Famished? Kahili Restaurant’s Lavish Buffet Solution

September 28, 2012, 1:23 PM HST · Updated October 2, 1:53 PM
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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

Snow crab, Caesar, and poke: oh my! Photo by Vanessa Wolf

This spring, Maui No Ka Oi magazine granted Kahili Restaurant the silver ‘aipono award for “best kept secret.”

You can find out why tonight.

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On Fridays from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., Kahili offers their ‘all you can eat’ prime rib and seafood buffet.

Is it worth it? Mostly.

Strategic eaters know better than to fill up on the starchy stuff. The challenge is resisting some of the interesting salads, pokes, and side dishes.

The Ahi Poke was fresh. Featuring big chunks of raw tuna, onion slices, green onion, and sea salt it was well executed…minus some heavy-handed sesame oil application. The Tako Tomato poke was preferable, with incredibly tender octopus, onion, salt, and tomato. It offered a nice spicy kick, as well.

The buffet has a make your own Caesar salad with pre-dressed romaine and bowls of Parmesan cheese, croutons, and even anchovies. Again, a heavy hand with the dressing, but the flavors were fresh and the whole anchovies are a nice touch.

The sushi isn’t bad, it just isn’t great. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

Other salad bar offerings include a Greek-ish salad with large – somewhat unexpected – chunks of some kind of cheese that looks like feta but tastes like blue cheese; pasta salad; pea salad; and an assortment of cheeses.

There are also a couple basic sushi rolls. The California-ish roll is filled with the typical crab/mayo combo and avocado and topped with smoked salmon. However, without any cucumber to add some texture, it’s a bit mushy overall. The Spicy Ahi roll was traditional. Filled with a generous portion of ahi and slices of cucumber, it was the definite favorite.

But you didn’t come here to fill up on salad and sushi, did you? On the cold bar, you’ll have your first encounter with the crab. Kahili offers it two ways: warm with drawn butter and cold with lemon and cocktail sauce.

Blind taste tests revealed little difference between the two crabs beyond temperature, so it’s more a matter of crisp and cool versus buttery and warm.

The cold side of the Kahili buffet.

The crab is excellent. It’s snow crab! There’s tons of it! What else is there to say?

Having prepared your stomach for the onslaught to come, it’s time to hit the hot side of the buffet.

In addition to rice, mashed potatoes, and steamed veggies, the buffet typically offers a pork dish. Well-cooked and dressed with brown gravy, it’s homey and satisfying.

The fried shrimp – pretty much nothing but batter – were a miss.

There’s also a chicken dish of some kind (panko crusted and super tender on both occasions) and seafood pasta with mussels, shrimp, scallops and fish in a lemon chardonnay sauce. Finished with capers and tomatoes, the pasta is quite rich and delectable.

Apologies to the vegans out there. This reviewer likes things medium rare. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

But remember the rule: no filling up on starchy stuff! Linguine makes the list, so try to restrain yourself to a smallish portion as you move past the second round of (hot this time) crab legs, notice the two types of cooked fish in the corner, and approach the man carving up the prime rib.

Depending on your appetite, you may want to ask for a second slice, because – let’s get real – it’s why you came. Au jus and creamy horseradish accompaniments are available, but purists and hardcore carnivores may choose to spirit their plate of meat back to the table and dig right in.

Perfectly cooked (ask for the level of doneness you prefer), the prime rib is succulent and flavorful. There’s a thick garlic crust on the outside that permeates the meat. When you finally come up for air, you’ll realize how beautiful the view is. Set atop the Kahili Golf Course, you can see the twinkling lights of Kula, Pukalani and Kihei in the distance from the outside deck.

With what seemed to be only two people covering the entire restaurant, the servers were harried, but on top of it. Friendly and hustling within an inch of their lives, they kept the water glasses full and brought crab crackers and steak knives without even being asked.

The dessert bar circa 7 p.m. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

If you’re a dessert person, be aware it’s completely ravaged by 8 p.m. Grab your cheesecake, pie, pudding, or fresh fruit early because there might not be any later.

Despite the beautiful setting, the ambience isn’t exactly romantic. Popular with families, on both occasions there were easily 15-20 kids running through the restaurant uninhibited. A trip to the bathroom revealed two little girls who had gone into the stalls, locked the doors, and crawled out on their bellies. Some cajoling and sweet talk – maybe a threat? – and you might be able to convince the smaller one to crawl back under and unlock it for you.

At $35.95 per person, vegetarians might feel a bit ripped off. But for everybody else, you can’t beat the price, selection, or service. Just remember to call (808) 242-6000 and make reservations for the Friday-only dinner buffet first.

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.

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. -vanessa(@mauinow.com)

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