Thursday, August 16, 2012

U.S. Adventures: Maui

Hubby is lucky enough that he gets a sabbatical from work every 5 years and this was the year.  We wanted to take advantage of him being off work for such an extended time and decided it would be a good time to try Hawaii with the kids.  I realize this may or may not be a place that everyone who reads my blog may be interested in, but I have to admit that while obviously the main point of this blog is to share my thoughts on restaurants in Indy, a nice secondary benefit for me has been that it has also turned into a type of meal/travel journal for me.  I do know that some of you travel to Hawaii though because several of you gave me recommendations. 

I am only going to talk about our top 3 places that we ate because we ate at a lot of places since we were there so long.  Unfortunately, as I have discovered in previous visits to other Hawaiian islands, the food is not the reason to go to Hawaii.  Overall, while you can get amazingly fresh fish, a lot of the food ends up only being okay, often because the fish is overcooked or under seasoned.  So the reason for going to Hawaii is the sheer beauty of the place—one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, especially Maui.  But here were our favorites:

Mama’s Fish House:  This is a place that I think everyone, and I mean, everyone, that has ever been to Maui recommended to us.  It has been around since 1973 and judging by the crowd is a well-known favorite.  The food was very good, but the prices for a lot of the entrees were pretty outrageous, even for Hawaii.  I started with the uku (a type of snapper) ceviche ($21) with Tahitian lime, kaffir lime leaf, cilantro and lychee.  It was really well done---lots of lime flavor but not so much that it was too tart.  There was a nice little bit of avocado served alongside which was a nice buttery balance to the citrus.  The fish was so tender and the housemade fried chips (taro and various colors of potatoes) were thin, crispy and salty.  Hubby was really jealous of this dish and still talks about it being one of his favorite individual items of the trip.  He had smoked marlin carpaccio with a sauce of lemon, olive oil and chili water ($12).  It was nice, soft, fresh, tender fish, but the smoke taste dominated all the other flavors for me. 

For my main dish, I had the mahimahi stuffed with lobster and crab and baked in a macadamia nut crust ($52).  You see this whole macadamia nut crust thing all over Hawaii because macadamias are local, but to be honest I had kind of avoided it because it seemed a little contrived to me, but this was very good.  It was a nice piece of fish stuffed with a mix of shellfish and topped with a perfect tender little lobster tail.  The crust was made of very finely ground macadamia nuts, making it like a breadcrumb crust with a little more of a nutty flavor.  Hubby had the opakapaka which is pink snapper, another local fave, more simply sautéed with garlic butter and white wine ($50). It was a preparation that accented the more delicate flaky fish nicely allowing the super fresh flavor of the fish to shine.  I appreciated the fact that the menu highlighted the name of the fisherman or woman that caught the fish and exactly where it was caught (assuming this adds to the price point) and the interior of this place is great.  It feels like what you expect to find in Hawaii—pretty much right on the beach, lots of wood inside and big open window. 

If you asked hubby, he would probably tell you that Mama’s was his favorite.  If you asked me, I would say my favorite meal of the trip was Amasia, which is a new restaurant that had just opened in one of the resorts where we stayed.

Amasia is the newest restaurant by Chef Alan Wong—and it is a tapas type concept but with influences from Asian countries as well as Hawaiian/Polynesian influences.  As is the case with a lot of tapas restaurants, the kitchen just sent things out as they finished.  Because there were several different kitchens (sushi, hot, cold, etc) it was random and the only downside was just about everything we ordered came at once which was a little too fast paced.  If I were ever in Maui again, I would most definitely go again, but I would only order one or two things at a time.

The first thing we got was the seafood wontons with a black lemongrass lemon chili veloute ($12).  Seriously, this is the item that I will not forget from this trip.  And may go onto my personal “best things I ever ate” list.  There were three wontons filled with shrimp and lobster held together by scallop mousse, wrapped in wontons and served in this amazing broth.  The seafood filling inside was somewhat compressed in the way pork wontons are, but it was still really tender. And there were bits of ginger that were still a little crunchy mixed in.  The broth was buttery and rich with a little heat, but also the spicy lemon flavor from the lemongrass.  The wontons were fresh and perfect.  After we were done with the wontons we were trying to figure out a way to soak up the rest of the sauce but we didn’t have any appropriate items.  Our server walked by and just said, “I’d recommend your spoon.”  Good call. That dish was amazing.

