|Mai Tai with mushroom bisque|
The setting is lush and the scenery is beautiful. With the restaurant looking out onto the sand at the bottom of a hill and the ocean just beyond, it has the feel of being on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific. And I mean more like the island where Tom Hanks was marooned in Cast Away than Maui, but with the advantage of a top-flight service staff and a five-star gourmet kitchen stocked with all manner of yummy seafood.
The food is delightful but dear - so much so that even well-heeled friends warned us before our trip - so we employed a variation on a strategy I discovered during my salad days while working a split shift that left my mid-days free. It was then that I made the discovery that lunch at most restaurants was far more affordable than dinner, and the food was usually just as good.
Specific to Mama’s, we decided to sit at the bar in the center of the restaurant – there are two bars on the premises – and as close to the end of the bar, near the ocean, as we could manage. Fortunately, no one else on that Tuesday afternoon had that same idea, so we scored exactly the seats with the vantage point of the crashing surf that we had intended.
Because we were on vacation, we started the afternoon by enjoying a signature drink. My wife selected a Plantation Punch ($15) while I chose a Victor Bergeron Mai Tai ($16). Contrary to rumors in some circles, there is a certainty about the origin of the Mai Tai: it was concocted by Mr. Bergeron, the proprietor of the famous Trader Vic’s, in 1944. The name comes from the Tahitian phrase, “Mai Tai roa ae” which means “Out of this world” in Tahitian, and was reportedly uttered by the two Tahitian guests, Eastham and Carrie Guild, who became Trader Vic’s first guinea pigs for his new concoction.
The rest, as they say, is history.
|Mahi mahi roll|
Before our orders came, our server brought us each an amuse bouche of Mama’s hamakua mushroom and fennel bisque. It was full of the deep umami flavor of the mushrooms with a slight spiciness imparted by the fennel, though almost none of the licorice notes.
Our appetizers, however, stole the show. The mahi mahi roll was more like a large egg roll stuffed with flaky, tender fish than the sushi roll I’d been expecting, but it was a pleasant surprise nonetheless. It was fresh – as is all Mama’s seafood – perfectly cooked and flavorful, served atop sliced mushrooms and a demi-glace.
The lobster guacamole was probably the least memorable of the three offerings. Don’t misunderstand; it was very good, with lots of perfectly cooked, tender lobster – including hunks of large claw and tail – mixed with a moderately spicy guacamole and served with both white and purple taro chips. It was just less inventive than the other two offerings.
With a check topping $100 including tax and tip, I had to wonder what we’d have been in for if we’d decided on a full meal.
|The view from the bar|
Seriously? I found that particular facet of its operation a bit too precious and pretentious, rather like the episode of Portlandia where the Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein characters go for dinner, select the chicken, and then ask about its name, where and how it was raised, and whether they could visit the farm before ordering.
That aside, the menu made it clear we’d dodged a fiscal bullet. The ono was $44, a la carte. Prices on the first page of the menu – at lunch – ranged from $36 to $75 for Tristan Island Lobster Tail “from the most remote inhabited island in the world.”
Again I ask: seriously? But for many, that type of detail and personal connection is part of the place’s appeal. Personally, I prefer excellent food well prepared, served attentively in an engaging atmosphere. In all of those areas, Mama’s excels and is well worth the visit, although I would like to know if Kurtis and his fellow fisherman get a percentage of the sales.
Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.
Photos by Carl Dombek
Click on photos to view larger images