Shake and I spent four days on Maui during the Maui County Agricultural Festival weekend. Besides stuffing ourselves silly at the actual Festival, we ate at several great places.
First up, Kō at The Fairmont Kea Lani. The Kea Lani hosted us for one night of our stay, and we were invited to have afternoon drinks and pupus at Kō, followed by dinner a few hours later. The restaurant was recently renovated and looks beautiful. Kō means “sugar cane” in Hawaiian, a nod to Maui’s sugar heritage, and serves plantation-influenced food. It’s classified “fine dining” and the food is certainly high-caliber, but it’s not stuffy by any means.
We started out with a couple of cocktails — a Papaya Smash (Woodford Reserve bourbon, papaya purée, mint leaves, simple syrup, fresh lemon) for Shake and a Home Grown (American Harvest Organic Vodka, Upcountry lavender, strawberry pepper jam infused syrup and lemonade) for me. They were beautifully presented and very refreshing — perfect for a sunny afternoon.
To go with the drinks, we had a few dishes, including an order of Oishii Sushi —a tempura-battered and fried sushi roll with spicy ‘ahi in the center. I had a hard time restraining myself from eating too many, even knowing that we’d be eating again in a couple hours!
The Kea Lani is a stunning property, especially at night. A cool thing about the resort is that all the rooms are suites — so you get, at minimum, a sitting room and bedroom, a swanky bathroom with an enormous tub and probably the biggest balconies I’ve seen. (I didn’t bring a wide angle lens, so I couldn’t take any decent in-room photos.)
Having mostly digested our snack, we went back down to Kō for dinner. You can see a few more photos in the gallery, but they didn’t all come out particularly well, so I’m not including them all in this post. Two favorites that didn’t come out as well as I’d like were our starters — the Beef Poke and the ‘Ahi on the Rock. These are two of Kō’s signature dishes, and deservedly so.
For my entrée, I chose the Ginger Steamed Catch of the Day. I am a big, fat procrastinator, so I now no longer remember what the fish was, but I do remember that when Chef Tylun Pang of Kō came out to chat, he said it had been caught off the Maui coast that afternoon. Doesn’t get more “of the day” than that! I love this style of fish prep—there’s just something about the aromatic ginger and Chinese parsley (cilantro) that I find irresistible. (Weird, since when I was a kid, I wouldn’t touch Chinese parsley with a 10-foot pole. But my mother once said that I’d know I was old when I got to liking it.) This was one of the best Chinese-style steamed fish dishes I’ve ever had. This, and the Halekulani’s Orchids prep top my list now. I have to say, though, I fished out all the pieces of lup cheong (Chinese sausage). I’m not a fan of sweet meat. I liked the flavor it added to the broth, but I didn’t want the actual sausage. I fed it all to Shake. He was happy.
Speaking of Shake, he chose the paella for his entrée. The Kō Paella included chicken, chorizo, lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels, Spanish olives and red peppers. Shake doesn’t often order paella, “’Cause you never know if it’s going to suck, and when it does, it’s such a disappointment,” he says. This one most definitely did not suck. It was so laden with seafood, I had to appropriate a few of his clams. I don’t think he noticed. He had all my extra lup cheong, anyway!
We were really full, having had our entrées, two appetizers, a spectacular bread plate, a salad and, don’t forget, the pupus earlier. But that never stops me from looking at the dessert menu. “I don’t really think I want anything. Maybe just a coffee drink,” I claimed, as the waiter went off to retrieve some dessert menus. This is never true. I say it a lot, but it is never true.
“I don’t want anything,” Shake asserted. This is often true when it comes to desserts. “…But…”
“What if they have some really good malassada thing?”
Guess what they had?
A really good malassada thing. The menu calls this Pão Doce Frito—Portuguese Sweet Bread filled with Coconut Gelato Fried Crisp rolled in Vanilla Sugar served with Kula Black Raspberry Jam. I can barely pronounce pão doce properly (it’s “pahn doos”—Shake is part Portuguese, which makes him really handy at times like these), so I couldn’t begin to explain to you how it’s different from malassadas (and Google is failing me in this regard). Taste and texture-wise, it seemed very malassada-ish to me, a lovely, yeasty fried ball of sweet dough with gelato inside. Deeeelicious! Despite being “full” we managed to eat it. All.
