migrant … chef sheldon simeon: ‘come my house. eat.’

SheldonSimeonMaui’s own Sheldon Simeon won the hearts of viewers as “fan favorite” when he competed on Bravo TV’s “Top Chef” last year. During the competition he conquered the always exciting “Restaurant Wars” challenge with his concept of modern local cuisine with an ethnic twist. Now the chef who became famous on the national cooking stage for his creative, thoughtful cuisine, as well as his 300-watt smile and red beanie, is at the helm of newly opened Migrant at the Wailea Beach Marriott.

Janet and I are diehard “Top Chef” viewers, and we’re also huge Chef Sheldon fans. So we can hardly wait to try the fare at his new restaurant. Migrant is located lobby level, overlooking the vast Pacific. Servers look dapper in black attire with brick red and tan pinstripe aprons—the red color on the aprons matches the paint on the walls. Migrant shares a space with the hotel’s lounge, which lends itself to a lively, but not over-the-top atmosphere. A long high-top communal table separates the restaurant area from the lounge.

Server Lee, who’s from Israel via New York, greets us, and explains the menu is composed of small plates meant to be shared family style. The aforementioned menu is presented on a clipboard—a fun, playful touch. We immediately notice the Ahi Avo dish ($22), which Janet and I fondly remember from Chef Sheldon’s Star Noodle days. We’re not surprised to find it on Migrant’s menu, as Chef had told us during an interview he felt it was his finest creation. But since we’ve already had this particular dish several times, we must branch out.

While we contemplate the menu, Lee brings a wood cutting board with a bowl of chicaron (fried pork rinds) and a decanter of Hawaiian chili water perched on top. She encourages us to drink a shot of chili water with each chicaron. I’m not as adventurous in the heat department as Janet, so I gingerly dip a chicaron in the chili water before tasting it. The chicaron is so crisp it shatters in my mouth as I bite down, and I’m instantly sold. These tasty little nuggets are like sophisticated Corn Nuts, and I can’t stop eating them! They’d make a great snack while watching episodes of “Top Chef.” Janet has survived her shot of chili water, while I’m satisfied with the bit of kick provided by the “quick dip” method.

We begin with the Hummus Quartet ($18). Ample portions of hummus, babaganoush, feta mousse and raita (a yogurt-based dip) are accompanied by hunks of pita bread and lavosh, as well as luscious pitted kalamata and green olives. While we happily nosh, Lee brings our Sake Flight ($19). When we noticed the flight on the drinks menu, it sounded so appealing we couldn’t resist.

Lee describes each sake and explains they’re meant to be enjoyed in this particular order: first Otokoyama (“Man’s Mountain”) Junmai; then Gekkeikan “Black and Gold” Junmai Ginjo; followed by Gekkeikan Sake Nigori Honjozo-shu; and finally Gekkeikan Unfiltered Nigori. Janet and I bravely take the plunge. The Man’s Mountain Junmai tastes clean and clear with a hint of fruity nose; the Black and Gold has a smooth and mellow flavor; the Sake Nigori is full-bodied, with slightly higher acidity; while the unfiltered Nigori has a milk-like appearance, and is medium-bodied with hints of honey and tropical fruit. Alcohol flights are always a fun addition to any meal!

Lee brings our Kumu Farms Organic Kale Salad ($14) along with Street Corn ($11). The kale salad is amply portioned like the hummus quartet, with plenty to share between the two of us. Tender kale is tossed with shiro miso dressing, along with nori, pumpkin seeds, namasu (Japanese pickles), and, surprisingly, thin rounds of fresh fig. The dressing is positively addictive, and the namasu provide a nice counterbalance to the sweetness of the dressing and figs.

The street corn is a work of art: hunks of roasted corn on the cob are dusted with bacon powder, kochugaru (Korean red pepper powder), and cotija cheese, and served alongside a decorative charred corn husk made to resemble a flower arrangement. The corn is roasted to tender perfection, and the various flavors marry well in this whimsical dish. A splash of calamansi (a versatile Filipino citrus fruit) makes the corn pop.

Next, Lee brings our Fat Chow Funn ($14) and Migrant Dynamite ($24). She tells us the fat chow funn noodles are handmade with tapioca and flour, then tossed with chicken stock and fish sauce. They resemble potatoes, but when you taste them, you know they’re definitely noodles. The dish also contains roasted pork belly, achuete seeds, and pipinola (chayote) shoots, and it’s garnished with a healthy sprinkle of fresh Parmigiano Reggiano. This soul-satisfying dish has beautiful depth of flavors—it’s comfort food at its finest.

The Migrant Dynamite is in a class of its own: locally caught ahi, marlin, opah, scallops, and shrimp are combined with spicy masago (fish roe) mayo and a sweet and sultry faux-nagi sauce. The aroma from this beautiful dish is flat-out intoxicating, and the seafood doesn’t disappoint—it tastes absolutely fresh and positively succulent. Every bite is a little explosion of flavors. Hint: order a side of rice (not on the menu) to soak up every drop of the decadent sauce.

As we’re finishing up our meal at Migrant, Assistant Manager Melanie Wicker stops by our table with none other than Chef Sheldon himself displaying that famous grin. I ask him if the concept for Migrant is similar to that of “Urbano,” the eatery he created when he won “Restaurant Wars” on “Top Chef.” He tells us that, yes, it’s quite similar.

The season finale of this year’s “Top Chef” was filmed on Maui, and the judges had the opportunity to dine at Migrant. “We’d just opened, and I was really nervous for them to try my food,” Chef Sheldon recalls. “It was like being on the show all over again.” Chef Sheldon even had a cameo role in the competition’s finale.

Migrant’s dessert menu was still under construction when Janet and I dined there. But had it been up and running, we surely would have ordered the Migrant Petit Four ($12): bibingka, sweet Filipino butter mochi puto, and steamed Filipino mini rice cake with “magical” peanut butter. Or perhaps the Ovaltine Cake ($15): condensed milk whipped cream, malt crumbles, and chocolate sauce. Yum!

Migrant’s new dessert menu also contains a couple of creative after-dinner drinks: Chocolate Covered Cherry Martini ($12)— Bailey’s, Kahlua, Creme De Cocao, and Cherry Brandy—and Pineapple Upside-Down Cake Martini ($12)— Malibu Pineapple, Absolut Vanilla, and Dekuper Butterscotch. Wicked.

Janet are delighted we came to Chef Sheldon’s house and, well, ate. You should, too.

–heidi pool

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