Some questions for my Maui trip
I'll be in Maui for about a week staying all over the island (West, Central, East and South) during the Christmas holidays. So my restaurant choices have a lot to do with where I'll be staying at the moment as I don't like to drive long distances. As I stated in my other post looking for chow in Oahu, my preference is to have a mix of casual and fancy meals and to eat foods that aren't as common in my hometown of NYC (eg. no Gerard's). This is what I have so far:
Breakfasts (and/or snacks, depending on how you look at it)
T Komoda Store and Bakery -- donut on a stick; cream puffs
Tasaka guri guri in kahlalui -- sherbet
Real Fruit Ice Cream -- W. Maui
Lahaina Farms in W. Maui -- for poke and fixins for a beach lunch
Takamiya Market in C. Maui -- for food to eat later at Haleakala National Park
Mama's Fish Market in C. Maui -- am curious to see what side I'm on
Da Kitchen -- probably at Kahului location as I heard it was better and the menu is expanded
Eskimo Candy in S. Maui
Sam Sato's in C. Maui-- for their dry saimin
Honokowei Ozakya Deli in W. Maui -- a bit more casual than I would have preferred for dinner, but would love to check this place out, especially as I've read the former owner used to be at Mama's Fish House and the new owner is still using many of the recipes; was planning on bringing the food back to my hotel and eating it on the lanai
Merriman's in W. Maui
Hali'maile General Store in C. Maui
Spago in S. Maui
Cafe O'Lei in S. Maui
1. In my hasty planning, I made the mistake of driving to and staying at Hana on Christmas Day. The banana bread guy told me he was going to be open on Christmas. Is there a market that will be open in Kahului on Christmas Day, or will I have to pick my groceries up the day before as I plan on cooking dinner at Hana?
2. For W. Maui, I've got Merriman's as my "fancy" meal. One of the reasons I picked it is because they have these signature platters where one can try many different dishes. Yet I read mixed reports on this place. But I also keep reading mixed reports on other places out there as well -- Lahaina Grill, Mala, Pineapple Grill, Plantation House, etc. What would be your choice for your fancy meal in W. Maui?
3. Any recommendations for stands on the road from Hana the day after Christmas?
4. I will be at Spago and have read many recommendations for the tasting menu. Does this need to be ordered in advance? And how much food is it? I'm a little concerned because we'll be away for two weeks and our regular diet is worlds away from this richer one we plan to do in Hawaii. I'm afraid that we'll end up feeling pretty shitty by the end of our trip. So I'm trying not to overstuff myself (though it will be hard as I'll be surrounded by a lot of temptation!).
5. Any other recommendations for light breakfasts/snacky type of foods?
I know a lot of my report must have me sounding like a sourpuss towards the restaurants of Maui. To be perfectly candid, I found the food good, not great. But things changed in upcountry. I saved my favorite part of Maui (foodwise) for last. Just wanted to thank all of you for your help with my itinerary.
MAMA'S FISH HOUSE
This isn't the most polarizing restaurant I've read about on CH. But it is on Maui. Luckily they were open on Christmas Day and we had an early lunch there before heading out to Hana. I'm really glad we had really early reservations because we got an awesome view. It's just not the same if you arrive after sunset or around prime time where you'll be seated toward the back if the good tables are taken. I don't know what dinner prices are like but have heard it's more expensive. So I'm glad we did lunch.
They started us off with an amuse-bouche of cream of tomato soup with ginger. So far so good. There was a mishap with the appetizers. We ordered one appetizer to share, the Hood Canal clams with kalua pork and kimchi. The waitress misunderstood and brought us the Kusshi oysters served on the half shell with papaya mignonette. At this point, we were really hungry and told her that we would eat the oysters and asked her to bring out the clams as well. Oysters aren't super-filling, especially if it's only 3 to a person. While I normally prefer oysters plain (no cocktail sauce, no mignonette), this was the first time I felt that the papaya mignonette enhanced the oyster rather than mask it. It was really delicious and was glad that the waitress brought this to us by mistake. We then received the clams. Very good. Kalua pork and kimchi is a good combo. Well, our ordering the clams for the second time must have screwed up the timing because our entrees arrived shortly after the clams. We barely got to eat any of the clams. Oh well. I know some people would have sent the entrees back until they were done with the appetizers but it was fine. So we just ate all three of them at once.
