Reinvention is sometimes a necessary evil. In the fast-paced hospitality industry, particularly in the food and beverage discipline, it’s almost a requirement. Open since 1968, one of the first resort hotels in Poipu Beach on the sunny south shore of Kaua’i, the Sheraton Kaua’i Resort has seen its share of reinvention throughout the years.
On the Garden Isle it simply goes with the turf. The surrounding Koloa District was once one of the top sugar-producing regions in the Pacific. That halted almost completely during the early 2000s, and although some production has restarted to support local company Koloa Rum’s distilling operation, it is unlikely sugar will ever regain such stratospheric heights in the island’s economic hierarchy. The visitor industry operates in similar cycles; the island-hopping, resort-staying “trip of a lifetime” tourist of the 1960s morphed into the repeat-condo visitor of the 1980s, which is now passé compared with the million-dollar second home purchasers populating recently subdivided tracts of land in the nearby Kukui’ula development. Culinary tastes changed too – the Hawai’i Regional Cuisine (HRC) born in the late 80s seems to have reached a mature state, and some of the latest Mainland cooking and dining trends are starting to crop up the island’s resorts, where “safe” was long the most accurate descriptor when it came to food.
RumFire, at the Sheraton Kaua’i Resort is the renovation of three existing restaurant and bar spaces that seem to defy memory from previous visits, aside from having a reliable club sandwich. Fans of RumFire at the Sheraton Waikiki will find an eatery somewhat different from the upscale beach lounge-with-good-shared-plates they might be familiar with. Here, RumFire is cozy, with great views of what-other-word-to-describe-than-obscene sunsets over the Pacific, dark woods, high-backed chairs and booths, and an open kitchen that glows with oven fire. The weekday evening of our visit during the popular sunset hour managed to be quiet and intimate enough for thoughtful reflection or quiet conversation. There seems to be good acoustics for privacy; livelier tables and the even livelier bar were noticeable, but not intrusive from our windowed corner. If you’re booking a larger party, there’s a private dining room in a peaked corner immediately onshore – in the event the sunset doesn’t quite meet the standards that one quickly comes to expect in a place like Kaua’i, the vista over the lava rocks to the ocean is just as spellbinding.
At first glance the menu looks like your typical HRC hi-jinx, with a reliable selection of sports bar standbys and fancy restaurant favorites. But this is Kaua’i, and like many things on this enchanted island, the real richness comes in the layers. A closer look at the coconut – crab dip entry betrays the existence of smoked taro leaf. Well, that’s a new one. Brussels sprouts? Sure, they’re trendy these days—but wait a minute—they’re fried, and with Portuguese sausage, spiced macadamia nuts, and miso vinaigrette. That needs some investigation.
It was investigation that didn’t take long. The crab dip was so buttery, with so much richness added by the smoked taro leaf that it turned out to be a plate-scraper. The brussels sprouts were satisfyingly crunchy with just the right amount of fat from the sausage. Entrees of local Kaua’i shrimp and another of scallops were also memorable—not just done up in the traditional HRC vein, but more suited for a contemporary, somewhat more worldwide palate. As for desserts, a Spiced Rum Banana Lumpia (eggroll-style pastry) and Kaua’i Coffee Crème Brulee couldn’t possibly disappoint. Ice creams are from Lappert’s – a Kaua’i tradition – and will save you the trouble of venturing over to the Shops at Kukui’ula and standing in line at their storefront for an after dinner treat.
The appetizers are generously portioned for Hawai’i and there’s a fine selection of wood-fired flatbreads for those with less hearty appetites, suggesting that not every visit to Rum Fire will break the bank, but the kitchen certainly holds its own when it needs to shine for a multi-course special occasion.
Open for dinner Tuesday through Thursday 5:30 – 9; Friday and Saturday 5:30 – 9:30. Bar open Tuesday through Thursday until 10; Friday and Saturday until 11. Reservations suggested by calling 808-742-4786. Starters & Small Plates $8-18; Entrees/Mains $22 – $38; Desserts $9 – $11. Mahalo nui loa and Warmest Aloha to Sheraton Kaua’i Resort for furnishing accommodations and some meals in preparation for this article.