... And one of my first major food epiphanies.
I’ve had a couple of food epiphanies in my life, but none more memorable than my first experience at Chef Mavro in Honolulu.
A few years ago while visiting the island of Oahu I quickly grew tired of the many overpriced mediocre dining options on Waikiki Beach where we were staying. So, desperate for a good experience I decided to do some research to find a nearby restaurant that wouldn’t disappoint. What I found was Chef Mavro. The restaurant looked very expensive, and I was nervous about splurging, but after reading reviews I quickly grew confident and paid them a visit.
George Mavrothalassitis, chef/proprietor of Chef Mavro, holds the prestigious James Beard Foundation award as the Best Chef in Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest. He also holds numerous other awards and recognition including being the only restaurant in Hawaii named in the Gayot Top 40 Restaurants in the U.S. 2008-2009.
Born and raised in Marseilles, the capital of Provence in
France, Mavrothalassitis received his training in contemporary French cuisine and owned two
restaurants in Southern France, but after his first visit to Hawaii he decided
to make it his new home, eventually opening up his own restaurant in Honolulu.
(France meets Hawaii, already a chef after my own heart, combining my two favorite places in the world into a restaurant concept)
What interested me even more in wanting to go to Chef Mavro was his concept around food and wine pairings. You will not find a wine list at this restaurant and you have four dining options to chose from (but can also mix and match). You can select from a three course, four course, six course, or the grand degustation of all of the dishes, all paired with specific wines. Mavrothalassitis is passionate about his guests truly understanding how food and wine compliment each other and enhance the dining experience, so four times a year he gathers his cooks, wait staff, and additional wine professionals to spend the day blind tasting wines with the recipes for the upcoming season. The winners are then selected to be on the menu, which changes with each season. I’d die to get to be a part of that selection process day… even if I was just a fly on the wall observing.
So on my first visit to Chef Mavro I was still in my pseudo-vegetarian state and hadn’t had a bite of anything that came from a cow or pig for over ten years, and was about to let my guard down for the first time in over a decade. The attitude I had going into the restaurant was “this chef seems to know what he’s doing, and has been recognized by the finest critics on the world, and I trust him.” Besides, what was I going to say “no, please hold all meat products?” I’d feel like that group in the movie “Last Holiday” (with Queen Latifah when the chef played by Gérard Depardieu got upset when everyone was asking for substitutions). I didn’t want to be “that” person.
My epiphany came on the third course; it was a side-by-side tasting of Kobe Beef and Braised Beef Short Ribs. When the braised beef touched my tongue it was an experience I had never had with food before. It melted just like butter and the flavors sang. I’m not kidding, they really did. I then, wide eyed, exclaimed to my husband, “If meat could taste like this everyday I’d be the worlds biggest carnivore!”
When our server came to check on us my husband decided to share with him what I had just said. Minutes later out walked Chef Mavro himself, and he came directly to our table, sat down beside me, put his arm around me, smiled and said (in the cutest French accent), “So, you like my beef?” I responded, “Yes, yes I do very much, it is delicious!” He then said “Why thank you, I am honored.”
Honored!? Chef Mavro, a James Beard Award Winning Chef honored because I liked his beef? It is I who should be the one honored to get to experience this long awaited food epiphany.
I can still remember that first experience like it was yesterday, and we’ve been going back at least once a year for the last three years and I look forward to it like a child looks forward to going to Disneyland for the first time.
So, a couple weeks ago my husband and I were back on Oahu and, of course, spent an evening at my favorite restaurant in the world. This time we decided to not get the same thing, so my hubby got the four course, and I the six, and shared so we could experience ten of Chef’s amazing creations. Here are the highlights:
The Art of Pairing Food & Wine
the four course:
VOLLRADS, 2004 RIESLING, RHEINGAU
DAY BOAT CATCH PROVENÇALE (pictured right)
crusted with black olive, cured lemon, big wave tomato, capers, fines herbes, braised fennel, lemon thyme emulsion
DOMAINE DE CHATENOY, 2006 MENETOU-SALON,LOIRE
The wine had this lovely salty quality reminiscent of the ocean, which is why it paired so well with the fresh fish.
ROASTED KUROBUTA PORK LOIN (left)
cured and crispy pork belly, fresh wasabi flavored green apple, purée of parsnips, sweet and sour pork jus
CESARI MARA, 2006 VALPOLICELLA SUPERIORE, RIPASSO
LILIKOI MALASADAS (right)
guava coulis, pineapple-coconut ice cream
BLANDY’S, MALMSEY MADEIRA, 5 YEAR
This was my husbands wine, but it was hard to not drink it all myself.
HUDSON VALLEY FOIE GRAS AU TORCHON (pictured left)
crunch of spiced marcona almonds, granny smith tomato marmalade-baby kai choy, caramelized fig vinegar, toasted portuguese sweet bread
FITZ-RITTER, 2007 GEWÜRZTRAMINER SPÄTLESE, PFALZ
The kind of foie gras and wine pairing that makes your heart melt!
TAMARIND ROASTED SABLEFISH (pictured right)
celery, cucumber and red radish marinated in yogurt-lemon-extra virgin olive oil, purée of garlic flavored with espelette
CHATEAU POUILLY, 2006 POUILLY-FUISSE, CUVEE 1551
Probably my favorite pairing of the night! I smiled throughout this entire course.
KEAHOLE LOBSTER PAELLA (left)
roasted red bell peppers, green olives, fried cilantro, lobster chorizo jus, saffron puff rice
SAINT CLAIR, 2008 VICAR’S CHOICE PINOT NOIR, MARLBOROUGH
Mmm mmm and more mmmmm
100% WAGYU BEEF (right)
strip loin, burgundy braised short ribs, cream of swiss chard, panisse batons, frankie’s fresh green peppercorn and sansho sauce
PAUILLAC DE PICHON-BARON, 2006 PAUILLAC
Braised beef short ribs. The meal that turned me into a carnivore! This, with the wine, was dee-licious.
BIG ISLAND GOAT CHEESE QUENELLE (left)
lemon verbena-watermelon rind chutney, poppy seed biscuit, hirabara greens
MILLESIME, 2005 SAUMUR CHAMPIGNY, LOIRE
CHOCOLATE AND BANANA (right)
chocolate banana crème caramel, chinese almond decadence, almond ice cream
WARRES, OTIMA, 10 YEAR TAWNY
I was so full by this point I don’t know how I was able to continue… but I did, until I finished every last bite and every last sip of this delicious tawny port.
I know these pictures don’t truly capture the essence of the experience, considering the lighting was fairly dark and my camera is a dinky little purse camera, but the presentation was beautiful, the service impeccable, and the meal certainly one to remember for years to come.
If you are a sommelier or a food and wine enthusiast this is definitely a restaurant to visit, even if just once in your life. It is indeed pricey, but so worth every penny. This is a place that truly understands the art of pairing food and wine in every single course and has continued to impress me with each visit. It is an inspiration for those (like myself) who seek to both create and experience a perfect food and wine pairing.
And thank you to Chef Mavro for giving me my first major food epiphany and turning me into an even bigger foodie, and yes, a carnivore!
What was your food epiphany? I’d love to hear about it.