Friday, April 29, 2011

Hakone Buffet at the Hapuna Prince Resort

Stone Crab Claws
The Hakone Buffet at the Hapuna Prince Resort on the Big Island’s Kohala Coast is a delightful dining experience. I visited the newly re-opened space with two friends recently and was dually impressed with the restaurant’s interior and the food.  Service was impeccable even though a buffet is not usually something that requires much service. Our server was extremely helpful and had been working at the hotel for 12 years. At the buffet, platters were rarely empty; they were swiftly replaced so that all of the guests had access to the myriad of foods available. The steamed washcloths were presented to us were a lovely touch.
There was a slight challenge in finding the restaurant for those of us who had never been there before. It is only open for the Buffet on Saturday nights, which I hope they change soon. I would love to come there for more meals. I frequently stay at the Hapuna Prince and I would enjoy being be able to dine here several times during my stays. We did locate it and once inside were impressed with the interior. Rich woods and sumptuous banquettes line the room with tables & soji screened dividers placed at the proper distance for enjoying one’s meal. We never once encountered someone else’s dinner conversation even though the place was nearly packed with diners. The feeling you get there is a hushed one; you almost 
want to speak in a small voice while dining there in a sense of reverence of the space.
Fresh Somen Noodles
The theme of the buffet is Japanese and Hawaiian food. The Chef and his staff go all out with their creativity using local seafood, produce and ingredients whenever possible. While agreeably a little import here and there is appreciated, as with the huge blocks of under lit ice featuring mounds of steamed shrimp and stone crab claws.
Shrimp and Stone Crab Claws
I have learned with buffets, it is far better to use a small plate and only put a few things on it at a time. You may have to make a few more trips back, but the food is far more enjoyable when eaten in courses and when things are not piled on a plate and commingled. Hakone offers typical large Japanese lacquer trays as well as large and small plates to procure food from the many stations.
Salads and Pickles
I started with the On Ice & Chilled Station featuring the Peel -n- Eat Shrimp, Stone Crab Claws served with Cocktail Sauce, Clarified Butter and Lemon. Also featured here was a really fantastic version of Cucumber Namasu. I went back three times for that, the flavors were perfectly balanced. There was some traditional and very good island style Ahi Poke from fresh local fish.  The Ogo (Tomato/Onion Salad) was bright and crisp. There was the local style Potato-Mac Salad and Braised Potato with Goma (sesame sauce.) Somen Noodles were served with a dipping sauce along with a Green Salad with Sweet Onion Dressing, lovely soft Chilled Local Tofu with Daikon and Ginger , spicy Cabbage Kim Chee, some incredible Spicy Bean Sprouts that I went back for more of, a lovely selection of Assorted Japanese Pickles which are among one of my favorite food finds in Hawaii. There was also a dish of Spiced Local watercress and Hawaiian Style Tako Poke.
Local Fresh Silken Tofu
Sushi Maki
Pacing oneself at a buffet is important. It is too easy to take large portions and end up full midway. I was a trouper when it came to pacing myself. just little tastes of this and that. There is a nice spread of sushi which has been scaled down in size to small mini rolls & sashimi which were quite tasty. The sashimi was also exquisitely fresh and clean tasting.
Clams in Sake Black Bean Butter
And then you come to the hot foods… Tempura and Things. Perfectly cooked Shrimp & Vegetable Tempura with Dipping Sauce made me smile. My favorite tempura vegetables are sweet potatoes and green beans and being able to select my own was a treat. Usually when you order Tempura, the chef decides what veggies you get. Here I could just have my favorites. There was Tri-Tip Teriyaki Steak, Green Onion Tonkatsu, a beautiful Chefs Day Boat Fish Composition, Local Style Grilled Shoyu Chicken, some awesome Steamed Clams with Sake-Black Bean Butter, Chicken Katsu, Assorted Dim Sum Baskets with Hot Mustard Sauce, one of my favorite things: Traditional Miso Soup w/ Garnish and of course a huge pot of steamed rice.
Local Fish in Cashew Butter Sauce with Local Tomatoes and Red Scallions
Katsu Chicken
Dim Sum
For dessert (as if there was room) there was a huge table laden with Chef Ross’ Mochi Selection, beautiful Sliced Tropical Fruits and Assorted Mini Pastries. At the table tea was served with these and we shared little bites because we were so full.
The Buffet is available only on Saturday evenings from 6pm to 9 pm. Cost is $54.00 for adults and Children are $27.00, excluding tax & tip. 

Menu items and prices are subject to change without notice.  Reservations are suggested (the place was completely sold out the night we went.) Call (808) 880-1111 for reservations. 

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