Perfection in Maui Comes Cheap, Really…

On our first day in Maui, last week, we went to a lovely outdoor Italian restaurant in Wailea called Manoli’s.  It’s a great place for Happy Hour, where a person can get reasonably happy for a reasonable price.  Small-plate appetizers will run you about $6 each, draft beers cost $4-$6, and house wines are $6 a glass.  Not bad.

After a few rounds of most of the above, I asked for our check.  Our Maui-born, amused waiter brought the check to our table and said:

“I’ve double-charged you for everything…
welcome to Maui!”

And then he laughed.  We laughed too, but knew that truer words were never spoken.  During my week in Maui, I thoroughly enjoyed the company of my two gal-pals, toured around much of the island, saw breathtaking scenery and sunsets, drank and ate too much, and shopped ‘til we dropped.  I don’t expect a bargain on Maui and I wasn’t disappointed; I didn’t go there for the deals.

Good luck finding lunch (aka salad) and a (count it, ONE) glass of house wine in a lovely spot or overlooking the ocean for less than $25.  If I wanted to eat inside, I would have stayed at home.  My compadres are seasoned Maui travelers, so they had all the good spots scoped out.  We ate breakfast in the condo, something modest for lunch most days, and usually had a nice dinner out (or happy hour).  This wasn’t tough duty.  I ate about half my body weight in ahi tuna.

But one meal trumped all others, and I didn’t see it coming.  Yes, I had been warned, but I couldn’t fathom it until I experienced it for myself.   Julie and Deb kept telling me that I needed to get over the prices and just do it, like Nike would.  We arrived about 15 minutes early and the setting was simply spectacular. I could have taken 100 photos, no prob, but they never would have done it justice.

Mamas entryway resized

Mama’s Fish House has been impressing hungry, credit-card-bearing tourists since 1973.  No detail is ignored.  The maître d’ is polite, professional, and accurate.  The wait staff is impeccable, not only in attention, but in invisibility.  I asked for oxygen right after my first glance at the menu…and the prices.  They brought an O2 tank immediately, for free.  So there’s that.

Just to give you some context, here are the price ranges for LUNCH, people, NOT dinner:

  • Specialty House Cocktails:  $14-$18
  • Appetizers:  $16-$24
  • Salads:  $18
  • Mains:  $36-$68
  • Desserts:  $12-$16
  • Coffee and Coffee Drinks:  $8-$16

Julie and I realized the obvious right away:  There was no way we were going to have the nerve to order the Lunch of Our Dreams unless we started drinking.  So, Julie ordered a Mango Margarita and I ordered a Mama’s Manhattan and we never looked back.  I ordered it very cold…the bartender brought me a frozen glass with a cocktail shaker and shook my little Manhattan right at the table, so as to keep it as cold as possible.  I asked him to marry me.  (Julie mumbled something about “Mrs. Robinson,” but I chose to ignore her.)

Mamas Manhattan resized

I’ve never had a Manhattan for lunch and probably won’t again, but this one was the best…ever.  They used orange bitters which was a nice touch.  And it was really cold.  I was in heaven.  Now down to serious business:  The Appetizer.

Being the mushroom fiend that I am, Julie and I settled on splitting the Hamakua Ali’I Mushrooms with Goat Cheese for a paltry $16:

Mamas appetizer resized

It was divine.  (I only hope that I don’t find out that “Hamakua Ali’i mushrooms” actually means “boring button mushrooms from Safeway” in Hawaiian.)  I let Deb and Julie eat the tomatoes because that’s just the kind of gal I am.

Deciding on the main course was tough, especially after a Manhattan.  In between sips, I narrowed my choices down from 16 to these four (and these are direct quotes from the menu):

  • Ono caught by Shawn Conners trolling in the Alenuihaha Channel: Sautéed with Hamakua Ali‘i mushrooms in garlic butter, white wine and capers ($46)
  • Ahi caught by Kamaki Everett trolling outside Hana Bay: Seared in a Hana ginger-panko crust with kalua pig fried rice ($48)
  • Caught Near Our Deep Ocean Buoys by Armando Baula: Mahi mahi stuffed with lobster and crab and baked in a macademia nut crust ($54, the house specialty)
  • Crispy Kalua Duck with Mango-mui Glaze ($36) (No idea who killed the duck, however.)

