Craving Maui


By Carla Tracy, Dining Editor 

Brandon Kile

LARGER THAN LIFE … It’s always been as grand as a modern-day palace. But now Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort has kicked it up to the Nth degree after the most extensive renovation since its opening more than three decades ago. Two beloved dining venues have been transformed. The former Grand Dining room is now the brunch and breakfast restaurant, ‘Ikena, and the old Cafe Kula is spiffed up as grab-and-go gourmet market, Loulu. 

I say, “Run, don’t walk,” to the Rosé Brunch now presented Sundays at ‘Ikena. The Hawaiian name can mean “a view,” and it’s got it BIG TIME overlooking the posh resort’s dolphin reflecting pools, the ocean and the neighbor islands beyond. 

Sip premium rosé label La Fête du Rosé wine and indulge in a plethora of pleasurable eats, the likes of which one hasn’t seen on Maui for at least three years. Seafood lovers line up for lobster claws, freshly shucked oysters, snow crab, shrimp, poke and ceviche.  

Wake up with omelets, Maui honey-fried chicken and waffles, and eggs Benedict with Kona crab cake, all crafted by Executive Chef Ryan Urig and his team. From hot entrees such as local Hawaiian steamed fish “Chinoise style” with ginger, green onion, cilantro and sizzling sesame soy sauce, to prime rib and roast pork they slice in front of you, it’s impressive indeed. 

The Bloody Mary bar takes this brunch into the stratosphere. Lobster claws and other seafood reappears here. Other garnishes are bacon, sausage, shishito peppers, grilled asparagus, hearts of palm and much more. You can almost make a brunch out of the bar! 

Do peruse the dessert station with Bananas Foster cheesecake, chocolate pot de crème and ice cream scooped into just-baked, hollowed-out sweet rolls. You add the toppings as you watch live music and hula being performed. 

Rachel Ollsson photography

MORE OUT WAILEA WAY … Loosen your belts, because yet another off-the-charts Sunday brunch may be found in Wailea at the nearby Fairmont Kea Lani Maui. 

Taste buds travel to China with ginger-steamed salmon, stir-fried noodles, char-siu pork ribs and egg fu yong. Then jump over to Japan with sashimi, sushi, shrimp tempura and Okinawan soba noodles. Go Hawaiian with ahi poke, short rib loco moco and pohole fern-shoot salad. Korean, Filipino, Portuguese and traditional American fare also tempt. Fairmont’s Sunday brunch is served at Fairmont’s Ko, voted Maui’s 2022 Restaurant of the Year at Maui No Ka ‘Oi Magazine ‘Aipono Awards.  

“Ko is truly a collaborative effort,” shares Ko’s Executive Chef Aris Aurelio, a native of Cauayan Isabela, Philippines, who has been cooking on Maui for decades. “To create culinary experiences that represent all of us, who we are, where we came from and where we are going, is really special. The story behind Ko, originally conceptualized by the late Chef Tylun Pang, is one we are all extremely proud of and eager to continue sharing.” 

Under the guidance of new Executive Chef Michael Lofaro, who is an expert waterman, Chef Aurelio puts out a seafood lau lau during Ko’s dinner service that is the talk of the town. Wrapped in ti leaf are scallops, prawns, fresh catch, Upcountry spinach and shiitake mushrooms cooked in shoyu coconut milk and served with lomi-lomi tomato and Molokai sweet potato mash. 

Rachel Ollsson Photography

The Fairmont’s LUANA Lounge is jumping with live music nightly, some amazing deals on Casamigos margaritas on Wednesdays and 50 percent off bottles of wine on Fridays. Off Wailea Ike Drive mauka, or “mountainside,” from the ocean is Wailea Gateway plaza where “wow” is now the word. In fact, the new Oao is pronounced, “wow.” The hip, new sushi bar is the namesake of Chef Bernardo A. Oao Jr., better known as “Chef Jr.”

He began humbly as a dishwasher at Isana in Kihei, before moving up the restaurant ladder to become chef at Sushi Land in Seattle, Nobu Lanai and all over Maui from Miso Phat to Sansei to Shaka Sushi, circling back to Isana again, this time rising meteorically to sushi bar manager – before opening his very own Oao Sushi Go food truck and Oao restaurant in South Maui. 

