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Rays on the Bay

July 15, 2015

After a long day of driving around the western and southern edges of the Big Island, spending some time on the beach, watching sea turtles frolic, taking a break at a bakery, and just enjoying the pretty scenery along the way, the 6 of us just wanted to find a relaxing way to end the day.  We threw around some potential dinner ideas, and of course, with 6 people, as my father-in-law pointed out to me a couple of times during the trip, sometimes you’re just not going to get everyone to agree and not everyone is going to be happy all of the time.  After having rested at the hotel for a couple of hours, we all finally decided that the easiest thing to do would be to just dine at the restaurant at the hotel.  This way, no one had to drive anywhere, we didn’t have to do anything special, we just needed to drag ourselves down to the restaurant.  Just to make it a little bit more special, and hey, we’re there to enjoy Hawaii, we booked a table at the hotel’s restaurant so that we were seated about 30 minutes before sunset.  Since the restaurant is open air, ocean side, we were at least guaranteed of a pretty spectacular view while we dined al fresco.

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Rays on the Bay is named in honor of the huge manta rays that flock each evening to the rocky alcove below where the restaurant is situated.  Drawn by the plankton who flock to the area each evening due to the flood lights the hotel shines onto the surface of the ocean, the mantas come to feed.  In turn, the people come out to watch these majestic creatures.  Rays on the Bay is the perfect setting to enjoy a meal, appreciate the scenery, and catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures of the ocean.

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You can’t come all the way to Hawaii, especially the Big Island, and not enjoy some of their tasty, ice cold brews.  Kona Brewing Company’s fire rock pale ale was on tap and my husband decided that nursing a pint for the evening would be his drink of choice.  Cool, crisp and refreshing, this Big Island brewed drink was just what my husband was looking for.

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To start the meal, my husband and I decided to share the ahi poke.  It was my goal on this trip to enjoy as much poke as possible.  After all, it is a Hawaiian speciality, and fresh tuna is so easy to come by.  Made with fresh caught yellow fin tuna and seasoned with guacamole mousse, onions, sesame seeds, chili oil, scallions and crispy lotus root, this ahi poke was refreshing and delicious.  On this dish, I actually appreciated the little bit of chili oil as it actually did give the tuna just that added kick of flavor and a tiny bit of heat.  The crispy lotus root might have been my favorite part of this poke.  First off, it just looks pretty, but it provides a nice crispness and contrast in texture to the fresh tuna on the plate.  The lotus root is also like a blank canvas that just soaks in the flavor of all of the other ingredients on the plate.  The tuna definitely tasted fresh and clean, and that’s something you really notice when you’re eating poke.  When we dined at Rays on the Bay last year, this was the first time my husband and I had ever had poke before, and returning this year and order poke again, didn’t disappoint.

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One of the items on the Chef’s Weekly Special caught my husband’s eye and he couldn’t resist ordering the pork and peas.  The current lead chef at Rays on the Bay, James Govier, who was born in Nebraska but moved to Kona 9 years ago to study the culinary arts, puts together a constantly changing weekly menu where he aims to create what he calls “Hawaiian fusion” food utilizing fresh local products from the Hawaiian islands. Described as twice cooked dry aged Duroc pork belly, pea risotto, shaved parmesan cheese and pea tendrils, my husband described it as delicious.  I’m fundamentally opposed to anything with the word “peas” in it, so I didn’t even want to look at his dish, let alone taste it.  My husband, on the other hand, seems to really enjoy ordering dishes with peas in it, especially if its fresh peas and in this case pea risotto with parmesan cheese and pea tendrils just sounded appealing to him.  And of course, let’s not forget the Duroc pork belly, which my husband said, its pork belly, how can that ever be bad?  While the dish looked more like green pea mush to me, my husband said that he was pleasantly surprised by the dish and actually really enjoyed the flavor of the dish.  He said he was surprised as the dish had a much tangier flavor profile than he had anticipated, but the pork belly provided enough saltiness to cut through the creaminess of the pea risotto.  My brother-in-law apparently enjoyed the dish as much as my husband did too as the both of them finished off their dishes completely.

