mauka makai: the westin nanea ocean villas’ culinary jewel

New resorts don’t often pop up on Maui anymore, so when one does, it’s a highly anticipated big deal. The Westin Nanea Ocean Villas, which opened in April of this year, sit on what used to be the last 16 acres of undeveloped land fronting Ka‘anapali’s alluring North Beach. Consisting of 190 initial villas, the Westin Nanea (nanea means “relaxation” in Hawaiian) is scheduled to be fully up and running with an additional 200 villas by this year’s Holiday Season.

Inspiration for the resort’s overall design comes from the hina‘i (traditional Hawaiian fishing basket). The hina‘i represents a basket of stories, and it’s the Westin’s goal to communicate the history and shared stories of the Hawaiian people with guests. The hina‘i is brought to life throughout the resort, from the spectacular interwoven wood design on the lobby ceiling, to exquisite basket-weave lampshades in the villas.

To further carry out the goal of immersing guests in Hawaiian culture, the resort’s Pu‘uhonua o Nanea Cultural Center, located just off of the lobby, offers a variety of cultural experiences. Whether guests want to play the ‘ukulele, make a fresh flower lei, dance hula, or learn the Hawaiian language, the Center beckons the curious traveler to step into its “place of refuge,” out of the sun and elements. Created by Complex Director of Culture Makalapua Kanuha, a team of cultural specialists encourage guests to take a class, browse through the extensive book collection, or simply stop by to “talk story.”

At the heart of the property, overlooking the swimming pool, swaying palm trees, and a drop-dead gorgeous ocean view, is Mauka Makai, the resort’s signature restaurant, serving breakfast and dinner daily. Mauka Makai’s name is a combination of the Hawaiian words meaning “toward the mountain” and “toward the sea,” honoring the traditional farming and fishing cultures of Old Hawai‘i. At the helm of Mauka Makai is Chef Ikaika Manaku, who most recently served as executive sous chef at The Westin Maui Resort & Spa.

Inspired by the ancient Hawaiian way of life in the ahupua‘a (system of land division), Chef Ikaika’s menu at Mauka Makai was thoughtfully designed with fresh, local ingredients sourced from mountain to sea. “Mauka Makai is all about sharing local food with visitors and kama‘aina alike,” says Ricky Hamasaki, the resort’s assistant director of food and beverage. “As a resort, we aim to deliver a culturally rich, authentic experience. Taste is one of the strongest senses, which gives us the opportunity to use our cuisine to create a connection to Maui for our guests. And for locals, Mauka Makai is a spot to enjoy familiar favorites presented with Chef’s distinct approach.”

Chef Ikaika attended The Culinary Academy of the Pacific, Kaua‘i Chapter, and draws inspiration from his upbringing on Kaua‘i—from growing up watching his grandfather prepare poke with freshly caught fish, to observing his father, also an executive chef, in his white coat and tall chef toque. Chef Ikaika strives to stay true to his roots, blending new age cooking techniques with the culinary traditions of the Islands.

At Mauka Makai, Chef Ikaika is capably assisted by Sous Chef Ben Marquez, who most recently served as chef de cuisine at the Andaz Maui’s Ka‘ana Kitchen.

The resort’s overall design concept continues within the open-air setting of Mauka Makai. Wood tables and chairs with simple, clean lines pay homage to the trees found in Maui’s mountainous regions, while dark blue upholstered seat cushions are reminiscent of the moana (deep blue sea). Light fixture shades echo the fishing basket (hina‘u) theme.

Janet and I are welcomed to Mauka Makai by server Tyson, who entices us with a bowl of boiled peanuts. My friends, there are boiled peanuts, and then there are these boiled peanuts—shimmering with sesame oil and shoyu, sprinkled with sesame seeds, and tossed with green onion. I simply cannot stop eating them!

