seascape ma‘alaea restaurant: ocean friendly, family friendly, and just plain friendly!

seascape-advertisement-for-fb-crab-cakesMy favorite restaurants are those where you’re made to feel like part of the ‘ohana from the moment you walk in the door. Seascape Ma‘alaea falls comfortably into that category, as Janet and I discovered on a recent dining experience at this harbor-side gem that’s now offering dinner three nights a week in addition to their popular lunch service.

Part of Maui Ocean Center, The Hawaiian Aquarium, Seascape is located on the Lahaina side of the complex. There are two entrances to the restaurant—one inside the Aquarium and the other near the Ma‘alaea Harbor Shops. Aquarium admission is not required to dine.

The Aquarium’s Edge of the Reef Exhibit serves as a dramatic backdrop for the restaurant, with reef sharks and tropical fish to entertain diners. And every table comes complete with stunning views of Ma‘alaea Harbor (who doesn’t feel immediately relaxed when gazing at boats bobbing on the water?), Maui’s south shore, and magnificent Haleakala looming in the distance. This is what waterfront dining is all about.

Earlier this year, Seascape was named a “Platinum Level Ocean Friendly Restaurant.” Ocean Friendly Restaurants Hawai‘i is a state-wide effort to promote restaurants that help protect our oceans by reducing their use of single-use plastics. OFR Hawai‘i is a joint effort between the local Hawai‘i Chapters of Surfrider Foundation and the Rise Above Plastics Coalition including Kokua Hawai‘i Foundation, Maui Huliau Foundation, Styrophobia, Sierra Club of Hawai‘i, Conservation Council for Hawai‘i and Sustainable Coastlines Hawai‘i. In order to qualify for the platinum level certification, Seascape knocked it out of the park by meeting all eight criteria, including utilizing reusable tableware, employing proper recycling practices, providing plastic straws only upon request, and ensuring all take-out containers are fully recyclable.

Seascape’s ocean friendliness also extends to items found on the menu. The restaurant follows Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program, serving only seafood from the program’s “Best Choices” and “Good Alternatives” categories. Seafood identified in these categories has been fished or farmed in ways that have less impact on the environment. “People who have concerns about eating seafood while visiting an aquarium are understanding and very appreciative upon being informed of our goal to serve only sustainable seafood,” says James Morrison, Seascape’s director of food and beverage.

After being greeted by server Alisha, who ably recounts the daily specials for us, James Morrison himself stops by our table. He tells us dinner service began in early June, and that the menu takes a “mauka to makai” approach. He also says we’re in for a treat this evening with young Maui boy Kaulike providing live entertainment. “He’s only seventeen years old, but he’s going to be the next big thing,” James says. “He just fell into our laps one day when he submitted an audition video to our marketing department.”

Janet and I decide to begin our meal with the Banana Crusted Shrimp appetizer ($13). Touted as a “Winner of Taste of Lahaina,” it’s composed of Kaua‘i shrimp rolled and deep fried in crushed banana chips, and served with cilantro-chili sauce and tropical fruit salsa. When the dish is brought to our table, it’s a visual delight of different textures and colors. The plump and juicy shrimp are coated in a batter that’s crisp and not at all greasy. The bright tropical fruit salsa nicely complements the savory cilantro-chili sauce. In the middle of the plate is a delightfully fresh mini-salad topped with shaved red and gold beets and micro greens.

Speaking of beets, our next course is the Red & Gold Beet Salad ($11), which is one of many gluten-free menu options. Chunks of succulent, meaty red and gold beauties are accompanied by dollops of tangy sesame-crusted goat cheese, garnished with toasted pine nuts, and served with fresh Kula mixed greens drizzled with balsamic reduction and pesto. A few grape tomatoes with that just-been-picked flavor round out this spectacular dish that beautifully represents the tastes of summer.

By now, Kaulike has taken the stage, and is mesmerizing his audience with superb acoustic guitar and vocal talents. At the tender age of two, Kaulike was humming along to the melodies of the classic Hawaiian trio Na Palapalai, while secured in his car seat. It was then that his parents realized Kaulike had a knack for singing Hawaiian falsetto, which has formed the foundation for the singer and musician he is today.

During the course of dinner, Kaulike impresses with covers of time-honored mele like Israel Kamakawiwo‘ole’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Bill Dana’s charming “I’m going to Maui Tomorrow”: “Nothing would be finer than to be in Lahaina….”

Janet and I have moved on to our next course: Pacific Rim Chowder ($6). It’s organic Maui tomato based in the Manhattan chowder style, rather than heavy cream based in the New England style, which James feels is better suited to our climate. The chowder is packed with local sweet corn and bell peppers, fish, shrimp, and chopped clams. It’s finished with chive oil, and is so tasty I can’t stop myself from consuming every last drop!

At Seascape, instead of one head chef, the restaurant utilizes a team format. Their culinary “team of chefs” has been working together for many years, and each member was hand selected for their particular skills. Lead chef this evening is Enrique “Henry” Tariga, who has been with Maui Ocean Center for more than 16 years. Chef Tariga’s attention to detail and garnishing skills have made him well known across the island of Maui. In 2008, he was nominated for the prestigious James Beard award in the Rising Star Chef category.

Having been thoroughly impressed with our meal so far, Janet and I are eager to dive into our entrees. The Madeira Wine and Big Island Mushroom Chicken ($25) has caught my attention, while Janet is going to satisfy her inner carnivore with the Fire Broiled New York Strip ($27). Both dishes are beautifully presented and generously portioned. Janet’s strip loin is Certified Angus beef cooked to a perfect medium rare, topped with an earthy Hamakua mushroom sesame balsamic slaw, and bathed in a luscious port wine demi-glace. It all sits atop a mound of Mauna Kea whipped potatoes that are positively addictive, with flavorful sautéed asparagus spears alongside. My chicken is an herb grilled breast topped with Hamakua mushroom ragu, garnished with daubs of rich tarragon butter, and served with a velvety Big Island mushrom and corn risotto. It’s accompanied by sautéed broccoli rabe, which usually isn’t my favorite vegetable. But this rabe has a surprisingly sweet, not bitter, quality.

For dessert, we’ve followed server Alisha’s recommendation of the Tropical Delight ($7). “The caramel and pineapple are so good, and it just melts in your mouth, she says.” A warm vanilla cake is topped with Maui Gold pineapple chunks that have been glazed with butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. It’s surrounded by spoonfuls of macadamia nut ice cream. The entire concoction is drizzled with caramel sauce and heaped with whipped cream. This dessert is the stuff dreams are made of!

The culinary team at Seascape Ma‘alaea knocks it out of the park when it comes to providing exemplary cuisine with generous portions at reasonable prices. Who doesn’t love that?

–heidi pool

AT A GLANCE…

WHAT •

Seascape Ma‘alaea Restaurant, open daily and serving island-inspired fare, from mauka to makai, in a relaxed, harbor-front, open-air, setting.

WHERE •

In the Maui Harbor Shops at Ma‘alaea, adjacent to Maui Ocean Center.

WHEN •

Lunch is served daily from 10:30am to 3pm; Dinner is served Thursday through Saturday, 5-8pm; Pau Hana Hour is 5-6pm Thursday through Saturday, with 50% off appetizers and draft specials.

HOW •

Reservations for Seascape Ma‘alaea are suggested, please call Maui Ocean Center at 270-7000.

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