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Rays on the Bay

July 8, 2014

During our time on the Big Island of Hawaii, we stayed at the Sheraton Kona Resort at Spa at Keauhou Bay.  One of the big attractions of the Big Island involves something that takes place nightly at the hotel and in the waters of Keauhou Bay just off the beautiful black lava rocks upon which this hotel is built.  Each night, as the sun sets, flood lights from the hotel are turned on full power.  The rays of light shooting into the bay attract plankton.  In turn, the plankton attract manta rays.  Manta rays are the largest member of the ray family and can reach wingspans of 20 feet in length and weigh more than 3,000 pounds.  These black and white-colored gentle giants are strictly vegetarian and are drawn to this area solely for the plankton.  To highlight these beautiful creatures, the hotel has built a ground floor viewing deck that looks out over the bay.  Six nights a week, a naturalist comes out around sunset to give a presentation regarding the history of the mantas and their behaviors and characteristics.  You can listen to the presentation while standing at the platform watching these beautiful creatures swim gracefully by in search of their nightly meal.  For the more adventurous, you can book a scuba diving or snorkeling trip out into the bay at sunset to view the rays up close and personal.  And as these rays don’t have stingers and aren’t dangerous to humans, the only danger out in the water is from human contact with manta rays, which is strictly prohibited.

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Attached to the manta ray viewing platform is a large, open-air bar and restaurant on the ground of the hotel called Rays on the Bay, appropriately named, and decorated to honor the manta rays that grace guests with their presence on a nightly basis.  The restaurant is part bar, part lounge, part restaurant.  You’ve got oceanfront tables with firepits, there’s an large open-air bar, there’s lounge seating, there’s nightly local live music, and there’s quieter, more secluded tables for a more romantic atmosphere.  The restaurant is pretty to look at during the day, but really comes alive at night.  And all glory of outside dining at the restaurant is heightened when you stare out at the blue-green ocean and see a majestic 14 foot manta ray with its distinctive black and white coloring swim right by you.

After having spent the morning in Kailua-Kona exploring, and the afternoon relaxing on our lanai and watching the beautiful colors of the Hawaiian sun set, we thought that tonight, being Cinco de Mayo, would be a good night to dine at Rays on the Bay.  Obviously, being in Hawaii, Cinco de Mayo isn’t quite what it is back home in Los Angeles, but nevertheless, we figured it would be good to stay on the resort rather than wandering back into town and just have a quiet dinner while we watched the ocean waves lapping against the black lava rock and dined on local Hawaiian food.

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First off, to start the meal, we were given a plate of crispy flat bread and hummus.  I’m not generally a hummus fan, but this one was decent.  It’s something different from your traditional bread and butter basket that generally starts off most meals.

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My husband decided to try one of Rays on the Bay’s specialty cocktail drinks.  Their most popular drink is the restaurant’s signature drink, the Ultimate Dark & Stormy.  The cocktail is made with sailor jerry, lime, ginger beer and kraken dark.  At first, my husband was a bit hesitant about this drink as it contained both sailor jerry and kraken dark, both rums.  Unfortunately, of most of the liquors, my husband is probably least fond of rum because it’s so sweet and sugary.  But, I think that in the end, the lime and the ginger beer, two items he really likes, sold him on the drink.  After a sip of the drink, he actually discovered that he liked it, much to his surprise.  The ginger beer was quite pronounced and really cut through the sweetness of the two rums.

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After perusing through the menu, we couldn’t decide between a couple of different appetizers so my husband suggested that we just order both.  We didn’t actually have lunch earlier in the day, well, unless you could shave ice as lunch, and in the end, the appetizers were small enough that ordering both wasn’t actually that much food.  The appetizer that really caught my eye was the spider shrimp.  Described as crunchy phyllo wrapped shrimp with a spicy sweet chili dip, this sounded intriguing to me.  After all, can fried shrimp really be a bad thing?  Looking at the dish, you can definitely see why it’s called spider shrimp as the thin strips of phyllo dough are curled in every which direction look like spider legs.  I loved the crunchy, deep-fried phyllo dough.  It’s a play on the traditional breaded and fried shrimp.  The shrimp was sweet and the phyllo dough added playfulness and crunch to the dish.

