Tamura’s Fine Wine and Liquors: Booze OptionalApril 25, 2014, 6:07 PM HST · Updated January 9, 11:25 AM 0 Comments
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
We have a new crush, and we have it bad.
Seafood lovers and party animals rejoice: Tamura’s Fine Wines and Liquors offers a stunning array of what you crave.
Sure, the name, location and appearance are rather deceptive, but trust us on this one: Tamura’s is positioned to give every other poke vendor on this island a serious run for his or her money.
Just to get it out of the way, we weren’t there for alcohol, so we can’t speak to that element minus to say there are aisles and aisles and aisles chockablock with bottles. This begs the prediction that if they don’t have it, nobody does.
As for actual sustenance necessary for human survival, follow your nose to the back right corner of the store. The olfactory siren song of onions and sesame oil won’t steer you wrong.
Once there, feast your eyes on the veritable cornucopia of poke options: If they don’t have it, nobody does.
Not knowing where to start, we went for the Garlic King Crab ($17.99/pound).
It’s appropriately named – vampires need not apply – but for our tastes, the strong allium flavor overpowered the delicate claw meat.
The Wasabi King Crab ($17.99/pound), however? That, my friends, tis a whole ‘nother story.
The first bite is all crustacean and then the potent, pungent Japanese horseradish hits. All told, it pairs well with the subtle seafood flavor.
Your only real challenge will be to find a place worthy of consuming these fine wares, as the store itself is 100% takeout. (There’s always the shameful option of a parking lot feeding frenzy in a pinch.)
Back at the counter, if fish is more your thing, Tamura’s prepares no less than a dozen ahi varieties with both fresh and frozen options.
The Tamura’s Special ($10.99/pound) is described as being prepared with “sweet shoyu.” Tossed with white onion, scallions and sesame seeds, it’s a little more sugary than we’re used to, but the sesame seeds provide some savory balance. Teriyaki lovers will recognize and appreciate the flavor.
The Ahi Sunrise ($10.99/pound) is a popular option that seems to sell out quickly.
The morning dawns with a base of spicy ahi (mayo, Sriracha, onion, fish) and adds to that wakame (seaweed), avocado, sweet unagi sauce and tobiko.
Does it also contain MSG? Cocaine? Bath salts? Don’t ask. The devil is in the details.
Yes, there is a lot going on here, but it works.
Order some but – just to err on the side of caution – maybe don’t operate any heavy machinery for the first few hours.
Similarly, the Ahi Ninja ($10.99/pound) is a complex beast.
Did you know ninjas love sesame seeds?
Neither did we, but judging from the borderline-obscene portion found in ours, it seems a reasonable conclusion.
We were informed that the powerful, spicy-sweet shoyu-based sauce is made at Tamura’s mothership store in Honolulu. Coupled with the aforementioned sesame seeds, white onions, scallions, a hearty portion of wakame and plenty of chili paste, this particular poke is intense.
Ninjas in training may prefer it in a rice bowl ($9.29).
Turning our attention back to shellfish, the Kimchee Clams ($6.99/pound) are one heck of a deal.
Garlicky and spicy, with bits of green onions, we found this to be saltier than some may enjoy.
Still, the spicy kimchi flavor comes through and marries extremely well with the sweet Manila clams. Overall, this is one fresh, flavorful container o’ value.
Similarly, the Teriyaki Ika ($7.99 a pound) is another unusual, noteworthy and affordable choice.
Huge, tender chunks of squid (or calamari if that’s a more palatable word) are grilled and tossed in teriyaki sauce.
The deeply marinated flesh is at once sweet and savory with a light tang. What’s not to love?
Well, the counter service, perhaps.
Tamura’s has only been open a few months, but several of the folks working the poke case have the heavy countenance of someone on a chain gang.
Questions are answered, samples are offered, but these poor kids seem miserable.
We can only assume dishing out poke is hard work and hope things start looking up for them.
Until then, try the Smoked Salmon Belly ($13.99/pound).
Known as sake harasu to you sushi experts, this offering can only be described as the bacon of the sea.
The rich, fatty pieces of salmon are unbelievable.
There is a notable smoke flavor, but it enhances the overall effect and the fish itself is extremely tender: nothing like the “smoked” salmon you may associate with Alaska or the Northwest.
Mixed with white onions, scallions and a light coating of shoyu, this was one of the most unique and no-holds-barred best poke variations we’ve tried… Ever.
If you’re looking for a less oily, unctuous cut, there is also a smoked salmon (meaning not the belly) version as well.
Still, if our love for the Smoked Salmon Belly weren’t enough to solidify our growing infatuation with Tamura’s, the Spicy King Crab ($17.99/pound) had us wondering what our kids might look like.
The rich, crabby concoction is the dangerous intersection of several indulgences: Sriracha, mayo, tobiko and big, fat meaty chunks of king crab leg meat.
Adam Levine, Scarlett Johansson who?
We think People magazine needs to broaden its candidates for sexiest man/woman/foodstuff of 2014 and consider this sultry, decadent orange temptress for the title.
Whoever said money can’t buy you love clearly didn’t realize Tamura’s sells happiness by the pound.
Tamura’s Fine Wine and Liquors is located at 199 Dairy Rd in Kahului. They are open from 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays.