Monkeypod Kitchen in Wailea, Some Menu Changes
Vanessa Wolf is a former head chef, previously working in Portland, Oregon. She offers her blunt assessments in the interests of honesty and improving Maui’s culinary scene.
By Vanessa Wolf
Peter Merriman’s Monkeypod Kitchen in Wailea offers a broad menu “dedicated to handcrafted food, drink, and merrymaking.”
Eager to partake in the culinary party, the first item on board was the Crispy Rock Shrimp and Calamari ($13.95). This is an enjoyable appetizer that, until recently, was exactly what one would expect.
However, they just changed the menu, and those who don’t tend to read the fine print might be surprised to find that what they expected to be a piece of seafood is actually a battered and deep fried chunk of pineapple. Points for creativity, but it was both unexpected and not particularly appetizing (and there was a lot of it). The buttermilk aioli, however, was lush and flavorful.
Next came the Kale and Macadamia Nuts salad ($10.95), the favorite dish of the evening. The kale had been gently sweated and was served with thinly sliced Maui onions, golden raisins, mandarin orange slices and crushed macadamia nuts. The greens were tossed in a savory miso sesame vinaigrette that nicely offset the sweetness of the fruit.
Another salad, the Spinach and Quinoa ($9.95) was sampled as well. On a bed of fresh spinach were shaved Maui onions, cucumbers, radishes and tomatoes with a repeat of the miso sesame dressing. The flavor was clean and simple, however it seemed like something was missing. Upon examining the menu, it was clear the local herbs, corn, and hearts of palm – along with the eponymous quinoa – didn’t make it on the plate. The waiter explained that the chef was new and brought out a ramekin (small side dish) of quinoa. It’s one thing to miss an item, but only including about 50% of the advertised ingredients is not so hot, even for a newbie.
Onto the main courses.
Grass Fed, Hormone (sic) Peppercorn Rubbed Filet Steak ($32.95) sounded like a winner, as Monkeypod gets their meat from the Maui Cattle Company. Filet is the prime meat cut from the center of the tenderloin and usually you can cut six 8-ounce filets from it. This particular “filet”– judging from the intense grain – was the end piece. It was also maybe 6-ounces, a pretty small and not exactly impressive serving for $32.95. It was, however, cooked perfectly and had a great, peppery flavor. The garlic truffle oil fries were rather greasy and limp.
The fish special, onaga atop two lobster risotto cakes, was served with a red pepper, red wine buerre blanc ($35.95). The waiter, without prompting, brought a ramekin of additional buerre blanc, commenting that he felt it was the best thing on the plate. He was not wrong. Second runner up went to the local vegetables of the day (also served with the filet); a mix of sautéed edamame, carrots and Swiss chard in a yummy sauce of what tasted like shoyu, ginger, and garlic. The lobster risotto cakes were mushy: imagine frying up risotto and there you go. If there was lobster in there, we didn’t get any; and the distinctive flavor of tarragon was present throughout. The onaga was cooked well and definitely benefited from the rich, sweet sauce.
Two of the side dishes were sampled as well.
First came the Chili Green Beans ($5.95). They were perfectly al dente and gorgeous to look at, but more than chili was the prominent flavor of Szechwan peppercorn.
Next were the Roasted Brussels Sprouts ($8.95). They were served with copious amounts of red bell peppers and onions, a dusting of Parmesan cheese…and roasted within an inch of their lives. It was nearly impossible to pick up the unique flavors of the vegetables as these were blackened (not in the Cajun sense, more like scorched) to a degree that the main flavor profile was carbon.
If you like the looks of the Crispy Rock Shrimp and Calamari, you’ll be happy to hear that Monkeypod Kitchen offers many of their appetizers at half price during happy hour (3:30-5 p.m. and 9-11 p.m. daily), but one may want to think twice about dinner – at least until the chef gets some more experience or the menu changes again.
As a side note, unless you’re looking for an excuse to be two inches from their face, don’t bring any of your “low talker” friends to Monkeypod Kitchen. Although a beautiful restaurant with an energetic atmosphere, the joint gets LOUD.
We welcome your feedback – please let us know if you hear of any new restaurants opening or reopening, or simply know of a hidden treasure you want to share.
Dying to know how a certain dish is made so you can recreate it at home? Send in a request, and we will try to pry the secret out of the chef…and even take a run at cooking it up ourselves. Mahalo. [email protected]