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Have Fun on Maui

by Sally Bernstein

Recent trips to the island of Maui, one of the most popular Hawaiian Islands, have confirmed what I've read about the new fusion-style of cooking known as "Hawaiian Regional Cuisine." This popular East/West interpretation blends ingredients and techniques from the Pacific Rim, Hawaii and the West Coast.

I visited a mix of the 150 restaurants on Maui to savor a variety of cooking styles and foods. As they say, "It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it."

Restaurants on Maui tend to serve whatever fish is available fresh that day. Mama's Fish House (799 Poho Place, Paia, Maui) lists six preparations or sauces, along with a verbal announcement of the day's fresh fish. The fish are likely to be mahi-mahi (dolphin fish), ahi (tuna), ono (wahoo) or onaga (red snapper). Preparations will vary from fish sauted with garlic, butter and white wine to sauted with macadamia nuts to seared with a honey-lime sauce. Grilled fish with a tomato, orange, basil sauce or a mildly spicy wasabi sauce are the offerings. The Hawaiian choice, sauted with coconut milk and lime juice and served with baked bananas, fruit and coconut, is typical island fare. Mama's Fish House is just that -- a large rambling beach house with screened-in windows that is tucked away in a coconut grove on a secluded ocean cove. The manicured grounds and exquisite tropical flowers add to the quaint, romantic setting.

After reading the pina colada cheesecake at the Haliimaile General Store (900 Haliimaile Road, Maui) had graced the cover of Food and Wine magazine in 1992, I decided I had to do a little research. Upon arriving at their remote location I found what turned out to be the most exciting menu I saw on Maui. Eclectic American cuisine is paired with island fresh ingredients and international flavors. And the outside seating on the porch, the sushi bar in the back dining room, the merchandise for sale and food visible through glass cases all added to the ambiance of the restaurant. Even when I was told the cheesecake of the day was mango, I was not disappointed, as it is the food that made me return a second day and taste the pina colada cheesecake. Indeed, Food and Wine was right on target!

Sashimi Napoleon pairs crispy won tons layered with smoked salmon, ahi tartar, sashimi and a wasabi vinaigrette. Crab lumpia, an eggroll-like Asian classic, is served with a Thai dipping sauce. The meaty pork ribs were excellent! A homemade barbecue sauce, creamy mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables rounded out the plate. Another popular entree is the rack of lamb Hunan style or fresh Australian lamb marinated in hoisin sesame and Oriental black beans.

Another mango treat was enjoyed at the Kea Lani Hotel (4100 Wailea Alanui Drive, Wailea, Maui) in the form of soup. Chilled mango soup with figs and cinnamon basil was the start of another pleasant island meal.

To enjoy the hustle and bustle of tourists, head to Lahaina where you will find hundreds of shops and restaurants on Front Street. Enjoy a meal at Pacific'O (505 Front Street, Lahaina, Maui), which offers contemporary Pacific cuisine. Sitting overlooking the Pacific Ocean can easily put one in the mood to eat fish. Smoked Caesar salad comes with smoked seared ahi tuna, not grilled chicken or calamari that is featured on the mainland. I also had fresh ono grilled in a banana leaf with lemon grass pesto and vanilla bean sauce. The eye-catching garnishing made the experience even more pleasing.

David Paul's Lahaina Grill (127 Lahainaluna Road, Lahaina, Maui; email at dpj@maui.net). In the last six years David Paul Johnson has proven himself to be one of Maui's super chefs. Open for dinner seven nights a week and located in the restored Lahaina Inn. David Paul's offers "New American Cuisine, techniques, skills and flavors gathered from around the world perfectly blended with local ingredients to create exceptional dishes." A few examples are: wasabe tobiko caviar, crab, cucumber and avocado hand-rolled sushi with pickled ginger salad; tequila shrimp and firecracker rice; and Maui onion crusted seared ahi with vanilla bean rice and apple cider-soy butter vinaigrette. And in case you can't get enough of the food in one sitting, David Paul's sells his Gourmet Product line including vinegars, olive oils, coffee...don't pass up the vanilla and fig vinegar, an infusion of balsamic vinegar, Tahitian vanilla and California figs -- quite tasty! Shirts from Crazy Shirts of Hawaii, caps and coffee mugs also available.

