The holidays are upon us: ‘tis the season to indulge in lavish buffets, prix fixe menus, and tryptophan-induced naps. Everyone from the fire dancers at the Wailea Marriot lu‘au to the Trilogy Excursions crew will be dishing up island versions of traditional feasts. In past years, guests could even swim up to ‘oNo at the Westin Maui for butternut bisque with chestnuts, lavender, and Surfing Goat Dairy cheese. Mmmm. . . .
But before getting carried away by dreams of figgy pudding, Miz Gossip must confront some holiday specters: this year’s Taste of Lahaina was but a shadowy ghost of the grand food-fest it once was. Organizers gave clue to this by tacking “Best of Island Music” onto the festival’s title. Participating chefs clearly played second fiddle to the music. Many of the West Side’s top chefs preferred to throw down at the psychedelic Maui Chefs Present . . . Rock and Roll Wok of Fame. Unfortunately, this event’s excitement was all but snuffed out by the wildfire that tore through the West Maui Mountains—leaving half of the party-goers stranded past the Pali.
Even grimmer news: Chef Derek and Sandy McCarthy of Tastings Wine Bar & Grill are moving back to California. While we wish them the best, this loss is too great for devout foodies to bear gracefully. Picket lines have formed down South Kihei Road, with protesters singing, “All we are saying is give us hangar steak and foie gras. . . . ”
Alas, your Gossip is on the verge of a personal crusade. Despite three new Far Eastern restaurants, Maui still comes up short on authentic, lip-smacking Chinese. Indian (sigh) is nonexistent. Dressed up and sophisticated, the three new restaurants must’ve travelled the Silk Road via NY and Lost Angeles, losing some gritty flavor along the way. The décor at Fire Dragon is ultra-fabulous while the dinner fare registers at merely medium. Ditto Zuihao, whose exhibition kitchen seems extraneous when the most exciting items are served at the bar. Each hosts a snazzy late-night club scene, where you can indulge your inner Mongolian princess while sipping exotic cocktails in a shadowy corner. The gauze curtains, lacquered trunks, and dark wood countertops are all in place—but dare I ask, where are the spices? Two words: dim sum. Three more while we’re at it: sambar . . . samosa . . . vindaloo! If we close our eyes and chant together, perhaps these gastronomic treasures will magically materialize (accompanied by appropriate condiments and sauces).
One has to wonder—are we paying a culinary karmic debt for some hideous past deed? Perhaps we didn’t share our butternut bisque with Tiny Tim?
If so, at least one restaurateur is anteing up for the rest of us. Jurg Munch, owner of David Paul’s Lahaina Grill, generously awarded Lahainaluna graduate Kawai Tsuha $3,000 to attend Maui Community College’s Culinary Academy. Munch’s annual “Maui Chef” scholarship (bumped up from last year’s $2,000) covers tuition, textbooks, and cooking implements. Tsuha began classes this fall.
Finally, we ask the Ghost of Restaurant Future: what savory treats can we look forward to? At the Four Seasons Resort Maui, Pacific Grill (a fine restaurant that suffered under the shadow of its famous upstairs neighbor, Spago) will reopen in March with a new awning, a new concept, and a new name: Duo. The name refers to those timeless dance partners (no, not Fred and Ginger) steak and seafood—though, because it’s the Four Seasons, you can expect dishes to include celebrity Kobe beef and the like.
In Pa‘ia, rumor has it that Fiesta Time will open a third location—on Hana Highway—and the Flatbread Company is stoking the fire in its newly built wood oven. The company’s stated mission is to “reconnect us to nature” and create food that is “authentic, truthful and real. . . . ” How very North Shore.
With that, Miz Gossip wishes a Merry Christmas to all and to all a good bite.