In a stroke of brilliant timing over which I didn’t have control, we (NPY and I) were off to Maui from January 11 to 17, six days after I returned from Christmas holidays. It was a conference for NPY’s work with only the awarded top performers in their departments in their regions, 360 employees and their guests. It was mostly leisure (thus checking off the “Primarily reason for travel” is Leisure and not Business) with nightly functions. From the moment we landed and were greeted by the events team with hefty floral leis, my expectations were blown out of the water.
We stayed at the Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, which was my colleague’s first guess for our accommodations. Only the best for the top performers. :) We thought at first we had a dinkiest room on the ground floor with no ocean view and not in the grand central section but ours was a recently renovated room and I say we got the “garden suite” experience with the patio that opened onto the lawn.
Private function: Dinner buffet in Haleakala Gardens (Grand Wailea)
We started things off with a low-key buffet dinner since people were trickling in from across the country. With the conference location in Maui (it was in Cancun last year), Vancouver travelers were the luckiest with a direct 5-hour 40-minute flight departing in the morning and giving us most of the day in Maui. Direct flights to Maui are still a rare offering for the Canadian airlines (the only other one is from Calgary) so I felt so bad for Toronto/Ontario people – which is the bulk of the conference attendees – who had to have layovers in Vancouver (or Calgary or Dallas), a five-hour flight, before the cross-Pacific leg. Inevitably, some of them were delayed and they all arrived in the late evening.
Anyways, the lovely part of buffets is the ability to load up on greens with the first plate to feel better about the second plate consisting of hot foods. I grabbed a fragrant warm bun and enjoyed shrimp cocktail, asparagus, walnuts and tomatoes.
We hadn’t eaten properly all day (just a breakfast at Burger King at YVR, lol) but didn’t make a huge dent into the hot food. Maybe I was saving room for dessert… :P The roasted tomato bisque with a flaky pastry topper was the best part and the sweet potato mash was surprisingly tasty (i.e., tasted more like regular potato). The crab cake didn’t quite live up to expectations, the risotto was a little dry (should not be in a warming pan like that), vegetarian strudel pastry was undercooked, beef skewer and chicken was dry. But I got to have a taste of everything.
So, my mum just dreams of returning to Hawaii. I joked with NPY that if I worked for his company or otherwise won a trip to Hawaii, even if it was my first and probably only time, I would bring my mother. In my youth (before I was 12), we went to Honolulu twice and Maui once. I can vaguely remember the tiger prawns and fruit display. We very possibly did stay and/or eat at the Grand Wailea but who would know any longer?
When I told my mother we had a buffet dinner, her first question was if there was plenty of fruit – I totally predicted that question! Disappointingly, no, and the spread was just sweet desserts petit fours style. I just sampled a bit of everything I grabbed and – so typically Chinese – only ate all of the lemon raspberry cake and passionfruit, and the dusty chocolate tart. The chocolate ganache was too rich as could be expected and I couldn’t eat too much of the tiramisu. The creme brulee in a cute tea cup was more creme caramel and too firm in texture.
Grand Dining Room Maui (Grand Wailea)
When we have breakfast buffet in the Grand Dining Room Maui, we are enjoying the same buffet with the rest of the resort patrons. The selection is adequately extensive and the view is just spectacular overlooking the resort’s reflecting pool and the ocean beyond. However, we were usually seated in the front section of the dining room and not right up at the edge of the balcony.
Of special note for their offering was the smoothie with poha berry, cantaloupe, orange, banana, honey (delicious), sweet and moist bread pudding – what a treat for breakfast! – and the coconut waffle that I topped with coconut syrup, banana chips, coconut flakes and sunflower seeds. Yes, I was endeavouring to make it so Hawaiian! :P
Here’s the fruit spread – not laden with fruit but a great way to end breakfast each day. When in Hawaii, I enjoy papayas. Especially in a buffet setting when I can pick the pieces I want and not have to eat the whole thing before it spoils!
