Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tropical Delights (aka Dining on Maui)

The Hawaiian islands don't seem to conjure up thoughts of delicious meals but I think that is because people frequent the same chain restaurants they have at home (Hard Rock, Bubba Gump's, Burger King) or stick to the restaurants at their hotels. Don't get me wrong, many of the hotel restaurants actually do a really nice job, just like here at home. And many of the restaurants in Hawaii are part of a local chain with multiple locations, as with three that we ate at.

One of the buzziest places on Maui right now is Star Noodle. It is completely out of the way, near nothing, and there is always a wait. When we showed up for a late lunch one day and were told we had a 45 minute wait we felt lucky! I've heard the norm is an hour plus.

We ordered big bowls of delicious ramen, pillowy pork belly buns, and grilled-perfect yakitori. Not only is the food great but the service was super friendly.

Just outside of Lahaina is another great place for lunch called Leoda's. This country-store style bakery has lots of tasty sandwiches, salads, burgers, and (their specialty) pies. Another great find!
And just north of the bakery is a parking lot with a small fruit market and a truck making delicious fruit smoothies using sugar cane syrup. I had coconut and Dayne had pineapple. We both declared ours to be the best!

Wanting to see a bit more of the west coast of the island we took a drive down to Kihei one afternoon stopping along the way at scenic outlooks to spot whales. Once in the small town, we decided on lunch at the 5 Palms. The casual restaurant is oceanfront in the Mana Kai Hotel. Good fish, good mai tai, good view!

Our first night we had a very enjoyable dinner at the Hula Grill in Whaler's Village. We started with cocktails in their "Barefoot Bar" and then had a wonderful table in the nicer, open-air dining room. As it was Valentine's Day, the owner's wife had cut protea flowers from her garden for each table that we got to take with us. It was so nice waking up to that pretty flower next to my bed each day!

The highlights at Hula were the poisson cru and the special ahi carpaccio with wasabi shave ice and caviar. The fresh fish mains were good but a bit normal in preparation. The dessert of Baked Hawaii (pineapple upside-down cake, Tahitian vanilla ice cream, topped with toasted meringue and caramel rum sauce) was the best dessert ever!! Do not miss!
Also in Whaler's Village is Leilani's. I had a great terriyaki steak here and my cocktail was quite good, but the atmosphere, at least where we were seated, was a bit more family/loud than I prefer. I'd go back but maybe ask specifically for a table next to the water. Or go later than 9pm in hopes that the children are heading to bed.

In Laihaina we had dinner at Kimo's, owned by the same restaurant group and Hula Grill and Leilani's, also overlooking the ocean. Although the menus are similar we found the apps here to be just ok, but the fish was fantastic! Kimo's is also home to the Hula Pie so Dayne had to try it of course. Delish and enough to feed four!
Just south of the main area of Lahaina is Pacific O. Another on the beach restaurant but this one is doing the farm-to-table thing and even has their own farm. We had a great table overlooking the ocean, and a delicious meal which included this gorgeous dish of fresh ahi and ono, with tabiko, wrapped in nori and tempura fried.
On our last night we had dinner at the well-know Lahaina Grill. It's a bit of an institution on Maui and for good reason. Elegant dining room, gorgeous dishes like Kona coffee roasted rack of lamb, well-chosen wine list, and gracious service. It's a bit spendy but we had a superb meal here.  

Warm weather, ocean views, fresh fish, and an occasional nightcap at the pool bar. What's not to like about eating and drinking on Maui?
Maui photos

Friday, February 21, 2014

Maui Winter Break

Hawaii is the perfect cure for the winter blues so when Dayne and I received a deal from the Westin Ka'anapali Ocean Resort Villas we jumped at it. A few years ago we had a similar deal from the Marriott for a trip to Kauai which was a great experience, so we used an Alaska Air companion fare, took their free rental car and inexpensive hotel deal and off we went.

As our flight was a bit early we decided to stay at Cedarbrook Lodge, who not only generously offered me a special rate but also had a delicious tray of meats, cheeses, and fruit in our room when we arrived. We've stayed here in the past and as before,our overnight was perfect. Quiet and comfortable room, complimentary wi-fi, and quick shuttle to the airport giving me a chance to get a bit more sleep!

