Saturday, April 6, 2013

Nuka - Haiku has a new sushi bar. You should be there already.

In the past few months, activity around the building next door to the Haiku post office has been building to a feverish pitch. Trying to turn a long-empty ramshackle building that used to house an auto parts store into a zen oasis of raw fish and low lighting is bound to take some elbow grease.

Mission: Accomplished.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I suggest you start your engines, and hightail it over to Haiku Center to check out Nuka. Along with the predictable rolls (kappa/tekka/california/spicy tuna), and the standard maguro/hamachi/unagi sushi, they also offer uni (sea urchin) and uzura (quail egg) and some really creative combo rolls.

The Lollipop roll (tuna, hamachi, salmon, and shrimp) are wrapped in thinly sliced cucumber with tender-crisp asparagus, and topped with a tangy twist on the traditional ponzu sauce. The eponymous Nuka roll is, as our server described it, "the bomb", and more than capable of being the restaurant's signature item. Ruby red tuna and translucent, shimmering snapper melt in your mouth, wrapped with shiso, avocado, and cucumber which bring a cool contrast to the thinly sliced jalapenos resting on top. Finished with the house citrusy ponzu sauce, this roll was deserving of a standing ovation.

Also on the menu, a series of small plates which include miso butterfish and hamachi carpaccio, spinach goma-ae, spicy garlic edamame, and gobo chips. There are several salads, rice bowls, soup and noodles, and dessert to wrap up your meal as you sip green tea and contemplate ordering just one more thing, because you really can't bear to see the meal come to an end.

And yes, they do have a full bar, offering a tight selection of sake, a few original cocktails, and a limited selection of beer and wine.

Maui sushi chef (and artist, in my humble opinion) Hiro (pronounced Hero, appropriately enough) Takamashi has been brought in to serve fresh, gorgeous fish with a creative twist and total respect for the fact that truly good sushi does not need a lot of fuss.

The sushi served here is breathtaking in a simple and straightforward way. Nuka has embraced the motto "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". Living on an island surrounded by the vast Pacific Ocean, with relatively easy access to a bounty of fresh seafood and locally grown produce year round, Nuka embraces the locavore movement. I strongly recommend that you take a bite BEFORE you start drowning it in condiments, burning your taste buds with wasabi, and munching on ginger - the fish being served stands on its own merits, and the freshness of the ingredients pack a punch all on their own.

Rolls range in price from $5 for a simple cucumber roll to $18 for a specialty roll - with many rolls falling into the $9-10 range. Without alcohol, our meal for two was $70 before gratuity. They do not take reservations, so be prepared to wait outside for a table or seat at the sushi bar. It's worth the wait, trust me. Opening at 4:30pm every day, this is an excellent place to stop on the way back from a day trip to Hana, or for one last meal before you fly home on the red-eye.

780 Haiku Road, Haiku HI 96708 (approximately 20 minutes from the airport)
808 575 2939

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Leoda's Kitchen and Pie Shop: A pie in the hand is worth two in the bakery case

Last week I made my way down the mountain and pointed the car westward. I don't drive to the west side very often these days, so there has to be something really special going on for me to hit the Pali.

Like pie.

I love pie. Sweet, savory, homemade and Hostess. I have spent hours discussing the technique involved in making the perfect crust, and whether the perfect crust can be achieved without lard. (The jury is still out.) But the thing I love most about pie is it's versatility. Leoda's Kitchen and Pie Shop in Olowalu pays homage to pie in all of it's forms. True confession: I would like to live in their display case.

(photo to come)

Housed in the former location of Chez Paul next to the Olowalu General Store, Leoda's is - plainly speaking - in the middle of nowhere. This makes it the perfect meeting spot for friends who live on opposite ends of the island, and a great place to grab a cup of coffee and a treat in the middle of a day of exploring our beautiful island, a meal to bring back with you to enjoy at the end of your adventure, or a treat for the flight home. The interior is bright and homey - it has the appearance of a huge eat-in kitchen, with wooden tables, gleaming stainless, and lots of windows. Right by the entrance there are some bar-height counters with stools, and a wall made of salvaged wood, it's paint faded but still colorful. When you arrive for dine-in or take out, you order at the counter - the menu is large, and it can feel like a lot of pressure to make a decision quickly while standing in line. You might want to grab a seat on one of the barstools and take your time perusing the options. Pie is just the beginning, but oh - what a way to start.