To complement the peanuts, we’ve made cocktail selections. Janet has chosen the Hibiscus Margarita, while I’ve opted for the Lavender Lychee Martini (both $13). Interestingly enough, after Tyson brings our drinks and we each take a taste, we decide to swap beverages. Janet positively swoons over the martini, composed of Maui’s own Ocean Organic Vodka, lavender bitters, and lychee juice. It’s garnished with a succulent skewered lychee fruit. My rosy-hued margarita is beautifully blended with Patron Silver tequila, fresh-pressed lime and house-made hibiscus syrup. It’s served on the rocks, and rimmed with pink Kaua‘i sea salt.

It’s Chef Ikaika’s night off, but Chef Ben stops by our table to greet us. Janet is a huge Chef Ben fan, having participated in several of his cooking classes at the Andaz. Chef Ben is absolutely thrilled to be part of the Mauka Makai team, and is looking forward to inaugurating a cooking class series at his new digs.

I reluctantly tear myself away from the boiled peanuts so Janet and I can dive into a couple of small plate selections: Smoked Tako Ho‘io Salad ($18) and Yukon Gold Gnocchi ($15). The salad is the epitome of incorporating local ingredients into a winning taste combination—kiawe-smoked octopus, pohole fern sprouts, Kula tomatoes, Maui onions, and blue ginger make for a symphony of mauka/makai flavors. The gnocchi are rich, decadent, silky pillows sitting atop a pool of luscious charred Hawaiian orange butter. They’re accompanied by crunchy toasted macadamia nuts and a garden herb essence drizzle. Wowza, this is good stuff!

Next we try the Hawaiian Butter Lettuce salad ($16), a lovely creation that’s deceptively simple, and tastes like summer in your mouth. Butter lettuce sourced from Maui’s west side is dressed with a seductive shiso-yogurt ranch dressing, served with Kula tomato wedges, and topped with bright-orange carrots and a cured Medeiros Farms egg, which Chef Ben explains has been raw cured in salt until hardened, then shaved.

From the enticing list of entrees, we’ve selected the Kona Lobster ($48): butter-poached local lobster, edamame pea risotto, gingered heirloom carrots, and ‘olena gastrique. It’s a gloriously vibrant dish composed of exquisite bright orange lobster and carrots served on a bed of playful bright green creamy risotto, with a swipe of goldenrod-colored gastrique.

Chef Ben brings our final plate before dessert: Pohaku Natural Prime Rib Eye ($18)—a cook-it-yourself dish. The cooking stone has been heated to 500 degrees, and the slices of grass-fed prime rib eye sizzle as we bring them to our desired doneness. A citrusy calamansi ponzu and a bright herby chimichurri serve as wickedly delicious dipping sauces for the tender and flavorful beef.

Tyson brings us not one, but two desserts. The Baked Maui ($10) is composed of chunks of house-made pound cake topped with a golden meringue, surrounded by macerated Kula strawberries, and served with a quenelle of Lappert’s coconut ice cream. The Chocolate Decadence ($10) is a gluten-free dessert option combining flourless chocolate torte, with bruleed local bananas and strawberries, and a cranberry gastrique. A charred-thyme tuile provides savoriness and texture. Janet and I wish this dinner could go on and on, but we can’t possibly eat another bite!

In addition to the regular dinner menu, Mauka Makai also offers a three-course Napo‘o Ka La (Sunset) menu that’s available daily before 6pm, and value priced at $45. It features a choice of three starters, four entrees, and two desserts. For breakfast, Mauka Makai offers a buffet of hot and cold selections for $29, plus ala carte favorites like Eggs Benedict ($18) and Turkey Egg White Wrap ($17).

–heidi pool

AT A GLANCE…

WHAT •

Mauka Makai, the signature restaurant at the new Westin Nanea Ocean Villas.

WHERE •

45 Kai Malina Parkway, Ka‘anapali.

WHEN •

Breakfast is available daily from 6:30 to 10:30am; dinner is served daily from 5:30 to 9pm; and live entertainment is provided Wednesday-Friday 6-8pm.

HOW •

Reservations are suggested for dinner: 662-6300; westinnanea.com.

 



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