By George Christopher Thomas, Food Critic
MAUI, HAWAII – If what they say is true about real estate, and its location, location, location, then Maui Fish & Pasta is strategically ideal and perfectly located in Whaler’s Village along Kaanapali Beach. The restaurant has indoor and outdoor seating, and we opted to be inside, but right on the edge along the balcony so we could enjoy the best of both worlds. This was a perfect spot to enjoy some lunch, feel the breeze from off the ocean, and get some high quality people watching in before our scheduled nap.
I noticed something on the menu that stood out, the French onion soup made with authentic Maui onions. Why would a hot side dish or something you would order at a steak house be on a lunch menu at a fish and pasta place? Well I asked the waitress, and got what now seems like an obvious answer,… the onions are famous in Maui. So of course I started off with the Kula Country Onion Soup, a traditional French onion soup made with caramelized Kula sweet onions and melted Gruyere Cheese. Well it was just amazing, and from that moment forward, I have traveled the world ordering French onion soup, and none has compared to the deliciousness of that tasty wonderful soup they serve at Maui Fish & Pasta restaurant on Kaanapali Beach.
We also ordered the Crispy Calamari, and it was cooked perfectly. Sometimes calamari can be hit and miss because it is easy to overcook, but this dish was prepared with Aloha. The calamari is served over a bed of spinach, red onions, and tomatoes tossed with balsamic vinaigrette, along with a chili aioli dipping sauce. It really hit the spot, and I will be ordering it as an appetizer every time I am back in Maui, whether it is lunch or dinner.
Everything on the menu sounded delicious, and you couldn’t order a bad dish if you tried. Maui Fish & Pasta also has a very extensive dinner menu, including pan roasted warm water lobster tail, 12 ounce Hawaii ranchers rib eye steak, and their famous “Kobe Burger.” Chef and partner Ivan Pahk was in the kitchen when we stopped by, and told me he enjoys cooking the pan seared white shrimp, the pan seared day boat scallops, and for a starter recommends the monster shrimp cocktail. The Hoisin duck wontons also came highly recommended, which is duck confit wrapped in a wonton, lightly fried and served on a bed of island kim chee slaw & drizzled with kochujang aioli.
As a professional cheeseburger coinsure, I had to order their famous “Kobe Burger.” This legendary cheeseburger is renowned for its flavor, tenderness & well-marbled texture. They serve it charbroiled to perfection with Kula greens, tomato, onion, smoked bacon & Bleu Cheese on a potato bun. After 18 holes of golf at the Royal Kaanapali Golf Course, this was just what the doctor ordered for a top notch and thoroughly delicious lunch. If I remember correctly, my wife ordered the “Fish & Chips” because she is English and by Royal Decree she is required to or she is breaking a British law from 1066. Well, her moist & flakey Atlantic Cod, which was lightly battered, deep fried & served with a Maui Gold Pineapple Coleslaw looked delicious. I must confess I tried a bite, after giving it a little lemon squeeze and a dip in tartar sauce, and it was most excellent.
We were too full for desert, and even had to get a box and doggie bag for the leftovers. The restaurant is in an amazing location, and serves five star dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I highly recommend stopping by the next time you are in Maui, and if you order nothing else but an ice water, by all means get the French onion soup. It will change your life, and might even transform you into a Maui onion convert. As I was informed, Maui onions are one of the smaller varieties of onions grown on the Hawaiian island of Maui. They are trademarked “Kula-grown” onions, and are considered a sweet onion. This is a scientific variety of onion that is not pungent. Their mildness is attributable to their low sulfur content and high water content when compared to other onion varieties. And the French onion soup on “The Valley Isle” is so good, some people visit Maui just so they can have a bowl of it. (For more information on Maui Fish & Pasta Restaurant, please visit www.mauifishandpasta.com)
Additional information provided by DK Restaurant Group. — Maui Fish & Pasta is owned by longtime restaurateur Dave Kodama. Kodama was born and raised on Oahu, a third generation Japanese American who thought he would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a civil engineer. But his life took a different path. In 1979, needing a break from his engineering studies at the University of Hawaii, he moved to Seattle and began work as a bartender. The convivial atmosphere and excitement of the restaurant business proved no match to a career as an engineer. In the restaurant business he found an ideal outlet that fostered his love of food and people.
Kodama ended up spending three years in Seattle and then moved to Aspen, Colorado where he lived for 10 years. During Aspen’s off-season, he traveled around the U.S., Mexico, and the Caribbean, eating and learning all he could about food. During this decade, he refined his culinary skills and gained the knowledge that would later help him as a restaurateur.
In 1995 D.K. returned to Hawaii and opened his first restaurant, Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar in March of 1996 at the Kapalua Resorts on Maui. His concept of providing contemporary sushi and innovative fusion seafood in a fun and lively setting was an instant success. Sansei’s awards and accolades include a prestigious 90 rating in Wine Spectator, the highest food rating in both the 1998 and 1999 Zagat Hawai’i Restaurant Surveys, numerous consecutive HONOLULU magazine Hale ‘Aina Awards, inclusion as one of Bon Appetit’s “Favorite Asian Restaurants” and one of “America’s Best Sushi Bars” in Travel + Leisure. In 2000 and 2002 Kodama opened a second and third Sansei, on Oahu and Kihei, Maui.
In keeping with his love of food and people, in 2003 Kodama partnered with Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya to open Vino Italian Tapas and Wine Bar in the Kapalua Resorts. A second Vino was opened in Honolulu in 2004. The original Maui location closed in 2007 due to resort renovations.
In September 2004, Kodama expanded his business by moving Sansei at Restaurant Row to the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort and Spa and opening d.k Steak along with Sansei at the new Waikiki location. Replacing Sansei in Restaurant Row, was Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas. A collaboration with chef Hiroshi Fukui and Chuck Furuya, Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas serves innovative Asian fusion cuisine.
D.K. Kodama is also the author of D.K.’s Sushi Chronicles from Hawai’i: Recipes from Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar, published by Ten Speed Press.
Today, D.K. Kodama owns six restaurants in Hawaii and continues to look for new opportunities that further his commitment of providing guests with great food and excellent service at the best value.