Ahhh.  That’s it.

These are the only words that usually escape my lips during a massage – as it should be. When on Maui, the main goal is to relax, and you just can’t do that with all your muscles still carrying the tension of the past year, or month, or week.  Whatever.  We make it a point to start off our vacations with a little body-work.

This year, Vlad and I elected to do an 80 minute couple’s massage at the Heavenly Spa at the Westin Maui Resort.  Before I get any angry emails from my readers, a couple’s massage is one room, two tables, and two therapists.   We chose it because we’re getting the same treatment, and going with the couple’s version saved us about $50.

I was highly disappointed they didn’t have the Island Body Butter treatment this year.  It was on their website, but when I called to book it they said they can’t get the product any more.  Rats – I was really looking forward to it.   My bank balance, however, was very happy with the situation.   Hmm – maybe I can get that extra pair of sandals after all…..

One of the things I usually like best about the Westin Spa is the steam room, sauna and jacuzzi in the Women’s locker room.   However, I was a bit disappointed this time.  The jacuzzi was only lukewarm, and the steam room had a moldy kind of smell in it instead of the usual eucalyptus.  It was very unusual, and it was strong enough for me to back out of there fast.  Pity – I really enjoy time in steam rooms.

This gave me more time to sit on the wonderful chaise, sip cold  cucumber-lemon water and watch the play on the ocean in front of the huge windows.   There was a pod of dolphins frolicking in the distance, followed by a bunch of tour boats.  I saw one punter in the biggest boat lean out for a photo and fall into the water.   I’m sure it didn’t do his or her camera any good, but that’s one way to swim with dolphins!  There was only one other lady in the quiet room (another unusual event – usually there are a lot of people at this spa!) and she and I enjoyed a quiet laugh at the sight.  Vlad and Alexei missed it – they came into the quiet room a minute later .  For a look at the spa, click here.

Alexei had the hot stone massage because he tweaked his swing a while ago, and it was bothering his back.   A few sessions with his favorite pro cured the tweak, and Alexei hoped the massage would bring him back to fighting form.  After all, he would be playing two rounds with his uncle in a few days, and he wanted to be in good enough shape to beat the tar out of him.  He really enjoyed the massage, but his uncle was still able to keep up with him on the golf course – but that’s a different story!

Vlad and I went in for our massages, and it was as good as always.   They’ve done some funky stuff with the aromatherapy choices (can hardly smell them!) but the massage itself was just what we needed.   Be sure to ask for Diana or Jeff (our two therapists) when you make an appointment.  They were both pretty awesome.

Back we went to the car, missing most of our brains, but with very happy muscles.    Hmm – nap or dinner?   Nap or dinner?   Which would you do?

(Yeah – we chose dinner too….)

Barefoot Bar:

This place in Kaanapali’s Whaler’s Village is one of our favorites,  with a nightly hula/live music show, known as one of the best on the island (different from a luau!).   It’s a very nice show with excellent live music that varies from Hawaiian slack guitar and traditional tunes to Jimmy Buffet and Bob Marley.  They have two restaurants – their Barefoot Bar, which is a big sand pit (yes, you do go barefoot) with chairs and tables under umbrellas that serves excellent, reasonably priced pub food – families with kids can go here with no problem, and the kids love the show.

Not your traditional pub menu, however.  Yes, they have excellent burgers and sandwiches, but they take it one step beyond for those

These crab wontons are incredible!

with palates.  Their hors d’oeuvres are also superb.   We love the crab wontons in soy-mustard dipping sauce.   Alexei and I start craving those wontons about 3 months before each trip, and we have to have them at least 3 times each trip.  Try them – you can join me in figuring out how they make that sauce – and then please let me know how you did it.

For entree’s, their burgers are really good, their fish sandwich is excellent (ask for the ahi to be seared!) and their fish and chips are actually really good – not greasy at all, but crisp and in a light batter.   My nephew Harald also  gives his highest approval on their kid’s menu.

For dessert, go for the brownie sundae with raspberry coulis.   Yum.  That is, if you can still face food after that dinner!

No reservations at the Barefoot Bar – you must put your name in and wait – up to an hour during primetime.  Nice thing is that they have a GREAT bar with a lovely view of the sunset.  You can also order dinner from the bar tables.  For a large group with fussy children, send someone early to put your name in and order a drink at the bar.  Or, if you like shopping, you can wander around the very good shops in Whaler’s Village and pick up that swimsuit, sandals or goodies to take back home.

