I got back a couple of weeks ago from an incredible trip to Maui with my fabulous friend Christine. We romped around the island for nine days in our rental convertible – got plenty of sun, took surfing lessons, mastered stand-up paddle boarding (SUP!), drank delicious tropical cocktails, got rained on at a luau, drove the Road to Hana, hiked to deserted waterfalls, saw the “sunrise” at Haleakala Crater (not much sun to be seen that day, unfortunately) and… ate some great food! Obviously.
I am sunkissed and rejuvenated. What’s not to like about a vacation when the most difficult decision you make is whether to hit the pool or the beach? And what to eat? (One of my favorite decisions to make.)
The best meal of the trip was at Lahaina Grill, hands down. I was blown away. I ate every morsel from my plate, then scraped the last tastes up with my fork. Christine had to stop me from licking the plate. I had the fish special, which was opakapaka (pink snapper) over a cheesy cauliflower risotto with a prawn on top. The fish absolutely melted in my mouth and the risotto was rich, creamy and delicious. The chef added a bit of zip to the richness of the dish with some capers and a lemony, acidic sauce that gave just the right amount of bite. The picture doesn’t do it justice.
The meal, like most in Hawaii, was not cheap, but I would return in a millisecond. The service was also incredible – our waiter had a strong opinion about the best dishes to order, which I appreciate. If you work at a restaurant, you need to know what to recommend. And he didn’t steer us wrong.
The location of the restaurant is just off Front Street, the main drag through Lahaina. You don’t get the benefit of an oceanfront location unfortunately, but the restaurant itself was beautiful. If I went back I would request a table up front by the windows to ogle the passers-by.
Second choice of the trip goes to Mama’s Fish House in Paia on the North Shore. We stopped here for lunch just after we arrived in Maui, and our first meal was killer. We split a tuna sashimi appetizer – it melted in your mouth – and a mahi mahi sandwich with smoked applewood bacon, Vermont cheddar, focaccia bread and Molokai sweet potato fries. It was heavenly. The mahi was super tender and moist.
A close third goes to the amazing sushi we got (twice! It was so good!) at Sansei in Kapalua, just north of where we stayed in Ka’anapaali. Kapalua is a bit of a sleepy little town, but it’s worth the trip for some pretty amazing sushi. The restaurant is in an upscale “strip mall” (not ideal) but once inside you forget about that. They really pack the people in here (get a reservation) but our service was great and we really enjoyed our meal(s). From what I understand, they have karaoke some nights, and a late happy hour that starts at 10 p.m. (half-price rolls) that would be killer – but we were early-to-bed and didn’t take advantage of it.
Our first visit we got some melt-in-your mouth salmon sashimi and three of their popular rolls. The first: Panko Crusted Ahi Sashimi Sushi Roll (above). Hawaiian ahi, arugula and spinach wrapped into a sushi roll, panko-crusted, flash-fried and served with a mild soy wasabi butter sauce. I’m not the biggest fan of “cooked” rolls, but this was pretty darn tasty.
Our favorite roll was the Sansei Special: spicy crab, cilantro and fresh veggies, dusted with furikake and served with sweet Thai chili sauce.
All of the fish was super fresh. In fact, we loved it so much we went back.
Second round, we tried their Sansei Style Ahi Poke with sweet Maui onions. The onions were a little on the heavy side for my taste, but the poke was awesome. And some salmon and pink snapper nigiri — we wished we got all salmon, it was so good.
Other winners from the trip:
A pretty amazing swordfish at Tropica at the Westin Maui Resort and Spa – I hesitantly ordered it upon the recommendation of the server – when it’s overdone, it’s pretty awful. But this was super tender and delicious. The HUGE Portugese roll was a bit much but the potatoes and roasted tomatoes were good, though some of the potatoes were a bit undercooked. The dessert was surprisingly good for the chocolate lover that I am – Baked Hawaii. Pound cake topped with ice cream topped with toasted meringue with strawberries alongside. Pretty yummy! I started with an okay lobster chowder that was a little too bacon-y for my taste. The bacon overpowered.
On the simple side, we had some tasty nachos topped with Kalua pork and jalapenos for dinner one evening (meal of champions!) at Leilani’s at the bar with our favorite bartender, John. He treated us well.
OH! And the banana bread. How could I forget the banana bread. We had some delectable slices of banana bread heaven, purchased along our route on the Road to Hana. It was a little roadside stand called Halfway to Hana in Keanae. It was unbelievably moist and even had studs of not quite pureed banana baked in. Amazing. We were in love.
Many mahalos to Christine for putting up with my photo-taking prior to digging in to all of our meals (such restraint!) and for being an amazing dining partner. Such a great trip!
Coming soon: Maui cocktails. They deserve their own dedicated post. Tasty, tasty.