Kai Market’s “living wall” of herbs and spices is so popular that chefs at other Sheraton Waikiki restaurants have been known to pinch from it when in need.
The living wall is a vertical grid of mint, basil, rosemary and other plants growing under warm lights and hydrated by a hidden watering system. Kai Market has three living walls — one by the restaurant’s entrance and two by the buffet line.
The walls, created by Greg and Terry Lee of First Look Exteriors in Waipio Gentry, have helped make Kai Market a popular draw since it opened Aug. 7. The breakfasts are attracting 600 patrons a day, while dinners bring in about 100.
Sheraton General Manager Kelly Sanders got the idea for Kai Market after a visit to Hawaii’s Plantation Village in Waipahu. Trips to the Bishop Museum and Maui sugar cane fields followed.
Working with the Hawaii Farm Bureau and Armstrong Produce, Sheraton helped persuade the state Legislature to enact Act 9 this year. The law established a Department of Agriculture pilot program to encourage farmers to form ag cooperatives with hotels and restaurants and to develop a safe food-certification process.
Sanders said only 10 percent of Hawaii’s approximately 300 farmers are certified for farm-to-plate sales. A $140,000 appropriation in Act 9 will help other farmers get certification.
Kai Market is part of a restaurant renaissance at the Sheraton that aims to please hotel guests and lure local residents into Waikiki.
The eateries include RumFire, which will have a new patio Oct. 24; the casual Ingredients; Yoshiya, featuring fresh sushi and bento boxes; the Twist at Hanohano for fine dining on the 30th floor; and the only Peet’s Coffee & Tea in Honolulu.
All told, the 1,636-room Sheraton, owned by Kyo-ya Hotels & Resorts and managed by Starwood Hotels & Resorts Hawaii, will have spent $192 million in renovations by the time work ends in December.
Kai Market’s evening business likely will pick up when the Sheraton opens the Edge of Waikiki Oct. 24, a vintage 1940s-1950s beach bar adjoining the market.
Kai Market is unique: a farm-to-table restaurant that offers dishes informed by Hawaii’s multi-ethnic plantation population of Hawaiians, Chinese, Japanese, Okinawans, Koreans, Puerto Ricans, Portuguese and Filipinos.
Sanders said no other Waikiki hotel or resort has an eatery like Kai Market. It supports local farmers, promotes sustainability, and feeds the Islands’ economy from Kahuku on Oahu to Kula on Maui to Punaluu and Hamakua on the Big Island.
“We wanted a restaurant that is true to Hawaii, not a facade,” Sanders said. “We also want to be modern and upscale.”
Kai Market’s “ono kine grindz” include crisp keawe and smoked bacon, eggs Benedict with Kalua pork, and Portuguese sausage fried “local style” for breakfast. There’s a crustless quiche with Maui goat cheese and farmed vegetables, and lilikoi, guava and taro breads with keawe honey.
(There is also miso soup with tofu and Nishiki steamed rice for those preferring Japanese cuisine.)
The dinner table includes Kahuku head-on prawns, sake braised beef short ribs, and Waimanalo spinach salad. While the menu changes nightly, alae salt-crusted roasted prime rib and a fresh catch of the day are always available.
To keep selections fresh and seasonal, all items are subject to change based on local availability. Portions are modest and do not sit under a heat lamp.
“In Hawaii we are used to potluck with family and friends,” said executive chef Darren Demaya, formerly RumFire’s sous chef who spent nine years at Alan Wong’s Restaurant. “We wanted to provide a relaxed, open feel for the restaurant.”
The adult price for the breakfast is $26, and $49 for dinner. Children’s prices are either half off or free depending on age and the number of adults in a party.
To emphasize the local, Kai Market has a monthly recipe contest, inviting residents to send in a favorite family dish with a brief family history. Winners get a weekend stay in the Sheraton’s Presidential Suite. Sanders samples the entrees and picks the winners himself.
There’s also complimentary parking and a 25 percent kamaaina discount.
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