Friday, May 29, 2009

James - Fresh and Inventive (mostly)

Restaurant Name: James
Location: 605 Carleton Avenue (Prospect Heights), Brooklyn, NY

James, a relatively new spot in Brooklyn, offers a smallish seasonal menu of what I guess I would call New American (they call it "European-influenced American"). I've eaten here twice and am now satisfied that James has quality offerings and is worthy of repeat visits.

The menu has about 6-7 offerings each for appetizers, entrees, and desserts. There is a nice range of vegetarian, fish, and meat choices and most are creatively but simply prepared.

I've sampled the Sauteed Skate with Capers in a Sherry-reduction (the skate was perfectly cooked but its delicate flavor was slightly overwhelmed by the assertive sherry reduction) and I've also had the Pressed Young Chicken with Napa Cabbage and Morels (the chicken was amazingly tender and flavorful - no mean feat with breast meat - and paired beautifully with the cabbage, but the morels seemed to re-hydrated, which was a little disappointing for a spring dish). My conclusions here are that most entrees are good but may have one or two off-notes.

Of the appetizer's I've tried, they seem more hit-and-miss dish by dish. I've tried the North Fork Asparagus Salad with Goat Cheese Fondue (absolutely amazing - the silky fondue drizzled over the perfectly cooked asparagus was indulgent and decadent) and the Seared East Coast Tuna with Shaved Fennel (nothing was off, but nothing jumped out and said EAT MORE to me either - just a bit blah).

For desserts, I've only sampled one: the Fresh Berry Crostada. It was great (in fact, I've only had that one because I ordered it again the second time I ate there...I know, I know, not good reviewer behavior, but what can I say, it was great).

The wine offerings are nice here too, with good selections from both the bottle and by the glass.

James is a small, elegant space and does not take reservations for parties of less than 6 people. You should have no trouble getting a table before 7pm, but on weekend nights there might be a good long wait...but one that is worth it.

Bon Appetit!

James on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Maui Update V (the Final Update!)

Well, our last few days in Maui were just as great as all the ones that came before! Here's the final update (to infinity, and beyond!).

In this review: Kama'ole Beach I in Kihei, Big Beach, and Makena Beach in south Maui; also "Hobo Packs" (recipe), Iao Valley, Hookipia Overlook, and Mama's Fish House.

Thursday, May 21st

After the long drive to Hana yesterday, we took all day today to explore the wonderful beaches of south Maui. Our first stop (bright an early) was Kama'ole Beach I (there are three so-named beaches) in Kihei. Since this beach is part of a public park, it has restrooms (yay!) and a lifeguard. Its a great beach, with some of the softest, finest sand of any we visited. The beach is also shallow quite a way out into the surf, so its good for timid swimmers, and the north end has a nice rocky outcropping for snorkelers.

After lunch (at the Maui Taco chain - adequate fuel for the hungry body), we drove even further fact, as far south as you can go, to "Big Beach."

Once over-run by live-in hippies, this beach has since been reclaimed by the state and is now a pristine, wild spot at the edge of the world. Beautiful vistas out to Molokini crater, big waves, and long stretches of golden sand characterize Big Beach. Hard to beat.

Our final stop was Makena beach (this beach has several names, we are referring to the one in front of the Maui Prince Hotel). This is a cute little curving bay, nice and protected. There was great snorkeling at the south end (and - a rarity - shade!) and good swimming in the middle. Very pleasant.

For dinner, we headed up the grill and reprised our steak dinner from a few nights ago - this time with a favorite grill dish of ours: "hobo packs". The idea here is to take some nice Yukon Gold potatoes, cut them into bite sized pieces, toss them with lardons and sweet onion (we used Maui onions), salt, pepper, and a touch of olive oil (the bacon will make nearly enough oil on its own). Wrap these up in neat little tinfoil packages and put them in the coals. The end result is a nice individual serving size of roasty, toasty, caramelized goodness (if you are in a rush, it can help to precook the potatoes, and par-cook the bacon and onions).

