Not so much on introductory chatter today, let’s get right to the food. Today was a day of transition, but before we get there, let’s talk about breakfast.
Breakfast at Gazebo
Wife swears by Yelp. Not for recommendations, necessarily, but as a filtering tool between equally unknown options. So although we’d had recommendations from industry locals Victor, Samira, Amy and someone else, the Yelp was a good way to augment our knowledge about our breakfast choice called Gazebo. It was especially useful for this one point: the line was 40 people long when it opened at 7:30! Fortunately for us, Wife spent a couple minutes on Yelp, knew that was likely, and we decided to make an effort to get there early. We showed up at 6:45–and weren’t the first people in line!
We wouldn’t get up at home extra early for this meal. In fact, I’m an early riser and thanks to Bootique Fitness Wife has become one, too, so this wasn’t a major extra effort. We made the 15 minute trek up to Napili Shores Resort, quickly found parking and descended a well-manicured property to the almost front of the line and a traveling family from Vancouver B.C. who’d spent 9 hours in the airport thanks to the good folks at Allegiant Air. An interesting 45 minutes went by talking about travel and food and watching whales breech and we were ready to sit down to this view
Not a bad way to start the morning I’d say. Our server, Christine, was delightful. I mean really excited to help us at 7:30 on a Monday morning, which was pleasantly surprising. We had plenty of pre-opening time to decide on our food options and settled on sharing the famous macadamia nut/banana/pineapple pancakes and a scramble with Portuguese sausage, onion and some veggies, topped with cheese. First, the eggs
Which was one of the best egg dishes I’ve had in the past year. It’s not to say it was a culinary wonder, I do have a pretty low bar and don’t normally love omelets anyway, but this WAS good. And Christine split it for us without us asking, which was thoughtful. Most omelets seem to be quite dry because the ingredients don’t mesh well together and so you have this dry egg portion and then whatever it’s filled with. This one was better integrated than most (likely because Wife requested it as a scramble rather than an omelet, since she also prefers a more well-integrated egg product). Oh, and it came out in maybe 5 minutes but was still very fresh and hadn’t been pre-made. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the potatoes (or home fries or whatever they were). These were so much better than what usually accompanies an egg breakfast. They were on the crispy side, seasoned well and not at all greasy. There’s normally no reason to mention breakfast potatoes, but these were good. I’d actually recommend ordering a side if you choose a dish without them. Also on the table was this
Yes, that’s whipped cream shaped like a wave. And yes, those are big. And yes, I probably should stop using the fact that Wife and I shared the dish as an excuse to order it. But man they were good. And we gave the coconut syrup a little try–excellent. I know, coconut doesn’t seem like it’d be good in syrup. It seems like it’d be overly sweet, maybe too much like high-pulp orange juice, with the bits getting in the way of enjoying the food. But it didn’t. Gazebo turned out to be a solid spot for our last meal on this side of the island. Barring something unforeseen, we wouldn’t be back to Lahaina for two more years, so this was a pleasant finale.
Return trip to Yasser by Ono Kau Kau, Iao Valley and Mama’s Fish House for lunch
On our first trip to Ono Kau Kau we’d come across the enterprising young guy (whose name I learned was Yasser–from South Carolina) who was selling fruit and making deals. I’d started chatting him up about the Bluewater Rafting adventure when I got sidetracked and so wanted to come back and see if he had a deal for us. Yasser was a charming guy, as most salespeople are, and had a great southern accent, which seemed as out of place as one might expect on a tropical Island coming out of a guy named Yasser. Still, he had clearly learned southern hospitality and was the least pushy sales guy I’ve met in quite some time. Bad luck for him that Wife and I had the misfortune of sitting through the abomination that was a Welk Resort timeshare presentation recently (I highly DO NOT recommend), so there was no way we’d give a moment more of our lives to another one. Seriously, I wish I had time to catalogue how wretched that Welk presentation–ambush is more appropriate–really was. Needless to say, we’d have been easy sales for Yasser and his southern gentility but for that hiccup a few weeks earlier.
Still, he was going to offer us a $260 package for 2, including 5-hour rafting & snorkeling tour, for $50 and all we had to do was watch a 90-minute presentation about Wyndham Hotels. Bad luck, because we bought the tour anyway direct from the company from some much less helpful woman named Melanie who has not business being in customer service (clearly she went to the Washington, D.C. fast-food school of customer service training—awful). But if you are ever stopping by Ono Kau Kau or Ono Tacos and wanting a good deal, say hi to Yasser and pick up a pineapple while you’re there.
