Day 5 on West Maui: Kapalua Coastal Trail Hike, Laziness & Star Noodle (yes, again)

Yes, even the rocky coastline in Maui is beautiful

Yes, even the rocky coastline in Maui is beautiful

So, fond of our night experience in West Maui–and tired from the traffic marathon–we decided to stay close to home with a morning hike on the Kapalua Coastal Trail. From our condo at the northern edge of Lahaina it was about 10-15 minutes up to DT Fleming Beach, where the trailhead began. We got up there and the parking lot was basically empty – score one for 9:20am arrival time! After a quick pit stop in the loo we ran into a lifeguard, here’s how it went
Me: excuse me, can you tell us where the trailhead is?
Lifeguard: yeah, (*pointing randomly in the distance*) it’s over there
Me: (in my head) Greeeat. That helped not at all
Me: (out loud) where are you pointing?
Lifeguard: head for the orange cones over past where you parked and follow the path up

Me: Thanks

Moments later we were ascending a paved foot path at the edge of The Ritz Carlton. Just a little amazing, here’s a photo we took from the top

Okay, I was too busy enjoying the scenery to capture the really great Kapalua shots

Okay, I was too busy enjoying the scenery to capture the really great Kapalua shots

One of the great things about vacations is that people are generally free with advice, tips and unsolicited help. This was no exception. As we reached the real start of the trail, a no-doubt retired woman in her 60s who’d “been coming here for years” rode up on her bike and started randomly explaining to us how best to take the path. If there weren’t a map depicting exactly what she was saying (pictured below), this would have been incredibly timely and useful. Still, she meant well and was nice as could be, so we thanked her, turned back to the very large map, and continued plotting our course.

Handy map located just at the top of trail at the edge of the Ritz Carlton property

Handy map located just at the top of trail at the edge of the Ritz Carlton property

The path was really quite breathtaking at times.  It was mostly gentle inclines and declines along a very safe coastline with plenty of room between us and certain death at the cliff’s edge. If you can comfortably walk a block uphill this trail is no problem at all.

This is a gratuitous photo of the coastline added for no particular reason than to remind me of how cool it was

This is a gratuitous photo of the coastline added for no particular reason than to remind me of how cool it was

After tromping around a bit, stopping to watch the ocean almost pummel a family who seemed to be getting a bit too close to the rocks at a tide pool, and taking it all in, we were ready to camp on our original beach. Start to finish, the hike was about 3.5 miles.  I’m not a lay on the beach for hours kinda guy, so I’ll just say it was a lot like every beach experience I’ve ever had…except prettier…with fewer people…and a bit more peaceful. Between beach time and lunch we dropped in on a little spot off Napili Hau that we’d learned about from Samira at Pineapple Grill (in my Day 4 post here).

She wrote down recommendations and one of them was a little hole in the wall called Ono Kau Kau. She drew a heart around the Kalua Pig, so we knew what we had to do. A little random searching, quick turn near the Times Market off the 30, up about 3 blocks and we find..

Just a little out of the way spot we never would have looked for without a pre-qualified recommendation

Just a little out of the way spot we never would have looked for without a pre-qualified recommendation

I don’t like to judge books by their covers, but there’s no way we stop here without a recommendation.
There’s a layer of cheese about the spot that screams either really bad processed crap or hidden gem with great food. We ordered up the Kalua pork and Lau Lau mixed plate and got ready to find out which was true.  Lau Lau is meat wrapped and steamed inside a banana leaf, so it kind of looks like collard greens on the outside with a big hunk of meat inside.  By the way, when I placed my order the little Chinese woman and I had this exchange

Her: what’s your name?
Me: Omar
Her: O-M-?
Me: A-R.
Her: O-M-A-R…*pauses to think*…Omah…like Obama?!? *chuckles to self*
Me: *polite smile*
Me: (sarcastic internal monologue) Riiiiight.  Yep, just like Obama, except you know, not at all. Meh, I’ll gladly take people making connections to my being Black with the Harvard-educated leader of the free world over some scandal involving a high-profile celebrity or the many less-flattering ones that strangers sometimes make.  I digress.

Quick aside, next to the spot was a little fruit stand/deal maker guy named Yasser–from South Carolina. I hope to report back on his deals, but for now, we did take one of these

Fresh pineapple is hard to beat.

Fresh pineapple is hard to beat. Anyone’s guess what the random things in the foreground are

Delicious.  Actually, we didn’t end up buying anything from Yasser the deal maker, but he was a nice enough guy (more about him on Day 6)

Back to the pig, here’s the photo

This was dramatically more tasty than it looks in this photo.  Books and covers and all that

This was dramatically more tasty than it looks in this photo. Books and covers and all that

All I can say is damn. The little Chinese carry out spot on Maui did not disappoint. That’s cabbage mixed in with the pork, there was nice work on pepper and related seasonings, and the smoky Kalua pork was as advertised. Good choice, Samira. And for $11 on a plate that two people could share, it was a very cheap lunch.

For dinner: The rest of Star Noodle’s menu plus Victor, bartender extraordinaire

We decided to skip Merriman’s in favor of a return trip to Star Noodle (check the Day 3 recap HERE). We imagined that a trip to Merriman’s was going to be pricey, and there’s a fair chance we’d have asked for the tasting menu and had a glorious evening–and ignored our carefully crafted budget. Plus, our experience with Alex and the first run at Star Noodle was very good, so it was a very good, moderately less expensive alternative.

We showed up at 7:30p.m. on a Sunday, took the first available seats (which were at the bar), and 30 minutes later we were holed up and ready for a solid round two. Returning to a restaurant on a vacation is fraught with pitfalls. What if the first night was a fluke? What if we are missing something more interesting? What if Alex was their one solid server or we didn’t end up with fun table neighbors or we ordered something and it just wasn’t as good? Okay, honestly these are dumb problems to worry about, I’ll own that, but it was on my mind. Whatever, on to the experience.

