Dining at the Aulani Resort - Tables in Paradise
by, 10-15-2011 at 11:36 PM
Aloha and welcome back to our ongoing series on Disney’s new Hawaiian hotel, Aulani. We hope you’ve worked up an appetite, because today we take you to the restaurants, lounges and shops of Aulani. Options range from ocean view fine dining to quick service. Let's take a tour . . .
Perched at the edge of the resort just above the beach with wall to wall ocean views is Aulani’s signature dining room, ‘Ama ‘Ama. For a fancy restaurant, the decor is spartan and looks like an abandoned fishermans village. This is explained by the restaurant’s back story. According to legend Auntie and Uncle (who are the fictional family who are part of much of Aulani’s lore) have a beach house with roots which go back to the 1800s. The original house was part of a fishing village and added to over time as the family grew. Each room of the establishment represents a different generation. But the total look is not as haphazard as it may sound as the structure is completely open along the entire ocean-facing side with a simple and airy interior. The central design flourish is a fountain which reflects an ancient fish cleaning tank. Not everyone will get the backstory, but even so, the restaurant astounds with the main ingredient - view.
We experienced several meals at ‘Ama ‘Ama during our stay (breakfast, lunch and dinner). All exceeded our expectations in regard to exquisite food and friendly and capable service.
‘Ama ‘Ama is billed as contemporary island cooking. That's local ingredients prepared artfully by skilled chefs. As wonderful as the cuisine is here, the show is stolen by the phenomenal view.
Crystal fishing nets
The dinner menu at the time of our visit consisted of:
- Bigeye Tuna and Sea Asparagus Poke Martini - finished Tableside $18
- Hamakua Mushroom Tart with Baby Arugula, Coriander Crème Fraîche, and Parmesan $16
- Steamed Manila Clams with Smoked Pork Belly, Lemon Grass, and Espelette Pepper $16
- Kalua Pig Rillettes with Manchego Cheese Croquettes, Serrano Ham, and Romesco Sauce $16
- Crispy Curried Chicken Firecracker with Mango Gastrique $17
SOUPS AND SALADS
- Grilled Jumbo Shrimp with Hearts of Palm $18
- Island Field Greens with Papaya Seed Vinaigrette $12
- Kahuku Corn Chowder with Taro and Lomi Lomi Salmon $12
- Hawaiian Apple Banana and Maui Onion Soup Au Gratin $12
- Heirloom Tomato, Buratta Cheese, and White Corn Vinaigrette $15
- Whole Salt-crusted Island Sustainable Catch served with seasonal Vegetables and a Limu, Tomato, and Maui Onion Vinaigrette
- Market Price Island Seafood Stew with Lotus Root, Vadouvan, Herb Aïoli, and Croutons $39
- Seared Ahi Tuna and Shrimp, Kamuela Tomatoes, Basil, and Niçoise Olives garnished with Eggplant Caviar $36
- Grilled New York Strip with Creamed Swiss Chard, Soufflé Potatoes, and Poivrade Sauce $41
- Grilled Keahole Lobster with Lemon Grass Sauce and Korean Pancake Market Price
- Lacquered Chinatown Duck Breast with Potato Dumplings, Duck Confit, and Sweet-and-Sour Sauce $40
- Paniolo Rack of Lamb, Island Fruit, and Poha Berry Chutney $46
- Grilled Filet of Beef with Creamed Swiss Chard, Soufflé Potatoes, and Poivrade Sauce $49
- Goat Cheese Ravioli with local Baby Vegetable Stew $31
- Today’s Hawaiian Sustainable Catch Market Price
Whole Salt-crusted Island Sustainable Catch served with seasonal Vegetables and a Limu, Tomato, and Maui Onion Vinaigrette
Loco Moco lunch
- Coconut Panna Cotta with chilled Passion Fruit broth
- Liliko`i Meringue Mousse with Caramelized Bananas
- Hawaiian Chocolate Cake with Ka’u Coffee Cream and
- Caramel Chard Floating Island with Guava, Strawberry, and Lychee
- Pineapple Tarte Tatin with Caramel Cream
Liliko`i Meringue Mousse with Caramelized Bananas
‘Ama ‘Ama is an expensive but satisfying experience. You’re on vacation, bring an extra credit card.
