For beef lovers out there, eating a big, rare slab of Kobe or Wagyu almost certainly take the top two spots on their bucket lists. But, after having a Big Island Beef steak from Manta Restaurant on Hawaii Island, I’d like to offer this particular style of beef as the final head of the holy beef trinity. How can cattle raised in Hawaii compare to beef carefully coddled for years in Japan, Australia, and the mainland U.S.? Pretty damn easily, that’s how. Because, when you think about it, why wouldn’t cattle raised on Hawaii Island (aka The Big Island) be delicious? After all, there’s plenty of grass on the highlands that gently slope upwards toward the foothills of two massive volcanoes – Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.
Along with that 365-day a year fresh grass and fodder that the cattle consume, there’s also the lack of pollution to take into consideration. As one of the most isolated island chains in the world, Hawaii suffers almost none of the atmospheric pollution found on the Japanese home islands and the mainland U.S. where most of the world’s Kobe and Wagyu beef are raised and thus aren’t exposed to chemicals and aerosols that seep into the land and find their ways into the food chain. Instead, Big Island cows are blessed with nearly endless sunshine, nutrient dense feed, and sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. Yes, even the cows in Hawaii are lucky enough to have a view.
A sample menu from Manta could include an ocean to fork starter (ours was a stunningly savory special sushi roll), tuna tataki with fennel, hearts of palm, cucumber, and yuzu vinaigrette; Kuau shrimp tempura with pea shoots and truffle-soy dashi; the freshly caught fish of the day; a sweet potato encrusted ahi tuna with ulu puree, lomi tomatoes, and tumeric coconut emulsion; grilled Ni’ihau rack of lamb; the aforementioned amazingly delicious 30-day dry-aged Big Island Beef Ribeye; and the hawaii Range Beef Tenderloin with Okinawan sweet potato, braised shiitake mushroom sauce, and sauteed won bok. The ribeye and tenderloin should both be ordered rare and should be savored for their succulent, melt-in-your-mouth flesh along with a lightness that we could only identify as the tropical island’s terroir becoming apparent in the beef.
Manta also offers a chef’s tasting menu for $69 a person, featuring an appetizer, a main, and a dessert. And Manta is 100 percent a restaurant where you order dessert. Case in point: The photos above.
And, if the Big Island Beef isn’t enough to sell you on booking a reservation for Manta Restaurant, the view should be the final nail in the coffin of your resistance. Every table at Manta (located in the stunningly architectural Mauna Kea Beach Hotel) is open to the outdoors and provides a picturesque view of the Pacific. After dinner, walk down a small, well-lit path to a viewing area by the sea where flood lights attract multitudes of manta rays that dive and swim in circles, sucking up the plankton drawn by the lights. It’s the perfect end to a perfect evening meal – one where you not only get a chance to eat some of the best-tasting beef in the world, but also get a front-row seat to nature’s wonders.
For more from Hawaii, take a listen to the Beards, Booze, and Bacon: Hawaii Island Episode.