Monday, September 7, 2015

Kauai vacation recap, Day 7: Botanical mini-golf and Bar Acuda

Kapa'a Multi-Use Path
Sunday, August 16

Our last two days in Kauai were spent relaxing as much as possible.  This morning we slept in, got coffee at the local Java Kai - excellent cold brew coffee and iced macadamia nut lattes - and then walked along the Kapa'a beach path and enjoyed the views and breeze.

With Kauai's famous "Red Dirt"
After getting sweaty in the humidity, we stopped at the Coconut Cup juice bar and got an iced coconut (lots of water inside and a sweet, creamy flavor) before driving to visit the Spouting Horn blowhole in Poipu.  We shared a quick plate lunch of shrimp and mahi mahi at Sueoka Snack Shop (a dubious-looking but tasty and cheap lunch spot attached to Sueoka Market, which looks like it's been there forever), and then got to the blowhole.  Turns out it's kind of a tourist trap: certainly entertaining to see the waves crash and the water vent upward a few seconds later, but that's in fact all there is to it, plus a bunch of souvenir stands.  You could say that it kind of blows.

We returned to the apartment and whiled away some time in the air-conditioning, and I started writing this travelogue.  Around 4:30pm we again drove north, this time to play mini golf at Kauai Mini Golf in Kilauea.  Years ago we had gone to the mini golf course in Redwood City but were sorely disappointed by the underwhelming and questionably maintained course, its proximity to the 101 freeway, and the streams of unruly pre-teens everywhere.  However, Kauai Mini Golf was the polar opposite, and indeed the best mini golf course either of us had ever been to.

It's essentially mini-golf built in a botanical garden, with informative placards at every hole describing aspects of Hawaii's history and the native plants on the islands (and represented in the garden).  Rather pricey at $18/person, but as we weren't planning on visiting any of the large botanical gardens on the island (there are three or four), we thought it was worth it.

We continued into Hanalei, encountering a sudden rainstorm as we parked at the Hanalei Pier and walked out to the covered deck at the end.  The view of Hanalei Bay and the valley is somewhat similar to the view from the St. Regis, but the location is within the bay and, conveniently, comes without a price tag.

The rain passed just as quickly as it had arrived, and we watched the clouds recede over the cliffs and the sun go down while stand-up paddleboarders meandered across the water and a couple small boats puttered by.

Dinner that evening was at Bar Acuda, a modern/local tapas restaurant started about nine years ago by the chef who previously owned the Slow Club in San Francisco.  As the Slow Club was where I had my first Big Foodie Experience, a memorable food festival dinner around 2008 that included the best roast chicken (with oyster mushrooms and polenta) that I had ever had, and since Andrew and I are both fond of the Bay Area food scene, Bar Acuda seemed to be an obvious must-visit for us.  It's a very popular restaurant and was fully booked, so it was good to have reservations weeks in advance. We were seated at a table on the deck - the restaurant is basically open to the exterior, and the "indoors" temperature is actually quite hot compared to the exterior.

We ordered as follows: tropical sangria (white wine with pineapple juice and rum), North Shore honeycomb with Humboldt Fog aged goat cheese (a clear NorCal shoutout) and Fuji apple; pizzetta with oyster mushrooms, ricotta salata, and sweet onion; flank steak with black pepper pineapple relish; and local Ono with daikon, carrot, and cilantro oil.  The honeycomb plate was excellent; I'm not generally a goat cheese fan, but this flavor combination was quite perfect.

The flank steak was also excellent, as it was much more tender and juicy than other flank steaks I'd tried, and the black pepper pineapple flavors lent it a tropical and Chinese (Szechuan in particular) hybrid personality.  The pizzetta was very good, though nothing too special.

The Ono was a little disappointing in that the preparation seemed to render this particular fish too dry.  The menu had advertised Uku fish, but the catch of the day was Ono, so perhaps the Uku would have been more harmonious.

Service was initially polished, but dropped off after the flank steak was served.  There was a long gap before the Ono, which was the last dish, and then after that plate was cleared, our server disappeared for over 15 minutes before returning to ask about dessert.  We had thought about dessert, but after the wait, we decided to simply get the check.  Between the variable quality of the dishes - at these tapas prices, one should expect a local fish preparation to be excellent - and the variable service, I would give a partial recommendation for Bar Acuda.  I think it was worth trying and we did enjoy our meal, but our expectations may have been a little too high.  It doesn't seem like Bar Acuda has much competition on the island, and it was apparently sold out on the night we went, so although it stands out for its style and trendiness within the local food scene, it probably doesn't have to be consistently great in order to thrive.