Maui Food and Dining

Porto Puts Your Money Where Their Mouth Is

March 7, 2015, 2:06 PM HST
* Updated March 7, 2:20 PM
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By Vanessa Wolf

Porto is located to the left of the Pacific Whale Foundation shop.Photo by Vanessa Wolf

Porto is located to the left of the Pacific Whale Foundation shop.Photo by Vanessa Wolf

When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world. His hand rose and fell softly with each precious breath. In the dream from which he’d wakened he had wandered in a cave where the child led him by the hand.

That cave – in this scenario – was called Porto: A refuge, of sorts, in a post-apocalyptic world devoid of order, civilization and food. 

(Or at least that would make sense with respect to our experience there.)

So anyway, here is the excellent news: all profits at Porto go to “support the Pacific Whale Foundation’s efforts to protect our oceans through science and advocacy.”

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Hell yeah!

The Formaggio Pizza. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Formaggio Pizza. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

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As for how those profits are gleaned, we gave the Formaggio ($10 for 6 inch/$20 for 14-inch) Pizza a spin.

Ahem. That’s Mister Flame Fired Artisan Pizza to you.

The cheese pie had good flavor, but we’re pretty sure the much-touted inferno in the flame-fired wood oven was off-balance or the pizzas simply not rotated enough. We would have preferred our black char on the bottom of the crust – which, sadly, was under-cooked and rather doughy – rather than on the top side of the pie.

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Atop the thin, yet still somehow almost gooey base layer we found a lovely, tangy red sauce: The swan song of the dish. Above that, a veritable deluge of cheese was melted, providing a nice salty balance to the fresh tomato flavor.

Darn it all, Crust, for monkeying up what might have been a pleasant pie.

On our next visit we tried to order the Margherita ($10/$20), but they were out of basil.

The Maui Mushroom had great toppings, but suffered from flawed execution. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Maui Mushroom pizza. We’re not sure why they slice them this way. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Pesto ($12/$22)?

No dice.

All righty then. Our mom called ahead with insturctions, it seems. How about the Roasted Maui Vegetable ($10/$20)?

But that was not possible either. Is there some kind of food shortage we didn’t hear about? The sudden memory of our own nearly-bare fridge provided a jolt of fear.

Right as we were about to inquire as to what they could make, the waitress recommended the Maui Mushroom ($12/$22) Pizza.

The pie arrived with a generous layer of mushrooms, notably sauteed with visible sprigs of fresh thyme. The light flavor of the bechamel sauce allowed the criminis to take center stage, even with the copious cheese.

But once again, unfortunately, things fell apart both literally and figuratively with the under-cooked crust.

The restaurant's dining area features a striking art piece from local glass artist, Rick Strini. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The restaurant’s dining area features a striking art piece from local glass artist, Rick Strini. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The execution lands right between a crisp, cracker-like crust and the fluffier hand-tossed New York style: Something of a pizza crust no man’s land. We really wish they’d either rolled it thinner a la a flatbread or gotten the oven hotter… Or both.

Strike two on pizza pies.

The restaurant is located in the Ma’alaea Harbor Shops and offers indoor and outdoor seating. Although we imagine there are crowd swells when the whale watching or snorkel boats come in, on all three visits we found Porto fairly empty.

Service was friendly, but confused. Maybe it was because of the vast lists of “sorry, but we’re all out of that” items she had to remember, but our waitress struggled to recall our order more than once.

On our final visit, we once again ran into supply issues that had us wondering if there was a crisis situation at hand.

Cubano Sandwich ($9)?

Nope.

The Salsiccia Di Pollo sandwich does a mean Meatball Sub impersonation. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Salsiccia Di Pollo sandwich does a mean Meatball Sub impersonation. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

Oven Roasted Turkey Sandwich ($10)?

No can do.

As our mind drifted back to the boyfriend whose mother kept a storehouse of grain and canned goods in case the world ever ended, Porto’s supply situation had us wondering if she may have been onto something…

We inquired what might be available and, thus, our Salsiccia Di Pollo ($9) Sandwich was born.

Billed as “house-made Italian chicken sausage,” we’d expected more of an encased link than a round, well, meatball.

Smaller than a ping pong ball but bigger than a shooter marble, the three sausages arrive on a diminutive hoagie roll topped with raw onion, marinara, pimiento slices and mozzarella cheese.

The meatballs/sausage are juicy and flavorful and the sandwich itself is tasty, but not particularly memorable.

Accompanied by a fresh side salad and balsamic vinaigrette, we found that the highlight and couldn’t help but wonder if the sold out items had sold out due to their vast superiority.

The Eggplant Parmesan was the best of the bunch. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Eggplant Parmesan was the best of the bunch. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

Alas, we may never know, as our final order was the Eggplant Parmesan Pasta ($12).

“Um, waiter? It appears someone accidentally left these old slippers on my… Oh. That’s the eggplant.”

Oh, lighten up. We’re just playing around.

Despite being under-seasoned and Giuliana Rancic thin, the Eggplant Parmesan was actually the best thing we tried at Porto.

The delicate slices of aubergine were panko-breaded and perfectly – well, one of them. Half-charring became something of a theme. – fried, ultimately resulting in the best-prepared meal of the bunch.

Plated on a giant bed of naked spaghetti and topped with a splash of red sauce and sprinkle of semi-melted mozzarella, the good news here is there is a veritable sea of opportunity for improvement.

From the entrance you can see the wood-fired oven. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

From the entrance you can see the wood-fired oven. Photo by Vanessa Wolf

The Porto menu is appealing and the cause excellent, there just seems to be a man or two overboard with respect to working the pizza oven and overall supply procurement.

They say a ship is safe at port, but that’s not what ships were built for. The same could be said for caves, taste buds and semi-raw, yet simultaneously semi-charred dough.

We like Porto’s menu and prices. We love whales and the ocean. We gave this port three calls and now hope someone answers this S.O.S.

*******

Porto is located at 300 Ma’alaea Road, Suite 106 at the Ma’alaea Harbor Shops. They are open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week.

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