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Oahu and Maui report (long)

s
sga1952 Aug 10, 2009 06:59 PM

My first Chowhound post. My wife and I spent 10 days in Hawaii in late July and early August. I relied on numerous Chowhound posts to plan our eating adventures, along with Zagat and Honolulu magazine. My philosophy is always “pay it forward,” so here is a summary of where we went, what we had, and how good it was (and it almost all was very, very good).

OAHU
Roy’s Waikiki – ate here twice, the first night and the last. Sat at sushi bar the first night and were really impressed. You get complimentary edamane which will totally surpass any edamane you ever had before, nicely seasoned with salt and a Japanese pepper sauce. My wife ordered the dragon roll, which was a tuna roll deep fried, sliced and then covered with pesto and a couple of other sauces. FANTASTIC! We both had salads and I had a crab cake appetizer – a light meal but our stomachs thought it was 2 a.m. We liked it so much we decided to come back again our last night. Unfortunately we were less pleased the second time around. We had a table in the main dining room and it was way, way, way too loud. We had the dragon roll again plus a maki roll, both outstanding. Roy’s lets you order half portions of some entrees. I had the butterfish and it was out of this world. My wife had the ahi half-size entrée and it was awful – small serving, no seasoning and overcooked. Suggestion: if you want quiet, eat at the bar or outside.

Little Village Noodle House – went here for lunch. Since this place is called a noodle house, we both ordered noodles. I got the Singapore rice noodles and my wife got the seafood with fried noodles. We thought it was good but not great, too bland for my tastes. But frankly I think we ordered the wrong stuff. There were a number of locals there and they were not ordering noodles; they were getting items off the regular Chinese menu.

Phuket Thai – dinner at the McCully location, just across the bridge from Waikiki. This is a small restaurant in a strip shopping center. Again a mixed verdict. They had lost their beer and wine license, so I had to walk down to 7/11 to get two beers. Started with Tom Yum and Tom Kha soups, both were outstanding. The entrees (fish with peanut sauce for me; forget what my wife had) were less impressive. Again, maybe we did not order the best they had to offer. Lots of vegetarian options FYI.

Orchids brunch – every Sunday the Orchids restaurant in the Halekulani hotel (where we stayed, which was fantastic) has a brunch. We were totally blown away. There must have been 150 or more different options available, including omelettes to order, an ice cream bar, stacks of sushi and sashimi, and a wide assortment of Hawaiian dishes (did not see any poi). This was my first exposure to poke, Hawaii’s take on sashimi. They had it made from ahi, snapper, and octopus. All were great! There was truly something here for everyone.

Nobu – had a light dinner here one evening. I had snapper ceviche with olive oil and jalapeno for an appetizer and then ono for the entrée; both were superb. My wife had a salad with slightly seared pieces of ahi to start, followed by the “squid pasta,” actually no pasta at all – the squid were slided to look like noodles. This place is very expensive, but every bite was a delight. Would definitely return!

Nico’s at Pier 38 – Restaurants in Honolulu can be very expensive. But you can eat very well for a very reasonable price if you go to places like Nico’s. We had lunch here twice, once coming back from Pearl Harbor and once on our way to the airport. The focus at Nico’s is on the food. You order at the counter and the food comes up pretty fast. Don’t linger too long, someone else will need your table. The first time we both had the grilled ahi sandwich. Easily the best fish sandwich I’ve had in years. Good size piece of tuna cooked medium rare, arugula, wasabi aioli, outstanding baguette. On the second visit, I had the grilled catch of the day which was swordfish, while my wife had the furikake panseared ahi with ginger garlic cilantro sauce. Both very good, although not up to the ahi sandwich pantheon. If I am ever back in Honolulu, Nico’s would definitely be on our itinerary.

Sansei Waikiki – Some traditional Japanese, but mostly fusion. We shared the tasting menu for two at $75 which was great food and a pretty good deal by Waikiki standards. We received eight different items, all of which were at least pretty good and some of which were outstanding. Had two different rolls, some sashimi, ahi poke, crab cakes, calamari salad, butterfish and a lobster ravioli dish. Another outstanding meal.

Duke’s -- want a good grilled mahi sandwich at Waikiki for about $8? Then Duke’s is your place. Unique atmosphere (Duke was a famous surfer), and right on the beach. Great people watching.

MAUI
Nick’s Fishmarket – birthday dinner for my wife. I had called and made reservations in advance requesting an outdoor table as close to the water as possible. The staff at Nick’s delivered. They made us feel welcome for a special occasion without going overboard (e.g., no one sang). The meal overall was outstanding. We shared two apps the Maui Wowie salad and the Poi Pounder. The salad was first rate, very fresh and lots of nice flavors. The centerpiece of the PP was crab salad wrapped inside a nice piece of ahi sashimi. We thought the ahi and crab tasted better separately instead of together. For entrees we had the snapper and the opah, both delicious. Finished with two mango sorbets. A very pleasant evening with great food and great atmosphere; one of the best meals of the trip.

