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Eskimo Candy: No Eskimos, No Candy

May 3, 2014, 11:46 AM HST · Updated May 6, 1:24 PM
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By Vanessa Wolf

The menu and any specials are listed on boards on the wall. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The menu and any specials are listed on boards on the wall. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

First off, let’s just come out and address the obvious: Kihei’s Eskimo Candy is the epitome of false advertising if ever there were.

Is it a chocolatier run by Inuits? A confectionery staffed with native Yupik people?

Nope. Not even close.

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There aren’t even any sweets… well, unless your idea of candy is coconut fried shrimp. (And in that case, touché. Although we kind of see your point.)

As for the name – according to the restaurant’s website – Eskimo Candy is the Alaskan nickname for smoked salmon.

Whether that’s accurate (or pejorative) is beyond our purveyance, but we can tell you this much: Eskimo Candy in this case is a fried fish/seafood and poke joint whose delivery trucks are prominently adorned with murals of gorgeous mermaids.

The Shoyu (Sesame Oil) Poke. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Shoyu (Sesame Oil) Poke. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

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As for the food, we started with poke.

Eskimo Candy sells four kinds and offers a Poke Bowl ($11.99) sampler served over rice.

We found the Shoyu Poke ($14.99/pound) to have an overwhelming sesame oil flavor.
There was not a single onion or scallion to be found; just pure, unadulterated protein with generous portions of sesame oil and (presumably) some shoyu.

The tuna itself was thick with connective tissue, rendering much of it inedible. Pass.

The Wasabi Poke ($13.99/lb) was the best of the quartet: pungent, powerful and packed with onions and sesame seeds. No complaints here.

The Spicy Poke was really... wet. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Spicy Poke is consistently… wet. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

In other news, the Furikake Poke ($14.99/pound) – made with the seaweed-based Japanese condiment – was the most “sushi-like” option of the bunch and probably a good choice for poke newbies.

Speaking of whom, Eskimo Candy is popular with visitors and an excellent place to watch people make first contact with the Hawaiian favorite.

On one visit, we observed as a tentative couple dipped into their shared poke bowl, their faces gripped with fear and trepidation.
They chewed.
They swallowed.
They – we presume – lived.

The World Famous Seafood Chowder. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The World Famous Seafood Chowder. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

Meanwhile, although usually a favorite, we found the Spicy Poke ($14.99/lb) watery and and unappealing. Made with a tiny smidge of mayo, a whole bunch of Sriracha, and the requisite onions and tobiko, the fish itself suffered from excess connective tissue once again. Such a shame.

Hoping for better luck, we switched gears and ordered up a bowl of the “world famous” seafood chowder.

How does a cream-based fish soup gain world fame?

Although we can’t explain that, we can report that the flavorful concoction comes in three sizes.

  • Cup – $3.95
  • Bowl – $7.95
  • Boot – $14.95… because nothing says “soup’s on!” quite like cowboy footwear.
Without hesitation, the most disappointing thing we tried were these Fried Oysters. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

Without hesitation, the most disappointing thing we tried were these Fried Oysters. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

The world famous dish itself is like a New England clam chowder at the foundation.

We found several whole bay shrimp and one intact bay scallop in ours. Otherwise everything – onions, celery, potatoes?, fish, clams – were cut into the same diminutive brunoise and cooked down such that they are not really distinguishable from one another.

Still, the chowder is rich and filling with a good seafood flavor and a notable cayenne pepper afterburn.

In contrast, the Fried Oysters ($6.95) elicited an entire chorus of sad trombones.

The Inuit people may have over 400 words for snow, but only one adjective is necessary here: burned.

The Fried Ono. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Fried Ono. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

Overfried such that the bitter taste of blackened batter completely overshadowed the sweet shellfish, the only good thing about these poor oysters was the price.

Similarly, our luck did not fare that well with the Fried Fish of the day ($15.95).

Presented with a choice of hamachi, hebi and monchong; we went with the first.

The hamachi itself was divine: fresh, flaky, and delicate. We could happily dine on this regularly if it weren’t for the greasy overcoat of batter in which it was cloaked.

Hold me closer, Tony Danza.

The oil imparted a flavor best described as “used and abused.”

The poke options in their natural habitat. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The poke options in their natural habitat. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

The fries also suffered from their time in (what seemed to be) the same overworked, fishy fryer.

Presuming things only get worse as the day wears on, getting there early may be the best bet.
And thus we did.

On our fourth and final redemption tour, we were standing outside Eskimo Candy when the doors opened.

On this occasion, the available fresh fish du jour was ono.

All told, our early bird theory seemed to prove accurate.

The thinly cut fries had a nice crunch while the lightly battered fish – thyme and black pepper are visible, but the overall impact is complementary and not competitive – was crisp and fresh-tasting, with an excellent balance between the two components.

The fish plates also come with a generous side of typical mayo-based coleslaw. We noticed a lot of it in the trash.

They do sell the namesake "Eskimo Candy" but at $32 a pound, it was a little too rich for our blood. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

They do sell the namesake “Eskimo Candy” but at $32 a pound, it was a little too rich for our blood. Photo by Vanessa Wolf.

While there that final morning, we also ordered half-pounds of the shoyu and spicy tuna pokes just to make sure they weren’t simply having an off day on our previous visit.

The verdict?

It is what it is.

If you want a small taste of each of the four flavors – particularly if you’re new to poke – the sampler gets the job done.

If you’re a more experienced connoisseur in the market for great prices, minimal connective tissue or variety galore… get back in the car and drive the ten miles to Tamura’s.

Eskimo Candy is set up like a fast food restaurant: order, pay and wait to be called. Counter service is quick and cordial.

Prices are a bit high for what you get, but if you’ve got a hankering for fresh-off-the-boat fish and chips, get there early and you won’t be disappointed.

——-

Eskimo Candy is located at 2665 Wai Wai Place in Kihei. They are open 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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