Maui Fine Dining: Looking to catch the perfect island fish, or a huge slice of chocolate lava cake the size of Haleakala? Well, you’re in luck. We’ve (eagerly) done the research for you, bite by bite, and have narrowed down Maui’s best to these top 10 contenders. Let the dining begin!
What effect can delicious food have on you? Rebecca McGibboney, our server at the Pineapple Grill, told us an unusual story. She moved to Maui and visited Kapalua’s Pineapple Grill to try its signature, award-winning pineapple upside-down cake. It was so delicious, she said, that “I applied for a job three days later. I just had to be near that cake!” And what a cake it is: a small mound of pineapple cake, topped with Roselani macadamia-nut ice cream, a haystack of sugared phyllo dough, and swimming-so-elegantly in a swirl of dark rum-and-butter-and-sugar Foster sauce. “It’s worth ordering, even if you only take one bite,” Rebecca told us.
And that’s pretty much how our evening went at the Pineapple Grill, where chef Ryan Luckey makes the most of every morsel, with his signature modern Pacific island cuisine. Not surprisingly, the restaurant has won a slew of awards for its cuisine, including most recently “Maui’s Best Restaurant” as rated by the staff of Honolulu Magazine.
Some things just get even better with time. For the past 10 years, we’ve regularly dined at Leilani’s in Whalers Village, Kaanapali, and the experience we just had there – well, it just wowed us. We had an incredible server, Lorri Lane, and she went above-and-beyond the call of duty with our order, without ever even writing it down. We wanted everything special ordered – salad dressing on the side, addition of feta cheese and extra beets to our salad, one coconut shrimp added to the order of grilled fish, one order of diet lemonade, extra rice – your name it – and she got it all right, and with a huge smile and winning personality. Leilani’s restaurant sits right on Kaanapali Beach, and it’s a great place to dine, watch the sunset, and enjoy the open-air environment. Bill had the opah prepared with a pistachio crust, and it put new meaning into the word “delicious.” Deb had grilled opah with a side of grilled shrimp, which came with a healthy portion of polenta and steamed vegetables. We also started with salads of baby kula greens. All totaled, our dinner came to about $80, which is very reasonable by Hawaii standards – we always expect to pay at least $100 for dinner-for-two. Fresh fish, available in four preparations, ranges from $21.95 to $29.95. Steaks range from $18.95 to Maui style teriyaki steak to $29.95 for filet mignon served with caramelized Maui onions and wild mushrooms. And the original Hula Pie – a whale-served portion of dessert – is also on the menu, along with a mouthwatering apple crisp that Bill inhaled, and a tropical cheesecake. For a real substantial slice of authentic Hawaiian hospitality, Leilani’s is it. leilanis.com, (808) 661-4495.
Welcome back! That was the heartfelt message we got from Richard Olson III, the sommelier at the outstanding Lahaina Grill. Richard had waited on us last year, and we were delighted to have him serve us again this year. Even though we eat at dozens of fabulous restaurants, it’s always a thrill to dine at Lahaina Grill. Our dinner-for-two cost $150, including just two bottles of water (not wine), and that’s pretty much what you can expect to pay. Appetizers include a reconstructed California roll made with crab, and we heartily also recommend the eggplant Napoleon – a mini-meal in itself, consisting of smoked mozzarella, mushrooms, olives, and roasted peppers in a tomato-balsamic vinaigrette. But as far as salads go, nothing surpasses the restaurant’s baby spinach salad with raspberry vinaigrette, which includes a healthy dose of caramelized Maui onions. (Make sure to pair it with a thick slice of bread with the restaurant’s signature garlic-shallot-rosemary butter.) The onions are a meal in themselves – and that meal could be dessert, they are so sweet. Diehard dieters that we are, we of course wanted sauces on the sides of our entrée, and absolutely nothing sautéed. “We can change anything and make it work,” said Richard. Bill had the grilled salmon served with asparagus, and Deb had the wild salmon fillet baked with Pommery mustard and caramelized Maui onion crust. Can you say “delectable?” All the cuisine here is to-die-for, and worth every calorie. For dessert, owner Jurg Munch sent over four samples including the warm chocolate cake served with Kona coffee ice cream, a berry tart, a sour-cream and chocolate mousse dipped in chocolate, and a vanilla bean cr?me brulee. We couldn’t have had a warmer welcome to Maui. Richard also told us about the wine list. “I’m really focused on small production and those wines that are hard-to-get and impossible to find.” His favorites, available at the restaurant, include Gemstone Vineyards in Napa and Kosta Browne in Sonoma. “I take one international trip a year, just to look and find what we don’t have,” he told us. “I also love the Neal Family Vineyards.” And we just love the Lahaina Grill. lahainagrill.com, (808) 667-5117.
