As mentioned in the Introduction, Sarento’s inspired us to write this book in the first place. The Italian menu is focused on providing important sounding and expensive ingredients in flamboyant preparations that don’t always work as well as they should (especially at these prices).
There are some items that are well-prepared, including a decent cioppino with lobster, scallops, crabs, and fish that satisfies our cravings di mare. We’ve had good steaks with competent sauces, too.
That’s where the hope dies. Some of the least successful items we’ve had are marked as “recommended” on the menu. For example, the Chopped Salad “Gabriella” is a bleary, mucky mess of feta, shrimp, onions, avocado, artichokes, tomatoes, and skinny strips of romaine lettuce. The overall visual impression is not appetizing, and the flavors and textures terrorize each other, and our palate. On a recent visit we could not eat more than two bites — and the busboy cleared it without comment. Another “recommended” dish, the grilled ahi, comes as a giant slab of gray fish (cooked way more than the promised medium rare) piled on dense goat cheese gnocchi, which are little more than balls of goat cheese. The puttanesca sauce that tops the whole sad affair is one-noted (garlic), except for the sour vinegar — perhaps from the overuse of bottled caper water? The veal marsala is not described on the menu, but if it had been, we might have skipped it just because it comes with spaetzle. First: why not noodles? It was chewy to the point of rubber, and the sauce was so flush with mushrooms that it lost all hint of wine. These, too, were cleared without comment.
The restaurant is very proud of its service, or “hospitality.” According to Webster’s, hospitality is defined as the “friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers.” We’re afraid that Sarento’s staff exhibits less hospitality — which is genuine, unforced, and relaxed — and more of what Miss Manners calls “fits of hospitality.” A fit of hospitality is entertaining people who do not want to be entertained; or entertaining when you can’t genuinely put your heart in it. The feeling that we’re entering a place where we will be entertained with at-your-elbow-service, whether we like it or not (and we don’t) — is a serious problem at Sarento’s. Why must we constantly be interrupted? Isn’t a romantic location like this a place where people go to pretend they are the only two people in the world?
[We know some people who love the doting service, who think it’s wonderful that they take a sip of water and someone immediately tops off the glass, who love the clasped hands and practiced smiles. We’re just saying that for this kind of money you can have a glorious Italian meal at Capische? or Ferraro’s. You may not be hovered over, but you will assuredly enjoy your food more.]
The new breakfast menu seems promising — the Benedicts in particular. Unfortunately, the dishes are terribly complicated (and priced that way). There is no simple egg dish — omelets are available, but not just eggs, and toast, for example. The hash browns are russet, sweet, and Molokai sweet potatoes, and so dry that they crumple off the fork. The different potatoes clearly need different cooking times — bits are raw while others overcooked. The standard Benedict is adequate, but the other versions are, like the dinner dishes, just too much. Why can’t even breakfast be simple, here? We find ourselves enjoying the pancake — it tastes like a mix — only because it is what it promises to be, with no odd or unappetizing sides. This is one of the prettiest breakfast views on Maui — the restaurant sits right on Keawakapu beach in Wailea — but Five Palms is right across the sand and offers a much better meal.
A word about the prices: they are sky-high, particularly given the quality of food. At our last dinner visit we refused all drinks and ordered only recommended dishes. When the waiter set the bill in front of us, he opened it and, as he fiddled with the ticket (it wasn’t quite perfectly straight), he noted the total.
“Wow, you got out of here with a bargain!” he exclaimed. Our shock must have been evident — although he may not have realized we were as shocked at his calling anything we’d just had a “bargain” as we were that he would make a comment like this.
Realizing he’d made a mistake, he tried to fix it with a joke (well, we think it was a joke): “Well, I mean, most people spend a lot more than that here. Usually when I bring the bill, they go through each dish, saying ‘I didn’t like that, take it off.’’”
“They’re in sticker shock,” Molly suggested, “they try to negotiate the bill down?”
“Yeah,” he shrugged, and zipped away, before we could determine whether what he’d just said was a joke, or actually happens.
Address: 2980 S. Kihei Rd., Kihei, South Maui
Location: Next to the Mana Kai
Meals: Breakfast, Dinner
Hours: 7am-11am (breakfast), 5:30pm-10pm (dinner); bar until 12am