By Noelle Coyle and Janet Perez
Despite the sluggish economy, restaurants continue to open or expand in the Valley, and Arizona native Kona Grill is no exception. Originally founded in Scottsdale in 1998, the restaurant has expanded throughout the United States, with locations in Missouri, Nevada, Indiana, Colorado, Connecticut, Michigan, Louisiana, Illinois, Nebraska, Texas and Florida. In June, it came back to its roots with the opening of a new location in Gilbert, and there are more plans for growth on the horizon. The Gilbert location joins two other Kona Grills in the Valley at Scottsdale Fashion Square and Chandler Fashion Center.
The new Gilbert restaurant opened at SanTan Village, one of many recent outdoor lifestyle malls built in the Valley. Kona Grill’s interior includes many of its signature features, including soft lighting, a granite sushi bar and a 2,000-gallon saltwater aquarium filled with exotic fish.
Like its decor, Kona Grill’s menu is an inspired combination of American comfort food and Pacific Rim ingredients.
The appetizers exemplify this philosophy with onion rings served with a pineapple chipotle and spicy mustard sauce; blackened catfish or macadamia nut chicken tacos; calamari with a spicy aioli dipping sauce; and Kahuna Bites, beef sliders seasoned with onions and thyme. I was disappointed to see that one of my favorite Kona Grill appetizers is no longer on the menu, a spicy salmon sashimi paired with sour cream and avocado and wrapped in a flour tortilla that is then flash-fried. Here’s hoping Kona Grill brings that delight back.
The dinner menu abounds with baby back ribs, pizzas, macadamia nut chicken, lemon grass crusted halibut and sweet chili-glazed salmon. The pizza toppings run the gamut of exotic from regular pepperoni to shitake mushrooms and goat cheese. The macadamia nut chicken might sound simple, but it features a shoyu cream sauce and a pineapple-papaya marmalade.
A special treat is the Big Island Meatloaf. If you’re expecting it to be just like Mom used to make, you’ll be in for a surprise — unless Mom hails from Hawaii. The meatloaf is made with sweet Italian and Andouille sausage with a mushroom ragu. The dish is topped off with white cheddar mashed potatoes and wok-tossed vegetables.
If you’re in the mood for steak, Kona Grill provides with 6 and 10-ounce filets, and a 20-ounce, bone-in rib-eye.
Now for me, the real attraction to Kona Grill is the sushi. I love sushi, but I realize not everyone shares my enthusiasm, so with its full-complement of non-sushi dishes, friends and I can go to Kona Grill and both be happy.
The basic rolls and sashimi are handled well at Kona Grill, but it’s the restaurant’s specialty sushi dishes that are a real delight.
Called Kona Rolls, my favorites are the spider roll, deep fried soft-shell crab with crab mix, avocado and cucumber wrapped in seaweed and soy paper, and topped with a sweet eel sauce; and the Sunshine Roll, spicy salmon with cucumbers wrapped with rice and seaweed, and topped with fresh salmon and thinlysliced lemon. Of the chef’s specials, I’m a fan of the Volcano, a dish made of baked crab, white fish and yamagobo (pickled burdock plant) and topped with motoyaki sauce, sriracha and eel sauce.
The Asian-fusion philosophy doesn’t extend to the dessert menu. The goodies there are strictlyall-American with fudge brownies, apple crisps, banana pudding and even a root beer float. The one exception is the crème brûlée, in which the traditional custard is infused with fresh passion fruit.