The view from your table at the Hula Grill

Unfortunately, they’ve reduced the quality of their liquor, and the best vodka they have is something called Three Olives, which is not good at all.  I tried what USED to be my favorite chickdrink, the Plantation Lemonade, and the new ‘top shelf’ vodka they have just ruined it.   Rats.   I switched to their draft beer that is from the Maui Brewing Company and I have to say it’s EXCELLENT!   They have a great Big Swell IPA, their Mana Wheat has some overtones of pineapple (trust me, it works!) and their Bikini Blonde is a nice light lager.  They also have a proprietary brew called Barefoot Brew that is mid-range hoppy and very good too.

They also make a pretty good Mai Tai – but be sure to ask for Meyer’s dark rum, or you’re in for a nasty surprise.  That is, if they haven’t cut more corners and gotten rid of it.  If they have, stick to the beer.  You won’t be disappointed.

Hula Grill (main dining room):

The restaurant section of the Hula Grill is excellent.  A bit more expensive, but the menu is very imaginative and very good.  Chef Peter Merriman has an excellent menu and the place is wildly popular at a very reasonable price for the quality of the cuisine. The kids menu is the same as at the Barefoot Bar.   A wide variety of specials supplement a strong set menu.   Don’t make any decisions until you hear the daily specials – you won’t be disappointed.   Reservations are imperative.    We always eat at the main restaurant one night, and the barefoot bar one or two nights, and have yet to decide otherwise.

May the Restaurant Gods be with you!

I’m a huge fan of farmer’s markets, and if I HAVE to go shopping, I much prefer to patronize local growers and traders than huge megasuperwhatevers.  Here on Maui there are a few small farmer’s markets that pop up in parking lots, at beach parks, or just off the side of the main highway.  In most cases, they’re just one or two small growers that have their produce on tables behind their truck.   Those guys tend to move around a lot, so if you see one, stopping is a good idea.  It’s a bit harder to find one that is stationary and regularly timed since they rarely advertise.

Alexei choosing the perfect tapenade and mugging for the camera.

The one thing they all have in common is delicious produce picked at the peak of ripeness, and you can’t beat it for flavor.  I’m also a bit of a nut for organic produce, and that’s very hard to find at supermarkets.

Just be sure to bring your own reusable bags – Maui County does not allow plastic bags to be sold at any foodstore.  I never travel without a couple of lightweight grocery bags, and a large selection of mesh fruit and veggie bags.  Two years without store bags is my running record, and one of the ways I’m trying to be green.  Every little bit helps.

There’s one particular market near our condo that runs three times a week.  It’s run by a local organic market in Honokowai, and they’ve converted their parking lot to hold tables and awnings.  The market is from 7:30 to 10:00am Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays – get there early because the good stuff goes fast.   The tables are full of boxes of local fruits, vegetables, breads (including gluten free), salsas, guac, spreads, dips, local honey and whatever you can think of.  They also give free samples of some of their more luscious fruits to entice the punters to buy more.

And before I get inundated with email, no, I don’t cook  while on vacation.  This stuff is for breakfast and lunch only.  That I do fix, while Vlad and Alexei enjoy their kona coffee and guava juice on the lanai.  They take ME out to dinner, so it’s all good.

Our usual haul includes:

  • Maui Gold pineapple – it has a lower acid-content than the usual kind that you can find on other islands, or on the mainland.  The fruit is a deep gold and is incredibly sweet.  Don’t cut out the core – that’s the sweetest part of the fruit and is edible.  Eaten with the tarter portion, it creates a nice flavor mix.

    Doesn't this look yummy?