First up, we took bar seats. I think they have one too many place settings, as I shared half a space with the set up items for the bar, but this is a small thing. Our bartender was a dude named Victor, an Inglewood (L.A.) transplant with a good sense of humor, great menu knowledge, and a willingness to engage. Makes me wonder if all servers shouldn’t start out as bartenders. More on Victor in a minute.  As mentioned in our earlier post, we’d made quick work of the Vietnamese crepe, the garlic noodles, ahi avo, pohole salad and Brussels sprouts on our first trip, so this was to be a new experience of some of the things we couldn’t make room for the first time.

Star Noodle does drinks well. I like drinks that are spicy or ginger forward. I’d had the Stargarita, SN’s take on an island-ized version of a margarita, on the first night, so knew that would be good. I opted for asking Victor to freestyle and he created what I think was a muddled jalapeño margarita. Sitting at the bar, I watched him make it. Nice work. And it was good. Thinking about it I want to go back and tip him again.

Speaking of Victor, let me tell you, he is a guy you want to have on the other side of the bar when you go to Star Noodle. Hell, he’d probably be a fun guy to grab a drink with after work. It isn’t just the pour, though that was a proper pour. Victor fit very nicely into my belief about how I want to eat on Maui. We talked local food, small, local restaurants, holes in the wall, and even spendy spots…and he had them all. He wasn’t a big fan of Maui Revealed, though not for the reasons I thought. I assumed his issue was that guide books can ruin the experience for locals while creating fun ones for tourists. But his point–which is well taken–was that one of the better ways to get to know Maui was to ask a local. Now, I told him that not every local spends their time exploring, and I’d talked to a few who didn’t have cool hikes or out of the way places to share, so it isn’t always true that talking to people who live in an area is the best way to experience the area. Still, the point was a good one and I like conversations better than books, too.

Victor was a good guy who talked about enjoying time with his four youngsters and gave us great suggestions top to bottom on what to order. Being from Southern California, I felt connected to Victor in a way that was even different than my experience with Alex two days earlier. Both were down to earth guys, but very different experiences. The other great thing about Victor is he knows what seems like every deal for food on the island. Ask him where to get good, cheap food and then sit back and be surprised at the list. Food is important, but once you reach a qualifying level of good, the difference is the people. So many restaurants get this wrong. Star Noodle got it right, twice.

The food started flying pretty quickly. First up was the kim chi

This was perfectly acceptable kim chi, according to my less than discerning tastebuds

This was perfectly acceptable kim chi, according to my less than discerning tastebuds

I’m not Korean, nor am I any more than an occasional kimchi eater. But this met my needs, so if you generally find favor with kimchi but don’t know what “good” kimchi tastes like, this will do the trick. Not saying it’s not good, I liked it. I’m just saying I lack the knowledge based on which to help anyone else rate it.  Next up was the Filipino bacon and egg and the Vietnamese crepe.
This dish was interesting. A 62 degree egg is apparently a thing, (the perfect temperature at which to poach an egg, according to some chefs) and that’s what came on this skillet, along with cubed hunks of pork belly. Hard to go wrong with pork belly, really. Wife didn’t care for this one too much, but I liked it. Quick aside, I have a lot of Filipinos in my immediate family and can I say I’ve never once heard any of them mention this dish, nor cook it at any gatherings. I’ll need to ask about this when I get home. Still, the pork belly had nice crispness and a mix of fatty and meaty pieces and I’d never had a 62 degree egg before so all I can say is its like a slightly under poached egg Benedict. Not bad,  but not my favorite.

One more photo of the Vietnamese Crepe. So good.

One more photo of the Vietnamese Crepe. So good.

I already said everything I had to say about this dish the first time around. Except that the coconut milk in the dish was even better and the crepe-slash-taco was even crispier on round two. This dish wins on flavor, texture, creativity and fun while eating. Best thing on the menu.

While eating, we struck up a conversation with Ram and Shritha from Chandler, Arizona, who were next to us at the bar.   Nice couple, first time on Maui, very interested in good food. We gave them some recs here and they actually gave us a handful of recommendations in Arizona, including Mariscos Sinaloa, their first date spot. Can’t wait to try it in my next trip to the desert.  We recommended the Vietnamese crepe (what else) and away they went. They seemed pleased and I don’t think they were just being polite. It was fun trading food stories/recs with them.  I hope they enjoy the rest of the trip.  We wound down the night with Pad Thai and hot and sour noodles.

Noodle dish with smokey ham that worked very well

Noodle dish with smokey ham that worked very well

I’ll skip the Pad Thai. It was, well, Pad Thai. Exactly what you’d expect. This brings up an interesting point Wife made. Is there such a thing as extraordinary Pad Thai? I mean, more broadly, are there some foods that, by their nature and the ingredient limitations can be very good but never great? To take a boring example, toast can only ever get so good, right? You can have great bread or great jam and even have it toasted to your preferred level of doneness, but even with all those things can it ever yield you a spectacular piece of toast? I digress. The hot and sour noodle dish was very nice, with its smoked prosciutto soaking into the broth, the lime and the kick from the sauce adding some heat.  This one was, in fact, very very good.

We skipped dessert this go round (or, more accurately, ate the rest of our Leoda’s pie back at the condo). Then, as we were getting up to leave Victor dropped another gem on us.  I can’t share it right now, but it has to do with the road to Hana. So, if you’re hitting Maui, drop in on Victor behind the bar at Star Noodle, tell him the guy from San Diego who talked alot sent you. To get back to our 10-day index of our 2013 trip to Maui, click here.  To continue on to Day 6, click here.

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