We also had a lovely dinner in their restaurant Copperleaf.  My butter-poached lobster and Dayne's bacon-wrapped boar were both delicious, and as I've stated before, the plating here is so pretty!

After our easy flight into Kahului we picked up our car at the airport and decided to upgrade to a convertible since the base price was part of our Westin deal. Top down, it was a 50 minute incredibly scenic drive across the island and then up the coastline to Ka'anapali.

The Westin property is huge, actually divided into two separate sections each with their own lobby, pools, etc. We checked into our studio-apartment complete with washer/dryer, kitchenette, jacuzzi bathtub, and view of Kahekili Beach Park and the ocean. Our luggage arrived just in time for us to catch Happy Hour at the beach bar and watch the lighting of the tiki torches. 

February is prime whale watching season as the humpback whales are here to give birth and to mate. We went on a whale watch cruise with the Pacific Whale Foundation (HIGHLY recommend them) but even if we hadn't, you couldn't look out at the ocean without seeing numerous exhale plumes minimally and huge tails descending the water if you were luckier. On our cruise we were not even 5 minutes out of the harbor when we had a group of 3 on our port side and another 2 on our starboard. Everyone was excited to spot the first tail!

We had non stop whale spotting for 2-hours, adults and babies. We saw breaching from afar, finslaps and spyhops closer to our boat. And they lowered a hydrophone so we could hear the whales singing, it was amazing! And LOUD!!
Baby and Mother

Near the end of our cruise a baby humpback decided she was very interested in our boat and swam right up and proceeded to circle us. She was spinning underwater, doing little spyhops, slapping her fins, and watching us. The mother whale and her escort pretty much stayed under the surface, close enough that we could see both of their huge figures! Being as the whales were closer than 1000 feet to us we could not have the motor on the boat going. Our captain radioed the harbor as we were going to be late getting back, stating that we were being mugged by whales!

The naturalist on board was great at pointing out the different tail markings and explaining their behavior. We also learned that during Dec thru March, most of the areas are Whale Preserves and that means that jetboats, jetskies, etc are not allowed. The absence of this noise made our trip even more relaxing.

We kept our dive gear bag in the trunk, ready to stop and snorkel on a whim. The weather was a bit windy/rainy the day we drove up to check out Kapalua Bay but it was such a pretty spot that we ended back up there another day. The beach and bay are gorgeous but the reef isn't in as good of shape as others, we even saw people standing on the reef with dive booties instead of flippers on! Bad tourists!

We snorkeled right off our property on Ka'anapali Beach and also next to us at Kahekili. We saw lots of various butterfly fish, triggerfish, saddle wrasse, bannerfish, and even an octopus! I saw a turtle from the beach one afternoon but sadly we weren't in the water with any (that we knew of). The other really cool thing was that you could hear the whales while snorkeling!

We also both learned to stand-up paddle-board which was hard at first, becoming a bit easier over time. The water was so clear that we could see the fish and the reef while standing (or kneeling!) and paddling along. And even when we fell, the water was warm and refreshing.

And of course we took in the awesome Maui sunsets.

Maui photos here.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Taking a Bite Out of the Big Apple

My four days spent in NYC were packed full. I didn't just drink cocktails and hang out in Brooklyn. There are so many great places to go, to see, and to eat at!

My first stop upon arriving in town was at The NoMad, a 'must reserve' hot spot, just a short walk from my hotel. I was really looking forward to the drinks and the dinner with my friend Meg, but when I checked us in the mâitre d' looked sadly at me and asked if I had my Open Table confirmation. I handed him my phone and he very politely explained that there were two Nomad restaurants and I had booked the other. Not four hours into town and my plans were screwed! Meg explained that I was from out of town and at that moment I felt like she should have said Kansas (no offense). And then the controller of hard-to-get tables sweetly said he could seat us in about 30 minutes if we would like to have a drink in the bar. SCORE. And pretty much the opposite experience you would have with the mâitre d' at Babbo (again, no offense).

After a few nice drinks, we were given a lovely table right in the middle of the parlor room and had exceptional service from the somm as well as the wait staff.

And the food was delicious! And pretty! Gorgeous ingredients like fluke, suckling pig, sweet breads, and truffles pepper the menu. I'd go back anytime.

