Day 3 on Maui: Puu Kekaa (Black Rock) in Ka’anapali, Craft Beer and Star Noodle

I routinely wake up around 5am at home, but rarely feel as refreshed and ready for the day as I did this morning. No insomnia, just wakeful peace and even a little meditation.

Photo of Puu Kekaa (Black Rock for us non-Hawaiians) taken from the beach before first snorkel

Photo of Puu Kekaa (Black Rock for us non-Hawaiians) taken from the beach before first snorkel

After a quick in-condo breakfast on the janky (warning, mild adult language in that link, FYI) cookware, we headed off to Black Rock in Ka’anapali (technically it’s called Puu Kekaa, but I’m going with Black Rock). First, though, a stop by Snorkel Bob’s. the Lahaina store was 1/2 mile from our condo, which was great. And then Kristyn, a Maui native with a little diamond stud in her lip, long wavy black hair, a sunny disposition and an itch for Cali helped us get sorted out with snorkel gear. $35 for a “custom fit” for the week might be a bit pricey per person, but it was convenient, fit well and got us on our way. We had a great conversation about life on the island and, when we mentioned the importance of eating and drinking as a key part of our overall enjoyment, Kristyn’s co-worker Michelle didn’t miss a beat! “Hi, I’m Michelle, I also like to eat and drink.” Perfect, we’ll get along well. Michelle mentioned Diamond’s at night down in Kihei as a spot for good food that locals hit. Not sure if we’ll make it, but it’s good to file away.

Freshly fitted we headed up to Ka’anapali and almost missed the tiny, 8-spot parking structure next to the beach access. Fortunately, our new friend at the Sheraton valet got us sorted out (you can park there with valet for $20, by the way) and we lucked into someone leaving just as we were arriving.  I’ll generally skip the water portion, as the story is pretty consistent in print.  We saw these

Photo of fish taken underwater with our fancy disposable cameras

Photo of fish taken underwater with our fancy disposable cameras

And this rock

Took this photo from in the water, but missed the old dude getting ready to jump in

Took this photo from in the water, but missed the old dude getting ready to jump in

A couple tips. If you show before 11 it is likely to be less crowded. Also, there’s no lifeguard, so don’t go trying to be all Crissy Ahman-Leighton in the water (I coulda went with Michael Phelps, but that’s too obvious). One last tip. I’ve been swimming my whole life, but am a little fitness challenged at the moment. I was pretty tired after an hour, so get yourself the floaty thing so you can hang longer or prepare for an unexpected extra workout or two. After an oddly longer walk back to our car we’d worked up quite the thirst. With no water in sight we did the next best thing…off to Maui Brewing Co, where our server GiGi was another delight along the way.

This is just north of Lahaina, and worth a trip

This is just north of Lahaina, and worth a trip

Tucked in a strip mall about 2 miles past Ka’anapali, this was the brewpub version, complete with seven barrel system in the corner (explanation of a barrel system for breweries) (random bonus link about microbrewing profit analysis – I heart nerds). We showed up about 6 minutes before they opened, so I got a clean look at it while empty. I did manage to snap this picture before going in

Yep, caring out the planet matters

Yep, caring out the planet matters

Would I have gone for the beer without this knowledge? Sure. But I just may choose MBC beer in a pinch now knowing they try to take care of the earth a bit.  Anyway, after surveying the landscape, I nestled in at the bar and ordered up a sampler

On top of this ice bar was Aloha Bahktun, Lahaina Town Brown, Black Rock, and a hopped up Red Ale

On top of this ice bar was Aloha Bahktun, Lahaina Town Brown, Black Rock, and a hopped up Red Ale

The Aloha Bahktun is easily my favorite, a Belgian strong ale with chili and local chocolate at the finish. Tasty enough to order a full 10 oz pour.  I also asked for a “taste” of the Victory at Sea, which I suppose is cheating if you ask for a taste of something you’ve bought a case of before.  Still, it was good to see a familiar variety close at hand. The one question I’ve got, though, after reading up on the lines (importance of clean lines here) is whether the very long lines here compromise the beer. The taps are connected to the barrel system apparently, which isn’t physically close. I couldn’t taste anything askew, so maybe no big deal, but something that I wondered.

