By Vanessa Wolf
If you previously dined at Prakong Tongsod’s culinary outpost in Hana, you already expected big things from Maui Thai Bistro.
Open about three weeks now, Tongsod is behind the stove at the recently revamped Kihei restaurant.
Many of her Hana staples can be found on the new menu and we started with the Pad Thai with Chicken ($12).
Always the dish to test the talent of a Thai kitchen, this version is top notch.
The rice noodles, carrots, cabbage, and egg mingle with the flavors of fish sauce, tamarind juice and lime.
Portions are modest – smaller than the Hana days for sure – but the quality is high, so it feels like a fair value.
The Tom Yum Fried Rice with Shrimp ($15) is a spin on the classic hot and sour soup. Rich with the flavor of kaffir lime, lemongrass and nam pla, the flavor is first-rate.
Along with mushrooms, onion, tomatoes, green onion, and baby corn, there were a wide variety of inedibles in the mix as well.
The four shrimp are shell-on, the lemongrass stalks look – but do not taste – just like green onions, and we accidentally took a bite out of a thumb-sized hunk of galangal mistaken for a prawn.
Maybe do a little “food or flavoring?” scavenger hunt before you dig in.
On that note, the restaurant provides you with a heavy-duty fork and spoon straight out of medieval times.
Thai food is traditionally eaten this way, but the fork is not to be put into your mouth. Instead, the side of the spoon is used as a knife for cutting and the fork is for pushing the food onto it.
Eating with a spoon is a fun novelty that beats the heck out of hunting down rice grains with chopsticks or watching all your curry sauce slip through fork tines.
Along with the menu, the restaurant’s interior has been totally revamped.
Open and modern, it has a great look and feel.
Music plays in the background just low enough that you might hallucinate you’re hearing people playing ‘Marco Polo’ in the kitchen. The occasional shouts, however, turned out to be the song stylings of Norah Jones. Too bad. Not enough ‘Marco Polo’ gets played on dry land.
The Somtum ($10) is described on the menu as “sweet, sour and spicy,” but ours double-dipped on sweet and skipped right over spicy.
The server quickly whisked the salad away and returned a culinary slap. Check and mate: the encore was SPICY.
Shredded green papaya is mixed with a little bit of tomato and carrots. On the side was a heaping helping of raw cabbage. Puzzling.
Overall, it was a little bit sweeter than we’d like, but otherwise offered a garlicky showcase of sour and savory (and, eventually, crazy sweating spicy heat).
The Tumeric Potato in Rice Paper ($12) is the love child of an Indian samosa and an egg roll. The four deep-fried triangles are filled with cumin-flavored peas, carrots and potatoes.
It’s an unusual offering for a Thai restaurant, but we liked it.
The best part, however, was the entertainment provided by an adjacent table: a middle-aged woman and her elderly parents.
The triangles arrived and the mother became instantly confounded, apparently having never seen anything like this before.
Without a word, she began to unwrap one and pick at the ball of veggies in her hand.
“Ma, what are you doing?” the daughter exclaimed.
“What!?” her mother responded at an incredible volume. Polo!
“Don’t unwrap it, Ma.”
“What are ya talking about?”
“You don’t unwrap it, Ma. You eat it.”
“Eat what? The paper?”
“It’s not paper, Ma.”
“It says there it’s paper.”
“It’s not paper. It’s food.”
“I’m not eating paper!”
This went on and on for several minutes, and quite frankly, we’d be interested to see her reaction to fondue.
Meanwhile, the menu boldly declares that “you haven’t lived until you’ve tried Prakong’s homemade macnut Panang.”
We like to think we’ve had a good run thus far, but perhaps the Bistro is right.
Regardless, we’re living now and the Panang Curry with Macadamia Nuts and Mahi Mahi ($19) is to thank.
The delicate coconut milk-based curry is ladled over the perfectly cooked fish and topped with thin strips of kaffir lime, yellow and red bell pepper and a whisper of macadamia nut bits.
The dish is light yet flavorful. We didn’t lick the plate, but we certainly considered it.
All told, the highlight of our consumption was the Green Curry with Short Ribs ($19).
Holy Toledo this is good stuff.
Thai eggplants, string beans, bamboo shoots and bell peppers float in a decadent bath of green curry sauce. The short ribs are moist, tender and an unexpectedly excellent accompaniment.
That is all.
Service is a little bit hit or miss: at times smothering and then nowhere to be found, but overall the staff is as nice as pie.
Speaking of sweets, who can resist the lure of homemade ice cream ($6)?
The black sesame seed variety sounded like a great idea, but the finished product was quite grainy with big ice chunks here and there. The green tea version, however, is creamy and decadent.
In all fairness, the restaurant is new and no doubt still finding its footing, but considering how well they delivered in the first weeks, we can only imagine what delights the future has in store.
Maui Thai Bistro is open from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 5 to 9:30 p.m. seven days a week.
We welcome your feedback. Please let us know if you hear of any new restaurants opening or reopening, total menu overhauls, or simply know of a hidden treasure you want to share. Have a restaurant you want reviewed (or re-reviewed)? Drop us a line – Vanessa(@mauinow.com)
Maui Thai Bistro