Maui Food and Dining

Lilikoi Grill Focuses On Pupus, Pizza

October 12, 2012, 5:17 PM HST
* Updated October 12, 6:20 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

The watercress buttermilk dressing is ah-mazing. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

Lilikoi Grill in Haiku has been open less than a year. Many things are good, but one is left with the impression that they have truly mastered one quality: inconsistency.

This was gleaned sight unseen from the mixed word of mouth endorsements and caveats. A perusal of some online review sites revealed similar trends.

Two subsequent visits yielded the same conclusion.

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With unpredictability comes highs as well as lows, and – for better or worse – there were ample amounts of each.

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It seems like half the restaurants on Maui offer a goat cheese appetizer. Lilikoi Grill’s Macadamia Nut Encrusted Goat Cheese ($7.95) is definitely one of the better variations. Although it’s described as being “encrusted,” a more accurate term would be “sprinkled.”

It’s no issue, however, as there are still ample macadamia bits to be had. Moreover, rather than the typical fried version, Lilikoi Grill’s warm goat cheese is served scooped atop four pesto-coated crostini. The “sundried tomato chutney” was actually just a few pieces of sundried tomato. They were perfectly fine, although one imagines a slightly sweetened chutney preparation would have been even better.

TheMacadamia Nut Encrusted Goat Cheese. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Kula Onion Rings ($7.95) are made with a Maui Brewing Company Bikini Blonde tempura beer batter and are the living definition of greasy goodness. Make no mistake: this is no health food. The outrageously good watercress buttermilk ranch-style dipping sauce provided with them only hits that point home further. Leave your guilt complex and your skinny jeans at the door and order a round.

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Same is true for the Crack Fries ($7.95). Reminiscent of Gordon Biersch or ballpark garlic fries, Lilikoi Grill’s version begins with golden shoestring fries. If that’s not enough for you, they’re then tossed with garlic butter and topped with parsley and parmesan. Again, not so good for the waistline or pulmonary arteries, but delicioso on the way down.

Rounding out the deep fried trifecta is the Local Haiku and Kula Vegetable Egg Rolls ($7.95). For reasons unknown, the eggrolls were extremely slow in being made/delivered. For the most part things flowed smoothly, but a solid 20 minutes passed before these bad boys appeared.

Perfectly crispy and rich with soy sauce flavor, the filling was comprised of a series of rustically chopped vegetables; some of which were entirely too big for the tiny egg roll.

The spring rolls are excellent, just watch out for the whole string beans inside. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

Although listed as containing shredded cabbage, cilantro, carrots, black fungus mushrooms, glass noodles, onions and garlic, the only discernible content was comprised of  cabbage, carrots, and entire string beans.  Each roll came with a full sized green bean inside which, in turn, squirted out molten lava hot juice if bitten into. If anyone at Lilikoi Grill is reading this: strongly consider julienning the unlisted green beans or leaving them out altogether.

The restaurant also offers a variety of pizzas. The Margherita ($7.15 for an 8”, $12.35 for a 12”, and $16.05 for a 16”) is listed as coming with homemade marinara sauce, mozzarella, fresh Haiku red and yellow tomatoes, and local garden basil. On the Lilikoi Grill website, it’s shown as being made with fresh buffalo mozzarella.

When the pizza was placed on the table, the waiter commented that the kitchen was out of yellow tomatoes and basil. Out of basil? In Haiku??? One would imagine it’s easier to borrow a few sprigs of basil than a cup of sugar in those parts. Or perhaps let diners know that half of the toppings aren’t available BEFORE firing the pizza so they can decide whether or not to stick with that variety.

Still, despite being what essentially boiled down to a basic cheese pizza with a couple slices of tomato on top, the pie was tasty. Notably reminiscent of Costco food court pizza, it features a hand rolled chewy crust and ample cheese. The homemade marinara sauce was light and fresh, but still flavorful.

A swing…and a miss. What’s a Margherita pizza without fresh basil? A regular pizza with some tomatoes on it, basically. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

A later dalliance with the Green Goddess pizza ($9.10 for an 8”, $14.55 for a 12”, and $18.60 for a 16” – one wonders what’s behind the pricing scheme) proved more successful. The same chewy crust is covered with béchamel sauce, mozzarella and feta cheeses, and a variety of green toppings including pesto, arugula, spinach, and artichokes. It was tasty, albeit untraditional: think pizza meets salad.

If you live in Haiku or are passing through on the way back from Hana, Lilikoi Grill offers decent value – especially during their 3-6 p.m. happy hour – and consistently good pupus. The pizza is a little bit hit or miss, but perhaps consistency will improve as time goes on. The potential is certainly there.

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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