MAUI, HAWAII — Two weeks ago when invited to visit this spectacular island by the Maui Visitors Bureau, I had a chance to be a guest at a couple of complimentary accommodations as I noshed my way around the island.
Here are the highlights:
The Old Wailuku Inn at Ulupono
Total charm is what you’ll find at this B&B that evokes 1940s Hawaii, with its grand lanai, lush garden and handmade Hawaiian quilts that adorn the beds in each distinct room.
Janice and Tom Fairbanks run the Old Wailuku, a plantation-style inn that’s located in a residential neighborhood. It has seven rooms in the main house and three in a separate rear building.
Complimentary breakfast is included and shouldn’t be missed. It usually begins with a goblet of fresh fruit, including mango, banana and strawberries. That’s followed by a warm dish, such as mega French toast made from a crisp Vietnamese baguette that’s smeared with a creamy mixture of ricotta, cottage cheese and fresh mint.
In the dining room, there’s a fridge stocked with cold cans of juice and soda to help yourself to throughout the day, as well as bowls of snack foods to nibble.
I admit that when Chef Jay Terauchi was driving myself and a slew of travel bloggers to this restaurant, I secretly feared he might be a serial killer, about to do us all in and dump our bodies where nobody could find them.
That’s because Star Noodle is located off the beaten path, up a rather deserted road off the main highway, where there’s a warehouse or two and a couple of bulldozers idle on barren land.
But continue up that road until you hit the restaurant, and you know you must be on to something because there will be a line of folks in the parking lot, waiting to get inside. Always a good sign, right?
Star Noodle has been a hit with locals since it opened two years ago. Chef Sheldon Simeon oversees the lively spot that boasts sake cocktails, and an array of contemporary Asian small plates and noodle dishes.
We shared everything family-style. The Hapa Ramen ($12) bowl of pork broth, roast pork and spicy aka miso was plentiful, but tasted surprisingly flat. Better were the other dishes we tried, including the Kona Kampachi sashimi, Hana fiddle head fern salad with maui onion and kombu ($8), a very crisp Vietnamese crepe stuffed with shrimp, bean sprouts and big nuggets of ground pork ($12), and simple, pan-roasted locally grown mushrooms ($12) that sang of smoke and earth.
Be sure to end the evening with an order of malasadas. These Portuguese donuts are massive here. They arrive warm, fluffy and dusted with sugar. On the side are little ramekins of chocolate sauce, caramel sauce and chopped peanuts for your dipping pleasure.
Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop
With the success of Star Noodle, Chef Sheldon Simeon recently opened another venue, Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop. And yes, get ready to wait in line there, too.
Order at the counter, then find a table, where a server will deliver your food.
It’s American comfort cuisine — with Hawaiian flair. Think hot dogs, but with Maui Gold pineapple chutney and Poha berry mustard ($7). Or a hand-held pie stuffed with Hamakua mushrooms, shallots and Parmigiano-Reggiano ($7.75).
Mac ‘n’ cheese ($5.75) is formed into nuggets, breaded, then deep-fried and served with house-made marinara sauce. It’s a heart-attack on a plate, but one you can’t resist.
The seared ahi sandwich on homemade rye bread, smeared with caramelized sweet Kula onions, basil pesto and garlic aioli ($15) is sure to please, as is the braised short rib pot pie ($12.75) with a flaky crust that you can douse with horseradish cream.
Pies are a specialty, of course. A 3-inch mini banana cream pie is wonderfully cream through and through. It’s enough to share — if you are in a generous mood.
Market Fresh Bistro
These days, he’s pretty much accomplished that, what with 85 percent of his ingredients now locally grown.
Dining here is like being invited to Pardo’s home for dinner. It’s a spartan space with maybe 10 tables and an open kitchen. He’s not one of those chefs who is always out and about at events, because if he’s not in the kitchen, the restaurant can’t really function. That’s how small the kitchen crew is.
The dinner he prepared for my fellow food/travel writers and I included a duo of salads: one of organic mixed greens with black radish, roasted rainbow carrots and green beans in a pesto vinaigrette; and the other with heirloom tomatoes and a Kula herb goat cheese fritter.
Next, a delicate taro-crusted ono with a bold curried cauliflower and tomato chutney that had a nice touch of warmth from saffron-braised leeks.
The main course was tender Maui Cattle Co. short ribs that had been braised for three days. Onion jam made with port and brown sugar added a touch of sweet fruitiness.
Ko at the Fairmont Kea Lani
Ko, which means “sugarcane” in Hawaii, is definitely a sweet place to dine.
Especially after its recent $5.1 million renovation.
The restaurant is located inside the 22-acre Fairmont Kea Lani oceanfront resort, which boasts only suites and villas. Ko is one of three restaurants there. Open-air and with live music, it’s the perfect place to watch the sunset on a balmy night.
Chef Tylun Pang serves up dishes that reflect the pan-Asian influences of Hawaii, with liberal doses of Chinese, Filipino, Portuguese, Korean and Japanese flavors.
Of course when you’re in the tropics, a cocktail is a must to start the night with. The Honey Basil ($15) is a refreshing, tangy blend of gin, basil, clover honey and lemon juice that’s sure to put you in the island mood.
I started with an appetizer of sear-it-yourself ahi ($26). Three good-size cubes of tuna coated in black and white sesame seeds arrived, alongside a smooth, heated black stone. Place a hunk of ahi on the stone and hear the immediate sizzle. You can cook it as little or as much as you want. When you’re ready to enjoy, dip it into a spicy orange-ginger miso sauce.
Next, macadamia-crusted opakapaka. The firm flesh of the Hawaiian pink snapper was enlivened by a rich tomato-ginger-butter sauce and slivers of pickled ginger on top. With it came more of those wonderful purple sweet potatoes with their vanilla-like flavor, this time mashed until thick and creamy.
One of the most popular desserts is banana lumpia ($10) and it’s easy to see why. The bananas get sweeter and softer when fried till crisp like fruit egg rolls. They come with a small but potent scoop of coconut ice cream that all but steals the show. Made by the Ono Gelato Company in Maui (a favorite of Oprah’s, according to my server), the coconut gelato, with bits of tender coconut meat in it, tastes like coconut to the 10th power. If you’re a coconut lover, you’re sure to be in heaven.