lahaina fish co.: unbeatable location, awesome new menu

lahaina fish coIt’s one thing to dine at water’s edge. It’s quite another to dine right over the water while listening to waves crashing beneath you. Lahaina Fish Co., where have you been all my life?

After parking in the Lahaina Center parking lot (Lahaina Fish Co. validates for three hours), Janet and I stroll down Front St. to the restaurant. Outside is a wooden statue of a bearded fisherman wearing a bright yellow hooded slicker and slinging a red snapper over his shoulder. A colorful lei around his neck reminds us we’re in Hawai‘i, and that he’s not the Gorton’s fisherman.

The restaurant’s two-story interior has a nostalgic feel reminiscent of the 19th and early 20th centuries: rich, dark wood trim; creamy wainscoting; glass blocks and stamped tin ceilings; and an old gasoline pump with a sign over it saying “Fill Up Here Lunch & Dinner.” Today’s fresh catch selections—ahi, opah, monchong, mahimahi, ono, and opakapaka—are displayed on a sign at the hostess station.

Janet and I are seated upstairs in the open-air dining room overlooking the ocean. A comfortable breeze, along with ceiling fans, keep us cool, while a lone stand-up paddle boarder glides serenely by, and Mother Nature gears up for another sensational Maui sunset.

Lahaina Fish Co. recently debuted its new menu, and it’s both ambitious and comprehensive. Classic comfort foods like seafood chowder ($5.95), fish and chips ($16.95), BBQ pork ribs ($25.95), and their award-winning prime rib ($29.95 for 8 oz.; $34.95 for 12 oz.) share top billing with healthy options like sesame crusted tofu stir-fry ($23.95), bamboo steamed mahimahi ($31.95), and cherry balsamic chicken and quinoa salad ($18.95). Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free items are designated as such.

Server Bur gives us the menu run-down, and mentions all produce used at Lahaina Fish Co. is purchased locally from a farm in Kula. Janet and I had previewed the menu on the drive to Lahaina, and Bur confirms the items we’d preselected are some of his favorites.

Lahaina Fish Co. has an extensive selection of specialty martinis and cocktails. The Cucumber Lavender Mojito ($13) jumps off the page at me (Myers aged rum, fresh lime, and mint). It’s crisp and refreshing—exactly as advertised. Janet is the designated driver for the evening, but she has a sip of my cocktail and agrees that it’s exceptional.

We begin our meal with the ahi katsu ($14.95) and Tahitian ceviche ($11.95). The ahi sashimi grade tuna wrapped in nori, panko crusted, and flash fried. It’s served medium rare, with wasabi ginger butter sauce and wakame ocean salad. The ahi is superbly tender and cooked to perfection. The panko gives it the right amount of crunch, and the wasabi ginger butter sauce is positively addictive. Janet was still talking about it two weeks later! I personally don’t usually care for ocean salad, but I’m here to tell you this one rocks the house. It must be the toasted sesame seeds—they make the salad pop with flavor.

The Tahitian ceviche is presented in a sundae glass surrounded by corn tortilla chips. Fresh ono is combined with lime, cucumber, and coconut milk, and topped with bay shrimp. The ingredients are finely chopped, making it easy to scoop with the chips, and a squeeze of fresh lime brings it all together.

Next, Janet and I share the Upcountry arugula salad ($9.95) and artichoke heart fries ($4.95). The salad is composed of Maui grown arugula, beets, avocado, and toasted macadamia nuts, dressed with Italian vinaigrette and balsamic drizzle, and garnished with thick parmesan shavings. Alongside is a Surfing Goat Dairy chevre crostini. The arugula tastes like it was just picked this morning, the avocado is flawless, and the crostini nicely balances the acidity of the dressing. The fries are crispy on the outside with tender artichoke heart goodness on the inside, and the accompanying truffle aioli sauce nicely complements.

As we sit back and reflect on the great food we’ve had so far, the other patrons become quite animated as someone spots a whale spouting in the distance. It’s late in whale season, but this is still the real deal. Everyone oohs and aahs as the whale performs for us with energetic pectoral and tail slaps.

For her entrée, Janet has selected the Taste of Lahaina winning seafood lau lau ($33.95). This dish is a thing of utter beauty: a medley of mahimahi, shrimp, scallops, Moloka‘i sweet potato, and spinach is sautéed in oyster and sherry sauce until burnished and served over a green ti leaf in the place of honor on a segmented koa wood plate. When we taste the lau lau, it’s obvious why it’s an award winner—hearty, almost meaty, and richly flavored. The lau lau is accompanied by sautéed kale, jasmine rice, and a killer haupia that’s utterly light and silky. This is Janet’s first experience eating lau lau, and it’s a huge success.

I couldn’t resist the 8 oz. prime rib ($29.95). It’s Hawaiian sea salt crusted black angus meat slow roasted in Lahaina Fish Co.’s “electric imu”—an Alto-Shaam cook and hold oven that cooks the meat gently at low temperature so that it’s tenderized by its own natural enzymes. My serving is cooked to a perfect medium rare, and it is indeed exceedingly tender, juicy, and pleasantly spicy. Maui onion mashed potatoes, creamed horseradish, and sautéed kale bring this dish together.

Besides the artichoke heart fries, Lahaina Fish Co. has a nice selection of vegetable side dishes, including pan-seared Portobello mushrooms ($5.95), Big Island cucumber and four bean salad ($4.95), spicy seared asparagus and almonds ($6.95), and fresh harvest kale salad ($5.95).

The wine list contains a variety of primarily domestic whites, reds, and sparkling wines, and there’s even a section of organic and sustainable selections. Prices range from $8.50 to $12 for a glass, and from $28 for a bottle of Paul Dolan pinot noir from Mendocino County to $119 for Silver Oak cabernet from Alexander Valley, California.

Sunset this evening is a symphony of blues, purples, and pinks. As darkness settles in, the ocean turns to cobalt, the white lights of Lahaina Harbor come to life, and ocean buoys flash their red, green, and white beacons.

The nice folks at Lahaina Fish Co. have prepared a special dessert sampler for us, composed of their famous fudge brownie sundae ($6.95), chocolate mousse ($5.95), and key lime pie ($5.95). The decadent brownie is topped with Lappert’s vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate ice cream, and it’s moist and chewy like a good brownie should be; the chocolate mousse is a little mound of satiny perfection; and the key lime pie—a recipe from Lahaina Fish Co.’s sister restaurant “Saba Rock” in the British Virgin Islands—is divine. Janet is the “dessert person” of our dynamic duo, but tonight I outdo her with these outstanding sweet concoctions.

After-dinner drink selections include Grand Marnier, Bailey’s Irish Cream or Amaretto on the rocks, and Courvoisier V.S. (all $12), as well as Warre’s Otima ($10), a ten-year-old tawny port with a delicate palate. I’m a huge port fan, but I’ll save it for next time. And believe me…there definitely will be a next time at Lahaina Fish Co., which has earned a well-deserved spot on my “favorites” list.

–heidi pool

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