lahaina grill: it’s no accident this restaurant is #1

LG_Rack.of.lambEverything about Lahaina Grill is top notch: ambiance, service, food, drinks. It’s no wonder this venerable dining establishment has garnered 21 consecutive Hale ‘Aina Awards for “Best Maui Restaurant” in Honolulu magazine’s annual readers’ poll. And, earlier this year, Lahaina Grill took home the coveted “Restaurant of the Year” ‘Aipono award as voted by readers of Maui No Ka ‘Oi magazine. “The Restaurant of the Year is the place you want to go; it’s the place you want to bring someone to for that special event; and it’s the place you’re going to recommend to your friends when they ask, ‘What’s the best restaurant on Maui?’” says Diane Haynes Woodburn, publisher of Maui No Ka ‘Oi.

Charles and I hadn’t dined at Lahaina Grill for quite some time, and it’s indeed a special occasion—our wedding anniversary—that brings us this evening. When server Justin finds out what we’re up to, he asks us a few food preference questions, then suggests we sit back, put ourselves in his hands, and simply enjoy. Who are we to argue?

Justin’s knowledge of alcoholic beverages is impressive. Instead of my usual lemon drop martini, he suggests I try the “bee sting” ($14)—Hawaiian moonshine, lavender honey, and fresh lemon, served up with a lavender sugar rim. Turns out the Hawaiian moonshine is Maui Okolehau, a unique spirit produced by our very own Haleakala Distillers. It’s the only distilled spirit that’s truly indigenous to Hawai‘i, and Justin tells us it’s made with East Maui ti root and filtered through lava rocks. The cocktail is absolutely delicious.

For Charles, who’s a diehard Manhattan aficionado, Justin offers a choice of four different bourbons, but highly recommends what he refers to as a “man’s bourbon”—Bulleit—its high rye content gives it a bold, spicy character with a distinctively smooth, clean finish. Charles finds his Manhattan to be spot on. Lahaina Grill mixologist Annabehl Sinclair, who Justin tells us makes her own syrups and bitters by hand at home, really knows her stuff.

Meanwhile, assistant server Martin has presented us with fresh-baked bread rolls accompanied by herb butter that’s positively to die for. Not only does Martin graciously recite the ingredients in the butter, he asks me, “Would you like the recipe?” Would I…well, yes! Martin happily obliges by bring me a Lahaina Grill letterhead envelope with the printed recipe tucked inside (see sidebar).

Lahaina Grill has a cosmopolitan vibe reminiscent of the great restaurants of Europe. Classic architectural details such as wainscoting, wood window casements, and pressed-tin ceiling add to the charm. The ambiance is lively, without being overpowering; an abundance of lazily turning ceiling fans keep the air circulating nicely; tabletops are set with fine china, flatware and crystal; and vibrant artwork by Maui’s premier colorist, Jan Kasprzycki, graces the walls. A gorgeous, gleaming bar serves as a focal point in the main dining room.

Justin has selected wagyu beef ravioli ($22) for our starter course. Plump little beauties composed of wagyu beef, black truffle, porcini, portobello, and braised apples sit atop spears of grilled asparagus with a slice of Lahaina Grill’s signature herb-roasted tomato alongside. The ravioli are bathed in an addictive morel mushroom-brandy cream sauce that begs for bread dipping once the ravioli have disappeared from our plates.

Next we’re presented with Carpaccio of filet mignon ($21)—beef filet, arugula, orange-infused olive oil, shaved parmigiano-reggiano, spicy mustard aioli, and fried capers, with fig and Mediterranean olive crostini perched on top. A veritable masterpiece on a plate, the flavors of this bold dish marry especially well, and the spiciness of the mustard aioli is nicely offset by the peppery arugula leaves and crunchy crostini.