NICK’S FISHMARKET AT THE KEA LANI
Sometimes you eat something so delicious, so amazing, that you just have to order it not once. But twice. That’s what we did with the tomato soup served at Nick’s Fishmarket, a first-class, fine-dining establishment that set the stage for celebrating Deb’s birthday dinner. Everything impressed us – from the elegant booth in the corner, where we dined at this distinctive al fresco restaurant – to the service, to, of course, the cuisine. Try the ahi tiger-eye sushi, or the sweet tiger-shrimp served scampi style, as the appetizer. And whatever you do, pray that on the night that you visit, the chef has made his wonderful tomato soup—a blend of Olawalu red and gold tomatoes mixed with shallots, onions, garlic, cream and butter. It’s like eating deliciousness itself, and we swore that it’s the best soup we’ve ever had. Nick’s should bottle it and sell it, so the world could enjoy it. You could make a meal out of it, with some bread, and live on it for the rest of your life. You get the point. For salad, Bill chose the Greek Maui Wowie, which was a delightful mélange of chopped Maui onions, tomatoes, avocado, romaine, feta and bay shrimp, and he accented it with a splash of balsamic vinegar. He also chose the diver scallops for his entrée, served with herb gnocchi and local mushrooms – it was fantastic. Deb had the $43 island snapper (opakapaka) grilled in a tomato puree, with sweet-potato hash browns and artichoke hearts – it was tremendous. For dessert, there’s no lack of enticements – Bananas Foster, homemade apple pie, and Nick’s famous cr?me brulee with Tahitian vanilla bean. Pair it all with a glass of dessert wine, and you can die and go to Heaven. Expect to pay about $200, without alcohol, for two appetizers, salads, soups, entrees and dessert. tristarrestaurants.com; (808) 879-7224.
I can’t believe I ate the whole thing. That was Deb’s refrain after devouring the flourless chocolate cake at the Hula Grill on Kaanapali Beach, (made at the Stilwell Bakery in Wailuku). But it was so delicious it was hard to stop eating it, and it was worth every calorie. This distinctive restaurant is an absolute must for any traveler to Hawaii – we dine there on every Maui trip, and it just keeps getting better and better. (Chef Bobby Masters is definitely doing something right.) Start with a tropical drink – say, a Plantation Lemonade – and then you can sink your teeth into the hot bread served with the Hula Grill’s famous chili water made with garlic and rice wine. Then there’s an overwhelmingly wonderful choice of items – pupus of fire-grilled shrimp and scallops, or Kalua pork potstickers. Although we have to say that the crabcakes, made with lump real snowcrab plus celery, garlic, carrot, onion, shitake mushrooms and ginger, are the best crabcakes we’ve ever eaten in our life. The Hula Caesar salad, or the vine-ripened tomato and Maui onion salad, are two other all-time favorites. Then there are the Hula Grill “traditions” that include coconut-seafood chowder and pan-roasted shrimp with macadamia nut pesto pasta. Chef Masters told us that the chowder is a huge favorite, and that the poke tacos are also big sellers. We chose the macadamia-nut crusted fish (let’s face it, you just can’t visit Hawaii without getting your fill of macadamia nuts) and the waistline-friendly tandoori-style fish (Deb had the ono). For dessert, there’s also a Kona coffee cheesecake, and a Baked Hawaii – pineapple upside-down cake with Tahitian vanilla ice cream, with caramel rum sauce. Order the Baked Hawaii – and have a heavenly portion the size of Hana, while you sit back and enjoy the authentic, unbelievable beachfront view. hulagrill.com, (808) 667-6636.
