Story by Becky Speere | Photography by Ryan Siphers
We have it all to ourselves — the cedar-wood sauna, the jetted whirlpool and the bamboo rainfall shower — and my husband Chris and I smile at one another as we enter the private hydrotherapy sanctuary at the Montage Kapalua Bay Spa. We dry-scrub one another with a gentle exfoliant that smells of honey, citrus and maile, and rinse away any remaining stresses from our week with each of the available treatments in this self-guided Art of Spa journey. It is the perfect way to begin our staycation.
Though reluctant to leave at the end of the hour, we extract ourselves from the spa and go to The Hideaway, the Montage’s lower-level bar. We toast to our getaway with a Maui-Kine Mai Tai topped with a generous dark-rum float, and an Awesome Blossom, the hotel’s take on a Moscow Mule, made with fresh lime juice, spicy ginger beer and a candied hibiscus blossom. Though the bar-food menu looks tempting, we abstain in anticipation of the highlight of our respite: a private, in-room, chef-curated dinner complete with wine pairings from chef Riko Bartolome.
We arrive at our residence and find Bartolome is already at work in the marble and cherrywood kitchen.
“Hi, Chef!” I say.
“It smells amazing in here!” adds Chris.
He looks up from his smoking saute pan and smiles. “Whenever you’re ready, we can begin. No rush.”
As Chris and I change clothes, I recall the last time I had Bartolome’s food — just a month prior at the Kapalua Wine and Food Festival held at the Montage’s Cliff House venue. It was an epic luncheon of elegant food and an incredible selection of champagnes. It was, without a doubt, one of my finest and most memorable meals on Maui to date. However, I fully expect tonight’s dinner will surpass it with ease.
We sit at the table and Bartolome pours us each a glass of Taittinger Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé. “I hope you enjoy the omakase (chef’s choice) menu and wine pairings that we’ve selected for you tonight,” he says as he delivers the first course. “This tomato gelée is my take on gazpacho, perfect for the warm days of summer.”
He sprinkles a few drops of chili-pepper water on top of the gelée with a pipette and we dig in. The freshness of the tomatoes is the perfect foil to the bright, fruity flavor of the sparkling wine.
Next up is what I would call “Onion” — a tender, dashi-simmered onion boat infused with creamy Maui onion custard, tangy onion marmalade and a puff of onion foam on top. I am in allium nirvana.
The next course features one of my favorite seafoods: ‘opihi (limpets). I grew up eating these fresh off lava rocks worn smooth through the millennia; today, they arrive broiled with pillars of Moloka‘i sweet potato and butternut squash and drizzled with a light citrus vinaigrette. Accompanying the dish is a simple yet delectable chowder made from Kula corn, onions, garlic and butter. “I think the richness goes well with the buttery notes of this Nickel & Nickel Truchard chardonnay,” says Bartolome. Rich and buttery — two of my favorite flavor profiles.
The next course is a Kulahaven Farms rainbow trout filet seared simply in butter, salt and pepper, and served on a bed of toasted Marcona almonds and coriander seeds. As we cleanse our palates with a nibble of pink grapefruit, fennel and ogo (Maui’s mahogany-colored seaweed), Bartolome pauses a moment.
“How are you two doing?” he asks. “Getting full?”
“Do you mean are we tapping out?” I ask, laughing.
“We’re seasoned diners! We can do this!” adds Chris.
Bartolome smiles. “For the next course, I’ve made hoisin lamb.”
I am beyond delighted. I had this dish in 2014 when the Montage first opened and Bartolome was executive chef. The rare slices of lamb loin carry a hint of Chinese hoisin sauce and curry, the Yunnan flavors marrying well together. Our Red Car Syrah from Sonoma stands up against the rich spices, and smooths out their piquancy.
The last two courses — baklava made with macadamia nuts and maple syrup, and a Haleakala Creamery goat-cheese sorbet — are a match made in heaven with another glass of the Taittinger sparkling rosé. And for the grand finale: a souffle made with dark Maui Kui‘a Estate Chocolate piping hot from the oven. Bartolome dusts it with powdered sugar, carefully makes a hole in the crispy top and pours in a citrus and Grand Marnier sabayon. “Because of the acidity of the liliko‘i [passionfruit] and calamansi fruits, I’ve paired this with a tawny port,” he says.
Chris and I savor each bite as Bartolome wraps things up in the kitchen. He delivers a final treat — dark chocolate truffles and French-press coffee — and takes his leave. “I’ve enjoyed our conversation and want to thank you for allowing me to cook for you,” he says. We thank him heartily in return, and after our final sips of coffee, go to bed sated and smiling.
The next morning, we meet executive chef Eric Faivre for breakfast at Cane & Canoe, a lovely open-air dining venue which looks out across a series of step-down infinity pools and out over the ocean. We tell Faivre of our incredible in-room dining experience as I dive into a gorgeous lobster eggs Benedict, and Chris cuts into a thick slice of avocado toast — homemade nine-grain bread spread with avocado mash, dukkah spice and fresh tomato halves.
Afterward, we walk along the coastal trail at the edge of the resort, marveling at the view across the channel of our neighbor islands, Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i. We arrive at the Cliff House and watch bathers enjoy the aquamarine water below, basking in the beauty of the day.
“I think it’s time for us to go swimming, too,” I say to Chris. We check into the activity center and are shown to our canopied daybed located right next to the adults-only Serenity Pool. The crisp, fresh linens are a cool respite from the sun, and we recline with a sigh.
After some wine and a cocktail, we decide it’s time to eat again! I order a medium-rare Wagyu beef burger with sharp cheddar cheese, bacon and a thick slice of beefsteak tomato. Chris has a grown-up grilled cheese sandwich made with Brie de Meaux, mozzarella, provolone and Gruyére cheeses and applewood-smoked bacon on house-made artisanal sourdough. We request a late checkout and enjoy a lazy afternoon together.
On our drive home, I replay our Montage staycation bit by bit, and bite by bite. The luxury accommodations, the heavenly spa service and the food — oh, the food! Everything exceeded my expectations and will absolutely go down as one of my favorite Maui experiences of all time.