Just Mauied

IMG_1160-0.JPGThe day Nadia and I got married was one of the best days ever … my boo, my family, my friends, the food.

For our honeymoon, we jumped in the car and headed to Palm Desert because it was what we could afford at the time. But we always wanted to take a far away vacation together, just the two of us, and this year being our five-year anniversary, Nadia picked Hawaii. She planned an adventure that I luckily reaped the benefits of.

IMG_1121-0.JPGMaui is one of the seven Hawaiian islands and is shaped like the bust of a woman. In our seven days we made our way around each curve of the island, and if there’s and one lesson I learned it’s that I will get motion sickness by land or by sea.

Worth it though, for the sights, sounds and tastes of this island paradise. We stayed in Kihei, a small, quiet beach town on the “inner bust” of the island.

IMG_1122.JPGBefore heading to Kihei … first priority was to go straight from the airport to the opposite side of the island for a meal at Star Noodle in Lahaina. It’s run by Top Chef finalist Sheldon Simeon, who cooked delicious-looking Hawaiian and Filipino dishes on the show. But enough looking. Time for tasting.

IMG_1123.JPGRamen, and Spam saimin. Noodle texture on point. Everything delicious.

IMG_1125.JPGPork belly steamed buns … Three to an order were not enough!

IMG_1126.JPGThe next night was out anniversary and the one surprise I had up my sleeve was dinner at Sheldon’s new fine dining Asian restaurant, Migrant, on our side of the island.

It’s attached to his American-ish concept Mala, both at the Marriott in Wailea, which felt like the Beverly Hills of Maui.

IMG_1127.JPGUltimate dopeness is when a restaurant gives you free chicharron to start. This was ultimate dopeness, with a side of chili water for dipping.

We ordered through different sections of the menu from there …

IMG_1128.JPGI always order shishito peppers if they’re on the menu and these were stellar: charred and blistered with a pool of “Hidden Valley Ranch,” and crispy quinoa and furikake.

IMG_1129.JPGThe highlight for me was the hibachi hangar steak, served with raw watercress, shallot and red jalapeño in a pool of nuoc cham. BALLER.

IMG_1130.JPGNadia ordered seared ahi belly.

IMG_1131.JPGAnd we shared some seriously meaty, seafood-y pancit.

IMG_1132.JPGWe finished our anniversary dinner with a slice of Ovaltine chocolate cake. As good as it sounds, plus 10 points.

IMG_1133.JPGWe started exploring the very next day, heading around the “head” of the island. It was a solid three hour drive (with a handful of blind cliffside turns), but the route was full of great places to stop and take it all in.

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Along the way we stopped at Leoda’s Pie Shop for breakfast.

IMG_1140.JPGI skipped on the pie and ordered something savory instead. Nadia loved the ahi tuna benedict on rye.

IMG_1137.JPGLater that night we headed back to Wailea, this time for a luau at the Grand Wailea.

I joked that this place looked like a Rick Ross video. Straight palatial.

IMG_1138.JPGWe wandered around the massive hotel, eventually finding the chapel with this amazing stained glass window.

IMG_1139.JPGThere are two big luaus on the Kihei side of Maui and Nadia chose the Grand Wailea’s because of the open bar. The buffet was stellar, with kalua pig, grilled chicken and beef, fried fish, and an array of Hawaiian sides dishes (poi, lomi lomi salmon, potato mac) and desserts.

IMG_1143.JPGThe next day we took a tour bus around the island on the road to Hana. In reality, the town of Hana is a blip on a journey through the world’s only driveable rainforest.

IMG_1144.JPGAlong the 600 something turns, I managed to get car sick and had to pull the tour over so I could throw up. (Huzzah!)

By the time we got to the black sand beach for lunch, I stumbled out of the van, curled up on the grass and slept it off for 30 minutes. Nadia made me eat lunch and the rest and food made me feel better.

IMG_1145.JPGWe found a path to a hidden waterfall, where I dropped my phone in the water briefly after taking this shot. Luck on my side, the quick dunk surprisingly did no permanent damage.

