LAHAINA, MAUI: Star Noodle update

Among the high points of our trips to Maui have been lunches at Star Noodle, the restaurant in Lahaina previously presided over by Top Chef finalist Sheldon Simeon.

Located at the top of the road that leads through an industrial district overlooking the town, you’re not likely to just stumble upon it. But the 60-seat Star Noodle is definitely worth the effort to find, as throngs of locals and visitors alike have figured out.

Entrance to Star Noodle driveway

On our first visit, we arrived shortly after noon and, although the place was humming, we were seated immediately. Our server came over quickly and told us about the restaurant’s family-style approach: that their dishes were designed to be shared. She was also very well versed in the dishes’ ingredients and how each was prepared.

We chose two appetizers: the scallop shooters and the mushroom medley.

Scallop shooters

The scallop shooters consisted of three scallops, each on its own stick, floating in broth and topped with what looked like wasabi. It was, in fact, finely minced ginger and scallions. Our server suggested we stir the ginger and scallion paste into the broth, then alternate sips of the broth with bites of the perfectly cooked scallops. Heaven!

If you watched Top Chef Seattle and saw Sheldon, you’ll recall that the judges waxed rhapsodic about his broth. But mere words cannot do it justice, and I won’t attempt to do so here. Suffice to say his broth alone is practically worth the trip all by itself, and has inspired my wife and me to kick our own broth up a notch.

The mushroom medley consisted of Ali’i, oyster, and shitake mushrooms, sautéed in butter and garlic, after which the pan was deglazed with sake. Although not unique like the scallops, it was equally delicious.

Kimchee ramen

For our main course, we chose the kimchee ramen. Brought in a bowl big enough to bathe in, its base was once again Sheldon’s luscious broth accompanied by slices of fish cake, pork loin, kimchee dashi, bean sprouts, green onions, shredded scrambled egg, and kimchee.

The afternoon’s special drink was a creation the bartender called an “iced tea” of passion fruit, strawberry, and mango nectars with a splash of iced tea and topped with club soda (available in both alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties). While delicious on its own, the sweetness also provided a nice counterpoint to the spiciness of the kimchee.

On our next visit we brought a friend who has lived on Maui for more than a decade and knows the island quite well, so it surprised him that he had not heard of Star Noodle. After eating there, he was as delighted as we were.

This time, we kept it a bit less adventurous due to a food allergy, but that highlighted the place’s inventiveness even more.

A house green salad topped with a house-made vinaigrette started things off on a fresh, crisp note. The dressing had a touch of Asian sweetness but was not overwhelming.

On, then, to the yakitori. Five skewers provided the three of use plenty of the sweetness of the teriyaki sauce and whet our appetites for the Hapa ramen that followed. Our friend commented on the silky texture of the ramen’s broth, as well as the complexity of the flavors, which was due in part to the fact that Star Noodle uses the pork bones from the Kahlua pig cooked for a nearby luau in making the broth for this dish. The deep, rich flavors from the bones that have been cooked for hours added a layer of complexity that can’t be created quickly.

Interior of Star Noodle

The Hapa ramen did not have as much kick as the kimchee ramen we’d enjoyed earlier, but was equally delicious in a more subtle way. A shot of the chili sauce served on the side kicked it up a notch for those of us who wanted the punch.

The steamed pork buns came out next. Unlike steamed hum bow, these were more analogous to tiny soft tacos made of crispy pork belly, garnished with cucumber slices and served with hoisin sauce and Chinese hot mustard on the side.

For dessert, we opted for a trio of ‘screams – ice cream scoops in three flavors: corn/chili, Thai iced coffee, and pumpkin pie. All were delicious, though the corn/chili could have used more chili as the corn taste was all that was evident. Still, the sweetness of the corn worked well with the other sweet flavors of this frozen confection, making it the most subtle of the three. The pumpkin pie and Thai iced coffee flavors were true to their inspirations, but we all agreed that the coffee flavor was our favorite.

A final sip of our iced tea and we were set for the afternoon. Truth be told, for most of the evening as well, for even though the food was light and we didn’t walk away feeling stuffed, it stayed with us.

Sake flight, hot and sour saimin

On my most recent trip to Maui, I determined to keep my lunch at Star Noodle more modest, but it was no less satisfying.

Dining alone, I sat at the noodle bar and started with a flight of sakes. All brewed by Gekkeikan, the flight featured three filtered sakes and an unfiltered variety, all served cold, and a plum wine, which I enjoyed after my main course as a digestif.

For my main course, I selected the hot and sour saimin. It struck a very pleasant balance between the hot and sour flavors and was neither as hot nor sour as many Chinese hot and sour soups I've had. It was served with a side plate of  garnishes including bean sprouts, bacon bits, Thai basil and calamansi, small citrus fruit that look like limes but are only about as large as a quarter in diameter. Used extensively in Filipino cooking, their juice is used in dishes from noodles to main courses to desserts.

Star Noodle is in its inauspicious location because it started out as the kitchen facility for several affiliated restaurants. Given Sheldon’s culinary success, even before appearing on Top Chef, the place was converted to an actual sit-down restaurant.

While Sheldon has since moved on and is now executive chef at MiGRANT Maui in the Marriott Wailea, staff at Star Noodle are still in touch with him and speak very highly of the man who put the place on the map. And as for the food and atmosphere, his spirit clearly lives on at Star Noodle.

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Photos by Carl Dombek
Click photos to view larger size images

Originally posted in September 2013, this post was updated to include my most recent experience in May 2015.