David Paul’s Island Grill
One of the most memorable meals we’ve had at Chef David Paul Johnson’s table started with a bean soup so hearty and creamy that we actually scraped the bottom of the bowl. The black beans, earthy-sweet and tender, were completely pulverized by a blending that lasted, according to the waitress, for at least fifteen minutes. The texture of the soup was a silky smooth cream. The crème fraiche dollop on top, when mixed in, gave a wonderful tangy counterbalance to the warm spices in the soup. Every once in a while, a dish is both perfectly balanced in flavor — earthy, sweet, spicy, pungent, salty — and also is utterly simple and straightforward. In other words: perfect. This soup is one of those dishes.
David Paul is known for bold flavors and fresh ingredients, and his menu changes with the seasons and the available produce, so the soup may not be on the menu when you visit. Every time we’ve been, it looks like a completely different menu, although there are always a few favorites from his previous menu at David Paul’s Lahaina Grill (under different ownership and now named Lahaina Grill).
As mentioned, the menu is extensive, and if it seems too much to wade through the descriptions of each dish, you might try the tasting menu, which includes that evening’s nine featured items as a four course menu. It usually includes the dishes Chef is most excited about that evening, with the most seasonal ingredients and the nicest combinations of flavors. The trick is that the whole table must order it, presumably for the kitchen’s timing. It’s an excellent way to sample a wide range of dishes without having to choose. Some substitutions can be made — for instance, we usually can convince them to include our favorite Triple Berry Pie on the dessert course. Although some find the portions too small, we find the meal more than enough food (how can you not be satisfied with four entrées?). At $75 per person at press time, this is a good value.
It is hard to comment on specific dishes without running the risk of disappointing you later if they’re not there, but we have to write something, so here you go:
We love the cool, spicy watermelon gazpacho. When you sip from the lip of the martini glass, the first flavor to step forward is the intense watermelon, concentrated and sugary, which gently transforms itself to savory and then leaves a spicy backsplash that is intense but terribly satisfying.
We also have enjoyed the butternut squash raviolis stuffed with mascarpone cheese and topped with a small piece of lobster. The decadent textures combined with the luxurious flavors … we can’t decide if this is a pasta, a main course, or a dessert (or all three).
Do not overlook the salads, which are just-picked fresh; we particularly love those involving diced roasted beets.
The pan-roasted seared snapper has been on the menu since day one — in fact, before the restaurant opened. Chef David Paul entered the recipe in the 2009 Maui Onion Festival cook-off and won top honors. It’s easy to see (or taste) why. Hawaiian snappers, such as the delicate opakapaka, rank among the Islands’ most delicious fish. Flaky, lightly perfumed of the sea, and with a more than adequate fat content, they offer an excellent platform for a sophisticated dish such as this one. The fish is roasted in olive oil, rendering it meltingly moist. It’s laid on a soft pillow of rich and creamy polenta, surrounded by Maui onion jus. Magenta pickled onions crown the elegant presentation. With a biteful of fish, polenta, and jus we again experience that perfect mixture of earthy, sweet, spicy, pungent, and salty. A hint of truffle oil saturates the polenta, which is irresistible: baby food for the gods.
This brings us to a slight beef we have with the chef: an over-indulgence in truffle oil. There were at least six truffle-infused items on the menu at our last visit. This powerful, unctuous flavoring can elevate an ordinary dish to stardom (as in Sansei’s truffle ramen, or the abovementioned polenta), but it can also pounce all over subtle flavors, trampling them with a single overpowering note. Truffle oil, while boosted by a sliver or two of actual truffle, is, for the most part, an artificial flavor. Our taste buds recognize this. When used sparingly, it’s a fine exclamation point. In excess, either in a single dish or spread across a menu, it’s too many exclamation points!!!!
Also, in the past, we’ve loved the chef’s flamboyant use of garnishes. Perhaps it’s the slow economy, perhaps a more sober mentality, but he seems to have restrained himself somewhat. Where are the crisp artichoke leaves, the parti-colored crucifers? The dishes taste just as decadent without the decoration, but we like it when chefs take extra steps to wow all of our senses.
Desserts are generally worthwhile, and Molly’s favorite, Triple Berry Pie, is almost always available. Other than the food, there is a good wine list with dozens of wines by the glass. You can also visit their wine cellar to shop on your own and see the labels (all bottles are priced). This is a really fun way to pick your poison, and it makes good eye candy on the way to the elegantly appointed bathrooms.
The classy, contemporary restaurant is absolutely beautiful. The muted blues, greens, and mustards on the walls, the natural slate tiles on the lanai, the big mirrors, the exhibition kitchen, and the big square white plates remind us of upscale casual eateries in our old haunts. The view, however, is all Maui. If you sit on the open air lanai you will see one of the best wide-open views of Lahaina Harbor.
Timing continues to be an issue with service at David Paul’s Island Grill. While each server we’ve encountered is both knowledgeable and helpful, there is something seriously off about the pacing at this restaurant. It feels like every course comes four to five minutes (and sometimes longer) later than it should, and while water is poured immediately by the hostess, the first drinks and the bread come late. This could be caused by a slow kitchen, or a staff that hasn’t yet set a successful rhythm, or both … but in any case, it’s a noticeable flaw and a consistent complaint from readers.