Located just under the main lobby of the resort on the 1st floor, is Makahiki, a buffet service restaurant. At $43 for dinner and $32 for breakfast (lunch is not currently offered) we weren’t sure we were interested. For a bit more, you can have a delightful meal at ‘Ama ‘Ama. But we felt we should give the restaurant a try for the sake of covering it on MiceChat. Boy were we glad we did. This was not a buffet like any we’d experienced before.
The waiting area for Makahiki
The restaurant itself is a work of art, literally. With massive murals painted by local artists, we were overwhelmed by the craftmanship, colors and power of this establishment. That was complemented by a most friendly staff who went out of their way to make us feel like we were part of their family.
Dusty isn’t a big buffet fan because he doesn’t like food which is heaped in piles and left out for dozens of strangers to pick through. You won’t find that at Makahiki. The portions on display are very small, perhaps only enough for a few servings at a time and are therefore constantly being refreshed. The result is hot, well prepared food, the best we have ever had from a buffet at Disney or anywhere!
The options lean toward Hawaii and Japanese. Like most any buffet, you’ll find a section devoted to salads, but this one includes local options such as poi, Pohole fern salad, sushi, and Asian noodles.
You’ll find plenty of seafood options from Hawaiian sustainable catch fish, shrimp, squid, poke, sashimi and oysters on the half shell.
Next in line were asian items including the ever popula dim-sum, Chinese pork buns, fried noodles, wok-fried vegetables, assorted tempura, short ribs, soy steaks, lamb osso bucco and teriyaki tofu.
The carving station on the night we visited included peppered roast beef and a most delicious herbed carved turkey.
sides: roasted island sweet potatoes with macadamia nut butter, roasted vegetables, sautéed bok choy, mashed potato.
There were a delicious selection of desserts: macaroons, chocolate brownies, no sugar added mango cheesecake, guava cupcakes, pineapple-coconut cobbler, bread pudding, molten chocolate cake, freshly-baked cookies, banana cream puffs, coconut bars, fresh fruit with fresh whipped cream.
Breakfast is served daily (also buffet style) and a character breakfast is offered at Makahiki on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday only. We know this because early one morning, we heard a loud bell of some sort being rung while a female face character had a loud monologue welcoming everyone to breakfast. Not a great way for us to wake up, but I suppose the early morning diners enjoyed the show. Tip: if your room is located anywhere near Makahiki, keep your balcony window firmly closed or you’re likely to get a surprise wakeup call. Characters include Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and Donald. We were informed that Daisy stayed behind on the mainland to take care of Pluto. At least they didn’t kennel him. They are very carful at Aulani to tell you that the characters are in Hawaii “on vacation” and you’ll find them all dressed as tourists.
You’ll need to practice self-control, because Makahiki is all you can eat and you won’t want to stop. Seriously an unexpectedly fabulous experience at both dinner and breakfast.
As a side note, we became quite fond of the staff of the Makahiki and the adjoining ‘Olelo Room. On our departing day, several of them made a special point of tracking us down to wish us “a hui hou,” (goodbye in Hawaiian) and to exchange parting hugs. We haven’t stopped thinking about those wonderful people since the day we left!
THE 'OLELO ROOM:
Located next to Makahiki is the unique ‘Olelo Room, a lounge devoted to sharing the Hawaiian language. The bar area is filled with shadowboxes featuring common items and their Hawaiian name. The staff will great you in Hawaiian and will do their best to teach you a new word or two.
There is a small indoor bar and seating area and a large outdoor lounge area adjacent to a lovely little lagoon and fountain.
We sat waterside late one night and enjoyed watching the Koi fish swimming peacefully beside us while we snacked on sliders and sipped some fancy tropical drinks. It was such a magical spot that we just didn’t want to leave, so we lingered until it was time to go to bed.
Food here is very limited. Mostly just small portion bar foods. In the mornings, you can come here for coffee and pastries.
Aside from the inventive interior decor and zen-like outdoor lounge, the highlight of the ‘Olelo Room for us was Alohalani, the warm and personable hostess of the establishment who personifies the spirit of the ‘Olelo Room and the friendliness of the Hawaiian people.
Outside the Olelo Room
ONE PADDLE, TWO PADDLE:
This is an odd little counter service restaurant hidden around a low-traffic corner next to ‘Ama ‘Ama. Stranger still, it has no seating! While we were hungry for a quick bite one day for lunch (they serve sandwiches and wraps), we skipped One Paddle, Two Paddle because there was nowhere to eat! The restaurant feels like an afterthought and they really do need to carve out a little niche with tables and shade for their customers.
