Maui Trip Report: Lahaina & Kapalua
Recently spent 4 nights on Kaanapali and experienced some truly outstanding meals, a good find, and a remarkably awful lunch.
I have not been to Maui in 10 years and I was very impressed with the level of cooking we experienced and the commitment to locally-sourced food, such as Maui grass-fed beef, Haleakala lamb, Surfing Goat Cheese, Kula corn and tomatoes, and so on. The farm-to-table approach is easy to find here in SoCal, and is prevalent in the Bay area; I was delightfully surprised to eat so well on Maui.
Gerard's: For our first night we chose Gerard's sort of at the last minute and are glad we went. The menu is so old-school -- Lobster Therimdor, anyone? -- we were thinking the food would be heavy but it was delicious. The atmosphere on the lanai was gracious and elegant -- it put us in mind of being in Savannah or Charleston. Our waiter was professional and friendly and helped us out with the wine since we were all over the place with our food and couldn't come up with a bottle that would complement everything. I wasn't super-hungry, so I had the mushrooms in puff pastry app to start with a glass of pinot noir and had the foie gras app as my main. The mushrooms were in a light, delicate sauce with a chicken broth base and bound with just a little egg yolk -- delicious. The foie gras was excellent, maybe a bit over-cooked, but delicious with a glass of sauternes. Huz had the duck confit, which was superb -- crispy on the outside, melting on the inside like it should be, with a glass of Syrah and later a Bordeaux recommended by the very competent waiter. For dessert I had the banana gratin with the rest of my sauternes and it was delicious. Huz had the "Dusty Road," a plate of ice creams and butterscotch and chocolate sauces and macadamia nuts sprinkled with cocoa powder. The taste he gave up was great. I think the bill was around $180. I would definitely go to Gerard's again.
Lahaina Coolers: A nice spot in Lahaina for breakfast or lunch. The eggs Benedict come with a sort of Cajun spicy Hollandaise that is delightful, and they make their own hot sauce that is a little fruity and just hot enough -- great on the fried potatoes. Huz had the Portuguese sausage and eggs, which was also very good. Breakfast for two with tip was $37.00.
Cheeseburger In Paradise: The rule about restaurants and location (more beautiful the view, the worse and more expensive the food) was invented for Cheeseburger In Paradise. Overlooking Lahaina Harbor on Front Street, the location and view can't be beat. We wanted to save our appetites for Feast at Lele that night, so we split one cheeseburger, one huge order of giant steak fries, and each had a beer; the bill was $30.00 with tip. The burger was gray and the fries just okay. There are nicer places for a waterfront drink and I can not recommend the food at this restaurant on any level.
Ululani's Shave Ice: My only point of reference is Hansen's Sno-Bliz in New Orleans, where they make their own syrups and there's nothing better than a snow ball on a hot day. Though it's been a couple of years since I've had a New Orleans snowball, the Hawaiian shave ice seemed a bit different. The ice is so fluffy that it melts on contact in the mouth -- no ice crunch at all -- really distinctive. I had the root beer float flavor with a condensed milk topping, and the flavors really were complex and the overall effect was refreshing a delicious.
Feast at Lele: We had prepaid reservations for Feast at Lele on an evening when perhaps travel stress and/or the Hawaiian sun had gotten to us, but we really weren't feeling up to it. Unfortunately, Feast has a strict no cancellation policy and it was $280 with tip! So, though it was a tough pull to line up for a feast and an open bar, we reminded ourselves that we are professionals: we popped a Pepcid and pressed on. Given the circumstances, I still liked a lot of the food. The table service is a nice touch, and the menu explains what all the courses are and how they relate to Hawaiian/Polynesian cuisine. I finally figured out the deal with poi -- according to our waitress, you use it to cut the saltiness of the roasted pig. There was a really nice salad in there somewhere with shredded duck, and a fish cake made with shrimp and scallops that was very tasty. They drop the ball on dessert big time. I suppose if you are going to an expensive luau it might as well be this one. The food was much better than the usual (I've been to the cheesy luau at one of the resorts and to the Old Lahaina Luau) and the show was excellent. I wouldn't do it again mainly because I don't think it's a good value for the money.
Merriman's: Count me in as a BIG fan of Merriman's. We had a stellar meal from top to bottom -- one of my top five meals of all time. First of all, the staff couldn't have been more friendly and welcoming, from the woman who confirmed our reservation on the phone to the hostess, the bartender, the wait staff and especially the sommelier. The dining room is gorgeous and we waited a bit for a table on the lanai, even though the sun had already set, because it was so lovely out there. The wine list is very deep and wide with plenty of selections at every price point, which you don't often see in a fine dining restaurant. The sommelier initially made a recommendation we didn't like, and was quick to bring us something perfect in its place. His approach was such that we felt no pressure whatsoever to accept a bottle we didn't like. The second wine was more expensive than the budget we had given him but he was so enthusiastic about it that he discounted it down to our price point! We shared the special salad of local tomatoes and lettuces with Surfing Goat cheese and a lively vinaigrette. Then we shared the pork quesadilla and it was fantastic. For my entree I had the small fillet with sauteed spinach and creamed corn -- delicious -- and huz had the Haleakala lamb presentation. It was a couple of chops and some braised shoulder and it was nothing short of great -- not heavy or gamy like lamb can be -- but still flavorful and distinct. I had the pineapple cake for dessert and thought it was very good; huz had the chocolate purse and loved it. When it was time to go home it seemed like dinner had gone by in 20 minutes but we actually had been there over two lazy, delicious hours. I would happily be a regular there. Total bill with tip was $243.
CJ's Deli & Diner: We ate breakfast and lunch here. Decent food, good prices. For lunch one day we had a veggie burger, a grilled Portobello sandwich, and a couple of ice teas and the bill was $20. It's very casual: order at the counter and pick up when they call your name. The food was fine for sure.
Lahaina Grill: Merriman's was a hard act to follow, but we did enjoy the Lahaina Grill. I liked the old pressed-tin ceiling dining room. It was a little noisy, but we had a cozy table in a back corner. We again had great wine service. We had narrowed our bottle selection down to three, so the waiter brought a taste of each, labeled as in a blind tasting, and left us alone for several minutes to make our choice. I had the corn soup -- more of a broth -- that was like sipping the essence of corn. I had a pork chop for my entree that came with an apple compote -- a really nice dish. Huz had the veal chop and he said it was the best veal chop he's eaten in a long time, worth the $53 entree price. We shared a lime tart for dessert, which Mr. Chocolate Dessert declared delicious. I would go here again for sure. Total bill with tip was $213.
127 Lahainaluna Rd., Lahaina Maui, HI 96761
Lahaina Coolers Restaurant & Bar
180 Dickenson St Ste 107, Lahaina, HI 96761