We like Pineapple Grill for its creative Pacific Rim cuisine and for the way Chef Ryan Luckey works so hard for every bite. We have no doubt he is spending most nights in his kitchen: he often greets guests from the hot line with a smile. Chef Ryan was born on Maui — one of the few great island chefs who can make that claim — and his love for his home is in the food. The overall ethic is fine dining in a casual atmosphere, and he focuses on using locally raised vegetables, fresh and sustainable fish, and island-bred beef.
We like to order a mai tai, because — although pricey, as everything else is on the menu — they’re so darn good. We also like to come a little early and sit at the big square bar to drink it, because looking at that ceiling — painted to look like you’re underwater — is just very cool.
Must-orders include steamed Manila clams that come plumped up in a black bean butter broth enriched with truffle oil and studded with shiitake mushrooms. The fragrance as we lean over the bowl is overwhelmingly rich, and we save rolls for sopping up every delicious, savory drop. We also like the crispy duck spring rolls, sweet and tangy inside with a sour-sweet relish on the side. And partly because it’s just so unusual for Maui, we love the cheese plate (sometimes we save it for dessert), which comes with several cow, sheep, and goat selections, including the delicious local Surfing Goat Dairy chevre.
We don’t often order salmon, because it is a cold water fish and not local to Maui. However, it is tangy-sweet here, seared in a miso preparation and served with cold soba noodles, vegetables, and a citrus-y ponzu sauce. Another favorite is the ahi encrusted with pistachio and wasabi. These flavors — familiar to those who know Pacific Rim fusion — are outstanding together. The sweet, nutty, pale green pistachios love to dance with the sinus-scorching wasabi, and the ahi’s firm, dramatically pink flesh stands up to them in both texture and flavor. The filet is served atop a marvelous mound of deep burgundy “forbidden rice.” You can get this dish as either an appetizer or an entrée.
The Asian braised short ribs are another winner: simmered for hours in aromatic juices, the meat falls off the bone. The pineapple relish is a tad sweet with also sweet kalbi demi-glace, but we find ourselves greedily devouring it all anyway.
Our very favorite entrée is the rack of lamb with a veal cabernet reduction. The strong, sweet and dark flavor of the glaze strengthened by a hint of molasses is the perfect complement to the delicate but robust lamb. It comes with a beautiful serving of mashed purple sweet potatoes from Molokai. It is so easy to get these potatoes wrong — they are not particularly flavorful — but Chef Ryan knows to beat them until they are almost like candy.
The pineapple upside down cake is made with the sweetest pineapples on the planet: Maui Gold. The rum caramel sauce is dessert on its own, and the perfect topping for the macadamia nut ice cream they serve a la mode. This is a rich and sweet dessert, so make sure you have room before you order (it’s hard not to finish once you start).
The wine list is excellent, and they carefully pair wines to food (the restaurant is heavily involved in the Kapalua Wine and Food Festival each year). There are also plenty of wines by the glass, and you can be assured these are kept at an appropriate temperature. (In so many island restaurants, the reds are too warm from languishing on shelves and the whites are too cold from sitting in the fridge.) The after-dinner drinks are worth looking at, too, especially the martini made with a shot of espresso.
There can be a tension in the service that is palpable: we wish the staff were a little bit less intense when we’re spending plenty of money, and a little more attentive when we’re not.
With every course worth your dollars, and the wine and drink list, too, this can turn out to be an expensive meal, and we don’t recommend coming when you’re on a budget. Many are fooled by the casual atmosphere of the bar area when they enter. It can look like this restaurant-on-a-golf-course is more affordable than it really is. The large tables and comfortable rattan chairs definitely look like an afternoon with the boys after a few rounds is in order, perhaps not a four star meal. At the tables up front the view of Molokai and the ocean is rather eclipsed by the brightly lit tennis courts. We prefer to sit to the left, where we can look across the golf course to the mist-shrouded West Maui Mountains. Larger parties are in luck here, because there are several large round tables that can sit up to ten, making a group get-together more pleasant.
We recommend Pineapple Grill for a thoroughly satisfying meal from start to finish, whether you are a twosome or a twentysome.
Address: 200 Kapalua Dr., Kapalua, HI 96761
Meals: Lunch, Dinner
Hours: Daily 11am-9pm