Dining On Maui [Very Long]
Maui – The Valley Island
We’ve been going to Maui for years. In about forty years, we’ve experienced it on 5-6 trips, approximately five years apart. The good-side of this is that we have been able to see much change over that time. The down-side is that much has changed...
We can recall when the town of Lahaina was a sleepy little village, and Kā`anapali was in the earlier stages of development. When some folk look at me, they are tempted to comment, “so, you remember Lahaina Town, when the whaling ships made port there?” Well, not quite, but close. We’ve always found ourselves based in and around Lahaina/Kā`anapali. In the earliest days, Kehei was about the only “town” across the Island, on the southwestern slope of Haleakalā. Most of Wailea was undeveloped, or just a construction site. We remember when the sugar mills were in full swing and the “sugarcane train” was actually hauling something besides tourists. Almost, as it was sitting in ruin after serving decades of sugarcane traffic. We’ve played tennis in “Maui snow,” when the sugarcane fields were burned after harvest in late September and October.
This time, we were again back in Kā`anapali, at the Westin property, their Spa & Resort. Unlike most previous trips, we were on a bit of a time constraint, as this trip was little more than a very long weekend. This trip required that we fit as much dining and golf into it, as was possible. We did our best.
What follows are dining reflections of Maui. Most of the reviews will be of higher-end restaurants. We had a full itinerary, and reservations, but still managed to miss some places. Some of these will be good reasons to come back sooner than our normal five year schedule.
I must add that some restaurants, that we really wanted to try were just out of the question. Since we were staying in West Maui, and both enjoy our wine, driving back around the Island, after a lovely dinner is just not something that we wanted to do for many reasons. Because of this aversion to drinking and driving, we were limited to lunch in a few places, and had to pass on others.
We were able to visit some “old friends,” found some new ones, and had to pass on one of our all time favorites, because of schedules – both our’s and their’s.
I am going to post the reviews/reflections as “replies” to this message. I’ve found that this format works well, when one is looking for a particular restaurant, as they do not have to read a very long post. There are some down-sides, but I hope that this works best for fellow Chowhounds.
re: Bill Hunt
wow, a lot of info there (my first post BTW)! i am very impressed w/ your wine knowledge, we usually ask the sommelier (sp?) to make choices for us.
i do want to thank you for pointing out that mama's fish is basically on the way (the long way, i guess?) to the airport. this is our 5(th) trip to maui, we always stay in napili at the mauian, as my inlaws have done for decades. we prefer more local type food, and truthfully only came upon your review while i was looking for dress codes, of all things!
although i TRULY enjoyed your reviews, we'll be doing this trip a little more on the cheap, we'll be there to take care of my father in laws cremains, just as our last trip two years ago to take care of my mother in law's. we're surrounded by their friends of many, many years, but if we feel like dining out, SOMETIMES their recommendations aren't EXACTLY what we have in mind...(canned stew w/ sticky rice, anyone?)
sorry, went off track. we are taking some extra time, and i noticed you said you would be there in october, too. we arrive on the 15th and depart late on the 23rd. if you might have any suggestions, we will be, as i said, at the mauian on napili bay. lol, i'll leave a note with them to take any messages for "bunny".
thanks, bill. oh. and we are NOT packing sports jackets or extra shoes. i've had 4 surgeries in 3 years, and i'm happy just to be walking!
thanks for the great reviews, though!
We are heading over on Oct 30 - Nov 06. We are splitting our time between the Ritz at Kapalua and actually The Inn at Mama's.
Unfortunately for us, the Banyan Tree is closed for a redo, so we're dining off property at Kapalua.
Right now, our plans are:
David Paul's Island Grill
The only ones, where we've never dined are the new David Paul's and I`O. Since we happened to share wine, and dine next to Chef McDonald of I`Om I wanted to give it a try.
As for the sommelier, we so often turn them loose, with a few comments. As we both love chef's tastings, we also enjoy the accompanying sommelier's parirings. A good sommelier knows the cellar, and has tasted the fare out of the kitche, probably that afternoon. Who should know better. Oh, I might add a few personal preferences for a red with Island fish, etc., but I respect them and rely on their knowledge. I might know opakapaka, but what I'll not know is what the chef is doing with it that night. Besides, a sommelier should be privey to many wines, and wineries that I have never heard of. I seldom go with any "usual suspects," and almost never choose something that is represented in my 5K btl. cellar - unless I am hosting a dinner and know that I MUST go with a known, and safe choice. Otherwise - give me something that I have never had, or would never have thought of with X.
Now, I do travel with a blazer, even to the Tropics and Hawai`i, but with the exception of La Mer on O`ahu, I cannot think of a restaurant, where one would feel left out, without one. I'm usually the only guy with the aloha shirt and the blazer almost anywhere, including Chef Mavro's and Alan Wong's. It's just my "thing." Heck, I wear one almost every dining out occassion in AZ, even in the Summer.
I'll try to get some timely reviews up, upon our return. We have several events immediately after we return, but within a week, there should be reviews of everything.
re: Bill Hunt
Based on recs. from my earlier comments to the staff at Mama's, we stayed there, at the Inn at Mama's, even though we had free nights at the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton. I am not sorry. The two spots are worlds apart, but each was great.
We wanted to stay on the Paia side, and made our decision. Mama's was 20 steps away, and Bev's was but a few miles down the road. We could not have been more pleased, especially as we'd never been able to do dinner at either, considering the drive back.
I do not recall the full details of the various cottages at Mama's, but we had the beachfront cottage, Ono (closest to the restaurant), and loved it.
In consideration, it was worth the $, and given the same circumstances, we'd do it again, even with more free nights at the Ritz.
Reviews to follow tomorrow, if I can get it all together.
re: Bill Hunt
We had a wonderful meal at I'o last night in Lahaina. They focus heavily on farm to table cooking and that was what drew us in. My wife started with a cocktail with cucumber in it, which she loved. I drank the local IPA from Maui Brewing. For starters we had the Thai Ribbons and the Ceviche. The Thai Ribbons were one of the best appetizers I've had in recent memory. It was ribbons of green papaya with slices of cured Ahi. There was Kaffir lime juice to provide acid and a few ingredients I can't identify. It was excellent. The ceviche was also good, but not outstanding.
For entrees, I had the Rainbow Catch, which was the fish of the day, moonfish, roasted and served over rice with a goat cheese sauce. It really came off better than my description. It was quite good, especially the way the tangy goat cheese worked with the other elements of the dish. My wife had the Crispy Ahi, which was Ahi rolled in seaweed and panko and flash fried. This was another stellar dish. Only the very outside of the Ahi was cooked and the inside was raw as intended.
The desserts looked excellent, but we had such a great meal that we opted not to. We would definitely go back to I'o. IThe bill was $130 plus tip, which included 2 beers, 1 cocktail and 1 glass of wine. Very reasonable for such a great meal.
Thanks, Bill Hunt for your in depth reviews.
re: Tom from Raleigh
Thank you for that report. It sounds like the chef has changed things up a bit, since our visit, and it seems that he's still hitting the high notes well.
When I did my review, I recalled two things: the discussion that I had with him at Gerrard's, but also some of the negative comments on this forum. In the end, that discussion was the motivator, that drew me to dine there. I over looked the comments, and I am glad that I did. Not sure why the "bad press" here, but we really enjoyed everything. When all was said and done, I`o ranked right behind Mama's, as our favorite of the trip, even over Bev Gannon's, which was good, but did not exceed our expectations.
Appreciate your comments.
PS - I just realized that I have not posted my most recent Maui dining experiences, which include I`o and chef Mc Donald. Duh! Since Maui, we've been in the air, more than on the ground, and I have done most of the reports, but have not finalized them, nor have I posted them - yet. Thanks for that gentle reminder. Gotta' get busy here.
re: Bill Hunt
Mama's is where we always have our farewell lunch before heading to the airport. We also spend all of our time in west Maui and only venture over to the other side for the airport. As we always have our kids with us, who are both now in college, lunch was much more affordable. We're all heading back in Feb and Mama's again will be our last meal on the island.