This is mostly the same menu you'll find at Off the Hook and Wailana pool bar as well.
OFF THE HOOK:
In the same building as ‘Ama ‘Ama and One Paddle, Two Paddle is another dining and lounge option with pool and ocean views. When we opted out of One Paddle, Two Paddle for its inexcusable lack of seating, we settled on Off The Hook instead. Lucky for us, it is a wonderful spot to relax and people watch. The menu seemed to offer the same fare as One Paddle, Two Paddle and we really enjoyed the pulled pork sandwich and the chicken lettuce wrap (with tempura style chicken). It was also a great opportunity to have a Mai Tai and take in the impressive scale of the hotel, pool area, and beautiful blue ocean.
The Wailana bar is off on its own, away from the main areas of activity near the secluded Wailana (adult) pool. Despite the remote location, the full menu from Off the Hook is available. We found this to be a great place to get away and there were some comfortable tables with an ocean view to settle into.
Fishbulb claims the drinks are better at this bar.
PAPALUA SHAVE ICE:
Located in the middle of the pool area is a tiny little shack serving flavored ice. At just $3.75, this is the best bargain in the entire resort. You can mix up to 3 different flavors.
We found mention of a frozen yogurt place but couldn’t find it. We searched the area of the hotel in which it was supposed to be located but just didn't see it. Later, during a tour of the resort, we found out why. Rip Swirl is located inside the teen center, called Painted Sky. Anyone can visit Rip Swirl (if you can find it), but Painted Sky itself is a teen only location which includes spa services, beauty supplies, video games and even a tiny store.
LAVA SHACK & KÁLEPA'S STORE:
There are two areas to shop at Aulani, a tiny poolside nook which is easy to miss and a modest shopping and provisions location just off the main lobby.
The Lava Shack is carved into the side of Pu'u Kilo, a man-made volcanic rock outcropping in the center of the pool area. It’s VERY easy to miss, but you’ll find it across from Papalua Shaved Ice (just look to the mountain). The shop looks like it came right out of Disney Animal Kingdom’s Dinorama, with license plates and nicknacks from around Hawaii decorating the walls and shelves. It is a cute but tiny little store and the perfect place to pick up a t-shirt, sunscreen, bottle of water or even refrigerated sandwiches. If you are at the pool and just want to a quick snack or soda, this is the first place you should look.
Outside is a self-serve soda fountain
Kālepa’s Store is more substantial, offering Hawaiian shirts, exclusive Dooney and Bourke bags, pins, gifts and a small convenience store. All of Disney’s Vacation Club properties have a store somewhat like this one which provides the essentials for your home away from home. We met many helpful cast members here who provided invaluable advice. It seems that every time we entered the store, the amazing Eldon was working. He always made his way over to see how our trip was going and to provide advice on what we should make sure not to miss at the resort. Without his help, we’d never had discovered the magical Menehune trail (which we are writing about next week).
Duffy's a long way from home.
There are a million and one tales and stories behind Aulani. To really discover the place, we advise you to talk to the people who know the resort the best, its fabulous cast members. Meet the magic makers and take their advice. From what to order to where to visit next, we put our trip into the hands of Disney’s finest and they led us to so many remarkable discoveries. And along the way, we made lots of new friends.
Don't miss the rest of our Aulani series (including our honest opinions about the resort and suggestions for making an Aulani trip more affordable). You won't find a better guide anywhere else:
- Part 1: Aloha, Welcome To Aulani
- Part 2: Rooms in Paradise - Staying at Aulani
- Part 3: Water Water Everywhere - The Pools, Spas and Beaches of Aulani
- Part 4: Dining at Aulani - Tables in Wonderland
- Part 5: Activities and Child Care at Aulani
- Part 6: Making Aulani Affordable-ish
See Aulani for yourself - contact MiceChat's approved travel partner, Fairy Godmother Travel.
Fishbulb is a Disney reporter and photographer who edits MiceChat's weekly In The Parks column and takes many of the photos you see on this site. He has recently joined Fairy Godmother Travel as a Travel Adviser for Disneyland and Hawaii vacations. If you have questions about Aulani or Disneyland or would like assistance planning a magical vacation, please contact Fairy Godmother Travel.
Disclosure: Portions of travel to Aulani were subsidized by the Walt Disney Company, though MiceChat incurred significant expense to bring you this coverage.