Friday, May 22nd

Our last day was not one we planned to squander! Our flight left at 9pm at night, so we squeezed in a FULL day of fun. The morning was spent back at good old Ka'anapali Beach, lunch was leftovers from Honokoawai Okazuya deli (see the previous update for a review).

We also visited the Hyatt resort in Ka'anapali - they have a virtual menagerie of exotic birds and plants on their grounds, which makes a fun tour.

A visit to the Iao Valley rounded out our afternoon. This beautiful spot is nestled in the west Maui mountains and has a short, easy nature trail to an overlook point.

Our Big Event, foodwise, today was dinner at Mama's Fish House (located in central Maui, about 1 mile outside of Paia).

Since we were a bit early for our reservation, we drove another mile down the road to Hookipia overlook. This windy spot is a favorite with surfers, and a beautiful place to watch the afternoon sun on the water.

Dinner at Mama's was an apt finale to our wonderful trip. It was probably the best meal we had on-island (vying with Merrimans). When we first arrived at the restaurant, I have to admit that I was pretty skeptical that it would live up to my expectations. Everyone (friends, strangers, internet reviews, guidebook reviews) raved that this place was The Best. How could it really be so great? Most other places on Maui are overpriced and underwhelming, and Mama's had that "look" that suggested a gimmick to me (parrots in the entryway, canoes to pose around for photos on the beach, etc.).

But I was oh-so wrong. Mama's did more than live up to my expectations, it exceeded them. Fish is the thing here, so I wouldn't bother ordering anything else (though I'm sure their other offerings are good). All the fish and seafood on their menu is caught locally and the same day it is served. They even list the fisherman and boat that hauled in the catch on the menu. So, you really can't get it too much fresher than this. Mama's was the only fine dining establishment we visited that began our meal with an amuse bouche - in this case a very fine asparagus soup served in a tiny little sake cup. It boded well, and was followed by a warm loaf of house-made honey poppyseed bread with sweet cream butter.

For our starter, we chose to share their special offering for the evening - Moi Poke. Moi (Hawaiian kingfish) is not something I've ever tried before. I now wish it was possible to eat it raw for every meal for the rest of my life. It was Awe-Some. Simply prepared with good sea salt, lots of onion, and some dried seaweed, this stuff was addictive, melt-on-your-tongue goodness. The taro and sweet potato crisps were the perfect edible silverware.

For dinner, Sid had the house special: Mahi Mahi caught on the north shore, stuffed with local lobster and crab, baked in a macadamia nut crust, and topped with a lobster tail. It was as fresh as can be and alluringly subtly sweet from the crab and lobster. Delicious.

I had the Deep-water Ahi (grilled with a peppercorn crust) served with a Hamaka mushroom basil sauce atop sweet potato-taro mash. The strongly flavored sauce was great with the tender Ahi and the mash was really addictively good. When the server told me the chef preferred to cook this dish medium rather than rare or medium rare, I was a little nervous. But I need not have worried - it was just right with the assertive sauce.

For dessert (which I figured would be an overpriced afterthought) we shared the incomparably good "Black Pearl", which was a glistening chocolate mousse filled with Lilikoi cream nestled into a cookie shaped like an oyster shell. Ostentatiously beautiful presentation was matched by the rich flavors and interesting (in a good way) pairing of the chocolate and Lilikoi. A perfect end to a perfect meal.

It was with both heavy hearts and stomachs that we made our way, weeping oh-so-softly, to the Kahuli Airport and off into the night.

Aloha and Mahalo for reading about our trip! I hope the reviews are helpful!

Mama's Fish House on Urbanspoon

Maui Tacos on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 25, 2009

Maui Update IV

Welcome to our fourth update from Maui!

In this review: Napili Beach, Honokowai Okazuya deli, Merriman's Restaurant, Moana Bakery and Cafe in Paia, Ka'eleku Caverns, Wai'anapanapa State Park, Nahiku Marketplace Taco stand, and the Flatbread Pizza Co. in Paia.

Tuesday, May 19th

After so many travels and travails on Monday (see Maui Update III), we decided to take a full-on beach day today.

