When I was invited to sample the new fish menu at Hard Rock Cafe in Lahaina, I thought the best way to compare their fish dishes to all the other ones on Maui would be to bring a dining companion who doesn’t like fish. If Hard Rock can win over this seafood-averse diner, I thought, then they just might have something to brag about.
The small “local fresh fish” menu is not nearly as extensive as the regular menu. The focus is on only four preparations of fish: taco, fajita, sandwich and steak. Prices range from $16 to $25. Of course I failed to mention to my dining companion that we would be eating only fish. When the menu arrived he frowned and gave me that all-too-familiar sigh that friends give when forced to do something they don’t want to do.
The fish taco is comprised of mahi mahi and all the favorite taco toppings. It was refreshing to have the fish arrive grilled instead of the heavily battered, deep-fried serving I typically experience with a fish taco. Hard Rock’s seafood comes from Oahu, but my server tells me the restaurant is in negotiations to start getting fish from Maui waters. The mahi taco tastes fresh without any of that saltwater, seafood-y flavor that turns most fish haters away. The clean smell and spicy rub applied to the fish did not go unnoticed by my dining companion either. One whiff of the taco set his mind at ease and he dove in.
The first bite was met with some uncertainty, as he swished it around his mouth for awhile. After the second bite he sheepishly admitted that it wasn’t bad at all. This was a good sign, but the mahi is heavily marinated in a rub that you would find in a chicken taco, so I was anxious for him to taste something a little more “fishy.”
When ordering the catch of the day, Hard Rock offers the option of mahi or ahi tuna. A fleshy, pink 8-ounce tuna steak sounded divine and I asked that the chef simply sear the outsides instead of cooking it through. While I knew this would be a challenge for my dining companion—sans the seaweed it might as well have been sushi—but he agreed to the gastronomical double-dog dare.
Fished year-round in Hawaii, one can spot a good piece of tuna by its bright red pigmentation; the flesh is firm and the fish is not too watery. Hard Rock’s tuna steak…well, rocked. The charred grill marks on the outside are a nice balance to the cool, plump center that didn’t retain too much water. Topped with meltingly delicious merlot garlic butter, it was the perfect combination of flavors that helped give this fish some bite. Served with two scoops of rice and snap peas, this is a healthy dish, made even healthier by forgoing the butter for a wedge of lemon.
I’d like to say I enjoyed every ounce of Hard Rock’s catch of the day, but by the time I finished taking notes on the dish my dining companion had devoured the entire plate. I looked at him in shock—but what could he say with a mouth full of fish?
In short: for uncertain seafood eaters, Hard Rock’s new fish menu has enough of the familiar stuff to get past the idea of fish. Meanwhile, or fish lovers, these dishes are clean, fresh and beckon for seconds—much like the beautiful waters they come from. MTW