My hotel was also just blocks away from Eataly, housed in a large building and comprised of an Italian grocery, kitchen shops, and a scrumptious Italian food court. Forest and I stalked seats at La Piazza, the charcuterie style eatery, for lunch one afternoon. There are about nine different eating places, all with a different theme, some are sit down and some are stand up, all are busy!
One morning we checked out Acme for brunch with a group of friends. This normally buzzing spot was strangely empty when we arrived. Brunch was good, not overly exciting, but the brunch cocktails were great and the space is really good for groups.

After brunch Dayne, Thibault, Forest, and I walked it off by strolling the High Line. This is a wonderful 1-mile long park built on an old raised rail track and goes from the Meatpacking District to Chelsea. It was a beautiful day and the park has tons of interesting plants, architecture, views, and places to sit and relax.
We got off the High Line at the Getty Station to check out the funny Sheep Station exhibit by artist François-Xavier Lalanne.
That night we had a pretty good meal at The Dutch.I wouldn't put this in my top list of restaurants as everything needed just a bit more seasoning, but the menu was fun and inventive, like this duck confit pot pie.
On our last day we met a college friend of Dayne's and his family for brunch on the upper east side at this funny old school Italian bakery and dining room, Sant Ambroeus. The food was fine but the bakery items looked scrumptious. After brunch we walked to the Neue Gallery.

An amazing collection of German and Austrian art is housed in this gem of a building, once occupied by Cornelius Vanderbilt III. Adding a cherry on top of our visit, the gallery was having a special exhibit of Kandinsky. It was wonderful!
 

We wrapped up our afternoon with a bit of shopping at the Chelsea location of Fishs Eddy before picking up our bags and heading to Penn Station to grab trains to the airport; Dayne heading to Newark and me heading to JFK.

My miles paid off as I tucked into a lay-flat bed in first class and enjoyed dinner, a movie, and a nap while heading home.


New York, let's get together again soon!

Photos here.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Brooklyn Field Trip

I've never had a chance to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, and I've only been to Brooklyn once, so this time I set aside an entire day to spend in the borough.

Forest, Thibault and I met near City Hall on the Manhattan side and had a really nice walk over the bridge. I know that every site says that the views are better walking from Brooklyn to the city, but really, can't you just turn around? We did.
We strolled all the way to Mile End for a hearty lunch. This cute deli specializes in Montreal smoked meat which you can have on a sandwich or even on poutine. Luckily I had a day of walking to help even out that delicious lunch!
After lunch we headed by Uber to the Bedford neighborhood so I could check out this great shop that a friend had told me about called Berlyn65. It is tiny and filled with the most unique jewelry, pretty knickknacks, and super soft hand woven Turkish towels. If you find yourself in this neighborhood be sure to check it out.

From here we walked to New York Distilling Company to take a look at their space and try some of their interesting gins. The distillery has a cocktail bar connected to the space so you can grab a drink while watching the magic of distillation. We were treated to tastes of their Perry's Tot (an overproof gin), Dorthy Parker (an American gin with an interesting hibiscus note) and the newly released Chief Gowanus (a gin made from rye). Sadly their American rye has not been released yet but keep an eye out for it this year.
Chief Gowanus
Chief Gowanus

Thibault was meeting some friends at Radegast Hall, a German beer hall in Williamsburg, so we walked over there and had a few pretzels and beers before Forest and I slipped away for more cocktail R&D.

First stop was the very laid back and cool Tooker Ally.  Low lights cast a warm glow on the exposed brick walls and tin ceiling. The menu is mainly pre-prohibition but with unique twists. Interesting cocktails, like my pineapple-rye crusta, were well made and delicious.

From here we walked over to Weather Up, which ended up being one of my favorite bars of the trip. First off it is gorgeous. Coved ceilings covered in subway tiles. Cool, antique lighting. And a delicious cocktail menu.
To end our fun full day in Brooklyn we headed to the very pretty James restaurant with another friend I hadn't seen in a while. This sweet neighborhood gem has a fantastic menu, some nice cocktails, and a gorgeous interior.

We met back up with Thibault after dinner and the three of us grabbed the train back to Manhattan. Dayne's flight landed around midnight so I headed to the Spotted Pig to meet him so he could have a nice late night dinner. Love being able to meet someone at 1am for dinner. City that never sleeps, indeed!

NYC & Brooklyn photos here.