In the morning we visited West Maui's Napili Beach (up along the northern part of the island near Kapaula Bay). This sweet little bay is really beautiful and we had a great time lolling about despite the high surf (which made swimming and snorkeling a no-go zone).

For lunch, we checked out the Honokowai Okazuya deli. A tiny little hole-in-the-wall tucked into a strip mall near our condo, this place had seriously tasty take-out. The chef reportedly cut his teeth at Nick's Fish Market (see Maui Update III) and Mama's Fish House before opening his own down-to-earth spot serving local mixed plate style food.

For about $30 bucks we got more food than we could possibly eat - Korean BBQ Chicken with rice and stir-fried veggies and Mahi Mahi with lemon caper sauce and rice. The food was high on flavor (the Mahi Mahi did *not* look appealing but it tasted great. The fish was tender and fresh and the sauce was thick with mushrooms and great lemony flavor). Washed down with sodas on our lanai, this made a nice break from the pricey resort offerings.

After lunch we headed back to Ka'anapali Beach. Fast becoming our favorite all-around beach spot, Ka'anapali offers good swimming, fair to good snorkeling (at Black Rock), proximity to shops and restrooms (always key!), and accessibility to poolside bars serving up fruity drinks (essential!).

Sid snorkeled his heart out (nearly a pro after our great lesson with Evelyn of Snorkel Maui - see Maui Update III). Miranda snoozed in the sun. Perfect afternoon!

Dinner tonight was at Merrimans. Peter Merriman - whose restaurants are a staple in fine dining on some of Hawaii's other islands - has finally opened a Maui outpost. Its up in Kapalua, not far from the Ritz Carlton. We can't recommend it highly enough. The food was innovative and unbelievably good, the view is breathtaking, and the service is top notch.

For starters, Miranda had the Ahi Poke. Poke is a traditional Hawaiian seafood preparation (usually done with tuna) in which raw tuna is tossed with seaweed, onions, salt, etc. Its incredibly fresh - sort of an island version of tuna tartare. Merriman's take on this dish was stupendously good (among the very best of any dish we had while in Maui). It was served with sweet potato crisps and the presentation resembled coral - both beautiful and delicious.

Sid's starter was more innovative and, frankly, less successful. He ordered the locally caught prawns. They had been prepared sous vide with vanilla bean and then served with avocado, jalapeno, and citrus fruits. The texture of the shrimp was amazing - because of the sous vide preparation they were perfectly done, tender, and delicious. However, including the vanilla bean in the sous vide package resulted in an overwhelming (and too sweet) vanilla flavor that was just too strong for the tender prawns and the less assertive accompaniments. The dish wasn't bad, it just wasn't executed as well as it might have been. But, we give them credit for imagination!

Miranda's entree was the best: a pork chop with blue prawns. Both were cooked and flavored well, but the real winning part of this dish was the sweet potato gnocchi that served as a bed for the meat. These were from a purple sweet potato, so they were gorgeous, and they were just so tender and pillow-like. It was love.

For dessert, we enjoyed a Chocolate Purse with Tahitian Vanilla Bean Ice Cream (Sid was in heaven) and a Salted Caramel Cheesecake. Both were excellent and presented beautifully.

We were also extremely impressed with our server here (Colin). He was a very gracious, humorous, and fun guide through our dining experience - there when you needed or wanted him, and fading away when you did not. Really top notch service.

Merriman's was also in a lovely location - perched out on the jutting cliffs of northwest Maui and perfectly situated to watch the sun sink behind the offshore islands. When it got chilly after sunset, they had house shawls on offer. Every touch was perfect. This place was one of the few we ate at that seemed worth the high price tag.

Wednesday, May 20th

Today we decided to brave the fabled Road to Hana. We got up with the sun (not that hard to do when you are used to East Coast time) and drove to the funky, quirky town of Paia (at the start of the long winding road up to Hana). Breakfast here at the Moana Bakery and Cafe may well have been one of the best parts of our day.

