Friday 25 January 2013

The Culinary Gem of Lahaina, Maui- Lahaina Grill

Lahaina Grill

127 Lahainaluna Rd  Lahaina,

HI 96761, United States

+1 808-667-5117

Tastiness factor: 5/5

Atmosphere: 4.75/5

Service: 4.75/5

Locavore approved? YES- locally caught fish, nightly specials with local ingredients based on what is fresh, a whole list of vegetables grown at local farms avaiable as sides.

Lahaina Grill, located in the small town of Lahaina in Maui, was not on my original hotlist of "must-go" restos on our recent Maui vacation.  I think I may have glanced at the menu once while in my dining search (done a few months before our trip!) and then just skipped over it after not being overly impressed by the look of the menu.


While obviously looks can be deceiving.  THANK GOODNESS that we passed by Lahaina Grill on our first walk along Front St. in Lahaina (now our favorite part of Maui!) and ran into a couple who raved about it so much that we opted to change our original reservation at Pineapple Grill so that we could see what all of the hype over Lahaina Grill was all about.

We were easily able to make a reservation the night before (as with most places in Maui) but when we arrived, the restaurant was packed and there was a line waiting outside to be seated (surprising for a Tuesday night!).  We were greeted by a lovely hostess who took our coats and gave me a little hook so that I could hang my purse on the table (nice touch!).  Service throughout our meal remained excellent. with a very friendly and knowledgeable server who was assisted by a "sous-waiter" who promptly refilled our water and brought out our food.  Flawless service.  We also loved the atmosphere- casual yet refined.


As for the food, I can easliy saw that this was without a doubt my favorite food in Maui.  Amazing flavours, solid execution, beautiful preparation.  This chef knows how to keep things relatively simple, yet still make dishes that are nothing like you have ever tasted before.  No tricks, no fancy foams or tuiles to complicate matters, just straight up amazing food.  Here is a snapshot of our memorable meal: 

Ahi Poke- Your jaw may drop when you see the price of this appie ($25 for poke????) but when it arrives at your table, you will perhaps be a bit more understanding. This veritable mountain of fresh, local ahi tuna is more than enough for 2 people to share.  The huge chunks of ahi are tossed with beautiful local cucumber and avocado (there must be at least a whole avocado in just one serving!) and perfectly dressed with a light tamarind-ginger dressing.  My husband, the ahi expert, enthusiastically recommends this dish!


Seabass with seafood risotto- Unfortunately, you will not find this dish on their regular menu as it was the nightly special.  This is a shame as this dish was AMAZING.  I adore seabass and order it whenever I can back in Vancouver so it was a treat to try the local variety.  The seabass here is less fatty than what I am used to back home and the chef here panfried it, whereas I am used to it being baked.  The generous serving of fish (yummmm) was served over a seafood risotto tossed with chunks of scallop and lobster.  This was all of course amazing, but I must say that the very best part of this dish, which puts it up there amongst my favourite all time dishes, was the caper-butter sauce at the bottom of the plate that could be mixed in with the risotto and swept up by the vegetable accompaniments (see below). Words cannot describe how amazing this dish was.



Tequila shrimp and firecracker rice- My husband loves shrimp and loves spice so this one seemed like a no-brainer for him and, even then, it far exceeded his expectations. The 8 large, butterflied shrimp (cooked to perfection) are served around a little pile of jasmine rice mixed with a spicy southwest sauce. This is all atop a tequila butter sauce that my husband eagerly soaked up with the rice, the veggies and bread until every last drop was gone.  So delicious!



Vegetables- Our server recommended the corn (fresh off the cob, mixed with herb butter) and the green beans (tossed with sliced macadamia nuts) to accompany our selection of mains.  After already paying a very pretty penny for your mains, you may think about forgoing the vegetable sides, but I recommend against this since ours were so darn tasty.  The local green beans were fresh, crisp and delicious but the corn really stole my heart.  The local Maui corn was sweeter than any corn I have ever tasted and was charred on the grill before coming off the cob to bring out the sweetness even more. To die for.



Kauai pie- We were so incredibly full but, after such an outstanding meal, we just had to find out what these guys had up their sleeves for dessert.  My husband and I shared this pie made of kona coffee ice cream, a crumbly Oreo crust and layers of fudge and macadamia nuts.  What more is there to say but "yummmmmmm"....... (so good, I forgot a pic!).

Although on first glance, you might be taken aback by the rather steep prices here, please do be deterred.  I can almost guarantee that your meal will be worht every penny- ours certainly was! Lahaina Grill will without a doubt be top on the "must-go" list on our next visit to Maui!

Lahaina Grill on Urbanspoon



Tuesday 22 January 2013

Top Chef Sheldon- Maui's Culinary Superstar

With Bravo's Top Chef (Season 10) now down to its final 6 contestants, it is anyone's game to win.  My husband and I have been cheering for contestant Sheldon, a self-trained chef from Maui, who's calm demeanor and traditional Hawaiian/Filipino food have bee winning over the hearts of viewers and judges alike.  How exciting to have had the opportunity to visit his restos in Maui during our trip there last week!  Here is the rundown:


This little cafe and bakeshop is located right on highway 30 on the way from our hotel in Wailea to the awesome little town of Lahaina. The first time that we drove by, we remembered its affiliation with Sheldon and figured we would stop to check it out. We had no real intention on eating here but luckily it was close enough to lunch time that we had an excuse to grab some of their delicious lunch grub, and a little treat for later:)  I was very pleased to learn of their passion for local produce and proteins 


I was very pleased to learn of their passion for local produce and proteins.  They give kudos to the local farms that supply their ingredients- so nice to see recognition given where it is due! 


