The restaurant space at the Elleair Golf Course was vacant for several years after having been the Palms at Elleair and before that, Mulberry Street.
When veteran Chef-restaurateur Kono Akao opened Kono's on the Green there in March, it started off as a sleeper. No surprise, as the space is above Piilani Highway and out of mind to many diners.
But now, it's really starting to pop with its loungy feel of indoor and outdoor sofas and romantic sunsets overlooking Kahoolawe, Lanai and West Maui.
Bar Manager George Salamack (left) and Chef-owner Kono Akao toast to the new Kihei restaurant at the Elleair Golf Course in Kihei off of Lipoa Street below Maui Technology Park.
The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo
"The restaurant is 6,000 square feet and it took us just three months to renovate," says Akao, who also has owned Antonio's in Kihei for the past seven years.
"It's so romantic having a glass of wine at sunset. At nighttime, it's so beautiful with all of the lights."
Akao, who grew up in Kanagawa, Japan, moved to Maui at age 22 as a contract cook for the former Diamond Resort. He didn't speak much English, but he quickly moved up the ranks and became chef at Le Gunji and Taiko restaurants there. He was also food and beverage manager at Maui Beach Hotel for five years.
"I like to have Japanese, Italian, French and American food so everybody can come and people can have what they want," he says. "I like the concept of Cafe O'Lei and our menu is varied like that."
Last Friday, Akao launched a new sushi menu with California rolls, spicy tuna and rainbow rolls.
"Eventually, I'll have a full sushi bar for lunch and dinner, when I have the grand opening at the end of May or in early June," he says. "For now, it's served at dinner only, from 5 to 10 p.m."
You may also savor steamed fresh clams with garlic, white wine and basil; crab and shrimp croquettes; beef tataki-style with spicy daikon radish and green onions in ponzu sauce; and Hawaiian ahi carpaccio with fresh Kamuela tomato bruschetta and creme fraiche.
"We've got pizzas, pastas, organic salads, beet salads and French onion soup," Akao says. "Our best-seller is the rack of lamb with mint oil, pear compote and Maui potato au gratin sauce au port."
Most of the entree sauces are French, such as beurre blanc. Dive into poisson (fresh fish du jour); and the signature Kurobuta pork chop with red potatoes.
Lunch is more basic for golfers, and panini and pastas are popular. A lot of the Japanese visitors like salads for breakfast, so you may crunch these or order omelets, eggs Benedict or pancakes starting at 8 a.m..
Call Kono's on the Green at 633-4220