The first entree was "Deep water ahi caught by Doug Muller trolling ten miles from Pauwela Point seared in ginger and panko crust with kalua pig rice pilaf." Second one was "Mahimahi caught by Kevin Hogan on the 'Rascal' out from Maalea Harbor stuffed with lobster, crab, Maui onion baked in macadamia nut crust." I thought the menu descriptions were hysterical. I'm sure others wouldn't see it quite that way, especially if you were Doug Muller trolling ten miles to catch the ahi that I'm eating. The ahi was really well cooked and so flavorful. The kalua pig rice pilaf was everything Merriman's macadamia brown rice wasn't -- savory, delicious, bursting with flavor. It came with a side of kimchi, which was tame according to Korean standards. Koreans do have non-spicy kimchi but this was in the middle of non-spicy and spicy. The mahimahi was also great. They were really generous with the lobster and crab. It was served with a lemongrass pilaf and the most amazingly sweet piece of corn on the cob. I was starting to wonder whether they boiled the corn in sugar water.
Now for the best part -- dessert. I know that Mama's is known for their Black Pearl, a dessert of chocolate mousse and passionfruit cream in a pastry sea shell. I get very conflicted when I sometimes hear about signature dishes that I think I won't be too fond of just be reading the description. Have never been a huge fruit-chocolate fan. When I try signature dishes of restaurants that don't sound good to me on paper, most of the time I think that I should have gone with my instinct. But there is a small percentage where these signature things are so good that it shatters my preconceived notions about certain food combos. I'm happy to say that this was one of them. And this is why I continue to order things at restaurants that may not sound that great to me if I've heard raves about the certain dish -- for the off chance that I will be surprised. I LOVED this dish. I tend not to like desserts that are too sweet. This had the perfect level of sweetness. And I'm a sucker for desserts that taste light but are deceptively rich (which is why I wish I was rich enough to make Pierre Herme my personal pastry slave). Firstly, this dessert was stunning visually. But the taste of it was so complex. It takes a certain skill to achieve that type of balance. Hands down, this was my favorite dessert on this entire trip (Maui and Oahu). They also had a great coffee list. DH ended up getting coffee grown on the slopes of Haleakala which was described as "rich, robust, complex with chocolate flavors." He loved it.
HALI'IMAILE GENERAL STORE
Luckily, we had a GPS for a couple of days. Otherwise I'm not sure if we would have found this place in the dark. You're driving on on isolated small road. DH kept asking me, "Are you sure there's a restaurant around here?" I replied that there is according to the GPS. GPS was correct! In the middle of nowhere, you see some lights and cars parked. It was a charming rustic room.
I started off with the passionfruit lemonade. Way too sweet for my taste. I had to dilute it with a lot of water to drink it. We ended up ordering three appetizers and one entree. We had Bev's famous crab pizza which was a 6" round of bread topped with a creamy crab topping. It was good, but honestly I didn't see what the fuss was about. To me, the sashimi napoleon stole the show. It was layers of smoked salmon, ahi tartare and ahi with crispy wontons in a wasabi vinaigrette. To waitress explained that you break it up before you eat it. It was quite a flavor explosion in my mouth. I loved the juxtaposition of the different flavors and textures. I found the recipe online and can't wait to make it. Our third appetizer was rock shrimp tempura which was a Chinese take-out box filled with tempura rock shrimp with three dipping sauces -- truffled honey, spicy miso and sweet soy tobiko. There was popcorn sprinkled over the shrimp. I think popcorn was there more as a play on words than for function (popcorn shrimp = popcorn). It was good, but got really soggy and chewy when placed on the top of the hot shrimp. My favorite of the sauces was the spicy miso. It had a really disconcerting Pepto Bismol color. But it tasted good. DH's favorite sauce was the truffle honey (you can see and taste actual bits of truffle in the honey).
We did one of the specials for our entree -- crab and ugani crusted filet mignon served with edmamame potato puree, roasted asparagus and Kabayaki demi-glace. This was the first time having something like this, and I was excited to try it. The quality of the filet mignon far surpassed Cafe O'Lei's. It was quite succulent and delicious. And I thought that the crab and ugani with the beef worked really well together, although DH preferred to eat it separately. A winner!
I really wanted to try the chocolate macadamia pie and DH really wanted the chocolate raspberry truffle cake. While we usually will share a dessert, we ended up getting our own as I'm not a fan of the chocolate-fruit thing. The pie was a bit too sweet for my taste. It was also supposed to be served with whipped cream (according to the menu). But mine just came with a dusting of powdered sugar. I think the whipped cream would have lightened it up a bit. If you're a fan of pecan pie, this would be up your alley. The cake was dark chocolate layer cake layered with chocolate ganache and raspberry. Good, if you're a fan of chocolate and fruit. We ended up taking the leftovers and had it for breakfast next morning. Can anyone think of a better way to start their day than with chocolate?