Philly cheese steak sandwich- My husband can never resist ordering this classic, and fortunately, Leoda's version did not disappoint. The tender steak and generous amount of gooey cheese was served on deliciously fresh baguette, made fresh every day at Leoda's. The bread is available for sale daily, but don't leave it until too late since they sell out fast!


Fried salad- This may sound like a bit of an oxymoron but really it is a great concept. The "fried" part is flash-fried brussel sprout leaves that are amazingly light and crispy. They are served a top a bed of fresh, local greens (these are soooooooo good here in Maui) as well as the ingenious addition of celery leaves which work remarkably well in the mix. And then comes the dressing- an unbelievably sweet burnt orange dressing that gives the salad a huge punch of flavour with just a few drops (I would recommend against using the whole container of dressing that is served on the side). The combo of the sweetness with the fried brussel sprout leaves is a match made in heaven.


Apple crumb pie- Leoda's offers a wonderful selection of pies, fresh baked daily. They sell out long before closing every day so you can guarantee that they are fresh. Selections include banana cream, coconut cream pie (my hubby LOVED this one!!!), their infamous chocolate cream macadamia nut and my choice, the apple crumble. The great thing about the pies is that they are small enough for one or two people to share (although I had no intention of sharing mine!). This pie was amazing- sweet chunks of apple on a flaky pastry topped with a sweet cinnamon topping. It was so good that I had to return the next day to get another!


Aloha Mixed Plate

With only a week to discover the amazing food in Maui, we unfortunately ran out of time to visit Sheldon's pre-Star Noodle restaurant. We heard lots of amazing stuff though, so have it on the list for next time!



Star Noodle

Last but not least, we have Sheldon's newest claim to fame, and the one that his Top Chef fans know him for. I should preface this by saying that my hubby LOVES noodles and I have relied heavily on his opinions for this review. This was one of the highlights on our trip to Maui for him.


Star Noodle is a VERY popular spot for tourists and locals alike. You cannot make reservations for small parties, so be prepared to wait anywhere from 30 min to over an hour for a table. We went late (around 8:45) and we still had to wait about 45 minutes for 2 seats at the bar. The restaurant itself has much nicer decor than your typical noodle joint. The beige decor is complemented by large wooden tables and nice hanging lights. There are multiple tables for 2-4 people and then about a dozen tables around the bar. The hostess recommended the tables by the bar so that we could be right in the midst of the action and watch the cooks with their big woks inside the closed kitchen. I would certainly second this recommendation as it added to the fun of the evening. Although Sheldon was not around that evening (we were told he was in Oahu visiting his family before heading back to Seattle for the last Top Chef shoots), we had a very gregarious and friendly waiter who made great food recommendations and shared some local gossip with us as we ate (nothing about Top Chef though- Sheldon is sworn to secrecy by a 2.4 million dollar contract!).


The menu at Star Noodle is divided into "shared plates" and "noodles". Family-style dining is recommended, and 4 dishes between two people will likely suffice. Having said that, my husband and I shared 6 dishes (he would have ordered everything on the menu had I let him!) and we left only a few noodles that we took in a to-go box.


Here is a snapshot of what we ordered:

Scallop shooters- These fun little bites consisted of pan-seared scallop served on a stick in a bath of broth that you are encouraged to take a "shot" of after each bite of scallop. The scallop was perfectly cooked and paired nicely with a little ginger "pesto" that was overtop. The broth was tasty, but perhaps a wee bit salty and therefore slightly overpowered the scallop. All-in-all though, a very fun and creative dish.


Pohole salad- This was my pick and was a no-brainer for me once I found out that a "pohole" is the Hawaiian term for a fiddlehead. This tasty green vegetable has a very short growing season in Canada but here in Hawaii, they are fortunate to able to grow them year-round. In this dish, the poholes were very simply prepared (thank goodness!) so that I could taste their beautiful, mild flavour. Also in the salad was pieces of raw, sweet Maui onion and some dried shrimp to add a bit of crunch. I am personally not a fan of dried seafood, so was not necessarily a fan of this element, but there is no denying that it gave the salad an interesting Asian twist. Again, A+ for creativity.


Pork buns- An Asian menu would not be complete without a Chinese bun and we we told that these pork buns were one of SN's top sellers. While my husband enjoyed the overall flavours, this was probably his least favourite dish, mostly because of the fatty cut of pork. The little squeeze bottles of hot mustards served with the dish were pretty neat though.


Garlic noodles- And now onto our first noodle dish, a small plate of the garlic noodles. These were simple, but very tasty. The ramen-like noodles were coated in a very flavourful garlic sauce and some thinly-diced green onion. My husband, the noodle connoisseur, gave a big thumbs-up.


Organic buckwheat soba- These soba noodles traditional-style, served cold with accompaniments of broth for dipping, daikon and wasabi. This dish is a clean and healthy contrast to some of the heavier menu items.


Pad Thai- My husband's final choice came on the recommendation of our waiter who said that this was another of SN's top-selling dishes. He has tried many-a Pad Thai in his day so he needed to try SN's version. Although he was not able to finish the whole dish (his eyes had been much bigger than his belly!), he fairly confidently referred to this as the "best Pad Thai ever". The tender rice noodles were tossed with huge chunks of chicken, small shrimp, cabbage and bean sprouts and then topped with crushed peanuts. No big surprises, just a popular Thai dish prepared well.


It is obvious why SN is such a popular spot here in Maui. What's not to like about great food, some done traditionally and some with a creative twist, sold at VERY reasonable prices, in a really fun atmosphere? Sheldon has a real winner here.

Sheldon, we are rooting for you now more than ever!



Leoda's Kitchen and Pie Shop on Urbanspoon

Star Noodle on Urbanspoon

Aloha Mixed Plate on Urbanspoon