1 Humuhumunukunukuapua'a Paradise was quickly found at the Grand Wailea Resort - in an open-air, thatched-roof restaurant overlooking a lagoon blasted out of volcanic rock. Named after the Hawaiian state fish, the restaurant exudes cultural charm: Waiters wear traditional tunics and leis; a huge aquarium is filled with small colourful fish, humu included; and tropical fish splash about the lagoon. The sunset was augmented by delectable hamachi carpaccio, refreshed by a chili and celery ginger granita and black salt. The ahi was seared beautifully, but roast snapper with diced pancetta, shaved fennel and a ginger emulsion was the hit of the night.
2 Theme from Jawz
After burning to a crisp at the clothing-optional Little Beach, just a small cliff hike from Big Beach, we dived into vegetable and bean burritos and mahi mahi soft corn tacos from the Jawz truck in the parking lot. Roadside fare has never been so satisfying. Numerous similar canteens dot the highways and are well worth pulling over your convertible for, if only for the fact that lunch for two sets you back about $16.
3 Putting on the Ritz
Fast-forward to the waterfall pool at the Ritz-Carlton in northern Kapalua. A kind gentleman cocooned our loungers with terry-cloth shrugs and we settled in for the afternoon. The order of the day was clearly frothy rum drinks, and Ben the bartender gave us the perfect Lava Flow (pureed strawberries on the bottom, with coconut, pineapple, rum and banana).
4. Maui wowee
Maui Gold pineapple proved a treat time and again - extra-sweet, low in acid and rich in vitamin C. A pineapple plantation is situated within the Kapalua Resort, a string of luxury condominiums in the pine tree-dotted northwest, which has its own dedicated 150-acre organically managed farm. It supplies fruit, vegetables, produce, herbs and eggs to area restaurants such as the Pineapple Grill and Merriman's Kapalua, as well as the landmark Honolua Store, a sundries shop and deli in operation since 1929.
Locals and resort guests, including many peckish golfers, hit this large deli counter for breakfast every day, many going with the Loco Moco - rice, hamburger patty, fried eggs and gravy. The Crabcake Benedict was so good, we had it two days in a row. The deli is also home to the traditional Plate Lunch, a mishmash of flavours derived from early days of tropical agriculture, when the plantation workers would share dishes from their homelands of Japan, Korea, the Philippines and Portugal.
Besides general-store staples, this little depot stocks Surfing Goat Dairy cheeses, Kona coffee that is worth smelling up your suitcase for, sticks of ko (sugar cane) complete with instructions on how to rot your kids' teeth with it, and a little point-of-purchase peculiarity called Spam Musubi: Spam, rice and seaweed … food as amusement. We didn't try it, though we thought about buying one and driving over it to see what it would look like flattened.
5. Rock-a-hula Scallop and lobster pot stickers stuck to our ribs at the Hula Grill ( www.hulagrill.com), the island's hippest and busiest hot spot from sunset onward. Located right at the water within the Ka'anapali Beach Resort ( www.kaanapaliresort.com) group of hotels, it is owned by a regional-cuisine hero, James Beard award-winning chef Peter Merriman. The music was live, the surroundings colonial with a vintage kick and the atmosphere blessedly relaxed (loosen belt notch). To fill in the time between the pupus (appetizers) and the pineapple upside-down cake, we barrelled through rich Macadamia nut-crusted opakapaka (pink snapper) and yet even more delicious ahi.
6. Melt your heart at Merriman's Another night, at the newer more upscale Merriman's Kapalua, the menu was even more focused on regional cuisine. Earthy mushroom soup and shrimp tempura with a sweet soya vinaigrette led the way into a meal that was as unforgettable as the sunset that blankets the restaurant's popular oceanfront lanai. The most delicate lobster was exalted by rich mushroom gnocchi and a preserved-lemon relish. Grilled ono was flaky and moist, accompanied by the sweetest of plum tomatoes. We didn't need the side order of tarragon honey creamed corn, but we ate it anyway. Delicious. A lemon tart with a chocolate bottom melted our hearts. I think we were in bed fast asleep by 9.
7. Bottomless Champagne saucers The Ka'anapali Beach Hotel ( www.kbhmaui.com) prides itself on being the most Hawaiian on the island, and the $39 Sunday brunch is worth the drive if you don't happen to be staying nearby. The reasons for this are many. While the Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvée from California didn't look like much, it was, actually, not bad - and bottomless. The hotel ballroom was lined with chafing dish after chafing dish of traditional Hawaiian food, American favourites, a raw bar, an omelette station, prime rib, fruit, traditional cold salads, the works. Highlights included the fiddlehead salad, crab legs, succulent catfish and the amazing ahi poke salad.
8. Aloha 'oe Mai Tai planted firmly in hand, I saw my culinary dream finally come true at the Old Lahaina Luau ( www.oldlahainaluau.com): Two half-naked men dug my supper out of the ground. The kalua pua'a (pork roasted in the beachside imu or underground oven) was sublime. The traditional menu also included all the island hits - poi, sweet potatoes, mahi mahi, island crab salad, taro salad and lomi lomi salmon (cooked with tomatoes and onions). Dancing and storytelling followed to much applause.
Sure, it was a bit cheesy, but as we rounded out our culinary tour, we wouldn't have had it any other way.
Special to The Globe and Mail
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Pack your bags
Maui is about six hours from Vancouver, San Francisco or L.A., and many airlines fly direct to Kahului. A rental car is a must.
What to do (besides eating)
* Scuba diving, snorkelling, windsurfing, helicopter tours, sailing. The islands of Lanai, Kaho'olawe and Molokai are a boat ride away.
* Take surfing lessons or play with a stand-up paddleboard.
* Tea and lavender scones at the Ali'I Kula Lavender farm ( aklmaui.com ) is a pleasant and aroma therapeutic way to spend part of an afternoon. Stock up on lavender honey, pepper and seasonings, salad dressing and jam.
* Drive to the summit of the Haleakala Crater (10,000 feet above sea level in just over an hour). Tours will drive you up in a bus, then you can ride down (or rather, coast) on a from near the top of the summit.
* Skip Ulalena, the Broadway-style production at the Maui Theatre in Lahaina, and spend that money on an old-fashioned luau for a better understanding of island history, plus a full belly.