A quick change later and it was time for Lunch at Aloha Mixed Plate. We touristed this one out of our Maui Revealed book, but it was also recommended by Kristyn at Snorkel Bob’s and the owners of our condo, so we figured why not.

This shirt was a Christmas present bought at Regal Beagle in Mission Hills, San Diego - a fantastic place for craft beer

This shirt was a Christmas present bought at Regal Beagle in Mission Hills, San Diego – a fantastic place for craft beer

Despite a very limited list, I managed to find a Big Swell IPA, which I described already in day 1. As for food, the mixed plate is a ‘thing’, kind of like a Mexican combo plate in Southern California. You get a few types of meat and lots of rice along with a big scoop of potato Mac, which is a hybrid of potato and macaroni salad at this place.

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The potato mac seemed a bit odd and uncomfortably blended to me, but with some salt and pepper Wife found it perfectly delightful. The three types of meat on Wife’s mixed plate were teriyaki beef, chicken katsu and grilled fish. Not to pile on Sea House, but the grilled fish was better cooked and better tasting here. Wife was very pleased with the other two meats, which I found tasty for what they were, and at $13 on Maui, that was a very palatable meal.  I went for the Korean fried chicken sandwich with Kimchi and “fries.”

This little bit of delicious is something I'd recommend you try

This little bit of delicious is something I’d recommend you try

Yep, Kimchi, which is some good stuff. This wasn’t the best I’ve had, but the acidity of the kimchi went well with a sweet sauce underneath the sandwich. Very nice. Especially at $8. Oh, about half way through the sandwich I hit it with some sriracha. Holy hell. Adding a third flavor to this sandwich was a great move. Heated it up a little with some chili flavor  and you still had the other two flavors working together. By the way, it was white meat chicken and seemed to be real, not some processed wannabe. As for the “fries,” as the picture above suggests, these probably came straight from Costco and would’ve been a waste of stomach room to consume. I had one, just to confirm they were as bad as they looked (they were) and left the rest on the plate. Still the sandwich was a winner, so I wasn’t disappointed at all. The service was just fine, not the type of place that differentiates itself on such things, which isn’t a knock on them, our server was pleasant, but the ultra casual lunch spot isn’t set up for service interaction really, and that’s okay. I can see why people go here and am glad we did.

Lunch now complete, the next adventure was before us.

We’d planned a trip–in the loose sense that we thought about it and started driving–to the Upcountry. Then, 5 minutes into bumper to bumper traffic at 1pm getting through Lahaina and it was time to abort that mission. Instead we turned off on a road that was a dead end and took us to, what else, the Maui Homeless Resource Center. Yep. Even on vacation. There were no signs outside, so I wasn’t really sure, and the thought of putting homeless “out of the way” was distasteful, but possibly an assumption on my part.   Now, mindful of my status as a tourist, I asked just a couple questions, like how the program worked and what it was.  The woman explained that it was free for six weeks and you’d live in a dorm while you got services and opportunity to get a job. Then you could transition to housing on site, for a maximum of two years. It’s a fully drug and alcohol free program, which made me feel sheepish about my regal beagle shirt as I left, on which the phrase ” I enjoy drinking beer” was emblazoned.  Still, a free six weeks to get yourself sorted out, tons of services and 50,000 hours in education/skills classes, over 118,000 residential night stays and counselor contacts each year and the Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Center in Lahaina (there’s also one in Wailuku) seems to be doing something right. I didn’t get any evaluation numbers to confirm how successful they were at their mission of ‘breaking the cycle of homelessness’ but if the Permanent Supportive Housing model works as the research suggests, this United Way effort is doing the right things.