Personally, I cannot imagine a better "going home" lunch, than Mama's. On our last trip, we stayed at the Inn at Mama's, just to have dinner there, and it was worthwhile. Tom reminded me, that I have been very tardy with my reports, and I promise to do better. After several lunches, dinner was a real highlight. I only wish that we had spent more time in Paia, but then the Ritz Carlton residences were excellent too - too little time in Paradise...
Thanks for the Mama's review. It's one of those places we always intend to go but never do. You've inspired me to make a point of getting there. I'm shooting for late May / early June.
As for your future plans - Pa'ia isn't far from Hali'imaile. Know what I mean? Think Chez Panisse in paradise.
Since we also missed Bev Gannon, we WILL do them, when we're staying at Mama's cabins. To date, we have only done lunch, but each has been great. It's the danged distance to West Maui, that has gotten in the way.
I had to try Mama's, based on the highly polarized reviews on this board. It was only fair to see for ourselves. OK, it was only lunch, but what a lunch. I will view negative reviews with a very critical eye, from now on. Maybe I need to read the reviews more closely.
I only hope that you experience the same food and service, that we did. It was excellent.
re: Bill Hunt
The service has been a fairly common thread on this board, plus a few others. I had that in the back of my mind, and probably had set the lunch up to fail, because of it. I had made the reservations via Open Table (from several other threads, I expected the worst), we were dining early in their luch service and it had been raining like heck for the entire week.
From the hostess to the busser, I could never have expected anything better, unless I was a great repeat customer. They were all top-notch, and none missed a single beat. I held my breath, but the "other shoe" never dropped.
You could well be correct about a change in how patrons are treated. That would be a really good thing. As I have no frame of reference to judge by, I can only rely on what we encountered. Even if I picked nits, I could not fault anything about Mama's. Even my wife, who is president of a major hospital with 5k+ employees, and is harsh, with regards to service, was impressed. This normally does not happen, as she does find all sorts of little things, that I just miss. Hey, it's part of her job.
Let's hope that any problems with service have been sorted out, and that what we encountered will forever be the way it is. Also, maybe they read CH and someone decided that enough was enough, and that things would change.
As for the pacing, it was perfect and totally open ended. Though they filled up (in the area that we could see), I would not consider them packed, when we were there. Still, everyone had time to talk to us about the history, the menu, the wine list and then even go back into the kitchen for clarification on some ingredients. We occupied our prime table for about 3hours ±. I almost felt that we were offending them, when we did leave.
Maybe I hit them on their best day. We'll be back and for dinner. It will probably be "off-season," as is our habit, but that should tell me if we experienced something that is not normal.
No, I was ready for the worst, and obviously got their best.
re: Bill Hunt
I just read your entire posting. I was just squealing with delight. I've never read such a through review before. My husband and I are headed to Maui for a week in July. We are staying at the Four Seasons and I have been checking into restaurants all month. Everyone you mentioned was on our list of possibles. We are definitely going to the General Store...missed it the last time we were on Maui. I've been wanting to try Merriman's and now know that we must! We've also been to Spago twice and loved it both times. Not sure if we can tear ourselves away this time either. I was wondering if you have ever heard of Il Teatro at Capische restaurant? We were supposed to have gone to Maui last fall with some friends, but my husband and I had to cancel. I had already made a reservation that our friends went to and the said it was the best meal they had on the island. If you're not familiar with it, Capische is an Italian restaurant and Il Teatro is their small private dining room. They absolutely raved over it. Needless to say, we'll be trying there too. Our list of possible dinners so far:
Spago, General Store, Il Teatro, Merriman's, Sansei, Plantation House, Mala, David Paul's Island grill or Lahaina Grill. We will probably do Mama's Fish House for lunch one day. We have 7 nights on the island and want to plan for 5 or 6 dinners. Your recommendations? One of the people that resonded said "I like how you roll!" I would have to second that. It sounds like you and your wife like to travel like my husband and I do. Would welcome your input on our present choices.
Have not heard of Il Teatro. As our plans have changed, and we're heading back to Maui next October, I'll be looking for your reviews. We also hope to get to Spago next trip. I have it on a very good rec. that it is well worth the effort. Maybe we'll move from the Ritz to the Four Seasons, just to have proximity to that side of the island. I wish that we did not enjoy wine so much, as we tend to stay very close to "home." If we stay in Kapula, that is where we most often dine. Other locations tend to be for lunch only - read a lot less wine.
Looking forward to your reports.
re: Bill Hunt
I'd not heard anything about Duo. When we were on property looking for lunch, we peaked in, though they were closed at the time. The venue looked good, as did the menu. Still, no experience there.
The beach restaurant was nice, albeit a bit over-priced, even considering a Four Seasons on Maui, IMHO. Wine list was fairly limited to some middle-of-the-bunch Italian offerings, that reflected the same pricing, as the rest of the restaurant.
re: Bill Hunt
The beach house (Ferraro's?) was closed during most of our stay at the FS. The wine list at both Duo and Spago was rather nice. The Food at Duo not so much. Prices were indeed high even for the FS.
The food in the concierge lounge at the FS was very good. They do an exceptional job with service and the FS CL includes drinks/wine unlike the fairmont.
Sounds as though we were fortunate to have missed Duo on our trip. As we knew that Spago would be closed, we had rather set our sites on Duo. Sometimes things work out for the best.
Yes, the beach/pool restaurant/bar is Ferraro's. Food was good, wine list short and priced about where I'd expect a FS in "paradise" to be, and the service was very good. Still, was nothing to really call us back there.
How did you find Spago? I've seen some mixed reviews of this location, though do have to admit that one of the best comes from someone, whose taste I greatly appreciate. Did you dine there?
Just doing research for next trip,
re: Bill Hunt
We have been to the Spago at FS Wailea a few times.
If you are lucky enough to get an out side table on the terrace the view and setting is nothing short of heavenly. Service here has always been very good for us just not quite what some might expect for an establishment in this price range. The wine list was very nice. The Maui onion bread is a highlight as well as the poke in sesame miso cones. However I'm really not a fan of the boards they serve them on. Not overly sanitary or appealing but the dish itself is very nice. They have a very good steak selection and local fish as well. IIR steaks were $65 and up.
The best part about Spago for us was that it did not require us to leave the property.
re: Bill Hunt
Though it's been over a year since I've been to Spago - I'd totally go there again - we really enjoyed it even though we were in a large family group. I wanted to go back - just me and the Mr - but ran out of time.
We also liked Joe's Bar & Grill (owned by Bev Gammon) in the Wailea Tennis Center. I had an excellent dinner of gray snapper.
I'll be looking forward to everyone's reports!
re: Bill Hunt
Great review Bill, We're on our way over on Saturday and staying at the Westin as well. Any thoughts on the restaraunts on property? We thinking about trying Teppan Dan.
We have reservations at Gerards and will definitely try some of your suggestions.
Always enjoy your comments on the PHX board as well.
Our first evening found us at the Westin (the beachfront condos), and we liked the coconut shrimp. However, our entire order was messed up, and then, because we were supposed to be checked into the Spa & Resort, was comped. That is why I did not review it.
I will say that their in-room chicken quesadilla was very good, albeit rather expensive.
Personally, I would NOT try any of the property dining, as there are too many good choices nearby. Did not try their higher-end restaurant, as it was closed, when we arrived. Who closes a resort restaurant on Tuesdays? Maybe they were trying to save us?
Enjoy, and travle safely. Please report, when you return.
Regarding Gerard's, do see a recent post, that was not as favorable as mine. Now, it WAS on Valentine's Day. Still, we enjoyed our diner there, and I found little to ding them about. Very nice and very elegant.
