hawaii tasting tours: feed your 5 senses ™

Tasting Plate at Fleetwood's on Front St.With an abundance of superb dining establishments in Lahaina, it’s easy to have that “so many choices, so little time” feeling. Hawai‘i Tasting Tours has made choosing where to eat effortless by partnering with Lahaina’s top restaurants for a unique and delectable progressive-dinner-style hosted tour.

Some people are natural-born tour guides. Such is the case with Hawai‘i Tasting Tours’ GastroPreneur/Owner Gigi Gaea. A consummate hostess, Gigi has more than 20 years’ experience in hospitality, and delights in sharing her passion for fine food and wine with her guests.

Besides myself, four other foodies are on this evening’s “Lahaina Lights Tour” with Gigi: Dinh, Erin, Laura, and Lisa are enjoying their last evening on Maui before heading home to Southern California the next day. Hooray…it’s ladies’ night out!

We meet up with Gigi at Fleetwood’s on Front St., which is usually the first stop on the tour. Due to a private party buyout, however, we’ll have to take a rain check on Fleetwood’s. Gigi passes out plumeria blossoms and explains the tradition of placing the flower at your left ear if you’re married, taken, or have a significant other; or at your right ear if you are single, available, and approachable.

Gigi points out the recently opened Fleetwood’s General Store, which offers for sale a unique collection of lifestyle-brand clothing and accessories, music, and art, plus Mick Fleetwood’s Private Cellar wines. On display, front and center, is Mick’s Limited Edition Custom Harley Davidson motorcycle which, with purchase of the $38,000 Hog Burger, you can have delivered right to your door, any place in North America!

Leaving Fleetwood’s, we cross Front St. and head to Lahaina Fish Co., where we’re seated right over the ocean. Lahaina Fish Co. is one of those restaurants that keep a lower profile, and it happens to be a personal favorite of mine.

While we wait for our Mai Tais to be delivered, Gigi passes out nametags with each of our names translated into Hawaiian. When our Mai Tais arrive, they mirror the colors of sunset, and sparkle in the late afternoon sun. Gigi teaches us the Hawaiian phrase ‘okole maluna (bottom’s up), and we all take a generous swig of the luscious elixir. Gigi tells us Lahaina Fish Co. Mai Tais are made with real fruit juices and almond syrup, and we unanimously agree it’s one of the best we’ve ever tasted.

Our first tasting plate of the evening is absolutely gorgeous: mac-nut crusted mahi mahi, lush green kale salad, and a juicy slice of prime rib with freshly grated horseradish. The mahi mahi is crisp on the outside/succulent on the inside, and a duo of sauces (Thai chili and coconut buerre blanc) complement one another perfectly. The kale salad is just-picked flavorful and could make a fan out of any non-kale eater, and the prime rib is beyond tasty. Gigi tells us Chef Keith slow roasts the aged Black Angus prime rib in his “electric imu” for 24 hours, rendering it uber-tender.

We exit Lahaina Fish Co. and walk a few doors down the street to Koa’s Seaside Grill, which was voted “Best New Restaurant” by readers of The Maui News in 2013. We’re seated at a high-top koa-wood table smack-dab in the middle of the restaurant’s lower floor, perfectly positioned for sunset viewing. Gigi says Koa’s new Chef Thomas hails from the former Tropica at the Westin, and that his passion for food is reflected in the newly redesigned menu at Koa’s.

Our servers present us with another beautifully presented tasting plate: sautéed mahi mahi with coconut curry sauce and mango chutney; fresh spinach salad with candied walnuts, mango, and blue cheese; and grilled skirt steak with teriyaki sauce. As the waves crash to the shore beneath us, we dig into the tempting trio. The skirt steak has a nice charred quality, and the two sauces atop the mahi mahi elevate what can sometimes be a bland fish. But the real surprise is the delicious marriage of flavors in the spinach salad. I could eat it every day.

Next stop is the famous Banyan Tree. Gigi gives us the rundown: Sheriff William Owen Smith planted the tree in 1873 to memorialize the 50th anniversary of the first American Protestant mission in Lahaina. The seedling was approximately eight feet high when it was planted. It’s now nearly 50 feet tall, has 16 trunks, and covers almost three quarters of an acre. Gigi is a bona fide shutterbug—she has us assemble in front of the banyan tree’s massive central trunk, sets her camera to a mysterious special setting, calls out “1-2-3 Aloha,” and snaps a truly wonderful photo of us that has an old-timey sepia quality to it.

We head towards Dickenson Street, where Kobe Japanese Steak House is located. En route, we stop at the Baldwin House, the oldest structure still standing on Maui. It was home to the Reverend Dwight Baldwin and his family. Gigi tells us the good reverend also had medical training, and was revered on Maui for treating sufferers of the series of epidemics that hit the island during the 1940s. Deeded to the Lahaina Restoration Foundation in 1967 by the Baldwin heirs, the home has been restored to a mid-19th century design based on careful documentation and archeological research, and is open to the public daily.

At Kobe, we take seats around a gleaming stainless steel grill, and Gigi orders a round of sake. Our teppanyaki chef Hoku brings over the ingredients he needs to prepare our meal. “Lean back and watch your hair spray, ladies,” he jokes, as he pours oil that immediately bursts into flame on the sizzling hot grill.

Demonstrating superb knife skills, Hoku deftly prepares black tiger shrimp, Maui onions, mushrooms, and zucchini. After being grilled to perfection, drizzled with soy sauce and squirted with lemon, they’re ready to be served. The aroma is positively intoxicating, and the goodies taste even better than they smell! Next, Hoku asks us if we want to see a volcano. He piles onion slices to create a tower, pours oil and brandy into the center, and the result is a flaming “eruption.”

For his next trick, Hoku tosses a raw egg several times with his spatula, then cracks it open in mid-air. When it lands atop rice and vegetables, the mixture soon becomes the yummiest fried rice you’ll ever taste. Finally, Hoku infuses chunks of steak and chicken with butter, and grills them to a deep burnished color. The tender morsels have amazing depth of flavor.

Our last stop for the evening is Ono Gelato Company, where we savor salted caramel and Big Island coffee crunch gelato. Gigi tells us Ono Gelato utilizes as many local ingredients as possible, and imports the remainder from Italy to ensure the most authentic gelato experience. The frozen concoction hits the perfect sweet note after our highly enjoyable and entertaining gastronomic adventure with Gigi.

Outside Ono Gelato, Gigi bids us a fond aloha ahiahi (good evening). We all feel as though, in Gigi, we’ve made a new hoaloha (friend) for life.

–heidi pool



Hawai‘i Tasting Tours, offering lunch and dinner progressive walking tours in Lahaina. Lunch tour is $129 per person; dinner tour is $179 per person. Tours are designed to be educational culinary adventures that Feed Your 5 Senses™.


Meeting location will be announced upon reserving a tour. There are three to four stops on each tour; participating restaurants are subject to change.


Tours are offered Sunday through Thursday.


Reservations required, please visit: http://www.hawaiistastingtours.com.



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