Leoda's has a vast pie menu - it ranges from the melt in your mouth dessert pies and tarts to classic beef or chicken pot pies with an herbed crust and rich gravy, to hand pies that resemble empanadas and come in both sweet and savory varieties.

The dessert pies come in various sizes: 3" minis, 5" small, or the 8" full size. I tried a fruit tart, a coconut cream pie, and a mac nut chocolate praline pie. They were all wonderful - graham cracker style crust on the coconut cream pie was one of the best I've had - but we were fighting over that chocolate pie. There was something sinful about it that kept you sneaking back for "just one more bite". And was that a hint of rum? Whatever it was, it was delightful.

I ordered the carnitas hand pie, with fond memories of the traditional empanadas I used to get at my neighborhood bodega in Boston that were served in a greasy paper bag. When my carnitas hand pie arrived however, it was served on a plate, with a fork. It had a golden flaky crust, but when I dug in, it was light on the shredded pork filling and fairly dry and flavorless as a result. At the next table, people were raving about their chicken pot pie, and my dining companion took one home for her family. I am looking forward to trying one on my next visit. As a chicken pot pie aficionado who makes pot pie from scratch on a regular basis, my bar is set very high. I have every hope that it will be met and surpassed at Leoda's.

But perhaps you are not such a fan of pie. I can't imagine, but I suppose there are a few of you out there. Fear not, Leoda's menu covers far more than just pies. They have a wide menu of interesting burgers and hot dogs, and hand cut fries. (Oh, lord....deliver me from the frites.) They also have fried mac n cheese with cheddar, gruyere, AND parmigiano; and reuben lumpia stuffed with corned beef, sauerkraut, provolone and homemade thousand island dressing - both of which deserve your attention simply for being unique. Though I must confess: Just seeing a reuben ANYTHING on a menu makes this east coast girl's heart skip a beat.

Thankfully, the reuben makes another appearance on the menu. Have I mentioned Leoda's long list of sandwiches, served on house-baked bread? If the lumpia has satisfied your craving for reubens, try the seared ahi sandwich on grilled rye bread, piled high with sashimi grade tuna, watercress, carmelized kula onions and jarlsburg cheese, with fresh pesto. Make sure someone orders the fried brussel sprout salad, which was a revelation. Light, crisp, and melt-in-your-mouth heavenly, dressed with a burnt orange vinaigrette, celery leaves, radish, and local mint. Then you can call your mother and ask her what on earth she did to brussel sprouts when you were a kid to make you refuse to eat them until now. Clearly, you have been missing out.

Leoda's Kitchen and Pie Shop is one of the best versions of a road-side eatery I can imagine. A solid menu, friendly staff, and fast service make this a much better choice than a drive-thru joint. Get your food to go if you must, but I recommend grabbing a seat, enjoying the energy and admiring the pastry case. I'll be the one sitting on the bottom shelf, covered in crumbs.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The difference between a 4 and a 5 star resort

One of the benefits of living here in Maui is our ability to enjoy a really amazing "staycation".

Last night we had 3 events to attend on the other side of the island, and we were going to be out late, and conveniently our babysitter was going to be in the same area for the night. So we got a hotel room at the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort and Spa.

I have visited this property a few times, but I haven't been there overnight since they opened their gorgeous Mandara Spa about 5 years ago. I looked forward to the opportunity to revisit this resort, which is in a great location in Wailea.

The resort has been renovated, and you will see clean lines and a modern vibe throughout. The lobby area is wide open to the outdoors, with a gorgeous view of the ocean. The rooms have adopted the minimalist, modern decor that most hotel rooms have begun to feature - which means that no matter where in the world you are, or what hotel you are staying at, chances are your room will always look exactly the same: Dark sleek wood furniture throughout, a chair or sofa, one or two beds - many times on a platform - with white linens for bed and bath. There will be a few non-descript pieces of "art" on the walls - ours included a print of a red spot, matted and framed. Just a big red spot. The floors are tile - which I like both because they keep the rooms cool, and eliminate the possibility of stains or weird smells. However, the tile floor is slppery when wet, and claimed a water glass which hit the floor after being bumped off the counter. Proceed with caution.