Packed up and off to the ‘Iao Valley
Before we left for vacation I consulted the Twitterverse for recommendations of stuff to do on Maui. We’d been there a few times before but thought people may have interesting suggestions of things to explore. One such thing came from a friend of mine named Jeff who builds super computers. He said we ought to check out the ‘Iao Needle—and given his brain capacity I thought we ought to give it a whirl. ‘Iao (pronounced like ‘Meow’ without the M, so says the park ranger) Valley was in a state park and I’m glad we stopped.
It’s a bit of a trek through a part of the island I don’t suspect is as tourist heavy as Lahaina or Wailea/Kihei. You drive like your going to Wailuku and then instead of going to the shopping mall you cut over and ascend this windy, lush road and come out onto this.
This isn’t an amusement park, it’s a natural beauty that photography and nature lovers will really enjoy. I took this
One cool thing about the ‘Iao Valley is that even if you aren’t big on nature you can go to support something your family members who are into it without giving up a whole day. Everybody wins! It takes less than 30 minutes to stroll casually through the whole area and the only thing even moderately strenuous is a few dozen stairs up to the lookout. Very doable even if you are in only moderate shape. As we walked around we could see various trails and structures and a lookout post that I assume was used as part of the military defense efforts in early days. But as we made our way back from the lookout post we stumbled upon a little scene whose story must be told.
Wife and I are walking through some overhanging green trees with massive branches that look kind of like palm fronds. As we round a corner we notice a rope “do not enter” barrier next to a short cliff that descends to a creek. Just then, as we turned to head to the lower tier, a Hawaiian family of five in shorts and t-shirts and armed with beach towels drift past us, under the rope barrier and down to the first landing area on this cliff. There was a 30-something person I took to be a mom, a robust 12-year old boy, a wiry boy about 7 or 8 years old, a teenage girl and an infant. *scratching head* Hmmm, I wonder what’s about to go down. We walked a few more feet so as to not be obviously watching them and then, of course, stopped to watch. It’s a little uncomfortable watching people disrobe, even when you sort of know they are just taking off top layers – which they were. Still, because we weren’t at a beach and there were posted signs about not doing exactly what they were doing the whole seen felt a little odd. The two women eased down to the another spot closer to this natural spring/river thing, precariously negotiating the infant who was kind of flopping in the wind a little bit like Michael Jackson’s baby over the balcony and the robust boy made his way out to a bit of a ledge that looked like a diving platform. In that moment I was reminded of the YMCA (who, by the way, spends 98 cents of every donated dollar on programs – donate to South Bay YMCA here), which is where kids in cities generally go to get their swim on. Imagine if your pool was a naturally occurring spring in the middle of a forest minutes from the city. Wow. For a moment, I wondered if the older members of this family were put off by the way this location was made into a tourist destination when it probably used to just be a place where people came to chill. That thought was fleeting because, after all, that family didn’t skip a beat and weren’t even thinking about everybody around them. The teenager launched himself into the air and a cannon ball and some moments later large splashes were seen and fun was apparently had. As we left the infant seemed to have been successfully passed into the water and was no longer precariously dangling. Good times.
Skipping to Mama’s Fish House – It’s not overpriced if it’s good
This post will end with lunch. A glorious, 2-hour experience with this in the background
We knew from our maiden voyage to Maui that Mama’s Fish House was good. My memory was that it was a bit overpriced and not as good as the hype. Clearly the four years passing had my mind playing tricks on me (yes, I was going to link to a video of the song, but then I listened to the lyrics through my adult lens and thought better of it. Please YouTube it if your nostalgia or curiosity meters are buzzing). More on the goodness of Mama’s in a moment. I can tell you, though, that our tastes have evolved in the span since we were last here. The things that are important when we eat out have grown and changed. The quality of the food–not just the taste–matters more than it used to and so does where the food came from. When I research places to go and eat now notions like “farm to table” aren’t trendy buzzwords, they are representations that keeping processed garbage out of my food matters. They are acknowledgments that there is a healthy, sustainable way to farm and produce food and one that simply uses up the land without concern for what we leave behind. Our view now is that we are fortunate to afford food that is grown responsibly provided by people who are paid commensurate with the dignity of their work. And the better I can do at convincing others with disposable income to demand responsibility and quality in their food and decent pay for the people who produce it, the sturdier my soapbox for voluntary, market-based shifts becomes. Yes, I am advocating for voting with our dollars, moving the market, selective support or whatever you might call it. *hopping down off soapbox*
Now, back to the food. First up was this salad
Here’s what was in the salad
Having a freshly made salad doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, and to many people it won’t be. But take a trip to a farm and see the labor that goes into producing these items on a small farm and I bet the appreciation will grow. This was a very fresh, very tasty and very healthy salad. Which was good because very little else on our plates fit that description. Next up was the Opakapaka marinated in lime and coconut milk served (how else) in a fresh coconut.
