Lahaina Grill is a workhorse of a restaurant that consistently creates very good to great meals with some of the best service on the island. From the hostess to the bartender to the servers to the sommelier who works the floor, each employee possesses poise, tact, and knowledge of their product. Whew! What a relief on island where truly exceptional service is in short supply.
David Paul Johnson first opened this restaurant in 1990 (he sold the restaurant nearly a decade ago, and they dropped his name in late 2007), and Chef/Owner Jurg Munch — is there a better name for a Chef? — continued many of his signature flavor combinations. This is a restaurant where every dish is designed to make you say “Wow!” from its presentation to its flavor profile to its exuberant use of high-end ingredients.
The European/Asian fusion cuisine crosses all sorts of boundaries, like the kalua duck quesadilla (sweet) bursting with roasted Maui onions and spiked with poblano peppers (heat). We like the plate of three separate seafood appetizers called the Cake Walk, because it lets you sample several standouts. The crab cake combines Kona lobster, scallops, crabs and panko with an exceptional spicy mustard sauce. The sweet Louisiana rock shrimp cake has a binding problem (sometimes) but the seared ahi cake — just a darling slice of fish over a disc of sticky rice — is perfect. The accompanying wasabi sauce is light, simple, and clean-flavored; an excellent example of how swinging for a homerun often results in one.
The Kona coffee lamb is a perennial favorite: a majestic, perfectly Frenched rack of lamb daintily laced with an excellent cabernet demi-glace rendered even more dark and spicy by Kona coffee.
If you’ve not had ahi yet, the sesame crusted seared version here is extraordinarily popular. We understand why — the flavors are excellent and the dish a powerful example of Hawaiian Fusion — but we still have to argue with the overuse of Maui onions in the crust, which are too overpoweringly sweet when combined with the bed of vanilla bean rice. We love, however, the apple-cider-and-soy-butter vinaigrette used here, because it sharpens the flavors and balances out the sweet a little. Another popular dish is the mahi mahi, which comes with a delicious beurre blanc sauce; we ask for a lighter hand with the gorgonzola to keep the delicate fish flavor coming through.
The menu’s true star is the seared ahi and Hudson Valley foie gras. This decadent appetizer is guaranteed to be your most memorable dish: ample portions of rare, ruby-red ahi and creamy goose liver, both seared to perfection. The accompanying fig compote and duck demi-glace provide a sweet and salty counterpoint to the exquisite richness.
If you’re a vegetarian, you’re in luck, as several items are designed to give you a full, satisfying meal. We like the entrée featuring a tall “stack” of goat cheese, fresh tomatoes, grilled eggplant, marinated Portobello mushrooms, and roasted red bell peppers, all finished with a sweet Maui onion sauce.
Plenty of well-prepared sides are also vegetarian and sourced from local farms. While the creamed Kula spinach is perhaps too heavy with cheese for our taste (mascarpone, ricotta, and reggiano take it out of the veggie category and into dessert) the curried cauliflower is delightful.
Lahaina Grill’s lovely dessert menu is really worth saving room for. Try the Road to Hana, Maui: a concoction that secrets away chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, and a delicious macadamia nut caramel under a coating of chocolate ganache. An S-curved crisp — representing the S curves on the famous road — balances on top.
The excellent wine list (heavy on California) and the genuine and efficient service make for a lovely dinner for two or ten. Make sure to ask advice from the restaurant’s sommelier, a super-friendly fellow with an intuitive knack for picking the right bottle for the job. There may be too much bustle for a truly intimate meal, but sometimes a little noise screens out other diners and lets you focus on yourselves … and the food.
There is no view, but the giant paintings from local artist (and fan) Jan Kasprzycki illustrate the dining experience perfectly. This has often been voted the best restaurant on Maui, and we understand why. While the menu hasn’t changed much over two decades, it’s always a pleasure to dine here, and this is one of our favorite restaurants. Sometimes, if we haven’t made reservations (recommended), we just sit at the bar, where the full menu is available.
Note: if you celebrate a special occasion here, this is one of the few Maui restaurants who follow up with you later with birthday and anniversary cards that include price promotions.
Address: 127 Lahainaluna Rd., Lahaina, West Maui
Location: Just off Front St. near Cheeseburger in Paradise.
Hours: Daily 6pm-10pm