Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice

While I said I was done with the food entries from Maui, there actually is one dessert/snack entry remaining: Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice.

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Andy’s wife Sugi (I can say “wife” now – yay!) enjoying her favorite shave ice. Since her mother is from Maui and Sugi spent her summers growing up on the island, I put great stock in her number-one rating for Ululani’s. After some so-so experiences with shave ice on Kauai last year, I was surprised at how good the dessert can be – if you go to the right place.

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Shave ice, often confused by mainlanders with snow cones, is a local Hawaiian specialty. Unlike snow cones, which are made with crushed ice, shave ice is precisely that – shaved – with a texture akin to snow. (I know, it would seem that shave ice should really be called “snow cones,” right?) This is important because while a snow cone results in a big pool of flavored syrup sitting at the bottom of a cup of ice, shave ice absorbs the syrup, ensuring that each bite is full of goodness.

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Ululani’s has four locations on Maui – two near each other in Lahaina, one in the island’s main town of Kahului, and the newest shop on the north side of Kihei. We went to the original location on Front Street in old town Lahaina.

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Each of Ululani’s 40 flavored syrups is made in-house using fruit purees, extracts, filtered water, and pure cane sugar. Toppings are either home made or come from other Maui companies. This local approach is one of their secrets to success. Now, it is true that shave ice can be a sickeningly sweet dessert. The key is to choose favors that create complexity and contrast rather than just add one layer of sweetness on top of another. I chose a recommended combination – Ho’ike – which offers lilikoi (passionfruit), li hing mui (Chinese salted plum), and passion orange. The salted plum adds a tart and salty note that cuts the sweetness, making the shave ice refreshing. 

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Another part of Ululani’s charm is their friendly employees. Sure, I’m a mainlander who barely knows my pu pu platter from my poke. But this young lady was patient, happy to answer every question with a smile, and chatted with us about our visit to Maui while preparing our shave ice. In this picture, she adds mochi (made by Maui Specialty Chocolates) to my shave ice.

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The finished product! Yummy!

 

Maui Food Madness Part 3

Our Maui dining adventures continues with some Japanese food, a touristy luau, and some organic pizza.

Ramen Ya

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Monday evening we ate dinner at Ramen Ya, a Japanese restaurant located in a mall in Kahului. Right across the courtyard is Sugi’s aunt’s fabric store.

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The newlyweds – still all smiles – decide what dinner to order.

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The food is what I might call “rough and tumble” – huge portions of moderately satisfying Japanese favorites. Here we have a gargantuan portion of chicken katsu served over fried rice. It was tasty enough but the portion could have served three.

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A bowl of ramen, part of a combo set that also included fried rice and gyoza. Nobody complained about the food but it didn’t inspire any positive raves, either.

 

Old Lahaina Luau

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Andy Yang had arranged for all of us to make a trip to the Old Lahaina Luau, reportedly the best of the touristy package luau shows. Located right on the harbor, the grounds offered seating for more than 500 guests for their nightly show. The sun was a bit strong in the late afternoon but by the time it set, the location was beautiful and the weather pleasant.

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Each table seats eight – here is Andy Yang, his brother-in-law Erich, Sugi, and Tawn. Every group of three or four tables had their own server, all of whom were shirtless men. This was Tim, who was really friendly and took good care of our group. Would you believe he is celebrating his twenty-ninth wedding anniversary this year? He looks younger than that.

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Sunset over the harbor. This was a beautiful sunset, accentuated by the live Hawaiian music being performed by a quartet on the lawn.

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Food was served buffet style, each table being released in order to avoid long queues. Food included Hawaiian specialties along with “Hawaiianized” chicken, steak, etc. On the left is lau lau pork – pork wrapped in ti leaves and steamed. Working clockwise is kalua pork (which they cook overnight in a pit), teriyaki beef, a creamed vegetable salad, lomi salmon (a salted salmon dish), a dish made with local greens, sweet-and-sour chicken, and mahi mahi. Overall, I give the luau high marks for food quality and variety. Especially when considering the setting, the meal was very satisfying. 

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The dessert tray: macadamia nut tarts, chocolate brownies, chocolate passion fruit pots-de-creme, and haupia – a coconut milk based pudding.

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Two shots from the show, which came on after dinner. Photos by Andy Yang. The program traced the islands’ history and illustrated different types of dancing based on different cultural traditions that influenced modern Hawai’i.

At $100 per person plus gratuity, the Old Lahaina Luau is steep. (All inclusive, including alcoholic drinks) If it is your first time to the islands, though, it might be a fun way to set the mood. Service was very good.

 

Flatbread Company

A few days later we found ourselves back in Paia, where Sugi’s family lives. Andy and I tried sea kayaking (well, I tried, he photographed – more on that soon!) while Tawn did yoga. Afterwards, we stopped for some pizza at the renown Flatbread Company.

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Here’s the storefront of the Flatbread Company, located in the hippie-ish town of Paia on the north shore of Maui. As the sign says, they serve wood fired love.

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In addition to the dough being made from organic flour, lots of ingredients are locally sourced. A chalkboard in the dining room lists local suppliers.

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The wood burning hearth is in the middle of the dining room. If you are feeling cold (not likely!) you can walk up to it and warm yourself.

