Anniversary Dinner at Jo2 Kauai
Last week Dan and I celebrated 16 years of marriage. We began the day with a walk on the beach and came across a heart that someone drew in the sand. We took a selfie and posted it on Facebook, which prompted one of Tasting Kauai’s fans to write, “Happy Anniversary! Now, I want to know WHERE do the two of you go TO DINNER to celebrate?”
This year, we chose Jo2 Kauai and here’s why.
We love the casual elegance in the middle of Kapaa Town. Going inside, it’s like a big city oasis with contemporary decor, air conditioning and a convivial atmosphere. The space is intimate and by 7 p.m., tables are filled, forks delicately clink against plates, copious amounts of wine are poured into fat goblets and laughter bursts from every table.
There are two things that I really like about Jo2’s menu. One: it varies all the time. Two: Jean Marie Josselin’s dedication to local ingredients. We enjoy seven delicious courses, but four stand out because the ingredients are sourced no more than 25 miles away. Ninety percent of Hawaii’s food is imported, so it’s a special treat to see a plate that is more than 90 percent local!
Local Carrots in Curry is made with two types of carrots. Nantes carrots, which are grown by Thai farmers in upcountry Kapaa, are heirloom varieties that date back to 1850s France. Oxheart carrots are tender heirloom roots that can weigh up to three pounds each.
“It took us about a year to get the Oxheart carrots on the menu,” Josselin explains to me over the phone the day after our dinner. “I worked with Phil Sheldon at Sheldonia Farms in Poipu. We had to find seeds and do some experimentation. The carrots take 6 months to grow. In that time they develop flavor, but you have to worry about the weather when they are in the ground that long.”
For the dish, both carrots get a 75 minute dashi bath, until they are just-tender. When plated, they are surrounded by a rich sauce made with lemongrass, ginger, kaffir lime, white wine, vegetable stock and
fresh coconut milk. Bright green splashes of mint and cilantro oil are drizzled on top, along with spicy wasabi flowers from Shamma Farm in Kilauea. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted such carroty carrots and the spicy sauce was the perfect counterbalance.
“They’re amazing carrots and that’s why I wanted them on the menu,” Josselin says. “We are creating a new type of cuisine on Kauai, with things that grow well here.”
Local Tomato Sampler is a study in fresh tomatoes. Up to eight types make it to the plate, and all are grown by Dylan Strong of Growing Strong Farm in Moloaa. The glory of a perfectly ripe tomato has the ability to steal time and I have missed that since I moved to Kauai. Tomatoes are notoriously hard to grow in Hawaii and can end up mealy or bug infested. Not at Jo2.
There are fat purple tomatoes, red cherry tomatoes, ruby-hued Roma tomatoes and wedges of yellow tomatoes. Pink diakon cut into butterfly shapes are draped against some tomatoes, and all of them rest in a pool of velvet gazpacho. A “soil” of charred scallions and vegan pesto made with local pumpkin seeds is scattered between drops of Chinese black vinegar and emerald-colored herb oil. Goat cheese from the Big Island is whipped with crème fraîche, basil oil and yuzu. It may sound crazy to you, but is dish was my favorite of the evening.
“The tomatoes are so beautiful, that I’m trying not touch them too much,” he says. “They speak for themselves. It’s like a great piece of music, you have to let the players play.”
Local Heart of Palm Ceviche is a vibrant salad. Heart of palm that was grown in Kilauea is cubed and scattered over local arugula. The addition of
diced local avocado, black cherry tomatoes and local cara cara oranges add juicy creaminess.
“The farmers harvest the palm trees twice a week for us,” explains Josselin. “That way they don’t get bitter or soggy. They’re nice and crisp. Since we get everything straight from the farmers, everything is really fresh.”
Green Bean Tempura is a fun finger dish that’s drizzled with spicy garlic sauce. The beans are battered with rice flour so there is no concern for those on gluten-free diets, something the Josselin considers for each dish. Sol Kahn grows black, yellow, green and dragon beans for Josselin at his farm in Moloaa.
“It’s a lot of work!” Josselin exclaims. “But it’s fun to have these relationships. Dylan, Phil and Sol really work for quality. Not too many farmers want to work with experimental crops like the carrots because it ties up their fields for six months and they don’t know if it’s going to work out. These farmers are not afraid to try new things, because if it works it’s good for them, too. I’ve worked with Phil for about 30 years, ever since I opened A Pacific Cafe in the early 80s. Dylan and Sol are the next generation of farmers who really focus on quality.”
With all that locally grown food, presented in such a tasty and thoughtful way, Jo2 is a natural fit for this year’s anniversary dinner. If you would like a intimate introduction to Jean Marie Josselin and private tasting at Jo2, join us on our Royal Coconut Coast Kauai Food Tour.