Kona Cafe made some waves last month when some significant menu changes were brought to light. That includes the removal of the Big Kahuna breakfast and the elimination of the entire lunch menu.
Here’s the current breakfast menu:
The main idea is similar with every entree on the left side of the menu returning. But the Polynesian Egg Platter is all-new and the Kona Eggs Benedict replaces The Samoan, which was previously “Poached Eggs with Hollandaise served over Pulled Pork Hash.” That description may be more attractive to tourists than “Poached Eggs with Citrus-Chili Hollandaise Sauce and Char Siu Pork Belly on Toasted Hawaiian Bread.” Gone also is the Steak and Eggs entree, as well as the Egg White Omelet and Blueberry Pancakes.
The specialty beverage section sees some changes with the various drinks and flights. The Mimosa Flight is particularly popular with the ladies.
But this time around, we’re focusing on lunch and dinner, the menu of which is now identical for both meals:
On the Appetizers front, the Crab Cakes used to be served with a Jalapeno-Lime Cream.
And looked like this, with a strange, almost mashed-potato-like texture.
The Seasonal Soup during our visit last week was a Tomato Bisque, which seemed odd for Polynesia. The Kona Salad remains the same in name-only. It used to be heavy on the blue cheese with a citrus vinaigrette. The Island Tuna Poke is brand new, and while it’s probably no substitute for the Togarashi Ahi Tuna that used to be available as an entree, it might be a nice way to start a meal. The descriptions on the Pot Stickers and Sticky Wings are different, but the presentations should be the same. We’ll check in on that after 5,000 more words introducing the menu.
The sushi offerings are also quite different with the popular Volcano Roll, Spicy Tuna Roll, and Vegetable Rainbow Roll getting the boot, among others. There seems to be much more of a focus on nigiri and sashimi, ostensibly because it’s easier and less time-consuming to place a piece of tuna on top of a pile of rice than it is to create a roll.
Lunch/dinner entrees see even greater changes and I don’t think there’s a single item on the menu that was the same as before. Items like the $24 “Kona Coffee-rubbed Pork Tenderloin” have been replaced with the $27 “Duo of Pork.” The $21 “Pan-Seared Taal Chicken” is now a $23 “Lemongrass-scented Airline Chicken Breast.”
But while prices have increased on a number of entrees, it’s a bit curious to see less expensive items on the dinner menu as well. Before the menu change happened last month, the average dinner entree price was $21.13, with prices ranging from $19 for the “Vegetarian Pan Asian Noodles” to $34 for the “Grilled New York Steak.” Now, the average entree price is $22.50, with prices ranging from $14 for the “Open-Faced Turkey Sandwich” to the same $34 for the “Miso-Buttered Strip Loin.” So in that respect, pricing is similar with a couple of items added on the low end.
But I’m going to miss the lunch options, and the Polynesian Plate Lunches, in particular. It was fun to hop on the monorail and take a break at Kona in the middle of the afternoon to pay hamburger money for a steak.
But there are still less expensive items available in the burger and turkey sandwich and the Asian Stir Fry and Shrimp Salad also come in under $20.
Here’s the current drink menu:
The Beer Flight is a fun presentation and offers an opportunity to try three decent beers, even if the Kona Brewing Company is being sued for misleading buyers into thinking their beer is actually brewed in Hawaii.
It had been a while since I had visited Kona for dinner – it’s historically been one of my favorite lunch spots, so I’m not sure how long ago they switched to these rolls.
I loved the loaf. The current rolls are appropriately fluffy, but the sweet pineapple flavor is barely present and honestly, if pineapple wasn’t mentioned when it was delivered, I’m not sure I would have even noticed.
They’re still pretty good, but the novelty of sharing the loaf was kind of fun and the sweet pineapple flavor was a lot more pronounced. The current version is still good though and some people may prefer the ease of tearing off a roll.
We started with the $24 “Kona Sampler Large – Three pieces of Nigiri, Four pieces of Sashimi, Four pieces of our California Roll and Tuna Poke.” It’s $4 more than the “Small” and includes five more pieces, so it seems like a no-brainer to go big. I thought the presentation on the elevated wood board was a classy touch.
The Nigiri was of appropriate quality – we’re obviously not in Jiro Dreams of Sushi territory here, but the fish was thick and fresh on top of the vinegared rice.
The Seaweed Tempura was a bit of a surprise – very salty encased in the crispy tempura.
The “California Roll with Jumbo Lump Crab, Citrus Mayonnaise, Cucumber, and Avocado” is a highlight. The rice is delicate, yet firm, and real crab goes a long way to improving the flavor profile, which is spiced up nicely with the creamy, acidic citrus mayonnaise. I typically go in a more interesting direction than the California Roll when it’s offered on a menu, but this was really good.
