19-20 August 2015
The trip began great. I got from DC to LA and had an excellent quick stay and then headed off to Maui — the first time I am back on that island in over 30 years. And it started even better, with an unexpected upgrade to First Class (never though I’d utter these words, but THANK YOU DELTA!) — although I basically slept the whole way there.
The humitidy immediately got to me, and after a mild snafu at the car rental due to my humidity-addled brain, I headed out into Kahului and went to look for lunch. First thing I do whenever I get “home” to Hawaiʻi is to get a plate lunch, and I went searching. I headed to the nearby and famous Da Kitchen, but sadly the queue was out the door by 11am, and I had no patience in this heat and humidity, so I just drove on out towards Lāhainā before the tourist-infested traffic got too bad.
Looped the way to Lahaina and dropped into an excellent place (a converted motel) simply called Local Food, and had my kālua plate. Oh, now I feel at home. I forgot to take a picture so please forgive me. Nothing out of the ordinary, but just great to eat kālua where it belongs. It was too hot though (a hot day even for Maui standards), so I ate most of it in the car with the AC running…
Had a nice and busy afternoon before checking into my hotel and trying to decompress — and cool off. So good to be away from the resorts and in the centre of old Lāhainā. Walked around and ended up having a few beers (this will hurt later) in a local drinking shop before my dinner at the much-lauded Lahaina Grill. I headed back to my hotel to chill before dinner.
I walked downstairs (it’s my hotel’s restaurant) and was soon seated in this busy restaurant. You can tell lots of folks with vacation homes on the west coast of Maui come here for dinner too. I chose not to do the tasting menu as it steered away from local foods (stuff like Hudson Valley foie gras…now why would I leave the East Coast by 6 time zones and choose to eat something that’s sources 45 minutes away from home base?). In fact, this is a huge issue when dealing with tasting menus in Hawaiʻi…you still can’t get the provincialism out sometimes…
I ordered and chilled out with a cocktail. The place was busy and lots of misbehaving children, but I bit my tongue. Par for the course here. Eventually my first course came, the shrimp rolls.
I chose these partly out of the fact the shrimp were sourced from Kauaʻi. They were nice, but nothing to write home about. In fact, one problem with choosing items from the menu was the lack of locally-sourced items. This shocked me, as Maui has so many good farms. I was extremely disappointed that all of the meats, and a good amount of the seafood even, were from the Mainland. Very disappointing.
But that also explains Maui in many ways. I saw Maui basically like a Pacific Ocean version of Florida, full of places where mainlanders have their vacation home (or rent them). The population of Lahaina looked distinctly not what I would say is typical Hawaiʻi, and I don’t quite remember Lāhainā like this. Oh well… Anyway, my main arrived, one of the few things sourced locally.
This was the opakapaka, or pink snapper, done in a very ordinary way. Nothing special, and I’m starting to wonder why this place gets all the praise. Feels formulaic, and lacking in ingeniuity or understanding of local ingredients. It’s actually sad. I had another drink and decided to retire early. A disappointing and rather sad dinner.
The next morning I sat and stared at the Pacific Ocean for awhile, partly as my room was stifling thanks to the AC dying overnight… August 20th is a very symbolic day for me, as my readers know. So much of who I am and what I am came because of what happened on that day in 1991 and 2004. One defined my entire career, one defined my entire soul. And now with both so distant, I wonder…I don’t have a career anymore, and I am starting to feel I no longer have a soul.
I left Lahaina after a long morning stroll. Good to be back in shorts and slippers for a few days… Hopped into the car before the tourists jam the road back to Kahului and drove on out. I thought about trying Da Kitchen for lunch again, but decided to go somewhere else further inland towards Haleakalā. I wasn’t headed up the mountains, but got to the higher plains and dropped into Haliʻimaile General Store for lunch.
The ethos of this place is far better. Built from a historic building during the age of plantations, this turned into a restaurant some years ago, with a focus on not just history but also the region. I appreciated my lunch here so much more, but to be honest the open-air nature of the restaurant (as many places are in Maui) curbed my appetite. There was a distinct lack of trade winds on an already hotter-than-usual and moister-than-usual day, and it was hard to eat too much to be honest.
But I enjoyed this island curry dish, with some excellent locally-sourced seafood. Perhaps not too genuine to Maui in taste (a little more eastern seemingly), it was tasty and had very nice and generous amounts of seafood. I thanked my server and headed out into the steaming afternoon.
A long and busy afternoon in the heart of Maui, I headed back to Kahului to another hotel. This had barely-working AC and no hot water. Nice… I chilled for a bit before I fought traffic (yes, traffic, thanks often to confused tourists on one-lane roads) to visit another of the top-rated place on the island, Mama’s Fish House.
When I got there my heart sank. I thought it was a serious food place, but it looked more like a tourist trap. Terrible valet system, and they made me wait far after my reservation. It was hot and there again was no trade wind. I was knackered, emotional and just running out of patience. Again, the demographics of the audience is one thing, but I’m extremely surprised about the servers. It seems all the locals are being relegated to busser and back-room jobs, and the noticeably blond folks are working the tables. This is so absolutely un-Hawai’ian… You know it’s a tourist trap with this…
Again, very annoyed at a segment of seafood from the mainland, but there’s enough local stuff. I ordered and tried to chill out, but it was full of loud children and confused tourists. Maui partially became so touristy because of the influx of mainland tourism, unlike Honolulu which was built on Japanese tourism first (before the mainland onslaught). But it just didn’t feel right, and as kama’aina this was the wrong place to be tonight…
The first dish was a “wonton” of the same Kauaʻi shrimp as yesterday. Again, nothing special. Sad it’s one of the very few local options. There were good Hawai’ian stuff but a lot of it wasn’t seafood… It’s like this place has its priorities wrong.
I waited and waited for my main course, but it was over half hour. I lost my patience. Others may be paying for the view and weather, but I came for the food, and this place did not deliver. I asked for it to go and to close up. I was livid. And to add insult to injury, the valet on the way out was utter chaos.
I drove back to my still hot hotel room and opened this…this was a $47 dish?
If you wonder what plating does to a dish, this is a great example. I pretty much lost my appetite here and decided to just call a night instead of going to get some real grinds. The weather has run me down, I cannot handle this weather anymore to be honest…
Headed out of Maui tomorrow early morning, honestly I cannot wait. So much of this island is now the worst tourism trap/kitsch/hell I can imagine, the ones I avoided growing up in Honolulu, the ones I avoided living in London and NYC and DC and Tallinn, the ones I try to avoid now. It’s all designed like this, and I can’t imagine how locals feel when they are all but relegated to be the sideline act. Very sinister and disappointing.
I say goodbye to Maui for good. Can’t see myself ever coming back here.
222 Papalaua Street
127 Lahainaluna Road
Lāhainā, Maui, Hawaiʻi
Haliʻimaile General Store
900 Haliʻimaile Road
Makawao, Maui, Hawaiʻi
Mama’s Fish House
799 Poho Place
Pāʻia, Maui, Hawaiʻi