Santa Claus and Hanakkah Harry were very good to us this past holiday season. We traveled to Maui for our annual holiday family vacation and with perfect weather and glowing tans, we reserved every evening for the many terrific restaurants that this little island has to offer. Since we know so many of our friends love to frolic in the warm seas of Maui, we wanted to share with you these “must do” eateries.

Gerard's Restaurant
174 Lahainaluna rd.
Lahaina, Hawaii 96761
(808) 661-8939

The Dining Duo was transported to a time and place beyond that of an American tourist destination thanks to owner/chef, Gerard. When you walk into the historic Inn that houses Gerard’s, the moment you inhale the exotic smell of burning incense, you feel as if you are a colonial in South-east Asia a century ago.

Gerard's may win hands down for the most charming restaurant in Maui and, not surprisingly, the food is probably the best on the Island. Gerard's is set in downtown Lahaina and it is our recommendation to take advantage of the lovely verandah in the front to dine al fresco amongst the striking palms and local flowers. Even if raining, the atmosphere is ethereal. You may have the opportunity to be treated royally by Poppy, a server from Monterey, California, but if not her, you will find all the staff is very well trained for white-glove service. The wine list is quite extensive and well priced and features a number of half bottles (which are not offered nearly enough in restaurants as far as The Dining Duo is concerned).

Although their weakest link is plain, cold uneventful bread, there are three starters which stand above the rest, two are soups,
The Chilled Cucumber soup with Floating Goat Cheese ($9.50), is always sensational and very appropriate to the Hawaiian climate. It has a lot of zest and is a perfect way to begin a meal, as is their latest endeavor, the Shrimp Bisque, with home made croutons and cognac, a true taste treat. Gerard's also offers one of the finest Foie Gras dishes that we have tasted. It can be ordered in a terrine but we prefer seared with Macadamia nuts and French toast ($24.50).

One will not go wrong with their fresh fish offerings, which vary from night to night (your server will give you a detailed explanation). Scott savored his favorite dish, Rack of Lamb ($44.50), prepared medium rare to perfection and accompanied by exceptional, fluffy, potatoes au gratin. Michael was slightly unhappy this visit (we’ve been here over 20 visits) with the Roasted Quail with Foie Gras ($39.50) which left him hungry and tired from trying to find the meat (isn’t that always the story with Michael?). There was little and it lacked taste.

Do save room for desserts. Their Crème Brule is one of our favorites because it’s as if it were dropped in from Paris, with just the right amount of sugar and flame on top. The Dusty Road ($9.50), which features both coffee and chocolate ice cream, is laced with butterscotch and chocolate sauces, Chantilly cream, macadamia nuts and chocolate dust, is our favorite. Gerard's may become your home away from home in Maui, but like the other special spots, it is expensive, so plan accordingly.

THE LAHAINA GRILL (formerly David Paul’s)
127 Lahainaluna Road
Lahaina, HI 96761
Dinner served nightly from 6 PM
Reservations Recommended
(808) 667-5117

Don’t let the name change fool you. Everything’s the same at The Lahaina Grill, especially the same marvelous food and same superlative service.

Returning to The Lahaina Grill each year is like going to an old friend’s for dinner; an old friend who just happens to be a talented chef with an exquisite kitchen. Superbly run and owned by the ever-charming Swiss Yurg Munch, we adore this spot smack in the center of old Lahaina Town, which is another absolute favorite restaurant in Maui. With its colonial interior motif and intimate feel, it’s always consistent and has never disappointed us during our more than 20 visits throughout the years.

The bar is in the center of the main room, and is always a scene. The drink menu is filled with tropical creations, and the wine selections are plentiful. We love to start our meal either with their true Maui Onion Soup (Maui onions are known worldwide for their sweet and non-odorous onions) which is simmered in a rich chicken stock and sherry, ($11.00) and their other sensational soup is the their Classic sweet Kula Corn soup with chive crème fraiche ($11.00). There are so many delicious appetizer choices that we suggest picking several and splitting them amongst your dining companions; don’t miss “the Cake walk” ($19.00), which actually is a combination of crab, lobster and ahi cakes.

