Saturday, April 30, 2011

Feasting Flashbacks: Then and Now - Mala Tavern (Maui)

Mala the Magnificent

This little shipwrecked shack had been on my mind for the last two years. It was a stroke of luck that we’d found it in the first place, mostly because it wasn’t in any books and its plain dress would catch no eye. But it would catch, “The Ear”, my superhero persona known for excessive eavesdropping that honed in on a young local raving about the wok-fried fish, served whole, at Mala Tavern.

It ended up being the best meal of the trip. Returning two years later, I was all ready to “Practice Aloha” (Mala’s mantra) because what they were preaching, I was eating.

First trip
The wok-fried fish served two people and since Bubba still needed to name a winner in his sashimi showdown, we decided to check out the rest of the menu.

Chips and homemade salsa were served with mashed edaname, the kissing cousin of guacamole, and I was more than ready for a make-out session with this newfound, soy genius.

Goat cheese, onion and portabella flatbread was like an edible map of the island with every ingredient representing a product that had been made or grown on Maui.

Hoisin glazed baby back ribs, Molokai purple mashed potatoes, shiitakes, edamame & coconut peanut sauce. Ribs were firm, but not fatty with a sticky glaze that could rival any candy apple's brand of sweet, messy mayhem.

Avalon seared sashimi, yukon gold potato puree, shiitake mushroom ginger sauce (mild, medium or spicy). Perfect sear. Perfect sauce. We have a winner!

Second Trip

Pineapple martini - One sip of this and it reminded me how strong Mala's drinks were, but Maui-made, pineapple vodka was rougher than its namesake's rind. Maui moonshine, more like it...ouch - fire in the hole!

Buratta mozzarella with yellow and red tomatoes mellowed our palates as cream encapsulated in fresh cheese dissolved on our tongues. Ripe tomatoes and edible flowers also brought a certain softness to the dish and that's why I wished for more body from the bread than the wheat toast offered.

Whole wok fried fish with ginger garlic black bean sauce, shiitakes, tomatoes & snap peas. One fish, two fish. Red fish, blue fish. But what about pink fish? Pink snapper was the evening's special and stayed spicy with accessories like pickled ginger.

The fish was propped up straight, so that both diners got to dive into their own side like an undersea version of a banana split. The only bones I had to pick with this snapper were the ones I picked clean.

Carmen Miranda was Mala's dessert named after the flamboyant entertainer who took something as ordinary as fruit and made it fabulous. Fresh fruit with a scoop of vanilla had the same ability to shine without the bells and whistles. Sometimes simple is simply the best.

Mala Tavern served local love on a silver platter...covered in seaweed. Mala downplayed their sparkle, but knew their worth (entrees ran in the $30-something range), staying true to their mission to "Practice Aloha"...and Mala's Practice makes perfect.

**Check out Honu, Mark and Judy Ellman's (Mala owners) sister restaurant opening soon next door.

For more dish on Mala:

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