T KOMODA BAKERY
The first time we visited the bakery, they closed early for the holiday. Drats! We had some time at a later point in our trip so we tried again. Great! They were open. We got the donut on a stick and cream puff. The cream puff was all right. But the donut on a stick was delicious. I'm not a huge donut fan (with the exception of malasadas, bomboloni and a few cake donuts at Donut Plant in NYC). But I'll add this one to my list. Fluffy, light and airy. It also helped that it was fun to eat.
SURFING GOAT DAIRY
We didn't have a ton of time so we weren't able to do the tour. But we did have time to try some passionfruit quark no-bake cheesecake. The thickener was gelatin. Wonderful and refreshing! I wasn't sure if I was going to like this as I'm not a huge jello fan. But I didn't mind it because the quark was creamy. It satisfied my light but rich dessert requirement.
ROAD TO HANA (EXCLUDING MAMA'S FISH HOUSE)
TWIN FALLS FARM STAND
I was too stuffed to have anything (just came from lunch at Mama's) but DH wanted to get a drink. So we stopped at the Twin Falls Farm Stand and waited on line. We got a pineapple and sugarcane smoothie. It was just fresh pineapple, sugarcane juice and ice blended together. A bit diluted in flavor (they added a lot of ice), but still good.
It was starting to get dark and I thought I had already missed my opportunity to try the banana bread at Hana Farms as it was after 5P (the guy told me he would be there til 5). But luck was on my side as I saw they were still open. We got some macadamia nut toffee and chocolate chip banana bread. Both were delicious. It seemed that the macadamia nut banana bread was the most popular as it was almost gone, but I knew that DH would probably not enjoy the banana bread unless it had chocolate in it.
CONDO IN HANA
I'm glad that we rented a condo for one night because I was missing some home-cooked food. We picked up the ingredients at Mana Foods, a health food store in Paia. Really terrific selection and great prices. Some of the prices there rivaled stuff on the mainland. I did bring with me a small container of olive oil in my luggage because I didn't want to buy a bottle to only use a couple of TBS. The local avocado was absolutely wonderful -- the best I've ever had! I mixed cubes of it with some tomato chunks (which were also so good) with a bit of olive oil, S&P. And I made a veggie pasta dish using Tinkyada brown rice pasta, fresh chanterelles, parsley, asparagus, tomatoes and garlic. All of the local veggies (with the exception of the chanterelles) were so delicious. I don't know why but the chanterelles didn't have any flavor. I got them because they were so inexpensive (they usually cost me more than twice what I paid at Mana Foods), but they didn't really add anything to the dish except for texture. It was really nice to eat lighter for a change of pace.
I wasn't able to find Ono Organic Farms. I wonder if they were closed. Or perhaps we were driving too fast.
LOCAL BOY SNACK SHOP (KIHEI)
This is probably the only shave ice shop that includes mochi balls, ice cream, kalua cream (whatever that is -- thinking it's probably similar to condensed milk), red beans, mochi balls and gummy bears in the price. Am not a big fan of red beans and gummy bears in my shave ice so asked for one with ice cream, mochi balls and kalua cream. They were out of the mochi balls and kalua cream so I got one with ice cream and gummy bears (for texture). Very good. The ice was fluffy (as opposed to granular) -- the way I like it. Next time I would say no to the gummy bears. The cold temperature made it very difficult to eat as they hardened up. Would definitely hit this place again in the future.
DA KITCHEN (KIHEI)
Due to other circumstances, we were unable to hit Da Kitchen in Kahului (there's also a branch in Lahaina). So we went to the one in Kihei. Menu is abbreviated -- no deep fried spam musubi to be found! As we were planning on eating heavily later on, we shared one loco moco. Holy crap! Even if we weren't going to eat a lot later on, one portion would probably enough to share for most people. Two large hamburger patties drenched in gravy topped with two over easy eggs (they wouldn't do sunnyside up) that came with rice and mac salad. It is certainly a good value. Taste? Well, as this is my first loco moco, I'm not familiar with how it's supposed to taste. I always thought it was supposed to be made with ground beef. But this meat tasted like it had filler in it. The best way to describe it would be like a salisbury steak that you get in the freezer section of supermarkets. Nevertheless, it was still good and did its job of filling our stomachs. I would have preferred pure ground meat, but I made my own version at home (using ground turkey and a sunnyside up fried egg) to satisfy my cravings. I have to say I preferred my home version because it didn't taste as processed.
We were seated out on the lanai and the room and view is breathtaking -- well, at least mine was because DH's view was a column! We later found out that they make a few changes during the holiday season (in their definition, middle of Dec to middle of Jan). First of all, there is no tasting menu available. Secondly, they cram in a few extra tables to accommodate more diners. One of the tables next to us was a folding table. I'm pretty sure the table we were seated at is not originally supposed to be there because it was an awkward position. Oh well, what are you going to do?
