Lahaina Grill: Practically Perfect in Every Way

December 16, 2013, 4:50 PM HST · Updated November 16, 2:52 PM
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Vanessa Wolf

Escargot rarely makes for a pleasing photo. Image by Vanessa Wolf

Escargot rarely makes for a pleasing photo. Image by Vanessa Wolf.

Lahaina Grill, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. La-hi-na: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the roof. La. Hi. Na.

Grill.

Founded in 1990, Lahaina Grill is no nubile underage temptress. Almost old enough to drink, she just keeps getting better with age.

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On our first venture, our dining companion insisted upon the Baked Escargot ($22).

Yes.

Snails.

About as close as most Westerners get to eating insects (although in all fairness, they are of the phylum mollusca along with clams and mussels).

If you haven’t had the pleasure, you can easily convince yourself they’re mushrooms.

The Veal Chop. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Veal Chop. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

Soaking in the requisite and well-prepared garlicky buttery sauce, they were as superlative a version as any we’ve ever tried.

If you like to dine on nefarious garden pests, now you know.

Moving right along, we tried the Seared Ahi and Hudson Valley Foie Gras ($32).

Yes, we know that foie gras is mean, but gosh darn it, it’s delicious.

It tasted like that scene where the rather androgynous, sexy boy and the beautiful doe-eyed girl run towards one another in a mundane but nonetheless enchanting field and the wheat and wild flowers sway in the breeze, seemingly parting for the ardent lovers to reach one another just a split second sooner. The second bite tastes like that, too. But with less clothes.

Hopefully that duck went to heaven, because we certainly did while enjoying it.

The ahi is rare, the demi-glace succulent and the foie itself incredible. If you can deal with the guilt, go for it.

The Opakapaka melts in your mouth. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Opakapaka melts in your mouth. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

In what was shaping up to be a meal of abject animal cruelty, we also sampled the Marcho Farms Center Cut All Natural Veal Chop ($55).

Accompanied by a savory herbal risotto, buerre blanc sauce and perfectly prepared asparagus, the beautifully cooked meat still shines.

If Catholic (or whatever) guilt allows, it’s a winner.

As we turned our attention to the Opakapaka Special ($45), things melted down… with our camera.

Myriad photographic issues, total malfunctions and inexplicable glitches plagued us that first evening, but our incredible server – noticing this writer in near tears – offered up the use of her phone.

Not only that, she texted the photos to us later that night: a lovely gesture as awkward as it was gracious.

If one thing stands out about Lahaina Grill, it’s the impeccable, professional and yet still somehow warm service: simply supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Back to the fish, the opakapaka was served on a hearty morel mushroom risotto with a tiger prawn on top. The risotto was earthy and rich, but the flavor bordered on overpowering the delicate fish.

The Buffala Salad looks like a teenager going through an emo phase, but tastes like magic. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Buffala Tomato Salad looks like a teenager going through an emo phase, but tastes like magic. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

The opakapaka itself?

Like buttah.

The only things that could make each bite more delicious are your tears of joy.

On a subsequent visit we tried the Buffala Tomato Salad ($23).

The plate looks overdone, but the flavors are perfectly balanced.

Basil, onions and cheese work together with the fresh, clean tomato flavor. The olive oil and balsamic add depth and complexity.

The Carpaccio of Filet Mignon ($19), however, was overwhelming.

A spoonful of sugar may help the medicine go down, but renders raw beef, well… freaky.

The cloying sweet citrus notes are unnervingly reminiscent of a Betty Crocker lemon cake made by our mother every Easter: familiar yet objectionable.

The olive tapenade is gilding the lily.

The Carpaccio has a lot going on. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Carpaccio has a lot going on. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

The meat is so fresh and well-prepared that it doesn’t need this many essences and taste buds activated. Why compete with such clean, simple flavor?

Cut it back to the arugula, the shaved parmigiano-reggiano, a squeeze of lemon, some olive oil and those divine – and divinely clever – fried capers, and we’d eat this every day.

The Center Cut 14 oz. Certified Angus Beef New York Steak ($49) is splendid.

Perfectly cooked and topped with a delightful mushroom demi-glace, any cow would be lucky to meet such a fate.

Accompanied by a vegetable medley flanked with young al dente carrots, our dining companion noted, “They even made the carrots delicious. And I hate carrots.”

Here’s the problem with the herbed potato gratin tucked underneath: nothing.

Hate on us all you like, but our notes from that evening read: “Amazeballs. Want to roll around naked in the potatoes…with my mouth open.”

The NY Steak and those inexplicably tasty carrots. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The NY Steak and those inexplicably tasty carrots. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

What can we say?

This writer is just a girl, sitting in front of a plate of herbed potato gratin, asking it… to love her.

So anyway, our waiter encouraged us to try an accompanying bowl of Roasted Kula Corn ($8).

As the menu stated, it’s been roasted. There is visible char on the kernels and a notable grilled flavor.

Still, we found it quite under-seasoned, but added a bit of the garlic butter (brought with the complementary bread) and a little salt.

Voila!

Magnifique!

Although service is impeccable, the acoustics at Lahaina Grill leave a little to be desired.

The Roasted Kula Corn. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Roasted Kula Corn. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

Somehow the setup and probably the wooden floors amplify your neighbors’ conversations far beyond the volume of your own, such that you inadvertently hear the adjacent table tell the tale of their love at first sight blind date more than once.

Good for them, but – huh? What’s that someone at your actual table just said?

If it’s your birthday and the restaurant knows this, expect a free dessert in the form of Lampert’s Coconut and Lllikoi Sorbet in a shell of pure, unadulterated, tooth aching sugar ($13).

Dentists all over the island, Lahaina Grill is looking out for you.

Super sweet stuff isn’t really our jam, but we certainly appreciated the gesture, not to mention the bday card and the emailed photo the next day.

The dessert course made our teeth hurt. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The dessert course kinda made our teeth hurt, but sugar isn’t really our thing. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

Clearly not a spot for a cheap meal, treat yourself: grab someone special, scrape together your tuppence and go big at Lahaina Grill at least once.

You won’t regret it.

Lahaina Grill is open from 6 to 10 p.m. seven days a week.

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