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Eating Gluten-Free (and fabulous) in Maui

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evaSF Oct 2, 2008 07:15 PM

I have Celiac disease, meaning I’m allergic to gluten – wheat/rye/barley. This can make eating out very difficult and even more so when you’re traveling. So this is my guide on how to eat well AND gluten-free in Maui.

- 1) Advanced notice is always a good thing. I called in to make reservations a week ahead of time & asked the hostess to add a special note to the reservation that said I had a gluten allergy – every single restaurant I called seemed very appreciative of the advanced notice.

- 2) Down to Earth Food Market. As soon as you leave the airport, drive 1.5miles to this organic supermarket. They have a great selection of organic foods, including gluten-free options! Bread, cookies, cereal, snack bars, crackers, chips…the works. They also have a casual food bar with organic foods such as brown rice, steamed vegetables, tofu, etc – and all ingredients are listed, including their use of wheat-free soy sauce.

- 3) Lahaina Grill. The restaurant is pricey, but the food was delicious and their gluten-free service was superb. As soon as I sat down, our waiter – Richard, also the head sommelier – came over and asked which one of us had a gluten allergy (see Pt #1…advanced notice is a good thing!). He was very knowledgeable about the menu and what I could/could not eat. I eventually chose the Warm Pecan Crusted Goat Cheese & Baby Arugula Salad (with pears, roasted beets & olive oil instead of the Poha berry honey-mustard) & the Seared Lion Paw Scallops (with corn, spinach & asparagus instead of the celery root mash & lobster champagne essence). Both dishes were great…the scallops were some of the best I’ve ever had.

- 4) Feast at Lele. Maui has 2 main luaus – the Old Lahaina Luau & the Feast at Lele. From what I read, the Old Lahaina Luau is more traditional and showcases the dancing vs the food (which is served in a buffet format). The Feast at Lele shares the same chef with the Pacific’O restaurant, so the food is supposedly the highlight, while the dancing is sparse. I originally made reservations for the Old Lahaina Luau where the hostess offered up 2 gluten-free options instead of the buffet, either lemon thyme chicken or a beef dish. However, my hotel concierge said the Feast at Lele was a more romantic luau b/c you have servers presenting you with food at your table vs getting up to go the buffet. While the servers knew I had a gluten allergy…they had spotty knowledge of the ingredients in all the dishes…so there was a lot of running back and forth to the kitchen. Needless to say, I didn’t get sick…but, then again, I didn’t really eat much either.

- 5) Cilantro Fresh Mexican Grill. This is a Chipotle-like Mexican restaurant. Although the employees didn’t understand what a gluten allergy was – they were more than accomdating when I told them what I wanted to eat. I asked for a corn taco with black beans, lettuce & chicken – and I told them not to grill any part of it b/c my food couldn’t touch a grill where flour tortillas are also cooked. I got exactly what I wanted – so no problems there.

- 6) Lahaina Farms. This supermarket just opened in June 08. It’s much bigger than the Down to Earth Natural Foods store, and offers just as many gluten-free options. It’s definitely a Whole Foods comparable.

- 7) Haliimale General Store. It took about 1hr to reach this upcountry restaurant from our hotel in Kapalua. After driving for miles in the pitch black we came upon the well-lit restaurant and it seemed like an island oasis. The inside is bright and cozy with high ceilings, yellow walls & colorful fish and plate decorations. When our waiter came up, I was in the middle of telling him I had a food allergy when he cut me off and said “gluten? Yes we know”….it’s all about advanced notice! He presented with me a special menu that listed whether each menu item had either dairy, soy or wheat in it. I had the passion fruit lemonade (a MUST) and the Coconut Seafood Curry (fresh island fish, shrimp and diver scallops, steamed in coconut milk mixed with home made green curry paste served with Jasmine rice). The curry sauce was a little overpowering for me, but the seafood was delicious and cooked to perfection. My boyfriend had the Paniolo Ribs (baby back pork ribs with homemade barbeque sauce and mashed potatoes) and licked his plate clean.

- 8) The Gazebo. This tiny breakfast spot has been “discovered” by tourists so there’s always a line. The restaurant itself is nothing to look at…and it’s nestled inside of a condo complex…nevertheless, it’s a fun place to eat overlooking Napili bay. The Gazebo is well known for its pancakes, but I stuck with the Kula Veggie omelet (an omelet with peppers, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes…and I substituted spinach for the cheese). They cook the omelets on a separate grill from the other flour-y breakfast items, so there’s no risk of cross contamination. My boyfriend had the french toast which is made with Hawaiian sweet bread and he loved it.

- 9) Spago. The outdoor dining area is an excellent place to watch the sunset. My server checked every menu item with the chef to determine whether or not it was gluten-free. New menu items spring up daily, so I chose that night’s newest addition: the mahi mahi & scallop curry. While similar to my entrée at Haliimale General Store, the taste in curries was quite different. Hallimale’s curry tasted very intricate, while Spago’s curry tasted very typical. Nevertheless, it was a good meal! My boyfriend had the Pan Roasted Organic Free Range Chicken (with mauna kea goat cheese, Yukon potato puree & upcountry oyster mushrooms). The portion was a half-chicken, so it was a big dish. We both enjoyed our meals, but the setting overlooking the water was the most enjoyable part.

- 10) Hula Grill. Come here for the scenic view of the beach/ocean, not the food. The restaurant has a great buzz – plates clanking in a busy kitchen, a singer on stage, a busy bar and a great open view of the ocean. But while the food was fine, it was far from a highlight. Our waiter, Spud, has been at the Hula Grill for 10 years and was very willing to accommodate my gluten allergy. Although he was able to recite most ingredients off the top of his head, he promised to check the “ingredients binder” in the kitchen to make sure my meal was prepared gluten-free. In the end, I chose the Macadamia Nut Crusted Mahi Mahi. Like I said, it was good – but not memorable in the least. I ended dinner with crème brulee in a carved-out pineapple…it was nice to be offered something other than sorbet/ice cream for dessert.

  1. manomin Oct 3, 2008 01:17 PM

    Thanks for the detailed and interesting report. Glad you were able to enjoy your meals with few
    missteps from restaurants. You are absolutely correct that it is up to the individual to make his/her
    needs known and the point of ahead of time made the most sense.

    I am not surprised that Spago was so thorough on the menu checking with chef Cameron Lewark, his offerings do in fact change daily and he would certainly know what the components
    are. Spago is very very accommodating to allergies and other requests.

    I love Hailiimaile General Store and even during the day it appears as an oasis in the middle
    of nowhere, and well worth the travel. Thanks again and happy eating! A hui hou!

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