WAILUKU, Maui — It’s always this way when I travel — so many restaurants, so little capacity. Three meals yesterday and a three-hour chef’s tasting at a table tucked into David Paul Johnson’s Lahaina Grill kitchen. All I could do when I got home was lie on the floor and put my paws in the air. My mother’s refrigerator looks like a place where takeout containers go to expire.
Best things I’ve put in my mouth in the past two days:
Kale, date, pomegranate, lemon vinaigrette salad at Mark and Judy Ellman’s brand-new Honu on the water in Lahaina. I strolled in mid-afternoon on Day 2 at this long-awaited spot built right on the seawall; waves look as though they’ll roll right into the spacious open windows. This salad was a joy: tart but sweet in spots, beautifully balanced, vibrantly colored and impeccably fresh, like a plateful of edible jewels. Filling, too.
Marinated pork belly ssam of the day, stuffed with brown rice and pickled vegetables at Star Noodle. I’ll be eating the remaining half of this bulging “Asian burrito” for breakfast. Everyone, including my mother, a timid eater, raves about this Lahaina industrial area bistro — Momofuku meets Maui. I loved everything about it: the quartet of squeeze bottle sauces, my waiter with his cute sumo ponytail and mouthful of endearments, the creamy tofu-based(??) mango custard dessert dusted with crumbled senbei crackers.
New-style ‘ahi sashimi at David Paul’s Lahaina Grill. David got an ‘ahi off a day boat that turned out not to be quite Grade AAA quality, but he made it more than work: thin-sliced a block, marinated it for 15 minutes in citrus (a paper-thin layer of gold appears on the surface) — rolled it in minced thyme, basil and parsley and served it with a coulis of roasted red bell pepper, roasted red chilies, garlic, Dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar and olive oil and a drizzle of smoked olive oil. So pristinely simple and so truly perfect. I left a piece and I’m kicking myself now.
The lemon tart from Maui Bake Shop where pastry chef Jose Krall creates not only classic cookbook-photo quality confections and French pastries but extraordinary meals that range from takeout sandwiches and salads to sit-down classic French hot dishes (beef bourgignon) on a back street in Wailuku.
Whole Moloka’i prawns in a tomato-chili vinaigrette and almost transparent roasted squash linguini in Dijon cream sauce (for once, a light sauce was truly light), starters at Peter Merriman’s Monkeypod Kitchen in Wailea. The entire meal at this lively, ocean-view pub was perfect. They do pizza, burgers and sashimi-poke tastings as well as more formal locavore creations such as my fresh, house-made gnocchi with Kula vegetables and a memorable dark chocolate cream pie that was exactly what I’d been craving.
A. K.’s waffle-cut, herbed Parmesan fries. David Paul’s skinny fries sizzled in duck fat (which, I’m sorry Emeril, is what really rules).
A new foodie friend remarked diffidently that “the Neighbor Islands have a few good things to offer.” I couldn’t agree. In just four days, I’ve experienced a wealth of return-worthy spots here; I’ve always thought the Neighbor Islands were much more blessed than O’ahu with interesting eateries — edgy or funky, experimental or luxurious, tourist-driven and locals only. O’ahu is tougher, startups are costly, good spaces at a premium.
Gotta go. Lunch awaits.