Lift your chopsticks to salmon-sesame carpaccio, Big Eye tuna, and Wailea Rainbow Roll crafted with ahi, salmon, hamachi, crab, unagi, avocado, cucumber and tobiko. Besides seafood, fresh vegetables abound from shishito peppers to grilled corn on the cob. Entrees run the gamut from poached lobster to prime ribeye. Liquor license is pending as of press time. 

“What I have learned in life, starting from the bottom, is that you need to be able to appreciate the smaller things in order to appreciate the top,” says Chef Jr. “Because the keys to attaining greatness can be learned even when you have nothing. It takes hard work, dedication, humility, and above all: You need to be coachable.”  

Sheraton Maui

WEST SIDE STORIES … Opening its doors to a much-different world back in Jan. 23, 1963, the Sheraton Maui Resort & Spa in Ka‘anapali was the cat’s meow with the Hollywood set, many stars being the first-jet travelers to Hawai‘i. 

In fact, the Sheraton brought the first commercial jet flight across the Pacific to Maui: United Airlines Mark IV DC-8 filled with A-listers. Elvis Presley immortalized the resort in “Paradise Hawaiian Style.” Sports legend Sam Snead, crooner Bing Crosby, comedian Bob Hope and “My Three Sons” television dad Fred MacMurray were all aboard. 

Young’uns may not recognize the names of these celebs who flocked here back in the day, but do note that the resort still maintains its glamorous history and world-class hospitality. The sunset cliff dive has been a tradition since day one. Every evening as the sky turns from mango to vermillion red, cliff divers reenact the legendary leap of King Kahekili, aka the “Thunderer.” Kahekili ruled Maui and Oahu for 45 years until 1794 from his Ka‘anapali home. 

Following in Kahekili’s footsteps, the cliff-divers light tiki torches as they run up “Pu’u Keka’a” or “Black Rock” to the ledge above the ocean, then swan dive into the waves. It’s a sight to behold. Spectators say it pairs well with a Mai Tai. Sip. Take a picture. Breathe in the excitement. Sip some more. Watch the sun dip into the ocean. Hope for a green flash. 

In celebration of Sheraton’s birthday, the food and beverage team has curated the special 60th anniversary Sandbar Mai Tai, blending Barcardi Gran Reserva Limitada, which they describe as “a rare, luxurious selection of limited barrel-aged reserve rums.” 

The elixir of the gods also features Pierre Ferrand dry curacao, lilikoi juice and Reynold’s Falernum all-natural cocktail syrup bursting with ginger, almond, clove and fresh lime. They add in Angostura Bitters. Top it with a house pineapple orgeat foam complete with gold leaf, and then present it in a keepsake Maui vessel. The Mai Tai is priced at $60 and it’s purported to be worth every drop. 

Ritz-Carlton Maui, Kapalua

Maui always tees off with tradition at the start of each year and 2023 is no different. The Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort again hosted the Sentry Tournament of Champions in early January with the crème de la crème of the golf world there. Right on No. 1 green near the main entrance, FanTime on Nine welcomed fans with an array of food trucks from Merienda to Sparky’s along with beverage booths and picnic-style seating. Fans checked out the Champions Experience by Sentry and visited the Taste of Maui between the No. 1 fairway and the No. 18 green.  

Big Wave Shave Ice helped fans cool off with concoctions, and Castaway Cafe, Joey’s Kitchen and Outrigger Pizza served savory dishes. Right in the thick of things, The Plantation House restaurant supported on-course concessions. Additionally, Kamado Maui and Chef Taylor Ponte, graduate of the Maui Culinary Academy, born and raised in Makawao and winner of the Maui No Ka ‘Oi Magazine ‘Aipono Awards 2022 (and 2020) Chef of the Year, provided amazing food on-course. 

Nearby, The Ritz-Carlton Maui, Kapalua is the place to see and be seen. The resort just completed a $100-million transformation of its dining experiences, guestrooms and public spaces. Gold ‘Aipono Award Alaloa Lounge now boasts an all-new lobby lanai with unobstructed views of Honokahua Bay. 

