Maui Food and Dining

Five Palms: All That and a Bowl of Chips

June 7, 2013, 11:25 AM HST
* Updated June 7, 3:00 PM
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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

The California Roll. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The California Roll. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

If you like your happy hours crowded with options and other people, Five Palms Beach Grill in the Mana Kai Condo building in South Kihei will likely put a smile on your face.

The desirable prime time happy hour seating area by the bar fills up fast and stays that way. Expect service to be listless, but revel in your ocean-view seats.

If you get there too late and find there’s no more room at the inn, brace yourself: they stash you in the far back in a semi-formal dining room-ish area… and promptly forget all about you.

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After waiting 10 minutes to be seated, we spent another 15 looking around aimlessly and re-reading the happy hour menu in case it contained a clue as to how to improve our circumstances.

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After 20 minutes we began to get worried, thinking perhaps our waitress had been kidnapped!

We called the authorities, but we had little information to go off of since no-one had ever come by and said “hi.” We described her as outrageously busy and possibly wearing a cloak of invisibility.

The ribs are one of the best things on the HH menu. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The ribs are one of the best things on the HH menu. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

Luckily, when we were just about at our wits’ end with concern and worry, she showed up and promptly informed us that the bar was backed up, so drinks would take a while.

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Of course they will.

However, once the food arrived, all this preemptive fuss was soon forgotten.

The Crispy Calamari Strips ($8) are just that: thick slices of tender calamari steaks panko-breaded, fried and tossed with furikake and sesame seeds.

It’s good stuff.

The accompanying cocktail sauce was strangely, errr, stiff. The “smoked chipotle aioli” tasted exactly like Sriracha sauce mixed with mayo, but that’s OK – if not preferable – to the advertised flavor profile. The spicy creaminess nicely offsets the sweet seafood.

The sushi is solid.

The California Roll ($5.50) contains real (!) fresh (!) crab: a king crab and snow crab mix. Mayo is applied lightly as a binder, but doesn’t interrupt the excellent seafood flavor.

The Spicy Tuna Roll ($6) is exactly as it should be: well-prepared rice, fresh tuna, hot chili paste and mayo, rolled together. Questions? We didn’t think so.

Does this giant bowl of chips and dip make my butt look big? Why yes, it will. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

Does this giant bowl of chips and dip make your butt look big? Why yes, you bet your soon-to-be-giant fanny they will. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

The Chinese Style BBQ Ribs ($8.50) are a must-do.

The BBQ sauce is hoisin-flavored, which is presumably what makes it Chinese style, and there is a distinctive grill char to the tender, caramelized meat.

The pineapple salsa garnish is a lovely accompaniment, and the wet wash rags that are provided are a thoughtful touch.

The four coconut-crusted tiger prawns ($9) arrive beautifully presented with sweet chili sauce and sweet chili aoli.

Double down on sweet chili.

They’re a fairly typical panko and coconut breaded preparation and the overall bite is pretty sweet, but if that’s what you’re into, you’ll be pleased.

The Sashimi Trio ($11) offers great value. It contains three pieces each of fresh salmon, ahi, and hamachi. A true aficionado may critique the knife skills involved, but the flavor was there.

The Edamame ($3.50) is exactly what it sounds like. Soy beans and nothing but: no salt, sesame seeds, dipping sauce or shell bowl to be found.

The lettuce wraps. Avoid. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The lettuce wraps. Avoid. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

A simple person with simple tastes and no shame about stacking a bunch of chewed-on bean leaves up on a table top? There ya go.

Let’s talk about the Keawakapu Krunch ($7).

First, a disclaimer: IF YOU VALUE YOUR PHYSIQUE, LET ALONE YOUR HEALTH, YOU SHOULD NOT BE EATING THIS.

Still, sour cream-based onion dip and a giant bowl of potato chips? Let’s play blackjack while grandma prays the rosary on a nearby couch and it may as well be a scene from your childhood. It’s total junk food and once in a while that’s just fine.

Do not be led down the primrose path of the Prawn Lettuce Wraps ($9.50).

Everything goes wrong here.

First off, it’s “build your own lettuce wraps” and secondarily even your best efforts will yield a bland, messy and meager finished product.

The plate arrives with tiny (read: way too small) pieces of lettuce, nine cocktail shrimp and a few shreds of carrot and jicama with some sesame oil on it.

The crab cakes. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The crab cakes. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

When you go to assemble your “lettuce wraps” you will discover that the shrimp are actually an optical illusion and have actually been sliced in half, bringing the full headcount to four and a half shrimp. Weird.

Again, don’t bother.

The Five Palms Crab Cake ($9), however, should be experienced.

Real crab makes an ample encore appearance. The flavor is fresh and light and well offset by the yuzu ponzu (which tasted a bit like basil pesto. Go figure.) sauce.

Service is sluggish – or worse – on a good day, but for reliable and lengthy (3 to 7 p.m. and again from 9 to 11 p.m. daily) Happy Hour dining options, Five Palms in South Kihei is worth the wait.

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)

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