The Bistro, Kilauea
Lush landscaping and plantation-style decor give The Bistro an easy charm. Located near the Kilauea Lighthouse, the causal restaurant has been serving lunch and dinner since 1999. Fronting the historic Kung Long Center, next to Palate Wine Bar and Palate Market, all three establishments are owned by Matt Ernsdorf.
In the late 70s, the building used to be a gas station. Gas pumps were out front and the kitchen was the garage. Later, Ernsdorf became a bus boy when the building housed Casa Di Amici restaurant, and after a successful career in real estate, he bought the building.
John Paul Gordon joined Matt’s team in 2004 and became chef de cuisine in 2011. Gordon was born in California and his family moved to Kauai when he was 7 years old. He apprenticed under Joseph Caulfield, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and long-time Kauai chef, but Gordon’s first cooking job was working the lulu at Tahiti Nui.
“It was a humbling experience,” recalls Gordon. “I was 13 years old and cutting fish bigger than I was. As a kid, you never really think about what to takes to eat food, but a lot of preparation, hard work and love goes into making food for people.”
At The Bistro, Gordon focuses on using fresh and local ingredients to create European classics with a decidedly Pacific taste. Gordon brings in fresh fish, Kauai Shrimp, produce from about 10 North Shore farmers and grass-fed beef from the West Side.
“When I started using grass-fed beef, I never thought there’d be a different taste,” explains Gordon. “But it has a lot more flavor.”
Curly Kale ($12) is raw kale “massaged” with earthy truffle oil and bright lemon juice, which cling to the leaves that are topped with slivered almonds and creamy Kauai Kunana Dairy goat cheese.
“Kale is very fibrous,” explains Gordon, “so we lomi it, which is massage in Hawaiian, to break it down. The lemon juice helps to do that as well.”
Fish Rockets ($9) are cigar-sizes pieces of ahi seasoned with furikake, wrapped in a lumpia and flash-fried. The crispy exterior encloses creamy ahi and it’s drizzled with wasabi aioli and herb oil, and served over coleslaw made with locally grown Napa cabbage, fat shreds of local carrots and tossed in a house-made dressing.
“This is chef Caulfield’s recipe and they’re so good, I have to keep them on the menu,” says Gordon. “I took them off once and had an uprising with our regular customers. I think I’m going to make them for the 2016 Taste of Hawaii.”
St. Louis BBQ Ribs ($14) take three days to make and won “People’s Choice” and “Best in Meat” at the 2015 Taste of Hawaii. Gordon starts by rubbing the ribs in dry spices and letting them marinate for two days. The ribs are braised, cooled and the grilled with homemade barbecue sauce and served with that terrific coleslaw.
Prosciutto & Goat ($13) is an addicting combination of prosciutto wrapped Kauai Kunana Dairy goat cheese with candied walnuts, craisins and Kauai honey. Smoky, salty and meaty melt into creamy goat cheese and then magic happens with sweet honey, crunchy walnuts and those tart craisins.
“I get my love for food from the island,” says Gordon. “It’s so easy too, because it’s a melting pot. We have so many ethnic groups. We have papayas and coconuts growing, fresh fish in the ocean. It’s fun to play with all that, and our menu reflects those quality ingredients simply prepared.”
There are 120 varieties of wine, a handful of martinis and six handcrafted cocktails. We appreciated the strength of the Mai Tai ($10.50), made with light rum, house-made juice mix, guava puree and dark rum. Coconut Cactus ($10.50) is a refreshing blend of Espolon tequila, coconut water, ginger and fresh lime juice.
Tip: Ernsdorf has banned all takeout containers so the restaurant will have less of an environmental impact on our beautiful island. That means no cups, no containers and no plastic forks or knives.
2484 Keneke St., Kilauea
Lunch: noon to 2:30 p.m.
Dinner: 5:30 to 9 p.m
Bar closes at midnight
Happy Hour: 4 to 6 p.m. with half off all wine by the glass, draft beer and mai tais.
All images copyright Daniel Lane/Pono Photo. For more information, visit www.PonoPhoto.com.