Enjoy live music most nights, appetizers and a sushi station. And the Ritz just launched a new premium room category called the Fire Lanai Collection in January with well, ritzy patio living spaces and firepits. The Ritz’s signature The Banyan Tree restaurant just debuted a new menu highlighting seasonal fare, playful flavors, and fragrant aromas. Dive into shrimp ceviche, watermelon and tomato caprese, coconut red curry seafood, Snake River wagyu beef and international desserts. 

Speaking of international, The Banyan Tree Chef Marimer Garcia is inspired by Asian cuisine as well as Thai, Indian and Japanese sushi. She hails from Puerto Rico. Executive Chef George Vanyi came to Maui in 2021 from the Ritz-Carlton Beijing Financial District. Born and raised in Toronto, he incorporates influences from his world travels. Planning to be on Maui this spring? Save the date for the Ritz’s 31st annual Celebration of the Arts April 7-8 that focuses on Hawaiian culture, music and cuisine. 

DO THE DUCK WALK … Diners are flocking to the new Duckine in Lahaina. The menu is cutting-edge, playful and very duck-centric featuring pressed duck bao buns painted with guava-hoisin sauce, duck won-ton soup, duck-fat fried rice, crispy duck leg and Oriental salad with duck, Mandarin oranges and sesame dressing. 

Keegan Kim

“Small kine” plates include puffed shrimp dim sum; “ohana, or family kine,” crispy egg noodles; and “big kine” half or whole roast duck or, say, steamed kampachi with lup-chong Chinese sausage, ginger, scallion, cilantro and sesame soy. Seafood such as Kung Pao shrimp, scallops and calamari also tempts. So does ribeye, seared in Szechuan peppercorn sauce. You’ll discover that this Chinese-Hawaiian menu is crazy good. 

Killing it is none other than the “Kitchen Assassin” Alvin Savella, the owner chef of this fun and sexy new establishment. Savella was a celebrated chef de cuisine at the Ritz as well as the Grand Wailea and most recently as executive chef of Mala Ocean Tavern, located across Front Street from Duckine and a sister restaurant to this new venture. He’s partnering with Mala veterans Rob Farrell, Javier Barberi, Ashley Davis and Caleb Hopkins. Duckine’s bar program features elevated, creative craft cocktails. Mixologist Hailey Cook is inspired by Chinese apothecary items and blends in teas, tinctures and herbs for such fun drinks as “Rice, Rice Baby” and “What the Duck?” Happy hour features 30 percent off small kine grindz and discounted drinks such as the Tiki Teapots. 

FOR LOVEBIRDS ONLY … It’s nothing at all like the cult-favorite movie, “The Bird Cage” starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. And it’s the polar opposite of the Raven Suite at the Zaza Hotel in Dallas filled with dark memorabilia from Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” 

No, the Birdcage at Hotel Wailea is the most delightful, romantic and adults-only lounge on island. With heavenly views from its perch about 300 feet above sea level, the open-air rotunda of a room was formerly the lobby. Soaring ceilings open to a skylight and tables with bird-shaped legs and some chairs look like cages, adding a whimsical touch. 

But the wild lovebirds, often 20 or so of them, fly in and out at their leisure and miraculously land on the rim of the rotunda, leaving diners alone. Vibrant peach, yellow, blue and green colors illuminate the small parrots. Monogamous, they kiss and preen their mates unabatedly. Imitate the lovebirds. Cozy up in your cushy bar nest. Sip craft cocktails such as the Im-Peck-Able Daiquiri, the Fly by Night and the Crane of Happiness, the latter with Kikori Japanese whiskey. Feed each other bites of poke on crackers, Maui onion dip, watermelon salad and cheese and charcuterie. 

“We have an incredible craft cocktail program,” says Director of Food & Beverage Derrin Abac. “Our talented bar team is inspired by the glamorous and whimsical vibe of the space.” Speaking of birds, the Hyatt Regency Resort & Spa in Ka‘anapali houses the cutest little warm-weather African Black-Footed Penguins in tiny igloo-shaped huts just outside of the acclaimed Japengo restaurant. 

