Note: In 2017, our blog posts will be less frequent. We’ll continue to update the book and app, but I will be writing a cookbook! I submitted a book proposal to Andy Ross, an agent I met at the 2016 Kauai Writers Festival, and he is now representing me. I look forward to sharing my progress as I move through this exciting project. In the meantime, Dan and I wish you the very best of the holiday season and an exceptional 2017!
The Local Kauai Kitchen & Bar opened on Nov. 25. Located in the former Eastside Restaurant, the focus is simple food in a casual setting with a seasonal “small-plate” menu that showcases local ingredients.
The Local’s cocktails are a rare find, and I recommend drinking one at the bar with TLK Bar Nuts ($6), an addictive blend of macadamia nuts tossed with fried kaffir lime leaves, Hawaiian chili peppers and Kona sea salt.
“The cocktail list has a colorful theme, says Joshua James, head bartender. “Hawaii is a mecca for fresh fruits and herbs, and we are constantly sourcing local produce for our drinks.”
All cocktails and craft beer are served in Mason jars. They all include 2-ounces of liquor, are $12 each and don’t contain artificial flavors or colors.
Dragon’s Breath, with gin, vodka and Kauai Juice Company Dragonfruit Kombucha, is bright pink. Blue Majik, a blue-green algae extract, turns the Blue Room with Maui Wave Rum, neon blue. For the smoke-colored Lava Rock, Joshua steeps Buddha’s Hand citron in vodka then adds activated charcoal and lemon juice. The Local Mai Tai is made with Kunana Farms tangelos and passion fruit juice and Old Lahaina light and dark rums; and the bright green Garden Isle is a refreshing blend of Maui Organic Ocean Vodka, ginger, cucumber, mint, basil and lime juice.
Up to 90 percent of The Local’s ingredients come from the state of Hawaii. Every Saturday morning, co-owner and chef, Erin Keller, shops at the Hanalei farmers market, and again every Wednesday afternoon at the Kapaa farmers market.
Erin grew up roaming 40-acres near the Lost Coast of Northern California. Her family lived off the grid, grew organic vegetables and tended orchards. After graduating from the California Culinary Academy Le Cordon Bleu, Erin’s externship was at Portland City Grill. She’s cooked at PokPok, a James Beard Award winning Thai restaurant in Portland. Andy Ricker, a 2011 James Beard Best Chef Northwest Award winner, taught Erin how to refine Southeast Asian techniques before she helped him open Ping, located in Portland’s Chinatown.
After working at Lucier and Metrovino, both in Oregon, she moved back to California to open Secret Slice, a mobile wood-fired pizza catering company. Later, she set up the truck at the Portland Farmers Market, opened EK’s Creme Brûlée, and catered Oregon wine country events, weddings and private parties.
When she moved to Kauai as executive chef at Happy Talk Lounge in Hanalei Bay Resort, she met general manager, Jose Cortez. Today, the couple are business partners.
“We like to eat and drink well,” says Jose. “So it made sense for us to open a restaurant that showcases locally-produced products.”
Shaved Zucchini Salad ($15) is a light yet substantial raw dish. Slivers of local zucchini and butternut squash are tossed with toasted garlic, Kunana Dairy goat cheese and a warm bacon sherry vinaigrette. A drizzle of Kilauea honey mixed with truffle oil ties the sweet and savory elements together.
TLK Grass-fed Beef Burger ($18), is a juicy, get-your-hands-dirty kind of burger made with Wailua Meat Company’s ground beef, which is aged for up to 21 days at Hanai. The burger has a pleasing herbaceous note because extra virgin olive oil is mixed into the ground beef. It’s served on a soft bun, made especially for The Local, and topped with aged Cheddar, thick-cut crispy bacon, baby arugula and jalapeño-pineapple jam. House-made taro and purple sweet potato chips are piled alongside. For an extra $3, you can substitute with fries and house-made ketchup.
The Local’s Clam Chowder ($17) is the most exquisite I’ve ever had. It’s in direct contrast to the weighty New England version that’s as white as a Northeast winter. Erin’s is brothy, with half heavy cream and half seafood stock, which is made with Kauai Shrimp shells (the shrimp is tossed in a creamy salad that’s stuffed into a buttery roll, $17). The flavorful broth isn’t thickened with flour, which makes it satisfyingly light. Cubes of tender carrots, potatoes and celery are nestled inside plump Kauai Clams. The soup is garnished with chili pepper water from Kauai Juice Company and little buttery crotons.
“I like to keep it simple in the kitchen,” says Erin. “Jose likes to keep it simple up front, and we definitely are striving to keep things quality.”
The Local Kauai Kitchen & Bar
4-1380 Kuhio Hwy., Kapaa
Wed. – Sun.
Bar: 3 to 9 p.m.
Dinner: 5 to 9 p.m.
All images copyright 2016 Daniel Lane/Pono Photo. For more information, visit www.PonoPhoto.com.