Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Happy Hour in Maui

In Hawaii, small plate appetizers are called pupus. A true vacation spot such as this, we had no problem scouring the island for happy hour and pupus, which could be found at almost every corner.  Narrowing down was a tough choice but after sampling a few places, here are the best happy hour spots we found in Maui.  It didn't take long for us to get ourselves acquainted to Hawaiian favourites such as Mai Tai, POG (Passion, orange, guava), lava flow (pina colada-style liquid heavenly ice cream cocktail).  Some popular pupus that can be found everywhere are kalua pork quesadilla, fish tacos, fried ahi roll, tuna poke, lani ribs, and crab cakes.

Sea House Restaurant
Located on Napili Kai Beach, this beachfront restaurant has one stunning view and looks like it has been around for a while.  What made this one of our favourite go-to places for happy hour is its wide selection of pupus and cocktails with at least two full pages dedicated for each.

We were really surprised to see a version of French onion soup making the list on their happy hour pupus.  The dishes arrived fairly quickly and some portions are fair size and great for sharing.  The price ranges only $5-$6, making a great opportunity for a variety of items.  We enjoyed many of the dishes but my favourite was the poke nacho.  We feasted enough to keep us full passed dinner time!
Sesame seared ahi 
Poke nacho
Crispy Kapalua roll
Crispy Maui Beach Balls 
Lani ribs
Tenderloin Bruschetta
Kalua pork taco

Sea House on Urbanspoon

3's Bar & Grill
We traveled all the way down to Kihei in search of Three's Bar & Grill.  Although it's located just off South Kihei road, it still took a bit of a hawk eye to spot this hidden restaurant.  Unfortunately, we didn't meet the 3 handsome surfers/chefs who are the masterminds behind the restaurant, we were quite pleased with 50% off pupus.

We sat down on the patio where the atmosphere was mellow and casual.  There was a live musician performing acoustic renditions and it truly felt like we were on a vacation.
At only $3, happy hour drinks include margarita, Mai Tai, and beer.  We made sure we loaded up the first two.  
The most special item we ordered and saw at every table was the Kalua pork nacho.  It was not only huge, but completely loaded! The nacho was composed of 3 different kinds of chips; tortilla chips, house-made potato and purple yam chips. It's then topped with tender pieces of pulled Kalua pork, topped with tomatoes, truffle lime aioli, melted cheese, sour cream and a scoop of fresh guacamole.  This was the ultimate party dish.

Of course, the kalua pork quesadillas paled in comparison to the nacho, but it was topped with some pineapple salsa.
The coconut prawns were fairly large and succulent.  They were also topped with some pineapples and surrounded by sweet Thai chili sauce.  The batter was not too thick and the shrimp were not overcooked.
Chicken satay skewers are grilled and dipped with a sweet peanut sauce.  They are reminiscent of South East Asian satay skewers and jerk chicken.

The panko-crusted tuna roll was very similar to the one we had at Sea House restaurant, only these were not as heavily fried (the whole roll was fried then sliced versus coating and frying each individual piece).  They were also bathing in a sea of sweet and tangy sauce. 
Three's Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 27, 2013

Eats! in Maui

Star Noodle

When I researched where to eat in Lahaina, Star Noodle came up on top at just about every site.  We were reaffirmed by several concierge that it is very close by, mighty delicious, and the wait is always long.  After looking through pictures, reading and hearing raved reviews, I was particularly thrilled about this place.

And that should be the first indicator how not to go about dining; with a super hyped-up expectation.  My two traveling companions were more skeptical and, thus, nothing was surprising to them.

Star Noodle is located off the highway, almost in seclusion but with plenty of parking space.  We got there at 6 pm and were not the first to be hovering around the front door.  As expected, we were told our wait would be around an hour or so.  Thus, we wandered off after putting our name down but still returned within the half hour.  We got our table shortly after and although we had doubts whether the hostess knew how to properly do her job, we were pleased with the service from our server.

This modernized Asian noodle bar reminds me of a lot of contemporary restaurants found everywhere in Thailand with a similar concept; an interpretation of what's modern in composition, flavours and texture.  For me, I find simplicity and unpretending good taste get lost in all the glitz and glam.

I guess what I was hoping in finding at Star Noodle was something that exemplifies strong, bold flavours, using local and traditional Asian ingredients.  Something special or unique that will keep drawing me back.  We ordered about 5 items on the menu.