On Friday, our first full day on Maui, we met a friend for lunch at Three’s Bar & Grill. Yvonne does their marketing and publicity, and she wanted us to try the place out, as they were in the beginning stages of rolling out a new branding campaign.
I have to admit that when I peeked at the website before we headed to the restaurant, I was a little wary. I didn’t understand how the concept of three chefs with three rather different cuisine profiles putting out dishes together would work. BUT! The website has been completely overhauled since I first saw it, and the concept comes across much better now—less “we have three different styles of food and we serve it together” than “we’ve melded three influences together.” I shouldn’t have been so surprised—in Hawai‘i, it’s just the way we eat, a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Three’s food is like that, borrowing pieces from the three chefs’ backgrounds to play off each other and work together in tasty ways.
At one point or another during the course of our two-hour lunch, all three of the chefs passed through the restaurant and said hello. Chefs Travis Morrin, Cody Christopher and Jaron Blosser are a trio of young surf-loving chefs who are making some great food.
And the food…once we sat down and started eating, I “got it” right away!
The restaurant is located in an unassuming wooden building in a funky “Shopping Village” in Kihei. It’s not the sort of place you’d expect to serve great sushi and fantastic fresh oysters. But it is.
Yvonne told us that they’re one of (if not the) Number One oyster selling establishments on Maui. As in, they sell the most. I can see why. Normally, I am a strictly lemon-only girl when it comes to oysters, so I was a little bummed when the oysters arrived already topped with cocktail and mignonette sauces…but this was really one of those occasions where Chef knows best. The bright flavors of the sauces really added to the briny oysters!
Shake fell in love with these Kim Chee Pickles. They make them in-house and serve them on the side with their burgers and sandwiches. We suggested they add them as a little complimentary starter (in a smaller portion, of course) and really show them off. Shake was so excited about them, Yvonne made him the happiest boy of the day by asking for a takeout container filled with pickles. I don’t think the trunk of the rental car was so happy.
I opted for the enormity that is the Three’s Loco Moco. I should be embarrassed to tell you this, but I ate about 90% of this.
Yvonne had recommended the burger (plus it came with more pickles) so Shake got one. But he’d been waffling between that and the Kalua Pork Sandwich, so Yvonne offered to get that and swap halfsies.
This is just half of the sandwich. You will not go hungry if you eat here.
As an example of how the three chefs have fused together their cuisines, the kalua pork is seasoned with Coconut Porter BBQ Sauce and topped with Peanut-Ginger Pineapple Slaw. And there you have your Hawaiian, Southwest and Pacific Rim elements all in one sandwich.
Was there dessert? Who do you think you’re talking to? The lava cake is a go-to restaurant standard, but they do it nicely. And it comes piping hot with cold fresh fruit and ice cream.
I don’t know how I walked away from the table and didn’t require a wheelbarrow to shuttle me to the car. We had a few hours to digest before our next hosted meal—dinner at Pulehu at the Westin Kā‘anapali Ocean Resort Villas.
Pulehu is billed as an Italian Grill restaurant. Chef Wesley Holder works closely with local farmers to use as much locally sourced produce as he can. He told us about the dish he was preparing for the next day’s AgFest, Risi Bisi (risotto with English peas), and his enthusiasm for the farm he worked with was so contagious, we made arrangements with him to check it out on Sunday. (Topic of a future post.)
Make sure to get the Ho‘opono Farm Caprese—made with fresh local tomatoes and produce, it also has fresh burrata instead of regular mozzarella. I could have eaten the whole thing, but I had to share it with Shake and our friend. No photo because we demolished it. But I had to tell you about it because you want it. You just don’t know it yet.
Our friend had the Risotto-Crusted Pesce (the fresh Island catch). I enjoyed my Jidori Chicken, but I think I would have traded back for her fish, especially since my dish came with fettuccine and the sauce was a little heavy after our day of eating.
