Our favorite restaurants on Maui (and elsewhere) all share one common trait: love.
We came up with the perfect definition of restaurant love this morning at breakfast. James had asked me if I was very excited for tonight’s Top Young Chefs Dinner at the Pineapple Grill. I said yes, but that he seemed more excited than I felt.
“I am,” he said. “I love meals where lots of people have put a great deal of planning, attention, and effort into the food and the diner’s experience. It increases the odds for a great meal with a lot of love in the food.”
Bingo. Food Love = Attention + Effort + High Standards
Although not every note was perfect, the four chefs named “Young Chefs to Watch” by Hawaii Hospitality certainly followed that formula tonight. In concert with the Kapalua Wine and Food Festival, they worked with featured winemakers from Peay Vineyards and Morlet Family Vineyards to craft a menu of four courses (one from each chef) to match six wines (three from each winery).
The event started with outdoor pupus and an amazing aperitif of Morlet’s Rosé Grande Réserve (a champagne made from pinot noir – delicious, delicate, and sparkly – hopefully available on Maui soon). Then we moved inside for the seated dinner. We were directed to a table with six chairs and took the middle two facing each other (we need to see each other’s faces to judge how the other likes the food, plus we like center stage).
When foodie strangers meet, there is a little dance that I’ve never been able to bow out of gracefully. Probing questions are asked to suss out how much you know about food and, in this case, wine. Hal and Alma have a 1,000 bottle wine cellar (James and I have maybe a measly thirty). Ingrid and Dave come from northern California and spend plenty of cash on food and drink both at home and out. James and I write a little book about Maui restaurants, and pay for every meal.
Dance over, we can all relax and focus on the pleasure of good food and wine.
We started with a spiced boat scallop from Chef Ben Klein of Mala an Ocean Tavern. The meaty scallop, perfectly seared, sat on a nutty, hearty crouton, laced with an emulsion of carrots and ginger. Vanilla bean brown butter and a dollop of crème faiche sidled up. The Morlet family provided their 2006 La Proportion Doree as the complement. Named after the Golden Mean, the “perfect” ratio that guides all natural structures, from the length of our limbs to the way leaves branch out on a tree, the varietal was just as deeply complex as the scallop, with similar high notes.
Ryan Urig, Chef de Cuisine at The Banyan Tree, presented next. Servers placed a lovely boat shaped dish of ahi sashimi layered with Kona kampachi in a coconut ceviche. The coconut sweetened up the kampachi’s rich, buttery flavor. The ahi was perfectly cut and melted on my tongue. The accompanying 2007 Ma Douce from Morlet was full and buttery, and the 2007 Peay Estate Chardonnay was similarly dense and packed a rich punch of mineral flavor that nicely offset the rich fish.
Third course, from Pineapple Grill’s Executive Chef Ryan Luckey, was the table’s unanimous favorite. Duck a Trois, or duck three ways, featured a meaty confit-filled ravioli, a duck breast place on celery root puree, and a perfectly seared piece of foie gras with a compote of Kula rhubarb and strawberries. The presentation immediately cut off all conversation so we could eat, moan, and roll our eyes. Chef Luckey happened to visit our table moments after we had finished, and in response to his “How are you enjoying yourselves,” we pointed to our empty plates and complained that we hadn’t had any foie gras. After a moment of obvious panic, Chef Luckey laughed his thanks. He didn’t offer us seconds, which we all thought very rude. Incidentally, the 2006 Peay Estate Pinot Noir was our favorite wine of the dinner. Delicate, flavorful, and darkly cherried, it was perfect with the foie gras.
The fourth course, presented by Chef de Cuisine Rich Hinojosa of the Westin’s Tropica, was a grilled lamb loin settled on drizzles of three purees: white beans, olives, and arugula. Tiny tomatoes snuggled up. Peay Vineyards poured their Estate “La Bruma” Syrah, a hearty, meaty red with a strong finish.
After clearing, servers brought little trays of chocolates and coffee (caffeinated for us, since we had to drive back to Kihei). One piece stood out for all of us, an oval of dark chocolate with a smooth peanut butter cream layered above. Simple, rich, and decadent.
As my most sophisticated New York friend, Becky, would say,