When one’s dining proclivities make a sharp and sudden U-turn from abstaining from red meat and pork for 25 years to attempts at devouring nearly ever chunk of beef and strip of bacon in sight, you have to know the fall off the meat wagon must have been a dramatic and glorious one. As such, meat is now my friend, with a particularly special bond of love formed between me and beef. And it’s a good thing, too, since I had my heart (and taste buds) primed for a burger or two while on the lovely island of Kaua’i, Hawaii.
Recommendations from several islanders led my husband and I to The Tavern, a relaxed and comfortable restaurant concept brought to the island by Roy Yamaguchi. Yes, the same Yamaguchi who is the James Beard award winning chef and culinary force behind Hawaiian Fusion cuisine and founder of the successful chain of Roy’s restaurants—31 throughout the world.
Those wandering into The Tavern expecting a typical Roy’s experience would be surprised to see a much more laid back atmosphere and an almost bar-like dining ambience. Unfortunately, you can still expect to see roughly the same price points on the dinner menu as at Roy’s. However, one taste of the food and soon what you pay may quickly become a moot point.
The dinner menu’s starters offer a dozen selections from land and sea, most notable of which is the Backyard Ahi Poke with ogo, inamona and sweet onion. Other selections include the Tavern Onion Soup Gratin, which was swimming with mounds of sweet onions that nearly compels one to dive in head first. Some variations of onion soup, despite the proliferation of onions, are oddly lacking in that wonderfully punch-packing onion flavor, but not this soup.
The Macadamia Nut Pesto Flatbread, which was equally aesthetically pleasing as well as a gratifying experience for the palate, was also large enough to feed two to three hungry mouths. With just enough toppings to keep the flatbread from sagging, the ingredients joined forces to form a mouthwatering mélange of deliciousness. Simultaneously crispy and gooey, the leftovers made for a great lunch the following day.
Having experienced two starters that received two thumbs up, expectations were riding high for the entrées. Funny thing about expectations: as they soar high above the clouds, so too can they come crashing to the ground with a resounding thud. Luckily, our optimistic outlook fared for the better.The Braised Short Ribs were so tender they practically scoffed at the knife and fork, while the savory flavor was worthy of a close-your-eyes-and-hum moment. The accompanying cheese grits were a side dish (but in this case, they were used to anchor the short ribs) that any Southerner would be proud to serve, right alongside the country bacon green beans.
And then there was the burger.Ahhh, The Tavern Burger reached a new high plateau on the burger-ometer. What set this burger apart from nearly all others was not the caramelized onions, although they were divine. Nor was it the melted smoked gouda cheese, even though that gave the burger an extra oomph. It wasn’t even the chipotle aioli that made this burger so special, but in the interest of full disclosure it did add a wildly unique touch. The crowning glory to The Tavern Burger was the bacon. Don’t roll your eyes and blow an exasperated blast of air through your flared nostrils because this was no ordinary bacon … this was katsu bacon. This bacon offered the best (and quite possibly the worst) of both worlds: it’s bacon and it’s breaded and fried. No, your arteries won’t be thanking you anytime soon if you devour something like this but your mouth certainly will. As did mine.
I won’t go so far as to say this was the best meal to ever cross my lips, but it was an hour well spent with a bit of damn good eating. The one regret is that we had not visited The Tavern during daylight hours so that we could have ooh’d and aah’d at the magnificent view of the greens on the pristine and immaculately manicured Princeville Golf Course. However, should you find yourself yearning to visit one of the lovely islands that make up the 50th state of the union and aren’t thrilled at the prospect of an overcrowded and touristy Big Island, Maui or Oahu, jump on a plane to beautiful Kaua’i and motor towards Princeville where you’ll find The Tavern. It will be well worth the visit.
The Tavern at Princeville, The Prince Clubhouse at Princeville Resort, S-3900 Kuhio Hwy, Princeville, Kaua’i, HI 96722 / 808-826-8700