This funny little place (part French pastry shop, part diner, and decorated with Roman columns) has a far better breakfast than the vast majority of New York city's myriad brunch spots.

We chowed down on Banana Pancakes and Eggs Sunnyside up with Portuguese sausage, and awesome crispy potatoes.

A great start to the day!

Then we began the long drive up the Hana Highway (its about 40 miles to Hana, but all on seriously narrow, windy roads).

We passed plenty of pretty waterfalls, pools, and coastline vistas, the end...I think we concluded that we are not car-trip people. Give us a destination and an activity!

A few cool things worth mentioning, though:

1. The Ka'eleku Caverns: a massive lava tube that bored its way out to the sea during a long-ago volcanic eruption. A lucky landowner found a passage into the tube on his property and set up a nice underground tour. For $11 a person you get a high powered flashlight and unlimited time to explore this crazy underground world. Highly worthwhile (and SUCH a welcome relief after the long road).

2. Wai'anapanapa State Park (otherwise known as the Black Sand Beach). Really it would be more accurate to describe this place as the Black Rock Beach, as it is not especially sandy, but this coastline is spectacularly beautiful. After checking out the tiny beach (crawling with tourists), take a hike up along the coast for sweeping, stark vistas.

If you get hungry along the way, stop at the Nahiku Marketplace for Kahula pork tacos. While not gourmet eats, these big hearty soft tacos ($6 each) are dripping with slow-cooked pork, tons of different salsas, and lots of black beans. Also, this is a good excuse to get out of the car!

After finally making it back down to Paia (this is essentially a one-way trip, so you have to turn around drive all the way back - holding your breath as you whip around hairpin turns on a one-lane bridge), we stopped for dinner at the Flatbread Pizza Company. A definite hippy-heaven, this pizza spot has a full-on wood burning oven and uses all natural, organic ingredients. Much as we wanted to like their pizza, it was pretty sparse on toppings and a little dry. Oh well.

With the sun setting before us, we zipped the rest of the way back to the Mahana for a little time in the pool and spa.

Aloha until our next post!

Merriman's (Kapalua) on Urbanspoon

Merriman's on Urbanspoon
Honokowai Okazuya & Deli on Urbanspoon

Flatbread on Urbanspoon

Moana Bakery & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Maui Update III

Welcome to our third update from the beautiful Hawaiian island of Maui!

In this review: Snorkel Maui, Spa Grande at the Grand Wailea Resort and Nick's Fish Market at the Fairmont Kea Lani Resort, Komodo Bakery and Casanovas in Makawao, Kula Botanical Gardens, and Skyline Eco Adventure Zipline tour.

Sunday, May 17th

Being neophytes in the world of both swimming and snorkeling, we decided to take a snorkeling lesson from Snorkel Maui. Run by expert snorkelers and marine biologists, Snorkel Maui specializes in teaching beginners. Our instructor, Evelyn, was patient, fun, and a great instructor (along with basic equipment, she provides wetsuits for extra buoyancy and a boogie board to hold onto as you peer at the underwater world below)!

After our snorkel class at Kapalua Bay in west Maui, we headed south to the beaches and resorts down along the far coast of the island.

Miranda visited the Spa Grande at the Grand Wailea Resort while Sid whiled his time away on Wailea beach.

Spa Grande is perhaps the best resort spa I have ever visited. The space is gorgeous, the staff incredibly attentive without being invasive or overbearing, and the pools and treatments are fabulous. As at most resort spas, you are encouraged to arrive early to take advantage of the pools, steam and sauna rooms, ect. Spa Grande has some of the nicest of these I have seen anywhere (including other resorts in Hawaii and resorts in Las Vegas).

First you are given a tour of the facility by a personal attendant, then you receive a loofa scrub-down in a wet room - the perfect way to ease into the experience. The pool circuit consists of a Roman style hot and cool plunge bath, a steam room and sauna room (along with iced towels for your face), a Japanese style hot and cold plunge pool (with a Japanese style shower - sitting on wooden stool with wooden water dippers), and a series of "treatment pools", including Moor mud baths, an enzyme bath, and several aromatherapy baths. You spend about an hour enjoying these areas of the spa (including the usual water, iced tea and fruit) before being called for your scheduled treatment (of which they have over two dozen to chose from).

