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Kula Bistro: Quality, Consistency, Community

Posted January 9, 2016, 05:20 PM HST
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There is love. Then there is LOVE!

Luciano Zanon knows that feeling when it comes to food.

“It’s all got to do with the heart,” he says. “I always have this passion for really making good food, simple food. I try to please people.”

Zanon has pleased many people upcountry and beyond with the opening of Kula Bistro. He happily came out of retirement to open the restaurant on Lower Kula Road (across from Morihara Store) almost four years ago. Zanon says the building was desperately in need of repairs, and his team had it ready to open in 30 days.

“Everybody was telling me I’m crazy. ‘Don’t do it, Luciano, you’re gonna lose a lot of money, just don’t do it,” he says, “I was looking for something for keeping me busy, but I never realized how big Kula Bistro got. It got big, really big.”

With 50 seats and lines out the door nightly, Zanon credits fresh ingredients, consistent quality and stellar service for Kula Bistro’s success. Staff turnover is virtually nonexistent, with many longtime employees who are proud to be part of the team. Zanon is just as proud to have them there, although he calls himself “a tough person to work for.”

“I got my mouth running all the time, but inside their heart they know who I am,” he smiles. “I really do believe most of all, it’s the people who are part of Kula Bistro that make what Kula Bistro is all about. I don’t consider them working for me; they work with me.”

It also doesn’t hurt that Zanon has clocked around 42 years in the food industry, as the man behind Tiffany Luigi’s in Maui Mall decades ago, and the founder of a wildly successful private jet catering business. He’s now at Kula Bistro every day, sharing his energy and experience, keeping the team on track.

“I am the chef, that is for sure, but I am their tool for my co-worker to do a better job,” Zanon explains. “I am there for supporting them, and helping, take away stress for them, alleviate for the overload, so they can be working to a relaxed level and confidence.”

Kula Bistro serves a wide variety of breakfast items daily (except Mondays) from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. A lunch and dinner menu runs from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. The portions are generous, even for the upscale chef specials. You can bring your own (unopened) beer or wine into the restaurant with no corkage fee. There’s also a dessert case that rotates close to 100 different freshly-baked goods, which tend to be quite popular.

“Sometimes you can come in at a certain time and there’s a whole bunch in there, then as soon as the night’s over, everything’s gone,” explains Ronni Mendoza at the Bistro counter.

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The lunch/dinner menu showcases a diversity in food and price, from panini, pizza and hamburger steak to filet mignon, jumbo lobster ravioli and fresh fish. Presented like artwork on a plate, the specials and dishes feature a fresh blend of top-tier ingredients. For instance…

Homage to Upcountry Salad: Kula spinach, beets and strawberries, topped with caramelized macadamia nuts and pralines with lemon air foam, microgreens and a balsamic-strawberry gastrique.

Captain’s Platter: Roasted rack of lamb with a dijon and rosemary herb crust, Opakapaka filet, grilled shrimp, mashed Molokaʻi sweet potato and upcountry bok choy.

Fish Special: Fresh Opakapaka stuffed with crab, topped with grilled shrimp, resting on a spinach, morel and porcini mushroom risotto, with parmesan-roasted bok choy in a house buerre-blanc sauce.

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A spread of specials and entrees at Kula Bistro. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

A spread of specials and entrees at Kula Bistro. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Dining room at Kula Bistro. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Dining room at Kula Bistro. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Protea on the tables at Kula Bistro. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Protea on the tables at Kula Bistro. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Article on chef Luciano Zanon's former restaurant in Maui Mall, Tiffany Luigi's. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Article on chef Luciano Zanon’s former restaurant in Maui Mall, Tiffany Luigi’s. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Salad with Kula spinach, beets and strawberries, topped with caramelized macadamia nuts and pralines with lemon air foam. Crab-stuffed Opakapaka, topped with grilled shrimp, on a spinach, morel and porcini mushroom risotto. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Salad with Kula spinach, beets and strawberries, topped with caramelized macadamia nuts and pralines with lemon air foam. Crab-stuffed Opakapaka, topped with grilled shrimp, on a spinach, morel and porcini mushroom risotto. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Margherita Pizza with fresh basil. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Margherita Pizza with fresh basil. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Seared scallop salad with puff pastry, truffle foam and crispy proscuitto. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Seared scallop salad with puff pastry, truffle foam and crispy proscuitto. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Roasted rack of lamb, Opakapaka filet, grilled shrimp, mashed Molokai sweet potato and upcountry bok choy. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Roasted rack of lamb, Opakapaka filet, grilled shrimp, mashed Molokai sweet potato and upcountry bok choy. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Kula Bistro menu. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Kula Bistro menu. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Freshly-baked desserts at Kula Bistro. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Freshly-baked desserts at Kula Bistro. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Luciano Zanon, head chef and owner of Kula Bistro. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Luciano Zanon, head chef and owner of Kula Bistro. Photo by Kiaora Bohlool.

Zanon is proud to have a casual eatery where customers can connect and “talk story,” whether they’re sitting down for a fancy dinner or grabbing a quick sandwich.

“It doesn’t matter what you got in your pocket, you gotta make the guy happy,” he says. “Or just don’t do it, don’t do it at all. So I got a different plate, different price for everybody. What is the good thing about it, they sit side by side. Everybody’s equal when they come inside Kula Bistro.”

The inside of Kula Bistro might be changing in the near future, as Zanon gears up to make some renovations. Living just a few minutes away from work, the 62-year-old adds he’s honored to be in Kula as a resident and a businessman. With no advertising, marketing is purely through word-of-mouth, and many regulars stop in several times a week.

“I feel humble, appreciative, when I see that kind of response. That is what I call my personal paycheck,” he says. “I have a smile on my face and I know I make somebody happy today.”

You can feel the LOVE!  And, many would agree, you can taste it.

Kiaora Bohlool
Kiaora Bohlool has been a journalist since 1998. With chefs in her family, she has a lifelong appreciation for food...

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