I had the good fortune to dine at CanoeHouse on the Big Island of Hawaii twice last year, seven months apart. Each time, my dining experience was spectacular, with a prix fixe menu that varied from visit to visit. Foodies will delight in presentation, atmosphere, and, of course, cuisine. The chef features local and seasonal ingredients elevated to haute cuisine.
Not surprisingly, given that CanoeHouse rates as the best restaurant I’ve encountered on the Big Island, dinner here costs more than most. Trust me, it’s worth it.
Dress: Smart casual, or dressier
Location: Auberge Resorts of Mauna Lani
Tips: Ask for a table facing the ocean (weather permitting, which it usually is.)
CanoeHouse on the Big Island
CanoeHouse is located at Auberge Resorts at Mauna Lani, not far from the Fairmont Orchid where we usually stay. You have to walk through the hotel’s spectacular lobby, then exit at the side. The well-lit path to the restaurant hints at the special dinner to come.
Although you can order à la carte, my husband and I prefer to sample what chef Matt Raso thinks are his best dishes. After all, he trained under Nobu Matsuhisa and oversaw three different Nobu restaurants.
The chef follows a similar template from dinner to dinner, starting with a raw fish course and ending with a fruit dessert. For my two visits, only the panacotta with granita and berries stayed the same.
The Nobu connection was immediately evident with the first course, both times sashimi. I especially enjoyed the hamachi sashimi on my second visit. The tang of yuzu, the bite of jalapeño, and the salt of roe played nicely against the delicate flavor of the raw hamachi.
That’s not to say that the Kona kampachi sashimi lacked flair, but it was more more simple, with a clean, fresh flavor.
Don’t expect ordinary salads at CanoeHouse. Both times, our second course featured more seafood than salad. The seared ahi tuna and seaweed salad, accented with black and white sesame seeds rated as some of the best ahi I’ve eaten.
The crab salad over bib lettuce with shredded daikon amd fried Maui onions was also delicious, albeit a little more rich.
Main Fish Course
Not surprisingly, given the abundance of fish around the Hawaiian Islands, the chef’s main fish course rates at one of his best. Still, on our first visit, he prepared a non-Hawaiian but still outstanding crispy skin salmon.
Our return visit featured opakapaka (pink snapper) with crispy lotus root, smoked red bell pepper, and yuzu sauce.
I found the meat course — in this case, both beef cuts — more ordinary than the other courses. And despite looking different, they tasted remarkably close to each other. Both used chimichurri as a topping, and while chimichurri tastes extraordinary on beef, I had hoped for more variation.
Both times, dessert was a panna cotta topped with a berry granita, fresh strawberries, and toasted coconut. Our first visit included mango.
The dessert was light and satisfying, especially after a long meal, but I would have preferred more creativity from the chef. The first time, the dessert was refreshing and interesting, but the repetition of it months later disappointed me.
I consider CanoeHouse at Mauna Lani to be the best high-end restaurant on the Big Island. After visiting Hawaii for years and staying just minutes from the Auberge Resorts, I have no idea how we missed this restaurant until recently. The view at sunset and just after cannot be beat. You might want to time your reservation accordingly. But even after dark, everything looks beautiful due to the lighting.
Although you can’t go wrong with the à la carte menu, I highly recommend the chef’s menu, especially if you are an adventurous eater. The cuisine here is spectacular, and if you consider yourself a gourmet diner, then it will be well worth carving out an evening for CanoeHouse.