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Mama’s Fish House

April 25, 2017

During our last full day in Maui, we decided to do the Road to Hana drive.  Starting out early in the morning, we headed down towards Hana.  One of the last little towns you drive through before you actually start the Road to Hana is Paia, which is more of a little hamlet than an actual town.  But one thing we noticed while we drove through Paia was a restaurant that we had on our short list of places we wanted to try while we were in Maui.  After many hours on the road traversing down to Hana, we decided to  turn back at the end of the road and come back the way we had come rather than risk going the long way around over the dirt road to get back towards Ka’anapali.  Since we were coming back towards Paia, and we hadn’t stopped to eat all day, we decided this would be the perfect time to stop in Paia for a late lunch/early dinner meal.

Mama’s Fish House is a North Shore Maui institution.  Often cited as one of the best restaurants in Maui, one of the best restaurants in Hawaii, and listed as one of the top 100 restaurants in the United States, Mama’s Fish House is world-renowned for  its tropical Hawaiian flavors and the freshest fish on the island caught daily by local fisherman just off shore.  The brainchild of Floyd and Doris Christenson from Southern California, they first visited Maui shortly after Hawaii had become the 50th state in the Union, and the island was so underdeveloped there was only one hotel on the whole island and you couldn’t even access Ka’anapali beach without cutting through thick groves of trees.  Having visited Maui, they had fallen in love with island living and Polynesian culture and friends of them urged them to go and visit Tahiti and other South Pacific islands.  Upon returning home to Southern California, the Christenson’s sought out a sailboat and learned how to navigate to prepare themselves for a journey that would take them from San Diego down to the far pacific reaches of the Marquesas Islands, Tahiti, New Zealand, New Caledonia and beyond.  Setting out with their young son, and giving birth to a daughter along the way, the Christenson’s sailed themselves all over the South Pacific using nothing but rudimentary navigational equipment and then sun to guide their way.  For Doris Christenson, during the time of their trip, unless the weather was bad, she always cooked and prepared a home cooked meal in the ship’s make shift galley.  When they arrived at their various destinations along the way, Doris met and befriended locals, gathered local fruits and vegetables and learned local cooking techniques which she would then perfect and experiment with on her family.  After some time sailing the South Pacific, the Christenson’s decided that if they were ever to make their dream of owning a restaurant come true, they would do it in Maui.  Reports from friends had told them that Lahaina was growing and the tourist industry was about to explode in Maui.  Ka’anapali beach was finally accessible and major hotel chains were being built.  So the Christenson’s returned to Maui, bought the property in Paia where Mama’s Fish House stands today and opened up shop determined to serving only the freshest fish possible from local fisherman and fresh organic produce grown right on the island of Maui.

The restaurant featured a lovely, and very large, open air dining room.  In fact, the restaurant is so large that there are several separate and distinct dining areas.  Each dining area had tables that faced out towards the front of the restaurant and the private beachfront just beyond the restaurant.  With windows that were completely open to the outside, you could just sit and enjoy watching the shady palm trees sway in the cool afternoon breeze while you listed to the surf lap up against the sand.  It was all quite relaxing and comfortable and welcoming, despite the fact that the restaurant was actually quite busy.

A day of driving the curving, mountainous roads of Hana, we were definitely ready to relax and kick back.  So we decided to start our meal off with a couple of drinks.  The drinks which were appropriately presented with paper umbrellas to cap off that tropical vibe.  Admittedly, these were the first paper umbrella drinks we’d been served our whole time in Hawaii, so while kind of kitschy, it was quite nice.  I ordered the strawberry guava fizz made with strawberry guava mixed with lemonade and a splash of soda.  I loved the fizz of the drink, and fizz really was an appropriate word.  The guava nectar tasted spectacular, but when does guava not taste good?  It really is the signature flavor that reminds me of Hawaii.  But it was the strawberry flavor in this drink that added the hint of sweetness that the drink needed to mix with the flavor of the guava and the slight tartness of the lemonade.  My husband decided to order Aunty Karen’s Lemonade.  Made with lilikoi, kula lemon and cranberry juice with mango, this was a pretty drink.  Unfortunately, my husband thought that the drink tasted a little bit too much like pink lemonade and he had trouble tasting the lilikoi and the mango over the sweetness of the lemonade and cranberry juice mixture.  My husband expected with the flavors mixed into this drink that it would be a little bit more tropical in taste, with more of the lilikoi flavoring coming through.