Ferraro’s Bar e Ristorante (Four Seasons Resort)
On our first full day, we walk along the boardwalk behind our resort. To the south, we came across Four Seasons, Fairmont and “million dollar homes”. To the north, we came across the new Andaz and many vacation condos. Ferraro’s was recommended to NPY by a client of his so we used it to narrow down between dining at Four Seasons or Fairmont. When queried, NPY first said we would get a drink but when it looked like we would be seated at the bar in the middle, we amended it and said we would eat something and were seated at the edge of the restaurant. What a view!
We started with complimentary Maui onion foccaccia served with local olive oil. Our food item to share was a seafood pizza and since I forgot to snap a photo of the menu, I recall it saying it had local lobster, shrimp and some crab meat, and avocados. The seafood was so fresh smelling and the crust was baked nice and crispy. It was a decision between pizza and the lobster melt where a recommendation for the the latter – I learned after we ordered – was the highest rated tip in Foursquare.
Private function: Luau in Molokini Gardens
As we walked along the boardwalk on the first day, we caught sight of the preparations on the resort grounds and guessed it was for our luau. Two years ago, we attended our first luau and it was in Oahu. We got the full-on tourist/commercial luau with stories and songs, cultural demonstrations and fire-throwers. The food was a tour of local cuisine with a Kalua pig and (yech) poi.
This was a completely different affair with nearly 800 people connected through the workplace, sitting with friends, something to truly celebrate and a menu selected with great care. The entertainment was always classy and of high caliber and tailored for the event. There was no Kalua pig or poi.
The hors d’oeuvres were so-so and I was surprised that I liked the mini panini most, over the mac ‘n’ cheese croquette and scallion pancake. The best surprise were the Hawaiian sweetbread rolls that were purple (taro) and pink (guava)! While the taro roll didn’t taste overly taro, the guava one had a really nice touch of sweetness.
The meal was served family-style and it was dark so all I could do was photography my own plate after fumbling in the low light trying to plate what I grabbed as tidily as possible. :) I can’t say I’m a fan of the mixed greens I’ve had so far but keep having to have some because it is veggies. NPY has enjoyed beets in this kind of presentation and there was more asparagus. The breaded shrimp was the best part.
The mains sounded mouth-watering for the most part but the execution was lacking. The cauliflower puree was weak but the mashed potato was pretty good. The mahi was really dry and my piece of short ribs really fatty (too fatty for even me). The vegetarian meat loaf was so dry all of us only just took one bite. I would only have gone back for seconds on the kale and swiss chard sautée.
Once again, I was looking forward to dessert. The creme brulée tart was soggy but the chocolate banana tart was nice as was also the fruit cup with the smooth dollop of whipped cream underneath.
Breakfast buffet at Grand Dining Room Maui (Grand Wailea)
For our second breakfast, there was a slightly different offering. The bread pudding was made with coconut croissant and still delicious and I got an egg white omlette from the made-to-order omlette station. I discovered there was smoked salmon (also there the first day but I missed it) and I had a coconut pancake with coconut syrup and macademia nuts. Keeping up with the Hawaiian theme.
Cinnamon Roll Fair (Kihei) [Yelp]
Our second full day was a driving day and we started in Kihei after the bust of an attempt to see turtles in “Turtle Town Maui”. Kihei is where NPY’s client stayed and based most of her list of recommendations. Just north of resort-heavy Wailea, Kihei is where you stay if you want a more local experience – our tour guide the next day would tell us Kihei is like 80% ex-pats and of that like 75% Canadian. Even if his numbers are off, we get the point. The guide is from SF and lives in Kihei so couldn’t recommend it enough.
NPY’s client couldn’t praise The Cinnamon Roll Place any higher so we tried it and washed it down with unsweetened coffees. It did taste nice and fresh-made and was a regular but well-executed recipe. It was not dry at all and I thought it was gooey and moist like Cinnabon/Cinnezeo but without the weird slimeyness I’ve come to notice about the pastry with the chains. This held us over for a really long time!
Geste Shrimp Truck (Kahului)
When we were finally somewhat hungry, we hit up Geste for shrimp scampi. The scampi style of preparation was really the only choice for us. Twelve pieces were served with crab macaroni salad (with potato) and white rice. Since NPY wasn’t feeling well, I had all twelve pieces and the salad, oy. It was good – a bit of an Asian sauce (soy?) in addition to the traditional garlic and butter scampi recipe.
I have to resist comparing Maui unfavourably with Honolulu/Oahu. It’s a completely different pace and place. Because when we found Geste, it was a far cry from the set up of Giovanni’s on the North Shore of Oahu and frankly, I worried they weren’t actually busy enough and the food wouldn’t be fresh. I would be wrong and we had gotten there at the weird super late lunch hour of 3:30. As we wrapped up, several more cars arrived and happily made do without a seating area and ate sitting on the hood of their cars and looking out at the water.
Scoops (Lahaina) [Yelp]
We were aiming for Ululani’s but the location we found was closed so we went to Scoops. The server was super friendly and made a lot of jokes but we thought there was a calculation “error” which we didn’t bother to fight. We shared a large shaved ice with strawberry and root beer syrup and there was a scoop of passion fruit sherbet in the bottom. We had this so late it was in danger of killing my appetite, even for a late dinner!
Bistro Molokini (Grand Wailea)
In order to get to maximize the time we had our one-day car rental, we had a late dinner at 8:45. I was surprised that I could eat as much as I did at that late hour!
I learned that when we are on our own for dinner at the select restaurants that accommodated us, we only got to order off a smaller menu, which means there will not be poke for me this trip it seems. Oh well. We ordered the papaya salad and the caprese salad for the greens. The other choice was an all-fried pupu platter but we had to balance our appetizers with our mains!
For mains, we ordered fish and chips and chicken pasta. Despite not being ravenously hungry, I could still put away shoestring fries dipped in tartar sauce and penne pasta in a creamy sauce. The fish was good in moderate amounts and I didn’t have the appetite to have any of the blackened chicken!
I was so pleasantly surprised with dessert and we ate it despite our diminished appetites! The pineapple tart was served with coconut ice cream and consisted of a fresh pineapple ring on a disk of flaky pastry. I figured I was getting in my fruits eating the tart and all of the toasted coconut garnish. The chocolate brownie sundae was a tower and I just ate (more than) my share of the chocolate ice cream and cookie crumb layers. :)
Breakfast buffet in the Grand Dining Room Maui (Grand Wailea)
On our third morning we were off to an excursion so we just grabbed some quick food for breakfast – most of the yogurt and buttered cinnamon bagel.
Tommy Bahama (Wailea)
I scoffed when I saw we were having dinner at Tommy Bahama for one of the more structured dinner functions. You see, there were four restaurant options and only three days and eating at a chain restaurant seemed like a waste. However, I will give it a pass since it’s a chain I’ve never before tried and it had a bright and friendly vibe.
Once again, there was a prix fixe menu and we eschewed more salad for appetizers. NPY ordered the ahi fish tacos which were Asian-styled with crisp wonton shells, a sweet sauce and scallions and slaw. I would prefer a less Asian take but having just one of the three was okay with me. I ordered the chicken tortilla soup which was a miniature portion for the prix fixe but hearty and tasty nonetheless.
There was another chicken pasta option with the driest looking slab of chicken breast and a ribs so we opted for easier to eat filet mignon and a macademia nut crusted snapper. The fish was my entree and the portion was more than ample and it was nice and tender baked. There was more asparagus which I dutifully ate and then enjoyed the rice pilaf.
We ordered one each of the only two desserts. I thought I wouldn’t enjoy my key lime pie but turned out I almost couldn’t stop eating my share – because it didn’t taste as lime as I worried. The chocolate layer cake was massive and I only has a couple of tastes.
