With new chef de cuisine Michael Imada, Hoku’s still makes the cut.

What do you do when you already have something great? make it even greater. That’s what’s happening at Hoku’s at The Kahala Hotel & Resort.

The award-winning restaurant recently welcomed chef de cuisine Michael Imada and general manager Mikio Tomioka to its team, building upon Hoku’s outstanding reputation and signature culinary style.

The resort also recently was purchased by Japan-based Resorttrust Inc., which has plans to provide additional training to its current employees, including the staff at Hoku’s.

The Kahala Hotel & Resort has always been one of those hidden gems, tucked away in the quiet, affluent Kahala neighborhood. It’s one of those secrets we selfishly keep to ourselves, yet want to share with others because everyone should get to experience it.

Among the highlights of the resort are its exquisite dining options, including Hoku’s which opened 18 years ago and is located to the right of the main lobby. Consistently awarded the ‘Ilima Award for fine dining, the restaurant is known for its innovative menu of Pacific cuisine infused with global influences, as well as first-class service and a comfortable setting with breathtaking panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.

It’s one of Hawai‘i’s first dining rooms to have a show kitchen, and a rare combination of a kiawe wood grill, and tandoori and wood-burning ovens, which allow its chefs to create dishes using multiple techniques.

“Our menu is very opulent,” says Imada. “We have a lot of different cooking styles because of the space we have here, and all the resources we have in one place.

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Chef's Daily Pacific Catch—pan-seared opakapaka with pearl onions in a light citrus ponzu

“Also, we have the opportunity to use a lot of high-end ingredients. For example, we have Miyazaki beef from Japan—that’s the best beef in Japan. We also get diver scallops from the North East Coast and Nova Scotia; and the best king salmon from New Zealand. It’s about using the best quality ingredients, and using proper cooking techniques through a very well seasoned kitchen staff, and my vision is to just build upon that.”

Imada, who was born and raised in Hawaii Kai, discovered his passion for cooking as a high school senior working at Queen’s Beach Restaurant at Hawaii Kai Golf Course. He went on to earn his degree in culinary and pâtisserie arts from Kapi‘olani Community College, and worked at Hanatei Bistro, Hawaii Convention Center and Hyatt (The Colony Steakhouse and Japengo).

“I’m honored to be at Hoku’s,” he says, adding that his background is continental cuisine with a lot of Asian influences. “Hoku’s has a fine reputation. And, of course, working with executive chef Wayne Hirabayashi, I can learn a lot from him. The Kahala is such a special place. You can just feel it when you step on the property.”

Many of Hoku’s signature dishes are locally inspired such as the Ahi Musubi, Wok Fried Whole Fish and Short Rib Tempura. The most iconic, undoubtedly, is the Seafood Tower featuring an extensive assortment of sashimi, poke, king crab and lobster tails, and served with seven types of dipping sauces. Then, there’s the Miyazaki beef that just melts in your mouth.

A nightly special, the beef served is approximately six ounces and is prepared differently from week to week.

For whole fish, you can choose the size (from about 1.5 to 4 pounds) that is right for your table.

However, it’s recommended that you order ahead of time, as a limited number of fish is available each day and often sells out.

While most chefs are usually very protective of their recipes, chef Hirabayashi has been known to share his creations. Find, at left, the recipe for one of the most asked-about dishes, Hoku’s Ahi Poke Dip.

Despite being in a resort, Imada points out that about half of Hoku’s guests are local. There are many longtime regulars, including Honolulu socialites, neighboring residents and familiar faces, such as Jim Nabors and Jimmy Borges. Also recently spotted: Elton John, Dr. Dre and Alicia Keys.

For the upcoming holidays, Hoku’s will offer a special Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Dinner featuring a five-course, prix fixe menu ($90 per person, $120 with wine pairings) consisting of an amuse bouche of spiced apple cider; a first course of grilled marinated quail with an apple and fennel salad in a pink peppercorn vinaigrette; a second course of tender, delicate foie gras adorned with grape salad served on focaccia; an entrée of seared Colorado lamp chops with smoked Brussels sprouts, country fries, lingon berry and mint chutney and port wine reduction; and for dessert, cinnamon pumpkin tart, walnut brittle, mild chocolate mousse and candied ginger ice cream.

There’s also Hoku’s Christmas Day Brunch ($85 adult, $42.50 children age 6 to 12) with many holiday favorites, including king crab legs, Christmas rib roast and guava glazed ham. Also on the buffet line: a sushi bar, vegetable soup, baked sweet potato salad, chilled fresh lobster and oysters, roasted cauliflower with golden raisins, French toast with Nutella and marshmallow fluff, an omelet bar, Hoku’s signature Eggs Benedict and much more.

“During the holiday season, 90 percent of our guests are return guests who have been here through the years,” adds Tomioka. “So, it really is an ‘ohana atmosphere, and Hoku’s is a special place for them to come and eat.”

Hoku's signature Ahi Poke Dip

Hoku’s signature Ahi Poke Dip

Hoku’s Ahi Poke Dip

1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup gari shoga, chopped
1/4 cup green onion, chopped
1/4 cup Chinese parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons sesame seed, toasted
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup soy sauce
3/4 teaspoons white pepper
1/4 cup (approx.) unsweetened whipped cream
3/8 cup (approx.) raw ‘ahi, diced

Combine all ingredients except for cream and ‘ahi. Mixture can be stored for up to one week. Fold in whipped cream and freshly diced ‘ahi as needed.

Hoku’s, The Kahala Hotel & Resort, 5000 Kahala Ave., 739-8780 or kahalaresort.com

Photos courtesy The Kahala Hotel & Resort