The resort experience itself was mixed - some parts are great, some are......less great. So I think it's best to make a list of pros and cons.

There were a few positives:
~ Marriott beds are incredibly comfortable, and I happen to like clean white linens and a duvet on my bed. I really appreciate that hotels have finally figured out that people go to hotels to SLEEP - and therefore the beds and pillows should be exceptionally comfortable.
~ There is a Starbucks in the lobby. I support local businesses, but it was so nice to be able to grab my favorite treat: a Venti Soy Chai in the morning. It really did make my staycation a lot better all-around.
~ They have a great restaurant (Mala) and spa (Mandara) and both of these are places I would happily visit even if I were not a hotel guest. I think that says something - we have a lot of restaurants and spas here on Maui to choose from, and it is really nice when two excellent ones are located in your hotel.
~ The location is central, and located right next door to one of the best shopping areas on island - The Shops at Wailea. So if you wanted to try a different restaurant, there are five great choices a very short walk away.

All in all, the Marriott has a lot to offer. If I were on my honeymoon, I would be perfectly happy here. But I am not on my honeymoon - I am traveling with two kids, and I have traveled enough to notice when the guest experience could be improved.

Which brings us to the negatives:
~ Despite a hefty resort fee of $30 a day, there is no free wifi in the rooms. There should be free highspeed wireless internet throughout the resort - and especially in the rooms. Period. End of story. It's 2011. Even motels offer free wifi.
~ Signage sucks - we were frequently lost and wandering through corridors, having followed an initial sign and then left to figure out the rest on our own. This is a common problem in large resorts that have an expansive outdoor area, and is pretty easily rectified. Any time you come to a fork/crossroads, put a small sign.
~ The Starbucks (which has wifi, by the way) closes at 5pm - so at about 8pm when I really wanted a cup of coffee to get me through the rest of the night, I was out of luck and we had to drive 15 minutes to get coffee - any coffee. They did have a coffee maker in the room, but we were already heading out for the night.
~ The staff we interacted with ranged from amazing to indifferent, and one was downright unpleasant. In this economic climate, when people are lining up to apply for even the most menial jobs, there is no reason any resort of any caliber should have employees that are anything less than thrilled to be working in a gorgeous oceanfront resort. Providing excellent customer service and treating your guests like, well, guests, should be a no-brainer. So when I found myself interacting with staff on more than one occasion who seemed bored, indifferent, or (in that one instance) rude - it was surprising.

But by far, my biggest concern in recommending this property to families is that the kids pool zone needs to be completely re-designed. There were three umbrellas for the entire area - and no cabanas whatsoever. As a mother that has rented cabanas at other resorts and stayed poolside for the day (including naptime, with the resort providing a both pack n play and a cooler in the cabana) I can assure you that not offering shade and a meeting place for families to snack and rest during the day at the kids pool is a huge mistake. The children's pool is isolated from the rest of the resort, and there is no bar or food service delivered to the seats (you know, the ones that are out in the hot sun). There is a snack bar with a limited menu - but you wouldn't know it was up there if you sat with your small children down by the kiddie waterpark structure - it is completely out of sight, up at the top of the water slides.

And about that play structure in the kids pool - it is a rusty peeling mildewed mess.

My kids could not have cared less.

And that, right there, is the difference between a four and five star resort. Four star resorts offer many amenities, and the issues that come up are usually minor and easily rectified. You may notice infrastructure that needs updating, and you may find yourself feeling nickle and dimed a bit - but you can have a perfectly lovely vacation if you do a little research and know what to expect. However, if you are used to staying in 5 or 6 star resorts, you will find yourself bothered by the small things - things that can add up after awhile and eventually take away from your experience.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Westin Maui Resort and Spa

I have stayed in many beautiful places - and Hawaii is full of such choices. But I don't write about every gorgeous Hawaiian resort I have visited here on this blog. I think it's important to note: I am not paid for these reviews and the hotels do not know they are being written about here - I only share discoveries that I think are special or maybe not something that everyone knows or realizes. Things I would tell my friends and family if they wer trying to choose where to stay. And in all of the beautiful resorts and the great specials that I see, there are a few resorts that really make an effort to go above and beyond. Usually, I think it is because they are aware of the expense involved in a family vacation, and they try to have some value-added offerings - which is something I am always looking for when putting together an itinerary for a client. This can make the difference between a nice resort, and a great resort. And a great resort on Maui is the Westin Maui Resort and Spa. And after spending a few minutes reading the brochures in our guestroom this weekend, I was able to find some great deals that made this a resort worth profiling here. They strive to accomodate everyone - even pets - with comfort and elegance. The property is not just lovely but also accessible and relaxing. Everything just seems so easy here.