Café O Lei – we had a good, very reasonably priced lunch here. My wife had a Caesar salad topped with blackened mahi while I had blackened mahi entrée which came with rice and a small serving of Caesar salad. Fish portion was the same, choice depends on how much salad you want. Very few restaurants blacken fish very well; Café O Lei was the exception – nice spice combo and it was cooked at a high enough temperature to form a crust. Why pay $20 for a hamburger in Wailea when you can spend half that here?

Mama’s Fish House – one of the best meals of the trip (although apparently this is a controversial subject on this board). I started with the tomato, maui onion and blue cheese salad; it was mostly luscious, ripe tomatoes, heavenly. My wife had the romaine and hearts of palm salad; it also was good, but she was disappointed in the relative scarcity of hearts of palm. The entrees were stellar; I had ahi which was melt in your mouth good (although the side called “sweet potato mash” was 90% mashed potatoes with 10% sweet potatoes) and my wife was delighted with the curry dish with three different types of fish. We finished it off with chocolate pie with chocolate crust and Kona coffee in a French press. Great atmosphere (Mama’s is an open air restaurant facing the north shore of Maui) and great service. We would go back in a heartbeat.

Spago – another stellar meal, perhaps the best of the bunch. We started off sharing the “snow cones,” actually ahi poke in a small sesame-miso cone. Each cone is only three small bites, but what bites they are! My wife went the fish and curry sauce route again and was immensely pleased. I had the monchong and it was melt in your mouth good. Again, we would go back for sure on our next trip.

Makena Grill – this is basically a taco truck about four miles south of Wailea. Open from 1130 to 4, the owner and chef fixes the best fish tacos you are ever likely to run into. She has her own wood burning stove. Your basic choices are beef, chicken or fish in a plate, sandwich or taco. The fish taco comes with a good sized serving of freshly smoked mahi (and there might be a bone or two) plus an excellent pineapple salsa. Off the beaten path, but well worth the journey. And half the price (or less) of those $20 hamburgers at the big fancy resorts in Wailea.

David Paul’s Island Grill – Open only since April. This was more of a mixed bag than the other places we visited in Maui. We started with a Greek salad to share, but they left out the feta cheese and cukes. But did they offer us a comp dessert or a discount? The entrees were better, but we had been spoiled three nights in a row at Nick’s, Mama’s and Spago. My wife had a spicy shrimp dish that was a bit short on the spice; my grilled ono was better. To their credit, DPIG was more affordable than the three other restaurants I just mentioned.
Hana Ranch Restaurant – now run by the Hotel Hana Maui and on a Saturday you need to be aware that many tour groups lunch here (where else do you lunch in Hana?). Fantastic grilled tuna sandwich, almost as good as Nico’s in Oahu. The burgers looked pretty darned good too.

Pa’ia Fish Market – we stopped here on the way back from Hana. You order at the counter and you share tables. We both had grilled ahi and were very pleased with the large (8-9 oz?) serving of fresh, simply prepared fish on top of your choice of sides. Ahi sandwiches looked like another good option. Not the place for a long, quiet evening, but a great place for good, fresh fish.

My overall impression is that we dined extremely well at a wide range of prices. Thanks to previous posters who helped us find some great places and avoid some not so great ones. There are many reasons to visit Oahu and Maui; the great eats are one reason this hound is likely to return sooner instead of later.

  1. j
    Joebob Aug 11, 2009 06:54 PM

    Thanks for your detailed report. Three other places to try when you return are Alan Wong's, Chef Mavro, and Fatty's in Waikiki for pretty good cake noodle.

    1. KaimukiMan Aug 11, 2009 06:55 PM

      thanks for a great report. as a local, i can't tell you how informative it is to get the viewpoint of the many visitors we get here all the time. It keeps me on my toes and introduces me to new places that I wouldn't get around to trying. Thats one of the beauties of chowhound, the combination of knowledge that only locals have tempered and augmented by the experience of new tastebuds.

      1. ms. clicquot Aug 11, 2009 07:15 PM

        Excellent report. I just returned from Maui myself and loved the island, the food and the people. We must have similar tastes because I ordered the poke and monchong at Spago as well! It was very good. The only negative note to our dinner there was a side dish of rice that came with my husband's salmon that was cooked to mush. However, everything else was delicious. We also ate at Nick's and enjoyed it very much. We had the flaming strawberries for dessert which I highly recommend. Unfortunately we didn't get to Mama's but perhaps on our next visit.

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