Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Maui: Eating

Now that I've blogged ad nauseam about the Maui Oceanfront Marathon, I'm going to switch gears for a bit and write about the rest of our Hawai'i trip! Starting w/ food.....

Unlike our New England trip last fall where we ate ourselves into a tizzy almost every night, we decided to pick two big nights out and then cook in our condo the other nights. Both Adam and I really like when we can eat in at our place. It's fun to have an early happy hour, sit out on the balcony, cook some food, sit on the balcony some more and already be "home" with no driving required. Also, we knew we had some big active days planned so wouldn't have time to consume multi-course meals every night.

We ended up having 3 'big' meals out, so I'll review those places here.

#1: Spago @ The Four Seasons, Wailea, Maui

Spago is an Mobil 4 star restaurant, described as the "flagship restaurant of Wolfgang Puck's fine dining restaurant empire". This is nothing like the 'Wolfgang Puck' chain that is essentially equal to Chili's that you see in the 'burbs from time to time. This is a high end, well deserving of its title as #1 restaurant on Maui even amongst stiff competition.

I've been lucky enough to dine at many top notch restaurants in the past few years and have come to expect novel sized wine lists (both bottle and by the glass), tasty amuse bouches, fresh and creative menu options, and good service. But the difference b/t the really good fine dining experiences and the absolutely incredible experiences really is the service. And Spago did an excellent job. The waiter was friendly, personable, asked us questions about more than just our food. He made excellent recommendations and wowed us with his food descriptions. And our secondary server was also excellent. Full of smiles, made some jokes, really made us feel at home. The secondary server was sure to re-describe our dishes to as he served us which is key to really enjoying to depth and subleties of the many flavorful ingredients.

Something interesting at the Four Seasons was the large number of children under 10. I've NEVER seen young kids in a restaurant of this caliber! They were all perfectly well behaved, though. Is this a Four Seasons thing? Or a Maui thing? (Both the presence of kids and their good behavior?)

I, of course, asked for the best seat in the house and we got it! (This is my new thing- why shouldn't I pick the table I want? We usually are the first people at dinner and we order plenty of food and tip decently. So I want to choose the table!) Our table at Spago directly overlooked the ocean as well as a corporate party that had traditional Hawai'ian entertainment so we got a free show to boot!

We started with the booze, of course! But this Turley Zinfandel is so good it doesn't seem right to refer to it as booze. It's so much more! It's a tasty, full bodied experience!

Next we tried their signature dish, Spicy Ahi Tuna "Poke" in Seasame-Miso cones. ("Poke" is the Hawaiian verb for "to slice or cut" and refers to raw fish salad appetizers. Poke generally has a typical flavor profile including salt, soy sauce, and chilli pepper w/ many variations.) I'm often skeptical when one particular dish is plastered all over the food magazines and ads for a restaurant, but we asked our server and he said it actually is very good and a unique dish so we got it. Adam loved it. I appreciated that it's a good dish and definitely unique but just wasn't a fan of the flavor profile.

No worries, I wasn't starving, because we also got the Olowalu "Vine Ripened" Tomato Salad. I'm not a big tomato person. I like them just fine (especially in the form of ketchup and red sauce, classy I know), but I don't go out of my way to eat them, even those funny shaped heirloom tomatoes that are all the rage. But these tomatoes? Oh, my gosh! They tasted like spring. Delish! And the chevre from the Maui based "Surfing Goat Dairy" was super tasty.

Our main courses were Seared Rare Big Island Sashimi Grade Ahi Tuna for me and Grilled "Chinois" Style Colorado Lamb Chops for Adam. My tuna was cooked to perfection, excellent texture. Adam, who likes ahi tuna way more than I do, agreed that it was excellent. But Adam's lamb chops were out-of-this-world good! I think I've mentioned before that I rarely like lamb- only when it is super fresh and cooked perfectly- and this was both. Good thing they gave him 4 because I think I had almost 2 of them:) Don't worry- I gave him ahi in exchange:)

As you can imagine, we were mighty full after all that, so we showed some restraint and skipped dessert. Then we drove back in our convertible under the stars breathing in the fresh ocean air. Can you say 'perfect night'? ;)

(In case you can't tell, I wholeheartedly recommend Spago to any Maui-goers!)

#2 Lahaina Grill, Lahaina, Maui

Next up was the Lahaina Grill. This was a cute, friendly place right in downtown Lahaina, that has won best Maui restaurant by Honolulu Magazine every year since 1994. Immediately upon arrival I was WIPED OUT!! Like I had ran a marathon or something that morning (um...I had). We started w/ sweet soy marinated seared ahi sashimi (a poke variant, pictured to right).

The fish I had for dinner (sauteed line caught local mahi-mahi, pictured right) is probably the best fish I had on Maui, and there is a LOT of good fish on Maui! Adam's wild pacific salmon filet was darn good as well.

I don't mean to give Lahaina Grill less attention than Spago above but I don't remember the details as well. I do remember our server was SUPER tan. Was it real or not? We'll never know. I'd say Lahaina Grill is worth considering for a fine dining experience- the food really is exquisite- but the lack of al fresco dining is a huge negative for me while in a beautiful place like Hawai'i.

#3 Mama's Fish House, Paia, Maui

The last restaurant I'll discuss in depth is Mama's Fish House. This place was a very happy surprise planned by Adam. The last day of our trip, I was so, so sad to be leaving. I always hate when vacation is over and this time was no exception. Hawai'i was so beautiful, we were having so much fun, why oh why did we have to leave? (Subtitle: Geez, can I retire already??). Our flight left at 3 pm so we had some time to kill. Adam suggested Mama's Fish House because it had been recommended to him by a friend. Based on the title, I thought it would be one of those shacks with really great 'down home' type food. Boy was I wrong! We drive up and there is complimentary valet parking. Hmmm...not very shack like. Then we walk down the stairs to the restaurant and see this:

A beautiful, beautiful beach. We had a few minutes before the place opened so I had a little more time with the fresh air and the waves. And yet another chance for pictures:)

Then I saw the restaurant. White tableclothes, wide open windows, views of the water. The equivalent of al fresco dining. Hurrah! When we sat down and were handed an amuse bouche of pumpkin curry soup I knew we were in for a treat! I even ordered mid-day wine (Sauvignon Blanc, my summer weather fave) because I knew the food was going to rock. And it did!! We had (yet another) sashimi appetizer but this one I LOVED! There was salmon, ahi and I forget the third fish but wow, was that fish tasty! I think it was NOT prepared poke style..turns out I'm not a huge fan of poke. I know this sounds wierd, but the fish was light and fluffy, almost like watermelon. And the flavor- all the good things about the sea w/o any fishy undertones. Success!

For dinner we had Mahi Mahi Hawaiian Style with baked Hana banana, slow-roasted pork, lomi-lomi tomato, Moloka'i sweet potato, papaya, coconut milk and fresh poi (poi=polynesian stable food, ground from the taro plant). In addition to the fish being so good, I loved all the fun fruits on the side.

Since we split the main course, I had plenty of room for dessert so ordered the creme brulee w/ fresh liliko'i (passion fruit) after hearing the women at the next table talking about how they were "saving room" for it. I scarfed that thing up like I was in a dessert eating contest. Yum!

The family who runs Mama's Fish House also has an inn (Mama's Inn). It looked really cute from what I saw. Rates are $175-500. You can learn about it at the restaurant webpage.

And that was our last meal:( But what a high note to go out on, with some last minute memories:)

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