Wow Wee Maui Kava Bar & Grill and Ren’s Sushi Bar
Vanessa Wolf is a former head chef. She offers her frank assessments in the interests of honesty and improving Maui’s culinary scene.
By Vanessa Wolf
If lots and lots of words made a restaurant excellent, well, disregard, because that’s obviously silly.
Let’s start with the good news: the “Ren’s Sushi” part of the alphabet soup is really quite solid, filling in a notable gap in Kahului dining options.
The location on Dairy Road is convenient for those headed to or coming from the airport and the joint stays open and keeps serving food until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. Wow wee!
The initial visit was all about sushi. It came highly recommended, and if only the sushi chef had been there for more than one out of three visits, this might have been a decidedly favorable review of just that element of the restaurant. However, at both lunch and ‘happy hour’ time on a Saturday, the man was nowhere to be found.
Too bad, because he knows his way around a fish.
The Hamachi Sashimi ($15 for six pieces, $25 for 12) is excellent. Granted, hamachi makes our “last meal” menu, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be screwed up. Ren gets it right and the resulting fish preparation is buttery and clean.
The California Roll ($6.95) was fresh and tasty, with a nice balance of rice and avocado. And the price tag? It costs this much at the grocery store and isn’t nearly as good: a no-brainer.
The Unagi Avocado Roll ($7.95) was outstanding. The rice is expertly done and provides balance to the rich, savory eel.
The Ikura ($7.95) was also on point; fresh and flavorful.
The “other” menu, however? Well, if you enjoy waiting an extremely long time for food, this place is your jam. In three visits, we more than likely could have crocheted 17 infant blankets in the time we waited to get our food on.
And when it comes? It’s so-so.
The Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich ($10.95) arrives with the correct elements, but speaking as someone originally from PA, the actual preparation is more like the distant cousin of its Philly namesake.
Curiously, the whole deal arrives on a whole wheat bun. The meat was pretty dry, but the grilled onions and bell peppers helped to soften the blow. There was – inexplicably – a hearty drizzle of horseradish.
The side order of Tempura Battered Onion Rings ($5.99) were limp and greasy.
A look back at our notes indicate that the initial impact of the Calamari Salad ($12.95) was captured in a single word: “disappointing.”
It’s a small portion for the price, and the lettuce is recognizably the organic mix from Costco. That’s fine, but the handful of rotten leaves mixed in were not. The ginger aioli dressing was a ray of sunshine, rendering the overall flavor of the salad at once sweet, savory, and bright.
Sort out the decomposing leaves, double the volume, and we’d order it again.
The décor is bizarre. There’s a mishmash of outdoor patio furniture that looks like everyone they know donated a single chair. There’s also a giant wooden boat hoisted above the sushi bar, and you may find yourself preoccupied wondering if that thing fell would it a) kill three people or b) more like ten. You’ll find yourself wondering lots of things because – again – you will have scads of time on your hands as you wait. And wait. And wait.
When our lukewarm reaction about the onion rings solicited a “you should have gotten the cheese fries” retort, we fell for it on a subsequent visit.
The Homemade Cheese Fries ($6.95) were, well, Soggiest. Fries. Ever.
We were told they came with nacho cheese (hey, go big or go home, right?) but they arrived with a whisper of semi-melted shredded cheddar.
It took a while, but we finally got a hold of someone to correct the matter. She explained that “no one eats” the fries with the nacho cheese, so they’ve suddenly switched preparations. Bad news, my friend: the problem ain’t the cheese.
The Avocado Bacon Cheeseburger ($11.95) and Jalapeno Bacon Ranch Cheeseburger ($11.95) were interchangeable minus the addition of avocado versus canned jalapeno slices and (what tasted like) bottled ranch dressing.
The burgers were very thin and perfectly round, giving off a strong “I was adopted from a freezer in Costco!” vibe.
We’d ordered them medium rare. They arrived well done.
The staff couldn’t be nicer, or besieged by more inexplicable chaos. It’s hard to say what’s going on that renders them so overwhelmed, but it definitely detracts from the experience.
In short, Wow Wee Maui Kava Bar & Grill and Ren’s Sushi Bar offers a solid Kahului option so long as you have plenty of time. Most importantly, play it safe – maybe call ahead to see if Ren is there – and stick with the sushi if you can.
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)