  • Papayas –  There are two types of papayas sold locally.  Regular Hawaiian papayas have a deep orange-gold color inside and are yellow-green mottled on the skin when ripe.   Sunrise (or strawberry) papayas have a similar skin, but the inside is a peachey-red color – just the color of the sun as it rises over the ocean.   Both are best eaten with a wedge of lime squirted over the top.  Scoop out the seeds, squeeze the lime in the cavity, and devour.  Ambrosia!
  • Apple-bananas.  These little bananas are 4-5 inches long and have a slightly apple flavor.  They’re very different from the ones you get on the mainland, and once you try one, no other banana will satisfy you.  They’re high in potassium and absolutely delicious.
  • Lilikoi (passionfruit).  These little fruits are best when perfectly ripe.   Don’t let them over-ripen – the taste is just not the same.  It can be tricky to find the ones that are ready to eat.  Have one of the experts show you the best ones to buy.
  • Dragonfruit – the yellow-skinned ones with the white flesh are my favorite.   I got hooked on these pretty fruits in SE Asia, and the local Hawaiian variety is just as good as the ones I used to devour in Thailand and Malaysia.  Peeled and sliced, the white flesh with black seeds are slightly tangy and very refreshing on a hot day – they have a kiwi-like flavor that is lighter and a bit sweeter.  Careful of the red dragonfruits – they’re a bit sweeter than the white, and are great in salads, but the juice stains and WILL NOT COME OUT of clothes.   Yes, I did learn that the hard way.  I go with the whites since I’m basically a klutz, and tend to wear what I eat.
  • Kula greens – these baby lettuces are grown on the cool slopes of Haleakala and are full of flavor.
  • Heirloom tomatoes – the volcanic soil in Hawaii produce some of the best tomatoes in the world.   Try one and you’re spoiled.  Wow.
  • Local cheeses, dips and spreads.  We usually indulge in the garlic-olive cream cheese for morning bagles, as well as the tapenade, and spicy and pineapple salsas.  The tapenade this market sells is superb.  Just the right amount of garlic, and a great mix of olive types – all locally grown.   Add some crackers and lunch and evening appetizers are thereby taken care of for the duration of the trip.
  • Local honey – there are a whole lot of very happy bees on the Islands, and the beekeepers make some of the best honey in the world from the tropical flower nectar they produce.   One of my favorites is the honey made from macadamia nut flowers.  Try it.  Trust me, you’ll take home a few jars.
  • Local breads – home-baked sweetbreads and locally baked breads abound at these markets.  Our favorite is a sweet pineapple bread made by a very nice lady who lives in Napili and sells her wares at the market.   She also has a series of gluten-free breads that look pretty good.  Haven’t tried them, but they seem to sell well.

When you visit a farmers market, just don’t be surprised when you go up to the checkout table if the guy tells you that you need to bag your own stuff because he’s “just not feeling it today”.   This is Hawaii, where Hang Loose is not just a term, it’s a lifestyle.

Home again, home again, jiggety jig.  Time to make a really good breakfast for the boys.

Hang loose.

Kimo’s/Leilani’s/Duke’s/Kapalua Grill:

Here you find the same menu, three locations, and nothing fancy.  It’s a great place to take adolescents who eat everything in sight and aren’t too picky about the quality.   They have local fresh fish, prepared one of three or four ways, depending on the fish and the special.   We used to be able to recommend the Ono or Opakapaka, either broiled with lemon-caper butter, or with the orange marmalade/macadamia nut glaze, depending on your cholesterol level, but based on the lunch we just had, I’m not sure I can even recommend it anymore.   Large portions are served, with salad and dessert included.

Hula Pie - nice presentation, but not as good as in the past.

Kimo’s is located on the main street of Lahaina, and they have a great bar for sunset watching.   I just wish the food was better.  It has seriously deteriorated in the past year.  We had lunch there yesterday, and the fish tacos had a slab of some brown fish in it rather than the nice flaky white fish we remembered, and my reuben sandwich had flavorless pale pink pastrami that looked like it came out of one of those meat packages I’ll never buy at Costco.  Yuck.

Our favorite dessert, the Hula Pie, has also been cheapened.  It used to be smothered in hot fudge, but now it’s thin chocolate sauce.   They’ve also reduced the quality of their top-shelf liquor – another cost saving tactic that has now lost a client in our family.  Cost saving is right.  We’re not going back.

If you can get past all of this, and really don’t care about good food, children are welcome at the bar tables in all the restaurants, and they serve a variety of ‘virgin’ drinks.    Leilani’s is located in Kaanapali’s Whaler’s Village, on the water.  It is another place for a sunset drink (assuming you don’t mind the downgraded alcohol quality) and we used to like it for lunch.  Didn’t even want to try it this year after the Kimo’s debacle.   Duke’s is at the Marriott Timeshares in North Ka’anapali just before Honokowai, and I heard from some guests at our condo complex that the sandwiches they had were pretty good.  Maybe they’re not saving quite as much up there.  The Kapalua Grill is in the Inn at Kapalua, and has a good view of Molokai when it’s not raining – which is not very often.

Very popular with families, these restaurants don’t take reservations, but are large enough that there is usually only a short wait.  We recently heard that the Kapalua Grill was taking reservations, but have yet to confirm that personally.  And at this point, there’s NO way we’re going to chance it.

