May was Maui month. (So was June, but that’s a story for another blog post.) Shake was invited on a media trip to experience Celebration of the Arts at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua and stay in Hāna at the Travaasa Hāna hotel, and I was invited to tag along (and eat all the food). The farm field trip I posted about recently was part of this Mālama Maui #LetHawaiiHappen trip.
Here’s the proof that I pretty much spent the entire trip eating. This doesn’t even include the incredible Celebration of the Arts lū‘au because 1) OMG, food overload already, and 2) I’m going to include that in my upcoming Celebration post.
First, we made a stop at The Market Maui (a favorite of ours) for sandwiches. I *LOVE* their sandwiches. I was trying to be a little more veggie-oriented, so I opted for the Caprese sandwich, which Shake went for the “Proper BLT.” After sampling a bite of each other’s, we agreed to trade halfsies. I liked his Proper BLT so much that on our return trip earlier this month, I got one all to myself. We also “discovered” Wow Wow Lemonade—the Maui Ginger Pineapple flavor was our favorite, but although we can find Wow Wow here on O‘ahu, we haven’t seen that one. Sadness. (They’re a bit on the pricey side, but that’s pretty much the norm for fresh juices made out of actual fruit instead of concentrate. We have seen them at Foodland/R.Field on sale for substantially less than normal.)
At Celebration of the Arts at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, we were treated to dinner at the recently re-opened The Banyan Tree restaurant. (The space had been closed for a while, being used for private events instead of an open restaurant.) Now, the restaurant puts a focus on seasonal, farm-to-fork dining using local products, including items from their own property. The view from the dining room is fantastic, and the food lives up to the setting.
We started with a round of cocktails. Here, clockwise from left, the Keep Calm and Chive On (kaffir-lime-and-chive-infused Grey Goose vodka, vermouth, Kalamata olive brine and celery bitters); The Banyan Tree Buzz (Bombay Sapphire gin, lemon, lavender, honey, shaken with egg whites, topped with lavender tea); and the Aloha E Ka La (Ciroc peach vodka, ruby red grapefruit juice, muddled sage and strawberry, lehua honey).
I didn’t even try Shake’s Keep Calm and Chive On—not a dirty martini fan—but he loved it, and I thought the garnish was awesome. (Although an errant chive did try to go up his nose.)
Fresh ‘Ōpakapaka Ceviche was refreshing, with young coconut, which made it more like the Tahitian poisson cru or Samoan oka i‘a, which use coconut milk.
For dinner, I chose the housemade pasta; most others picked the fresh fish entrées or the steak, and while they were delicious (hooray for companions who are open to sharing tastes of their food), I think I made the best selection. The House Pappardelle and Bacon, topped with a crispy poached egg (how do they do that?!?), shimeji mushrooms, pesto and pecorino, was full of flavor and the right amount of rich gooeyness from the egg. When I ordered, the waiter asked, “Do you like pesto?” When I replied in the affirmative, he said, “Oh, good, that’s all right then.”
As you can see, if you are not a pesto fan, this is not for you.
As I said, the more run-of-the-mill options, like the Filet Mignon, were still done very nicely. The Crispy Fingerling Potatoes that came on the side are also available as a side dish, which is good to know because they are delicious. I love it when the potatoes are smashed and then fried. They never come out as well when I do them at home, though.
We were served a platter full of delightful desserts, but by then most of the light had gone and no one (including, and especially, me) wanted to wait for me to get the perfect shot before digging in.
At Travaasa Hāna, we had three nights of dining on-property, and Chef Konrad Arroyo was excited to cook for us what he felt would be the best expressions of what’s available in Hāna. (So some of this is not available on the menus.) We were told that Ka‘uiki Restaurant serves food that’s 90-100% locally sourced from Hawai‘i—and the majority of that is from Maui, if not from Hāna itself. Pretty impressive, but when you start to think about how long and how much trouble it takes to bring supplies down to Hāna, and how much produce is available right out their front door, it becomes obvious that this is not just about using the “sustainable”/“local” buzzwords, but a very practical move.
Hāna fishermen sell their catch right to the restaurant; it’s so fresh that Chef Konrad said that he actually waits to age it a little bit so it tastes better, rather than serving it up right off the boat. This ceviche—‘ōpakapaka, I think, but don’t quote me on that—was fantastic. I can’t imagine even the fussiest “Ew, fish is soooo….fishy!” anti-seafood person disliking this. The flavor was so fresh and clean.
On the right is Chef Konrad’s “charcuterie plate” featuring Maui Cattle Co. beef that’s been aged and air-dried. It’s uncooked, somewhat like bresaola. Our host, Travaasa Hāna’s sales and events manager Hubert Aaron, Jr., isn’t a raw meat (or seafood) fan, so he declined the dish, but the rest of us peer-pressured him into trying it. I don’t think he’s a convert, but he did admit that it was tasty, and said, “It’s sort of like Slim Jims—not in a bad way! Like, the texture!” I backed him up since that was exactly what I was thinking of when I tried (as my part of the effort) to convince him that it wouldn’t be like eating a piece of raw meat you carved off your uncooked steak. It’s more like a very tender beef jerky.