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Metaphoto. Everyone is taking pictures. Thankfully, our dining companions knew the cardinal rule of food blogger etiquette: nobody eats until the shooting’s complete.

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Mopsy’s Kalua Pork – Kiawa smoked free range pork shoulder, homemade organic mango BBQ sauce, organic red onions, Maui pineapple, and a blend of Hawaiian goat cheeses and mozzarella, topped with local organic herbs.

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The Coevolution – imported kalmatta olives, fresh organic Maui rosemary, red onions, and fire roasted sweet red peppers, and a blend of Hawaiian goat cheeses and mozzarella, topped with organic local herbs.

Both pizzas were excellence. The kalua pork was mutually agreed to be our favorite. What made these pizzas excellent were the crusts, that found the perfect balance between crispiness and chewiness. The secret – Giusto’s Organic Ultimate Performer Unbleached Flour from South San Francisco, which has high protein and high gluten.

 

Maui Food Madness Part 2

The second part in my series of interesting places I ate while we were recently on Maui. Today: eskimo candy, touristy seafood, and sensational sushi.

Eskimo Candy

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Eskimo Candy is what they call smoked salmon. Eskimo Candy is also a small seafood restaurant located across from a Napa auto parts store in the beach condo town of Kihei, on the south side of Maui. Open weekdays only, there’s only a trio of tables and much of the business is takeout. The menu is mostly fish and freshness is the name of the game.

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An order of fish and chips served with slaw. The catches of the day are listed on the board and are available in many forms, including fried in a light beer batter and served with fries. This was opah (also known as moonfish), a firm white fleshed fish that is a byproduct of longline tuna fishing. Really good.

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The prize catch, though, is their poke rice bowl. Poke (pronounced “poh-keh”) is raw fish (usually tuna) salad. Eskimo Candy serves four types: a spicy poke, one with fukikake (dried seaweed and sesame seeds), one with shoyu (soy sauce), and one with wasabi. The fish is really fresh, cold, and firm – the best quality poke I’ve eaten. 

Also worth trying (although not seafood) is their chicken teriyaki.

 

Lahaina Fish Company

Lahaina is the largest town on the west side of Maui, an old whaling town that dates back to the 1800s. It is a major tourist area with a charming downtown of shops and sights to see. We had lunch at the Lahaina Fish Company, a restaurant that sits on the harbor and is listed in the Lonely Planet as a worthwhile place to eat.

The breeze was pleasant and the service reasonably attentive. The food, though, wasn’t very interesting and the prices were about what you would expect in this touristy an area. Two items that are worth mention:

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A poke taco appetizer consisted of four very crisp tortilla shells served with okay poke and garnishes including edamame guacamole. It was passable but the shells were super crunchy, a bit too much so.

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One of the specials was described as an “Ahi Sashimi ‘Katsu’ Rice Bowl”. Of course, this is a contradiction in terms. Sashimi is raw and katsu is fried. Sure enough, they used middling quality ahi tuna, wrapped it in nori, lightly breaded it then briefly fried it. It was served with fresh seaweed, carrots, dried seaweed, and a few other greens on a large serving of rice. The so-called “wasabi ginger buerre blanc” dressing didn’t add anything to the dish and the portion of rice was so large that the last quarter of the bowl (despite mixing the ingredients) was plain white rice.

 

Sushi Paradise

After eating abused ahi sashimi in Lahaina, it was a relief to come to Sushi Paradise.

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Located in a strip mall in the condo town of Kihei, Sushi Paradise puts on an unflattering face.

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The inside is small and spartan but it gets busy. If you don’t make reservations, you could easily face a wait of up to two hours. Tawn and I shared a “Paradise Dinner” for $60, which includes a selection of sashimi and sushi, sunomono, miso soup, chawanmushi, and a choice of rolls. We also ordered a few specials, which inflated our bill.

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The sunomono, or pickled seafood salad, featured fresh tako, or octopus. The key to very tender tako is that it has to be massaged before it is cooked. Otherwise, it is just a lump of rubber.

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Our selection of sashimi: red snapper, salmon, yellow tail, squid, octopus, tuna, surf clam, mackerel, and sweet egg. Some of the best quality fish we’ve had outside of Japan. Hard to speak too highly of this restaurant.

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One of the specials was a very lightly torched albacore tuna served with avocado. Not only very tasty, also very beautiful to look at. The very essence of Japanese cuisine is that food should be pleasing to all the senses. This dish achieved that.

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Chawanmushi is a steamed egg custard dish. Our had spinach in it, which was mostly near the bottom of the tea cup in which it is served. The key to this dish is that it has to be strained to remove any clumps or scrambled bits. If it is cooked to the correct point, it is gently solid with a velvet texture. As you might expect, Sushi Paradise has mastered this technique.

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Another special was lightly fried fish belly (don’t remember the type) topped with a mixture of soy sauce, scallions, and grated radish. Deceptively simple but very complex flavors.

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Our sushi plate: tuna, red snapper, yellow tail, salmon, shrimp, eel, sweet egg, plus a spicy tuna roll. All very fresh fish. The shrimp was perfectly done, crunchy but not tough. As you would imagine, I’d recommend you go to Sushi Paradise next time you are on Maui.

Stay tuned for more Maui Food Madness…