lahaina grill celebrates 20 years

My first trip to Lahaina Grill takes me back to 2004 on a romantic birthday trip with my then-boyfriend, now-husband Jojo. It was a highlight that became one of the many reasons why we fell in aloha with the island. Thanks to our concierge’s recommendation, that meal would be first of the many that I would celebrate at this restaurant.

Tonight in particular is a long-awaited girls’ night with friends Jamie and Jen. Dolled up in dresses and heels, we ventured into Lahaina Town on a Saturday evening strolling through the west side’s charming shops. We finally arrive at the historic Lahaina Inn right across from Martin Lawrence Galleries and find the restaurant busy as usual. It’s wise to get a reservation, though if you can wing it; it’s also fun to eat at the bar, get acquainted with the mix masters and people watch.
Since its doors opened in 1990 on Valentine’s Day, Lahaina Grill has enamored diners who have continued to swoon over the restaurant’s cuisine. Striking a fine balance between comfort and elegance, executive chef Arnulfo Gonzalez, who began as an apprentice when he joined the team in 1992, offers his rendition of classic dishes with island-fresh harvests and inspiration.

A quick peek at the company website and one will find endless accolades lead by Honolulu Magazine, whose readers have voted Lahaina Grill the best restaurant on Maui for 17 years in a row, as well as kudos from Food and Wine and Bon Appetit magazines. Chef and owner Jurg Munch runs a team of mostly veteran crew, comfortable with pairing wines and the wine list is meticulously crafted by sommelier Richard Olson III and has also earned its fair share of awards.

While I start off with a glass of champagne, Jamie goes for the gusto with a dirty martini, and Jen, who was a month away from her due date, opted to take it easy and have a few sips from my bubbly. Throughout the evening, our terrific server, Lisa Marino, gave service that was impeccable yet personable. We wanted to try the seasonal additions, so we relied on most of her suggestions. Having been with the restaurant for almost ten years, her culinary cred definitely runs high.

For starters, we scooped up paper-thin slices of Angus beef carpaccio with shavings of manchego cheese, brought nicely together by spicy mustard aioli and orange-infused olive oil. The fig and olive crostini added texture, while the mixed greens gave an herbaceous touch and slight tartness, overall a well rounded, successful first pick. Oven-roasted golden and red baby beets from Hana are sweet and earthy, and simply tossed with micro greens, aged balsamic and candied pecans. The crostini has a generous smear of toasted figs and goat cheese. Yes, I’ve mentioned fig in the first two dishes and I’m not complaining one bit.

The seared ahi replaced duck in this foie gras dish with a sweet fruit compote and Maui onion duck demi-glace, a French classic tweaked with island ingredients. The blue corn and panko flour-crusted chile relleno is elevated with chunks of tiger prawns, scallops and jack cheese, served on a bed of Kula corn relish, and Olowalu tomato and chile salsa, topped with buttery avocado and crispy wonton strips. The Cake Walk is a delicious trifecta of the lobster crab cake, rock shrimp cake and seared ahi cake dishes. And the escargot baked in curry and garlic butter will have fun with your bread if you let them.

For our entrée, we split the fish inspiration—Asiago cheese crusted opakapaka on herbed risotto, topped with grilled tiger prawns and finished with a delightful champagne lobster beurre blanc. I feel strongly that this special simply must graduate to the menu permanently!

The menu isn’t short of pleasurable options. The oven-roasted chicken breast is perfection embraced by crispy pancetta and filled with Hamakua mushrooms, braised apples, Kula spinach, and smoked mozzarella atop a lovely tomato risotto. The baked polenta stacked with tomatoes, grilled eggplant, marinated portobellos, roasted red bell pepper and drizzled with Maui onion sauce is satisfying even for non-vegetarians. Hearty and bold dishes like the lamb in coffee-cabernet demi-glace, and duck leg confit with thyme wild rice and plum wine reduction might just have enough cache to get that Honolulu Magazine vote for the 18th time.

Most will agree, girls’ night out isn’t complete until the sweet stuff gets laid out: the signature Road to Hana is appropriately heavenly and reminds me of a super-sized and refined Caramac treat. Pulled sugar arches over chocolate-encased layers of chocolate cake, chocolate sour cream mousse on a macadamia nut caramel
base in a puddle of swirly chocolate sauce. The flourless chocolate cake is made righteous with Kona coffee ice cream. When our chocolate indulgence sought intervention, the simply divine Kula lime tart heeded our call. And with that, we happily conclude another fabulous Lahaina Grill evening.

LAHAINA GRILL’S NEW
20 YEARS … 20 DOLLAR MENU

In celebration of 20 years, Lahaina Grill is offering a special $20 entrées menu at the bar on Sunday through Thursday evenings for the 6pm seating. Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling 667-5117 or emailing reservations@lahainagrill.com.

$20 entrées include many Lahaina Grill favorites: Tequila Shrimp and Firecracker Rice, Wild Pacific Salmon, Kalua Duck, Roasted Shelton Farms All-Natural Chicken, Chef Arnie’s Homemade Meatballs, Marcho Farms Center Cut Veal “Osso Buco” and Certified Angus Beef Braised Short Ribs. All entrées are served full portion at this reduced price. All visitors and kama‘aina are welcome to order from this special menu which is valid until December 19, 2010. Bon Appetit!

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