The tempura-fried pohole (fiddlehead fern) was a big hit with Shake. I think that by the end of this trip even he was pohole’d out. Chef Konrad said that he came up with the idea of serving the pohole battered and fried because he wanted to do something else to do with it, besides a salad. “Everyone does salad,” he said.
We’re back to fish again: a whole, deep-fried ‘ōpakapaka caught by local fishermen just the day before. It was served up Chinese style, with ginger and hot oil poured over, tableside.
If you stay at Travaasa, you have a couple other options for dining through the resort: the Hāna Ranch Restaurant across the highway and up the hill with more casual fare than Ka‘uiki serves, and the Paniolo Lounge on-property for drinks. The Hāna Ranch Restaurant focuses on locally raised beef—the Maui Cattle Co. burger you eat there could have been made from cattle raised on Hāna Ranch. (Maui Cattle Co. is a collective of a half-dozen family-owned Maui ranches, including Hāna Ranch.) Given the ranch history in the area and the restaurant’s beefy focus, Chef Konrad served us (among other things) a Filet Mignon over fried rice—a riff on the locally ubiquitous steak-and-rice plates.
Since we were enjoying soaking up some tourist vibes, Shake opted for a Mai Tai during our pre-dinner cocktail hour at the Paniolo Lounge the next night. (I had a gin-based cocktail with St-Germain.) The drinks were fine, but it’s the view that’s really stunning. (So you’d think I’d have taken a photo—but that’s how it is sometimes; I just forget about taking photos and enjoy what’s in front of me.)
Dinner on our final night featured a lovely, cool gazpacho, poured tableside. I love gazpacho.
We had more Maui Cattle Co. beef, this time as a poke, which is such a great way to have it.
The main course was an ‘ahi that Chef Konrad had been resting for a couple days—brought to him by local fishermen; he showed us a photo of the fish, it was pretty enormous. The fish was coated with black and white sesame seeds and seared. I used to make fish like this; it’s a simple, tasty preparation.
This just represents a small portion of what we ate while we stayed in Hāna. Chef Konrad served us a lot of food at dinners, we breakfasted well in the mornings (Shake really liked Kau‘iki’s granola; service in the mornings is very friendly, but pretty leisurely—keep that in mind if you’re in a rush, or, you know, you could just freakin’ relax: it’s Hāna) and on our one open day, we lunched at Pranee’s Thai, next to Hāna Ranch Restaurant. (So here’s the thing with Pranee’s: There used to be a tent down in Hāna town where two different ladies operated two different Thai restaurants. On some days, it was Pranee’s and on the other days, it was Nutcharee’s. Shake raved about both, after visiting Hāna a couple times without me over the past few years. Now, however, one of the ladies has moved away, and the other has scaled back; the business is now run out of a little window next to the Hāna Ranch Restaurant. The food is still good, but there are fewer selections, which Shake was extremely bummed about.)
After leaving Hāna, we had one more Maui meal in us before heading to the airport. I’d heard about Cow Pig Bun on social media because of their “Knife Fights” pitting competing chefs against each other to make dishes, Chopped-style. (Click the link, but scroll down a little to the video gallery.)
We had some difficulty finding the restaurant. It’s located in the Kihei Tech Park—go up the hill, you’ll see the signs pointing the way (and pass the massive Maui Brewing Co. facility with its gleaming beer tanks). You’ll also spot CPB’s wooden deck, strung with lights. However, once you’ve parked, it’s a stumper. The building has a black glass façade and there are no signs indicating what door the restaurant might be behind, or even that it exists at all. Go in through the main glass double doors, and the restaurant is straight ahead.
The menu highlights whiskey cocktails and burgers, as you’d expect from their tagline, “Burgers & Bourbon.” The drinks looked tasty, reminiscent of Dave Newman’s Pint + Jigger menu—very spirit forward. They were so alluring, in fact, that I succumbed to temptation and did some day drinking. I ordered the Meat Packing District (Michter’s Rye, Cocchi Americano, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino) which was something like a whiskey twist on a negroni. I love that sweet-bitter profile.
And I’m sure you think it’s funny that at a burger joint, I’m posting a photo that features a salad. (That’s the burger in the background—we got the House Burger.) Don’t get me wrong—the burgers are great, very flavorful and served with chicharonnes instead of fries. But a good (even a great) burger is not an unusual thing to find, though much appreciated. The Tako Salad, on the other hand, is not something I see a lot.
I love me some tentacles. I’ve said this again and again. The Cow Pig Bun Tako Salad features semolina-dusted fried octopus, tomatoes, onions, goat cheese, garlic croutons, Kalamata olives and capers, dressed with an orange sherry-balsamic vinaigrette. The tako is tender, but crunchy on the outside, and the salad has a briny-acid bite that’s tempered by the creamy goat cheese. I keep saying it: more people should serve tentacles.
So that’s it for this Maui-focused We Ate It edition!
Disclosure: We were invited to attend the Mālama Maui press trip as guests of the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, Travaasa Hāna and the Maui Visitors Bureau. Travel (for Shake) and accommodations were provided by the hosts, but no financial compensation was received for this post and no representative from the establishment/event was given the opportunity to review or comment upon this post prior to publication.