‘Ulu Ocean Grill at Four Seasons Hualalai

Restaurant Review by Living Hilo Style Foodie Contributor Misty Inouye

I’ve always been curious about ‘Ulu Ocean Grill + Sushi Lounge located at The Four Seasons Hualālai.  I must admit that I’ve surreptitiously studied it from a distance (similar to paparazzi creeping on a celebrity) when I’ve been on property and fantasized about dining there.

My fantasy came true when a few of us dined there recently.   ‘Ulu is a large, convivial restaurant that oozes genuine Hawaiian hospitality thanks to General Manager Chuck Wilson, Executive Chef Massimo Falsini, and special staff members like our server, Bronson.

The restaurant’s location is breathtaking due to its proximity to gorgeous Kaʻūpūlehu beach.   Although spending time at Hualālai is always a treat, our mission was clear that evening–good food and good wine!

Some of the evening’s offerings included:img_1904Hualālai Oysters with House-made “Hot Damskey” Hot Sauce:  I’m not crazy for oysters, but I enjoyed this dish because of the hot sauce.  It was “pika” enough to complement the delicate oyster, yet didn’t bang me over the head with heat.  Just right!Kampachi Sashimi: This dish was fantastic!  Kampachi is bred offshore in the deep waters off of the Kona coast.  Fortune Magazine dubs it “the wonder fish” because it’s “not genetically engineered in any way, is sashimi grade, melts on your tongue, holds up on the grill, and is so rich in oils that it’ll fry in a pan without butter.”  That night the delicate slices of kampachi were paired with Waimea strawberries that brought both sweetness and acidity to the dish.img_2168WOW Farms Heirloom Tomato Salad: This dish was the trophy buck of tomato salads!  The greens were yummy, but it was those heirloom tomatoes dressed in a nuoc cham sauce that stole the show!  I immediately remembered that one of my tablemates doesn’t like tomatoes and I thought to myself  “I wonder if she wants her tomatoes?  That still won’t be enough, I want five more orders of this stuff!”

img_2173Grilled Sriracha Shrimp: We were warned that this dish was spicy, but I found it well balanced and refreshingly different as the shrimp was thoughtfully paired with perfect little cubes of watermelon.  The spicy and sweet intermingled nicely.

Lobster and Shrimp Pad Thai: All three of my tablemates unanimously voted this dish as their favorite of the evening.  They loved the contrast of flavors and textures between the ever-so-delicate tempura battered lobster, combined with the earthy flavor and chewiness of the pad thai noodles.

img_2205“Takoyaki Style” Charred Local Tako: This was my favorite dish of the night. The tako was über tender and it’s perfectly charred flesh was both simple yet amazing.  It was served with tempura tidbits and “Japanese Barbeque Sauce” that, when eaten all together, is reminiscent of okonomiyaki.  Winnahs!

 Charred Hawaiian Hapu’upu’u: Hapu’upu’u is Hawaiian black sea bass and is a part of the grouper family.  I don’t think I had eaten hapu’upu’u before that evening. The perfectly cooked fish was quite a large portion, but we managed!  The kimchee romesco and citrus butter complemented the fish well and brought it to life.

img_2177Mongolian Beef: Do you remember the song “Regrets” by local 80’s band The Krush?  That’s what I was singing in my head the following day when I realized I only had one bite of this dish!  It consisted of luscious prime strip steak, oyster mushrooms and Maui onions.  Nothing satisfies like steak and this dish was no exception.

The Sides: OMG, the sides!!!  This is always my favorite part of a menu because the servings are smallish and I like to fool myself into believing I’m not eating very much, ha!  The sides that evening included a delicately flavored Mushroom Fried Rice, Kekela Farms Spinach & Swiss Chard, and my personal fav…Hilo Sweet Corn with Crispy Quinoa & Citrus Cream.  All of us had seconds (ok, I had thirds) of the Sweet Corn and when the bowl was finally empty and before I realized what I was doing, I had managed to put the entire serving spoon in my mouth to get one last taste …perfect Four Seasons Hualālai behavior for sure!

img_2200Soufflés: Souffles come with a reputation of being tricky and tempermental.   The two souffles that graced our table that night were models of the species.   Crisp powdered sugar-dusted tops with a fluffy interior that’s light as air.  The flavors served that evening were a Hamakua vanilla with strawberry compote and the second was Kona Coffee with an anglaise.

Coconut in Paradise: Confession:  I got a little excited about the taste of the sake pairing with this dessert (Tsukasabotan Yamayuzu, Kochi, Japan) that by the time I had a bite (more of a slurp actually) it had melted and looked like a bowl of pastel-colored paint.  I dove in anyway and immediately picked up the ambrosial lilikoi flavor, so good.  It was an utterly delicious end to our meal.

General Manager Chuck Wilson and Chef Falsini have so much to be proud of.  Each dish (and wine pairing!) dazzled us and was a clear portrayal of the talent and creativity of ‘Ulu.  Despite the luxe reputation of the Four Seasons Hualālai, I found ‘Ulu laid back and friendly.  Chuck, Bronson and the rest of the staff were extremely down to earth and so ‘olu’olu.Our dinner ended up being nothing short of spectacular – the food, the company, and of course the fun dinner conversation that flows so naturally between friends.  Before we knew it, the sun had found its way into the Pacific and the four of us agreed that the evening had been perfect.

In case you want more, here are some previously published posts about Four Seasons Hualalai happenings.

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