Monday, August 17, 2009

Mama's Fish House

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I’ve been to Mama’s Fish House exactly twice in my lifetime. The first time I went sight unseen, with only their website and internet recommendations to go by, I thought for sure I was walking into an overpriced tourist trap. The prices looked expensive and the pictures looked like there was a certain amount of kitschiness to the whole place that gave me the sense that maybe Mama’s was a restaurant that had seen its better days.

When you first drive up the Hana Highway, going north past Paia, you start to wonder whether you passed it or not. Just as you start to feel you’ve gone too far, a boat which looks like it’s been slung ashore by a storm, is perched on a small dune.

Just look for the boat

When you get out of your car at the valet stand, you step into a landscape job that appears to be a good thirty years in the making. As you walk through the covered valet waiting area, the grounds open up to a coconut grove that has the scenic Ku’au Cove to the right and the dining room to Mama’s Fish House to the left.

Ku'au Cove

A path paved with an MC Escher-like pattern to it, snakes around the back of the restaurant, through an arching grotto of ficus type trees leading to the reservation hut. The people manning the reservations are more than happy to take a picture in front of a number of different flower arrangements (or under the ficus grotto like we did).

We had specially requested a table by the portion of the restaurant that looks out through the coconut grove and onto the ocean. Since this trip was for our anniversary Mama’s was gracious enough to give my wife a lei to commemorate the occasion.

A present from Mama

The view from our table

I’ve been to plenty of places that roll out the red carpet and offer up beautiful settings, but it’s ultimately about the food, isn’t it? You bet, and Mama and her staff deliver in a big way. We started off with the crab cakes. For me, these are always a dangerous choice because it is so easy to make either something that’s very pedestrian or really bad. In true fashion however, the kitchen came through with two ever-so-delicate crab cakes (complete with a claw), that were untainted by any residual oil. As with most everything here, the presentation is anticipated almost as much of the taste itself.

Crab Cakes

Regina went on a luau during her first visit, with her family, and said that the food was less than impressive. Considering most of these things aren’t exactly cheap, this is our version of a luau – ordering the Polynesian Lau-Lau which is Mahimahi & Pork baked in a ti leaf package, Hawaiian style, with grilled Hana banana, tropical fruit, and coconut milk. We both really enjoyed it the last time around, and this time was no different. As with everything here the presentation was great.

Polynesian Lau-Lau

One time my wife asked a server in Ohio if the halibut was Pacific or Atlantic, to which the server replied, "It's from Canada." You won't find that here. Mama’s is (obviously) known for their fish. In terms of provenance I don’t think it can become any more specific as to where the fish came from. The menu states where the fish was caught, on what boat, by which guy. How neat is that? You’ve got to see it to believe it. What a treat.

Some people are into wine, some just like appetizers, we are dessert-aholics. This is a dessert that is one of the best tasting AND the best presentation I’ve ever seen. When I think of the Black Pearl I don’t think of Jack Sparrow first – I think of Mama’s famous Polynesian Black Pear with chocolate mousse and lilikoi cream in a pastry shell. This right here is worth the price of admission. A lot of times these fancy presentations usually have individual components that look good, but one or two parts don’t taste that good. Each and every part of this thing is to die for. Hands down this is the best combination of creativity in presentation and taste I’ve ever had. This is a must try.

The Black Pearl

I can’t say enough great things about this place. Unfortunately, I’m not much help when it comes to wine lists. I don’t know wine. I don’t pretend to know it. As for the rest of it, I think Mama’s is THE special occasion place on Maui. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great places to eat expensive dinners, but since we were staying in Kihei the drive wasn’t bad. If you’re in Lahaina or further north in Kapalua it will give you pause for thought, simply because it IS a long drive. If I was staying up there I would probably hit it for lunch before flying out or after flying in. Not to worry if you're not dressed to the nines; a collared shirt and nice shorts will do just fine.

This experience is truly a sum of its parts. There is a subtle layering of all the little design details to the grounds and the restaurant make for a wonderful setting. For us the server was courteous, as well as very knowledgeable. Above all else, the food is just great straight forward Polynesian fare. Mama’s Fish House will be a stop for as long as we continue to come to Maui.

Mama's Fish House
799 Poho Pl
Paia, HI 96779
(808) 579-8488

Mama's Fish House on Urbanspoon

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