Mahalo and aloha,
What a report! Thank you so much! You've hit some of the places that I want to try (MALA, Gerard's and Mama's Fish House), making me want to try them even more.
MALA was recommended to us by some friends for lunch - they felt it was too loud for dinner - but since we'll be in a larger group, the larger servings of appetizer would probably work well for us. If it were just the two of us - it would be overkill. They also mentioned the nice wine list.
Merriman's sounds great. We'll be having a dinner there... of sorts. The guys are playing in the Member Guest (the Bay Course and the Plantation Course, I think) and the final dinner is being held there. I don't think we'll be having the same experience you had, but should still be good. :-)
We were warned away from Chez Paul, we were told it was just 'meh' and the wine list was pronounced the same. I'm sorry your experience was just 'meh' too.
I'm so glad the Lahaina Grill was enjoyable - aside from the noisy parties - and that Richard was on his game with the wine. He really does a good job especially with the recommendations. I'll be curious to see what he runs past us - we've got reservations for next Monday.
I would really like to try Mama's Fish House - everyone I know who either has been there or (lucky dogs) lives on Maui half the year really likes it. Your review sounds like we GOTTA go there. I love that you had your waitress try the white Burg both before and after decanting - what a marvelous thing for you to do - making it a real eye-opener for her as well as a learning experience. You're da bomb!
We leave on Thursday - yippee!
Thank you so much for taking time to post this, it's above and beyond. I also appreciate the talk about wine - I'm really trying to learn as much as possible (hahahaha!) but not forget to enjoy it. If only more places had good wine glasses! I'll also mention to Richard (Lahaina Grill) how marvelous it is that they have a nice selection of half bottles.
I'll have a pancake in your honor at the Gazebo ;-)
Please get that pancake. I tried, but with friends coming over from O`ahu, and tee-times, it just did not work out. First trip to Maui, that we have missed them.
We had to try Chez Paul, as I had fairly recently given it a pretty good rec. on the board, based on all of my previous experiences. Either it has changed, or I have. Regardless, I can not recommend it in good faith.
I do agree that MALA would be best suited for a nice lunch with an adequate group. Do think of splitting some of the apps. around the entire table. They were really good, though in small doses. Hope that I made that aspect clear. The bar-food menu looked great too. We'd definitely go back, just for a different meal, or with a bunch of friends. Loved the "funkiness" of the venue.
Tell the folk to play well on the Plantation course. Be careful, however, as I left about 10 shots scattered around that course! If they find any Callaway Tour 56's with a red stripe, they can thank me.
As to the wine, I like to share it with any server, who expresses an interest. Some programs involve the staff in tastings, but often do not break out this level of wine for them. Show me the interest, and I'll show you the wine...
Enjoy, safe trip, and I cannot wait to hear your report.
PS sorry for the delay in this, but I think you can see why I had to wait to get that one computer back up and running. The thought of starting from scratch, and my memory was just too daunting.
re: Bill Hunt
Last year we went to a couple of places that I'd like to skip this year: Kimo's and The Hula Grill. Not because they were bad (well, Hula Grill wasn't good either), but because there are so many places we could try that could be better.
The guys are going to Lanai for a marathon golf expedition (both courses) and when they get back on the ferry, we'll (me and the other wives) meet them for dinner. Kimo's is where we usually go - Hula Pie is a favorite... but I think I may suggest trying MALA and going to Kimo's just for the pie. It's close enough to walk... and I'm certain the food will be better at MALA. If not then - we'll try it for lunch.
I can totally see why you had to wait till you got your computer up!
Thanks again, and I will report back!
I just realized that the Link to Place kept each with the replies and added the one for that particular review. I had not seen this behavior before. Usually, it's just the single link, and the Links to the upper right get added to. Sorry about that. My bad. Not sure if I need to remove previous links, but also want them to appear to the upper right in total.
kala mai ia`u,
The Minis – Breakfast and Lunch:
Plantation House, 2000 Plantation Club Dr, Lahaina, 808-669-6299, http://www.theplantationhouse.com/ (overlooking Kapalua Plantation Golf Course).
I did not realize that The Plantation House at Kapalua was part of the same group that has the Beach House on Kaua`i at Poipu. We had a lovely meal there and I did a very favorable review a couple of years back. Now, like Mama’s Fish House in Paia, it seems that the feelings on the Beach House are heavily polarized on the CH board.
First, the venue is lovely. The architecture is definitely “plantation-style,” and the dining area, is open to the Kapalua Plantation course’s first hole, plus the Pacific Ocean beyond. It is elegant, yet relaxed. The service for a breakfast and a lunch was great – friendly, and attentive.
As we did both a breakfast and a lunch, I’ll just make note of what we had:
Seared Ahi Benedict with wasabi hollandaise
Smoked Ham & Cheese Omelette
Crispy Crab Stuffed Ahi Sashimi with wasabi-soy mustard vinaigrette
Grilled Ahi Sandwich
All were tasty, well-prepared and more than filling. The portions were almost too large, especially for the lunch, when one has a tee-time on the Plantation course! I had to leave too much of my ahi sandwich.
Lovely setting, with attentive service and good food. The prices appear a bit high, but when one considers that most of the dishes that we had *should* be shared, a good value. Do not over order here, or you WILL have too much food.
Four Seasons Maui, 3900 Wailea Alanui, Wailea, 800-874-8000, http://www.fourseasons.com/maui/dinin...
We had hoped to do lunch at Spago on this property, but neither it, nor Duo, were open for lunch. I *thought* that I had reservations at Bev Gannon’s Hali`imaile General Store for lunch, but I did not read the e-mail, in its entirety. Had I done so, I would have seen the last part, right after, “We’d love for you have lunch with us. Chef Gannon looks forward to seeing you again.” The next line, was what I did not read down to, “unfortunately, we are not open for lunch on Saturday. Can you come during the week?” We drove Upcountry, to find that they were closed for lunch on the weekend. OK, maybe their other restaurant, Joe’s, down in Wailea. No go, closed for lunch on the weekend too.
We headed to the Four Seasons, in hopes that Duo would be open. No go. Since we were now hungry, we opted for Ferraro’s Bar beach and pool side. Lovely patio seating overlooking the Pacific. We opted for some B-T-G Italian wines from their limited lunch list (no notes) and the Seared Hawaiian Tuna and Niçoise Olives with Pesto Dressing and a Kobe Cheeseburger with Bacon. The starter was the Kalua Pork Quesadilla. All were good, with the quesadilla being the highlight of the meal. The salad was good, though a bit pricey. The same can be said for the burger – good, but not quite up to its billing, or its price.
It’s a lovely venue on a nice property, with pretty good service, adequate food and a Four Seasons’ price tag. I thought that the “value rating” was a bit low, considering the food, but hey, we were hungry and had driven all around East Maui and Upcountry. Not someplace to take a hungry family of six, unless you always stay at a Four Seasons resort and are immune to the prices.
What we missed:
The Gazebo in Kapalua. This has been a favorite of ours, but we just didn’t make it on this trip
Hali`imaile General Store. Read all lines of an e-mail – DUH!
Spago. From some recent reviews, not sure we “missed” this, but would have liked to dine there and see for myself. Hey, Mama’s has also gotten some major pans lately, and look what we found.
Plantation House Restaurant
2000 Plantation Club Dr., Kapalua, HI 96761
3900 Wailea Alanui Dr, Kihei, HI
re: Bill Hunt
Just got back today and could not agree with you more on Mama's. I had also read the reviews that were all over the map but we had a great dinner.
The best meal of the trip was at Spago, The service was top notch and the food even better. We had a bottle of great Pinot from a small winery where the owners used to make wine at Flowers. I cannot remember the name but loved it so much that I am calling Spago tomorrow to get the name of it.
