There is no doubt in my mind that the best way to enjoy Tropica Restaurant and Bar is by staying at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali. However if that is not in the budget, a close second to staying at the Westin Maui is going to Tropica to enjoy food and drink.
They have newly renovated their outdoor dining area with new furniture, new hostess stand, outdoor thatched umbrellas, flagstone flooring and additional tiki torches. Their Kaanapali beach and sunset views are hard to beat, their open air dining area really takes its glory from the surrounding nature, as does their menu.
There is also a new chef de cuisine at Tropica, Ikaika Manaku, a local boy hailing from Sheraton Kauai Resort, who is an inspiring addition to the food scene on Maui. He is tapped into Maui’s local cuisine like a poster boy for sustainability, and he has only been here a month.
Chef Ikaika designs the nightly specials on the menu, like the catch of the day, with Sous Chef Rich Hinojosa. When I was in Manaku informed me the bottom season had just opened and that tonight they had fresh opakapaka. Opakapaka is also known as the Hawaiian Pink Snapper, caught at depths of 30 to 100 fathoms, its firm flesh has a mild flavor coveted by seafood appreciators in the islands. Manaku served this Opakapaka with a vegetable au jus and fingerling potato, shiitake mushroom, roasted fennel, and roma tomato with a ginger scallion pesto. The fish was crisp on the outside, white, flaky and moist. A pleasing balance was struck with the au jus and vegetables. I felt like a lot of attention was given to the vegetables in the dish, they were each perfectly prepared, whether they were steamed, roasted or sauteed. The au jus and pesto never overwhelmed any of their flavors, each standing out on their own and complementing each other.
With Starwood Resorts putting more emphasis on sustainability the resort chefs get to focus on local ingredients. “We are most passionate in supporting the local business and buying fresh ingredients from local farmers. Almost 80% of our menu items are made using local produce. Fish is freshly caught locally and we do try our best to have as much local seafood as possible,” elaborated Rich. “Other initiatives undertaken to support Maui community include participating in fundraising events such as the festival organized by Lahaina Restoration Foundation and most recently Maui Calls organized by Maui Arts & Cultural Center,’ added Rich.
As such the seafood on their menu is spectacular. I had the best steamed mussels of my life, they melted in your mouth. The coconut steamed clams and mussels are served in a coconut broth, with thai inspired flavors of basil, lemongrass and cilantro oil. Each offering on the menu comes with a suggested pairing, you will find wines from all over the world on their list. Charles Smith wines from Washington are featured, and the Kung Fu Girl Riesling is known for pairing with thai flavors and did well with this dish. The new caledonia prawns are high quality aqua farmed prawns from Melanesia, known for their sweet incredible flavor. The seared diver scallops are a dollop of seafood heaven, caramelized in their exterior and creamy inside. Diver scallops are caught individually by a diver, versus harvested by dragging chain nets over the ocean floor. Not only does this ensure you get the larger scallops, but allows the younger ones to regenerate.
Ecological fishing practices aside, Tropica’s attention to detail is also evidenced in their cocktail menu and tasting menu options. Happy hour here is from 4 to 6:30 and drink master Freddie Sconfienza, and manager Alex Dreher, have some tricks up their sleeves for you. Martini’s are $5 off during happy hour, and he has concocted 10 amazing ones on the menu with a rainbow of flavor profiles. I am a gin fan, and their Saint Germain made with Hendricks, elderflower liquer, pinot grigio reduction and fresh lemon was incredible, it is complex, not too sweet, well balanced and not overpowered by the elderflower. The martini menu is infused with fresh fruits and surprising combinations, yet it remains very approachable.
Sconfienza won awards with his dragonberry bomb featured on his “over ice” menu. The combination of fresh blackberries, lime, bacardi dragonberry, elderflower liquor and cane syrup is smooth and sublime. Come down on Thursdays when the “over ice” signature cocktails are only $7. They haven’t forgotten the tropical drinks, and special attention is given to add fresh fruit and herb treatments to those as well. Other incredible specials include 25% off wines by the glass on Wednesdays, $9 Signature Martinis on Fridays, up to 50% off select bottles of wine on Saturdays and Hawaii Travel & Hospitality Industry Night* with 25% off food, beverage and alcohol on Sundays. Tropica validates Whalers Village parking to make it easy for those of us not staying on property. However, if you are at the sister Starwood properties in Kaanapali there is a shuttle to take advantage of.
A three course tasting menu is offered from 5:00 to 6:00 pm, and 8:30 to 9:30 pm for only $33 per person. You can choose your first, second and third courses from their tasting menu, and you can opt in for pairing for $10 more. This is the perfect opportunity to play with their menu. They also have a 4 course tasting menu that is offered all night for $45 per person or $65 with pairing. This is a pre fixe menu that is a completely different dining experience than the three course. Both great options for ordering here.
From the forward thinking sustainable menu to the creativity between Manuku and Hinojosa, these innovations would not be possible without the leadership of Nathan Davis, the Director of Food & Beverage, and Garret Fujieda, Executive Chef. Davis has been onboard since December has been a mover and shaker in his post, empowering the food and beverage staff at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa to try new things, find passion for new and sometimes unfamiliar, embrace menu changes and share and own their experiences with one another. The atmosphere is vibrant, enthusiasm is tangible. It is fun to be around.