A door opens from the restaurant into the recently restored Lahaina Inn (808-661-0577), style 1800's. Twelve guest rooms with private baths, air-conditioning and telephones offer antique appointments. There are two restrictions: no television or children under 15 years of age. The Inn was completely restored in 1989 by Rich Ralston, founder and President of Crazy Shirts, Inc. Prices range from $89 to $129 per night depending on the view and the size of the room.

Chef/owner Roy Yamaguchi has two of his eight restaurants on Maui -- and they are next door to one another in the Kahana Gateway Center at 4405 Honoapilani Highway. Roy's Kahana (808-669-6999) and Roy's Nicolina (808-669-5000) both offer Roy's now famous fusion of Asian-Pacific flavors and classic European techniques.

Both restaurants are casual, upbeat, colorful and often hard to get into (i.e., book reservations early). At Roy's Kahana try the roasted garlic escargot with carmelized onions, polenta croutons and a citrus herb butter; grilled Szechuan style baby back pork ribs; and the award-winning original dark chocolate souffle. At Roy's Nicolina enjoy hibachi style salmon with ponsu sauce; citrus soy grilled half chicken; and the lemongrass shrimp chopped shrimp. Both restaurants offer nightly specials of their fresh island fish and whereas Kahana has individual baked imu pizzas, Nicolina has flatbreads. I personally enjoyed the Kahala restaurant more; Nicolina's food is much spicier and the combinations a bit convuluted for my tastes.

For a completely different kind of experience visit the Diamond Resort (555 Kaukahi Street, Kihei, Maui), a hotel owned by Japanese investors who use the hotel on a timeshare arrangement. The public can stay at the hotel depending on availability; however, the two restaurants are always open to the public. For authentic Japanese fare, a sushi bar or a tapen-yaki restaurant, visit the Diamond Resort. But don't look for an English newspaper -- they don't sell them.

Another Pacific Rim experience is the Kimcha Japanese Restaurant at the Grand Hyatt Wailea Resort (3850 Wailea Alanui Drive, Wailea, Maui). Although the restaurant appears to be quite authentic, it is also quite expensive. When the seven course children's menu costs $40, you know you are in trouble. Adults can pay from $150 to $500 per person -- yes, the meal is a multi-course affair and can be arranged in a private room, but the small portions made me feel I did not get good value for my money.

If you have time to devote the better part of a day to a car ride, you must drive to Hana, located on the far east side of the Island. Although the road boasts 617 curves and crosses 56 single-lane bridges, the Hana Highway is a wonderful experience. Beautiful Hawaiian exotic flowers, such as wild ginger, anthurium and bird of paradise, line the narrow road as well as bamboo, banana palms and coconut trees. The lush vegetation speaks of the rain you are likely to encounter on the highway, but don't dismay as weather conditions can vary greatly within small distances.

Hana's beauty and isolation make The Hotel Hana Maui (Hana Ranch, P.O. Box 8, Hana, Maui) legendary. No televisions in the rooms (one in the lobby), no McDonalds or 7-11s in the area -- Hana is a retreat, an escape, a place of refuge. Life is slower and simpler here -- definitely worth a visit!

The Hyatt Regancy Maui (200 Nohea Kai Drive, Lahaina) has 815 rooms and four miles of white-sand beaches, a half-acre swimming pool with a 150-foot waterslide, a health club, camp for kids, golf, tennis, scuba, snorkel and sailing. Animals can be found in different parts of the property. South African black-footed penguins live in and around caves in the main lobby area. The exhibit includes a large pond, lush greenery, rocks and caves typical of the rocky coastline setting the penguins would inhabit in the wild.
Regal looking African crown cranes, parrots, macaws, lovely black and white swans, colorful koi fish and flamingos can also be enjoyed.

And if you are in the mood for a Hawaiian Luau, try the "Drums of the Pacific" revue. The Polynesian show, Imu ceremonial of uncovering the roasting pig, music and dancing plus a buffet costs $55 for adults and $15 for children 6-12. And then you must pay your open bar tab..

Hawaiian humpback whales migrate 3,000 to 4,000 miles to Maui each year from the cold waters of Alaska. December to the end of April is prime whale-watching time and many boats leave the harbor in Lahani or the Kaanapali coast. These 45 ton endangered species jump out of the water and frolic in the warm waters of the islands as they give birth and nurse their young. Whale-watching boats are restricted to stay one hundred yards away from the whales and aircraft 1,000 feet so bring binoculars and cameras.

Sally is a food enthusiast and charter member of the IACP and past chairperson of the IACP Technology Committee.



Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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