going holoholo to lana`i (part 1 of 3): hotel lana`i and lana`i city grille

It’s a flawless morning in Lahaina when my gal pal Janet and I board Expeditions Ferry for the 45-minute journey to the neighbor island of Lana‘i. Formerly known as the “Pineapple Isle” because it once produced 75 percent of the world’s pineapple, Lana‘i has now been dubbed “Hawai‘i’s Most Enticing Island” due to its peaceful seclusion.

The sea is calm as we cruise past several surfers paddling in waters near the harbor. As Lahaina begins to fade into the background, the ferry gently rocks from side to side, then front to back, as we make our way through the Kealaikahiki Channel. The crossing goes by quickly, and we soon see Lana‘i’s famous landmark at the gateway to Manele Harbor: Pu‘u Pehe (Sweetheart Rock).

No need to rent a car on Lana‘i, except if you’re planning to explore the back roads. In that case, you’ll want to rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle so you can access some of the island’s more remote locations. Otherwise, Lana‘i’s inter-resort shuttle will take you to and from the ferry, and provide unlimited rides between the Manele Bay Hotel, Hotel Lana‘i, and The Lodge at Koele. It operates daily with pick ups every 30 minutes; the cost is $36.46, including tax, per person per stay.

For our first night on Lana‘i, Janet and I have reservations at the quaint, historic Hotel Lana‘i. Built in 1923 by pineapple pioneer James Dole as a retreat for his executives and important guests, Hotel Lana‘i has ten guestrooms and an adjacent caretaker cottage. It was the only hotel on the island until the two major resorts, now operated by the Four Seasons, were constructed. Hotel Lana‘i is also the home of Lana‘i City Grille, where we’ll be dining this evening.

Painted pale yellow with white trim, the plantation-style building is impeccably maintained and very welcoming. As Janet and I ascend the white staircase leading to the hotel’s lobby, we feel like we’re taking a step back in time—nearly a century! Owner Mike Charles takes us on a tour and tells us room rates range from $99 for a standard room to $199 for the private cottage (I find out that’s where I’ll be spending the night, while Janet will have one of the four rooms in the main building with an adjoining lanai.)

Mike remodeled virtually everything at the hotel when he took over in 2007, leaving only the original hardwood floors and the walls, which are adorned with classic wainscoting. Since the hotel has single-wall construction, there are no phones and no TVs, except in the cottage. Behind the restaurant is a sizeable “ballroom” which can be rented for special events. “We can do it all just like the big guys,” Mike says proudly.

Janet and I find the service at Hotel Lana‘i so gracious and welcoming we instantly feel like members of the ‘ohana. Rooms are nicely appointed with rattan blinds, and ceiling fans with huge leaf blades. Beds are embellished with gorgeous Hawaiian quilts, and all artwork is by local artist Mike Carroll. In my closet is a mini-fridge, ironing board and iron, cooler, and an umbrella, which will come in handy since a light upcountry rain has begun falling. Hotel Lana‘i’s central location in Lana‘i City is convenient for exploring the nearby shops and eateries on foot.

Speaking of eating, it’s time for dinner! Janet and I are seated at a quiet corner table at Lana‘i City Grille. The hotel’s restaurant is separated into two rooms, and the cozy ambiance makes you feel as though you’re dining in the home of a treasured friend. Old-fashioned light fixtures set a soothing mood, while soft island-style music plays in the background.

Our server, Teresa, is originally from Poland and made her way to Lana‘i via Wisconsin. Now that’s an unusual progression, I’d say! We order cocktails: a margarita for Janet and a lemon drop for me. Bartender Mary Lou really knows her stuff—Janet’s margarita has just the right balance between sweet and tart. We find out from Teresa Mary Lou’s secret to the perfect margarita: freshly squeezed lime juice instead of the typical concentrate. My lemon drop is excellent, but strong. I’ll definitely have to stop at one.

Restaurant manager Michelle Kommes stops by to greet us. She tells us Maui celebrity chef Bev Gannon, a close friend of the hotel’s owners, serves as culinary advisor. Several items on the menu at Lana‘i City Grille can also be found at Hali‘imaile General Store and Joe’s in Wailea, like the famous meatloaf. “A recent guest had the meatloaf for dinner four nights in a row,” Michelle laughs. She says Executive Chef Warren Seta puts his own spin on Bev’s classics in addition to offering original signature menu items.

Janet and I start our meal with the crab cakes ($14) and the pulled pork won tons ($11). The crab cakes are incredibly plump, light, and airy, and the taste of crab comes through beautifully. They’re topped with fresh tomato corn salsa and accompanied by a chipotle remoulade that delivers just the right amount of heat. The won tons are served in a round woven basket, and they’re positively addictive. The outside is fried to a perfect crispy texture, while the filling is creamy and divine. Sweet chili boursin aioli and shoyu dipping sauce pair especially well with the won tons.

Next we share the baby field greens ($12) and the beet carpaccio ($12). The salad is presented beautifully inside a ring of grilled squash that has a delicate smoky flavor. It’s surrounded by bits of dried fruit, toasted pecans, and aged blue cheese, and dressed with balsamic fig vinaigrette. The beet carpaccio is to die for: luscious burgundy-colored beets with crispy goat cheese phyllo, pistachio crumble, and white truffle vinaigrette.

For her entree, Janet has selected the BBQ baby back ribs ($28), served with mashed potatoes, asparagus, and carrots, and slathered with citrus barbeque sauce. She finds them to be extremely tender, very meaty, and very messy! The hot towels Teresa brings come in handy. My yummy “tower of meatloaf” ($28) rises up from a pillow of horseradish potato puree with chunky asparagus and carrots served alongside. It’s also coated with the tasty citrus barbecue sauce. The portion is so generous I save half of it for the next morning’s breakfast. We take our dessert to go (old-fashioned double chocolate cake with peanut butter ganache—$8) and plan to eat it for breakfast as well.

After dinner, I sink into my comfy bed with pillow top mattress and snuggle down under the Hawaiian quilt. It’s chilly tonight from the afternoon’s rain, and so quiet I won’t have to use the earplugs I travel with religiously.

The next morning, I awake to sunshine and birds singing cheerily outside my windows. Hotel Lana‘i has a complimentary continental breakfast that’s not your average: eight different teas, coffee, muffins, scones, mini-quiches, fresh fruit, juices, and granola. I also chow my leftover meatloaf and it’s even good cold! Janet and I share the cake and it’s ooey, gooey, and oh, so good.

Hotel Lana‘i and Lana‘i City Grille are absolute gems, and Janet and I reluctantly say goodbye to our new-found friends. Stay tuned for more tales from our adventure on Lana‘i.

–heidi pool

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