Roasted Chiles Kicks Things Up a Notch
By Vanessa Wolf
Forget the fact that you’re on Maui.
Forget the fact that this is a strip mall.
Now that you’ve forgotten, take a breath and focus your attention on the vaulted ceiling, woven leather chairs and long granite-topped bar before you.
Humble exterior aside, the new Roasted Chiles restaurant in the Azeka Shopping Center provides a remarkably beautiful, airy space in which they are dishing up something not often seen in these parts: upscale Mexican fusion.
Reminiscent of a Rick Bayless offering, the menu offers epicurean riffs on central Mexican dishes.
The Ceviche de Pescado ($9.99) is agreeably assertive.
The mild white fish is combined with fresh cucumber and raw onions. Although the lime and onion flavors are predominant, the uniform brunoise allows the more subtle fish and cucumber notes to shine through.
Sadly, the plate arrived topped with rotten avocado slices. They’re not just unsightly; avocados are loaded with oil and when it becomes rancid, it’s no bueno for your tastebuds and liver alike.
Although we missed the silky richness provided by the “alligator pear,” it was still a satisfying dish nonetheless.
We also tried the Toritos ($9.99), a cross between chile rellenos and the world’s best jalapeno poppers.
Three large, fiery jalapeno peppers are stuffed with cheese and shrimp, coated with a light tempura batter and deep fried.
Inexplicably, they arrive on a bed of iceberg lettuce and are accompanied by a side of chipotle mayo aïoli – a condiment we can do without.
Happily, the peppers are more than divine without it, and all told we have nothing but praise for this decadent, delicious appetizer.
The restaurant provides complimentary chips and salsa, the breadbasket of Mexican cuisine.
The chips are wonderfully crisp; whether purchased or house made, whoever’s making them is doing a great job.
We’re not sure why they choose to ration out the fresh, spicy, garlicky salsa in thimble-sized portions, but we wish they’d get some bigger bowls and let it flow free.
As it stands, prepare to hassle your server multiple times for more.
Speaking of service, it’s consistently warm and attentive without being smothering.
The owner was present and amicably chatted with us on both visits, mostly about his family, many of whom are involved with the restaurant as well.
Similarly, much of the food has a welcoming, familial vibe, the Pozole Verde ($15.99) being a prime example.
Pozole is the Nahuatl word for hominy.
A sacred plant to the Aztecs, anthropologists believe the earliest incarnations of the savory stew were made with human flesh.
Chew on that for a minute.
Thankfully, no people were harmed during the making of this version, and we imagine this South of the Border pork potage is what we’ll be craving the next time we’re feeling under the weather.
The rich, oregano-scented broth is loaded with tender pork and velvety, yet toothy hominy. Each mouthful delivers lush, homey pleasure and we wonder if whoever invented gnocchi would have bothered to do so had they tasted perfectly prepared hominy first.
The menu indicates that the Mole Artesanal Rojo ($18.99) is Grandmother’s recipe.
Abuela knew what she was doing.
The mild, yet complex mole sauce balances light notes of dry chiles, chocolate and cinnamon.
The moist chicken breast below was falling-apart tender. Although the poached meat was almost flavorless on its own, it offers no unnecessary competition with the bold sauce.
It’s just like Mama used to make, if Mama were an excellent Mexican cook.
The only sour note was the accompanying undressed iceberg lettuce “salad” and mound of corn and carrot bit-filled Spanish rice. Bland and pedestrian, this is the first notable reminder that you are, indeed, sitting in a strip mall Mexican restaurant.
That reminder is unfortunate and even unnecessary.
You’re better than that Roasted Chiles.
Ditch the cheesy low-brow accompaniments consider something more refined, elegant or even just authentic like calabacitas con elote (zucchini with corn) or pintos with nopales.
Succotash-laden rice aside, this is one dining experience that is definitely worth your time.
A new restaurant with amazing potential, we would love to see them fully embrace what appears to be the upscale Mexican vibe the ambience achieves and the food seem to be striving for.
Do so, and we see no reason Roasted Chiles won’t be doing Grandma’s mole justice for years to come.
Roasted Chiles is located at 1279 S Kihei Road on the mauka side of the Azeka Shopping Center.