Finally, I closed my eyes, stabbed at the menu, and ordered the Ginger-Panko Crusted Ahi. I then ordered a glass of killer chardonnay and never looked back:

Mamas ahi resized

It was stunning.  I had considered ordering a side dish, but wasn’t too familiar with either of them:

  • Kalua Wild Boar ($8) (I mean, which part of the boar do you get for $8?)
  • Octopus Luau ($8) (ditto)

Julie’s Macademia Nut Crusted Pork and Grilled Kauai Island Prawns with Poha Berry Sauce wasn’t bad either. I was hoping she couldn’t finish it all and would ask for help. She didn’t:

Mamas fish resized

Even Deb’s Waipol Baby Romaine Salad was photo-worthy:

Mamas salad resized

Deb was a little under the weather and didn’t feel like overindulging.  But she also enjoyed the Spicy Mahi Mahi Soup with Haiku Tomato, Kula Fennel, Watercress, and Couscous.

We slowly and lovingly devoured lunch.  I remember thinking that if this were my last meal on earth, I would die a happy woman.  (I reflected back on this meal while bouncing over the Pacific on my way home a few days later, fearing for my life, and wondering if I would live to ever dine at Mama’s again.)

But let’s move on:  Dessert.

It’s not that I don’t like dessert, but I don’t order it very often.  I was sorely tempted at Mama’s, but, thankfully, Deb saved me by ordering the Hana Banana Macademia Nut Crisp (and she gave me and Julie a bite, bless her).  I then had to hold myself back from putting my face in the bowl.

Mamas dessert resized

Julie and I split a Mama’s Coffee, complete with Maui coffee, Macademia Nut Liqueur, Bailey’s, and Cointreau.  It was simply, simply, divine.  Deb just looked at us like we were both insane.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Then one more thing arrived at our table — hot, lemony hand towels with interesting little coconut gelatin candy thingies that looked like soap.  Of course I ate one!

And then the bill came.  Good thing you’re sitting down.

Deb, with her modest non-alcoholic foo-foo drink, soup, and salad came in around $70.

Yours truly, including the appetizer and coffee (it was the least I could do for Julie, who invited me on this delightful boondoggle), with tip, just had enjoyed a $131.63 lunch.

But that’s not all.  You simply must see a photo of the Ladies’ Room:

Mamas potty resized

Pretty nice, huh?  No charge for this.  Score!

The next day, we found ourselves in Lahaina in the late afternoon and decided to visit Mick Fleetwood’s restaurant, “Fleetwood’s on Front Street.”  It was rumored to be difficult to get a table; being the good Boomers that we are, we figured we should at least give it a try.

Fleetwoods menu resized

We finally made eye contact with the spandex-clad Sweet Young Thing playing hostess and asked her about availability.  She looked at us with pitying eyes and said, in a sultry tone:

 “We’re fully committed for tonight.”

Jeez, I wasn’t asking her to go steady.  She then banished us to the outdoor seating upstairs for Happy Hour and went on to impress other, much more important, Boomers.

Surprisingly, the upstairs Happy Hour menu was quite impressive and reasonably priced.  Even my favorite Ciroc martini with blue cheese olives was a mere $7 (much cheaper than in my home town).

Fleetwoods Ciroc resized

So we enjoyed a drink, the view, and watching a submarine in the distance.  U.S., Russian, who knows?

Is this a typical Boomer-looking table or what?

Fleetwoods boomer table resized

Glad I had my hair colored before I arrived.

For the next hour, we asked three different people if we could extend our commitment to our Happy Hour table into the dinner timeframe.  Eventually, one of the Sweet Young Things said yes.  By then, at that rate, we figured we would be there until dawn, just trying to have a nice meal.  So, as we Boomers say, we split.

Oh, and the total bill came to $16.58 for two cocktails and one beer.

So, I guess, when it’s all said and done, the meal at Mama’s was worth every damn dollar.  There is nothing that they could have done to improve the meal, environment, or service.  NOTHING.  It was a small price to pay for perfection.

And lest you think I’m making the whole thing up, here is Mama’s web site:

The scary thing is that there is also an Inn at Mama’s, so you can stay there for $250-$600 a night, as well as eat there twice a day.  Anytime you want to go to Mama’s, just let me know.

Thanks for reading.  I know how busy you are.






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