This is already a memory piece, of a meal in late July, but all food writings are memory pieces, aren't they. We either recall, relish, hope to relive or search for relief by ranting and venting. This, happily, is the former, as perhaps just this photo might make clear
as we're discussing a spot Pacific-side in Maui, so much so the turtles bob surfside like something Disney might have dreamed up, but these are real. It's in Lahaina, too, a town the tourists have taken over too much since its early whaling days when Herman Melville and Richard Henry Dana sailed through on their eventual writing ways. It's now dominated by t-shirt shacks and food filling stations (you can hardly call them restaurants) with maitre d's with headsets for traffic control, that will help you, definitely, get to the Cheeseburger in Paradise emblazoned t-shirt shack attached. Yes, that spot, but a bit to the north on the way out of town, close to another fine place I should blog about, Aloha Mixed Plate, sits Mala Ocean Tavern, and when in Maui you must go.
You must eat too much, too, as so much is good and the flavors run in so many directions--as if the tradewinds kindly dropped all the Pacific's cuisines into Mala's kitchen, along with enough cooks to pull it all off, too. Our fine dinner, on a deck at ocean's edge, as the sun set...well, why even finish that sentence? Oh, yeah, because the food and service (much more on that in a coming entry, promise) were so stellar we could have had the meal in a viewless cellar and been perfectly pleased. We shared a starter and salad, as that sort of seemed healthy and not-too-gluttonous, a plate of alii mushrooms in garlic and parsley (and they don't mention the probably butter/olive oil combo) and a Gado Gado salad, sneakily vegan with its tofu, brown rice, sugar snaps, tomato, chickpea, and a richly delicious coconut peanut sauce. This was a first course feast of food, and if you've never had alii mushrooms and are a funghi fan try them--they're marvelously meaty and called the "king oyster," so think that flavor, yet more room in the mushroom for it. A simple saute like the one Mala does sets them off excellently.
For a main we went for the the whole fish of the day for 1, as it feeds 2 amply. This day it was kampachi, a Hawaiian yellowtail rich and wok fried fantastic, fleshy and flavorful, the star of a dish full of other goodness, too, from a ginger garlic black bean sauce that makes clear what lame imposters most Chinese restaurants are to Molokai purple potatoes, a tuber that makes you wonder if potatoes need to go through the whole heirloom craze that's made tomatoes so exciting the past few years. If you wash that down with a 2009 Selbach-Oster Riesling Kabinett the spice will go nice and the bit of sweet will treat, and you won't get schnockered as it's low in alcohol, too. Oh, and the fish looked like this
and the photo doesn't do it justice, not till the iPhone camera comes with smell- and taste-o-vision.
There was dessert, too, at their peak fresh fruits, a slew of them, in something cheekily called a Caramel Miranda, so indeed, everything was a bit broiled to get the sugar up, and then there's just enough caramel and chocolate (the slightest hint) to send it all off into the stratosphere. It was a meal of ever increasing care and detail.