Monday, May 11, 2015

WAILEA, MAUI: MiGRANT Maui

MiGRANT Maui closed its doors as of May 13, 2016. Chef Sheldon promises to open in a new location soon. Watch TheTravelPro for details.

One of the highlights of my recent trip to Maui was meeting Top Chef finalist Sheldon Simeon and eating as his new restaurant, MiGRANT Maui, located in the Marriott Wailea Resort on the island’s lee shore.

Chef Sheldon took the helm of the restaurant about a year ago and is serving up inventive cuisine that is inspired by his native Hawaii.

“Everything that surrounds Hawaii is so special to me: the history that has influenced our food, my upbringing,” the chef told TheTravelPro in an interview. “A lot of [my food] is rooted in what my parents and my grandparents cooked, and I look towards that for inspiration.”

Staying true to his Hawaii focus, a significant portion of the food he uses at MiGRANT is sourced locally. Despite the obvious creativity he brings to the preparation of his dishes, Chef Sheldon is quick to share the credit with the farmers, fishermen and other purveyors from whom he gets his raw ingredients.

Ahi belly and oysters (top),, Brussels sprouts(bottom)
“They do the magic; I just literally put it on the plate. Maybe I heat it up or cut it up a little bit,” he said, displaying his characteristic humility. “We’re so fortunate to be surrounded by all this beauty, and I take advantage of it.”

A couple of days before my interview, I went to MiGRANT for happy hour appetizers and found them to be exactly as advertised: Hawaii-inspired and flavorful.

I started with a trio of oyster shooters. MiGRANT used Pacific Northwest oysters with fermented calamansi, grated radish, soy sauce and Hawaiian chili pepper. Calamansi resemble limes but are approximately as big in diameter as a quarter and are used extensively in Filipino cooking. Their juice is used in a wide range of dishes from noodles to main courses to desserts.

MiGRANT Mai Tai
After that, I got my requisite serving of vegetables via a small plate of fried Brussels sprouts with a sweet chili glaze, spiced peanuts and mint. The herbs and spices nicely offset the smokiness of the char imparted to the sprouts during the frying.

Veggies were followed by another protein: Ahi tuna belly served with a Chinese soy glaze topped with pickled seaweed.

MiGRANT’s mai tai are a twist on the original Victor Bergeron version, which mixes light and dark rum, orgeat syrup, orange curacao and fresh lime juice. The restaurant uses light rum, pineapple juice, orgeat, fresh lime juice, and tops theirs with a float of dark rum. I am a purest when it comes to my mai tais and do not accept that any concoction of fruit juices and rum served in a hurricane glass can be considered a mai tai, any more than any combination of alcohols that are shaken and served in a martini glass is a martini. Nonetheless, it was pretty close to the original and quite acceptable.

After my interview with Chef Sheldon, the resort hosted me for another round of happy hour apps. This time, I enjoyed Choi Choy, “KFC” – Korean Fried Chicken wings – and Ay Kudeshi garlic noodles, washed down with a Dark & Stormy.

Choi Choy (top), KFC (left) and ay kudeshi
The Choi Choy is pan fired baby bok choy and flowering Chinese cabbage served with pickled and fried garlic and oyster sauce. Based on the description, I had expected more spice from the garlic and more sweetness from the oyster sauce. However, it was quite subtle, with the garlic and oyster sauce taking a back seat to the bok choy, of which I am not particularly a fan.

The Korean fried chicken wings were done in a batter using Hawaiian vodka and served with a mix of barbecue sauce, Filipino peanut sauce and roasted kim chee peanuts. As a result, the flavors were far more complex and interesting that mere Buffalo wings but, somewhat surprisingly, less spicy. Not that it lacked heat; rather, the spice and flavors were in a much better balance than chicken wings doused in Frank’s Red Hot sauce and butter.

Dark & Stormy
Speaking of heat, my final dish really turned it up. The ay kudeshi garlic noodles consisted of pan fried Iwamoto saimin noodles, what was billed as “insanely spicy Hawaiian chili pepper sambal,” garlic three ways and garlic chives. Make no mistake: this had the most spice of the dishes I enjoyed but, having lived a number of years eating spicy Mexican food in Arizona and California, I would quibble with the menu’s description of “Unreal kine hot!” Hot, to be sure, but not unreal … at least not to my palette.

Sitting at a bar during a busy happy hour is not the best way to judge service but, in all, the service was very good. The bartenders checked on their guests and asked how we were doing in between filling drink orders for those of us at the bar as well as for servers in the main dining room. Other staff members brought out our food orders as they were ready, ensuring that we got our food promptly and that is was still the proper temperature.

Prices during happy hour were quite reasonable, especially considering that MiGRANT is in a major hotel where prices tend to be higher than local establishments and considering that it is, after all, Hawaii. Based on my experience, I would definitely go back and have a full-on dinner in the dining room. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Chef Sheldon come out of the kitchen to say hello to his guests in person. After all, the motto of the place is, “Come my house. Eat.” You’re in his house, and a good host always says “Aloha” to his guests.

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 photos to view larger images 

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