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Rapa Nui: An Intimate and Delicious Dining Experience

November 2, 2016, 11:08 AM HST (Updated November 4, 2016, 11:18 AM) · 0 Comments
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    Combine one part Chilean chef, with one part Italian mother and one part Spanish father. Add a dash of class and a pinch of sass for a mouth-watering fusion of global culinary nascency so delicious that words are insufficient to describe the experience.

    This one-of-a-kind dining adventure is found at Rapa Nui Cucina, a well-hidden gem that opened for dinner about five months ago. It is tucked away at Kona Joe’s Coffee Plantation in South Kona. A tiny sign marking the turn into the coffee farm sits discreetly on the side of the highway.

    Once inside,

    Rapa Nui Cucina's Chef Rodrigo Villarroel. Karen Rose photo.

    Rapa Nui Cucina’s Chef Rodrigo Villarroel. Karen Rose photo.

    and his maître d’ show you to your table. Friday and Saturday evening dinners start at 6 p.m., and with only four tables on the spacious lanai, reservations are required.

    Currently, guests can bring their own wine, as the establishment does not yet serve libations—a lovely perk for picky vino connoisseurs who wish to bring their favorite bottle or two.

    The view of the ocean and gardens looks like a surreal painting and provides a lovely vista for relaxing prior to dinner service.

    A native of Chile, Chef Rodrigo creates unique dishes inspired by his passion for fresh, organic ingredients and his love of feeding people. An artist from a very young age, he brings his talent to the kitchen, creating edible masterpieces in a setting so breathtaking it engages all the human senses.

    “I grew up in a country where you do not need labels to know everything is organic,” said Villarroel. “When I opened Rapa Nui, I wanted to have the best products and make sure that everything was organic. I grow much of my own produce here. I grow tomatoes and spices here, and the eggs have to be organic, too. If it’s not from here, it is imported from Europe. I bring in Prociutto di Parma and parmigiano. The focus is to cook healthy, very very healthy.”

    Born in Chile, his mother was a pastry chef and his father and uncle were artists.

    “We lived in a very big house when I was a child,” said Chef Rodrigo. “My mother had her kitchen in one part of the house and I was the delivery boy. On the other side of the house, my father had his studio and my uncle had another studio. I was very lucky that my parents were so good with me. Every time they saw me hanging around, my father would give me a brush and some paints, or if I went to my mother’s kitchen, she would throw me some dough and I would start making bread.”

    “I remember at 9 years old, my mother asked me if I wanted to learn to cook and I said yes, so she started teaching me,” said Chef Rodrigo. “In Chile, all the kids went to school in the afternoon, so in the morning, when my mother and father did their work, I was there. It was just me and my mother and my father in the house. We were happy and it was a privilege to look at what they did. I knew how passionate they were and I grew up the same way.”

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    Villarroel moved to Hawai‘i in 2005 and lived on O‘ahu for 12 years. He and his family have lived on the Big Island for over a year. He speaks of his passion to cook and serve high-quality food.

    “It’s essential for me to give good food to people,” he said. “Something you’ll notice in the restaurant there’s only four tables. I don’t want to have more than that. I worked for more than 18 years in very high-quality restaurants on the East Coast and in New Jersey, where people are very demanding.

    “I always look at my life as a soccer game,” he added. “There are two halves. I lost my first half but I’m really winning the second one.”

    “I’m 56 years old, have a wonderful wife and a wonderful kid,” said the chef. “I really don’t need that urgency. I don’t want people giving me five stars or three stars—I could care less about those things. What I do care about is having a restaurant that serves good food. I appreciate my life very very much. I have the ability to give good food to people and that’s all I want to do. As long as I’m here, I can do that.”

    The Friday and Saturday evening dinner menu is a five-course fixed menu.

    Chef Rodrigo visits with each table, explaining the dishes and how they are prepared.

    The first course was an appetizer of seared mahi mahi topped with a fondue sauce of wine, butter, cream and garlic, served with bok choy and fried tomatoes. The second course was an original minestrone soup made with organic ground beef, bacon marinated in wine and spices, which gives it an intense flavor, two types of beans and squash grown on-site. The third course was a combination of two salads—one made with local greens and a papaya puree, and the other a tomato and Italian mozzarella salad made with Italian parsley, fresh basil and cilantro. The main course was a delicious New York steak and lobster tail, followed by the final course of fresh gelato and cake, topped with fresh fruit and a brandy flambé sauce.

    “I want to keep it creative, delicious and organic—with great, fresh product,” said Villarroel. That’s the whole theme of the restaurant. I’m not a religious man, but dinner time would be my church because I enjoy it so much. It’s like when I did art, I never did something that was commercialized. I did things that were meaningful and it was great. That’s what it’s all about.”

    Rapa Nui is located at Kona Joe’s Coffee Plantation 79-7346 Māmalahoa Highway in Kealakekua. Reservations are required several days in advance; call (808) 747-1287.

    dining-lanai

    Rapa Nui Cucina’s dining lanai. Karen Rose photo.

    gelato-dessert

    Rapa Nui Cucina’s gelato dessert. Karen Rose photo.

    salads

    Rapa Nui Cucina’s salad. Karen Rose photo.

    soup

    Rapa Nui Cucina’s soup. Karen Rose photo.

    surf-and-turf

    Rapa Nui Cucina’s surf and turfi. Karen Rose photo.

    view

    Rapa Nui Cucina’s view from its dining lanai. Karen Rose photo.

    Karen Rose
    Karen Rose is a writer and journalist living on the Big Island of Hawai‘i. Her writing focuses on food, wine, travel, arts and entertainment. She never met a food she didn't like—except black licorice.
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