I was a bit disappointed that we weren't able to do the tasting menu. But I decided to indulge in the bread basket. What an awesome selection! I haven't tried everything (there are 5 varieties). But from the three I've tried, my favorites were the parmesan cracker and maui onion roll (so soft and pillowy). Our appetizers consisted of the famous ahi poke in sesame miso cones. Similar to Thomas Keller's salmon cornets in appearance, but with an Asian twist. I LOVED these cones. It was slightly spicy, sweet and creamy topped with some greens. I could have eaten 10 of these. We also shared a terrine of roasted beets and goat cheese served with salad topped with macadamia nuts. You could tell there was a lot of work that went into the terrine. It was gorgeous. I'm sure a lot of people think roasted beets and goat cheese is a cliche, but the flavor combo still works for me. This was the best food we've eaten so far on this trip (and we have already eaten at Mama's Fish House and Hali'imaile General Store by this point). I was really looking forward to our entrees.
Unfortunately, the entrees didn't really measure up to the appetizers. Our first entree was much tastier -- a filet of opakapaka (?) served with a lemongrass butter sauce over mashed potatoes. It was quite good and well prepared, but still no match for our appetizers. We also ordered the caramelized pork chop served with taro mashed potatoes and chutney. The waitress informed us that the pork chop is generally cooked medium but it will be okay for us to eat as it will be cooked through. We told her that we would like our pork chop medium rare if possible. If the source of the pork is good, we don't have any qualms eating it on the rarer side. Well, the pork chop we received was cooked medium well -- much too dry for our taste. The chutney helped us get the pork down. I was so astounded by the appetizers that I was a bit surprised by the mediocrity of our mains.
I was a bit torn on deciding what dessert to order. For some reason, nothing really appealed to me. The waitress said the chef's favorite was the sticky icky toffee cake with tangerine sorbet. It was fine but that was about it. This may have been more of me having too much dessert over the past few days than with the quality of the cake itself. DH ordered ice cream because that was what he wanted. It was still $15 for two small scoops of ice cream -- the same price as the other desserts. Ouch! And it must have been sitting at the pass for a while because it was pretty melted when we received them.
I really wish we could have tried this place during a non-holiday time. First of all, it would have been a much more pleasant experience in terms of space. People were pretty crowded together and DH had a view of a column. It would also have been nice to order the tasting menu. And I'm wondering if our pork chop suffered a lot because of the extra chaos the holidays was causing for the kitchen staff. But I do have to say that the two appetizers were the best things we have eaten on Maui.
FOODLAND SUPERMARKET (KIHEI)
I originally wanted to try Eskimo Candy. But I then found out they were closed on weekends. So we drove around trying to figure out where to have lunch. Kihei and Wailea is not like Lahaina where one can walk around. We eventually decided to have a supermarket lunch from Foodland. We got spam musubi, chicken katsu musubi, wasabi poke, octopus poke, crab poke kimchi style and potato chips. The spam musubi and chicken katsu musubi were tasty. Chicken was a little drier than I would have preferred, but it was still fine. The wasabi poke was made with previously frozen ahi. You can definitely taste the difference between fresh fish and previously frozen. The flavor of it was still good, but I would have gladly paid the extra cost for the fresh fish. Octopus poke (which is cooked) was delicious. Crab poke kimchi style is a sweeter version of the raw marinated crab one gets as banchan at some Korean restaurants. I love that stuff, but DH is not a fan. Oh well, more for me. I have to say it's not the easiest thing to eat that dish sitting on a bunch of hot black rocks overlooking the water with live crabs scurrying about.
CAFE O'LEI (KIHEI)
It's located in the same mall as Da Kitchen is. But it's worlds away in decor from Da Kitchen. It was a very pleasant space full of activity during the evening. I've heard that it's where a lot of locals go. So I was looking forward to it and really wanted to like it. But I didn't. I started with the maui onion soup with puff pastry crust. Delicious. I like the puff pastry as opposed to a crouton one normally gets with French onion soup. The ahi-stuffed tempura calamari in ginger butter and wasabi aoili was OK. Way too much aoili and butter -- it drowned the ahi and calamari. We ordered medallions of tenderloin with foie gras which came with mashed potatoes in a cabernet sauce and the special entree which consisted of opakapaka with grilled shrimp, mashed potatoes and mushrooms. Being billed as a steak and seafood place, I expected the tenderloin to be a lot more flavorful than it was. The opakapaka was much tastier. They achieved a nice crispness on the skin. There was a bit of gluiness to the mashed potatoes -- I'm thinking it was made in the food processor/blender. Each entree came with a salad. Salads were actually very good. Greens were crisp and fresh and sprinkled with blue cheese.
