humuhumu at grand wailea resort: shorter name, long on exceptional cuisine

Although the name of Grand Wailea Resort’s signature restaurant is still officially Humuhumunukunukuapua‘a, it’s been rebranded as simply Humuhumu, and now boasts a stunning interior redesign, as well as a tantalizingly reimagined menu by Chef de Cuisine Michael “Mike” Lofaro, who was voted Chef of the Year for 2016 by his peers in a prominent Maui magazine poll.

Humuhumu embodies the quintessential tropical paradise many people envision when they think of dining in Hawai‘i. Who wouldn’t be mesmerized by open-air Polynesian thatched-roof hales that seem to float over a picturesque freshwater lagoon that’s surrounded by brilliantly colored bougainvillea? Not to mention the soothing sound of a nearby waterfall cascading into said lagoon. Throw in a spectacular ocean view framed by swaying palm trees, and you’ve got the stuff dreams are made of.

Unveiled just in time for last year’s holiday season, the exquisite revamping of Humuhumu is subtle, yet stylish. Gone is the ginormous aquarium that used to dominate the bar area. Now, the centerpiece of the spherical main structure is the bar itself, which is wrapped around a lighted focal point composed of metal, glass, and wood that draws the eye upwards to a traditional Balinese-style open-beam ceiling lined with woven bamboo matting. Sizable globular light fixtures suspended from the ceiling lend a chic cosmic effect.

Sensuous native old-growth ‘ohi‘a wood provides the framework for the restaurant’s new modern Hawaiian details, like colored-glass fishing floats, which represent a subtle nod to ocean themes including voyaging.

Janet and I can hardly wait to sample Chef Mike’s all-new menu of what he calls “Hawaiian Seasonal Cuisine.” Since we last dined at Humu, Chef Mike has racked up a plethora of awards. In addition to being voted Chef of the Year for 2016 by his peers, he carries the titles of Hottest Chef on Maui, Most Innovative Menu, Best Pacific Rim and Best Resort Restaurant. He is also co-host of the Emmy Award-winning television series SEARCH Hawaii, Where Food Meets Culture.

Chef Mike is inspired by the Pacific Ocean and what he finds there. Fondly nicknamed the “waterman chef,” he is often found surfing, paddling his outrigger canoe, and spearfishing, when not training for his next triathlon.  “My approach to food is to always be culturally sensitive,” he says, “which means cooking with a sense of place, and having a deep connection to Hawaiian seasonality.”

Our server this evening is Ann Eve, a Humu veteran of 22 years. She’s enthusiastic about the restaurant’s redesign, especially the enhanced ocean views. “We always said the fish had the best view in the house…now we do! And the new high-top tables in the bar area are a great place to have a drink while watching the sun set.”

Ann Eve tells us Chef Mike has invited us to either choose our own selections from the menu, or leave the decision-making to him. We wisely choose the second option and, after querying us about food allergies and preferences, Ann Eve is off to get our cocktail order going. Janet has chosen the ‘Awapuhi Sour (Bulleit Rye Whiskey, Angostira Bitters, B.G. Reynolds Orgeat Syrup, lemon juice, and ginger beer—$17), while I’m going with the Tea Garden (Hennessy VS Cognac, Earl Grey tea syrup, lemon juice, pasteurized egg white, and Moet & Chandon Brut Champagne—$19). Janet’s concoction is a refreshing tropical delight, while my tasty, well-balanced drink comes complete with a humuhumu fish motif formed with tea leaves floating atop the frothy upper layer.

Food runner Dino brings our first course: Hamachi Carpaccio ($23). Oh so tender thinly sliced raw fish is sprinkled with peppery Hawaiian chili and bright cilantro, and blanketed with celery and ginger shave ice to cool things off. It’s a palate-pleasing genius combination of flavors, textures, and temperatures.

Next, we’re treated to the absolutely gorgeous Marinated Tomatoes ($18), composed of farm-fresh cherry tomatoes that have been steeped in sherry vinegar and olive oil, Maui’s own Surfing Goat Dairy cheese, smoked Kula strawberry, and kiawe molasses. Every bite of this luscious dish positively bursts with flavor.

Our next two dishes are brought to the table at the same time: Lacinato Kale & Fried Pig Ears ($15) and Spicy Beef ($20). It’s hard to decide which to dive into first! So we go with the kale and pig ears, not really knowing what to expect from the latter. Turns out the deep green kale has been fried, and it literally melts in our mouths, while the pig ears, which have also been fried, are little crescents of deliciousness. Who’d have thought?

Moving on to the Spicy Beef—it has the most intoxicating aroma you can imagine. Not-too-spicy slices of beef are layered with Thai basil and a robust tropical fruit escabeche, accompanied by a sweet and salty hoisin sauce. It’s all showered with nutty sesame seeds, and we find this spectacular dish to be incredibly well balanced and downright addictive.

Chef Mike’s Fish & Poi ($18) is the “sleeper” of our meal, and it leaves us wanting for more. Janet and I agree we may not have ordered it on our own, but we’re thrilled it was brought to our table. “If you’re leery of poi, you needn’t be with this dish,” Ann Eve says knowingly. “It’s very popular with our local patrons.” We’ve never before seen or tasted anything quite like it: velvety sour poi is laced with savory smoked marlin and garnished with fresh mint. This seductive mélange is accompanied by a stack of grilled bread triangles, which serve as vessels for consuming the creamy poi goodness.

The pièce de résistance comes in the form of the ‘Opaka entrée ($39), which I’d secretly been hoping Chef Mike would choose for us. A generous portion of moist and perfectly seasoned pink snapper rests on a bed of fragrant ginger rice. It’s all topped with crisp sunomono (pickled cucumbers), limu (seaweed), and dark soy and scallion vinaigrette. The wealth of complementary flavors in this dish makes it wickedly delicious.

For dessert, it’s the Tropical Fruit Vacherin ($12) and the Humu Chocolate Garden ($14). The delicate vacherin is refreshingly light, with pineapple-mango sorbet, meringues, and liliko‘i consommé. The playful chocolate garden is meant to resemble a Japanese Zen rock garden. It’s composed of yummy chocolate “stones,” pistachio “moss,” and a cocoa gelée. Both desserts are swoon worthy.

It’s been an especially memorable dining experience this evening at Humuhumu. Chef Mike is definitely at the top of his game with his Hawaiian Seasonal Cuisine. “Here in the Islands, we’re really connected to the land and the ocean,” he says. “It’s completely re-wired the way I think about cooking. I want people to walk away from the restaurant knowing they connected a little deeper to Hawai‘i through food.”

–heidi pool

AT A GLANCE…

WHAT •

Humuhumu, serving Chef Mike Lofaro’s Hawaiian Seasonal Cuisine, in a newly updated, quintessentially Polynesian setting, featuring thatched-roof hales that float over a freshwater lagoon, and a stunningly refreshed bar area.

WHERE •

At the Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, 3850 Wailea Alanui Dr., Wailea.

WHEN •

Humuhumu is open for dinner nightly from 5:30 to 9pm.

HOW •

Reservations recommended:

800-888-6100; http://www.grandwailea.com; opentable.com.

 

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