I scheduled a traditional Swedish massage with cocoa butter - it was beyond awesome and I would recommend this to anyone. As I mentioned before, this was probably the best two hours I've spent in any spa, anywhere.

After the spa, we enjoyed our first formal dinner out on the island. All of the guidebooks we read, and most online information, describe Nick's Fish Market (at the Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel in south Maui) as among the best restaurants on the island. The service, in particular, was touted in most sources as being elaborate and seamless. While the food was very good and the service in no way rude or limp, we weren't too impressed.

First off, anyone visiting Maui and planning to dine out needs to be aware that it is difficult to do so for less than $100 per person (and that is if you drink only a glass of wine each or chose an inexpensive bottle). Nick's ran us just over this and was least impressive of the dinners we enjoyed over the course of the week.

For our starters we had the Ahi Tiger Eye Sushi (the entire roll was tempura style and served with a sake mustard sauce) and the Lump Crab Cakes Oscar (served "oscar" style with a bearnaise sauce). The sushi was by far the better of the two, but we've frankly had better sushi rolls in Brooklyn.

For dinner we opted for two different preparations of the Island Snapper (or "Ono"), which was the fresh day boat catch that evening. Both were very good (one was served in a miso broth with a drizzle of hot peanut oil and the other was served on a island sweet potato hash (very different from the yams to which mainlanders are accustomed) with a lemon caper sauce - this latter preparation was their house special). Portions were large, the fish was very fresh, and the preparations were tasty. Nothing was amiss, but nothing was mind-blowing either. For dessert we shared a bananas foster - good, but by that point we were too full to really enjoy it.

One other note: the service, so touted at Nick's, was not well-orchestrated. This restaurant is one that likes to have an elaborate set of different servers with different purposes. Such an arrangement can work well, but only if the roles of each server are well-defined and they are on hand when you need/want them. This wasn't really the case at Nick's.

In sum, Nick's was a pleasant dining experience, but we expected a bit more for nearly $225. I'd recommend choosing from among the island's other fine dining establishments (see our later posts on Merrimans and Mama's Fish House for particular recommendations).

Monday, May 18th

Having decided to sleep in rather than rise at 3:00am to drive to see the sunrise at Haleakela, we started our day with a leisurely drive to upcountry Maui. On the advice of friends, the internet, and guidebooks alike, we stopped first in the tiny little mountain town of Makawao for pastries at Komodo Bakery.

Truly nothing to look at, from either the inside or out, this hole in the wall has great eats. The malasadas (sugared donuts on a stick) were brilliant. I ate many of them.

Again on a friend's recommendation (thanks Tawnya!) we got sandwiches prepared and packed up from Casanovas (an Italian restaurant that has both a formal dining side for dinner and a casual cafe for breakfast and lunch - it was humming with local residents when we stopped in). Enjoyed later in the day, the sandwiches (artichoke hearts with brie and salami with mozzarella, both on fresh Italian baguette) were super-yum (yes, that is technical term).

After whiling a little time away at the Kula Botanical Gardens (cute, plenty of well-labeled exotic plants, and even some interesting exotic birds, $10 admission per person), we hit our first activity of the day - Skyline Eco Adventures - for a zipline tour of the mountainside.

Being a complete coward, Miranda chickened out just moments before the tour departed, but she got to hike along with the zippers and took plenty of pictures of Sid. Having been very hyped up for the zipline, Sid reported that it did not live up to his expectations, being both tamer and less scenic than anticipated. This tour operates another tour down in the west Maui mountains near Kaanapali that has longer and more ziplines, so thrill-seekers might try that one instead.

After the zipline tour (which takes a total of about 1 1/2 hours), we decided to drive up to the Haleakela crater and check it out. The drive is long, winding, and - unfortunately for us - completely socked in with clouds, fog, and rain.