I will say that I don't think the prices online are very accurate. Our tenderloin was about $10 higher than advertised on the net. And while most of the prices online reflect entree prices with many in the teens and 20s, our experience was that the prices were more like in the 20s and 30s. Did they raise prices for the holiday season? I don't know. Overall, the food was OK. But when I think that the entrees we had approached prices of Hali'imaile General Store, it makes it less appealing. The food at Hali'imaile General Store was so much better than Cafe O'Lei. We shared a creme brulee for dessert. Cafe O'Lei isn't a terrible place to eat, but I don't think it's quite the culinary bargain people make it out to be during dinner time. Perhaps lunch is different. I would be willing to try this place again for lunch. But I would be hard pressed to come here again for dinner.
I picked up a picnic lunch at this small market in Wailuku. This is the type of place I imagine many Chowhounders love to wax rhapsodic about -- small family-owned off-the-beaten place full of locals where prices are more than agreeable. Well, I wish I could be one of them. It was decent, but it didn't meet up to all of the raves I've been hearing. Actually, my visit there was very interesting from a cultural perspective. Even if you don't intend on eating there, I think a tourist should make a visit. There aren't too many places in the US where one will find extra-large futomaki (larger than usual) side by side with tubs of macaroni salad. Some of the stuff looked interesting. Some (like the cottage cheese jello mold) wasn't too difficult for me to pass on. I just wish the food I purchased there was tastier. Much of the stuff is premade and sitting in styrofoam plates covered with plastic wrap. We ended up getting two packaged "lunches." One was Korean ribs (LA cut) served with rice and kimchi. Actually this one wasn't too bad. The kalbi was on the sweet side for my taste (but I realize that a lot of things in Hawaii are a bit sweeter than I'm used to) and the kimchi was a bit mild. Our second "lunch" consisted of rice with a slice of Spam, sausage, and fried chicken thigh. I don't think this choice fared as well wrapped up in the plastic wrap. No crisp edge on the Spam or kielbasa-like sausage. And the steamed made the fried chicken thigh skin really soggy. We also got two pieces of maki which were filled with egg custard, carrots and some sort of red shredded fish(?). I felt the ratio of rice to innards was too large. The best thing about the meal was poi mochi -- taro, mochi, sugar and coconut milk. DH is not very fond of mochi, so it wasn't his cup of tea. But I loved it.
If you're looking for some inexpensive decent picnic fixins, Takamiya Market is a good place. But from what I sampled and have seen, I think you can find better renditions of some of the items at other restaurants or people's homes. For those familiar with NYC, the prepared food section of Takamiya seems very similar to Woo Ri Jip on 32nd Street, a takeout Korean food restaurant that is immensely popular with Koreans and non-Koreans. I know some non-Koreans think this is the benchmark for Korean food because you've got so many Korean customers. It's not popular because they serve fantastic food. It's popular because it's decent, cheap, fast and easy.
We hit this before we were to fly to Oahu. Got there around 12:15 and was shocked to see how long the line was. Apparently this was an anomaly as locals would walk up and also express surprise. We put our name on the list. But after waiting half an hour without making much progress, we realized that we needed to do take-out if we didn't want to miss our flight. I originally wanted to try an order of dry saimin and regular saimin, but decided that wet items probably wouldn't fare so well in the car. So it was one order of dry saimin, chicken on a stick, beef on a stick, lima bean manju and pineapple turnover. We took it and ate it at Iao Valley State Park. I thought the chicken on a stick was very tasty. Beef on a stick? Well, too syrupy sweet for my taste. I know Sam Sato's is really known for their dry saimin, but I just couldn't get into it. It was too bland. The MSG-laden broth helped a bit (ate it like how you eat soba noodles with dipping sauce). But I just found it a bit one-dimensional. To me, this would function better as a side dish than have it be an entire meal. From the picture it looks like there's a lot of meat. But there really isn't once you mix the whole thing together. I would say per person, we're talking about 1.5 oz of meat (and I think I'm being generous). If there were more vegetables, I could see getting into this dish more. I really liked the stir-fried noodles that I ate on the Trilogy trip as there was more flavor and a bunch of vegetables to keep my palate alive. But I quickly got tired of eating noodle after noodle. So I stopped and proceeded to dessert. The lima bean manju was pretty good. Not very sweet and moist. But the real surprise for me was the pineapple turnover. It was DH's request to order it. I expected to see some canned syrupy pineapple in the filling because that's what I've always received when I've eaten pineapple turnovers and pineapple cheesecake. But it was fresh pineapple! Duh! We're in Hawaii! I was so psyched to have fresh lightly sweetened pineapple enclosed in the flaky crust. I enjoyed it more than the lima bean manju.