Glad that Mama's did it for you. I always worry a bit, when faced with such polarity on Chowhound, but just reported what we experienced.
I'm still sorry that we missed Spago, but next trip will probably be to the central Island area, and will do it then, plus two nights at Mama's!
Thanks for the report,
Mama’s Fish House, 799 Poho Place, Paia, 808-579-9764, http://www.mamasfishhouse.com/
Though we have been to Maui on many occasions, we had never made it to Mama’s Fish House. Over the last few years, there have been several threads on this board with reviews that were highly polarized. Reviewers either loved it, or they hated it. There seemed to be little middle ground. I decided that it would be my mission to see for myself what the fuss was all about.
Because we have always stayed in West Maui, in the Kā`anapali area, Paia is not really close, especially if one enjoys wine with their meals. This precluded our doing dinner there (more on this later), so we opted for lunch, instead. I made the reservations on Open Table (some recent threads seem to indicate that restaurants look down on OT reservations, but that has never been my experience), and we arrived for an early lunch.
From the parking lot, I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting myself into. It looked a bit like a small theme park from the parking area, and even just inside the entryway, it was not clear what lay beyond. Once I started down the walkway, a lovely vista of a low-slung colonial plantation-style building came into view with the Pacific just across a lovely park-like lawn. Scattered around, though not in a totally random order, were icons of several different eras in Hawaiian history. Some of the iconography reflected ancient Hawai`i, while some was much more contemporary, with elements that reflected the rest of the world’s view of Hawai`i from the 1950's and 60's. Slightly more recent “surfer” items were visible, as well. There were elements that reflected the full social-anthropological spectrum of Hawai`i, and what many think of, when they think of Hawai`i. Interesting, slightly odd, but also “right,” at the same time. Kitschy on one hand, but informative on the other. It was like an exhibit from the Bishop Museum was somehow merged with an exhibit on popular culture. Maybe because I had no pre-conceived notions on what to expect, after the initial surprise, I began to enjoy the walk down. We also lingered more and explored the “exhibits” on the way out. It all made a bit more sense with that re-visit.
The spiraling walk down from the parking lot leads to a walk that approaches an outer “hostess station.” Again, this had a bit of a “theme park” feel to it, but that was not off-putting, as I was still trying to take in as many details, as I could. Trust me, there are plenty enough “details” to keep you busy for a bit.
Our hostess greeted us, and quickly found our reservations. We were lead through one bar/seating area to a table that was open to lawn and the Pacific beyond. So much for Open Table reservations being seated in the back, right next to the toilets. The restaurant, though just opened, was about 1/4 full in the main front (or North) dining room, and we had a lovely large 4-top with a great view.
Our service captain (they use a “team” approach to service there, or did during our lunch) quickly arrived, with menus, the “lunch” wine list, and a little history of Mama’s. Though very friendly, she was also professional and very efficient. She explained the menu and also the drink list. As we talked, I placed an order for a half-bottle of a Sonoma Chardonnay, and asked if they had a larger wine list for dinner. “It’s not just for dinner,” she said, as she retrieved a larger bound wine list. I asked for a moment to reflect on that, instead of the order from the abbreviated list. She left to give us a bit more time. The complete wine list was rather large and I made a selection from it. She was quick to stop back and take that order. During that time, I got more deeply into the list. Oops, I just discovered the “Reserve” list in the back! As she arrived with our selected wine, and presented it unopened, I apologized, and told her how glad I was, that she had used proper wine-service etiquette, by bringing the bottle un-opened to the table. “I just found the reserve wines in the back. Can I change my order one more time?” She did not bat an eye, and only gave me a broad smile, “but of course. I should have pointed that out to you in the beginning, especially since you had asked for the full wine list. What would you like?” I chose the ‘04 Morey Coffinet Chassagne-Montrachet. “Here, let me get you the good glasses for that wine,” was all that she said, before leaving. I asked if she could “decant” it, and she agreed, though I could tell that she was a bit curious of this request. When she returned, I explained the reason, and we talked about the terms “decant” and “carafe.” I asked her to taste the wine, poured right from the bottle, and then asked her to taste it once it had been “caraffed.” Her eyes lit up, and she smiled saying, “oh, I do see the difference. I’ve never done this with a white wine, but will start.” Though the dining area was filling up, she did not get rushed and we talked of wine a little more. I declined the ice bucket that was offered, and she went over the menu, which was slightly involved with some “specials” and the options in print. She explained that the reason that the menu could get confusing was that all of the fish was only what was fresh at that time of that day, and was in constant flux, as the fishermen came in with their catch. She ran down what was available at that moment, and even cited the fishing vessel and often the captain of that boat. She knew her suppliers and what had just arrived. She also seemed to know who might be out farther, or fish deeper, than someone else, and gave detail on some of her favorite fishermen. She stated that she had to keep checking with the kitchen to see what might have just arrived, and who brought it in, but she felt that that knowledge could benefit the diners at her station. We really appreciated her knowledge and her sharing of it, to help with our selections.
Ah, the selections. We started with Onaga & Ahi in a Coconut – Tahitian Style: Onaga and ahi marinated in coconut milk, lime, tomato, Maui onion, cucumber and cilantro with Moloka`I sweet potato chips, and the Seared Beef Polynesian: with tomato, Maui onion, garlic and cilantro, served in a grilled ripe papaya with olive oil and Kula lime juice. Both of these were excellent and the presentations were as lovely, as the dishes were tasty. There was nice play on the tartness of the lime and the sweetness of the coconut milk in each dish.
I added the Maui Onion Soup with Vermont cheddar cheese. Our server pointed out that the cheese would be different, than what I was probably be used to. Nice touch. It was, but in a very positive way. This was the best onion soup of the trip with a very hearty beef/veal stock that had been reduced properly. The Vermont cheddar was just tart enough to offset the wonderful sweetness of the Maui onions. [When I can get the ingredients and have the time, I do a “three-onion” soup with Maui, Vidalia and a big Bermuda with both veal and beef stock, and this was almost as good!] About this point, we added a half-bottle of the ‘03 Clos du Val Carneros Pinot Noir, which was lovely with the soup.
For our mains, we did a bit of a mix-n-match, as my wife chose the Sashimi – Hawaiian Style, with sliced premium grade ahi with real wasabi root and soy dipping sauce from the appetizer menu, and I the Ahi, Ono and Mahimahi Sautéed in Panang Curry and Coconut Milk, with Mama’s mango chutney, diced banana, macadamia nuts and jasmine rice. Our server pointed out that the ahi had been caught by the fishing vessel “Black Magic,” and was deep water, while the mahi was caught by Russell Pojas along the North Shore of Maui. The Ono was caught by Patrick Fondren trolling offshore from Peahi. Wow, had we chosen well (with the help from our server)! Each bite was an explosion of flavors. If you just let the mouthful sit for a moment, another flavor was revealed, like a great wine. It was like peeling an onion – layer, after layer of flavors. Again, it would be difficult to tell which was the best, the presentation, or the flavors. Same with trying to choose which dish was our favorite. Just could not be done, no matter how hard we tried. I can’t even find a remotely negative aspect of anything that hit our table.
We ended with two cups of decaf 100% Kona, pressed at table side. Though most of the coffees also have grower info, this was the only one that did not. Still, it was a great finish to our “lunch.”
We had arrived at 11:30AM promptly, and it was now 3:00PM. The dining area had almost filled, and was now almost empty. No one from the earlier part of our dining was left. OK, we do eat slowly, and savor each mouthful, and there WAS the wonderful verbal interaction with our entire serving crew, but I was so glad that we had planned to spend as much time, as was possible, with this meal. We had started in full sunshine, a shower had moved through, and it was now a bright clear afternoon.