Come to think of it, we do have one other issue with David Paul’s Island Grill. We think it should be located in Kihei, closer to our home.
Address: 900 Front St., Lahaina, West Maui
Location: Near Warren & Annabelle’s and Hard Rock Café
Hours: Su-Th 5pm – 10pm, F-Sa 5pm – Midnight
Parking: Validated for Lahaina Center parking
March 15, 2011 @ 9:45 am
Went here because of many favorable reviews. BIG DISAPPOINTMENT! To start with the positive, the view from outside was spectacular during sunset. Service was good, although with minor flaws. The kitchen, however, needs a lot of work. Specifically, we split an expensive Caesar salad, which was good, but nothing special. My wife ordered the crab cake appetizer for her main course and I ordered the ahi with fois gras. The server brought out her crab cake right after the salad, thinking that it was another appetizer. When my ahi came out, they served the same crab cake, which by now was cold. The small piece of fois gras was almost cremated. They both went back. The next crab cake was very good, however, the next piece of fois gras was slightly better, but almost microscopic. The seared ahi was refrigerator cold on the inside and barely warm on the crust. Great concept – very poorly executed. We were hoping to bring the rest of our family here next week – forget it!
November 26, 2010 @ 7:30 am
We chose to celebrate Thanksgiving at David Paul’s Island Grill. We were seated on the lanai – street noise, no ac, and no light. The menu was barely readable in the dim. When held way up high by a recessed ceiling light, the tiny print of the wine list was lost in the glare off its plastic cover. I ordered a pinot noir, telling the waiter that we were not familiar with the wine but generally liked pinots from that appellation. The wine was delivered by a man who appeared to be both maitre d’ and sommelier. After tasting, I exclaimed at the bitter tannic finish and was told that the wine should open in 10 or 15 minutes. It didn’t, but more on the wine later. On to the meal. We were delivered one tiny warm dinner roll that smelled yummy and yeasty but was flat from lack of salt. It was served with a totally uninteresting avocado garlic unsalted butter. Our pate de maison appetizer was a reasonable portion of country-style pate accompanied by two quarter-inch thin slices of stale bread. The pate was oddly flavorless and flat. It was slightly improved by the tiny dot of mustard and the two cornichon. We ate it on our dinner rolls. Then came our entrees – My husband enjoyed his pork tenderloin. It was a generous portion correctly cooked to a tender pinkness. The menu promised butternut squash, beans, apples and bacon. I think. There were maybe two beans and two pieces of squash. Perhaps the kitchen was running low on the sides and split one serving into four? I ordered the scallops and pea risotto, a dish I have ordered and immensely enjoyed in two other restaurants. The four scallops were large and perfectly cooked. The risotto was under-cooked, gummy and tasted of peas only if I closed my eyes and tried really hard. I couldn’t tell if the carrot valoute sauce had been too heavily salted or it I was picking up over-salting on the scallops. Either way, the dish didn’t sing. There was no complexity, no depth, no play of flavors. I didn’t finish my meal because I was bored with my big plate of so-what. Our server stopped by again at the end of the meal. I stopped him from filling my wine glass, saying that it was a really horrid bottle of wine. Not corked, just a bad wine. The server said, yes, he didn’t think much of the wine and felt there were far better pinot noirs on the menu. Really? He couldn’t have shared that opinion with us before we spent $75 on bad wine? We decided to cut our losses and declined dessert and coffee.
March 16, 2010 @ 8:51 am
My wife and I have eaten here twice and it was good the first time and very good the second time. It was nice to have every dish be good. No hit and misses.Just hits!
August 18, 2009 @ 7:45 am
We were excited that David Paul is back on island, and glad we stopped in. The restaurant is beautiful, and the view amazing. We loved the tasting menu, nine small courses, but we were totally full. The bottled wine selection is great. I loved the fish dishes, my wife loved the lamb chops. And the prices are good for the quality of food you get. Service was good.
August 18, 2009 @ 5:42 am
We chose to dine at David Paul’s after reading raving reviews on Travel Advisor. Needless to say, we were extremely disappointed! My family and I decided to enjoy the $45 tasting menu after our waitress raved on about it and informed us that the entree portion (2 seafood and 2 meat items) would equal a full entree. She assured us they were wonderful dishes and we would be full.
When we received our plates, they were the size of a tablespoon. My husband’s short ribs contained gristle. We were appalled! The manager (who came by to remove our plates) asked how things were and my husband proceeded to let her know (not knowing this was the manager). About 10 minutes later, our waitress came over and informed us that the next course would be arriving soon. My husband asked to see the manager at this point unbelieving that the previous person had not summoned the manager. To our dismay, we found out the manager was the same lady who had come by earlier and not done anything to rectify the situation. She finally agreed that our meal (if you can even call it that) was taken care of. It’s a shame our wonderful evening filled with high expectations was ruined. We were not looking for a free meal, but a wonderful gourmet evening.
We have done tasting menus throughout the US and never had such deplorable food and small servings anywhere. It was an insult to be served what we were given. The table next to us had ordered boneless short ribs and we heard them complaining about bones. This is unacceptable for the prices, etc.
The only saving grace of the whole evening was the spectactular sunset view we witnessed on their lovely balcony, but this is all the praise we could give to this restaurant.