Take the cuisines of every continent touching the Pacific Ocean, mix them together and put them on a plate. This is the idea of Mahina, the new gastronomic approach of Isla Bella Beach Resort.
Led by Executive Chef Pavy Keomaniboth, Mahina’s dining experience is rare in the state of Florida. “We did our homework, and we say this with the utmost respect: we believe there is no other true Pacific Rim restaurant (in the state),” Keomaniboth said. “It means we take all cultural cuisines and put them together in a melting pot. Any continent that touches the Pacific Ocean is the Ring of Fire. On my menu, we have Japanese, Korean, Polynesian and Micronesian influences. You name it and there it is, tied to a specific dish that makes sense.
Keomaniboth’s education and extensive culinary experience lend authenticity to the menu offerings. A native of Hawaii, he attended the Western Culinary Institute of America before spending years as a Hyatt chef in Bellevue, Washington, Columbus, Ohio and Green Bay, Wisconsin before being displaced by COVID-19 layoffs.
As executive chef with several competing offerings, Keomaniboth said the Keys environment and belief in the Mahina concept ultimately drove him to the islands. “At the end of the day, it’s not about the money,” he said. “It’s about my joy and that of our customers, and I truly believe that the sun is one of the key ingredients to happiness. Everyone is born to be outside. Because otherwise you’re going to be living under a rock, and life will pass you by.
Mahina’s dishes are designed for the educated palate, but thanks to the increase in culinary content in multiple media forms, diners are better equipped to understand the unique blends of flavors, textures and colors. “There are so many more educated diners now because there’s the Food Network and people are reading more books and articles,” Keomaniboth said. “There’s a science behind it all.” He cites influences from renowned chefs Gordon Ramsay, Thomas Keller and Hiroyuki Sakai as he prepares each dish with input from the Pacific Rim and beyond. “Some people say ‘it’s an Asian restaurant’, but it’s an Asian influence with Portuguese, Italian, French, etc.”
Since the restaurant launched in December, Keomaniboth said it was surprised by an unusually even sales report across the menu. “There is no favourite,” he said. “It caught me off guard, because typically at a Pacific Rim restaurant, a pasta dish doesn’t sell as much as a protein or seafood dish. But our squid ink linguine is unique. Not everyone uses this ingredient, and people want to try it because they’ve seen it on TV. While neither dish stands head and shoulders above the other, Keomaniboth highlighted Hawaiian-style Ahi tuna poke, lobster-crusted mahi-mahi with orange-nut brown butter macadamia and a 14-ounce Kurabota pork chop marinated for 24 hours in Thai herbs as a few of his personal highlights.
Find Mahina at Isla Bella Beach Resort, 1 Knight’s Key Blvd. in Marathon. Breakfast is served daily from 7:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and dinner from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Reservations are required for dinner.