There’s no sexier meal than experiencing a chef’s table. They’re glorious gastro-adventures. All the culinary cues come from the chef, and at no time are you really in control of the dining experience. It sounds risky, but nothing is gained without risk, right? Jeremy Solyn, the chef and owner of Nylos in Paia, knows this risk and reward inside and out (the name “Nylos” is just “Solyn” spelled backwards).
Nylos’ space up on Baldwin Avenue is just the right size–a cozy open kitchen layout where you can niele Chef Solyn as he creates, but it’s also intimate enough that you could stay put and socialize with your dining partners. The 14-seat restaurant has just the right ambiance for Chef Solyn’s plates, and he’s quite accessible should you have any questions about what he is serving.
“I’m either stupid or crazy because I’m doing fine dining in Paia,” says Solyn. “It’s definitely a risk. And sometimes with risk comes great reward. We feel like we have a really warm beautiful space. It’s intimate, tiny. You can see from the front straight into the back, which is kinda cool and lends itself to the enjoyment of the meal. You can see it prepared if you want to, and you don’t necessarily have to. Some foodies want to and seem to like that part of the concept. It’s a small setting, and kind of close and sexy. I think it’s very cosmopolitan–almost like being transported to San Francisco, New York or Paris for a couple of hours. I don’t think there’s anything like it on Maui. And there is certainly not any all-tasting-menu restaurants where you come in and get surprised as to what’s going to be on the menu.”
Ironically, Solyn had nearly opened a dive bar concept in Lahaina when he went all in on Nylos.
“I became a certified sommelier in 2013,” says Solyn. “I was working at the front of the house at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. For a short time I would intermittently jump in when someone didn’t show up in the kitchen. Not for any reason other than to keep my hands in the game, and to help the restaurant. But that was infrequent. Typically I was on the floor there a minimum of five to seven days a week, serving and pouring wine. I was looking for about a year to find a space to open a restaurant. The truth is I had been planning on doing something for over a decade. For like 15 years I had been thinking about it. I have written probably no less than 10 different business plans. I almost did a dive bar/fried food concept with some bowling lanes in Lahaina. I was close to signing a lease. It was the complete opposite of what we are currently doing with Nylos. Donuts and chicken wings and canned beers.”
Before Maui, Solyn had worked at Moto’s in Chicago with Chef Homaro Cantu, who was known for his contributions to molecular gastronomy. Solyn also did a stint as executive chef at the Hilton in Tucson, where he was responsible for many outlets and menus. But when he saw the location in Paia, it felt like one of those meant-to-be moments.
“It looked just like a dream that I had a bunch of years ago to do a tasting menu place,” says Solyn. “When I came in here, with the high ceilings and the open kitchen, I was like, that’s it. I jumped on it.”
Solyn knows that a tasting menu is special. It’s for that special date night or special event. He’s dedicated to the level of service and commitment that it takes, and focuses on his ingredients as well.
“This is geared toward putting yourself in the hands of the chef,” says Solyn. “The thing with that is that there’s a great transfer of trust from the guest to the operators of the restaurant. In this day and age, there’s sometimes a disconnect, because people do love choice. The quality that we have though, and the way that we are executing, the techniques that we are using–I know people will learn to trust us. I’m not Morimoto or Jean-Georges Vongerichten where I can slap down a tasting menu for $200 and say, ‘Hey this is how it is, you are going to pay for this because you know who I am.’ So I know it’s going to take a minute or two to earn that.”
I think part of the dining experience at Nylos is Solyn’s honesty. You can see him in the kitchen readying plates to perfection, and when he introduces the dishes at the table there’s a level of give and take you don’t find often. The dishes look immaculate, and his pride, gratitude and love really show. What’s more, Solyn is willing to accommodate special requests–vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan, etc. with advance notice. You don’t often see that in tasting menus.
“I have vegetarians and vegans call and if they give me a day or two, I can really come up with something special,” says Solyn. “I just did a six-course vegetarian meal a couple of days ago and they were loving it. A lot of restaurants with set menus won’t do anything like that. It’s just me cooking this food. But it’s also me doing everything, from marketing to fixing the ice machine. My wife is helping me a bit, but we have four kids at home. We just had a baby Valentine’s Day. We have a lot going on, a lot of irons in the fire.”
Solyn’s menus are divine, and they may change as often as every other day. They include three courses and include a glass of sparkling wine and amuse bouche. You can add a wine progression–three glasses of wine chosen specifically to go with the dishes in five-ounce pours. The dishes are made with high quality ingredients–line caught mahi, organic veggies from Kumu Farms, Paia Lychee, Kula Strawberry, USDA prime beef that’s braised, broiled, sauteed, pickled, brined, soaked and marinated. His flawless culinary techniques bring to life the best of the ingredients. It’s provocative, provincial and sophisticated.
“Ideally, we would like to have a couple of options in the future,” says Solyn. “At this point we’re staying small to maintain the quality and freshness of every single dish we create. We just want people to know that we are there to serve them. We are working hard every day to earn the business of our clientele. We stay in the now. We stay right in the moment. We know that we’re only as good as the last plate we put out and the next plate that is going out. We focus on that.”
115 Baldwin Ave., Paia