Private function: Breakfast buffet at Humuhumunukunukuapua’a (Grand Wailea)
After three breakfasts in the Grand Dining Room, we were eager to break fast at Humu which is right on the water with a view of the manmade pond as opposed to the beach from the Grand Dining Room. The decor is rustic and Polynesian in theme and the restaurant was serving just our group for breakfast. The selection was much the same as what we were accustomed to and the ambiance more relaxed and quiet. We found the food wasn’t kept as hot but the presentation of fruits and pastries was nicer.
Private function: gala dinner in Haleakala Ballroom (Grand Wailea)
They pulled out all of the stops for us again with the gala dinner with an Asian theme in decor and dinner (the appetizer, at least). We were floored and got into the awards night vibe of the evening although NPY would not be especially and individually honoured as I had secretly hoped. I wasn’t thrilled with the menu, to be honest, starting with the Asian-inspired salad. But tatsoi turns out to be an intriguing vegetable with qualities of watercress and spinach and the smoked duck breast was quite nice.
Our main was a “surf and turf” which I wouldn’t normally order for myself and turned out to be a huge portion of food. We were introduced to onaga, a Hawaiian snapper, that was two portions and it was served with tenderloin. I couldn’t make much of a dent into the onaga which I found dry by enjoyed the tenderloin, bundle of carrot and asparagus, and sweet potato mash.
Dessert was good and I was glad to have an appetite after the main course for this one, a macademia nut mousse that had ample chocolate mousse.
Breakfast buffet at Grand Dining Room Maui (Grand Wailea)
We were back to the Grand Dining Room for breakfast on Friday. There are small variations in their potato, sausage and bread pudding offerings every morning which pleased me. For my second plate, I conscientiously tried to diversify my fruit intake including having some of the poha berry smoothie.
Maui Brewing Company (Lahaina)
When our kayaking and snorkeling excursion got canceled due to unsafe waves, we were itching to leave the resort and got a car rental last minute. I was glad for this because on the first day we were out, I really wanted NPY to hit up Maui Brewing Company and this was our chance and our first stop. NPY enjoyed a flight and shortly after had some McDonald’s French fries to soak it up.
Hula Grill’s Barefoot Bar (Ka’anapali)
We also wanted to check out the other resort area, Ka’anapali and we pulled into Whalers Village. The parking rate was steep so we had to eat in one of the dining establishments in order to get validated parking, haha. It was Happy Hour at the Barefoot Bar side of the restaurant where tables were set up on the patio in a giant sandbox but the specials were just on drinks.
After all of the local/Polynesian/seafood we had recently, a cheeseburger hit the spot. They offered to split the burger which is why the photo looks so funny!
Humuhumunukunukuapua’a (Grand Wailea)
On Monday morning at 8:00 a.m., I was the most likely person to sign up the group for our dinner reservations on Tuesday. We had decided to dine at Bistro Molokini but I was curious about Humu which advertised their accolades and famous chef. I also noticed that the queue to sign up for dinner at Humu was the longest and later learned it “sold out” the first. Thus it was imperative that our last dine out evening on Friday would be there and we managed to secure that reservation on Wednesday.
NPY had the abalone chowder which had a bit of a kick and I had the ribs which were rubbed with lemongrass and cilantro. The chowder portion was small but the ribs with five pieces, were plentiful and tender.
NPY got the filet mignon again because it was so highly recommended. Our other choice was mahi and we were off that dry fish so I ordered the macademia nut crusted tofu. The macademia nut crust was a touch sweet but I guess it was a good balance. The medium-firm tofu was not a hit with others but I enjoyed it from the slightly chewy exterior that gave way to a smooth inside. I did not enjoy the purple potato mash which was too dry.
Dessert was also a smash making Humu our favourite dinner. We ordered Humu pie with macademia nut and Kona coffe ice cream and a relatively lighter coconut panna cotta with coconut wafers and, coconut coriander wafers and a small scoop of coconut sorbet.
Breakfast buffet at Grand Dining Room Maui (Grand Wailea)
Our last breakfast was on Saturday and there was no question we would be back at the airy and grand Grand Dining Room. We made it a good one with made-to-order omelettes, smoked salmon and plenty of fruits!