The next thing was the chef’s interpretation of shrimp tempura ($14).  This was interesting because it was a sort of mousse as well (shrimp) that was on a stick and then tempura battered and fried.  I appreciated it for the crunchy texture variation.  It was good, although not the highlight of the meal by any stretch.  We also got the beef tenderloin skewer from the robata grill section of the menu ($14).  This was very good as well—the beef was on a skewer along with shishito peppers (generally fairly mild peppers) and served with a mustard foie gras coulis on the side and a miso sauce on top.  The coulis served to dip the meat into was what made this dish.  The meat itself was done well—super tender and pink, but the sauce had both a touch of mustardy heat and tiny bits of rich, buttery foie gras.  What a cool way to incorporate it to make the fairly simply grilled meat feel completely decadent.  I have never had foie served in quite this way.

The chopped ahi sashimi with avocado, wontons and soy wasabi was next ($12).  Like I said, ahi is amazing in Hawaii, if usually a little under seasoned, but this one was great.  I would call it more of a tartare type of consistency—there was the chopped tuna on top of lots of seasoned chopped avocado and the crispy wontons were actually incorporated into the little stack instead of being served alongside.  It made it really easy to eat and get a little bit of all the flavors in each bite.  My only complaint was the amount of ahi was a little stingy I thought in comparison to the other ingredients.  But the wasabi and soy gave it nice flavor and the textures were pretty perfectly balanced.  Finally, we had the Kona Kampachi tiradito with passion fruit ceviche sauce and topped with peppers ($15).  This was good, but probably my least favorite of the evening.  The pieces of fish were rolled and sitting in the sauce—I love passion fruit, and rarely have I had really good passion fruit flavored things outside of Hawaii, but this one was just a little too mild—the fish pieces were so large, it was hard to really feel like you got the right amount of the sauce with it.  Again, it suffered the fate of being slightly under seasoned. My favorite part of the dish was the little “cornuts” that were served with it adding a little crunch. But after ordering this one, I really wished we had just ordered another bowl of those dumplings. 

Monkeypod:  This was our first venture outside of the resort on one of the first few days—and I think one of the reasons I liked it as much as I did was just because we got out and about.  They had amazing fries that we all shared as an appetizer (reminded me completely of Brugge fries).  They were hand cut and nicely browned.  For my main dish, I had an appetizer of ahi tacos ($17.95) (by the end of this trip, my mercury level was probably through the roof) which were little wontons fried and shaped into little taco shell shapes, filled with seasoned ahi (marinated with soy and ginger) and topped with cabbage and an avocado cream sauce.  They were really good—small for sure, but tasty.  Hubby had fish and chips ($19.95) (which were made with mahimahi on this day) and they were quite good as well.  Luckily he shared with me because mine was kind of small.  This place is supposed to be known for their house made cream pies, so we go the banana cream as well as a chocolate cream ($6.95 each).  They were good, but not amazing (I don’t know, maybe I am never really amazed with cream pies?).  All in all it was a nice, family friendly place with good food.

We had a great trip, and some amazing food (and a lot of just okay food). But the reason to go to Maui?  Here’s the reason:

Mama’s Fish House
799 Poho Place
Paia, HI 96779

Mama's Fish House on Urbanspoon

Alan Wong’s Amasia
Grand Wailea Resort
3850 Wailea Alanui Drive
Wailea, HI  96753
Alan Wong's Amasia on Urbanspoon

Monkeypod Kitchen
10 Wailea Gateway Place
Kihei, HI 96753
Monkeypod Kitchen by Merriman on Urbanspoon


  1. Jessica in NoblesvilleAugust 16, 2012 at 5:33 PM

    The prices for your meals sound high ... do you think those are representative of Maui restaurants? I've heard things are more expensive there then on the main land, but I would think if you're eating locally-sourced foods, it wouldn't have the same mark-up. Perhaps because of the tourism industry?? Your pictures of Maui are lovely and someday I plan to get out there and see it for myself, but I apparently have to budget more for meals than usual.

  2. Jessica-- yes Hawaii is really expensive in most every way. The gas was at least $1 per gallon than it was here. So many food ingredients have to be shipped in, which is one of the reasons I think, but I also think the places that are in this post had high prices for fish (which in theory is local) because they were using small fishermen/women and were all about sustainable seafood, etc. I think you could eat more cheaply (and we did at several places) if that was your preference. But even the most standard foods (like breakfast, etc) is going to be more expensive than the mainland.

  3. $1 MORE per gallon I should have said.

  4. I love everything Alan Wong does. When I was in Honolulu I ate at the Pineapple Room every chance I got. The ahi tuna burger was unbelievable and their tropical iced tea is to die for.