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Flagstaff House’s Tropical Tastes on the Terrace

Tastes on the Terrace ended before this could find its way to print, but I thought I would wax poetic here a bit about it—and don’t forget, you can still get tickets to celebrate the Flagstaff House’s 40th birthday this month!

One of my greatest foodie regrets is not visiting Monette’s restaurant while visiting the Big Island in Hawaii last summer. Chef Mark Monette’s other restaurant and tropical sister to the venerable Flagstaff House, Monette’s has, by all accounts, become a pillar of fine dining on the island.

But this summer, it was as though I had been handed a second chance on a white table cloth: through the end of September, the Flagstaff House is offering Hawaiian-inspired cocktails and small plates exclusively on its elegant terrace. While the views might not be of crashing ocean waves, they still rank as world-class ambiance fit for the finest of dining.

Unlike the main restaurant, seating on the terrace is “first come, first served” and reservations are not accepted, so my husband and I headed up the mountain early to make certain we could secure a spot on a Saturday evening. The terrace opens at 5pm, before the main dining room, and we had our pick of the tables with the best views—up to and including the family of deer grazing just below us on the hillside.

As the sun began to sink behind the mountains, we ordered up a pair of fruity specialty cocktails fit for the islands: a signature Mai Tai and the “Mo-Chee,” a mojito-inspired concoction with mint, lime and lychee puree. The service, even on the terraces, is impeccable, with just the right amount of attention from the wait staff that one is never left wanting, yet the expert servers manage to never feel intrusive.

We started with an order of Kona salt roasted beets from Cure Farm, served with an aged goat cheese from Haystack farm, an interesting blend of the local and exotic. The beets were salty-sweet gems that stood out against the classic cheese pairing. The Kona kampachi and Hawaiian hearts of palm arrived with a bed of arugula lightly dressed in a tangy lemon vinaigrette. The Hawaiian yellow-tail served sashimi-style had a strong, pleasant tuna flavor, and paired with the fish, the fresh hearts of palm took on an almost buttery flavor, adding a pleasant crunch to the dish.

We followed these up with the Founder’s martini, a Flagstaff House signature and excellent representation of the genre, and a Kona coffee cocktail with vanilla vodka, crème de caco and cream. I was expecting the coffee to be a hot drink, but it arrived on ice, cool, refreshing, and utterly addicting. Believe the hype; Kona coffee is some of the best in the world and it is highlighted gorgeously in this dangerously delicious cocktail, definitely my favorite of the night. Happily, the drink is served with the shaker, so just when you think it’s sadly gone, there’s another pour waiting to be enjoyed.

For a second course, we sampled the halibut cheeks, which were served with a fresh, fruity, tropical-style pico de gallo. Perfectly prepared, the sweet little medallions were excellent, but not revolutionary. More exciting were the Japanese-style buffalo dumplings. The rich heartiness of buffalo was an unexpected filling for light dumpling wrappers, but the fusion worked and was made all the more delightful by the heavenly reduction with which they were plated. Other dishes available continue the fanciful blend of local Colorado products with signature island tastes, including Kona coconut porter braised short ribs and house-made mozzarella with Anne’s mizuna and radishes.

The evening brought back just a hint of the islands for us on that cool, late summer evening. And, while not cheap (four dishes and four drinks tallied over $100), the smaller plates and smaller price tags could inspire a visit from guests who might otherwise be intimidated by the Flagstaff House’s main menu. These small plates can easily make a light meal, and in fact, our only complaint was that there were no sweet bites to round out the experience.

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