It’s Hawaii, so indulge in the fresh fish that abounds; the daily catch is always creatively and exquisitely prepared. There was a stoppage on the fishing of Opakapaka for about 7 months, and The Grill gladly complied (when other smaller restaurants still purchased the overfished and protected fish from local fishermen), but the ban has been lifted and their Opakapaka served with Kula spinach, herb infused mashed potatoes, Gorgonzola, pancetta and Chardonnay beurre blanc for $38 was a plate licker. The two pound lobster in truffle butter with foie gras spinach and chaterelle mushrooms is available ($62.00), and is stupendous. Saving room for all of the above is difficult when their mouthwatering bread is freshly baked, served piping hot with garlic laced butter; a meal in itself.

Worried about squeezing into a speedo or teeny-weeny-bikini? Too late. They have two chocolate concoctions, both worth the poundage. Make sure to sample the Sunken Chocolate Cake, flourless chocolate decadence (with real Kona coffee ice cream) for $11.00, and their Kauai Pie, with Oreo crusted Kona coffee ice cream with rich chocolate fudge for $12. Appropriate wine pairings are available with each course, as well as with the desserts.

If you have six to eight friends with you, call way ahead to reserve their “private room” off the main dining room; it’s charming and intimate. If you’re alone, eat at the bar, mingle with new friends and say hello to Mary, the nicest and sexiest bartender on the island.

115 Bay Drive, Kapalua, HI
(808) 666-6286

This place should be named “SENSATIONAL” as that tells the story plain and simple. It’s a schlep up to Kapalua from almost anywhere (except, well, Kapalua), and it rains or sprinkles most of the time, but it’s well worth it. The food creations here makes Katsuya in L.A. look like your neighborhood sushi place.

The place is low keyed, housed in a more traditional plantation-style wooden building in a clustering of commercial buildings, but you’re not going for the atmosphere, you’re going for the off the hook taste sensations. Even Scott who doesn’t like sushi loves the giant assortment of what they have to offer here.

We recommend skipping entrée selections and instead sharing the chef’s recommendations, all of which are marked on the menu. The service is often times more of a fast food establishment, lacking polish and attention, but again, that’s not why you’re here, so we can overlook it (with two giant exceptions, below). When ordering, we recommend putting your order in two plates at a time as they tend to bring everything together and rush you past the throngs of waiting customers and out the door.

The menu earmarks “a sensei original” and “a must try”, so skip the rest. D.K.’s Crab Ramen with Asian truffle broth is beyond delicious and a wonderful way to start ($14). There’s enough to split, but back to that questionable service thing, they make you do it yourself unless you happen upon one of the one best servers, the charming Kip or Tioara, who is a Tahitian princess that makes you feel like you’re in her own home. The soup contains king crab, cilantro, Thai basic and mild jalapenos and has a rich smoky taste smothering thick noodles. If you can’t handle really hot, order it without the jalapenos. Although it’s hard to chose from the vast assortment of offerings, the Asian Shrimp Cake won first place award from “A Taste of Lahaina” and we discovered why. It’s crusted with crispy Chinese noodles, and served over ginger lime chili butter and cilantro pesto; it’s one of the best $7 dishes you’ll ever crunch.

If you have a yen for sushi, the panko crusted Ahi Sashimi sushi roll is sashimi grade Hawaiian Ahi, meshed with arugula and spinach and wrapped into a sushi roll, panko-crusted, flash-fried and served with mild soy wasabi butter sauce ($11). The Shrimp Dynamite is just that; don’t miss crispy tempura shrimp tossed with creamy garlic massago aioli with unagi glase drizzle ($11). Have we wet your appetites yet? There’s more. The Mango Crab salad roll consisist of Asian crab salad, ripe mangos, kula greens and crunchy peanuts wrapped in a marmenori handroll and served with sweet thai chili vinaigrette ($9).

Please continue to stuff yourself with the incomparable Matsuhisa style miso butterfish which is Sensei’s take on a Japanese specialty; tender butterfish is marinated and seared in sake and sweet miso and melts in your mouth ($11). All their tempura dishes are absolutely yummie, and they are all light and delicate, served with a traditional tentsuyu dipping sauce. The veggies somehow convince you that you’re eating healthy, but The Duo particularly recommends the sweet Maui Onion rings ($6) and the Hawaiian sweet potato ($5). Does anyone other than Scott’s mom really like eggplant? Well, in this case, yes, as the roasted Japanese eggplant with sweet miso sake sauce ($8) is sweet and delicious.

The desserts are simple, but one stands out ahead of the rest. The Granny Smith apple tart tartin is a buttery puff pastry topped with apple slices, baked to order and drenched in caramel sauce, then topped with creamy melting vanilla ice cream, all brought to us by the Hawaiian gods ($9).