I’m not going to launch into some screed about materialism or feeling guilty for returning to the playful excesses of my vacation. We worked hard and like anyone not born into extreme wealth–got a little lucky along the way and there’s nothing about which to feel bad in this deal. Most of the world struggles. It’s a sad reality. Living the life of an ascetic won’t eliminate those struggles, so instead I’ll help when I can and respect peoples’ right to indulge in whatever excesses they choose. After all, would you really want someone telling you what “enough” fun was? Good for Maui for caring about its least fortunate, it was an accidental find that happens when you let a trip take you where it takes you, and I am glad it happened.

The rest of the day was spent doing not much of anything to be written about so let’s speed up to dinner, shall we?

Fast forward to dinner after some napping and lounging, and this was the right type of experience. Our new friend Amy (the Lewiston, Idaho transplant from our lunch at Kimo’s from Day 2)  mentioned that she really liked Star Noodle and we ought to go. Always a dicey proposition going to a place on a rec you can’t verify, but she said the wait got up to an hour or two after 5:30, so that was a good sign.  We pulled up and found this sterile looking setting

Unassuming house of good things to come

Unassuming house of good things to come

in an industrial space that reminded me of the brewery parks in San Marcos. In fact, there was a trapeze class right next door, which I hear is $70/hour, in case you’re into that type of thing.  But after our 45 minute wait we settled in, made some new friends, and had a great adventure of a meal.

Our server was a Hawaiian guy named Alex who looked like a shorter, browner version of Chef Matt Gordon. He was super knowledgeable, fired lots of recommendations at us and garnered some credibility on his Thai recommendations with his three personal trips to Thailand. First up, we grabbed the pohole salad

Pohole salad made up of vegetables all grown on the island

Pohole salad made up of vegetables all grown on the island

Which was a collection of fresh vegetables from some small farm up the road. Very fresh tasting and as someone who doesn’t care for raw onions, I was a bit surprised to find favor with the ones in this dish.  It had fiddlehead ferns  from Hana,  grape tomatoes, sweet Maui onions, and tiny dried shrimp for a salty element, all tossed in an Asian flavored vinaigrette.  Our second starter was the ahi avo dish,  which was delicious chunks of sashimi grade ahi and avocado, tossed in a lemon pressed olive oil and a hit of chili.

The Ahi Avo, rarely is "market price" so wallet friendly

The Ahi Avo, rarely is “market price” so wallet friendly

This was much better than expected. I like raw fish, especially when well prepared and fresh (check and check), but I wasn’t sure what they’d bring and I hadn’t heard about it from any source except Alex. He was right, it was good. Slightly firm, flavorful without tasting too fishy, and lightly coated. Good stuff.  So delish, as Wife would say.

A word for the beer geeks among us. The bottle list is sub par. Too few options. That is all.

Next up was the Vietnamese crepe

Bathed in coconut milk, this was excellent

Bathed in coconut milk, this was excellent

This crepe was not like anything I’d ever eaten. Our table neighbors Ryan and Sarah from Portland said a lot of places serve it, so I’ll be headed to Little Saigon on The Boulevard when I get home to get a comparison offering. This was a mixture of shrimp, pork and bean sprouts in a coconut sauce, served inside the “crepe,” which wasn’t your typical thin pancake type product that we were expecting, but rather a crispy, eggy taco shell kind of thing that you broke off in pieces, put inside a leaf of butter lettuce with some of the shrimp/pork filling, add some fresh herbs like mint, cilantro and thai basil, and hit it with a bit of chili sauce before wrapping it up as a lettuce wrap and eating. A mouthful to write and a delicious mouthful to eat. This was the star of the show, hands down.  Still, as long as we were here, a few more items made the cut. There were these Brussels sprouts

Not extraordinary but still very good Brussels Sprouts

Not extraordinary but still very good Brussels Sprouts

Which were roasted, served with bacon pieces and a Kim chee purée. Alex said these changed his life, a bit of hyperbole, of course, unless like so many of us his parents served up the steamed mushy mess that pretended to be Brussels Sprouts. Why did parents in the 80’s and 90’s try to steam all the flavor out of these little guys, anyway? Needless to say, they weren’t as good as the ones at Brooklyn Girl in San Diego, but if you’ve only ever had the dull green mess that is frozen green giant Brussels steamed into oblivion, this is a good change of pace. Ryan and Sarah said they make a homemade version with miso butter, which sounds pretty tasty.