Filipino "bacon & eggs", $12, with crispy pork (I'm a sucker for crispy roasted skin!) with tomatoes, a 62 c egg with yolk oozing out (yolk porn!) and served on a sizzling plate.  This dish was a really hearty and savoury dish.  I wish they had used a stronger vinegar rather than the apple cider vinegar as it was too mild and got lost completely in the dish.  I was also bummed out when my perfectly cooked sous-vide egg yolk turned into a scrambled egg over the sizzling plate, but that is just a personal preference that I like my savoury food drenched in creamy egg yolk.

The scallop shots,$13 for 3, were the best dish we had. A plump piece of seared scallop was topped with grated ginger in a Wafu dashi broth and lemon EVOO, giving it a savory flavoured broth with a tangy twist.

I saw the picture of hapa ramen, $12, everywhere on review websites.  When I tried it, it was by far incomparable to ramen in Vancouver.  The miso broth was not rich, as many had claimed.  The house-made noodles were good, but the broth and the meat made this ramen subpar. The barbecued pork were nothing short of food court quality.  It was dry, was not well marinaded, and not charred and smoky; just extremely average.

Our last dish, fried saimin arrived in a small size at $8.  The egg noodles were pan-fried with sliced kamaboko, spam, egg, and bean sprouts.  Again, the flavour just wasn't there.  We were advised to top the noodles with a creamy horseradish sauce, which we did.  It definitely livened the flavour a bit.  We also topped with with loads of chili sauce, otherwise, it was a plain dish, nothing more than what I could order at food courts everywhere in North America for $2-$3.

Star Noodle on Urbanspoon

Leilani's On the Beach

We tried our luck at Leilani's On the Beach, overlooking the beautiful Kaatalani beach.
Starting off with Chef's raw bar platter for $13.95, ahi poke and shrimp ceviche arrived in smaller portions that what we expected.

The fish taco at Leilani's was voted Maui's Best by Maui Time magazine.  At $14.95, I sunk my teeth into the succulent, cajun-rubbed grilled fish topped with chilies, grated cheese, salsa, and cabbage.  It was pretty satisfying.

But the most satisfying item was the ginormous Kimo's Original Hula Pie.  At $7.95, this dessert is a must-try when you are in Lahaina.  Due to its sheer size, it's best to share this dessert.  I dug in starting at the tip of the pie, scooping out creamy macadamia ice cream.  At the bottom was dark chocolate cookie crust; thick, yet crumbly like Oreo crust.   Of course, I didn't forget the rich chocolate fudge dripping down the pie, more grinded nuts, and light fluffy whip cream.  I swear, this giant piece of treat is to-die-for.

Leilani's on the Beach on Urbanspoon

Fish Market Maui 

The Fish Market was the most low profile place we visited and it turned out to be best find in our whole trip! A fish market and a fast food join all in one, you can bet the seafood here is fresh.  Don't be expecting a great atmosphere though, it is a fish market after all.

We feasted on this giant seared ahi tuna steak sandwich for $13.99 with a bag of chips and coleslaw.  This was the winner.  I love ahi tuna club sandwich, but I've never seen a tuna steak this big and thick before. It was seared perfectly, and rare in the centre, you'd have to be a fish love to enjoy this.  It was juicy and succulent and well-seasoned. The fact it was accompanied by caramelized onion, cabbage, tomatoes with wasabi aioli on  fluffy onion bun also made the biggest difference in the world.

You're not in Hawaii until you get a grilled mahi mahi.  Served with rice, pasta salad, this was a very simple and modest dish.  Nonetheless, the fish was perfection; flakey, plump and tender.

The fish taco here wasn't as large as the one at Leilani's but it was definitely a lot more loaded.  The fish was extremely fresh, nicely charred, and absolutely satisfying.

The lobster bisque wasn't exactly what I expected.  The soup was too thick, creamy and chunky with pieces of lobster and vegetables.  I didn't taste brandy, or the rich lobster essence.  This looked and tasted more like chowder than a bisque.

Last but not least, the jumbo crab cake was another tasty delight.  It was crispy on the edges and packed with shredded crab meat.  Served with Thai sweet chili sauce, this truly reminded me of a Thai dish and the rice here was just wonderfully fluffy.

Fish Market on Urbanspoon