Cruise by the Kihei Town Center on a weekday evening, and you’re likely to see a line snaking out the door of Sansei, which offers half-price sushi to folks willing to queue up early. As word spreads about Cuatro—the new Latin-Pacific Rim fusion restaurant located a few doors down—there will be a new reason for crowds to gather.
Cuatro is actually a joint venture between Sansei owner D.K. Kodama and veteran chef Eric Arbogast. The potency of that partnership shines through in the variety and quality of the food.
The place is small, just a handful of tables with seating for about 30 that run right up to the rather cozy kitchen. And the menu is pretty small too; despite the eclectic nature of the food, you won’t find an endless array of options. But what is there is fine-tuned. Asked what he recommends, Arbogast says, in essence, everything. Each dish is planned and executed with care and forethought—there are no filler items. (As proof of Arbogast’s dedication to perfection, on our visit the waitress informed us one of the appetizers, the pork empanadas, was unavailable because the chef was less-than-pleased with the way the dough had turned out.)
We started our meal with the spicy tuna nachos, an award-winning Arbogast signature. It’s easy to see why the accolades have poured in—sweet and savory are joined by a noticeable but not overpowering kick that comes on a few seconds after you’ve swallowed. The word “nacho”—which conjures up images of heaps of greasy, cheese-covered chips—doesn’t do justice to the subtlety of this exemplary pupu, which is great to share but would make a nice light meal for one.
Cuatro is still in the process of obtaining its liquor license as of this writing, so for now it’s BYOB. Fortunately, Foodland is just across the parking lot (here’s betting the grocery store’s beer and wine sales get a bump as Cuatro builds a loyal following). A member of our party returned with a bottle of syrah just as the entrées were arriving. While the waitress uncorked the bottle we dug in, and the resulting silence—interrupted only by occasional satisfied grunts—told the story.
The steak—which is available as both a full entrée and in smaller appetizer form—was tender and flavorful, while the shrimp pasta was delicate yet hearty. But the dish that stood above the rest was the “Mauiterranean” style mahi, served on a bed of mashed potatoes. Someone commented that the dish looked like ice cream, and tasted even better.
One item we didn’t get a chance to sample but that sounds well worth a try is the chicken breast stuffed with ham, chilies and pepper jack cheese.
Manager Brad Aquinde says the restaurant is looking to combine affordable upscale eats with a family friendly vibe. Considering the kindness and understanding they showed the rambunctious keiki in our bunch, that’s more than mere lip service.
One final note: While it’s true that famous people are, in most respects, no different than the rest of us, they do tend to have a lot more money and thus can be choosy about where—and what—they eat. On the night we dined at Cuatro, one of Maui’s resident celebrities—NBA coach Don Nelson—stopped by with a few friends, and looked to be thoroughly enjoying himself.
He wasn’t the only one. MTW