It looks like the kind of place F. Scott Fitzgerald would have taken Zelda had they elected to vacation at Kaanapali instead of the Don Cesar. It’s got an art deco-tropical aesthetic that my editor calls “gecko-deco,” a clean look with jungle accents. But Son’z at Swan Court, waterfall, diving swans and all, is far beyond the standard swank surf-and-turf resort dinner destination.
It was surprising, frankly, that the majority of those dining at this open-air spot on a recent evening appeared to be visitors. If that’s average, Mauians are missing out.
Affordability is always an issue at places like this, but the folks at Son’z have just unveiled a killer sunset dining deal: a three-course meal, including Cesar salad, choice of ono, island catch or Pappardelle Veneziana and homemade raspberry pie—for $19.95. Not bad.
Born in the Philippines and raised in the Hawaiian Isles, Executive Chef Geno Sarmiento has creative license for the menu at Son’z, which belongs to the same restaurant family Sarento’s and Nick’s Fishmarket. The result is colorful and intoxicatingly tasty fare.
Case in point: when the staunchest of carnivores raves about a place’s gazpacho, you know you’re onto something. The chilled, herbed Olowalu tomato, roasted red bell and apple soup is served with mango relish and topped with cucumber sorbet. If that wasn’t a perfect starter for a warm evening, the bubbly that wine and beverages director Ara Gurunian recommends with it, Charles De Fere Jean-Louis, brings it over the top.
I must note the wine list (which is more of an arsenal). Gurunian says theirs is one of the biggest wine cellars in the state. They’ve received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence every year since the restaurant’s 2005 inception.
When pairing wines with a multiple-course meal, Gurunian does the unthinkable: he goes out of order, jumping from chardonnay to merlot to Riesling without batting an eye if it suits a dish. Life is too short, he says, to follow the rules.
He pours Cono Sur, a Chilean pinot noir, with the vegan phyllo purse, phyllo dough wrapped around roasted vegetables. (Gurunian and Sarmiento emphasize that although you won’t see any vegan items on the menu, they’re happy to prepare vegetarian or vegan dishes if asked.) It’s topped with garlic and pine nut-tinged Romesco sauce and teeming with a rich, smoky flavor. As for my carnivore counterparts, a piece of tiger-eye sushi (with yellowfin tuna, asparagus and light tempura) sits on one side of the plate, joined on the other by sweet tiger shrimp on olive bread topped with creamy tomato sauce.
The salads on the menu are beyond what one usually expects, with components like roasted caper vinaigrette, hearts of palm, Asian pear and Kula corn.
“Our main focus is using local ingredients,” Sarmiento says.
Main course options include Hawaiian opakapaka picatta with sweet potato hash, caperberries and “overnight” tomato puree (which, as the name suggests, roasts overnight), and the grilled rack of lamb with kabocha gnocchi, blanched garlic puree, baby artichokes and mint pesto.
For vegans, there’s steamed tofu topped with pineapple ginger sauce served room temp over soba noodles, finished off with sizzling Szechwan oil (a dish that Gurunian says “screams for Risling”). Another option is the hearty grilled mushroom plate: portabella, shimeji, oyster and alii mushrooms, all grown on the Big Island’s Hamakua Coast, served over truffled mashed potatoes.
Those who prefer liquid dessert should note the drink list. While he says most people order mai-tais, bartender Eric Thomas shakes up a mean mango martini. Or try the key-lime martini, with its graham cracker crumb-lined rim.
A few of these delightful concoctions are an excellent way to wind down the evening in style, as the waterfall babbles in the background of this sparkling—and very hidden—gem. MTW