Before our appetizers and entrees were brought out, we were presented with the chefs compliment starter of a small cup of asparagus bisque.  The soup was quite delicious with a very smooth pureed taste.  You could certainly taste the fresh, earthy flavor of the asparagus in the bisque which was accentuated with some chopped parsley.  At first, I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the idea of asparagus bisque, but it actually turned out to be quite tasty and a terrific item to whet our appetite.

In addition to the asparagus bisque, we also received the traditional bread basket, although this time it was a loaf of poppy seed bread made with local honey.  The bread was terrific and my husband and I devoured the whole thing in seconds.  It very much tasted of a loaf of wheat bread with just the right touch of honey which added enough sweetness to the bread to give it some depth of flavor.

As we were starving and hadn’t eaten anything all day, we decided to order two different appetizers.  Our first dish was the Kauai shrimp won ton with macadamia nut dipping sauce.  This was fantastic.  The shrimper nice and large, and the won ton wrappers were perfectly fried to a crisp golden brown.  The sweetness of the shrimp was only offset by the sweet and sour tang of the macadamia nut dipping sauce which was a terrific contrast to the sweet and crispy shrimp.  And as an added bonus the cabbage slaw upon which the crispy fried shrimp were sitting atop was quite delicious and tasty with a bit of a seasame oil dressing.  This appetizer was my choice and I was quite pleased with it.

My husband, for his choice of a starter choice the Maliko Bay tomato and Maui onion salad with pine nuts and Point Reyes blue cheese dressed with Maui olive oil and 18 year aged balsamic.  And while this dish sounds a bit like a caprese salad, it sort of is, but with a Hawaiian flair.  Honestly, I wasn’t expecting all that much from this dish, but Mama’s Fish House proved me completely wrong.  After his first bite of this dish, my husband’s first words were “Wow!”  The use of the Point Reyes blue cheese was fantastic and gave the contrasting flavor in this dish that balanced out the sweet tomatoes and sweet onions.  The Maliko Bay tomatoes were terrific, perfectly ripe and nice and sweet with terrific flavor.  The Maui onion salad was also nice and sweet, as Maui onions are known to be. So instead of having an acidic and tangy salad, we essentially had a very nice and sweet salad offset by the tangy blue cheese.  The Maui olive oil and the aged balsamic just added the right touch of acidity needed for this marvelous dish.

For my meal, I chose to order the uku, which is a Hawaiian blue-green snapper.  At Mama’s Fish House, to demonstrate that the fish is caught daily and is as fresh as possible, the menu actually tells you the name of the fisherman who caught the fish and where it was caught from.  In this case, the uku was caught by Kalae Hickcox bottom fishing at 1,000 ft depths.  Uku is a popular table fish in Hawaii as it has a reputation for having a moist, firm and delicately flavored, translucent pink flesh.  With this uku dish, the fish was steamed with Hana ginger and sizzling peanut oil and served over a bed of local steamed vegetables and with a side of coconut steamed white rice.  The fish was perfectly light and flaky and very well steamed.  The flavor of the peanut oil and the ginger was completely infused into the fish and the vegetables.  The vegetables which included baby bok chop were fabulously light and a perfect compliment to the fish.  And the coconut steamed white rice was terrific and was the starchy side this dish needed.  The two filets of fish served with the dish were huge and definitely filling.  My favorite part of the meal was definitely the beautiful and slightly salty peanut oil and ginger sauce combination.  After not having eaten all day, this meal perfectly hit the spot for me.

