The Shotgun Blog
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Holidays In The Sun: Maui, Hawaii - Volume 1 - A Feast of Friends
Johnny Rotten may not have wanted a holiday in the sun, but it seems that 'ol Knox just can't get through a Western Canadian winter without one. Especially this winter. (Global warming?)
Anyway, this year's destination was a place that I'd been before and always enjoyed: Maui, Hawaii. A place that isn't that interesting, but is consistently welcoming and holds much for a weary, brittle and frozen man from Canada. A place that while it has its share of restaurants has surprisingly few bright culinary lights. Many Maui restaurants carry a lot of hype, but few deliver.
One example of a hyped-yet-dismal establishment is Pacific'O in Lahaina. Here is a place that is in every local restaurant magazine, sources ingredients from its own organic farm and features a chef (the goateed James MacDonald) that seems to enjoy writing in the said magazines about just what a creative genius he is. Fresh seafood is supposedly the focus of the restaurant and probably is, and in one of the seemingly endless articles about the restaurant and Chef MacDonald, I recall reading that the ingredients and their quality are key and that overbearing sauces ought not kill the dish. A lofty statement, but one that is directly opposite the approach at Pacific'O. My dining companion had the won ton starter and Mahi Mahi as her main course. While both were edible, they were drowned in the exact same sauce, an overpowering hoisin-style sauce that took over the dishes and never relented. I had the blackened Ahi tower and the "Hapa/Hapa" tempura, which was two blocks of sashimi tempura-fried to medium rare. Again, both dishes were "fine". Standard fair for any restaurant that stays open, but certainly not something worthy of high praise (although supposedly the Ahi tower won an award at the local "Taste of Lahaina" festival). The wine list? Nothing to write home about despite similar hype. Pedestrian and uninspired. The service? Well, if you can't say something nice about.......
Contrast Pacific'O with Merriman's, a Kapalua restaurant on the waterfront that features a beautiful room with a huge outdoor patio and a wooden walkway that protrudes toward the ocean and ends with a huge firepit that lights up the surrounding ocean as you see the few lights of the island of Molokai across the channel. Here too you have a local chef of some repute - Peter Merriman - who also embraces the "farm to table" concept and uses local ingredients, 90% or more of which are locally produced or caught, using only sustainable methods. The difference with Merriman is that he nails it. I had the sesame crusted striped marlin sashimi, followed by the grass fed maui cattle beef filet. I was reluctant to sample something other than Alberta beef, but boy was I glad I did. It was melt in your mouth delicious and let me brag that I had sampled the best beef that Maui had to offer. My dinnermate had the hirabara farm baby greens to start (the dressing was a bit tart, but the salad was otherwise first rate) and the local lobster, prepared in an Asian style, which she loved. We both had the locally-sourced mushroom soup - unreal. All of which was supported by a great wine list featuring some unusual wines from small producers around the world. A two-server system made the service nearly seamless. The setting makes the restaurant great and the food makes it superb.
To summarize, when it comes to eating in Maui, choose carefully. Beware the hype and Chefs with goatees. I think that the anti-goatee rule has even broader application in society, but certainly let it be your guide when choosing your island holiday dining.
Posted by Knox Harrington on April 1, 2009 | Permalink
This reads like the opening scene from American Psycho.
It seems that Knox Harrington and blogger William Joseph have the same passions: liberty and food.
Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-04-01 11:46:32 AM
check out Cafe O'Lei in Kihei
Posted by: Spike | 2009-04-01 4:27:59 PM
Goatees in the kitchen, Spike?
Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-04-01 5:00:24 PM
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