Maui Eats! A Culinary Tour of New Haps on The Valley Isle

Four Maui Restaurant Sizzle and Shine, from Mauka to Makai

Maui Eats! A Culinary Tour of New Haps on The Valley Isle

New Menu Items a Homerun at Mama's Fish House

Once in a great while someone will email us asking why we cover the same restaurant twice before choosing to write about others. Well, when you talk about a high-caliber dining experience like that of Mama's Fish House on Maui, there really needs no explaining. We recently had the opportunity to sample a few of the new items on Mama's famous menu, in addition to chatting with executive chef Perry Bateman.

A standout, not-to-be-missed appetizer, "Hood Canal Clams, Kalua Pork and Kimchee" leads the pack. Plump, bursting with flavor clams are emboldened with Bateman's slow-cooked and shredded pork, topped with minced and spicy Kimchee that is guaranteed to send your taste buds in to hyperspace. Thought Korean tacos from a truck in L.A. had your head swiveling? Try these clams, with just the right amount of heat, and a luscious broth worthy of slurping, and you'll become an "every-clam-needs-to-be-paired-with-pork" convert.

As always, Mama's V.P. Karen Christenson Marshall is benevolent in selecting new wines (by the glass, half-bottle or full) to pair with the incredibly diverse array of flavors being put forth by Bateman and the kitchen staff. A Cade Sauvignon Blanc, Patz & Hall Chardonnay and Sonoma Coast Vineyards Pinot Noir are just a few of the recent additions.


Makawao's Market Fresh Bistro Serves Up All-Things Local

Up the road from Mama's, in the sleepy village of Makawao, a young trio of entrepreneurs are hitting full stride with Market Fresh Bistro eatery. This upscale cafe has limited indoor-outdoor seating, yet is now serving lunch and dinner daily, as well as a Sunday brunch. The theme here is local, local, local. Chef Justin Pardo, who spent time earlier in his career behind the cutting board at Daniel Boulud's flagship eatery in New York City, is transforming local beef, fish, produce and herbs in to eloquent yet simple platings that are pushing the envelope in this upcountry hamlet.

In addition to regular dining, Market Fresh's monthly farmer series dinners have achieved so much success, they are now booking nearly 4 such events per month (although management refuses to call them "weekly" at this moment). These 30 person, single seating dinners that boast product from a single farm, have locals clamoring for a spot at the next dinner before they've signed the bill for the first.

Pardo, who partnered with his sister Olivia and her husband, David, are touting the use of nearly 90 percent Hawaii-grown product at Market Fresh, which certainly is an honorable achievement. Another great aspect, for the time being: No liquor license means you can bring your own bottle(s).

Open for just over a year, these upstart restaurateurs are definitely ones to watch over the coming months.

Market Fresh Bistro is located in the Makawao Courtyard at 3620 Baldwin Ave. (808) 572-4877

Pineapple Grill's Chef Ryan Luckey Offers Custom Chef's Tasting Menus

Another eatery we haven't covered in a while that is worthy of revisiting is Kapalua's Pineapple Grill, the stand-alone (and spacious) restaurant situated on a rolling golf fairway lined with majestic Cook pine trees. Chef Ryan Luckey, managing partner Chris Kaiwi and wine director-assistant GM Sheehan McCoy are yet another trio to be reckoned with in the culinary realm on Maui (or statewide, for that matter). Each has an enthusiasm for all parts of the dining experience; a rarity in the often segmented restaurant world.

At a recent "chef's tasting menu" we experienced at Pineapple Grill, Kaiwi explained that he has found a nice balance to limiting chef Luckey's penchant for molecular gastronomy by allowing him to explore adventurous compositions of Pacific Island cuisines, melded with some of the more modern techniques coming out of Europe's top kitchens. Kaiwi also mentioned that anyone can call ahead and request the un-listed chef's tasting menu, at any time, and Luckey will craft a custom dining experience sure to wow even the most discerning diners.

Our menu started with a very creative "Open-faced Ahi Musubi". The tender, bight-sized slabs of fish were sprinkled with what looked like verdant caviar—yet turned out to be beads of shiso leaf that Luckey had molecularly tweaked (using a syringe). The plate was tied together with a pistachio-wasabi coulis, that really melded the earthiness of the dish with the salt-tinged, meaty protein.  