Quiet honestly, I do not think I have spent a better lunch anywhere. One rainy February day at the French Laundry is right up there, but I cannot say that it was actually better. Both “lunches” lasted about as long, and both included some good wines. Maybe the variety at the FL was a bit broader, but the sommelier was out to impress us with his selections, and he did just that.
The bill with wine, tax, a generous gratuity came to US$375. Not cheap, by any means, but worth every ¢. Honestly, without searching my records, I’d say that the lunch at the FL was probably within US$10 of that price.
The closest that I could come to a complaint might be that the wine list could use a few more premium half-bottles, but then it was just the two of us, and there was still the drive back to Kā`anapali. Yes, the drive back to Kā`anapali. I promised at the beginning to address that. As we talked to our server, we discussed the drive to Paia. Our server shared that they now have the Inn at Mama’s Fish House. Guess who will be getting a room there on the next trip. I don’t care if I have free lodging in West Maui, we will stay over, and dine in the evening, too. I could see doing a lunch, a diner, and then another lunch, before either flying off the Island, or heading back to West Maui. Then, I could really get into their reserve wine list!
I can now count myself as one, who fully enjoyed Mama’s Fish House. For us, the service was perfect. The “Aloha Spirit” is definitely alive and prospering in Paia. The food, while not inexpensive, was fabulous and the presentations were innovative and lovely to behold. Would a family, who normally dines at the buffet at the resort enjoy it, especially if on a budget? I highly doubt it. This is not “fast-food,” and is prepared with both love and aloha. We felt like we were `ohana, by the time that we finished. We will return. This was my favorite meal, and it was but lunch. My wife gave Merriman’s a very slight edge.
Mama's Fish House
Paia HI, Paia, HI
Lahaina Grill, 127 Lahainaluna Rd, Lahaina, 808-667-5117, http://www.lahainagrill.com/
Last time we dined here, it was still called David Paul’s Lahaina Grill, though Chef Paul had recently departed. There are still current ads that list it as David Paul’s Lahaina Grill. There are rumors, that Chef Paul will be opening a new restaurant in/near Lahaina, but I do not have details.
Just off of Front St, and almost across from Gerard’s, Lahaina Grill has two large dining rooms, with a couple of alcoves off of them. There is also a large bar-area in the middle of the restaurant. It’s upscale-Island-casual all the way. When we arrived for our reservations, we were offered bar-seating, until our table was ready. There was a very large, and extremely loud party in progress, and they were occupying most of the dining areas, plus they were staying well into the night. We squeezed to the bar and got started with a bottle of ‘02 Louis Jadot Chassagne-Montrachet. I think that our guests were also doing a couple of mojitos. Finally, a table cleared and we were seated. Many of the revelers were still at it and we had difficulty talking across our joined 2-tops. The servers were “working overtime,” with the spread out party group.
I’m only going to list the food, that my wife and I ordered, and leave out that of our guests. For starters, we ordered the Kona Crab Cake with lobster, rock crab, scallops, an avocado relish and a mustard-cream sauce, and Seared Ahi and Foie Gras with sweet and sour fig compote and Maui onion duck demi-glace. Each dish was great and I added a glass of Dr Loosen Urziger Wurzgarten Auslese Riesling for the foie gras.
By now, the Jadot Chardonnay was gone, so we added a bottle of the ‘05 Ramey Hudson Vineyard Carneros Sonoma Chardonnay, and a bottle of the ‘06 Whitcraft “N,” Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley Pinot Noir. I was going to order the ‘06 Whitcraft Morning Wood, Anderson Valley, Santa Barbara Pinot Noir, and the sommelier suggested the “N,” which was not on the list, and was almost gone – the staff having consumed the bulk of their limited allocation. I had never had this wine, but he promised that it was even better than the “Morning Wood,” and was only US$10/btl. more expensive. It had been some months, since I had tasted the “Morning Wood,” so I am not sure that the “N” was better, but that’s really moot, as it was great. What more needs to be said? BTW, the stemware was very good, though not quite the best of the trip. I could not see a mark on the glasses, to tell the manufacturer. The servers also quickly substituted Burgundy glasses for the white wine glasses, without question. Ask, and you shall receive. I’ll also add that Lahaina Grill has a nice, serviceable list of half-bottles. In this case, we had guests, so we did not get to avail ourselves of these. Still, I mentioned it to the sommelier, with a note of “thanks,” for next time, when it’s just the two of us. Gotta’ let these folk know that half-bottles are a great thing, and really appreciated.
For mains, we went with the Tequila Shrimp and Firecracker Rice with Southwest herbs and spices and Tequila butter, and the Maui Onion and Sesame Seed Crusted Ahi with vanilla bean jasmine rice, and apple cider-soy butter vinaigrette. Other than the shrimp being so slightly overcooked, all was great. Both the Ramey and the Whitcraft went very well, though the Southwest seasoning did cause even the fruit-driven Pinot Noir to go a bit hot. I did not catch the ABV, but I’d guess that it was up in the mid-14% range.
For dessert we went with several Vanilla Bean Créme Brûlées which were split around the table and were deemed excellent by all.
Since our guests had an early flight back to O`ahu, and we still had to drive back to Kā`anapali, we passed on any Port, or other beverages.
By the mains, the party had departed and the restaurant was rather quiet, in a most pleasant way. The owner stopped by an apologized for the noise level, for our having to wait for our reservations and comped the desserts. A nice, but unnecessary touch. Now, if he’d comped the Burg and the Pinot Noir... He had addressed the only two issues that I had, and I also understand how parties can get out of hand. They had also overstayed their welcome with the management and the staff, and a few of the patrons. Trying to break the meal into two pieces, the “during the party,” and the “after the party,” I’d say that Lahaina Grill is a wonderful space with good ambiance that is up-scale casual. No jackets required, though I think that I probably had my blazer on. The service, though harried at the beginning, was very good, especially “after the party.” The sommelier was very helpful and accommodating and worked from a good wine list, that was fairly priced for a resort location. The wine list was one of the aspects that I remembered from the David Paul era. Someone is still doing a good job with it to this day. The wine glasses could use a little “upgrade” for the higher-end wines, but they were still more than adequate, especially in light of some of the other ones encountered on this trip. Hey, this is NOT La Mer, we’re talking about, so that is just a tiny side-note, and nothing more.
The total bill came to about US$720 for four with the wines and drinks, tax and a generous gratuity. I feel that it was a good deal, especially if one did not go to the upper-end of the wine list.
One note here on BYOB on Maui. I had gotten some heavy-hitter white and red Burgs at Mr. Wine. I had not opened one of each, from our purchase, and called Lahaina Grill about bringing these two bottles, paying corkage and also buying from their list. They explained that Maui County has a law against BYOB, that is more lenient on the other Islands. I wondered about the local laws, from an earlier restaurant’s refusal to seal up a partially used bottle to take away. I have done that on several other Islands with no question, though most of these were also while dining at the resort, where we were staying. More places on Earth are allowing (even suggesting) this approach for diners, who should not be forced to either finish off more wine than they really wish, or leave a lot behind, especially when ordering from the “reserve,” or similar wine list. As one is most often driving, unless staying right on property, or in Lahaina Town, this would be a good rule to review, especially the capping and removing of the opened bottles. While some things would have to be considered, I just cannot imagine someone ordering a bottle of Montrachet and then drinking from the bottle, as they drive home. I can understand how some restaurants might have problems with BYOB, especially if one has picked up a couple of bottles of “bargain wine” from the local Costco, and wants to just save a few $’s from purchasing off of the wine list. I understand that the sale of wines is one of the profit-centers in a restaurant. I am seldom inclined to even consider doing this, unless I have a special bottle(s) of wine, not likely to be found on the restaurant’s wine list. In my case, I stopped back by Mr. Wine and paid to have these bottles shipped to the Mainland, and also found some Turley Hayne Zin, that I could not get, even on my Turley list allocation. Worked out well, though I would have loved to share these two wines with my guests.