Unfortunately with this delay, we had no time to go to Tasaka Guri Guri for sherbet.
Reporting back on my trip. I thought it would be best to divide it up according to region and will post gradually as I get to writing them.
After not having eaten for 17 hours, we were pretty hungry. We didn't get there super-early (about 9:00A) but were lucky enough that there was a two-top in the corner. The view wasn't as nice but we were too hungry to wait for another table. We ordered fresh pineapple spears to start with. Nicely arranged and was delicious, sweet and juicy. Not sure if it was the Maui gold pineapple but it was very tasty. We then had the short stack of combo pancakes (macadamia nut, pineapple, banana) and a small order of fried rice. I thought the pancakes were going to have the nuts, pineapple and banana inside but they were just sprinkled on top. The pancakes on its own were ordinary, but the whipped cream topping was very interesting. After a while it was a bit too sweet for my taste. Then DH told me to alternate between a bite of pancake and a scoop of rice. I'm so glad that the waitress asked us if we wanted the small order of rice (menu only stated one size) as the small one was pretty huge (we ended up taking leftovers to our hotel). It was topped with an egg pancake and was very reminiscent to what I had growing up. The only thing that was missing was the ketchup. My mom would stir-fry the ketchup into the rice and it was awesome. So I added some ketchup to the top. While this probably sounds gross to a lot of people, alternating bites of whipped cream topped pancakes and ketchup fried rice was just what I needed to help me get over the jet lag. I also thought the prices were very reasonable and service was very friendly and efficient.
TRILOGY EXCURSIONS (Lanai Sunrise snorkel trip departing from Lahaina)
I thought they organized a terrific trip and would highly recommend them. Breakfast and lunch came with the excursion. I'm used to getting pretty sub-par food on these things, but was pleasantly surprised at how good the food was. Breakfast was hot cinnamon buns and fruit. I just ate some pineapple (yummy) and a cinnamon bun. OK, these buns aren't going to win any culinary awards, but they were delicious and was comforting to eat while sailing in the nippy morning air. Lunch consisted of baked teriyaki chicken finished on the grill with Lanai mesquite, stir-fried noodles with vegetables and peas. There wasn't a huge mesquite flavoring as the majority of the cooking of the chicken was done in the oven, but it was still tasty. And I really liked the noodles -- a lot more flavorful than the noodles I had at Sam Sato's in Wailuku (I'll discuss that later). And on the boat ride back, they gave us vanilla ice cream topped with fudge sauce.
They had a great poke counter and the man was really nice and generous with his samples. We ended up getting some of the fresh ahi poke (not previously frozen), top shell kimchi poke, surf clam poke, seaweed salad and a pack of Maui style maui onion potato chips. The ahi poke was a bit on the salty side but the fish was fresh. The top shell (which is a snail) kimchi poke wasn't really kimchi spices but used a Korean-based seasoning of gochujang (hot fermented bean paste), malt syrup and garlic and sesame oil. While I was OK with eating one piece when sampling it, it got a bit too cloyingly sweet for me after a few more bites. The surf clam poke and seaweed salad was well balanced and prepared very well. Because of the saltiness of the ahi poke and top shell poke, I was wishing for unsalted potato chips instead. But I've learned later that unsalted potato chips aren't easily found in Hawaii. I also picked up an apple banana that I ate the next day. About half the size of bananas that I normally see on the mainland, but not as small as the cute little baby bananas. Unfortunately, I don't think it was my thing. I'm pretty sure it was ripe as it was yellow with a few brown spots on it. I can see why they call it an apple banana as I tasted the slight tartness to it. But to me it was just very reminiscent of an unripe banana. But I'm always glad to try something new.
We stumbled into this tourist store accidentally. They welcomed us with some shell necklaces. That was very nice of them but it made me feel somewhat obligated to buy something from them (I guess it worked!). So I picked up some taro chips and a Mauna Loa espresso macadamia chocolate bar. The taro chips were excellent. We got the same brand a couple of weeks later in Oahu at another store (not Hilo Hattie's), and they were not as fresh. These chips were not too salty and would have been the perfect complement for our too salty poke from Lahaina Farms. And the chocolate bar wasn't bad as well. Not a huge fan of Hershey's chocolates, but the espresso and macadamias made it delicious.
