capische? at hotel wailea, where fine dining and romance seamlessly intertwine

017-Dining-CapischeLanaiWhen I think “romantic restaurant,” I imagine a refined, intimate setting; attentive, yet unobtrusive service; and, of course, exceptional cuisine. Since February is the month for romance, Charles and I set out to find out why Capische? at Hotel Wailea, Relais & Chateaux, has been voted the island’s most romantic restaurant three years in a row by readers of Maui No Ka ‘Oi magazine. Here’s what we discovered.

Nestled on the hill overlooking Maui’s posh southern shore, Hotel Wailea became a Relais & Chateaux (R&C) property in 2015—the only property in Hawai‘i to hold that notable distinction—and is the only adults-only hotel in the state. Established in France in 1954, R&C is an exclusive association of small luxury hotels and restaurants around the world which value a uniquely local and authentic guest experience. The association’s mission is “to spread its unique art de vivre across the globe by selecting outstanding properties with a truly unique character.” Member properties must have fewer than 100 rooms, and a fine dining establishment on site.

Speaking of fine dining, Charles and I are enjoying a front-row view of the sunset from our balcony table overlooking a lush garden that’s illuminated with strings of white lights. The sound of a nearby cascading waterfall, coupled with light jazz music, sets the tone for an opportunity to kick back and unwind.

Veteran server Aziz, ably supported by assistant server Tyler, is our guide for this evening’s culinary adventure. At the helm of Capische? is Executive Chef/Owner Brian Etheredge, who as a 13-year-old washed pots and pans with the aspiration of some day being allowed to chop parsley. These days, not only is Chef Brian allowed to chop parsley, he also grows it, along with numerous other produce and herbs, on site in the property’s Wailea Organics farm.

Aziz tells us Chef Brian is also an accomplished fisherman and he, along with two others, provide the fresh catch for the restaurant’s nightly offerings. And lest you think Brian doesn’t have enough on his plate, so to speak, Aziz says Chef cures his own meats for the Salumi & Cheese appetizer ($25). And the restaurant’s name? Aziz explains it’s Chef Brian’s playful interpretation of the Italian word meaning “understand,” as in, “I want you to understand what it is I’m doing.” Charles and I are becoming more enlightened moment by moment.

While Charles and I sip NV Villa Sandi Superiore Prosecco DOCG that’s positively divine, Aziz makes some menu recommendations. We follow his advice and begin with the Beef Carpaccio ($21): roasted beets, spicy greens, feta, whole-grain mustard sauce, and garlic panisse which Aziz says Chef Brian serves in place of croutons, since they’re 100% gluten free. Presented on a triangular-shaped plate, the Carpaccio itself is so creamy it practically melts in your mouth, and the other elements of the dish blend together to make the perfect combination of flavors and textures.

To accompany our beginning courses, Aziz has brought glasses of 2011 M. Chapoutier Cotes-du-Rhone “Belleruche” rosé, featuring rich blackberry notes, a smoky character, and a smooth texture. It’s bellissimo!

As darkness settles in, the amore at Capische? goes up several notches. Swaying palm trees are silhouetted against a backdrop featuring the islands of Molokini and Kaho‘olawe, as well as the West Maui Mountains, all of which are bathed in the shadows of impending nightfall. Inside, rock pillars resembling stone fireplaces are complemented by a warm, open-beam ceiling—it reminds Charles and me of a cozy European lodge.

For our second course, we’ve selected one of Chef Brian’s signature dishes: Truffle Risotto ($21 half portion/42 full) prepared with Big Island mushrooms, white and black truffle, and parmesan. Now there is risotto, and then there’s this risotto. Its ultra-creamy texture and exquisitely rich flavors speak of decadence and luxury, and give both Charles and me a warm glow.

The Grilled Caesar ($19) has caught our eye, and we find it to be a stellar dish. Served on a teardrop-shaped plate, it’s composed of Romaine lettuce that’s been lightly charred and dressed with white anchovy vinaigrette, and accompanied by garlic purée, deep-fried capers, and parmesan. Tangy and satisfying, it’s an exciting twist on the classic version of Caesar salad.

Prior to serving our entrées, Aziz has brought a little palate cleanser: compressed watermelon, sea salt, and balsamic vinegar, all work together in one refreshing small bite. He’s also brought us another wine selection. The 2013 Dutton Goldfield “Dutton Ranch” Pinot Noir from California’s Russian River Valley is a gorgeous ruby-red color. Fresh berry fruit, soft tannins, and a lingering finish characterize this pinot that stands up well with a broad range of food pairings.

Charles has selected another Chef Brian signature dish—Braised Lamb Osso Buco ($42)—while I’ve opted for Roasted Snapper ($47), which this evening features ‘opakapaka, an absolute favorite of mine. The osso buco is a generous portion of fall-off-the-bone tender lamb shank, accompanied by hazelnut citrus gremolata, Israeli couscous, persimmon, and endive. Charles finds it to be a moist and flavorful, soul-satisfying dish that’s charmingly rustic in nature.

My ‘opakapaka and its accompaniments are beautifully presented in a circular shape like a wreath atop a square plate. Crispy on the outside, succulent on the inside fish, winter squash-stuffed tortelloni, and roasted kabocha pumpkin, are all nestled in celery root purée and drizzled with chestnut bourbon brown butter. It’s a delectable explosion of festive winter flavors.

For our next dining experience at Capische? Charles has his eye on the Shelton Chicken ($38)—Big Island mushrooms, chickpea panisse, pohole fern, and Marsala wine—while I plan to try the Olive Oil Poached Kampachi ($42)—turnip, Romanesco, pomme purée, preserved lemon, and radish. Chef Brian’s side dishes look tempting as well: Pasta Aglio e Olio ($10), Roasted Cauliflower ($9), Brussels & Panchetta ($12), and Tuscan Potatoes & Rosemary ($9). Aziz explains the menu at Capische? changes seasonally to take full advantage of nature’s bounty, although four core dishes are available year-round: Truffle Risotto, Quail Saltimbocca ($20), Cioppino ($58), and Osso Buco.

What would a romantic dinner be without a chocolate finale? Aziz has brought a chocolate ganache tart sprinkled with sea salt, accompanied by a scoop of silky ice cream studded with cocoa nibs. Magnifico!

Charles and I agree Capische? has earned its place at the top of the “most romantic restaurants on Maui” list. All aspects of our dining experience this evening have been handled flawlessly, and with great finesse. Bravo, Capische? where have you been all our lives?

–heidi pool

AT A GLANCE…

WHAT •

Capische? Hotel Wailea’s award-winning Mediterranean-inspired find-dining restaurant, where Northern Italy meets Southern France at the top of Wailea.

WHERE •

Hotel Wailea, Relais & Chateaux, 555 Kaukahi St., Wailea.

WHEN •

Capische? serves dinner daily from 5:30 to 10pm.

HOW •

Reservations are recommended. Call 874-0500; Visit http://www.hotelwailea.com; opentable.com.

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