With the opening of Pita Paradise Wailea, the Arabatzis family has more than a few generations of Mediterranean cuisine experience to share with us, the culture of food runs deep in Greece. Did you know people have been eating feta cheese since the Byzantine? It was good then and it rocks now.
You may already be familiar with some of the recipes from the Arabatzis, The Greek Bistro, now closed, was started in 1988 by John Sr., while Pita Paradise in Kihei opened more than eleven years ago by John Jr. and his wife Christine, and is going strong with their casual mediterranean offerings. While the Wailea and Kihei restaurants share the same name and both have lots of great Arabatzis recipes, the similarities stop there.
Johnny Arabatzis says, “My father is from the Grecian Islands and introduced an ethnic Greek flavored cuisine to Maui. He taught me how to cook at The Greek Bistro. I have prepared greek food since I was in high school some 20 years ago.”
The new location has a gorgeous full bar, an extended wine list, and a spacious dining room with air conditioning, that gives way to large windows looking out into the outdoor lanai seating. A mural adorns the wall telling a story of the family’s dedication to sharing their food traditions with Maui. Christine Arabatzis, who oversees the restaurants, designed the room to be elegant and comfortable, awash in warm tones with modern stucco walls.
The breakfast menu is unique in its greek inspired dishes, like the egg with feta and basil pita, and mediterranean skillet. They have a pastry chef who comes daily to make fresh pastries and dessert. The lunch menu has lots of pita sandwiches, fresh salads, and pasta dishes, all available for take out too.
The Pita Paradise crew have a special connection to the bounty of the pacific ocean, something that the Greeks lack for their home cooking. In fact recent reports say the mediterranean sea is overfished and polluted and fishing is threatened in the once abundant sea. Johnny Arabatzis fishes for the restaurants on his boat, “The Ricket” catching fresh pelagic fish like Ahi, Mahi, Ono, and local bottom fish like Opakapaka, Onaga, Gindai, Lehi, and Hapu (seabass).
Executive Chef Jesse Robinson designs a nightly special around the fresh fish that John Jr. catches. Robinson says, “My inspiration in creating the fresh fish dishes come from the environment around me, the fresh produce, and the people I work with. The Mediterranean flavors you can expect are the freshness of the herbs and citrus. It’s a combination of light with rich flavors. Greek food is some of the healthiest food.”
The evening I was in at the Pita Paradise Wailea the fresh fish was pan seared ahi with a burgundy red wine butter sauce and sun dried tomato mashed potato and sauteed vegetables and pita bread. The ahi melted in your mouth, and the sauce had this gorgeous glossy purple color, that i dabbed every bite into. Every dish is served with their housemade pita bread, it goes with everything.
The mediterranean appetizer platter is my go to starter here, it is full of fresh vegetable tapas and dips. The spicy falafel is amazing, some falafel can be dry, but these have an irresistible texture and flavor. The bruschetta, hummus and tepanade with grilled pita make it a salad and appetizer all at once. There are lots of tapas to enjoy, ziziki, tiropita, lamb pitza, and calamari. The greek salad is reinvented here with an amazing dressing.
A new addition to the menu are the pasta entrees that are recipes sourced from John Jr.’s sicilian roots traced through his mother and grandmother.The bolognese is a rich pork and beef meat sauce stewed for hours. Johnny says, “I have watched my grandmother make traditional Italian cuisine since I can remember, and now I can share these dishes with you.”
At dinner I ordered the chicken fetticini which has a light cream sauce with mushrooms and chicken breast chunks. It was a table favorite, we had to jan ken po for who got to take home the leftovers. The traditional greek lamb is seen in the lamb salad and the medalions entree, but if you really want to go greek get the greek god’s platter, it has all of the family specialties, moussaka, gyro, spinach tiropita and tzaziki. The Pita Paradise gyro is not done on a spit, its hand sliced leg of lamb that is then grilled. There is also an italian sausage dish and a seafood pasta.
The new bar is decked out with a cocktail menu that is perfect for celebrating the days happiest hour, 3 to 6 here, where you get $1 off cocktails, $3-$4 beers and $2 off the tapas. The Mediterranean punch is made with Southern Comfort, Disaronno, melon liqueur and fresh juices. The paradise passion designed by bartender Chad Beitler and Christine Arabatzis, imparts a ginger passion fruit buzz with Canton Ginger liqueur and St. Germaine plus fresh passion fruit juice.
Pita Paradise Wailea will be offering a half off entree special on Mondays, call and make a dinner reservation, and mention that you will be dining and doing their buy one get the other entree half off. They will be also be participating in restaurant week Wailea starting Sunday the 7th running through the 13th. They will be offering a special $29 pre fixe three course dinner menu. On the second Fridays of each month starting at 6:30 they will have a belly dancing show, and on Sundays the Benoit Jazzworks will perform at 5:30.
Executive chef Robinson says, “My favorite menu item… that’s tough. I like all of the items on our menu. My favorite is the fresh fish.”