HONOKOWAI OKAZUYA DELI
Best done as take-out, we shared one order of lemon caper ono with sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms. It came with rice and stir-fried veggies which consisted of mostly zucchini with one stray piece of bamboo shoot. We took it back to our hotel and ate it on the lanai. Taking into account the drive back to our hotel, I have to say that the fish was still overcooked. The edges were curled up and pretty hard. The sauce was quite tasty, but it was difficult to overlook the overcooked fish. The veggies were fine -- just needed more salt. Not a bad deal, considering one order can definitely feed two people. I'm wondering if my dish was an aberration as I've heard nothing but praises about this place.
Due to other plans, we didn't get there for sunset. But we were there for twilight and the view was still beautiful. There were a couple of musicians playing at the restaurant. I had higher hopes for this restaurant. But I have to say I was disappointed in my overall experience. We ordered the Pupu taster for the appetizer. It consisted of four items -- crudo of fish and avocado, Eden Farms kurobuta kalua pig and sweet onion quesadilla, baked Surfing goat cheese with Kula strawberries and maui onion, and striped marlin sashimi with miso marinated calamari salad. Personally, I think presenting these four items at once is a mistake. It is my natural tendency to eat the cold, raw items first. But I ate the hot ones first because I didn't want it to get cold. And, still, it wasn't that hot. The quesadilla wasn't bad -- probably my favorite from the four. The kimchi was definitely toned down in spice from the baechu kimchi you generally encounter at Korean restaurants. But I noticed throughout my trip that all of the kimchi I encountered in Hawaii was toned down (I haven't eaten at any Korean restaurants on this trip). The goat cheese was baked in phyllo. Not bad. Also served lukewarm. When I read the description of Kula strawberries and maui onion, I thought it was either going to be a disaster or genius. Put me in the disaster category. Ok, not totally a disaster as I was able to eat it, but I didn't think that combo worked at all. The crudo of fish and avocado would have been good if I got more than a very small sliver of fish. And the marlin sashimi with calamari salad was all right.
For our mains, we ordered the taste of signature dishes which consisted of ponzu marinated mahi mahi, original wok charred ahi, and maui beef filet with sauteed mushrooms. It came with macadamia nut brown rice pilaf. My favorite was probably the work charred ahi. The other two items were totally forgettable. And the rice was also a miss. No flavor. It tasted like they just added some chopped macadamia nuts over steamed brown rice. The second entree was a half-half plate where you order half portions of two dishes. We ordered a half portion of seared beef and half portion of Keahole lobster and mushroom stew served with lobster mascarpone ravioli, leeks and truffles. The lobster sounded so scrumptious on paper. Unfortunately it didn't translate well to the dish. It was so underseasoned and no truffle flavor to be found. The beef was OK, not remarkable.
The waiter highly recommended the chocolate filo "purse" with vanilla ice cream for dessert. So we shared one. Also -- unremarkable. I'm not sure if it was intended to be served warm because it was served between warm and room temperature. I think warm would have been better. Now, this meal wasn't horrible by any means. But the prices (even when you take into factor how much more expensive Maui is in comparison to Oahu), one comes to expect more with the food and service. Service wasn't bad either. And DH always orders wine at restaurants (if they offer it) -- so it doesn't have anything to do with our table being a "dry" table. They were cordial enough, but they weren't on top of things. I have no qualms about the price if I feel the food is spectacular. But in this scenario, the food wasn't worth the steep pricetag. We both walked out of there disappointed. I kind of felt bad because I told this couple I met earlier that day where we were having dinner that night, and DH told them I do my research for restaurants. Well, we ended up seeing them there as we were leaving that night! They asked us how we liked the food. Seeing as they haven't eaten yet, we didn't want to spoil their meal so we said everything was fine. They both ordered that really expensive tasteless lobster dish. Hope they were more satisfied than we were.
I originally wanted to go to Real Fruit Ice Cream where they blend vanilla ice cream with real hunks of frozen fruit but learned that they had closed. Bummer. So we decided to go to Ono Gelato. DH ordered a cappucino gelato. I ordered a Kula strawberry sorbet. My sorbet wasn't too hot as I thought the texture was a bit icy and sorbet not too flavorful. DH's gelato was much better. I was kind of hoping they would have more interesting flavors like they feature on their website, but they didn't.
Here is a link to some pics. I don't use flash and don't really take too much time or effort with taking the pics. I just snap away. So they aren't super great pics, but will give you an idea of what we were eating.
Thanks all! Oh boy. I've got Da Kitchen (known for large portions) on my itinerary for lunch before my Spago meal. Perhaps I should just share one meal with my husband if I'm going to do the tasting. Good to hear that the Spago tasting menu isn't so huge.