It was freezing at the summit (literally) and we couldn't see the hands in front of our faces. Oh well - not everything can be perfect!

Somewhat exhausted, we drove back to the Mahana and prepared our own dinner. One of the great advantages of staying in condos like the Mahana (aside from freedom from resort crowds, no resort fees, privacy, etc.) is that you can cook either in your room (all have kitchens) or at the many gas grills located on the condo properties.

This is great not only because its fun (if you like to cook - which I'm assuming you do if you're reading this blog!) but also because it saves you a *ton* of money!

Here is a shot of the sunset as we enjoyed bbq from our lanai.

Aloha until our next post!

Komoda Store and Bakery on Urbanspoon

Nick's Fishmarket (Fairmont Kea Lani Hotel) on Urbanspoon

Casanova on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Seattle Chef's Table Lark Restaurant

Last night Cindy and I joined our friends Rick and Karen for the 4th in the series of Seattle Chefs Table Dinners. This one held at Lark Restaurant. Six of Seattle's best chefs in a seasonal, one course per chef dinner. The food just keeps getting better and another good time was had by all. We started the evening with Hors d'Oeuvres and a White Port Cucumber Cooler provided by Lark. The cooler was very refreshing and light. A nice way to start. Unfortunately, the Hor's Deuvres were not flowing too freely so the only one Cindy and I saw in the half hour was the Frog Legs - as they say tastes just like chicken. It was very nice. Rick and Karen beat us there by a few minutes and they got all 3 of the Hors d'Oeuvres - especially liking the quail egg on brioche.

It is interesting how the physical layout and acoustics of each restaurant effects the whole vibe of the evening. This dinner was by far the most sedate - feeling more like eating in a busy but quiet restaurant than a communal food event. I like the noise and excitement better but others may well prefer the more private and quiet approach.

For the 3rd straight Chef's Table the highlights of the evening was the simple but exquisite offering of Holly Smith from Cafe Juanita vying closely with the sensuous beauty of the perfectly prepared more complex offering of Jason Wilson's Crush. The wine pairings were by far the best yet - each one a nice match and covering France, Italy, and the NW beautifully. The menu and comments follow:

Seattle Chefs Table 2009
Tuesday May 19, 2009

Hosted by Lark

Hors d’Oeuvres and White Port Cucumber Coolers
LARK – John Sundstrom
Quail egg on truffle buttered brioche, Frog’s legs Meuniere,
Hamachi Tartare with white asparagus

CAFE JUANITA – Holly Smith
Local Porcini sliced over Carne Cruda of Wagyu with lardo Crostini . wine pairing: Castello Di Tassarolo, Gavi, Italy. Utter simplicity! Raw slices of perfect fresh Porcini over a wonderful Wagyu tartare paired with a amazing simple crisp Crostini with some fresh lardo. Cindy does not do raw protein and she savored every bite! Ingredients and loving handling make genius look simple.

CRUSH – Jason Wilson
Mascarpone and fresh fine herb agnolotti with butter poached Maine Lobster, Favas, and Spring Carrots. wine pairing: 2007 Domaine Servin, Premiere Cuvee, Chablis, France. A complex flavor extravagenza perfectly prepared and presented. A major home run as usual for Jason.

ROVER’S - Thierry Rautureau
Halibut, Ramps, Truffle, Potato and Bacon. Wine pairing: 2006 Lemelson Vinewards Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Very subtle, minimalist seasonings and perfect French technique - just what one expects from Rover's.

TILTH – Maria Hines
Slow Cooked Pork Cheek, pig’s feet, sweet pea, and morel. wine pairing: 2006 Monte Aribaldo, Dolcetto D'Alba, Italy. Pork cheeks yummy - pork foot "cake" surprisingly yummy - peas not so great and didn't notice any morels. It was a very enjoyable dish.

HARVEST VINE – Joseba Jimenez de Jimenez
Venison loin braised in oil with black onions and cocoa nibs, in a chocolate, piment d’espelette
sauce with migas. wine pairing: 2007 Cadence, Coda, Red Mountain, Washington. The venison was excellent but the dish seemed more Fall than Spring.