Shake also made a wise choice with the Moloka‘i Prawn Risotto. I don’t know why I didn’t think I wanted seafood.
Yeah, we had dessert, too. We tried to be more restrained about it.
Gelato is restrained. I can’t help it if it comes in a pastry tulipe.
The next day, after indulging at the Maui AgFest, we made a stop at the Four Seasons Wailea Resort. Yvonne had told us that the resort’s lobby bar had added a new cocktail to its menu. This was very special news to us because the cocktail in question, The Smile, was created by our dear friend, John, who we lost a year and a half ago.
John had taught one of the bartenders at the Lobby Bar how to make this drink while he was in the development stage. We know he would be so thrilled to find out that not only is his drink on the menu, it’s among the pricier cocktails. Not a cheap date. But neither am I.
Our only quibble is that the menu lists the base spirit for The Smile as Jim Beam…which is incorrect. It’s properly made with Maker’s Mark. Without knowing this, the bartender on duty said to us, “I hope it’s OK—I think it tastes better when it’s made with Maker’s…” He became our instant friend.
After our Smiles, and a shower, we headed out to eat again, this time at Star Noodle, one of our favorite restaurants on Maui. We loved it before Chef Sheldon Simeon got famous on Top Chef and we are so happy to see him and the restaurant thriving. Although, it means that there can be some pretty long lines to be seated. Sheldon suggested we come by late, after the dinner crowd—“If you think you can wait that long,” he said. Dude, do you know how much we ate?
“What do you want to eat?” he asked. “Is it OK if I just mess around and bring stuff out?” I don’t understand why he asks us these questions. I will eat anything he feeds me, but although we have conquered my dislike of Brussels Sprouts, he has still to convince me that beets are edible.
A few of Sheldon’s creations (for more of the restaurant’s standard dishes, which we also had, check out the gallery):
On the left: ‘Ahi with Fried Quinoa, Nori Purée, Usukuchi Shoyu and Nasturtium. A refined take on poke. Loved the crunch of the quinoa! On the right: Pastele, Fried Brussels Sprouts, Kim Chee Purée. This may have been Shake’s favorite thing all night. It took him back to his childhood in Hilo. (Both he and Sheldon grew up there, and are of Filipino heritage.)
On the left: Crispy Pork Belly with Tomatoes and Peppers. On the right: Wāwae‘iole Ogo “Dirty Martini” by Zane Monteleone of StarBar (Star Noodle’s bar). Zane came up with this drink when he realized that the ogo (seaweed) tasted a lot like olives. It had a very clean, refreshing ocean taste. Not only does Zane make some good drinks, but he makes beautiful wooden muddlers, too. He made us a gift of one, and I almost hesitate to use it because it’s so pretty and I don’t want to scratch it up! The wood is satiny smooth and has a gorgeous grain to it.
Our last meal on Maui is almost always at Leoda’s Kitchen & Pie Shop, one of the other restaurants Sheldon oversees. We always get the Fried Salad, but we like to try the different sandwiches they offer. This time, Shake got a Roast Pork Hoagie (roast pork, ham drippings, garlic sautéed choy sum, provolone—check it out in the gallery) and I got a Spicy Tuna Salad Sandwich. It was a little too spicy for my wussy palate, but I loved it anyway! It was uncanny how much like (raw) spicy ‘ahi (like you get in sushi or on a poke bowl) it tasted. We couldn’t figure it out because the fish seemed entirely cooked through.
Phew, that’s it! See why it took me a whole month to emerge from my food coma to get around to processing all these photos and doing the round-up?
By the way, if you can explain to me the exact difference between pão doce and malassadas, please leave a comment!
Disclosure: Sugar + Shake were hosted by the Maui Visitors Bureau, The Fairmont Kea Lani and The Westin Maui. Travel for Shake and accommodations were provided by the hosts. Our meals at Kō, Three’s Bar and Grill, Pulehu and Star Noodle were courtesy of the restaurants. No compensation was received for this post, and the opinions expressed are strictly my own.
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