If I'm going to have room in my stomach to do tasting meals at Spago, I do think I'll have to cut back on the breakfasts. So I probably wouldn't be able to do huge meals like Plantation House or The Gazebo. But I have had my eye on The Gazebo for their macadamia nut pancakes. Wish they could sell me a kiddie portion, and I'll be there!
Beach Chick, what do you mean by the "back west side" fruit guy? Back of the gazebo? We're definitely looking for some good fruit on this trip.
We'll be staying overnight at Hana to make it a bit easier on us. Driving for over 10 hours a day is not my idea of fun.
And great to know that the stands on the road to Hana will be open on Christmas.
re: Miss Needle
re: Miss Needle
first of all the breakfast at Plantation house for the ahi benedict is that with a small side of pots..its not that large and really is outstanding.
Gazebo..I've ordered a kids order of mac nut pancakes..or split them..they are outstanding!
When you drive past Kapalua and keep going on the back side of the island to Wailuku is a very narrow road with stunning views and there is a guy that has been selling fruit with a tv and he is very well known..has the best fruit and word is he was a famous singer in O'ahu back in the 50's..
He's about a half hour before Wailuku.
Have a great time!
re: Miss Needle
Mnadel, that is certainly an interesting perspective! Though I wonder if I'll have an issue fitting into my clothes by the end of the trip if I used that tactic.
Ok, Beach Chick, you twisted my arm. : ) I'll try to fit either Plantation House or Gazebo in my trip. I really only have one breakfast free as the other mornings are occupied by things. I'm leaning towards Gazebo because
1. I've wanted to try the macadamia pancakes at Boots & Kimo in Oahu, but couldn't due to scheduling issues.
2. It has a great ocean view.
3. It is less expensive
But I may not be in the mood to wait in the line after a long flight. So I'll see how I feel on that day.
Thanks everybody. And I will definitely be posting a trip report when I get back.
I think the little farm stands in Hana will be open. I know a few don't open on Sundays but Christmas day, like most retails, places tend to be open if for shorter hours.
You don't have to call ahead for tasting @ Spago but if you have dietary restrictions, it's a good idea to let them know well ahead. If you want ocean facing tables, arrive a bit earlier and request that and be willing to wait. As for portion, if you exercise self control with their bread trays that come along every so often, you'll be fine but will definitely not leave feeling hungry.
Plantation House at Kapalua Golf course for breakfast is the place to dine..ahi benedict with a wasabi hollandaise is stellar with stunning views, no hour+ waits and this was by far our go to place almost daily..only breakfast!
The Gazebo in Napili for breakfast but you'll have long waits but we go swimming since its oceanfront.
On the back west side is my favorite fruit guy and he will give you a beer and watch tv and get the best papaya's and mangoes..
We stock up at Costco across from the OGG airport..cocktails, breakfast muffins, pineapples.
Be aware that getting to Hana is an all day event..from Kapalua, leaving at 7am and just driving to and from was over 11 hours and that was with a half hour break at seven pools..
Up country has Tedeschi winery and some speciality snacks and lotions.
Merriman's or Mama's Fish House would be my choices for the fancy..
From Mama's to Hana is an all day drive event..so keep that in mind if you are dining late..
Sansei has great sushi and they have a good happy hour.
Mahalo and report back!
For West Maui, I agree with Merriman's as the choice for your "fancy" meal. It would not call it extraordinary, but it was good, and the best in West Maui, with a fantastic setting. Be there at sunset if you can.
Re Spago, yes definitely do the tasting menu. (Several of the recommendations you read are probably mine.) No, it doesn't need to be ordered in advance. They call it 9 courses, but it's really only 8. The portions are reasonable. I did it twice last month, and I didn't have to be rolled out. Make them pace it. This will be your best meal of the trip.
Just a quick note about Mama's - it didn't appear to be a take-out sort of place. The restaurant itself sort of looks like a tiki bar, but it's right on the ocean, so there is a nice view during the day. The food is pricey and it's fish heavy, which might not travel very well. If you like raw fish, try the Tahitian style raw fish with coconut cream (poisson cru). YUM.
When you're in Hana, check out the Ono Organic Farms fruit stand for some fun drinks (you have to power the blender by riding the bike!) and some really nice jams/jellies (I got pomelo marmalade when we visited). http://www.onofarms.com/
Thanks for the info on Mama's. Yeah, I realized it was more of a sit-down place and have budgeted the time for it. I'll be dining at Mama's on my way to Hana on Christmas Day (it's open!). I keep reading that the drive to Hana is not about the destination but the journey. I'm hoping that Mama's will enrich that journey.
And the Ono Ogranic Farms is a great tip! I noticed that they have papaya jam for sale. My MIL is a papaya freak and think she'll love it!