You ever wish you could just show up at a chef’s family dinner and taste what they’re eating? I’m always asking chefs what goes on in their home kitchens. At Migrant, Chef Sheldon Simeon’s newest restaurant, you don’t have to wonder. That’s because Simeon simply put all his favorites, inspired by home cooking, on the menu. So much so that his de facto slogan for the restaurant is “Come My House Eat.”
Simeon is bringing a new face and personality to the meaning of celebrity chef. A local boy from Hilo, his career seemed to fast track on Maui but started with humble beginnings as a dishwasher at Aloha Mixed Plate in Lahaina. After just four years he opened West Maui’s popular Star Noodle as the executive chef. He also graduated from the Maui Culinary Academy in 2004.
Later he opened Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop in Oluwalu. By 2012, he achieved national fame by duking it out on Top Chef‘s Season 10. In the end, he was a finalist winning fan favorite. Later came the awards: James Beard Finalist, Governor’s Commendation and Food and Wine‘s Best New Chef in Northwest and Pacific for 2014.
Top Chef and accolades opened lots of doors for Simeon, but he says he really just wanted to raise his family–with his wife Janice and four kids: Asher (born this year), Quinn, Peyton and Chloe, on Maui.
In the middle of 2013, Simeon suddenly left the Leoda’s, Star Noodle and Aloha Mixed Plate family. He was secretive about his new projects when I spoke with him that July. But in August 2013, he emerged at Mala Ocean Tavern doing a pre-fixe dinner benefit. These were the first hints of a partnership with Maui’s acclaimed and respected Chef/restauranteur Mark Ellman.
MiGRANT opened at the end of 2013 in the Mala Wailea lounge, located in the Wailea Marriott. Simeon says his concept was izakaya dining, but added his own Filipino dishes and some modern culinary touches. That translated to a very down-to-earth menu–basically fine dining local style–that shows off his unconditional love of pork and steak. Consider it a melting pot of comfort food, but with a few contemporary touches. He calls it “modern local cuisine.”
“My inspiration was homage to the immigrants who settled the islands,” says Simeon. “My grandparents immigrated here from the Philippines. I was raised among the immigrant population on the Big Island. I was influenced by the Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Korean and Filipino food I grew up with.”
I rounded up a few girlfriends for a girls’ night out at MiGRANT during Wailea Restaurant Week, and we were star-struck by the food. Simeon says that one of his proudest moments is seeing all the locals come eat his food in Wailea. Considering that super-agent Shep Gordon–the star of the new documentary Supermensch–is a part-owner, it’s no wonder that the restaurant’s been equally well received by celebrities in its first six months.
Our dinner began on the open air balcony that overlooks the resort pools and coastline. The dining room backdrop was a mind-blowing sunset, cooled with a rustling breeze. The indoor dining area also features comfy couches and modern tables. We caught up over a bottle of Shichi Hon Yari Junmai–the MiGRANT menu has a full list of spirits, craft beers, imported and domestic beers and sakes from small artisan producers in Japan.
The restaurant’s cocktails follow craft with a Filipino edginess. The Migrant Mule, for instance, has vodka, ginger ale, Pimms and candied ginger, while the Paquaios punch has rum and tropical fruits. Even more exotic is the Palawan Press, which has hibiscus Absolute, Thai basil, coconut water and OJ, and the Manila Smash, which has melon juice, calamansi, tequila and mint.
Our first course involved tasting veggie dishes like the Blistered Shishito peppers with Hidden Valley Ranch and quinoa furikaki. Our server said determining which peppers were hot was a game of Russian Roulette. They were mostly mild, but the sauce tempered the heat. In the Choy Choi dish, seasoned bak choy and choi sum were steamed together and topped with crunchy radish. Our final salad, called the Bottom of the Plate Lunch, had shredded cabbage with a warm kalbi jus dressing on top. It hinted at the familiar warm salad from the bottom of your plate lunch but was a stand-alone dish.