LARK – John Sundstrom
Lillet soaked savarin cake with strawberries, rhubarb and buttermilk ice cream. wine pairing: 2005 Muscat Beaumes de Venise, France . WOW! Really excellent and simple - great taste, texture, and presentation.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Aloha from Maui: Part II

Dear Readers,

The Maui update continues.....
(In this review: Umalu Restaurant, Maui Ocean Center, Hula Girl Ice Cream, Feast at Lele)

Saturday, May 16th

A perfect Maui day. We began our morning at golden Kaanapali Beach (Sid checked out Black Rock, Miranda snoozed on the beach, we both baked our sun-starved northeastern selves in the sun).

Being on East Coast time, we got hungry early and began the long walk down the Ka'anapali Boardwalk to the poolside restaurant at the Hyatt, Umalu.
Though described in our guidebooks as amazingly good food (and the best of the myraid poolside eateries on this beach), we didn't have too high of expectations.

But we were pleasantly surprised--the food was, frankly, awesome. Our server was really friendly and tipped us off to the big portions, encouraging us to share an appetizer and an entree (and, in the process, saving us at least $30). We went for the Mixed Greens salad with Seared Ahi Tuna (dressed with a ginger citrus vinaigrette, candied pecans, and avocado).

For an entree we shared the fish tacos, which were absolutely delicious (the Mahi Mahi was beer battered and fried and served in soft flour tortillas with a chipotle mayo, lettuce, tomato, and a variety of hot sauce choices). The servings were, as advertised, huge. We could barely finish them, especially when washing them down with fruity drinks :)

After lunch we drove down to the Maui Ocean Center. This place seems seriously under-visited by tourists - it wasn't at all crowded. Its well-worth a trip. They have beautiful educational displays, awesome tanks full of Hawaiian sea life, touch pools, turtle pools (where you can see adults and babies alike), shark tanks, and a mind-blowing underwater tunnel (you are surrounded on three sides (including up) by sting rays, eagle rays, hammerhead sharks, reef sharks, and countless colorful fishes). It is incredible (a highlight included Sid getting to feed the Green Sea Turtles and watching a scuba diver feed the Eagle Rays from his hand while a unicorn fish swam around happily in the bubbles from his regulator).

Conveniently nearby is Hula Girl Ice Cream, which serves up scoops, shakes, ice cream sandwiches, and sundaes of the rightly-famous Roselani ice cream. We sampled the Kona Coffee Mudslide and the Chocolate Macadamia Nut - a perfect afternoon snack (watching them feed the turtles and rays at the Ocean Center was tiring work!).

After a short afternoon rest, we headed out for the evening's entertainment - dinner and a cultural show at the Feast at Lele in Lahaina. Even though we both like to avoid overly touristy events, its really a shame to come to Maui and not go to a luau. The ones at most of the resorts are pretty tacky, but a company in Lahaina runs two that are good: the Old Lahaina Luau (traditional with pig roast, buffet-style dining, and a hula show) and the Feast at Lele). We chose the Feast at Lele because it was a sit down dinner (at your own table rather than cheek-to-jowl with other diners) and because the hula show there featured dances from New Zealand and Samoa (including the Haka and Fire Knife dance).

The meal is served in four courses, one each for the cultural influences on Hawaii - Hawaii itself, New Zealand, Tahiti, and Samoa. The food was hit and miss (mostly miss, to be honest). The Kahlua pork served with the Hawaiian course was pretty good, as was the ceviche served with the Tahiti course and the steak from the Samoa course. Everything else ranged from just so-so to downright nasty. The service was also pretty limp (they seemed to have too few servers for too many tables). For $110 per person (including unlimited, and very tasty, drinks), the food should have been much better. The show, however, was great and more than made up for the mediocre eats. The performers were real pros, the dances were beautiful and perfectly choreographed, and the Fire Knife dance at the end was (literally) breathtaking.

Aloha until our next post!

Feast at Lele on Urbanspoon