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Ainakai

June 26, 2014

When we arrived at our hotel in Kona on the first day of our vacation to check in, the lady at the front desk asked if we wouldn’t mind waiting for a few minutes as our room wasn’t quite ready yet.  As it was just a few minutes before 3:00 pm, we didn’t mind as we were a little early for the posted check in time.  We ended up waiting in the lobby for about 15 minutes before the lady at the front desk came back to get us and let us know that our room was ready.  She provided us a property map, explained to us how to get to our room since it’s a bit confusing as the property is large and broken up into various wings, and finally, she provided us with a one-time breakfast pass for two as she apologized several times for having to make us wait for our room.  We were so surprised as we hadn’t thought anything of it.  The wait wasn’t more than 10-15 minutes, and besides, the hotel’s posted check in time was 3:00 pm and we had arrived at the property prior to 3:00 pm, so therefore it certainly wasn’t the hotel’s fault that we had to wait for a room.  So, for her to offer us breakfast passes as a way to make things right, was a surprise to us, but certainly one we wouldn’t turn down.  Free food is free food, after all.

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Breakfast is served at the hotel each morning at Ainakai, one of the hotel’s restaurants.  You know you’re in Hawaii when there are surfboards used as decoration on each side of the entryway to the restaurant.  This beautiful, open air restaurant with views out to the ocean is the perfect breakfast location.  Like much of the hotel, it is built with a very open, airy and bright feel.  If you so choose you can either dine outside on the patio or inside the dining room.  Although, even sitting in the dining room it has a little bit of an inside-outside feel as the large floor-to-ceiling-glass doors along one wall of the dining room are thrown wide open during good weather so that even when you’re dining inside, it feels almost as if you are outside with beautiful views of the immaculately manicured grounds, the beautiful black lava rock upon which the property is built and of course, the blue ocean waves crashing against the lava rock.  The only thing that is a little off-putting is that with the doors open to the outside, that means outside elements, namely birds have free range of the dining room, so when tables are left unattended, the birds seem to find their way in to pick at the food.

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There are two different options for breakfast at Ainakai.  You can either opt for the breakfast buffet where you have an array of different options to choose from, or you can take the lighter continental option where they bring you some pastries, eggs and coffee/juice.  As our breakfast passes allowed us to go with the buffet option, we decided to take advantage of it.  As mentioned, there’s a large spread of breakfast options to choose from including both traditional breakfast items as well as Hawaiian specialty items.  Everyone loves eggs, right?  Or at least, for most Westerners, when we think of breakfast, we think of eggs.  They had both scrambled eggs and hard boiled eggs.  With the eggs, there were condiments on the side to add to your eggs – shredded cheese, salsa and caramelized onions.  There was also another egg option, which we’ll get to in a little bit.

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And of course, you have to have bacon and ham for protein, right?  What would a breakfast buffet be without bacon.  Bacon is the one thing you’re guaranteed to find at any breakfast buffet anywhere in the world – believe me, I’ve been to a bunch from Asia to Europe and they all had bacon.

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There’s also potatoes.  In this case, you had roasted potatoes with onions and red bell peppers.  One interesting note here, they actually left the seeds from the bell peppers in and roasted everything together.  The potatoes had a bit of heat imparted on them from those bell peppers.

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Ainakai also had Hawaiian specialties such as the traditional loco moco served in individual-sized ramekins.  Essentially, the ramekins were filled with white rice on the bottom, topped with a grilled beef component, smothered in homemade gravy, and topped with an egg over easy.  The idea is to crack the egg by digging into the ramekin with a spoon so that the creamy egg yolk runs all over the beef, the gravy and the rice.  For Hawaiian’s, this is comfort food and a traditional breakfast meal.  My husband loved this so much he devoured the entire thing, and if he hadn’t been full from trying everything else, he probably would have gone back for seconds of just the loco moco.

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For a bit healthier fare, there was steamed broccoli, bok choy, tomatoes and cauliflower.  Presumably these could go with your ramekin of loco moco, or maybe with your scrambled eggs.

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And for a Hawaiian flair on a traditional breakfast item, there was upside down pineapple pancakes served with a side of maple syrup or coconut cream sauce.  For me, these were more like upside pineapple bundt cakes rather than pancakes, but either way, they were good.  They were sweet enough from the fresh pineapples and the pineapple glaze that it didn’t need syrup on it.

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As Hawaii is an extremely popular holiday destination for Japanese tourists, Ainakai also catered to those tourists by ensure that all signage inside the restaurant was in both English and Japanese.  There was also a breakfast offering that geared more towards Japanese and Asian tourists to appeal to something they would be more familiar with having during breakfast time.  On the day we dined at Ainakai they were serving tofu crab egg drop soup.  While it may be particularly strange to some Westerners, in Asia it is quite common to have hot soup or hot porridge for breakfast.  My husband was disappointed that he hadn’t seen this section of the restaurant when we were dining there or else he said he would have wanted to give the soup a try.  He only knew they had this soup offered after he came home and looked through my photos!

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Another hot offering at the breakfast buffet was steel cut oatmeal with all of the fixings including brown sugar and golden raisins.

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For those looking for lighter options for breakfast, there was a whole array of yogurt offered.

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What about fresh sliced fruit for breakfast?  There was sliced pineapple, after all this is Hawaii, cantaloupe and watermelon along with whole oranges and apples.

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Interested in white toast, wheat toast, bagels, croissants, and various pastries?  Yeah, they had those at Ainakai too.  There was also a toaster, of course, for those who wanted to toast their breads, or at least heat them up.  And there was a selection of various jams, cream cheeses, and butter.

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For the kids, or even the kids at heart, there was cereal offered along with milk, either to drink or with your cereal.  Also, there was a selection of fruit juices for breakfast as well – orange, guava or pineapple juice to choose from.  Yeah, I might have had a couple of glasses of the guava juice.  It was mighty tasty!

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And possibly my favorite part of breakfast was a make-your-own omelet station.  Except this one had a little bit of a twist compared to most create-your-own-omelets, here you could walk up to a display, grab a small plate, and load it up with all of the fixings you wanted inside the omelet.  In most cases, you’d tell the cook what you wanted in the omelet and they would grab the ingredients for you.  At Ainakai, not only could you choose what you wanted inside your omelet, you got to decide just how much of each item you wanted inside your omelet.  Options included items like mushrooms, bell peppers, tomatoes, spinach, asparagus, bacon, ham and baby shrimp.

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Once you filled your plate with the items you wanted, then you just took your plate to the next station and handed it over to the cook who would then make your very own creation for you.  Of course, the cook had the most important ingredient – well after the eggs, of course – with him, and that was a whole container of shredded cheese, because, really, what’s an omelet without cheese?!?  There was no way I was walking out of here without making my own omelet.

My husband and I were so full from our hearty breakfast that we didn’t even need lunch that day, we just got by with a light snack – well more like dessert – at lunch time.  We were so surprised that we were given breakfast passes on the day we checked in because we had such a minimal wait to get into our room, but we were even more surprised when we used those passes to enjoy a nice breakfast buffet at Ainakai.  Ainakai was a great way to start our day and fuel us up for a day of sightseeing and shopping around Kailua-Kona.  When you’re not necessarily expecting anything, and then what is given to you is beyond what you could have believed, it surely makes an impression in your mind that sticks with you.  This is just one of the experiences that added our wonderful stay at the Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa at Keauhou.

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