The wine list is minimal, but who cares, that’s not why you’re coming. Jamie runs the front desk with the command of a 5 Star General, and she’ll make sure to find you a reservation, but do book ahead or you won’t get into the best and most reasonably priced food on the island.

By the way, after 10:00 PM on Thursday and Friday nights, all the sushi and appetizers are half price, and there’s free Karaoke, which is a bundle of fun. The Duo has it on good word that the owners are going to be opening a Sensai in Whalers Village on Kaanapali Beach in West Maui (where the beyond horrible Rusty Harpoon currently stands), and if so, don’t leave L.A. without making reservations. Other locations are in Kihei, maui, Waikiki Beach, Oahu, Waikoloa Resort, Big Island.

The Banyan Tree Restaurant
One Ritz-Carlton Drive
Kapalua, Hawaii 96761
Telephone: (808) 669-6200
Facsimile: (808) 669-1566

Happily, the Ritz-Carlton closed last June for a much needed multi-million dollar face-lift, which included all of its restaurants. Sadly, they failed to re-open by their scheduled December 15, 2007 expectations, and remain closed until after we departed in January. That said, the Banyan Tree Restaurant has been one of our favorites over the years and so we would like to bring you our thoughts of our last experience there, with the expectations (and inside gossip) that it will be even better when it re-opens.

Way around the west end of Maui, and a 15-minute car ride past the famous Kaanapali Beach (always voted one of the top 10 beaches in the world) is the elegant and gracious Ritz Carlton Hotel. From the moment you drive through a forest of tropical pines laced in a sea of twinkle lights, you know you’re somewhere special. Although the hotel’s other restaurants are good, skip them and walk down the stone steps surrounding the massive pool and enfold yourself with yet thousands more lights and the cacophony of serenading tree frogs. The treasure at the end of the path is what we believe to be one of the best restaurants on Maui, in atmosphere, service and delectable taste sensations.

The open-air restaurant is reminiscent of the quietude of Southeast Asian locales and is completed with the sounds of live music played from exotic Asian musical string instruments. Already transported by the time you reach your table, the wait staff seems to achieve the impossible by low-keyed Hawaiian standards by actually being trained at high levels of efficiency. Robaire, our usual waiter and the best of the best in Maui (we’ve been told he’s coming back, so make sure to ask for him) hailing from Lyon, France, embraces us with warm hugs and immediately gushes about the new menu items. JoJo Vasquez, the Executive Chef, seasons all the choices with the taste of his Filipino background, his Chicago upbringing and his experience as Chef at the Ritz Carlton in Marina Del Rey.

Delicate slices of fresh bread are served in an artistic display of olive oil and a mixture of nuts and spices. The “signature soup” is a mélange of coconut and sweet corn garnished with crab and cilantro, and laced with a hint of lemon grass; it was beyond sensational ($14.00). The lamb chops laced in pomegranate sauce were cooked absolutely perfectly and sported a combination of exotic tastes that resulted in the best lamb preparation Scott has ever tasted ($39.00). Coupled with some astounding wine selections, the slow and deliberate meal resulted in an unforgettable evening of fine dining.

808 667-0333

There are alternatives in Maui to $100 lunches and dinners and Nikki’s is one. Don’t expect any atmosphere as it’s in a food court next to Macdonald’s but do expect exceptional pizza that is amongst the best we’ve tasted. Nikki’s has a full Italian menu but you are best to stick to the food they’re known for, their Pizza with their recipe sauce, and our favorite is the basic, Pepperoni Lover, extra cheese and pepperoni, at $13.95 and up depending on size. One will get service with a smile from the local Filipino guys who are behind the counter and you might to finish your superb pizza off with one of fifteen of their homemade Maui ice creams. Scott tasted most of them and recommends the Kona Coffee, Chocolate and Mango flavors, which are off the hook and on the hips. Throw caution to the wind and order a thick shake; only your waistline will regret it, and who cares, you’re in paradise. Don’t miss this very simple treat.


Try something really different; take a trip to where the locals shop, the Takamiya Market in Wailuku, Happy Valley, on lower main street. The locals are not all that friendly to outsiders, but once you get past that, the Korean Short Ribs are to die for. Made with Shoyu, brown sugar, green onions, the little Hawaiian lady finally fessed up that the real secret is the addition of a splash of apricot brandy. Whatever the secret ingredient, you now know the secret path to getting the best ribs you’ll ever taste.

Posted by The Dining Duo | 7:26 PM | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 0 comments »

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