My husband, for his meal, chose Mama’s Fish House’s signature dish of mahimahi stuffed with king crab and baked in a macadamia nut crust.  As with my uku dish, the menu described that this mahimahi was caught by Mike Fisher trolling through the Alenuihaha Channel.  The fish was served atop some lemongrass rice pilaf which my husband quite enjoyed.  The rice had a great light lemongrass flavor which my husband could definitely taste.  The combination of the mahimahi with the king crab was a fantastic combination and very well prepared.  The sweetness of the crab meat with the flaky fish made for a good flavor combination.  The fish itself was nice and light, so this wasn’t a heavy meal at all, even though it seemed as it though it might be a heavy meal.  There was a light pineapple salsa topping the mahimahi and the sweet and tang of the pineapples also added to the flavor profile of the fish.  The steamed baby vegetables served as a side was also a nice treat to go with this fish dish.  But the star was definitely the fresh mahimahi.  My husband was quite pleased with this dish and was glad he decided to order it.

While we’d already eaten quite a bit, my husband and I really had worked up an appetite on our explorations and had decided that we could each afford to order our own desserts.  For me, I couldn’t help but choose the Kauai chocolate pie which was baked in a caramel cookie crust.  Seemingly like a chocolate mousse pie the filling was smooth and delicious without being overly sweet.  The caramel cookie crust was fantastic and gave the pie a crunchy texture which worked well with the smooth chocolate mousse filling.  Atop the cookie crust was a thin layer of caramel spread over the cookie crust so that when you brought up a forkful of pie, you got chocolate mousse filling, caramel sauce and the cookie crust.  The pie was topped with fresh whipped cream on the edges and slices of ripe, delicious strawberries.  Also decorating the plate were fresh blueberries, star fruit and guava.  The Kauai pie tasted a little tropical, a little sweet, and a whole lot of good.  The pie was also very nice and light, which meant that I didn’t feel stuffed by the end of the meal.

For his dessert, my husband ordered the Polynesian black pearl.  Honestly, this may have been the prettiest dessert I’ve ever laid my eyes on.  In fact, it was so pretty, I almost felt bad that my husband was about to devour it.  The menu described the dessert as being liliko’i chocolate mousse in a pastry seashell.  But that’s such a simplistic description for what was an amazing dessert.  The “shell” of the black pearl was made with a think cookie rounded to look like the shell of a pearl.  The “black pearl” itself was the chocolate mousse with the lilikoi center and then surrounded in smooth chocolate ganache so that the light glinted off it to shine like a black pearl might.  The entire shell and black pearl was set atop at bed of chocolate and lilikoi sauce artfully designed to look like light rays shining off the shell and accentuating the whole dish.  It was absolutely gorgeous.  But was even better was how delicious the dessert was.  Honestly, it’s worth going to Mama’s Fish House just for the Polynesian black pearl dessert.  The mousse was absolutely smooth and delicious and finding the lilikoi center was a nice surprise to add a tangy bite to the chocolate mousse.  The chocolate ganache added another layer of flavor to the entire dessert with the pastry cookie shell adding texture and crunch to the desert.  The lilikoi sauce was heaven on the plate and really balanced out the chocolate dessert.  My husband and I were both in love with the desert.

Finally, as if we weren’t already stuffed to the gills, we were presented with a plate of homemade haupia.  Haupia is a traditional coconut-milk based dessert that is found all over the Hawaiian islands.  Traditionally, made with heated coconut milk and arrowroot starch, the two mixed together until it thickens and forms a gelatin-like dessert.  Essentially, haupia almost has the consistency of coconut jello, but with much more depth of flavor.  My husband and I loved the light coconut flavor to the haupia and despite the fact that the treat looked more like a nougat, it was nice and light and easy to enjoy, just like a small jello square would be.  This was the perfect way to round out a delicious meal.

As it turned out to be our only meal of the day, our late lunch, early dinner at Mama’s Fish House was the perfect ending to our quick Hawaiian getaway.  After our meal, we took a quick walk around the restaurant’s private beachfront property and enjoyed the views of the Pacific Ocean just before the sun started to set.  Feeling the ocean breezes, reliving our adventures on our drive on the Road to Hana as well as the lovely flavors of the meal we just enjoyed, this just felt so right.  To be here in this moment at this time.  Our meal at Mama’s Fish House just capped of our quintessential Maui day.  Beautiful sights, jaw-dropping views for miles, and delicious, tropical, fresh food to fill our bellies.  We really couldn’t ask for any more from this day, or our trip to Hawaii.  Can’t wait until we find ourselves traveling back to Hawaii again to see what other adventures await us.

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