Story by Becky Speere | Photography by Ryan Siphers
I am driving through wide-open fields with my friend Diane, heading for dinner at the restaurant Nylos in the north Maui town of Pā‘ia when she asks me, “Do you have any idea what’s on their menu tonight? “The Chef’s Table menu is always a surprise,” I reply, “but trust me on this, Diane. I’ve been there and I’m confident that you’ll love Chef Jeremy Solyn’s food.” I tell her about my one experience eating there before: My foodie friends, Shannon and Brian Quinn-Ward, had insisted that we go together when they learned I hadn’t yet been. “Chef Jeremy and his wife Paulina do a fantastic job!” Shannon had exclaimed, as she’d extolled the restaurant’s virtues. And when we’d arrived at Nylos, we’d feasted. The first course had been a pan-seared, crisp-skinned ‘ōpakapaka (pink snapper) caught at depth of seven hundred feet and served with blistered tomatoes from Ho Farms and a spicy mayonessa. That course had been followed by roasted organic chicken with chili aioli and honeyed rainbow carrots. For dessert we’d had a warm chocolate cake made with Dagoba organic cacao, accented with mint and strawberries.
Diane and I arrive in Pā‘ia and turn onto Baldwin Avenue. We drive mauka, past the town’s Mana Foods and its Tibetan temple, and park in the lot across the street from Nylos, a mere one hundred feet from the restaurant’s front door, a perk given the scarcity of street parking in this part of town. We enter the tiny eighteen-seat restaurant, housed in a 1950s storefront, and we are greeted by Paulina Solyn, Jeremy’s wife, who runs the front of the house. Originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, Paulina grew up in Lahaina and worked for many years at that town’s celebrated restaurant, Star Noodle. It was through the Maui restaurant world that she and Jeremy met.
As Diane and I settle in, our gracious hostess pours us a glass of bubbly. “Welcome, Diane,” Paulina says with a warm smile, “and Becky, so happy to see you again. Tonight Chef has prepared an amuse bouche that will pair nicely with this Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Champagne. Enjoy!”
As Paulina attends to the other patrons at Nylos, I share Jeremy’s credentials with Diane. “He was the former chef de partie at the Michelin-starred Moto Restaurant in Chicago,” I say, “and the executive chef at the Hilton in Tuscon. Most recently, he spent eight years as the executive chef at Ruth’s Chris in Lahaina. Plus, he’s a certified sommelier.” Jeremy himself arrives and places our first dish on the table. “The amuse is to prepare your palette for the next courses and it’s usually small,” he says, “but I like to share much more than a single bite.” He gestures to the arrayed tastes. “I have a parmesan cheese crisp with local greens tossed with garlic oil and organic cider vinegar, a smoky Boursin cheese, tamari-marinated Bunapi mushrooms, and sweet red king crab in a dashi broth.”
The food is as good as I remember. And after the amuse is cleared, Paulina delivers bread to our table. “Jeremy bakes it daily,” she tells us. Thyme, oregano and sage speckle the focaccia, which is served with heirloom garlic butter. Diane and I dip bite-sized morsels of bread into the brown butter sauce that has accompanied our next dish: perfectly seasoned herb-stuffed quail.
After the first course is cleared, Diane and I marvel at the marbled foie gras slices Jeremy delivers next. “This dish takes fourteen days to prepare,” he explains. “First, I marinate the foie gras in wine and brandy for two days. Then I wrap it in cheesecloth and cure it for two days. Then it’s poached for two minutes in beef stock at 150 degrees and cured again for three days. Then I repeat those last two steps—poaching it and curing it—and then finally I unwrap it, slice it into medallions, and torch it just enough to warm it through.”
We spread a tiny bit on toast and, between sips of Chateau Suduiraut Sauternes, nod our approval at its velvety texture and concentrated flavors. Also on the plate is Petrossian Royal Ossetra caviar, for which I’m glad I saved a few sips of champagne. As Diane and I savor the last bites, we ask each other, “How can Jeremy top this?”
The answer: Dry-rubbed and pan-seared beef tenderloin served with hard-to-find Lion’s Mane mushrooms. The meat is rich and, as the menu states, a butter bomb—but it’s not dripping in butter. Jeremy’s slight–of-hand in the kitchen comes from years spent refining his culinary skills.
Before we take our leave, Jeremy and Paulina talk with us a little more about Nylos—a name they derived, incidentally, by reversing the letters of their surname Solyn. “I love to be able to showcase the great ingredients from Maui,” says Jeremy. “Do you know Marilyn Nomura? Our fruits and the vanilla we use come from her organic farm. Our mushrooms come from Lapa‘au Farm, the cauliflower and radishes from Pauwela Farm. The list goes on and on.” When I ask how the Solyn family came to be involved with food, Jeremy tells me that his father owned a deli when Jeremy was growing up in Florida. “Good food has been a huge part of my life,” he says. “Plus, my mother’s Italian-Slovakian and she’s a great cook, as is Paulina’s grandmother in Mexico.” The next generation is already in the mix: The Solyns now have four children—their daughters Bella, 11, Alice, 9, and Eleanor, 5, and a son, Meir who just turned 3. Their life on Maui’s North Shore continues to blossom and grow.
Nylos, 115 Baldwin Avenue, Pā‘ia, (808) 579-3354. Chef’s Table seatings are at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. www.NylosMaui.com