I’d mentioned to Justin the sweet corn soup ($14) appealed to me, and he delivers two bowls of ochre-colored creamy goodness embellished with swirls of chive crème fraiche. The soup has been prepared with Kula corn, chicken stock, and mild red jalapeno, and garnished with truffle oil. It’s like creamed corn on steroids, with the jalapeno delivering just the right amount of heat. Little kernels of corn buried within provide a pleasant textural surprise.

A signature item on Lahaina Grill’s menu—and one you can read rave reviews about on sites like TripAdvisor—is the bufala tomato salad ($24). No dinner at LG is complete without it: a ripe and juicy Kamuela tomato, grown locally in Olowalu, has been horizontally segmented and stacked with bufala mozzarella, Maui onion, fresh basil, shallots, and truffle oil. It’s dressed with aged balsamic vinaigrette, extra virgin olive oil, and black Hawaiian sea salt, which Charles and I happily mop up with our bread after we’ve devoured everything else on the plate.

At this point in the dining experience, Justin recommends a palate cleanser—Cock N Bull ginger beer ($6) which, he says, also aids in digestion. The ginger beer delivers, and Charles and I are ready, willing, and able to continue our culinary adventure a la Justin, Martin, and Lahaina Grill’s gifted executive chef Arnulfo Gonzalez.

The fresh fish special this evening is goat cheese and panko crusted opakapaka served over spinach risotto, topped with a tiger prawn, and dressed with poha berry vinaigrette ($43). The crispy coating envelops moist and tender opakapaka that’s cooked to perfection, and the oh, so, creamy risotto is also well executed and tasty. Justin has brought a side dish of roasted gold and red beets, whose white balsamic vinegar, mirin, and chili glaze marry well with the beets to provide an explosion of sweet and savory flavors.

Justin had said earlier we absolutely must try one of LG’s signature entrees—Kona coffee roasted Colorado rack of lamb ($49). I’d spied creamed spinach on the menu, and Justin promised to include a portion of it with the lamb. Justin’s recommendation pays off handsomely: the lamb rib chops are cooked to a perfect medium rare, and are lean and flavorful; the accompanying herbed mashed potatoes are a little slice of heaven on a plate; and the creamed spinach delivers a triple cheese punch of mascarpone, ricotta, and parmigiano-reggiano that’s infused with fresh nutmeg.

I know what you’re thinking: “How can they possibly have room for dessert?” But when Justin brings us LG’s infamous dessert sampler ($24) we somehow get our second wind. The sampler features a miniature selection of dessert favorites—this evening it’s composed of vanilla bean crème brulee; sunken chocolate cake; Road to Hana, Maui (layers of Hawaiian vintage chocolate cake, chocolate sour cream mousse, and macadamia nut caramel); and a slice of triple berry pie (raspberries, blueberries, and black currants). All four sweet delights are phenomenal, and the sampler is fitting end to a glorious meal.

Charles and I make a pact to return to Lahaina Grill for every anniversary. In the meantime, it’s likely we’ll be looking for another special occasion to celebrate in style at the reigning king of Maui restaurants.

–heidi pool

AT A GLANCE…

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WHAT •

Lahaina Grill, featuring innovative, New American cuisine. Techniques and flavors from around the world are blended perfectly with the freshest ingredients procured from Maui’s local farms, dairies, and surrounding waters.

WHERE •

127 Lahainaluna Rd., Lahaina

WHEN •

Open nightly from 5:30 p.m.

HOW •

667-5117; lahainagrill.com

• •   LAHAINA GRILL HERB BUTTER RECIPE   • •

Ingredients:

1 lb. butter, softened             2 tbsp. garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp. parsley, finely chopped        1 tbsp. rosemary, finely chopped

1 tbsp. thyme, finely chopped          1/8 tsp. salt & 1/8 tsp. pepper

Method: Leave butter out for 1 hour prior to starting. In a mixing bowl, blend together all
ingredients. Pack into molds or a glass container with a lid, and refrigerate. Keeps up to 1 week.

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