day 4 :
thursday, 7 february
There were plenty of places on our short list for our morning excursions on this trip, but we opted for a leisurely morning around Kihei today so we could have some downtime and relaxation, too. After our breakfast on the lanai, we went to nearby Home Maid Café to try some malasadas. These are raised doughnuts that were originally brought to Hawaii from Portugal in the late 19th century. The traditional malasada has no flling and is coated with sugar, but in Hawaii they also frequently fill them with cream, or sometimes other fillings. This cafe had both sugared and cream filled, and we tried both. Piping hot out of the fryer, they were fluffy and light. Not much different than a basic fluffy raised doughnut, but so delicious!
Then we went walking on Kam I, around the rocks on the northern end. Inertia Ian didn't want to go (mostly because his water shoes were still wet from the day before), but as soon as he was out there, he loved it. He scampered among the black rocks and in and out of the sandy patches of beach. Then we played in the sand for a while, digging ditches and building sand castles.
We grabbed lunch at Da Kitchen Express, just a couple blocks down. Ian LOVED lunch, and we thought it was pretty tasty as well. We got enormous plate lunches: the Kahlua plate and the Hawaiian plate (mixed selections including vermicelli and fish, Kahlua pork, and a banana leaf with pork and greens inside). Each came with the traditional plate lunch sides: white rice and a very yummy, red pepper flavored potato mac salad (much better than the truck's version yesterday). We ordered a hamburger bun on the side and made Ian a pork sandwich, which he thought was great, possibly because it was pretty salty. That was our main quibble about the pork, which was otherwise moist and flavorful. The fish was really good, as were the greens.
We stopped in a surf shop to get a rash guard for Eric, and Dawn bought another hat. The woman there talked about current trends with sun hats. Living in Seattle, we've never really considered sun hat fashion trends. She said that until recently, the smaller brims were fashionable, but now brims are getting wider. Bows on women's hats are also trendy at the moment, she mentioned since Dawn's hat had a bow. She said that women often add them to their hats now.
For dessert, we headed up to Ululani's Shave Ice, to try what many claim to be the best shave ice on the island. While it didn't turn out to be our favorite of the trip, it was still excellent. Ian chose rainbow shave ice (blue raspberry, red strawberry, and yellow vanilla, which overlapped to make six rainbow colors), and we had the mango, passion fruit, and coconut, with a bonus "snow cap" of sweetened condensed milk, along with toasted coconut. Ian managed to eat the whole huge thing. Sticky kid.
We had to make another stop at Yee's to replenish our dwindling fruit supplies. Sadly, they didn't have apple bananas this time, but we got some loong on (dragon's eye), pieces of fresh coconut, a pomelo, and more mango and pineapple.
The dragon's eyes are tiny round fruit, smaller than a ping pong ball, and brown like a kiwi on the outside. When you cut through the thick skin, they have pale green flesh inside, and an inedible round dark pit in the center. They do look like dragon's eyes! The texture is a bit like a plum and the flavor reminiscent of a cantaloupe. Quite yummy, if you like melon.
We did some boogie boarding while Ian napped, and when he woke, we all hung out on the beach together, exploring the rocks.
Around dinnertime, Ian's babysitter, Jamie, arrived. We had booked her through Happy Kids Maui, a nanny agency that came highly recommended from co-workers and other parents. They were incredibly friendly and flexible to deal with when booking, and most importantly, Jamie was great! Ian ran around excitedly when she arrived, and the transition went really smoothly, so we were off to enjoy our date night.
Star Noodle in Lahaina, a half hour drive away, was our dinner destination. Lahaina is a cute little town with shops along the waterfront, but Star Noodle is surprisingly nowhere near the downtown area. Instead, it's in a rather odd part of town, up in the foothills. Go past the Office Max and the self-storage facility and other warehouses, to find it tucked away at the top of the road.
When we'd called earlier, the restaurant had warned us of a 45 minute wait, and Yelp reviews had mentioned similar wait times. We were prepared to put in our names and then check out the downtown area for a bit, so were surprised to walk past the dozens of people waiting outside and be told we could be seated right away, at the bar overlooking the kitchen window (typically our favorite place to sit).