Hard Rock Café:

Been to one, you’ve been to all – the only thing different is that this one is on Lahaina’s main street, in the shopping center, and the t-shirts say “Maui”.  ‘Nuff said.  Tour buses stop there and disgorge lots of tourists just after they’ve been to Hilo Hattie’s for his-and-hers Hawaiian shirts and muumuus with the requisite black socks and light shoes or sandals.   Good for a look as you’re walking by, and a laugh.   Wear earplugs if you’re eating there.  The music is very loud at some tables.

Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Factory:

Yikes. Located on Lahaina’s main street, across from Longhi’s.  We’ve never even been tempted to try this one.  If anyone is brave, please let us know how you liked it.  We have some good stuff written about  in the guest book from some of the guests who rent our family’s condo, so it seems to have some allure for people who like their fish fried.   You can see a large line of very large people waiting to get in at early-bird dinnertime, all of whom obviously love fried fish, if you know what I mean.  With so many excellent restaurants, I don’t understand why people would waste their time here – I guess the low prices bring them in.  The only thing I know in its favor is that it has a great view for the sunset and their name comes from a very good movie.

Buzz’s Wharf:

In Ma’alena, on the way to Lahaina or Kihei from Kahului Airport.  Terrible place.  Alexei had their clam chowder for lunch after golf on his last trip and spent the evening  in the bathroom with food poisoning.   Need I say more?

Hyatt Regency Kaanapali’s Swan Court:

Good brunch spot.   Yes, there really are swans – lots of them.   Keep your fingers to yourselves- we’re told they bite by someone who should have known better.   Food is good, with typical brunch fare, Hyatt style.  Nice Polynesian buffet, with lots of local island specialties.  This is the favorite brunch place for several of our friends, who recommend it highly – even with the nipped fingers.  I’m told it’s a great place to take young children, with plenty of high chairs and attentive service.  I can’t attest to that, never having taken Alexei there when he was small, but we do think it has a great view, with lots of waterfalls and ponds filled with swans that will keep the small ones interested.   Pretty flowers, too.

Westin Kaanapali:

This is our favorite on Hotel Row for Sunday Brunch Buffet.   They have two offerings – one for the typical brunch fare, including lots of great fresh island fruit, and one for the sushi lovers.   The Westin caters highly to the Japanese tourist, but not everyone likes raw fish for breakfast like Alexei and I do.  Vlad rates the traditional brunch as the best of the three main hotels, and we think the sushi selection is great – everything is made right in front of you, and is extremely fresh. There’s something for everyone, and in enormous quantities.  The swans here are too well mannered to bite. Perhaps they’re paid more.

The restaurant has an incredible view, with a waterfall and a very nice pond just beyond your table.  A string quartet sometimes plays in the background, and you feel very civilized as you sip your champagne.   Bring an appetite, and make a reservation – several days ahead if you want a good starting time on Sunday.  They also serve better quality champagne than either the Ritz or the Hyatt, but who’s counting (except me??)

By the way, the Westin also has the best spa on the Ka’anapali strip.  Go for the Lomi-Lomi massage (see Spa entry) – after brunch and champagne, someone will need to pour you into your car by the time you’re done.

Ritz-Carlton Kapalua:

A typical Ritz-type buffet is served for brunch in their main restaurant.   I think they have one menu world wide, and stick to it like glue.   Good brunch, but you if you’ve eaten at the Ritz in New York, Paris, Half Moon Bay, or Hong Kong, you’ve already seen the menu – and eaten it.  Over and over and over….

There are more fruit choices on this buffet than in other Ritz locations, but the only real concession to Hawaii is the Hawaiian music they play in the background.  If that wasn’t enough to scare me off permanently, the service is also reported to be rather slow, according to a friend who visited in early February.  OK view if it’s not raining, but since it does just that with alarming frequency that far north, don’t plan on going for the view.

Since they’re the only real brunch spot in Kapalua, it’s crowded, so you’ll need to make reservations.

Longhi’s:

Longh’s in Lahaina does a great brunch if you want lighter fare or don’t want a buffet.  Their french toast is amazing, and my nephew  says they make the best cinnamon rolls.  He’s an expert, and I trust his judgment on that.  I like their smoked salmon eggs benedict best, and Vlad and Alexei swear by their omelettes.

