With their recent win in Best of Maui for Best Resort, The Westin properties on Maui undeniably do their best to cater to the kama’aina. My recent visit to check out their Pulehu, an Italian grille restaurant found lots of amazing options for residents from the free valet parking to the their 50% off nights. You don’t always associate going out for dinner with a trip to a resort, but enjoying a meal can be about the whole experience and the package offered at Pulehu is just right.
Pulling into their port cochere and dropping your car with the valet is just the beginning. Its so nice to not have to park! it is just one of those little extras that contributes to making your evening special. Pretend you are on vacation for a few hours. You stroll through the lobby and head off to the right down the stairs. Reservations do help get you the best seat in the house, which would be along their koi pond and water garden in their open air dining room. The sunset and ocean views peek out at you from beyond their buildings and the Italian music is a nice touch.The restaurant is modern, with simple but comfortable dark natural wicker chairs and dark wood glass topped tables. The understated elegance lets you focus on the food.
Pulehu has two formats for their dinner service, on Thursday through Sunday you can order from their Italian menu, on Monday they do an Italian all you can eat buffet. The menu is impressive, a balance of traditional pasta with inventive Italian dishes. Its almost impossible to avoid starting with the antipasti and a cocktail. The rich rustic crab dip, designed by Chef Brian Reilly, begs to be ordered and enjoyed with a cocktail while you peruse the rest of your meal plan. It is served in a black cast iron pan and the texture and taste is reminiscent of crab dynamite. Pulehu’s signature cocktail the strawberry limoncello martini, pairs well with the first course. Their mai tai’s are also spectacular, and they have three different specialty styles to choose from.
As you move on in your meal, realize no one is rushing you through. This is Mediterranean style dining, in several courses. The menu features a wine pairing suggestion for each dish. The wine list is extensive, but a great way to get familiar is their offering of flights of wine, ferrari or italy. Executive Chef Francios Milliet has taken the time to perfect the flavors in the menu, its your job to descern and enjoy them. The wood stone pizzas are a great place to linger. The cappanone pizza combines smoked apple bacon, point reyes blue cheese and arugula and walnuts, a surprising and fantastic combination. All of their breads are baked in the rustic wood burning oven, creating an authentic smoky flavor and crisp textures.
Executive Chef Francois Milliet has focused on building relationships and connections with local food producers and is extremely proud of Pulehu’s close relationship with Hirabara farms on the island of Hawaii. “We are lucky to work with them so closely, we have have the freshest greens, picked immediately on request and air shipped over.” That means the green’s delicate flavors come out their boldest while on your plate. Chef Milliet is Swiss trained in the culinary arts, having been born and raised in Switzerland. He joined the Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort with experience from Hyatt and restaurants like the Tower Club 300 and The Cliff House in California, and most recently served as executive sous chef of the Westin Maui Resort and Spa.
His vision for the entree portion of the menu features pasta speciales where you will find their zucca ravioli, a pocket of butternut squash filling enclosed in an envelope of homemade sun dried tomato pasta, topped with infused sage brown butter, cranberries and macadamia nuts. This is a symphony of flavors and textures that plays well together. Several of their pastas can be ordered in a full or half order.
The grigliato features the grilled entrees like the filet mignon, veal parmigiano, and the risotto crusted pesce. The risotto is surprising as a crisp crust around the flaky fish, but it succeeds in keeping the fish succulent and adding flavor dimensions I hadn’t tried before. Served over roasted veggies and with a pesto butter sauce, this was excellent. In the Pulehu classicos there is a mix of highlighted dishes, like the Kona lobster and braised shortribs. The Kona lobster is served with a nice plain rich flat noodle and roasted veggies, really allowing the lobster to be the focal point of that dish.
Pulehu recently won as Maui’s best kept secret in the Aipono awards, but with their specials they are ready to charm all of our palates and keep themselves a secret no more. Thursdays through Sundays Pulehu offers a three course meal for $37.95 from 5:30 to 6:00. On Thursdays after 8 pm all kama’aina can dine and enjoy 50% off of food. On Mondays the restaurant changes the menu and does an all you can eat buffet for $30, ($15 for 6-12).
The buffet features an amazing assortment of the highlights on their regular menu, plus other additions that aren’t there. The greens come two ways in the antipasti portion of the buffet, chopped romaine or mixed greens, you can prepare a classic Caesar, their dressing is outstanding, or just sample those fresh greens. They have added platters and bowls of salami, capicola, prosciutto, roasted bell peppers and olive tapenade, fresh mozzerella and crackers. The roasted tomato soup was amazing, the lady from the table across me said it was a must try, and she was right. Their mac and cheese is spectacular, homemade rich cheese sauce on elbow pasta.
At the buffet you will have the chance to sample most of their pastas, ravioli with pesto, spaghettini, alfredo, italian sausage baked penne, and their lasagna too. The shrimp scampi orzo is not on their regular menu but a standout at the buffet, the shrimp are succulent. Eggplant Parmesan is one of my favorite dishes and it is done exceptional here. Their lasagna has spinach, italian sausage, mushrooms and pomodoro covered in cheese and baked to a golden brown.
With so many options to take it all in, I can’t wait to go back. When you want an elegant Italian dinner in West Maui this is going to be my go to destination dining spot whether it be to take in a sunset with pupus or buffet dinner with a group.
About Jen Russo
I write lifestyle and culinary columns for MauiTime. I love being a Maui girl and adore my big family. Dedicated food taster, blogger, internet fanatic, and Maui and Hawaii specialist.