The Wharf Cinema Center in Lahaina Town was once the newest retail structure by the harbor. As kids we loved the triple decker maze it offered and the “basement” level fun factory. This little retail and theater center was built without a centralized food court, but food it definitely has.
My most recent food exploration was at Blue Lagoon in the Wharf’s ground floor (it’s actually one story below the Front Street sidewalk) where they have a waterfalls and a koi creek. There’s a lot of foliage down there, and you can find a kind of peacefulness below the bustle of Front Street.
The Blue Lagoon and has been reviving its nightlife and food scene with menu changes, daily specials and entertainment since transforming back into the Blue Lagoon. See, a little over two years ago Phoebe Tu and Dion Navarro got the lease on the restaurant and ran it as the West side’s Da Kitchen – a popular food outlet on Maui known for its great local food, huge portions and Kahului and Kihei locations. But Tu says it wasn’t taking off like they thought it would, and kept hearing from her customers how great the location was back in the Blue Lagoon days.
“We listened to what they said about Blue Lagoon, the fun nightlife, the bar, but they weren’t saying anything great about the food,” Tu says. “So that is what we focused on. I wanted a solid menu with it. My Lahaina burger is soaked in sugar cane juice and topped with pineapple, and people rave about it. Also our fried oysters are amazing, our fish and chips are incredible and we have a lot of seafood.”
Those words had no sooner come from her lips when a couple who just had lunch walk across the dining room to tell Phoebe how perfect her pineapple burger was and how it was so juicy and delicious. It’s true: the hand-patted burger is very juicy, with a touch of sweetness and their pineapple crushed topping was also quite good. I liked how they avoided the teriyaki thing but still produced a Hawaiian-inspired sandwich, and served it with a generous amount of crinkle cut fries for just $10.
The menu offers a bountiful variety of food. Local plates, burgers, tacos, appetizers, soups, catch of the day, but it’s their seafood specialties that stand out in their selection and fried goodness. I don’t know the forces that urge us take succulent pieces of sea life, dredge them in wheat and then fry them in burning hot vats of oil, but the results are amazing. The delicious contrasts of juicy salt water-raised flesh against the crumbling exterior of fat infused crunch lubed up with spicy and sweet cannot be denied.
Their menu offers shrimp, fish, chicken, oysters, coconut prawns, opakapaka, garlic shrimp, rangoon, crab balls, onion rings, garlic fries, just to name a few in the fried department. Their coconut prawns are the jumbo size, crisped to perfection, drenched with plenty of shredded coconut among the panko and served with a fusion of garlic aioli and sweet thai chili sauce to swill them down with.
“We use fresh medium size oysters from Fresh Island Fish,” says Tu. “We bread it with flour, egg, panko and best of all we toss it with Furikake [a mixture of dried and ground fish, sesame seeds, chopped seaweed, sugar, salt and more…] and we offer a sweet and spicy dipping sauce. Many of my customers who never liked oyster, tried our oysters and ended up liking it very much.”
The seafood specialties can be ordered as pupu or as a meal with fries and coleslaw. The fish and chips are good, Tu says, because they tempura batter it with Maui Brewing Company beers. Sometimes they use the Coconut Porter, which adds hints of coconut to the fish.
Blue Lagoon also serves delicious Kalbi, Korean short ribs which are thinly sliced slabs of beef that are marinated and grilled. The marinade is key to tenderizing and adding a colossal caramelization to the grilled meat – pretty much what Kalbi is known for. Blue Lagoon mixes their marinade with plenty of ginger zing, caramel, garlic, orange and soy, creating a pull-apart Kalbi that disappears fast.
As for beverages, Tu likes to design drinks, and the Blue Lagoon has a few of her special concoctions. The Pineapple bomb is a hollowed-out pineapple in which its flesh is blended with ice and rum. It’s a popular visitor drink, as is their stiff orange-colored Hurricane, an amalgam of juices, Bacardi rums and Captain Morgan.
But when Tu made me her pink “Cotton Candy,” I was a bit skeptical of the creamy, Barbie pink cocktail. Yet I was pleasantly surprised with a well-balanced chick drink. I couldn’t help finishing it, even at the risk of my full stomach. It tastes better than its namesake, and is made from butterscotch, Stoli vanilla and grenadine. It’s a perfect dessert or nightcap.
The Blue Lagoon is doing their thing in the waterfall grotto of the Wharf on Front Street from Mon-Sat., 11am-1:30am and Sun., 11am-10pm. (They also offer daily specials and a $5 late night menu.)
I hear that on Friday nights, Whiskey Pimps is a blast, Wednesdays feature Na’au and Monday is Open Mic Night. Flash your IDs for 15 percent off for kama’aina and 50 percent off county staff. Check their Facebook page for daily updates.
658 Front St., Lahaina
For more foodie news, visit MauiTime’s food blog at: mauidish.com