Cheeseburger in Paradise:

This place is a lot of fun. It’s not a chain, and it’s been on the Lahaina main street for the past 20+ years.   It’s great for lunch, with good burgers and sandwiches, all consumed while listening to ’70s beach music.   Groovy.   Has the best local draft beer selection in Lahaina, and killer fries (chips to you Pommies).   Excellent view.   It’s very crowded, so either arrive early, or put your name in and then walk around.   If you get there during busy time, you need to stand in line just to put your name on a list.  Then you stand some more.  The lovely young hostess obviously can’t handle more than a few things at one time or her brain will explode, so she has a unique system of keeping track – don’t ask unless you want to see her eyes spin counter-clockwise.   Relax and go with it.  The food is worth the mental aggravation.

Cheeseburger in Paradise

Castaways Café:

Located at the Maui Kaanapali Villas, this restaurant is excellent for lunch and breakfast.  On the North Kaanapali beach, there are inside and beachfront tables with an incredible view.  Good sandwiches and salads that I can personally vouch for.  Our condo is in this complex, and this is where we get our poolside lunches.   Bro and Sis-in-law say the breakfast was excellent, but we never got up early enough to try it.   It’s a bit off the beaten path, but well worth a visit.

View of Maui Ka'anapali Villa's pool. Castaways Cafe looks out onto this pool.

Sansei:

The Maui restaurant from this popular Honolulu chain is located in Kapalua, right by the pro shop.  It’s Japanese fusion cuisine in a noisy, fun atmosphere and a good wine-sake list.  Don’t expect to find chicken teriyaki on this menu – it’s very imaginative, and their sushi and rolls are excellent.  Alexei and I usually order a huge platter of mixed sushi with both hand and traditional rolls and just dive in.  Keep a menu for extra ordering – once you get started, it’s hard to stop.  There are cooked options for the non-raw-fish eaters, and even a nephew-approved kid’s menu.  Save room for dessert.  We took Bro and Sis-in-law there twice now and they loved it.

My nephew loved the food at Sansei - and playing on his mom's iPhone

Longhi’s:

This is an interesting place, located on Lahaina’s main street.   An expensive restaurant that Vlad swears doesn’t live up to his quality standards for the price for dinner.  I thought it was fine.  Go figure.  Great breakfast, though – a standard Sunday morning for brunch for us.  French toast and cinnamon rolls are excellent, but I really like their smoked salmon eggs benedict.  They still have a nice wine list from what I saw when we had lunch during The Great Art Hunt.  I can also recommend their sandwiches for lunch.  We have their cookbook, and it’s a good one.  A lot of people like their t-shirts and aprons for their slogan, which I will NOT print here.  Go and check it out.

Longhi's restaurant on Front Street. Pretty building, good food.

Basil Tomatoes:

My parents found this place and recommended it to us.  It’s been a favorite ever since, and we’ve never hesitated to recommend it to others.  Located in the old pro shop at the Kaanapali golf course, this is an excellent Italian restaurant, and we never miss going there.  Their linguine with clams is piled high with succulent clams, and their white wine sauce is second only to my Mom’s recipe.  Excellent eggplant or chicken parmesan and their cioppino is Vlad’s favorite (when he’s not having their incredible osso bucco…).   Good wine list and good prices for the quality of food.   Reservations are required, usually a day ahead due to the small size of the restaurant.  Awesome sunset view across the Kaanapali golf course.

Gerard’s:

Located on a side street in downtown Lahaina, this restaurant has excellent French cuisine with only a token gesture to Polynesia.    On the expensive side, with a very, very good wine list, it also has a nice kid’s menu that my nephew enjoyed very much.  We took the whole family there  for Mom’s birthday, and it was spectacular.  We had a private room for our little party, and it was perfect.  Their specials never disappoint – they have two fish specials nightly – one with whatever snapper is running that day, and another featuring a different island fish.  We all had different entrees, Sis-in-law and I each had the grey snapper over fennel with an orange-ginger emulsion.  Wow.  Vlad had the mahi-mahi special and said it was very, very good.  High praise from him.  Alexei had the lobster thermidor, and looked like he hit gastronomic heaven.  Mom had the quail pie, and it was incredibly yummy.   Bro and Dad had the duck, and Dad said it was excellent (and he KNOWS good food).   Their desserts match their high quality – they’re amazing.  I adore their mango, pineapple or apple tarte tatin – chef’s choice, and their specialty, although I decided to try their banana somethingorother, and it was amazing. The wines Bro chose were excellent, and went with the various courses beautifully.

The highest praise from Vlad – the kids split the very expensive dinner check and Vlad paid it without any comments or looks.  Amazing, considering that after the Ugly Champagne Incident of 1998 (don’t ask…) he swore he’d never go there again.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.