IMG_1146.JPGThe rest of the drive was more desert than jungle, with a stop at the island’s only winery for pineapple wine. Blanc was the best.

We were exhausted after the 10-hour tour, so we ate through leftovers in the hotel room and called it a day.

IMG_1147.JPGI didn’t get much of a break from the motion sickness because the next day we went snorkeling at Molokini Crater, a crescent shaped volcanic rock jutting out of the ocean about 9 miles from shore. To sum it up, I hate the ocean.

IMG_1148.JPGNadia, earlier in the trip, won a ticket to Ulalena, a Cirque-like show about the Hawaiian islands. It was well choreographed, immersive, and I haven’t been able to get the last song out of my head for days. A great experience on par with the excellent show at the luau.

We kept hearing buzz about Peter Merriman’s Monkey Pod Kitchen in Wailea. I took the opportunity to reward myself for enduring the snorkeling with an impromptu dinner there.

IMG_1149.JPGWe shared the “Bourgeois” flatbread with lobster, Parmesan, mushrooms and thyme. So decadent and delicious.

IMG_1150.JPGAfter the Hana trip, I really wanted to sink my teeth into se grass-fed Maui beef. The special that night was a New York strip with cilantro/Kula corn salsa and carrot spaetzle. The beef was lean but full of flavor with a thin ribbon of white fat running down one side. “Bovinty divinity.”

IMG_1159.JPGWe slept for hours and hours on our last day. The only thing we had planned was a final dinner at Alan Wong’s Amasia.

Located at the Grand Wailea, Amasia is a Japanese/Asian labyrinth of a restaurant with a sushi bar, hibachi counter and full service kitchen. The menu is tapas, “pupus” in Hawaiian, sushi, entrees and desserts. We ordered a bunch of small plates and two of the restaurant’s most famous desserts. Beware: Lots of food photos to follow …

IMG_1151.JPGYellowfin ahi nigiri. So fresh, so clean.

IMG_1152.JPGAhi tuna stack. The wontons at the bottom added a crunchy contrast to all of the softer ingredients.

IMG_1153.JPGMochico chicken: Ginger. Garlic. Rice flour. Boomshakalaka.

IMG_1154.JPGMaui beef skewers. Delicious, with a strange jalapeño sauce and stranger citrus garnish. Good/weird.

IMG_1155.JPGKimchi fried rice. Some of the best cooked grains of rice I’ve ever had. Spicy, salty, kimchi-y.

IMG_1156.JPGKula corn, Mexican style with a cilantro pesto and Parmesan cheese.

IMG_1157.JPGOne of the more famous desserts at the restaurant is this coconut-studded chocolate shell filled with coconut sorbet and served with fresh Hawaiian fruits. I could live in that shell.

IMG_1158.JPGWe finished with their pineapple shave iced, which was actual pineapple soaked in vanilla, frozen and shredded on a microplane. I’mma make this at home asap.

Over the course of the week we had a couple of lunches out when we weren’t grubbing on leftovers (shout out to the Maui Coast Hotel for having fridges and microwaves in the room). There are a couple of plate lunches I have to mention:

IMG_1141.JPGChicken katsu and short rib from Da Kitchen in Kihei. Yum.

IMG_1142.JPGLoco Moco at Ami Ami, the hotel restaurant. Best beef gravy I’ve ever had. Scout’s honor.

IMG_1096.JPGOn our last day we stayed in the hotel until check out and then visited the Maui Ocean Center, the island’s incredible aquarium.

IMG_1100.JPGMy favorite part was the jellyfish tube.

In the search to kill time before our 9 p.m. flight we ended up at the local mall before hitting up Da Kitchen Express near the airport.

IMG_1110.JPGI’d had enough plate lunch, but found inspiration at the table next to us and went with the towering mahi mahi tempura sandwich. There was so much battered fish I eventually picked off the batter and ate just the flesh, but this was worth the money both in size and taste.

It kept me full until 6 a.m. the next morning when we arrived back at LAX.

A perfect end to a perfect vacation!

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