Despite all of the dreary economic indicators for Maui, plenty of restaurateurs decided to give it a go in 2009. After all, everyone must eat. Bravo to the brave food and beverage entrepreneurs whose spirits weren’t dampened by locations that have yet to hold a successful eatery despite other attempts, or the daunting Liquor Commission and Planning Commission hoops to jump through. Here’s a look at a few standouts:
BEST ETHNIC CUISINE ON THE SCENE
Maui’s history with Indian food has been a bit sketchy. A curry place here, a Taj Mahalo there, nothing lasting long, definitely not more than two years. In 2009, we got two new choices, both in Kihei, and both strong enough to stick around: the more casual Maui Masala in the Dolphin Plaza, and the sit-down ocean views of Monsoon India in the Menehune Shores. Hopefully enough Mauians will discover their love of curries and naans to keep these places going in 2010 and beyond. Maui Masala, 2395 S. Kihei Rd. #110, Kihei, 875-9000; Monsoon India, 760 South Kihei Road, #109, Kihei, 875-6666.
MOST NEEDED IN CENTRAL MAUI
Bistro Casanova sauntered onto the Kahului dining scene like an old friend, serving the lunches we dreamed of but were never offered. Delectable housemade bread rolls and bread sticks to snack on while you wait, sandwiches, crepes and salad washed down with strawberry ice tea, or cocktails if its that kind of lunch. More recently they began serving dinner, an amalgamation of Italian, Spanish, Mediterranean and French dishes. I love their tasty filet, but especially the Antipasto di Mare, a seafood salad that has muscles, calamari and shrimp. Another plus for the Bistro: it’s a stylish getaway for the going-out crowd, offering mojitos by the carafe and a tapas menu. 33 Lono Ave. #150, Kahului, Tues.-Sat. 11am-close, Mon. lunch only, 873-3650.
FINALLY: PIZZA DELIVERY & QUICK FOOD IN HAIKU
John and Cristina Graziano are new to the restaurant world, but their dedication is clear. Opening one restaurant in one of the most rural enclaves on Maui wasn’t enough for them—they’re busting their butts out in Haiku with a sit-down dinner joint, Max, and a morning and lunch take-out place, Max to Go. The selection at the latter is a pared-down version of what’s offered at the main restaurant. My last visit I had soup and salad on the way to the park, but most times I pick up a ham and pineapple pizza, the family favorite, which of course you can also get delivered. Max, Haiku Town Center, Haiku, 575-2629; Max To Go, Haiku Town Center, Haiku, 575-2246.
BIG REPUTATIONS ON THE WEST SIDE
If your reputation precedes you, does that give you an edge on the competition, or just big expectations to meet? Both. With the opening of Davis Paul’s Island Grill, Chef David Paul comes back to Lahaina almost two decades after opening—and later selling—the Lahaina Grill on Lahainaluna Road. David Paul’s Island Grill reinvents Chef David with a modern look, fresh ideas and, of course, good food. His attention to fresh island products and innovative creations spawned the Princess and the Pea, a seared scallop on the most amazing pea cake, one of the best things I put in my mouth this year. Also entering the dining fray on the West side with a big rep is TS Restaurants’ Duke’s Beach House. TS will now have four out of their 13 restaurants on Maui, and that is no accident. All four reside on the West side with fabulous ocean views. The controversial development of North Beach notwithstanding, they have opened a gorgeous Duke Kahanamoku-themed place, complete with Hawaiian artifacts and the signature Duke’s style. David Paul’s Island Grill, 900 Front St., Lahaina, 662-3000; Duke’s Beach House, Honua Kai Resort, 130 Kai Malina Pkwy., 662-2900.
FOOD, DRINKS & LIVE MUSIC
I’ve got to hand it to Diamond’s Ice Bar and Grill for opening the club in the first place, and then staunchly supporting live music on Maui with their Friday Night Live series. A different live band has played every Friday, meaning you can expect a fun and eclectic crowd. This is one place that makes a great martini—bringing back my faith in mixology—and the bartender doesn’t roll his or her eyes if you order one. Dress up, come out and if you get hungry, the menu goes ’til the wee hours. More recently I checked out Big Mike’s Throwback Thursday night, a mix of quality ’80s and ’90s dance tunes. Don’t act—you know you totally wanna dance. 1279 S. Kihei Rd., Kihei, 874-9299.
THE ONES THAT GOT AWAY
Of course, 2009 saw a lot of establishments close their doors. It’s a tough enough business when things are going good, and, well, you know… We’d rather not dwell on it, but here are a few goodbyes: Santa Fe Cantina, Rusty Harpoon, Henry’s, Maui Bake Shop, Pauwela Cafe, Unisan, Rosa’s Cantina and Rosa’s Taco Cart, Greek Bistro, Roy’s Kihei, Kujo’s, Compadres and Bernard’s Bento & Banquets. Aloha.
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Got a hot food scoop? Contact Jen Russo, 280-3286