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The appetizer which caught my husband’s eye was the smoked ahi poke.  Neither my husband nor I had ever had poke before, but we know that this was a favorite dish in Hawaii due to the abundance of fresh seafood.  After the waiter told us that they smoked their own ahi tuna for the poke, we had to give it a try.  The menu described the dish as fresh smoked ahi tossed with sweet onion, Big Island ogo, sea asparagus, togorashi and soy gelee.  I took the first bite of the smoked ahi poke and I was immediately in love.  I told my husband right away that he had to try it.  I think the first words out of his mouth were “wow.”  The smoked ahi poke was so fresh, and clean and tasty.  It was literally an explosion of flavors in my mouth.  The ahi was lightly smoked, but enough to taste the smokiness.  The sweet onion really added a punch and crunch to the dish.  I think it was the Big Island ogo or edible seaweed that added the punch of saltiness to the dish.  My husband and I both agree that the ahi poke was one of the best, and most delicious items we ate throughout our whole trip to Hawaii.

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For his entrée, my husband was feeling a good old-fashioned hamburger.  I think his comment to me was that he realized we were at a nice restaurant, but that the hamburger sounded really good.  Hey, if it’s on the menu and it appeals to you, why not order it?  Da BI Burger, as its known, is a 1/2 pound of Big Island beef patty served on a pretzel bun and topped with Hamakua mushrooms, smothered onions, roasted garlic aioli and with the addition of cheddar cheese and bacon.  My husband loved his burger.  The roasted garlic aioli with the smothered mushrooms was terrific and he loved the grilled pretzel bun that was used as well.   For him, the burger absolutely hit the spot.

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I decided to keep the seafood theme going with my entrée of Den’s crab crusted catch.  The catch of the day was some sort of white fish, which I unfortunately didn’t get the name of.  The fish was served with garlic seared kale, cherry tomatoes, boursin Yukon mash, and wasabi beurre blanc.  The fish was just ok, it was nice and flaky and tender, but it was a bit fishy.  The crab crust was fine, but I was hoping it would have been a bit crispier, maybe similar to a crab cake.  In this case, it was more like the crab was baked on, but didn’t really have a chance to set up on top of the fish, so the whole thing was a bit mushy for my liking.  The boursin Yukon mash was flavorful and rich and paired nicely with the wasabi beurre blanc and I loved the garlic seared kale, that was really delicious.  If I went back to Rays on the Bay again, I’d probably order a different entrée as this was ok, but not spectacular.

While my husband and I were enjoying our dinner, true to the restaurant’s reputation, we did actually see a couple of manta rays swimming out in the bay just off of the black lava rocks of the hotel property.  That was quite a treat for us.  We both tried, a bit unsuccessfully, to take pictures of the manta rays.  Oh well, we both know they were there.

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We ended our dinner meal at Rays on the Bay by splitting a dessert.  After checking out the menu, we went with Sam’s Kona coffee crème brulee.  After all, we are in Kona, we might as well take advantage of dessert enriched with the magnificent Kona coffee we just learned all about.  According to the menu, this crème brulee was named a winner at the 2013 Kona coffee festival.  Served with fresh berries, candied tangerine and Kona coffee crème, the dessert was served in a cute little coffee cup.  This was a terrific size portion for two people looking to split a light dessert.  I was a bit disappointed that the crème brulee was really kind of missing its torched sugar topping as it was more like a cup of Kona coffee custard.  However, that didn’t take away from the fact that this was basically an amazing up of Kona coffee custard.  One spoonful and the strong taste of wonderful, rich Kona coffee shines through like a bright star.  The fresh berries add a bit of tang and texture and a hint of freshness to the dessert, which is wonderful.  It’s like having an after dinner coffee in your dessert!

Rays on the Bay has an amazing outdoor dining atmosphere, exactly what you think of when you think of dining outdoors in Hawaii.  Being able to see the waves crashing against the shoreline and listening to the roar of the water as a light breeze cools the night air creates such a wonderful ambience.  The smoked ahi poke was one of the most amazing first bites of food I’ve ever had and that alone is well worth a trip to Rays on the Bay.  In fact, my husband said he could have ordered another bowl of it as his dinner and he would have been happy.  Of course, it’s convenient for us that this restaurant was on the grounds of the hotel that we were staying out so we didn’t have far to travel to get there.  If I were to find myself at the Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa at Keauhou Bay again in the future, I certainly wouldn’t hesitate spending a nice evening meal with my husband at Rays on the Bay.  Being able to see the majestic and magical manta rays swim by while you’re enjoying your dinner doesn’t hurt either.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 8, 2014 4:50 pm

    The appetizers do sound & look so nice!

  2. July 10, 2014 9:41 am

    It sounds wonderful.

    • July 10, 2014 10:41 am

      Your brother really enjoyed it. The ahi poke was AMAZING. And the atmosphere, being out in the open air right next to the ocean and seeing the manta rays was fantastic. What’s best? It was part of the hotel, so we didn’t even have to travel far. We met a couple later on the trip that was staying about an hour away from our hotel who had plans to travel to the restaurant just for dinner one night. We didn’t have to drive, it was just a walk from our room to the restaurant!

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