In fact, the thing that strikes me most about the Westin is a feeling of openness and ease.

First the rooms themselves. The rooms are light and bright and airy, and the beds are incredibly comfortable. The bathroom is not enormous, but it is spacious, clean, and modern. There was an empty refrigerator to fill with beverages and snacks that we brought with us, a flat-screen TV, and best of all (I dont know why this isn't the case in every resort EVERYWHERE by now, but it's not) wireless internet is included in the daily resort fee (which also includes self-parking, 2 bottles of water, the daily paper, and other amenities - value added!) Our room had 2 double beds and a twin sleeper sofa, with a patio to take in the gorgeous view. Even with all of the bedding accomodations and seating, there was plenty of room for all four of us to hang out and watch movies or just enjoy the view. We decided not to bring the dog - but they do welcome well-behaved pets :)

The property itself is large but not sprawling - very easy to navigate with small children, and it is easy to avoid long walks and stairs while enjoying all of the amenities. The pool area is central, and the spa and gym are right in the middle of things too - not off in a remote corner of the property - with killer views. They offer classes in the gym and all sorts of luxury spa treatments, so be sure to check out their menu of services.

A big part of our vacations - all of them - are the food offerings. At The Westin, they have a nice room service which we usually enjoy at lunch time during the hottest part of the day, to take a break from the sun. There is also a takeout snack bar between the pool and the ocean, and a sitdown restaurant and bar right next to the pool area (which is also where the excellent breakfast buffet is located), and a coffee bar in the lobby serving Starbucks. They offer the children's menu property-wide and there is poolside service from the restaurant and bar area. On the oceanfront side of the resort, they have Tropica - a signature restaurant which has an amazing view and a unique menu. I need to stop here and say that Tropica also has excellent discounts available during certain hours of the dinner service - while we were there, they offered a three-course tasting menu (each course has 3 choices) for $33 from 5-6pm, and again from 8:30-10pm. I enjoyed a glorious sunset dinner, with a BLT Butterfish appetizer, flavorful lamb served over polenta with green beans and grilled tomatos, and then a leche cake for dessert - all for $33.

After dinner we enjoyed the short walk along Kaanapali Beach to Whalers Village, which is an upscale beachside "barefoot" shopping mall located right next door to the Westin. There were lots of people walking, enjoying the sunset, heading to dinner at one of the neighboring resorts or at the shopping center with absolutely no need for a car, or shoes for that matter. If we had wanted to go to Lahaina (a 5 minute drive) there is a free shuttle picking up guests from the three Starwood properties and bringing them to Front Street free of charge. There are also several sunset cocktail cruises that depart directly from the beach in front of the Westin - but even with all of these options, we were happy to stay right at the resort - it had everything we needed for a great vacation.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Dinner on Maui - restaurants I love

I had a hard time figuring out how to choose which restaurants to list here.

There are a TON of good restaurants. There are many well-known restaurants. Some have become Maui institutions - Haliimaile General Store, Longhi's, and Mama's Fish House, for example. There are also a few really good chains that I enjoy: Tommy Bahama's, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, Spago......but how about a few "off the beaten path" choices? Again, I tried to include locations that are "stroller friendly". I also didn't choose really high-end restaurants - prices are mid-range. You can always check online for menus and as always, I would be happy to answer questions in the comments section.

A caveat: I don't make it over to Lahaina/Kaanapali/Kanaha very often. So my suggestions for that area are liimited, but I will do my best :) I would love to hear from some west-siders so that I can add to my list!

Colleen's in Haiku - urban style in the middle of the country. I have had friends get seriously lost trying to find this place at night. Small menu, but very good. Large portions.

Market Fresh Bistro in Makawao - if you are lucky enough to have reservations for one of their special dinners (usually on a Thursday or Friday night) consider yourself lucky. Seriously.

Cafe Des Amis, Paia - funky cafe with indoor and outdoor courtyard seating, yummy crepes, and a mediterranean platter that I adore.