SARENTO’S ON THE BEACH
They weren’t kidding when they say that Sarento’s is on the beach – you’re just a shell’s throw from the sand and the ocean, and at 5:30 it is the best place to be on Maui – that’s where you will see an outstanding sunset. We dined at Sarento’s two years ago and we’re happy to report that it is even better than we remembered. We sat at table 25, and started by simply enjoying the awesome view of the beach right next to us. Sarento’s, which uses Pacific ingredients in a Mediterranean style, is known for its pastas and veal, and it sells out of its osso buco every single night. But we tried to keep it simple. We started with a delicious gazpacho served with a tower of crabmeat and avocado, which was a savory palate-pleaser. Then we inhaled the mushroom bruschetta, made with sherry, a veal demiglaze and tarragon. By that time we were actually stuffed, but we pressed on. Deb ordered mahi mahi loaded with vegetables and “linguine” zucchini, while Bill feasted on opakapaka grilled over zucchini. The crackerjack waitstaff enticed us with dessert, and we sampled the chocolate-fudge profiteroles with Tahitian vanilla bean gelato (sensational) and pumpkin ice cream. By that time we were filled-to-the-gills like a humuhumunukunukuapuaa (it used to be the state fish) and after driving back to the Kea Lani and sitting for a half-hour, we went straight to the gym at midnight! But our meal was worth every calorie. No doubt, you’ll feel the same way. tristarrestaurants.com; (808) 875-7555.
OK. Say you’ve dined at the Hula Grill already and you’ve had your fill of macadamia nut-crusted fish. You want, perhaps, to add a little oo-la-la to your travels. Well, what could be more perfect than a dinner of contemporary island and French cuisine? Gerard’s restaurant located at the Plantation Inn, is owned by Chef Gerard Reversade, and he is known for his ability to combine the classic French culinary arts with Maui’s freshest island products, and he’s won awards too numerous to mention. We sat out on the verandah of what seemed like an old plantation house, where the fine china and starched white tablecloths added to the candlelit ambience. We started with appetizer of Hamakua and Makawao mushrooms in puff pastry, which was overwhelmingly delicious, and then we ordered the shrimp sautéed in hazelnut oil, accompanied by pasta in truffle butter. In a word, “magnifique.” We ate half the shrimp and then had them bagged to be enjoyed later. (Two days later, they were just as delicious, when we ate them for dinner in our hotel room.) Gerard’s salad with fresh hearts of palm is another crowd-pleaser, featuring Hamakua tomatoes, fresh herbs, beets, olives and truffle-oil vinaigrette. For our entrees, we both ordered the $38.50, locally caught Hawaiian snapper that was oven-roasted in olive oil served with an emulsion of orange and ginger. It was perfectly prepared and a treat for the tastebuds, although what Deb really wanted was the rich scallops and New Caledonia shrimp au gratin in a rich, decadent, cheesy mushroom Mornay sauce – but it just sounds too wonderful ( translation: fattening) and we had bathing suits to fit into the next day. There’s definitely a French flair to Gerard’s – you can order goose rillettes (pommes frites fried in goose fat); frog legs Provencale; and for dessert, the classic millefeuille. Other desserts, which all sounded mesmerizing, were the Tahitian vanilla cr?me brulee; mousse au chocolat, and tarte tatin. We discovered that dinner at Gerard’s gave new meaning to the words, “Bon Appetit.” gerardsmaui.com, (808) 661-8939.
ROY’S KAHANA BAR & GRILL
Before we even left Boston, we were salivating for Roy’s famous Guittard chocolate soufflé. We ate it two years ago, and its taste left an indelible impression on our tastebuds. So we went back. Just about everything we dined on, at our dinner this time, was incredible, and we can’t recommend Roy’s any more enthusiastically. It all started with warm rolls as well as spiced edamame, which are blanched and drizzled with sesame oil, kosher salt, sugar, and the Japanese five spice known as “shichimi.” You can’t stop eating this edamame, it is that scrumptious – and isn’t it nice to know that these soybeans are also nutritious. From there, each course was better than the one that preceded it. For a great selection, choose the Dim Sum Canoe for two, offering shrimp sticks, potstickers, Szechuan ribs, lumpia, and panko-crisped sushi rolls – it will give you numerous tastes of what makes Roy’s so great. The warm onion and tomato salad in balsamic vinaigrette was wonderful, but just a prelude to the $36.50 Misoyaki butterfish. This is black cod (sable) that’s cured for 72 hours in miso and sweet sake, and you’ve never tasted anything so overwhelmingly delicious. This Hawaiian fusion classic dish is a must-have, the fish will just melt in your mouth, and you will proclaim that this is the best fish entree you have ever eaten. (In fact, visiting Hawaii without a trip to Roy’s is like being here and not getting any sun. It’s an absolute must-do.) Other entrees include a macadamia-nut-crusted shutome (Roy, after all, is know for having introduced macadamia-nut-crusted fish to the world), seared diver scallops, Szechuan barbecue-grilled opah, and shrimp in a sweet chili-lime sauce, as well as a meatloaf served with mashed potatoes, and honey-mustard-glazed beef short ribs. For dessert, you could opt for the yuzu honey panna cotta, but you know where our vote lies. The chocolate souffle was even more wonderful this time around – and we know you will feel the same way. In fact, just now, our combined hearts skipped a beat just thinking about it. roysrestaurant.com, (808) 669-6999.