The overly-exuberant waiter gave us the lowdown on how the place worked - family style plates to share. He steered Dawn away from a passion fruit drink she was eyeing (too sweet!) and towards a sake cocktail that he claimed was well-balanced, but she didn't like. Eric's tropical Prosecco drink was good. We chatted with the couple next to us, from Venice Beach, who come to Maui every year. They had ordered several dishes and looked stuffed by the time we were sitting down. Their suggestions: the roasted mushrooms, Vietnamese crepe, and cooked ahi belly special.
We debated a number of dishes, but as soon as we mentioned interest in the crepe, the waiter told us to start with that as it would shape the rest of our meal. It came out quickly and was HUGE (as was everything else we saw pass through). We liked the crispy crepe, but the pork filling was a bit bland. We opted not to finish so we would have some room to try other dishes.
We put in an order for the pohole salad with fiddleheads, the pork buns, and the kimchee ramen. They came out rapidly in succession. The salad was nice with the bits of dried shrimp, but better dressed up with the bottle of Sambal. The restaurant was big on serving little squeeze bottles of sauces alongside most dishes, which is nice to some extent, but on the other hand, it's hard to tell how the chef really intends for the dish to taste. Anything tastes better with Sambal, IMO.
The kimchee ramen was a big disappointment. The broth was very one-note and not flavorful, and the noodles were like overcooked spaghetti. The kimchee itself had a nice, but barely-there, flavor - it seemed more like plain cabbage with a periodic bite of kimchee.
The pork buns were decent, and a fairly typical preparation with hoisin sauce (plus mini hoisin and mustard bottles alongside). They came three to an order, and each bun was huge. We had to leave a lot of our food uneaten. Across the board, we wished for smaller plates so we could try more, since in our minds, that's kind of the point of family style. The portions seemed more geared toward those large groups we'd seen waiting for tables outside.
We had to order the malasadas, since we'd heard great things about them. Continuing the trend of hugeness, three baseball-sized donuts came skewered on sticks, along with chocolate and butterscotch dipping sauces, and peanuts. The sauces were yummy, the malasadas extremely hot, but definitely not as fluffy and good as the smaller ones we had this morning.
While we left with a less than favorable impression, it's probably because we're spoiled with some pretty great Asian fusion restaurants in Seattle (e.g. Revel), and our expectations were high going in. That said, the price point at Star Noodle was great for a Maui restaurant - we paid about $60 total including cocktails, for more food than we could eat. It's worth a stop if you're in the Lahiana area, but not worth a trek across the island.
It was 9:30 at this point, and we weren't sure if downtown Lahaina would be basically shut down for the night, or if it had any sort of nightlife. It turns out that a lot of the shops were still open, and restaurants there were packed. It looked like it would be a good place to go during the daytime, too, since it had a wall overlooking the ocean.
We stopped in some art galleries, including Peter Lik's, who does some amazing photography. Some pieces were a bit surreal, due to his use of double-exposures and HDR techniques for enhancing the imagery. For example, one depicted an unrealistically huge cratered moon behind a tree in Colorado, another showed a field of sunflowers lit from camera direction, with a sunset behind (how does that work?). The prints looked like they were illuminated with light from behind the frame, but the sales person showed us how they aren't, and he demonstrated how the colors in the photos change as the front light illuminating them gets brighter or dimmer.
A number of people had told us of the huge banyan tree in Lahaina (the biggest in Hawaii), but this still didn't prepare us for how amazing this tree is. Older banyan trees grow aerial roots, and this one had so many that had grown into secondary trunks that it initially appeared to be a dozen different trees with a canopy covering an entire block. Each "tree" is the intertwined branch and root system of a section of the main tree. A very awesome sight!
Stars were everywhere tonight when we returned to Kihei and gazed at them from the beach. Eric contemplated doing a time-lapse photo of the stars, like the one he'd done on Orcas Island, but there were a few problems with the setting: first, we couldn't find a safe place for the camera to sit out all night (perhaps we could have convinced our hosts to allow us to use their balcony?), and second, there were a lot of palm trees, and they were all illuminated in a way that wouldn't have worked well in the time-lapse.