The Sashimi is identical to what tops the Nigiri, but since we were sharing among three people, it offered a nice opportunity to try another variety of fish.
The Tuna Poke was presented nicely inside of the rolled cucumber slice, but there was little flavor. The wasabi inside the lemon was a nice touch and there was plenty of ginger to go around.
Overall, it was a nice, refreshing way to start the meal with a variety of different flavors presented in an elegant fashion. We enjoyed it.
I’ll start with my $34 “Miso-buttered Strip Loin – Scallion-Mashed Potatoes, Misoyaki Baby Eggplant, Sake Reduction, Wild Mushrooms, Scallion Ash” because it was fantastic.
Ordinarily, I avoid the various steaks at standard Disney restaurants because it’s always the same “New York Strip.” But this was anything but – incredibly tender and cooked to a beautiful pink medium. The miso adds an interesting saltiness to the creamy butter that’s further enhanced by the intensity of the sake that’s fortified with some soy and fish sauce. The mashed potatoes did a proper job of soaking up any remaining sauce and each bite had a nice structure from the eggplant, like they had just been smashed together by hand moments ago. The mushrooms had a nice earthy chew to them and there are a couple of tomatoes on the plate for another burst of fresh juicy flavor.
Altogether, it was one of the five best steaks I’ve enjoyed on property – I really liked how the Asian flavors complemented the charred, bold flavor of the beef. Really incredible.
The $23 “Lemon Grass-scented Airline Chicken Breast – Asian-style Chimichurri, creamy Jasmine Rice, Seasonal Vegetables.”
They perhaps need to come up with a better name for a boneless chicken breast with the drumette attached. I don’t think anybody wants airline food associated with what they’re being served at a restaurant. Too often Disney chicken is served dry and flavorless, but this was surprisingly juicy with the garlic, soy, and rice wine flavors in the chimichurri providing a really nuanced, full flavor that I haven’t seen used alongside chicken before.
Even the creamy jasmine rice was fantastic, particularly against the crunchy broccoli and other vegetables that arrived beside it. Another winner.
The $25 “Dashi Noodle Bowl – Asian Noodles in a Mushroom Dashi Broth with Seasonal Fish and Seasonal Vegetables” arrives with a surprisingly complex, delicate broth with the bonito flakes and kombu serving as the base. There’s a ton of vegetables that maintain some crispiness even after soaking in the flavorful broth along with the flaky fish and citrus. The noodles probably won’t impress ramen purists, but they did a nice job of soaking up the flavors and added an incredible amount of heft to a tasty, filling dish.
If you’re not in the mood for soup, the $19 “Asian Noodle Bowl – Yakisoba Noodles, Wok-seared with Vegetables and your choice of Chicken or Tofu in a Soy-Yuzu Sauce” is a better choice.
The bowl is filled with the same addictive yakisoba noodles that are served over at ‘Ohana, piled high here along with crunchy vegetables, nuts, and seared chicken. A very satisfying meal for under $20 whether you want to go with chicken or tofu.
For dinner, I think the new menu is largely an upgrade over the previous choices – at least the quality of the steak and chicken far exceeded what I’ve been served here in the past. The noodle bowls are quite similar, but pack in a lot of flavor in dishes that won’t break the bank. Sushi seems to be upgraded, at least on presentation, and the large sampler offered quite a bit of fresh fish for the money. The popular pot stickers and sticky wings emerge unscathed. Certainly, some favorites are no longer available – and that’s too bad. But if you like the atmosphere of the restaurant and another entree sounds good, I think you’ll leave impressed if you give the menu a chance. I don’t think there was a bad bite to be had from start to finish.
For dessert, we went with the $9 “Te Fiti’s Island Mousse – A Passion Fruit and Coconut Mousse Dome with Pineapple and Seasonal Sorbet.”
It certainly is something to look at…and the flavors were cool and refreshing with a distinct tropical island vibe. The mousse was full of fruity flavors and the side of pineapple chunks and pineapple sorbet made it all the more sweet. The whipped cream around the dome helped temper the sweetness a bit and added a really pleasant creamy texture. Very good.
Overall, I expected to be a lot madder about the changes. If they didn’t take away my precious Polynesian Plate Lunches, I don’t think I’d have anything negative to say about the lunch/dinner menu changes. The loss of the Big Kahuna breakfast may be disappointing, but there’s still plenty of opportunities to enjoy a relaxing breakfast at the Polynesian Village Resort. And if you order the Pancakes, French Toast, and add a side of meat, you’re 90% of the way to two Big Kahuna breakfasts anyway. Your server might even take pity on you and provide a side of the home-fried potatoes.
Given the high quality of what we ordered, I’m interested in returning to check out some more stuff.