Tapas is a fairly new term in Hawaii, but it’s quite popular in Mainland dining. It’s a lot like pupus but the culture of the cuisine is a bit different. While pupus means appetizer or a starter, meaning you follow up with an entree, tapas are just a feast of small plates or “snacks.” Tapas menus are a list of mix-and-match options that you can share with friends, or devour by yourself.
Sugar Cane Maui recently jumped on the tapas bandwagon with a huge selection of fare that includes Hawaiian regional, French, Chinese, Creole and American. They come courtesy of Chef Philippe Chen, a master chef from France who’s a hapa Chinese-French expat from the East Coast culinary scene.
Meandering through the tapas menu is a tasty excursion that you can start anytime after 11am, which is when they start serving them. Each mini-dish has the special accoutrement that you’d expect from Chin: house-made bacon fixed into jam, deconstructed fusion, port gelee, pomegranate vinaigrette, smoked sea salt.
“My favorite tapas are the Brussels sprouts, pohole salad, pot stickers, prawn skewer, crab beignet and, of course, the bacon croquettes,” says Chin. “All small plates are designed to be shared over drinks, fun happy time and conversation.”
Ahh, the bacon croquettes. They’re delicious balls of wasabi mash, panko-crusted and nestled into a healthy dollop of bacon jam, then topped with a piece of exquisite bacon. They’re pretty to look at and even better to eat.
Of course, Chin doesn’t ostracize the veg heads, and the menu has more than just pomme frittes for the non meat eaters. There’s a verdant feast of sumptuous veggie dishes on the tapas list: Szechwan green beans, bok choy, portobellos, grilled pineapple, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, grilled Molokai purple potatoes and edamame.
For those who don’t want something so rich, the Hana pohole fern salad is a delicate bite of the rainforest, with lightly blanched fern tips. It’s seasoned in pom vinaigrette and embellished with fresh Olowalu tomatoes.
Many of the 20-plus tapas on the menu are new twists on familiar favorites. The Crab Beignet is a small-size fritter of Kula corn and choke crab. It’s nearly a crab cake but in new form and positioned with saffron aioli. The standard steakhouse wedge salad with bleu cheese dressing gets re-imagined as a lettuce cup. “Faux Gras” is Sugar Cane’s chicken liver pate topped in port gelee and served in a jar with their foccacia.
“You don’t get more French than that,” says Chin. “Our own house-made Portuguese sausage served at breakfast and is used in our pineapple fried rice.”
The tapas dishes have enough to share and most are in the $5 to $7 range, the rest in the $8 to $11. They’re served from 11am until they close. After 8pm, they have a late night tapas happy hour with them 50 percent off for the rest of the evening. You can also sample Chin’s food with his Sunset pre-fixe menu for $24, or his five-course tasting menu at $75. Sugar Cane opens at 8am and is located across the sea wall in Lahaina. Kama’aina get 20 percent off entrees.
Sugar Cane also offers happy hour daily, from 2:30pm to 5:30pm with drink specials like $3 Steinlager draft, $4 Coastal Chardonnay and Merlot, $5 Mai Tai and $6 Lanai island tea.
Sugar Cane Maui
736 Front Street, Lahaina,
(2nd floor, Ocean View)
Brunch – 8am to 3pm
Lunch – 11am to 4pm
Dinner – 4pm to 10pm
“Happy Hour – 2:30pm to 5:30pm”
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.