Most of the time we think of Mama’s Fish House as that special place to enjoy a romantic anniversary or milestone birthday dinner. That is alright but you’re selling yourself short of an astonishing lunch experience, or a casual afternoon at the bar for drinks and pupus. Their remarkable dining room is like no other place on Maui. Decorated with their cheerful retro Hawaiian prints, antiques, art and warm wood, it’s my South Pacific fantasy fulfilled. It’s a reflection of Mama’s — that would be Doris Christenson’s — love of adventure in Oceania and refinement that is timeless.
The menu changes daily with seasonal veggies and fresh fish. One of the newer inspired dishes I hadn’t seen before is Papa’s Three Fish Sashimi. Here, three different raw fish greet your palate in three completely different ways. “My dad, Floyd Christenson, and Chef Perry [Bateman] get together and start experimenting. That is how some of the new dishes happen,” says Karen Christenson, GM at Mama’s Fish House. That feeling of family and camaraderie is contagious with the food and staff. Once you step foot or wheel on the property, everyone from the valet to the servers are part of Mama’s ohana. It’s another dimension to their Polynesian and Hawaiian influence and roots.
Don’t be afraid to be seated at the bar and order food. It’s still a fine dining experience, and the service does not skip a beat. My fellow gastronome and I cozied up on their comfortable stools at the beautiful handmade bar. I couldn’t help myself — I had to try their giant Mai Tai, made in the Trader Vic way and served in a tiki glass, while she sipped a pink Pau Hana of tropical guava, kula lime and Bombay gin scented with ginger. The entire cocktail menu is spectacular and creative, mixing Maui’s fresh fruits with fine spirits from around the world.
But back to the food. The trio of sashimi arrived after the amuse bouche of their fresh baked wheat bread and bisque. The shiny translucent rectangles of raw fish flesh were so fresh they dissolved in our mouths. The salmon especially was a rich pink meat, enlightened by the pineapple pomegranate relish and black Big Island sea salt. We tried to determine a favorite, but the competition was fierce. The daikon-infused ahi with anise was beautiful — a bit of micro green balanced it and the kukui nut salt was like a bit of inamona, the roasted kukui nut that is perfect in poke. The crunch of salt and vegetable with raw fish was very pleasing. Then there was the white-fleshed uku. I couldn’t get enough of the coconut chili flaked over the top with pink molokai sea salt. Individually, each of the raw bites were wonderful, but put all together, they compelled you to know more about each bite.
For lunch I wanted to go a completely different approach and stay on land, so I ordered a sandwich. After an incredible Mama’s salad, which was full of hearts of palm, mac nuts, bacon and goat cheese, my wild boar sandwich arrived. The toasty home baked roll smelled unbelievable, even before they were stuffed with pulled pork topped with mango chutney, then joined on the plate with sweet potato fries. Clearly, there are no wrong moves on the menu.
When Mama is in, she likes to check on her guests and make sure everyone has an enjoyable experience. It was a treat to talk food with her, and learn how her palate and passion has shaped this incredible place. Even better was her anecdote about meeting and befriending Carlos Santana — it made the white fig ice cream paired with Pride Mistelle de Voigner I ate for dessert taste that much sweeter.
Mama’s Fish House
799 Poho Pl., Kuau