Tropica Restaurant & Bar
The Westin Maui Resort & Spa
2365 Ka‘anapali Parkway, Lahaina
The best way to enjoy Tropica Restaurant and Bar is by staying at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali. If that’s not in the budget, a close second is just stopping by the restaurant for some food and drink.
Tropica has fully renovated its outdoor dining area with new furniture, a new hostess stand, outdoor thatched umbrellas, flagstone flooring and additional tiki torches. Their Kaanapali beach and sunset views are hard to beat, and their open-air dining area takes its glory from the surrounding nature, as does the menu.
Tropica also has a new chef, Ikaika Manaku, a local boy hailing from Sheraton Kauai Resort who is an inspiring addition to the food scene on Maui. He’s tapped into Maui’s local cuisine like a poster-boy for sustainability, and he’s only been here a month.
Chef Ikaika designs the nightly specials on the menu, like the catch of the day, with Sous Chef Rich Hinojosa. When I dined, Manaku informed me the bottom season had just opened and that they had fresh opakapaka. Opakapaka is also known as the Hawaiian Pink Snapper, caught at depths of 30 to 100 fathoms. Its firm flesh has a mild flavor coveted by seafood lovers. Manaku served his Opakapaka with a vegetable au jus and fingerling potatoes, shiitake mushrooms, roasted fennel and Roma tomato with a ginger scallion pesto. The fish was crisp on the outside, white, flaky and moist. A pleasing balance was struck with the au jus and vegetables. A lot of attention was given to the vegetables; they were each perfectly prepared, whether steamed, roasted or sauteed. The au jus and pesto sauce never overwhelmed any of their flavors, each standing on its own but blending perfectly.
With Starwood Resorts putting more emphasis on sustainability the resort chefs get to focus on local ingredients. “We are most passionate in supporting local businesses and buying fresh ingredients from local farmers,” said Hinojosa. “Almost 80 percent of our menu items are made using local produce. Fish is freshly caught locally and we do try our best to have as much local seafood as possible.” The resort also participates in fundraising events, such as the festival organized by Lahaina Restoration Foundation and most recently Maui Calls, organized by the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.
All the seafood on the menu is spectacular. I had the best steamed mussels of my life; they literally melted in your mouth. The coconut-steamed clams and mussels are served in a coconut broth, with Thai-inspired flavors of basil, lemongrass and cilantro oil. The New Caledonia prawns are high-quality aqua farmed prawns from Melanesia, known for their sweet, incredible flavor. The seared diver scallops are a dollop of seafood heaven, caramelized in their exterior and creamy inside. Diver scallops are caught individually by a diver, versus harvested by dragging chain nets over the ocean floor. Not only does this ensure you get larger scallops, but it allows the younger ones to regenerate. Each offering on the menu comes with a suggested pairing; you’ll find wines from all over the world on their list.
Ecological fishing practices aside, Tropica’s attention to detail is also evidenced in their cocktail menu and tasting menu options. Happy hour is from 4-6:30pm and drink master Freddie Sconfienza and manager Alex Dreher have some tricks up their sleeves for you. Martinis are $5 off during happy hour, and Sconfienza has concocted ten amazing options with a rainbow of flavor profiles. I’m a gin fan, and the Saint Germain made with Hendricks, elderflower liqueur, Pinot Grigio reduction and fresh lemon was mind-blowing. It’s complex, not too sweet, well balanced and not overpowered with the elderflower. The martini menu is infused with fresh fruits and surprising combinations, yet it remains very approachable. Sconfienza won awards with the Dragonberry Drop featured on his “over ice” menu. The combination of fresh blackberries, lime, Bacardi Dragonberry, elderflower liquor and cane syrup is smooth and sublime. Come on Thursdays, when the “over ice” signature cocktails are $7.
Other specials include 25 percent off wines by the glass on Wednesdays, $9 signature martinis on Fridays, up to 50 percent off select bottles of wine on Saturdays and Hawaii Travel & Hospitality Industry Night, with 25 percent off food, beverage and alcohol on Sundays. Tropica validates Whalers Village parking to make it easy for those of us not staying on property. However, if you are at the sister Starwood properties in Kaanapali, there’s a shuttle to take advantage of.
A three-course tasting menu is offered from 5-6pm and 8:30-9:30pm for $33 per person. You can choose your first, second and third courses from the tasting menu, and you opt for pairing for $10 more. This is the perfect opportunity to play with their menu. They also have a four-course tasting menu that’s offered all night for $45 per person or $65 with pairing. This is a pre fixe menu that’s a completely different dining experience than the three-course.
From the forward-thinking sustainable menu to the creativity between Manaku and Hinojosa, none of it would be possible without the leadership of Nathan Davis, the director of food and beverage Executive Chef Garret Fujieda. Davis—on board since December—has been a mover and shaker in his post, empowering the food and beverage staff to try new things, find passion for the new and unfamiliar, embrace menu changes and share and their experiences with one another. The atmosphere is vibrant; the enthusiasm is tangible.
Got a hot food scoop? Contact Jen Russo at 808-280-3386 or fax to 808-244-0446.
For more foodie news, visit MauiTime’s food blog at: mauidish.com