This wasn’t exactly a ‘light’ dish, but the preparation was unique and it didn’t last very long once it hit the table. Wife has a much more discerning sense of taste than I do, but the combination of the sweet coconut and citrus in the lime was really interesting and kind of lingered even after the bites were finished. I wouldn’t have thought it would be so good, but if they put this on the menu I’d order it again. Then we moved on to our entrees. I had a seared deepwater Ahi coated in ginger and sesame and served with ridiculously good Kalua Pig friend rice
This time I actually got a bit of a description
And Wife had grilled Ono with coconut rice, both of which were cooked perfectly.
I found the fish very good, but the sweet bananas (which tasted alot like ripe plantains but apparently weren’t) were a great accompaniment. I am writing this part of the story well after we’ve returned, so I can’t remember the specific flavors in this preparation other than the bananas. But I do remember that we talked quite a bit about what a great job the people in the kitchen did in cooking this fish. It’s an easy meal to mess up and not only did they get it right, they got it very, very right.
As the menu notes, this was caught by Chad Quedding, and that link shows that he is a fisherman with a family and a real person, not just a tool to make my vacation a little nicer. Thank you, Chad, I was happy to enjoy a bit of your hard work and I hope a decent portion of that $44 dollars made it to your family’s bank account.
Our experience at Mama’s was light years better than I remember it. I mean that about the food. Our server was, unfortunately, not particularly good. I hate to be so blunt about it, but I value the role a server has on the dining experience and this one fell dramatically short. It was like pleasant counter service at a fast food place not real service at a highly acclaimed (and pricey) restaurant. There was nothing offensive or even bad about our server’s delivery, attentiveness or demeanor, but it might as well have been an order we placed into a drive-thru squawk box and then ate out by the water. Given how good the food actually was, this wouldn’t have been the worst alternative, but if you are going to have table service at a high-ish end restaurant it ought to be great service. Not everyone wants to share their personal business, I get that, but have the skills to get a sense that we are interested in what you think about the menu, about the island, about flavor profiles, etc. and have that conversation. Not everyone wants that out of a dining experience, but in my opinion the servers who bother to notice what various customers want are the ones who do the best work and succeed the most (see my post about Samira from Pineapple Grill here for an example). And they are certainly the servers I look for. It reminds me of what I enjoy so much about Tiffany at Adams Avenue Grill, Blanca at Parkhouse Eatery and Ethan at El Take it Easy (all in San Diego). Three people whose opinions and demeanor enhance a dining experience because they are friendly and care about the experience people who visit have. More than once I’ve chosen between two very good places based on which one I know has better service. This stuff matters.
The location of Mama’s is stunning, and it’s not too far from the town of Paia (which I wrote about here), plus the food is really spectacular. So my slightly overzealous critique of the service notwithstanding, this is a place not to be missed. It is an expensive place to eat by most reasonable standards, but the food is damn good and you don’t vacation on Maui because you are looking to save money. In fact, I’m reminded of this little gem that I borrowed from the site of Tommy Gomes of Catalina Offshore Products.
Over the course of the rest of the day we dropped in on this little place called Guava, Gouda & Caviar in Wailea Gateway close to our new digs in South Maui.
I mention this place for a couple reasons. First, it’s a convenient alternative to spending a ton of money if you want to get stuff for lunch or a picnic. Second, well no, that’s really the only reason I mentioned it. The store clerks were both extremely friendly and helpful and despite their recommendation to check out Hali’Imaile General Store in Up Country, our visit helped nudge us towards a great dining experience later in the trip at Monkeypod Kitchen (more on that later). GG&C turned out to have a wide selection of wine and cheese and the owner was in the process of developing an on-island farm, so at least some of the items would soon be more locally produced.
In addition to the above delights, GG&C also happened to have a little Craft Beer on hand. There aren’t as many great places for quality beer as there are in San Diego (over 60 breweries, guide here), but Maui Brewing Company has some very good stuff. With the end of the world temporarily behind us, I cracked open one of their tributes to the Maya (the Aloha B’ak’tun, with its chili and cocoa, was a favorite – pictured below)
Our transition from the pseudo-city environs of Lahaina to the more resort like atmosphere of Wailea now complete, we nestled in to while away Day 6 with this in our field of view.
This all set the stage for some very fun adventures to come. Click here to return to the index of our March 2013 trip to Maui.