Though like most people I enjoy good food, the fine dining experience has always made me a bit uncomfortable. It’s not as though I’m some culinary Neanderthal who tries to pick his teeth with the salad fork, but all those linen cloths and vaulted ceilings and waiters wearing jackets nicer than anything I own just make me feel out of place, like an imposter posing above his pay grade.
So maybe the best thing about Humuhumunukunukuapuu‘a at the Grand Wailea, for me, was the ambiance. I won’t say casual, because that implies simplicity. Here the open-air wood and thatch décor is carefully crafted and the location—right on the water—is superlative. At the same time, it’s the type of place where you could show up in shorts and shirtsleeves and not feel like the proverbial sore thumb.
After settling in with a couple glasses of wine, we began what was destined to be a seafood-centric meal by ordering the coconut prawns garnished with mango, cucumber, mint and a sweet and sour sauce, a delicious and unexpectedly complex blend of flavors that made me wish for a meal-sized portion. This was followed by a pair of salads: the simple but solid Kula butter lettuce salad with white cheddar, pears, candied mac nuts and an above average mustard vinaigrette; and the ipu salad, a pleasing mix of fresh melon slices and Upcountry Surfing Goat cheese.
Often, after a pupu and salad I’m already approaching full. But the pre-entrée warm-ups at Humuhumu proved to be satisfyingly light—I felt like I’d eaten something, and enjoyed it, but I wasn’t weighed down when the main course arrived.
Which is a good thing, because that main course took the form of a whole roasted snapper (and I mean whole, though it did come sans eyes, which I appreciate for reasons both aesthetic and moral). I haven’t met many fish that gave me trouble in the plate-clearing department, but this guy proved the exception to that particular rule. And yet despite the daunting portions I was compelled to press on—the delicious lobster orange sauce coating the flaky, fall-off-bone meat made my tastebuds say yes even when my swollen stomach began to say no.
My companion went with the ever-popular surf and turf, and while I was too preoccupied with my own plate to take more than an obligatory nibble off of hers, it was clear that the classic lobster and steak combo—here augmented by asparagus, roasted mushrooms and garlic mashed potatoes—was executed flawlessly.
I mentioned something a moment ago about my stomach saying no. On this night I told it to quiet down and, after emerging victorious from my protracted battle with the whole snapper, intrepidly ordered Humuhumu’s version of a mud pie—a tower of brownie and chocolate and coffee ice cream that I am ashamed and disappointed to admit I was unable to polish off. My cohort went with the intriguingly named Chocolate Indulgence, a sampler of several different kinds of cake that she declared “the best dessert I’ve had on Maui—maybe ever.” She’s not given to wild overstatements, about sweets or anything else, so I’ll take her word for it.
After our last plates had been cleared I sat back, my face flush with wine, my belly past the point of fullness, and watched the moonlight dance noiselessly on the halcyon water. And I felt like I was in exactly the right place. MTW