Mark Matto's Coconut Grill
By Sonia Martinez and Anthony Mathis
(c) February 15, 2006 - for The Hawaii Island Journal
After hearing from a friend about the Mark Matto's Coconut Grill, who call themselves an old style Hawaiian Steak House, we made it a point to pay them a little visit for dinner recently. We chose a Friday night which could have been a mistake since they were quite busy, but it turned out well after all.
They earned big brownie points from us for the large and thick cloth napkins at each place setting. When we eat an evening meal at this type of restaurant, we dislike paper napkins or cloth ones that are too skimpy. The décor in the dining area where we were seated was
quite pleasant with nice casual island touches.
All the staff we came in contact with from the hostess to the manager and everyone in between was very friendly and quite helpful. Everyone took time to answer any questions we might have had.
When we returned a few days later to speak with Mark, the chef-owner, we immediately could tell where the staff gets their friendly and helpful nature. Mark is also the owner of Island Fusion, which has been profiled in the Hawaii Island Journal previously by a former
reviewer. Mark has been in the restaurant business since he was a teen growing up in Oahu. He has apprenticed under some well-known chefs in several of Oahu's, Maui's and the Big Island's hotels before venturing on his own.
According to Mark they have 47 employees between the three shifts and it includes office and kitchen personnel and their own in-house baker and pastry chef. The restaurant is divided into three sitting areas and there is ample room for about 180 people. The recently added banquet room can seat 60 people comfortably and large parties are encouraged.
The restaurant serves three meals 7 days a week but during special holidays they revert to a buffet style of serving to accommodate the large amount of patrons.
The salad bar was quite generous showing a very good selection of fresh greens and a large assortment of condiments such as black olives, chopped boiled eggs, sliced beets, garbanzos, sprouts, kidney beans and, including a potato salad with nice chunks of potato and a mixed pasta salad. A selection of 5 different salad dressings are nestled at one end and a very nice touch was the wooden pepper mill for freshly ground pepper to suit your taste. You are invited to serve yourself from the salad bar regardless of what you order from the menu, which was a pleasant surprise.
Our dinner started with a selection of two pupus; Coconut Shrimp Tiki, tempura beer battered tiger shrimp dipped in shredded coconut and served with a sweet chili pineapple dip. The second order of appetizers were the Aloha Crab Cakes, Panko crusted snow crab with a Wasabi Buerre Blanc Sauce. We felt the Wasabi Buerre Blanc could have used a bit more zip, but was good all the same. Appetizers run from $5.95 to $7.95
Entrees are served with your choice of stuffed potato, garlic mashed potato, steam white rice or wild rice pilaf. A trip to the salad bar is included or you can select the Big Island bean soup, or the Hukilau chowder, along with the in-house made garlic bread. The bread is generously slathered with herbed butter.
One of our entrées was the Hukilau Sauté, (seen above) a medley consisting of the Fresh Island Catch, which was mahi-mahi on that day, large sea scallops and tiger shrimp. This sauce contained capers and was quite good.
Our second entrée was the Habachi Grill Sampler, Boneless Chicken, Top Sirloin Steak & Tiger Shrimp basted with a ginger soy sauce and all grilled perfectly. The chicken was oh, so tender and the medium rare steak sliced like butter.
Unfortunately the veggies accompanying the entrée were too bland, watery and slightly rubbery.
Even though we enjoyed our meal very much overall, the best of all were the desserts where we finally found the explosion of tastes we had been expecting in the meal. A bit too generous in size, all the desserts we saw coming to the other tables were spectacular and made by their own pastry chef.
Our first choice was the Coconut Brulee (top half of photo). Classic coconut custard served in a half coconut shell, caramelized raw sugar on top, and a small bowl of Haupia Ice Cream on the side and sprinkled with toasted coconut. The coconut custard was excellent, light in taste and quite delicate. The caramelized raw sugar topping was just right, not too hard and had a nice crunch to it, such as you expect in a perfect Brulee.
We did not need to have our arms twisted to select the second dessert, which was the sinfully rich and well-named Naughty Hula Mud Pie (bottom half of photo). A creation of Kona Espresso Coffee Ice Cream, with a chocolate cookie crust and coffee fudge layer and then topped with whipped
cream – Actually it was just too large for one person. Another diner on her way out told us that she had shared one between three others. Even though the price was very reasonable for what it was, we found it a waste since we could only eat but a bit less than half of the dessert and had to, unfortunately, leave it behind as it would have melted on the way home.
The breakfast menu makes your mouth water just reading it. The Local Plates consist of Coconut Grill Breakfast with choice of smoked bacon, Portuguese sausage, honey grilled ham or sausage fritters served with 2 large eggs prepared however you like… Or how about the Chef's Pacifica Omelette made with 3 large eggs, snow crab, bay shrimp, mushrooms, mozzarella cheese and a Hollandaise sauce? Or there is the Hukilau Catch of grilled mahimahi with 2 large eggs or the Banyan Broiler, a 6-ounce New York steak and eggs.
"Eggceptional" creations offered are kama'aina eggs Benedict or Aloha Crab Cakes Benedict, plus a myriad of other offerings including pancakes and waffles, muffins and fresh fruit with bagels and cream cheese.
From the lunch menu you can select from a Volcano burger, Kahuna burger or the house burger, grilled sandwiches, crab cakes, prime rib and dip or more structured meals such as Hawaiian Chopsteak with onions, bell peppers, tomatoes and mushroom served with steamed rice. The Big Island Luau offers pork laulau, lomi salmon, poi, steamed rice and haupia
Several grilled salads and other entrees complete the lunch menu. An ideal place to go by yourself or better yet, with a few friends to help share the desserts.
We plan to go back and visit for our own enjoyment for both breakfast and lunch in the near future.
Sonia's Update: I have since had both breakfast and lunch at this restaurant and was pleased with my selections.
RESTAURANT: Mark Matto's Coconut Grill
ADDRESS: 136 Banyan Way - By the Hilo Seaside Hotel, Hilo, HI
DAYS/HOURS OPEN: 7 days a week
BREAKFAST: 6 AM – 10:30 AM
LUNCH: 11 AM – 3:30 PM
DINNER: 5:30 – last seating at 8:30 PM
Only beer and wines are served
PARKING: Front and back of building
There are three handicapped parking spots in the back parking area