The eldest, Nahu, is 18 years old, and there are younger twins, Mai and Tai. Other exotic birds in Hyatt’s menagerie are cranes, swans, flamingos, ducks and parrots. Wildlife tours are offered. Japengo also offers up an avant-garde craft cocktail program with names of Blushing Geisha, Ube Sour and Bird of Paradise. 

Sheraton Maui

Carved tableside with flourish, the new Tomahawk Ribeye easily serves three or four people. “It is a culinary experience with personal interactive touch from start to finish,” says Japengo Chef de Cuisine Gevin Utrillo. “The ribeye is made to order and takes 45-minutes to prepare. While guests wait for their main course, they can choose a salad and sushi as starters which are included in the experience. It also comes with accompaniments and sides.” In addition, Chef Utrillo creates a wow factor with whole, line-caught o’pakapaka fried or steamed Chinese style. “We will serve the fish tableside and have interactive components, such as pouring different sauces over the fried fish.” 

Seared eggplant and tomato shrimp salad is crafted after Utrillo’s mother’s Filipino tortang talong. Tofu agedashi, karaage chicken and shaking-beef noodles are all new after Utrillo’s recent collaboration in Japan with the Hyatt Regency Osaka culinary team. Do order the creamy kimchee and edamame mashed potatoes. And, the fresh-as-it-gets sashimi and sushi by Chef Masamichi “Masa” Hattori as you gaze out over the water. 

Do you love music with your dessert? Jazz Maui presents the weekly Sunset Jazz Series at The Chocolate Bar from 5 to 7 p.m. Sundays in Lahaina at Maui Ku‘ia Estate Chocolate Pavilion. Vocalist Sheryl Renee and others perform. “Enjoy great jazz, sunset views, and award-winning chocolate pairings and an exquisite selection of wine, spirits and beer available for purchase,” says Jazz Maui’s Bryant Neal. 

Ah, yes. Maui keeps getting sweeter and grander – all the way from Wailea to Lahaina to Ka‘anapali. For an extensive Maui dining guide, visit and follow @MauiMagEats on Instagram. 


Maui Celebrates Chinese New Year 

By Carla Tracy


Like magic, the Year of the Rabbit is pulled out of Maui restaurant hats with greetings of “kung hee fat choy!” or “happy new year!” Starring in this year’s Chinese New Year activities, the Rabbit rotates in every 12 seasons with other Chinese Zodiac animals. They include Dog, Pig, Rat, Ox, Horse, Tiger, Rooster, Monkey, Snake, Goat and Dragon. 

Chinese immigrants first arrived in the late 18th century, a few as sailors with Capt. James Cook back in 1778. Their descendants along with people of Chinese and other mixed ancestries constitute an integral part of the state’s population, so Chinese New Year is big in Hawai‘i. 

Some restaurants celebrate early. Others serve specials all week. Firecrackers go ka-boom in the night. Lion dancers snake their way through restaurants, malls and hotel lobbies, mouths snapping and drums beating. Spectators happily oblige them with lai-see, or red envelopes, filled with money to spread good luck and keep the bad spirits away. 

Jason Moore

Everything is auspicious. For instance, the longer the noodle one eats, the longer one is supposed to live. Oranges symbolize prosperity. Some traditional dishes such as jai, or vegetarian Monk’s food, are made only for the Lunar New Year. 

“Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year has always held a special place in my heart,” said Jennifer Nguyen, the iconic founder behind the hugely popular A Saigon Cafe in Wailuku. “I always looked forward to it as a kid because it was a joyous and festive week-long celebration of culture, family and food. The best part for me was that as a kid, we would receive a lot of lai see, or red packets with money, from our parents and elders.” 

“For the past 28 years, I have continued to uphold tradition by bringing in the lion dance and preparing food that I remember from my childhood. Not only does it allow me to share my culture with my customers, I hope it helps create everlasting memories of Chinese New Year for them, and brings back the same spark, festivity and excitement I remember from my childhood.” 

As a special for Chinese New Year, chef Thi Pham simmers pork tenderloin overnight in coconut juice until fork tender and presents it with hard-boiled eggs and pickled vegetables.     

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