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I ordered the farmer flatbread with a side of the works mashed potatoes for my main course.  The farmer flatbread was flatbread topped with kalua pig, beef short ribs, pepperoni, mozzarella, parmesan and marinara.  You’ve got to be a meat lover to order this farmer flatbread, but luckily, I’m one of the biggest meat lovers you’ll ever meat.  It’s hard, especially when you’re visiting Hawaii, to pass up kalua pig.  A Hawaiian speciality, kalua pig, when prepared correctly is so perfectly tender, and salty and incredibly flavored Hawaiian pulled pork, especially.  And beef short ribs are one of my weaknesses as I absolutely love the tender, fall-off-the-bone beef rib meat.  The farmer flatbread was like adding Hawaiian pulled pork alongside its equivalent beef counterpart.  How could you go wrong with all of that meat?  Add in just a bit of pepperoni, some marinara sauce and some parmesan and the flatbread was a wonderfully crispy, incredibly flavorful creation like none I’ve ever tried before.  A flatbread I really enjoyed.  The works mash was made with Yukon gold potatoes and mixed with bacon, sour cream (or in my case, without sour cream as I’m not a fan), cheddar cheese and green onions.  Can you really go wrong with potatoes with those kinds of toppings?  Especially if you’re a potato lover as I am.  This meal was a perfect pairing of the two things I love, meat and potatoes.

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After we had front row seats to view the sun setting into the depths of the Pacific Ocean out in the horizon and night sky take over as the snorkeling boats and sightseers came out to watch the majestic manta rays, we just had to end the night with a dessert or two.  Again, off of the Chef’s Weekly Special menu, my husband opted to order the strawberry-pineapple verrine.  Made with Kula strawberries, Dole pineapple, pound cake, vanilla cremeux, toasted coconut, crispy wonton, this had tropical written all over it.  Almost like a pound cake napoleon, I thought that the addition of the crispy wonton strips was ingenious and different.  The wontons created the texture contrast this dish needed, the pound cake provided a moist, but blank slate with which to absorb all of the tropical flavors of the strawberries and the pineapples.  And the vanilla cremeux just added to the tropical feel of the entire dish with the slight vanilla flavoring which just enhances the sweetness of the strawberries and the sweet tartness of the pineapples.  Using cremeux instead of whipped cream gives the dessert just an added measure of body as the cremeux isn’t as delicate as whipped cream and will stand up to the weight of the pound cake and the fruit.  My husband enjoyed the fruitiness, strong on the tropical flavors, of this dessert, and appreciated that it was still light and vibrant.

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My brother-in-law and I were of the same mind and ordered the chocolate decadence dessert.  Described as flourless chocolate cake with raspberry puree, caramelized banana and lilikoi cream, this dessert was much more rich, much more decadent with stronger, more prominent flavors than my husband’s dessert.  With the flourless cake sitting in a bed of raspberry puree with a bright, tart flavoring it created quite a flavor contrast between the bittersweet chocolate and the bold raspberry puree.  I would have liked to have seen a bit of a stronger, bolder banana presence in this dish as I think that the banana really could have balanced out the fruitiness of the raspberry puree.  And the lilikoi cream was a bit flat and disappointing as it was much more vanilla than tangy lilikoi, which is what I was expecting based on the description of the menu.  However, all in all, for the chocoholic in me, this dessert was fantastic as the bittersweet chocolate flavor really held its own against the raspberry puree, and the execution of the flourless chocolate cake was perfect.  A sweet ending to an exciting Big Island sightseeing day.

As a last minute decision to dine here for dinner, Rays on the Bay turned out to be the perfect ending to our first full day in Hawaii.  With the beautiful view of the setting sun while we dined, and the great company of family, this casual, relaxed experience was a perfect way to reminisce on our day and unwind after our sightseeing trip.  With the diverse menu, everyone was able to order something to eat which everyone could enjoy, which can sometimes be a challenge for a group of 6.  And we had the bonus of only having to walk around the hotel property to get to the restaurant after a long day rather than driving out somewhere to get to dinner, that’s never a bad thing.  A cold drink, great food, great company, and the Pacific Ocean as your back drop, what could be more perfect?

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