Starters on the menu range from $8-$11 and oyster shooters are $4. I missed the Kumu Farms kale salad this time but I won’t pass up its namasu, pumpkin seeds and miso dressing on my next visit.
“Bottom of the Plate Lunch is my most unique dish,” says Simeon. “It is such a simple and delicious dish. Crazy delicious.”
True to izakaya style, the menu is developed to eat family-style, and the items pair well with beer and cocktails. It’s congenial food, eaten after a day’s work, with plenty to share with friends and family.
The menu also doesn’t shy away from meats and carbs–in fact, protein is its foundation. You can find dynamite and ahi on every izakaya menu, and they’re represented here, albeit with Simeon’s special touch. Their dynamite is a luscious tableau of fish, scallop, shrimp and veggies in a rich dynamite topped with a sweet soy glaze and sesame. The ahi is simply avo and ahi with lemon olive oil and shoyu.
For me, the Tonkatsu revives the idea of pork chop. He starts with glorious cuts of prime duroc pork chop, fries them in panko, adds a bacon cream sauce and then tops them with a bountiful bunch of micro greens from Napili Flo Farm. It’s rich but perfect. My favorite piece was the bone in chunk, because I could keep dredging it in the sinful sauce.
But the menu’s most popular protein, despite Simeon’s love of pork, is the steak. There, the flavors of Vietnam grace the grilled steak bites with watercress and pickled shallot.
“The crowd favorite is the Hibachi Hangar Steak,” says Simeon. “It is just so tender and delicious. There are lots of textures and the Nouc Cham sauce is out of this world.”
The Seared Diver Scallops were also marvelous. There’s a delicate crisp garlic cracker stuck to them with a bit of Indonesian kecap and yuzu aioli. The dish is topped with tangy nasturtium that stole the show.
I also made room to taste the Tocino–Filipino sweet pork–which is a crispy, sweet, cured dish that’s served with crunchy pickled red onion and guava jelly. Entrees also include Korean fried chicken with peanuts and Pan Roasted Ahi Belly. All the mains range in price from $24 to $38.
Of course, no island dinner would be complete without noodles, and there are four dishes at MiGRANT to satiate your noodle craving. The Pancit has veggies, fried garlic, pork, shrimp and Shiitaki mushrooms with achuete, and it’s served with calamansi that you squeeze over it. The Hand Cut Fat Chow Fun is the most exotic. He serves chunky house-made chow fun noodles with pipinola shoots, roasted pork belly, tomato and Parmigiano Reggiano across the top of it all.
There’s also soup noodles, Saimin and Tsukemen. The Saimin is familiar but upgraded with homemade wafu dashi, Iwamoto noodles, egg, char siu and kamaboko. The French onion Tsukemen has braised short rib and gruyere.
There may be a lot on the menu you want to try, but save room for dessert. Pasty chef Pi’ikea Aki is brilliant. Aki’s gluten-free lilikoi tartlet was an amazing meringue and cookie-like tart decorated with flower petals. It’s pretty to look at but even better to eat.
All her deserts come off as inventive and new: Ovaltine cake with condensed milk whipped cream; Calamansi Semifredo with coconut sponge cake and green tea powder; Petit Fours with magical peanut butter. Even the after dinner drinks hit the mark. We tried a Pineapple Upside Down Cake Martini, and agreed that Malibu pineapple never tasted so good.
MiGRANT’s newest scoop is its happy hour, which runs every day 4-6pm and features half off menu items, cocktails and beer and $6 wine and sake selections. Simeon–a frequent poster on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram (@chefwonder and @migrantmaui)–often posts about it with the hashtag #migrantbehappy. If you miss out on happy hour, Kama’aina kicks in at 6pm with 25 percent off for Hawaii residents. There’s also free valet parking.
“I’m surprised at how well received the food has been received by locals and visitors alike,” says Simeon. “The locals love that they find familiar flavors in new and different presentations. The visitors are discovering new local flavors they have yet to discover. These new Hawaii flavors are what its about.”
Photos courtesy of Sean Hower
3700 Wailea Alanui Dr.
Open daily 4-10pm