Mark Ellman's Mala Ocean Tavern Opens in Wailea

Hawaii Regional Cuisine co-founder Mark Ellman hangs with A-listers and rock stars like Alice Cooper and Clint Eastwood. He launched a small empire of food eateries with Maui Tacos, which has outlets from Kihei to Windward Oahu, and San Francisco to 5th Avenue, N.Y.C. 

But diners seeking fresh, locally harvested eats in Wailea are getting a fast reminder that Mark Ellman is all about quality fare at reasonable prices. This January, Ellman opened a second Mala eatery at the Wailea Beach Marriott, to complement his  super-popular (and ocean fronting) Lahaina eatery of the same name. And the tone that was set at Mala in Lahaina 4 years prior—laid back, Mediterranean tapas-style plates with the option of larger entrees, and a sizeable wine list—now has refined diners on the south shore soaking up the vibe. 

“Mala at Wailea is actually the only dinner spot in the hotel,” said Ellman. “And we’ve got our challenges ahead of us. The hotel has been under heavy construction for over a year, and is just starting to win back some of its clientele.” 

We’re certain that once word spreads of the well-rounded dishes, generous portions and unique wine offerings (like a 26-spigot cuvee), the dining room will be full more often than not.

 

As far as the cuisine is concerned, Ellman sources as much of his product as he can from local purveyors—a direction Hawaii Regional Cuisine purists pride themselves on.

“It’s getting easier to buy organic in Hawaii. We get a lot of our veggies from Adaptations in Kona,” shared Ellman. “And there are now a number of mom and pop farmers in Maui—even in Kihei. All our tomatoes are from John Applegate at Olowalu farms—and they’re amazing.”

It’s no surprise that the use of such fresh, local product is what attracts a devout following to the varied dishes at both Mala restaurants. 

“Everyone went through that phase of using gastriques and foams on their dishes,” admitted Ellman. “But you get over that fast. Just look at Joel Robuchon. He’s opening bistros around the world right now. Back to the basics. And it’s what we’re doing here in Hawaii.”

For the opening of Mala at Wailea, Ellman partnered with long-time friend (and uber-successful music producer) Shep Gordon. Other partners include Alice Cooper and Clint Eastwood. The tie that binds? Ellman has a bond with A-listers who both “get” Maui and are going green. 

“We just switched over to all biodegradable cleaning materials in all our restaurants [Mala, Mala Wailea, Penne Pasta and Maui Tacos]. They are far more expensive, but I think it’s worth it,” shared Ellman. “Not only because it’s the right thing to do, and people are always keeping an eye on what I’m doing. But because I know that if I buy them, it will encourage other restaurants to do so. Then, the prices will go down.”

Ellman’s dedication to fine fare extends beyond what’s on the plate. His “it’s just food” attitude is comforting in the restaurant scene. While he is adamant about top quality dishes, he’s just out to serve people a good time. 

“If we can bring people a little bit of joy through a certain vegetable they’ve never had before from the Big Island, or a baby coconut from Hana, it’s worth it. Just to see someone’s face light up after they try something new, in a gorgeous setting—be it in Lahaina on the water or at the Marriott overlooking the beach—it’s an amazing feeling.”

Mala Wailea, 3700 Wailea Alanui at the Wailea Beach Marriott; 875-9394

Mala, 1307 Front Street, Lahaina; 667-9394