Actually, a quick word about our new table friends.  Some people might come to a restaurant with tables packed close together and think its a greedy inconvenience that the owners are trying to get a few extra two tops at our expense. Even if it is a purely business decision for them, the upside if you let it be an upside, is the exchanges with strangers a fun meal makes possible. To one side of us we had a couple from L.A./Ontario area in town for a wedding, who we met while not at all subtly eyeballing their food. The guy had been here a few times before and Star Noodle was their first stop off the plane when they got in earlier today. They liked food, asked if we’d been to Ra in the Gaslamp, and I explained why they needed to hit 30th Street in San Diego’s North Park and South Park for good food. They were lovely. Then, as our food came, the couple to the other side–Ryan and Sarah–started eyeballing our food and the free discussion of food and choices was underway. In fact, when we decided to order up the Brussels sprouts we offered to both our neighbors. Neither took us up, but when Sarah was finished with her pork bun order and one lonely bun was left, she passed it our way

Not my favorite item on the menu

Not my favorite item on the menu

It was pressed pork in hoisin sauce, with shiitake and cucumber. As Ryan astutely pointed out, it needed some spicy mayo. Fortunately the duct tape of sauces, sriracha, was nearby, so I heated this one up and had one more bite. It’s not good when a dish needs such a serious kick in the pants to have flavor. I’d try this one more time, but wasn’t overwhelmed. Next up, I’d been eyeing the garlic noodles, served with fresh and fried garlic, garlic oil and scallions, since we waited with the menu

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I could only muster a couple bites of the smaller half order, but that was plenty. These were tasty, though as a rule I don’t eat long noodles so I have no real comparison.  I know, that sounds odd not to eat noodles just because of their length, but they are messy and hard to eat and it feels unnatural to slurp up noodles, having them hang from your mouth waiving around like car wash flaps. Yes, that’s a tiny bit of OCD peeking out. Still a tasty dish that I’d recommend to someone stopping in.

We got to chatting with Ryan and Sarah and I’d just started listening to Walkable City, so it was cool to mention that Portland had 5 times more college educated 20 and 30-something’s move to town over the last the years than any other city in the country. Ironically, Ryan pointed out that this made the local job market very tough and I wondered if businesses really would start flocking to Portland because of the large number of educated folks hanging about.  Apparently, deciding where you want to live before determining where you want to work can be a bit of a problem. Still, it’s a cool city and in San Diego we already have the job surplus for well educated types so maybe we should be educating our kids accordingly. I digress. One last thing on our dinner menu, the Malasadas for dessert. (what’s that?). We decided to give one to our new friends (the L.A. Crew had excused themselves by this point) because really sharing is fun and there’s no way we could eat it.

Not to little balls of fried, sweetened goodness

Not to little balls of fried, sweetened goodness

It took about 20 minutes for the Malasadas to show up, which seems like a long time to cook a donut. Fortunately, another pleasant offshoot of making friends is we had even more to talk about as we killed time. The Malasadas were hot and fresh (no surprise) and just a few shades less dense than  a cake donut. A nice post dinner snack.

All in all, Star Noodle delivered. And it was 30% less expensive than our trip to Sea House, and the service was better and the food was better, well not the poke nachos, that was the best thing at either place, but everything else gets a check in the Star column. I’d go again, in fact I think we will go again on this trip, which is saying something. A great evening out that is one of the really great things about vacations.  Return to the 10-day index from March 2013 HERE. Or check out Day 4 HERE. Thanks for stopping by

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