127 Lahainaluna Rd., Lahaina Maui, HI 96761
Gerard’s Restaurant, 174 Lahainaluna Rd, Lahaina, 808-661-8939, http://www.gerardsmaui.com/cms/index.php
This was our second experience at Gerard’s. It’s located two long blocks off of Front St. right in the heart of Lahaina Town. The restaurant occupies one of the older buildings in town, that appears to have been the home of one of the wealthier residents years ago. I thought that we’d gotten the lowdown on most of the buildings in Lahaina Town, during a historic walking tour, some years back, but I cannot remember the history of this structure. There is a large interior dining room, plus al fresco dining on a lovely porch, overlooking Lahainaluna Street. A plus for Gerard’s is the smallish parking lot, adjacent to the building. In downtown Lahaina, this is unique.
We were seated on the porch, per our request and began with a bottle of the ‘04 Louis Latour Meursault. For our first courses, we elected to go with the Medallion of Duck Foie Gras Seared in Spice Crust with French toast brioche and Pohá berry compote, and Fresh Ahi Tartare with Taro Chips. I added a B-T-G ‘01 D’Arche-Pugneau Sauternes. Nice touch. The stemware was not Riedel, or Schott-Zwiesel, but was very nice – so far above Chez Pauls’ glasses. I also need to add that the wine list was a bit more extensive, and the prices were slightly better, for the particular wines.
Now, this was what I was looking for with foie gras! It didn’t make my top ten list, but it was very, very good. Wife thought so too. Her tuna was great. This was sashimi-grade ahi and was like velvet. Matter of fact, the texture of both my foie gras and her ahi was similar. The preparations of each was very good, as each had a textural counterpoint: the brioche and the taro chips.
We passed on the soups and salads and went right to the mains: Fresh Island Fish (opakapaka) Souflé in Lobster Mousse with Americaine sauce and créme fraiche, and Grilled Filet of Beef with whole grain mustard sauce, warm Maui onion jam and salsify chips. The opakapaka was light, moist and tender and every aspect of the dish was great. I was back on a roll with the filet, as this one was right up there with the previous best of the trip. We added a B-T-G Pinot Noir and a Petite Chateau Bordeaux. Notes not available.
During our dining, we met Chef James McDonald (Feast of Lele & Io) and his lovely wife, who were celebrating a birthday at Gerard’s. We shared the Meursault with them, and they shared their Pinot Noir with us.
I’d typify Gerrard’s as more formal, than most other dining areas on Maui, with the exception of Merriman’s. While jackets are not required for gentlemen, they would never be out of place, especially as most of the waitstaff is in a tux, or at least a tux shirt. The check, with wines, tax and gratuity came to US$400.62.
174 Lahainaluna Rd, Lahaina, HI 96761
Chez Paul Restaurant Francais, 820 Olowalu Village Road, Lahaina, 808-661-3843, http://www.chezpaul.net/
We dined at Chez Paul’s on two previous trips, and had been pretty impressed. Recent reviews and replies on CH were painting a different picture of this old stand-by though. Still, we had to dine there again. The restaurant is located in a free-standing building about 5 miles south of Lahaina Town, right in a blind curve. Though the speed limit is lowered around it, few seem to pay any attention to this, and are all doing about 60 MPH through this area. The curve means that it’s very hard to see traffic heading north. We remembered this all too well, so made sure to plan our trip there with care. If one exits to the north, from the restaurant parking lot through the parking area of a fruit stand, and points their auto toward the highway, they have a chance of actually getting onto the highway, and getting up to speed, if someone watches behind them. Of course, some of this does depend on the acceleration of their rental car. Be careful, very careful!
Chef Patrick Callarec has been doing fairly classic French cuisine in this location for some time. In the past, we were impressed, hence our return. The decor is eclectic, to say the least. It’s a bit of French farmhouse, but with a roadside diner feel added in. What might have passed for elegance in the distant past, but now just seems tired. The dining room is a bit cramped, with the smallish tables too close together for my tastes. It is also on the loud side, but that might depend on the night and the crowd.
We started with a bottle of Jean Michel Gaunoux ‘04 Folatieres Puligny-Montrachet, and I asked for a change in stemware. There really wasn’t any, so we opted for some glasses from behind the bar. These were poor substitutes for what we had been offered on the two previous nights – by a great deal, I must add. In general, the wine list is very limited and is probably the most expensive of all that we encountered, based on the wine for the price. The stemware was as “tired” as the decor seems to have become. I do not recall the lack of adequate stemware on previous trips.
For starters we went with Le Petit Plat du Jour, which was Seared Foie Gras, La Soupe a L’Onion which was a traditional French Onion Soup and Salade de Crevettes et D’ Avocats du Pays (shrimps, avocados and tomatoes with Upcountry greens and black truffle vinaigrette. I asked for a Sauternes, or similar to go with the foie gras, but there was none, other than by the bottle. Now, I am a big fan of foie gras, and this one was OK, but it was also one of the more expensive dishes of goose liver, that I have ever had. Even if I figure the exchange rate between the ₤ and the $, I do not think that I have paid this much in London. The onion soup, while traditional, was very light, and almost flavorless. The onion was cut into extremely long strands, that made eating it gracefully a difficult proposition. The same can be said for the cheese, toasted atop it – rather bland. The shrimp salad was in the same boat, with the soup. There was just nothing to recommend either.
As per her theme on this trip, my wife went with ahi. She chose Poisson des Isles et Crevettes Niçoise (Seared ahi with prawns in tomato, garlic, basil and saffron). I went the Filet de Boeuf Persillade de Champignons Sauvages (Sautéed filet of beef with exotic mushrooms, garlic and parsley in a Port wine reduction. Other than the specific preparations, these were pretty much what we’d ordered on two other nights during this trip. By a long shot, these were the weakest versions of these dishes. My filet was almost tough and chewy, and my wife’s ahi was probably overdone by a few minutes. These were also the most expensive versions. We had added an Acacia Carneros Pinot Noir from the limited B-T-G selection. Here too, the price was slightly out of line. Normally with B-T-G selections, it’s priced per the full-bottle wholesale price. This one was US$24 and I pay US$22.95 for the bottle at retail. OK, we WERE in “paradise.” I had to struggle to find anything for the beef from the B-T-G list, but went with a glass of some Cabernet Sauvignon, but did not note which one. Seems that it was Beaulieu Vineyard Coastal, but cannot find my notes on it.
In general, this was the weakest meal of the entire trip. We were both disappointed, since we’d previously had good meals there. I’ve used the word “tired” a few times earlier on, and that is still the best descriptor, that I can come up with. Maybe this was just one of those off nights, but I doubt that we’ll return. I do have to say that though it was raining quite hard, the restaurant was always nearly full, as was the bar area. Maybe we just ordered wrong, or that we’d so recently had much better versions of most of our choices. Still, we were both disappointed. The bill for the food, the wine, tax and gratuities was US$435.42.
Chez Paul French Restaurant
820 Olowalu Village Rd, B Lahaina, HI
The Banyan Tree at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua Resort, One Ritz-Carlton Drive, Kapalua, 808-669-6200, http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Propert...
We had not been back to the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua in some years. Back then their signature restaurant was the Anui`nui Room, which is long gone. It had been a major disappointment with very haughty service, mediocre food and a horribly expensive wine list, even by Hawaiian resort standards. Couple this with very poor wine-service, and there was no reason to go back. That was then, and this is now.
I’d been reading reports on the Banyan Tree, and they sounded good. Should I put previous experiences behind me and try them? I’m glad that I did.
