18 February 2009

Saturday brunch at Mala Ocean Tavern, Lahaina Maui

As you’ll read in the following two posts, I recently attended a conference on Maui. I didn’t really expect to get out to eat too often since most of the meals were provided for the conference. Mostly I got out for lunches.

One of my coworkers attending the same conference had come a few days early for some vacation time with his wife. I was chatting with him during the conference and he told me that they’d discovered a restaurant in Lahaina that was, in his words, a Hawaiian version of Café Barbette in Minneapolis. “Cool,” I thought. “Too bad I won’t be able to try it.”

Well, after the conference ended, my flight home wasn’t until mid-afternoon. So it turned out that I’d have time for a brunch before driving to the airport. I checked with a colleague who was riding with me to the airport, and she was agreeable to a stop in Lahaina for brunch on the way to the airport.

The restaurant is Mala Ocean Tavern. As the name suggests, it’s right on the ocean with a beautiful view of the island of Lanai across the channel. On Saturday and Sunday they have a brunch menu. We arrived before noon and there were plenty of open tables.

The menu offers a lot of specialty cocktails. We declined all of them. Instead, we ordered salty dogs. (It’s not too decadent to have a cocktail with brunch on a Saturday in Hawaii, just before you leave to come home, is it?) I had one of the daily specials, a smoked salmon tartine. The greens on the plate were fresh, moist, and tender. The smoked salmon was delicious. It was topped with a small amount of red onion and shredded eggs. It was great.

My colleague had the ‘Mala Benny,’ the restaurant’s version of eggs Benedict. It consisted of poached eggs served on multi-grain bread and topped with Hollandaise with a patty of hashed brown potatoes on the side. Diners who choose this can have lamb sausage, Prosciutto, mushrooms, or fresh fish of the day. My colleague had the fish. She said it was great.

It was a very pleasant brunch. I’m happy my coworker recommended it.

06 February 2009

Now THIS is a fish sandwich (Maui)

It’s the last day of the conference that brought me to Maui. And contrary to what I wrote in my first post, we did not have a group lunch planned for today, so I got one more chance to try a restaurant.

In my post from Feb. 5, I wrote about a fish sandwich that I had at a beach café. It was ok, but I was frustrated that it wasn’t cooked the way I wanted it (medium rare). Well, I didn’t intend to have another fish sandwich for lunch today. I picked ‘OnO Bar & Grill in my hotel because the menu said they served ‘poke.’ I’d read about this traditional, Hawaiian raw-fish dish and I wanted to try it. I thought it would kind of ironic since the first time I ever ate sushi or sashimi was on the first trip I ever took to Hawaii more than 30 years ago.

After I was seated, I discovered that poke isn’t on the menu for lunch. I thought about leaving, but I saw the fish sandwich on the menu and decided to give it a try. Boy, am I glad I did and what a difference from the fish sandwich I had at the beginning of my trip.

Take a look at the picture. See how perfectly seared the tuna is? Cooked an eighth inch on the surface, deep ruby red rare center. The fish was coated with furikake. The focaccia it was served on was excellent, and it was garnished with tomatoes and daikon relish. As you can see in the photo, the sandwich was served with locally made potato chips (good, but I didn’t need to eat them). There also was a nice dill pickle spear on the plate as well as the ubiquitous (in Maui) slice of pineapple.

I had a can of Bikini Blonde Lager with the sandwich, another local brew. I generally prefer tap beer, but this was pretty good.

In terms of value, this lunch was more expensive than the other that I wrote about. The sandwich was $18 (compared to $12.50 at Hula’s), and the beer was $7.50 compared to $5.75. But I didn’t expect any bargain meals in Hawaii, and I’d much rather pay more for a really great sandwich.

05 February 2009

KwikPick: Lunch at Hula Grill, Maui

So here I am in Maui for a conference. ‘Sure,’ I can hear you say. ‘Get a lot of work done there?’ Actually, yes. If you can believe it, we have breakfast meetings scheduled at 6:30 a.m. tomorrow and 7 a.m. the next day. Then the sessions go all day until 5 p.m. Since I didn’t come early, and I’m not staying later, there won’t be much time in the Hawaiian sun for me.

Not much opportunity to try the local cuisine, either. Other than lunch today, all of my meals will be group meals at the hotel. So for lunch, I strolled along the beach looking for a likely place to have my one restaurant meal of the trip. I settled on the Hula Grill.

Food: 3

Service: 2

Ambiance: 3.5

Value: 2

So just in case you don’t believe me that I was working, please note the conference materials on the table in the photo that I was reading at lunch. I had a fish sandwich. It was a piece of fish on a very good multi-grain bun. It was served with a jalapeño aioli and macadamia nut coleslaw. When I ordered the fish, the server asked how I wanted it cooked. Honestly, I was a little surprised because I figured with a fish sandwich, it wouldn’t matter how it was cooked. But since he asked, I specified medium rare. Well, it was served cooked through. It was still very moist and tender, and it was very tasty. But it seemed to me that if you’re going to ask how to have it cooked, it ought to be served that way.

I rated the service as below average. The server was friendly enough. But the slow service was not just the island pace of life. The ambiance was very nice – beautiful beach with the ocean and the other islands in the distance, people walking by on the ocean walk.

The lunch wasn’t terribly expensive; $12.50 for the sandwich and $5.75 for a glass of beer. But I can’t really say it was a good value.

Recommendation: Not bad but I wouldn’t go out of my way to go back.