shearwater tavern in kihei: globally inspired cuisine, neighborhood-style fun

shearwatertavernAzeka Mauka Shopping Center in Kihei is positively whirring with activity since the opening in December of Shearwater Tavern, the newest addition to acclaimed Chef D.K. Kodama’s restaurant group. Occupying a portion of the former Stella Blue’s space, Shearwater is named for the wedge-tailed bird (‘ua‘u kani) that lives at sea but comes to shore every year to nest in the same burrow, where both parents raise their new offspring. One of the three shearwater colonies on Maui is located near the restaurant, and it served as inspiration for this gastropub’s concept: Always returning to our home on Maui wherever we may wander; being a part of the land we call home; and maintaining a strong ‘ohana spirit.

A little birdie had told me Shearwater Tavern was my kind of place, so I was eager to check it out. The minute Charles and I walk in the door, I know exactly what she means. We’re instantly enveloped by mouthwatering aromas emanating from the open kitchen, where knife- and spatula-wielding chefs work in fast-paced harmony turning out plate after plate of enticing food.

Uber-friendly hostess Jenna shows us to our table. The décor at Shearwater is industrial chic, with liberal use of polished wood and metal. An open-beam ceiling is punctuated with ceiling fans and contemporary hanging light fixtures. At the rear of the bar area is an exposed-brick wall that’s reminiscent of big-city pubs in mainland cities like Boston and Chicago. Dining-area tables feature glossy hammered brass framed in wood, and there’s even a couple of high-top communal tables with bar-stool seating.

The ambiance at Shearwater is lively and engaging. Between the action in the kitchen, several big-screen TVs strategically placed throughout, and live music—which this evening is being provided by local talent Kanoa Kukaua—this neighborhood-style gathering place can only continue to gain momentum.

Server Diana greets us, and lets us know the food at Shearwater is served pub-style, meaning as soon as it’s done, it’s brought to the table. Diana tells us “everything on the menu is great, but guests are really enjoying the Pozole Soup, Grilled Asparagus Milanese, and Kabocha Pumpkin Ravioli with Jumbo Pesto Prawns.”

While Charles and I contemplate the menu, Restaurant Manager Lanui (“Nui”) Villalon stops by our table. He tells us he’s the newbie of the leadership team—he most recently worked at the now shuttered MiGrant—and that the others are D.K. Restaurant Group veterans. Nui is thrilled to be at what he refers to as “D.K.’s little baby,” and shares his boss’s philosophy that people work hard for their money and deserve affordable food when they go out to eat.

The signature cocktail menu at Shearwater was developed by master mixologist Chandra Lucariello, who trained with D.K. Restaurant Group Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya. Chandra believes bartenders should see their craft as an art, and treat it as such. The cocktail menu she developed for Shearwater is modern and sophisticated, yet playful, with concoctions such as Kona Winds, Tequila Mockingbird, and the SW Fashioned.

Shearwater’s libations menu features several local brewers like Maui Brewing Co., Old Lahaina Rum, and Ocean Vodka, and the wine selections were hand-picked by Chuck Furuya himself.

Since Charles is this evening’s designated driver, he opts for fresh lemonade, while I select the Melting Pot (Cazadores Reposado Tequila, Gran Classico, passion fruit puree, house made sweet and sour, clementine, and cilantro, with Hawaiian chili pepper sea salt rim—$12). The citrusy notes dance on my palate, while the cilantro lends an earthy, herbaceous quality. The generously stamped rim is both salty and zingy.

The first dish brought to our table is Grilled Asparagus Milanese ($9.95). Spears of luscious green asparagus have been breaded Italian style, fried, and topped with a bright golden-yellow sunny-side up egg. A showering of shaved Parmesan cheese, plus a decadent drizzle of white truffle oil, rounds out this delightful combination of flavors.

Next we dive into the Pozole Soup ($4.95), a dish that originated in Mexico, and is frequently served as a celebratory dish in that culture. Charles and I are having our own celebration as we savor the wealth of flavor that’s been developed in this deeply soul-satisfying concoction. Pork shoulder, hominy, roasted tomatoes, radish, onions, and cilantro are enveloped in a rich and savory broth. Crisp tortilla strips provide crunch, and a squirt of lime makes the dish sing.

While we’re marveling at the soup, Chef Carl Yeh, who’s at the helm of Shearwater’s kitchen, stops by. Chef Carl moved to Shearwater from another D.K. establishment—Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar in Kihei. Carl tells us his pozole soup is what convinced D.K. he was the man for the job. Carl imports dried gourmet hominy from California, and cooks it for six hours before it goes into the pot. “There are thirty different herbs in this soup,” he says. “And cooking the pork just right is a crucial step. You don’t want stringy pork.” There’s definitely no sign of stringiness here.

Who doesn’t love Southern Fried Chicken & Chips ($13.95)? Shearwater’s version is made with boneless chicken thighs, which makes it oh, so easy to devour, that have been buttermilk battered, coated with herbs, and fried to a perfect golden brown. They’re served on a pile of crisp-edged fries, and accompanied by a zesty house-made Kumu Farms honey mustard dipping sauce.

It’s not often you see Niçoise Salad ($11.95) on Maui menus, especially at gastropub-type establishments. Shearwater’s is a little slice of heaven on a plate: glistening ruby-red slices of seared ‘ahi sit atop a bed of tasty Kumu Farms greens with roasted fingerling potatoes, haricot verts (French green beans), kalamata olives, capers, and crumbled hard-boiled eggs. It’s all dressed with a fantastically fragrant lemon-herb vinaigrette that enhances, rather than overpowers, the elements of this French classic.

Again following Diana’s recommendation, we sample the Kabocha Pumpkin Ravioli with Jumbo Pesto Prawns ($15.95), a fan favorite at last year’s Maui Calls fundraising event at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. It’s easy to see why: plump pillows of fresh house-made pasta are stuffed with pumpkin goodness, bathed in sage brown butter, and topped with smoky prawns, sliced almonds, and micro greens. It’s a genius combination.

To wrap up our little journey around the world without ever leaving Kihei, Charles and I positively swoon over the Warm Apple Strudel ($6.95). It’s composed of sliced Granny Smith apples, golden raisins, and Knob Creek smoked maple bourbon encased in flaky puff pastry, surrounded by a gooey caramel sauce, and accompanied by a sizable scoop of Lappert’s vanilla bean ice cream.

I spy (and smell) a plate of Roasted Pork Belly Buns ($3.95 each) and a Shearwater Burger ($11.95) being delivered to the table next to us. Ah, next time.

My little birdie friend was completely right, and I predict people will continue to flock to Shearwater Tavern. D.K. has done it again.

–heidi pool

AT A GLANCE…

WHAT •

Shearwater Tavern, a fun, casual gathering place to share great food and drinks.

WHERE •

1279 S. Kihei Rd. #201 (Azeka Mauka Shopping Center), Kihei.

WHEN •

Dinner nightly 5-10pm; Happy Hour daily 5-6pm; late night Happy Hour Friday & Saturday 10pm-midnight.

 

HOW •

Reservations accepted: 808-793-2324; http://www.shearwatermaui.com.

 

 

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