humuhumunukunukuapua‘a: the quintessential tropical dining experience

HUMU HUMUHumuhumunukunukuapua‘a at the Grand Wailea Resort has all the things Maui dreams are made of. Who wouldn’t go gaga over dining under a gigantic thatched-roof palapa sitting on stilts over a million-gallon saltwater lagoon that’s teeming with colorful tropical fish? And with Chef Mike Lofaro returning to his roots (he began his professional career at this very restaurant) with a fresh, new menu, there’s plenty to celebrate at this exceptionally elegant eating establishment.

Arriving at Humu, Janet and I are immediately taken by the decor: it’s wood, wood, and more wood—the entire restaurant, with the exception of the bar (it’s koa), is built with ‘ohi‘a from the Big Island. The intricately woven wood railings framing the restaurant have a sensuous quality that’s nicely counterbalanced by substantial wood chairs with bright blue cushions. As sunset settles in, the restaurant’s backdrop is like an impressionist painting with palm trees and tiki torches silhouetted against a pink and gray sky. It’s no wonder Humu was named “Best Ambiance” three years in a row by readers of the Maui News.

In a setting like Humu’s, it’s nearly mandatory to begin with a tropical concoction to get the evening rolling. After hearing recommendations from our server, Angela, Janet selects the Tsunami ($16.50)—Absolut vodka, mango puree, passion fruit juice, and Mango Passion liqueur—while I go with Pele’s Revenge (coconut milk, and Cruzan white and dark rums, served in a whole coconut—$18.50). Janet says the gorgeous pink Tsunami has a nice balance of sweet and tart, while I find the Pele’s Revenge to be oh, so smooth, luscious, and way better than a pina colada. While sipping our cocktails, we nosh on freshly baked taro buns that are an appealing shade of purple inside.

Servers at Humu are dressed in traditional Polynesian attire: single-shoulder mu‘u mu‘u for the ladies, and lava-lava with matching shirt for the men. All wear kukui nut lei, representing the tradition of aloha. Tranquil Hawaiian music plays softly in the background and, aided by our cocktails, Janet and I are slowly drifting into the relaxation zone.

But we’re also getting mighty hungry. We start with the Hawaiian Island Prawns ($17) and Chicken and Pine Nut Dumplings ($15). The prawns are aromatic and nicely charred. They’re surrounded by a savory Thai ginger and tomato broth with mango jam, and large tapioca pearls which add a pleasantly chewy texture. The dumplings are tasty packets of flavor bathed in hoisin sauce, served atop crisp lettuce and garnished with candied citrus.

Near where Janet and I are seated, I spy a round table that’s perched over the lagoon on its own private deck. Angela says it’s “Table 70,” which can accommodate a party of two to eight guests. She says you just have to be the first to reserve it for a particular evening. It’s an absolutely stunning location for that very important occasion.

Angela brings our Seared Day Boat Scallop ($18 as appetizer/$32 as entree). It’s cooked to mouthwatering perfection, and rests on a crispy parsnip potato cake, with citrus segments and basil blossoms as finishing touches. From the Raw Bar, we’ve selected the Hawaiian Ahi Tartare ($20): creamy nuggets of ahi served with perilla leaf, soft herbs, green onion, and toasted cumin on a bed of juicy cucumber slices. Not only is it a work of art, it’s a veritable symphony of flavors, and the fragrance from the herbs is positively heavenly.

For our next course, we’ve chosen the Surfing Goat Cheese and Melon salad ($17). It’s a vibrant masterpiece of goat cheese and watermelon, with peppery arugula, salty prosciutto crackling, tangy red wine gastrique, and bright yellow marigold petals sprinkled on top. The contrast of textures is quite spectacular—incredibly juicy watermelon (we find out later from Chef Lofaro just why it’s so succulent) perfectly offset by savory goat cheese that doesn’t overpower in the slightest.

But will we have room for our entrees? You bet. Janet dives into her Crispy Hawaiian Snapper ($40). Tonight the snapper is opakapaka served with its skin nicely crisped (hence the name) over coconut fried rice, surrounded by Thai American sauce. This delectable dish is nicely enhanced with dried cherries, edamame, and slivered toasted almonds.

My entree is the Potato Crusted Taz Salmon ($36). Server Angela says this dish is Chef Mike’s favorite menu item. It’s easy to see why: the salmon is crusted to perfection, and enhanced by porcini, Kula corn, delicate Kahuku sea asparagus, and dashi emulsion. Smoked bonito flakes in the emulsion contribute a comfortable earthiness to the dish.

Speaking of Chef Mike, he’s stopped by our table to make sure we’re enjoying our dinner. He’s happy to be back at Humu presenting his take on island cuisine. “I feel very comfortable returning to Humu and refining the menu,” he says. “I’m aiming for unique tropical flavor combinations with a Caribbean influence by incorporating more lime juices and getting away from Asian-style flavors like shoyu.” And about the watermelon in the salad we’d savored earlier: “It’s compressed watermelon that we vacuum pack to seal in the juices,” says Chef Mike. Now that’s what I call innovation.

Other tempting menu items include Korean Style Fried Chicken ($29), a whole chicken served with gochujang sauce, pickled vegetables, and jasmine rice; Brioche and Lemongrass Crusted Rack of Domestic Lamb ($44), with Asian ratatouille, black bean sauce, and asparagus; and Humu’s Surf and Turf ($64), grilled lobster tail and five-ounce filet mignon, with asparagus and roasted mushrooms, red wine reduction, and garlic mashed potatoes.

Humu offers hand-caught lobster (either Hawaiian spiny for $58 per pound or Kona Maine for $52 per pound) that you can select yourself from their saltwater lagoon. It’s prepared steamed or grilled and served with Humu’s fried rice. There’s a two-pound minimum per order.

The menu also contains “‘ohana style” side dishes like roasted garlic mashed potatoes ($10), toasted coconut jasmine rice ($10.50), glazed baby bok choy ($8), and cinnamon glazed baby carrots ($9).

Humu has a nice selection of traditional desserts as well as “liquid desserts” such as the Bailey’s Oreo Mud Slide ($16), Stolichnaya vodka, Bailey’s, and Kahlua blended with ice cream and Oreos; and the Espresso Tini (also $16), a chocolate rush of Godiva chocolate liqueur, Kahlua, and Stolichnaya vodka finished with house made espresso.

Janet and I opt for the Lemon Thyme Creme Brulee ($14), a new dessert menu item. We find it rich, creamy, and satisfying. On the side is a sweet roasted pear bavarian, covered with diced strawberries, kiwi, and pineapple; and a crunchy sesame tuile.

More than fully sated, Janet and I freshen up with steaming hot towels Angela has brought to our table. Our thoroughly enjoyable meal ends with Hawaiian estate semi-sweet, chocolate-dipped macaroons. Reluctant to hop right back into our car, we spend a few minutes browsing in the resort’s opulent boutiques. Ain’t life Grand?

–heidi pool

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