Next, a beautifully glazed slab of Quebec-raised foie gras arrived drizzled with a veal reduction (why this hasn't accompanied every piece of foie we've ever eaten, we don't know—but it should, going forward). The dish was "painted" with a swab of li hing mui and finished with a bit of stewed Maui-grown organic pineapple relish. The balance of hearty and acidic, bold and sweet, was nothing short of an explosion in the mouth. Every carnivore who drives through the gates of Kapalua and considers themselves a foodie should be forced to eat this dish.

Following this bold beauty was a more gentle example of chef Luckey's diverse nature—the man can stop and redirect on a dime—yet without losing the well-versed diner. A crispy-skinned Diamond Head Moi with "Vietnamese Salad" (rice vermicelli with sweet Thai chili-peanut sauce) stood before us, and was devoured with a fervor ignited by the prior course. The "ali`i" moi, so soft and delicate, forced us to slow our roll, and enjoy the flavors of a fish that hardly needs much accoutrement. Chef Luckey left the crispy skin and a light salting to stand on its own, while the "salad" offered a cool balance on the place.

While we knew we weren't going to end on a soft note, the final entree arrived with much pomp and circumstance: Braised lamb with Asian 5-spice aromatics, asparagus tips and a creamy, just-right risotto. The sheer power of this dish—succulent lamb atop an ever-so-slightly al dente risotto with just the right creaminess and consistency to fork-up a perfect mouthful every time—had the entire table lapping the dish until there wasn't a sign of its existence.

Kaiwi was near-masterful at pouring to match these dishes.

"This dish [the lamb-risotto] is Asian in the sense that the aromatics—what really jumps off the plate at you, the star anise, lemongrass, etc. But it's root is nothing other than European. For that reason, we go big with a Beaujolais brought to us by Kermit Lynch."

A Riesling we sampled with the moi was a reminder of two things: First, that the recent "push" to prove that rieslings don't need to be super dry and sweet has its merits only on certain occasions, and second, that Kaiwi is ahead of the curve in Hawaii as far as his wine trend and pairing knowledge. The sweetness of the wine wouldn't have made it my first choice with the ahi dish, but it oddly paired fantastically. The second riesling Kaiwi paired, which arrived with the foie gras, went the opposite direction—light on the sweetness, leaning more towards a Sauvignon Blanc or pinot gris in essence. While we could see where it was warranted, we were left itching for something bigger, that held up more to the bold dish.

In short, there isn't a menu item at Pineapple Grill that should be overlooked. Throw in the illusive cheese plate, late-night dining in the bar-lounge area, and now, a customizable chef's tasting menu you can pre-arrange with the chef—Pineapple Grill stands to be one of the premier dining destinations across The Aloha State.

Lahaina's Star Noodle a Chic Spot Not Just For Ramen

A fourth locale on Maui, this time located in Lahaina mauka, is Michael Moore's Star Noodle, which has already garnered a devout following among west siders. Although a noodle house that touts its flavorful and eloquent ramen, Star Noodle isn't short on non-soupy dishes. In fact, the shared plates and bentos portion of the menu is where the true stand-outs reside.

We were smitten at the sizzling garlic steak, a pork belly musubi and the Hana fiddle head Pohole fern salad.

The most pleasant surprise, which deserves credit when executed well anywhere in Hawaii, is a beautiful decor inside the eatery. The vibe is pure urban chic, as if pulled from the pages of a Philippe Starck catalogue. Tempered glass, tiles and rich woods make for an inviting environment that any restaurant could take a lesson from.

[Note: A follow-up call to the restaurant did confirm that many dishes on the menu made liberal use of the preservative Monosodium Glutamate. We've sent word to the owners in hopes that they might attempt to offer dishes without the use of this terrible ingredient, and we encourage others who like to see a near-perfect lunch locale hit the mark.]

The most pleasant surprise, which deserves credit when executed well anywhere in Hawaii, is a beautiful decor inside the eatery. The vibe is pure urban chic, as if pulled from the pages of a Philippe Starck catalogue.