" dwelling; Ami B-E










‘Ama  ‘Ama is open all day, but we made reservations for dinner.  We arrived just after the sunset storytelling on Makaola garden, when the sky was still a vibrant orange, the sea a deep cobalt.

view from our Ama Ama table; Ami B-E
‘Ama ‘Ama was just beginning to sparkle with candle and moonlight.  There was a small island band playing softly yet beautifully as a backdrop to the evening.  So far so good.  Unlike Off the Hook, service was consistent.  Remy was our server and she as well as others took very good care of us.  A gentleman named Beau who was particularly amiable seated us in a spot overlooking the lagoon.  After that, the food was acceptable.  I believe that in Aulani’s youth there are a few kinks still to be worked out on the menu.  We ordered a Bigeye Tuna and sea asparagus martini appetizer that was good and fresh, but very small for the price.

Bigeye tuna appetizer; Ami B-E
At $18, it barely filled half a martini glass.  My husband and I each sampled a soup.  I had a Kahuku corn chowder with Taro and Lomi Lomi salmon, which was rich and excellent.

corn chowder with taro and lomi lomi salmon; Ami B-E
My husband had a Hawaiian apple banana Maui onion soup that he thought tasted a bit too much like regular onion soup and not the exotic dish he was expecting.

apple banana onion soup; photo: Scott Eller
Our entrees came out similarly in that one was excellent and the other just all right.  My husband’s Island seafood stew with lotus root was a bit off-putting at first because he didn’t expect to see the heads on his shrimp, but once he tasted it, he had no complaints.

Hawaiian seafood stew with lotus root; photo: Scott Eller
I ordered the days sustainable catch, or fish of the day.  The fish was cooked very nicely with a delicious flavor and texture, but the sauce it sat in tasted much like tomato paste and not much else.

"Today's Sustainable Catch"; Ami B-E

It seems strange to say, but looking back on the experience my husband and I both agree that the highlight of the meal was the bread course.  I mean this with no disrespect to the chef!  With it came two native Hawaiian salts: one from Lanai’i and the other from Malaka’i.  Both were good, but that black salt from Malaka’i still resonates on our taste buds!  I need to find where to get some for home!


Black salt from Malaka'i and orange salt from Lanai'i; Ami B-E

Our final meal before leaving for the airport took place at Makahiki.  Once again, an open air establishment, but quite different otherwise.  This restaurant is full of original Hawaiian art and murals.

Mural and glass art feature in Makahiki; Ami B-E
The colors in the paintings are bold red and blues, which perform perfectly with the spectacular blown glass fixture representative of fruit and fish.  This outfit is a buffet and is open for breakfast with characters as well as for dinner.  Sunset is spectacular at any spot in the resort, but since this restaurant is located on the first floor of the main building, it does not have views of the oceans but rather the gardens and lazy river.  It is still a wonderful setting.  We went for the dinner buffet and were delighted by good service again.  The hostesses were gracious and engaging and our server BJ was attentive and good-humored.  The food gets no real complaints from us either.  There was sushi and Ahi on the bar as well as salads and fruit and rice and an abundance of cooked meats and vegetable dishes.

Makahiki Buffet; Ami B-E



Makahiki buffet; Ami B-E

I had never seen purple sweet potato before, but I enjoyed some here!  One of the most interesting items on the buffet was a “pocket” made of taro leaf, which wrapped around fish and pork and was then slow cooked.  The flavors were delicious, the pork wonderful and the fish, good, but the texture was a little gooey.  Still, a fascinating experience nonetheless.  The only issue we found, and one I’m afraid will be difficult to avoid, is that of flies.  Attendants were constantly swatting away with taro leaves to avoid fly contact with the food.  In such an open-air environment, this may need to be the case.  My husband suggested they may be able to subtly place fans near the food and perhaps the airflow would dissuade against the invasion.

Looking down on Makahiki; Ami B-E

I am excited for another visit after Aulani has had a chance to smooth out the wrinkles.  I have a sneaking suspicion that if it is this good now, it will blow the roof off any hale’aina in the islands very soon!
XO, Ami
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