Made a quick trip to Maui to visit my mom and my ailing sister (prayers shamelessly solicited for healing there) day before yesterday.
Mom and I went to dinner at Cafe O’Lei in Wailuku. Her choice. I’d always avoided O’Lei because it sounded like inauthentic Mexican to me. But it’s not.
The menu is a very pleasant melange: fresh-made sushi from a sushi bar, such local-style favorites as hamburger steak with housemade gravy and a mountain of frizzled onions, fresh fish specials (it was monchong, a favorite of mine, that night), classic Continental preparations (chicken breast in a caper beurre blanc) and East-West fusion. Dinner entrees come in local-style portion sizes and include starch and often vegetables — and not just tired, overdone vegetables but snapping fresh ones; my broccoli was a gorgeous emerald green and cooked just right, not easy to do on a production line).
Mom got the mac nut-crusted chicken breast in the aforementioned caper sauce. Couldn’t find much mac nut presence but the chicken was tender and moist (again, tough to pull off with this notoriously dry and stringy cut) and the sauce was divine.
I chose monchong, lightly sauteed with an Asian-style beurre blanc on a bed of intriguing coconut rice (just a tad too sweet for my taste but I liked the idea and can’t wait to try a more savory version) with a couple of tempura shrimp and steamed vegetables scattered about the plate. Mmmmmmmmmm. This was $21. Woulda been $28 easy down the road at a more upscale spot.
We shared pineapple upside down cake a la mode for dessert; not exactly like the original, but it went down easy. The cake was a high butter cake rather than the usual single, shallow layer, with finely chopped pineapple on top that lacked the caramelized color and flavor of a true upside down cake.
All this came to just under $55, including two coffees, and for the quality AND quantity of the food — which arrived very quickly, by the way — that’s a steal in the world of tourist-dollar-driven menus.
Speaking of which, there wasn’t a tourist in the house: it felt like a neighborhood bistro. And the house is absolutely charming: a storefront on Wailuku’s gentrified Market Street, right next to the historic ‘Iao Theatre. It’s the proverbial clean, well-light place, with wood floors, alluring artwork by local artists on the walls, a bar-type seating area up front, a sunken dining room with small sushi bar, and — through old-style folding doors — a few tables spilling onto the alley walkway between the restaurant and the theater. Really warm and welcoming. It’s very popular with the downtown workers; prices are lower at lunch.
Michael and Diana Pastula own two other outlets: at the Dunes golfcourse in Kahului and in Kihei.
62 N. Market St.; 986-0044
Lunch, dinner, pupu, sushi, full bar.
Prices: $$-$$$ (on a scale of 4)
Citizen reviews on yelp, tripadvisor Web sites.