The Banyan Tree is located in a separate building, beyond the pool area of the main hotel complex. Parking is closer, if one drives to the T in the road, turns right past the chapel and parks there. It’s a very short, lighted walk to the Banyan Tree. It is a lovely plantation-styled space, that is open on many sides, and offers views on the others. There is an upscale casual bar in the middle, and I think that the dining rooms are on either side. I say “think,” because we were in one, and it was separated by the central bar and entrance, and I did not walk to the other, but would assume that it was similar to where we were seated. I’d typify the space as casual-chic meets plantation. It is not a jacket-required sort of restaurant, but one would not be comfortable arriving in wet jams and a tank top. Also, depending on the season, the weather and one’s comfort with cool ocean breezes, coupled with the open aspect, a diner might be more comfortable with a light wrap, or a sweater. My blazer was perfect, and my wife’s shawl fit the bill. Though I had on my jacket, I did not feel out of place in the casual elegance. The kitchen is run by Chef de Cuisine Ryan Urig. I remember him from the Arizona Biltmore (now Hilton). Then, he was doing more variations on Southwest fare, but has stepped up to the plate with his slightly Euro-Hawaiian menu.
After I made mention of the “haughty service” in the predecessor restaurant, I have to comment on the Banyan Tree. Our main server was Robert (“Rho-Bear”) Mora. Mr. Mora has been at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua for many years now, and is the perfect blend of friendly, efficient and knowledgeable. One of the best, that I have encountered in many years. His manner is so very easy, yet you know that he’s there to make your entire experience one that you will not likely forget. I do not know if he is also the official sommelier, but should be. He conducts his team in a most professional manner. No one is ever there, when you do not want them to be, but always seem to materialize out of the tropical foliage, should you need anything. Perfect!
We started the evening, after some greetings and a little history from Mr. Mora, with a bottle of the Domaine Louis Jadot ‘05 Chassagne-Montrachet Morgeot. Without prompting, Robert suggested that he decant (carafe) this wine, as it was quite young. Nice idea. I’d had the same, just the night before. Still, this was something that I greatly appreciated. Robert knows his white Burgs! He also returned with a pair of Schott-Zwiesel Burgundy balloons. Again, he anticipated my upcoming request. For however lacking the wine service at the Anui`nui Room had been, the Banyan Tree was scoring big points, all around. BTW, the temp of the Chardonnay was perfect. Robert asked if we’d like an ice bucket, but indicated that he did not think we would. We didn’t. I end up requesting one in restaurants for more reds, that are too warm, than for my whites. Again, Robert was on top of the situation.
While we poured over the menus, which are presented in hand-made “books,” we were presented with bread, olive oil and Dukkah to dip into. This is a toasted spice/seed blend, that is out of this world. It was unique in flavors and also added an interesting texture to the oil-dipped bread.
The menu is not as extensive as Merriman’s, but did take a moment, or two to navigate, even with Robert’s expert assistance. There were some specials, and he also wanted to give good descriptions of some signature dishes. We also had some questions, which were expertly answered. Our starters were the “Create You Own Appetizer Trio” consisting of the Seared Scallops with cauliflower and roasted tomato, the Ahi Tunas Sashimi and the House Smoked Salmon Ravioli with tobiko créme. My wife tempted fate, with a few bites of the scallops, but did not suffer any problem. Maybe it was the power of the Chassagne-Montrachet that warded of evil – or maybe it was Robert’s medicinal powers? Everything glowed. I added a glass of the William Foley ‘06 Dijon Clone 667 Pinot Noir, and it was lovely with the salmon and the tuna. My wife and I shared this, along with the Chardonnay, which went very well with the scallops.
I added a soup-course with the Maui Onion and Fennel Soup with peas and tomatoes. Robert quickly pointed out that this was NOT a French Onion Soup, but was totally different. He went into great detail, so that I would not be disappointed. Now, I do have to say that I am a big fan of French Onion Soup. However, some many years ago, I had the ultimate Onion Soup at the old Miele Room at the Kahala Hilton. It actually reminded me more of a Kahuku Corn Soup (substitute corn with onion), than any other Onion Soup, that I had ever had. The only similar was at the long gone Miele Room at what was then the Kahala Hilto. There was a sweetness to that base too, but the Maui Onion came through wonderfully. It was a smooth créme that was a very light greyish-brown color. I cannot recall the exact garnish, that was sprinkled on the surface, but the combo was absolutely the best Onion Soup that I have ever encountered. I held out hopes for this dish. It was good, but did not live up to my dreams. As I was now sharing more of my wife’s Pinot Noir, than she was comfortable with, I was about to order another glass. Before I could, Robert had the bottle and was giving her another pour, with a smile for her, and a growl for me. Nice touch, as only one glass appeared on the check.
For our mains, we chose the Beef Tenderloin with asparagus, mushrooms and truffle sauce, and the Pine Nut Crusted Ahi with cucumber noodles and Thai basil pesto. Though she’d already had the Ahi on the appetizer trio, my wife did not hesitate, especially with the pine nuts. Her “fresh” glass of Pinot Noir went very well. I added a glass of the Girard Napa Zin (did not note vintage, but would guess that it was about an ‘05) for the beef. Well, it was good, but not up to the filet that I had the night before at Merriman’s. Everything was perfectly prepared, and featured a lovely presentation.
My wife added a cup of decaf Kona, and we were almost done. Robert appeared with a couple of small pours of Taylor-Fladgate ‘93 VP, “because there was an open bottle, that he wanted to get rid of... “ Those too, never made it to the bill.
In the end, the total with wines, taxes, and generous gratuities, came to US$375. Even though the onion soup and the tenderloin were not “best-evers,” the meal was very, very good, and coupled with the impeccable service and the lovely atmosphere, the overall experience was great. We’ll definitely return and I will definitely request Robert as our captain.
1 Ritz Carlton Dr, Lahaina, HI
Merriman’s Kapalua, One Bay Club Place, Lahaina, 808-669-6400, http://www.merrimanshawaii.com/
Peter Merriman is one of the driving forces behind “Hawaiian Regional Cuisine,” along with other great chefs, like Bev Gannon, Mark Ellman (see MĀLA Ocean Tavern), Jean-Marie Josselin, George Mavrothalassitis, Alan Wong and Sam Choy. In 1991, twelve chefs put Hawaiian Regional Cuisine on the culinary map. We had never made it to Chef Merriman’s restaurant on the Big Island, and I was starting to catch some heat from a few of these chefs. “You HAVE to dine at Peter Merriman’s,” they instructed me. Well, I got my chance on Maui.
The Kapalua restaurant is new, since we were last on Maui. It’s tucked away, along the shore road (Lower Honoapiilani Road) between Kapalua and Napili, overlooking Oneloa & Namalu Bays. The room is elegant, with tables spread nicely about the room, which has a small bar area, just past the hostess station. The lighting is subdued, but more than adequate, and the accommodations are very comfortable. I do not know of any dress code, but a jacket for gentlemen would not be out of place here. Chef Phillip Wang oversees this location, and impressed us with his skills and those of his staff, from FOH to the depths of the kitchen. I do not know how much latitude he has with Chef Merriman’s dishes, but I’d give his interpretations a 100%, based on what we sampled. How they might compare to similar dishes at the Merriman’s on the Big Island, I cannot comment, but do plan on dining there, on our next trip.
The menu is extensive, as is the wine list. I’d give myself at least 30 minutes just to digest (no pun intended) both. As the service is both attentive, yet relaxed in a very positive “Island” way, this should be no problem.
After a few minutes with the wine list, we started with the Marc Colin et Fils ‘06 1er Cru Les Caillerets Chassagne-Montrachet. The server was happy to “carafe” this white Burg for me, though she was curious, as she’d never been asked to “decant” a white wine before. After a quick explanation, she promptly had our wine in a decanter, and had also brought the requested Riedel Vinum Burgundy “balloons” to replace their regular white wine glasses – Riedel Vinum Chardonnay stems, if I noticed correctly. No problems, no questions. Just great service, for which a glass of the Chardonnay was offered.