UMALU AT THE HYATT REGENCY MAUI
After all our fine dining, we wanted to take a break from heavy meals, and eat something more casual. And nothing fills the bill in Hawaii more than a fish taco – it’s solid, nourishing comfort food, yet it has an exotic aloha flair. We’re delighted to say that the $18 fish tacos at Umalu, the new eatery at the Hyatt Regency Maui, were worth the trip. Everything was yummy, starting with the tortilla soup, which gave us a little bit of Mexico, and we could have easily downed two bowls of it, it was that divine. Deb highly recommends it. Next came a Caesar salad, followed by a healthy portion of two giant fish tacos which were everything a fish taco should be – savory, filled with grilled white fish, accompanied by salsa and cheese. They hit the proverbial spot. Umalu also offers other culinary adventures, including Korean barbecued beef salad, Pacific taro-crusted mahi, and Italian pizzas. You can sit by the pool, under the stars, listen to the live music, and have a wonderful meal without feeling that you have to get all dressed up. For dessert, there’s a delectable chocolate milkshake (made with malt, which makes it outstanding), as well as a macadamia-nut ice cream sandwich. Here’s our suggestion: make a night of it by first attending the Hyatt Regency’s 7PM Cirque Polynesia show on property (it is fabulous); followed by an 8:30 dinner at Umalu; followed by a 10 PM “Tour of the Stars” up on the roof. It will be one of the most wonderful, fun-filled nights you’ll ever have. maui.hyatt.com, (808) 661-1234.
We had a warm brownie sundae at Tommy Bahama two years ago, and the taste left an indelible impression on our collective tastebuds. (If you haven’t figured it out by now, we love chocolate!) So we went back to this island oasis known for its global gourmet food.
But first, we had to try Tommy’s World-Famous Coconut shrimp ($19.50) that come battered-and-fried with morsels of sweet coconut topping them. These are by far worth every calorie, and even though we never eat fried food, these are a must. We also opted for the South Seas Scallop sliders, two huge sandwiches made with dee-lish scallops in a chipotle aioli – these are a must-have as well – and a meal in itself. The Tortola Tortilla soup is also island-tastic, seasoned with Caribbean spices and containing grilled chicken. Now for the big kahuna: we both had the macadamia-nut encrusted fresh Pacific snapper ($39.50) served with seasonal vegetables. It was savory and superb – flaky, moist, and full of flavor. Here, the portions are huge, the service is great, and the fare is fantastic. Other entrees you should try include the Trinidad tuna that’s encrusted with lemongrass, and the Sanibel chicken stuffed with herb cheese and roasted red pepper. Because we knew we would be super-stuffed, we skipped dessert yet returned the following night to sample four desserts. The key lime pie, which seems to be ubiquitous in Florida and the Caribbean, was melt-in-your-mouth delicious, and believe it or not, we had never eaten it before. Now we understand what all the fuss is about. The pina colada cake was a moist vanilla layer cake with Myers Dark Rum, chopped pineapple, white chocolate mousse and toasted coconut. Yes, we had the Barbados brownie sundae, (which like all of the desserts, comes in two sizes – big and huge) but we have to say, we fell more in love with the $10 Jamaican chocolate cake – a moist flourless chocolate decadence cake that was like dense, heavy fudge. We savored every bite. (And just in case you’re interested, the only thing that enables Debbi to eat like this, every night, is that she goes to the gym for 1 ? hours every day, and walks 3 miles day. On this trip, she actually lost weight.) In fact, our experience of dessert-the-next-day was such a good idea, we vowed to break up our dinner experiences for future trips, which will enable us, to actually sample even more. Gosh, maybe we’ll even get it all… a la mode. tommybahama.com; (808) 875-9983.
By Debbi K. Kickham and William D. Kickham. Esq.
Nicks Fish Market
Roys Kahana Bar and Grill