Market Street Bistro, Wailuku - Good menu, nice atmosphere, fair prices, sometimes they have live music too.

Bistro Casanova, Kahului - Excellent pre-departure dinner option, close to the airport. Tapas, appetizers, pastas, entrees....I have enjoyed everything I have tried here. And they serve carafes of mojitos. Say no more.


Wokstar, Kihei - Casual noodle joint with great prices, a tight menu written on a chalkboard with lots of options including vegetarian, a nice kids menu, and the food comes quickly. BYOB and enjoy the sunset.

Sansei, Kihei - they have really REALLY good sushi. Check for early bird and late night specials because it can get pricey - but it's totally worth it.

Cafe O'Lei, Kihei - yummy for sure. Great menu, a bit more expensive but worth it. We have had several wonderful family dinners here.

Kai in the Shops at Wailea is on my list to try.

Monkeypod Kitchen is opening mid February 2011 and I had a sneak preview. It was awesome. I will check back once they are open.

Lahaina -

Mala Ocean Tavern is a favorite, especialy for sunset. Good menu, excellent (but sometimes pricey) specials, and a nice kids menu. Excellent cocktails too.

I'o has never, ever let me down. I have had numerous amazing dinners there. If you are going to splurge, I recommend this place.


Maui Brewing Company: their food is fine - I have always enjoyed it, but it's not anything extraordinary. Their beer, on the other hand, is awesome and I encourage you to stop by and check them out - if only for a drink and some appetizers.

I am interested in other suggestions for this area, as I rarely get over there and would like advice on where I should eat when I am far from home and hungry!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Lunch on Maui

So you need some lunch, hmmm?

Ok, if you still have room after breakfast, here are my suggestions:

Moana Cafe, Paia. In this hot and dusty town, Moana is air conditioned with easily accessible bathrooms and is very stroller friendly No stairs, plenty of floor space, and a kid's menu with noodles (topped with butter, cheese, or tomato sauce). You would be surprised how unusual that is here. Their lunches are awesome, and huge. In particular, their sandwiches and wraps. They also serve breakfast until 3pm, at which time they begin happy hour. Happy happy.

Cafe 808, Kihei. They have very limited seating but you can get yummy sandwiches and salads to go. I know, I recommended their sister locale for breakfast, but seriously - they do food right over here. Check out their daily specials, too. And they have hot dogs, if you like that sort of thing.

Star Noodle, Lahaina. Off the beaten path both literally and gastronomically - but not in a scary way - in a fun and adventurous way! Great menu, surprisingly kid friendly, and it's worth the trip just to see their bathrooms which my daughter declared "AWESOME". We took several photos in there. I wish I was joking.

Breakfast Joints: Maui

So you want a yummy breakfast on vacation, and the $30 buffet at the resort was not exactly what you had in mind.

What, you have a problem with warm-ish eggs benedict and cold-ish oatmeal? But it's ALL YOU CAN EAT.

Still no?

Alright then.

A few of my favorites, while my personal faves are heavy on meat, these places do have veg options:

North Shore Cafe, Haiku. On the road to Hana? Pull over. Just a mile from the Hana Hwy, a few yards past the Kokomo/Haiku Road intersection.
$5.75 steak and eggs.
Crab Latkes with bearnaise sauce for $8.08
So I'll see you there, then?

Bistro 808, Kihei. Directly across the street from the beach, in a cool, shady, open air, indoors/outdoors locale. I have a secret: I hate omelets. No, wait, that's not true. I hate crispy brown eggs, so I don't usually eat omelets because too often, the eggs are brown. But the eggs are not brown here, and the curry omelet and short rib omelet are two of the most amazing omelets ever.


And they have homemade banana bread and a bloody mary bar. I know. Blows my mind.

Lahaina Coolers, Lahaina. I'll be honest: I get the same thing every time. BECAUSE IT'S AMAZING. Corned Beef Hash. They make it there. They make it from scratch with real beef. It is not a pile of fried mush. And they have a hot sauce they make themselves from scratch too. Try and get them to sell you a bottle - they might. Best Souvenir Ever.

There are tons of other places I haven't mentioned, and even more for brunch (Oh, Mala Oceanfront Tavern in Lahaina, I love you so) remember that you can always ask for more suggestions in the comments section.