Decisions, decisions. Finally, we were ready to order. Our starters were the Hirabara Farm Spinach & Applewood Smoked Bacon Salad with shaved Maui onions, Surfing Goat Chevre and a balsamic vinaigrette, and the Eden Farms Kurobuta Kalua Pig & Sweet Onion Quesadilla with house-made Kim Chee and mango-chili sauce. About this time, we added a glass of the Archery Summit Red Hills Estate Pinot Noir and the Edmeades Mendocino Zinfandel. Each starter was over-the-top great. I could have made a meal with just one more of the Quesadillas. The Pinot Noir worked perfectly with Smoked Bacon and also with the smoky Kalua Pork. The acid in the Chardonnay played nicely with the Surfing Goat Chevre. Just wonderful, and this was but the beginning.
The mains were the Merriman’s Original Wok Charred Ahi with Napa cabbage slaw, macadamia nut brown rice and wasabi-soy, and the Grass Fed Maui Cattle Beef Filet (small) with sautéed Ali`i mushrooms, roasted marrow, sweet potato purée and Maui onion jam. The Ahi was wonderful, with a crisp sear on the outside, but lovely rare flesh inside. It was a perfect yin-yang of textures. The macadamia nut brown rice was exquisite. So long as too much of the wasabi-soy was used, the Pinot Noir was perfect. The smaller-cut of the filet was almost more than adequate and was wonderfully tender, flavorful and cooked to perfection. Again, that crisp crust, with perfect almost-rare meat inside. This was a great job of searing. The Zin was flawless with the beef and played off of the Maui onion jam nicely.
I was glad that I had gotten the smaller cut of the filet, as I had room to finally share a dessert with my wife. She opted for the Dark Cookie Bottom Caramel Cheesecake with Kona sea salt, dulce de leche and vanilla bean créme. I loved the sea salt as a counter-point. Really creative touch. We also split a light pour of the Edmeades Alden Ranch ‘04 Late Harvest Mendicino Ridge Zinfandel. Now, I have several bottles left of the “regular harvest” Alden Ranch Zin. The “liner notes” say something like “this is the ‘mother’ of all Zins... “ I had never tasted the Late Harvest, and did not know what to expect. Could this be the “mother” of the “mother of all Zins?” It was a totally different wine, than the “regular.” It was nowhere near as “big,” and was so very smooth. I’d guess (did not see the bottle), that it was only about 13% alcohol, rather than the 15.3% of the regular. My wife also had a cup of the Red Catuai Maui Coffee.
The bill came to US$477 for the meal, wines, taxes and a generous gratuity. This was my wife’s favorite meal of the trip, and I ranked it right up near the very top. This is a lovely restaurant, tucked away from the “beaten path.” It’s well worth the drive from Lahaina and its environs, though is a little tough finding. There is signage, but it’s located just as the road turns toward the Kapalua Ritz Carlton. If you’re headed north, look to the ocean-side, just before the big curve before the Ritz. Because of the elegance and the romantic setting, I’d definitely recommend it for any “special occasion” dining. Get there well before sunset, to take in the bay. Because of the orientation of the restaurant, you will likely not see sunset, per se, most of the year, but the view is very nice any way. I think that Chef Merriman has a real winner here, and I cannot wait to dine at his Big Island restaurant.
, Lahaina, HI 96761
MĀLA Ocean Tavern, 1307 Front St, Lahaina, Maui, 808-667-9394, http://www.malaoceantavern.com/
We were looking for someplace new to us, and the concierge at the Westin strongly recommended MĀLA Ocean Tavern. I had seen some reviews for their sister-restaurant, MĀLA, and knew that it was in Wailea – too far for us to drive and dine. “No, this is their other restaurant, and it’s great,” was her reply. Reservations were made, and I was very glad that they were, as the place was packed. It took about five minutes for us to be seated in the small secondary dining area, just around from the far end of the bar.
MĀLA Ocean Tavern is, what appears to be a converted small storefront, overlooking the MĀLA Wharf, right behind the Lahaina Cannery complex. The interior is a blend of “Island casual,” with some “colonial” touches thrown in. There is a rather large L-shaped bar, an interior dining room, a smaller interior dining area, that appears to have been an enclosed porch, and then al fresco dining on the lanai. It’s actually larger, than it appears, when you peek in from outside, or first enter. Once inside, you’ll realize that there are no “jackets required.”
The chef-owner, Mark Ellman, previously owned Avalon Restaurant in Lahaina Town, and this is now part of his two-restaurant endeavor. The menu is adventurous and fun. Same for the small, but very interesting wine list.
We started with the Crunchy Calamari with Aioli & Mojo Verde, and the Big Island Ali`i Mushrooms in Garlic & Parsley a la Plancha. The portions of each were quite large. The initial flavors were excellent, with the calamari living up to its billing by being nice and crunchy, and the mushrooms being velvety smooth. I used the word “initially” earlier on. My observation was that both of these dishes should be ordered “family-style” for a party of 4, or more. We had them for a party of 2. They were both large, and became rather boring, as we continued to explore them. First taste was “wow!” By the fifth taste, the charm was gone. I kept trying to regain that first impression, but everything was exactly the same – same exact flavors, same exact textures. A little would have gone a long way. A lot was just too much, and ruined both dishes for us. If one had a larger group, I think that these dishes would have fared much better, as one would only have had those first few bites, which were very good. I probably should note here that one of my usual complaints with too many restaurants is the size of their portions. I like different flavors, textures and am not feeding an army. I appreciate smaller portions, that are extremely well-done, and will just get more of these. Whether it’s in a “small-dish” type serving, or a tapas setting, or a chef’s tasting, I just like smaller portions. Now, sharing one of these two amongst a bunch of friends and family is definitely the way to go.
Primarily because of the mushrooms, but also because I love his wines, we went with a bottle of the Paul Hobbs ‘06 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. It was a lovely wine, though the garlic in the mushrooms kinda’ overpowered it. That garlic, that I loved on the first few bites, was wearing on me by now. The same for the Aioli & Mojo Verde with the calamari – great at first, but just too much of a good thing. I kept the Pinot Noir far away from that dish, and didn’t get back to it, until we finally pushed back from both starter courses.
I had hoped for a really good selection of either half-bottles, or wines B-T-G. While the main list was very good, and fairly priced for a resort area in “paradise,” not so for smaller selections. I’ll get this out of the way early. Like our dishes, we both love to pair wines with each dish. When it’s just the two of us, half-bottles and B-T-G selections are the way that we usually go. Picking the one, quintessential full-bottle can be both daunting, and extremely limiting. I inquired whether we could have full-bottles sealed to take back to the resort, as is done elsewhere in Hawai`i and many other states. Unfortunately, that was not possible here. OK, so we stuck with one bottle and let it go at that. [More on the wine laws later.]
For our mains, we ordered the Local Mahi Mahi a la Plancha with Potato Purée, Mojo Verde & Grilled Pita with Romesco, and one of the specials, Seared Sashimi (exact prep not noted). These dishes were more appropriately sized and each was a knockout. My wife’s tuna was perfectly seared and barely warm in the middle. The Mahi was some of the best, that I have had. It was moist, had a perfect texture and with it, the Mojo Verde was now coming into its own, even though I had grown tired of it with the calamari.
Besides the dining areas, there is a complete list of “bar food,” and it appeared that many patrons were availing themselves of this.
In all, this was a fun, laid-back dining experience. One often expects the starter-courses to really shine, and out perform the mains. This was not the case with our meal. The mains saved the day.
The fare was ~ US$200 for two including the wine, tax and gratuity. Were I consulting for MĀLA Ocean Tavern, I’d strongly suggest an appetizer medley, with maybe four items in much smaller portions.
Mala Ocean Tavern
1307 Front St, Lahaina, HI 96761