sarento’s on the beach: sublime oceanfront dining at its finest

Tucked behind the Days Inn Maui Oceanfront on the Kihei/Wailea border is Sarento’s on the Beach, situated smack-dab on that luscious stretch of white sand called Keawakapu. Oceanfront dining can’t get more sublime than at Sarento’s, as Janet and I recently discovered. Afterwards, we both walked away thinking, “How is it possible we’d not dined here before?”

Sarento’s is a member of the Tri-Star Restaurant Group that’s headed up by long-time restaurateur Aaron Placourakis, who was honored with a lifetime achievement accolade by Maui No Ka ‘Oi magazine at their 2016 ‘Aipono Awards ceremony. Other dining establishments in Placourakis’s group are Manoli’s Pizza Company and Nick’s Fishmarket in Wailea, and Son’z Steakhouse in Ka‘anapali. Placourakis was raised around great food. And like all Greeks, he was instilled with the belief that family isn’t just limited to close relatives but to anyone who’s gathered around the table. It’s an approach that’s been perfected by his team members who greet you at the door as a friend, not as a customer. This uncompromising style has been the key to the success of his restaurants for 35 years.

Placourakis opened Sarento’s in 2001. It’s named in honor of his grandfather, who Placourakis describes as one of his heroes and just a really fine man. The open-air, Mediterranean-style ambiance at Sarento’s is warm, welcoming, and surprisingly quiet, even though the restaurant is nearly full this evening. A golden-hued paint scheme, coupled with liberal use of rich, chocolate-brown wood, evokes images of a villa overlooking the Aegean Sea. And the drop-dead gorgeous views of neighbor islands Kaho‘olawe, Lana‘i, and Molokini are what help make Sarento’s a sublime oceanfront dining experience.

The menus at Sarento’s recently received an overhaul by new Executive Chef Nathan Hood, with support from Placourakis and Corporate Executive Chef Geno Sarmiento. Hood refreshed and updated long-time menu favorites and signature items, while adding new light and refreshing dishes, inspired by the beach-side location, that incorporate Mediterranean twists as an homage to Placourakis’s Greek heritage.

Janet and I are being taken care of this evening by server Jack, whose mastery of the menu is impressive. Following his advice, we select for appetizers Chef’s Seasonal Crudo ($20) and Beef Carpaccio ($20). While the culinary team whips up these items for us, we sink a little deeper into our chairs while enjoying cocktails: the Sarento’s Captain (Captain Morgan Rum, pomegranate syrup, pineapple juice, and fresh lime—$12.50) for Janet, and the Hummingbird (St. Germaine Elderflower Liqueur, Villa Sandi Prosecco, and seltzer garnished with a lemon spiral—$18) for me. Janet’s drink is refreshingly tasty, and my concoction is composed of uniquely distinctive flavors that work exceptionally well together.

We both detect the intoxicating aroma of the house-made focaccia bread as it’s headed our way. Once it reaches our table, Janet is literally stopped in her tracks, and she doesn’t typically eat bread! Warm, pillowy squares that have been baked to a perfect golden brown are sprinkled with parmesan and served with whipped butter dotted with sea salt. It’s impossible to resist, and soul satisfying to consume.

Our apps have been delivered, and both are visually appealing. We dive into the crudo first: mahi mahi sashimi alongside slices of crimson blood orange, with flecks of green olive, and enhanced with fresh dill fronds that give the dish a delightful herbaceous quality. The carpaccio features paper-thin beef tenderloin, topped with spicy arugula and Pecorino Romano shavings, all sitting atop a whole-grain mustard aioli that packs a pleasing punch without overpowering the beef.

Next, we try the Chopped Salad “Gabriella” (Romaine lettuce, red and yellow cherry tomatoes, feta from Maui’s own Surfing Goat Dairy, baby artichokes, bay shrimp, avocado, and kalamata olives—$16). It’s dressed with red wine/caper vinaigrette that’s light enough to let the flavorful components shine through. And they do with flying colors!

Sitting practically on top of Keawakapu Beach can be very entertaining, especially at sunset. Janet and I watch as roving photographer Jeremy immortalizes fellow diners’ Sarento’s experience with swaying palm trees, a sparkling ocean, and moody light show compliments of Mother Nature as a backdrop. On the beach itself, a father and daughter delight in constructing a colossal sand castle, and a group of “snowbirds,” their beach chairs clustered in a semi-circle, are enjoying an informal cocktail hour.

Our entrees have arrived, and once again the presentation is lovely. Janet has chosen the Kiawe Smoked Chicken ($35), while my choice is the Pesche en Cocotte (fish cooked in a pot—in this case a cast-iron pot that’s been brought to the table for the big reveal—$44). Janet’s dish is brimming with chunks of tender smoked chicken, plump penne pasta, Lacinato (Tuscan) kale, calabrian chili, and currants. She rolls her eyes heavenward, and declares the dish to be the ultimate comfort food, akin to a “sophisticated chicken pot pie.”

My fish is a generous portion of uber-moist shutome (Hawaiian swordfish—a personal favorite) that cuts like butter. It’s surrounded by Manila clams, roasted Moloka‘i purple potatoes as well as yellow fingerlings, braised fennel, kalamata olives, and a smooth and savory saffron-tomato broth that begs to be mopped up by the aforementioned addictive foccacia bread.

Chef Nathan Hood definitely knows his stuff. Before joining the team at Sarento’s, he worked in restaurant kitchens for 16 years, most recently as sous chef at Montage Kapalua Bay’s Cane & Canoe Restaurant. Chef Hood brings his talent for creating light, fresh dishes showcasing the best in seasonal local produce. In fact, he utilizes locally sourced ingredients whenever possible, like Kula heirloom tomatoes, Maui sweet onions, and fresh daily island catch.

Sarento’s dessert menu features classics like tiramisu, profiteroles, crème brulee, and homemade gelatos and sorbets. Janet’s got her eye on the Citrus Panna Cotta ($12), and since she’s the dessert person, I happily acquiesce. In the center of the plate is a ramekin of velvety vanilla cream and citrus zest that’s been chilled to a custard-like consistency. It’s ringed with chunks of fresh pineapple, strawberries, and blueberries, and accompanied by tangy liliko‘i syrup and a bruleed lady finger half, and is the perfect light, citrusy finish to a spectacular meal.

In addition to dinner nightly from 5 to 10pm, Sarento’s also serves brunch daily from 7am to 3pm. Brunch menu favorites include Rhonda’s Gluten-Free Granola (named for Placourakis’s wife—$14), Eggs Benedict ($19), Shakshuka (eggs, tomato, harissa, caramelized Maui onions, feta, hash browns, and pita—$16), and Salade Nicoise ($24).

Sarento’s wine list is extensive, and has received Wine Spectator’s Best Award of Excellence for 12 consecutive years. The daily Happy Hour menu (3-5:30pm) features tempting offerings such as Fried Olives ($6), Mimi’s Globe Artichoke ($12), and Calamari Fritti ($8).

It may have taken me many years to finally experience all that Sarento’s has to offer, but you can bet it won’t be long until I return.

–heidi pool

AT A GLANCE…

WHAT •

Sarento’s on the Beach, serving sophisticated culinary offerings featuring primarily fresh, local ingredients, with a Mediterranean-inspired flair.

WHERE •

2980 S. Kihei Rd., behind the Days Inn Maui Oceanfront. Valet parking is available.

WHEN •

Brunch is served daily from 7am to 3pm, Happy Hour is 3 to 5:30pm daily, and dinner is served nightly from 5 to 10pm.

HOW •

Reservations highly recommended: 875-7555; sarentosonthebeach.com.

 



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