Reimagining the Pacific in a Taste of Maui

Photo: Maria Burke

me I was planning a trip to Maui when I received some exciting news. Maui native Isaac Bancaco has just been named executive chef for Pacific’o on the Beach, a Lahaina landmark for fine dining. I’ve followed Bancaco on Instagram, wondering when and where he’ll fix himself after tasks at Andaz Wailea’s Ka’ana Kitchen and Humuhumunukunukuapua’a in Grand Wailea. Now I got my answer and it felt a bit sloppy. So when the restaurant invited me to check out their new dinner menu, I arrived with the bells on.

Nearly 30 years after opening on Front Street, Pacifico remains one of the only restaurants in Hawaii that has its own farm. About 25 miles away in the Upcountry, O’o Farm grows more than 50 crops that appear on Pacifico’s seasonal menus—including fruits, vegetables, eggs, flowers, coffee beans, olive oil, and tea. While the restaurant is still owned by Louis Coulombe, Michele and Qiana Di Bari of nearby Sale Pepe Pizzeria e Cucina have signed on as managing partners. The extensive revitalization also includes new furnishings, and the new ambiance is clear.

See also: Qiana Di Bari, owner of Sale Pepe in Lahaina, on why you feel right at home on Maui

Pacifico Fried Chicken Credit Maria Burke

Photo: Maria Burke

When the sun starts to set, we start with some pūpū: Hawaiian Brioche with Upcountry Honey Butter ($12), Chicken on Sliced ​​Focaccia with Brown Butter and Capers ($18), Turnip Caesar Salad with Pickled Fennel ($16) and Brussels Sprouts with Smoked Wild Boar and IPA Vinegar ($17). Our favorites are decadent mousse, hints of brandy in a unique balance with juicy acid for plump capers; Caesar with its lingering aroma of pickled fennel topped with anise and sweet golden raisins; And the hard-leafed Brussels sprouts are so crunchy that they almost melt in a dab of bacon fat and vinegar.

We still call our favorites the Round Table manner when the appetizers start arriving. I rush for a plate of fried chicken and masalas ($39); My prize is a crunchy amber thigh with maple chile sauce. The chicken is cooked to perfection – delicious, juicy meat is encased in a flaky crust, with the sauce added to a juicy sweet and savory juxtaposition. The Malasada is undercooked and the cabbage could use a little acidity, but besides this chicken, there isn’t much chance of it to stand out anyway.

Pacific Maui Casio e Baby Credit Maria Burke

Photo: Maria Burke

We rise to the occasion with our next dish: Casio e Pepe with Miso topped with Oo Farm Eggs. The pasta is the fresh-cooked Bu’ono pasta at Sale Pepe, in which strands stick to the yolk and melt the Parmesan on top—a smart decision to steer clear of the usual pecorino romano, given the added salt from the miso. Pankaku kept the traditional noodle dish in an easily recognizable place while adding that extra layer of umami that makes me stop eating until the dish is little more than a splash of sauce asking to be covered in a brioche roll.

See also: Lee Anne Wong’s dishes on the overhaul of the Pioneer Inn Grill and Bar in Maui

Pacifico Maui Work Wellington Credit Maria Burke

Photo: Maria Burke

Now, to be honest, I’m not really a fan of cooked fish. When ordered in a restaurant, it often arrives a little dry and leaves me regretful. But I go for the mahi mahi Wellington ($59). Both are hard to prepare and difficult to cook. Any kind of Wellington is a display of skill and in this case, the kind of twists on the local cuisine that Bankaku is famous for. What is the tail of a lobster wrapped? Leaf Leaves and mushrooms leaders Before being dipped in thin pancake batter. Green Pea Emulsion provides a creamy texture in every layered bite. This dish looks like a handwritten love letter to my favorite whitefish.

Maui Pacific Credit Maria Burke Sweets

Photo: Maria Burke

By dessert time, I’m craving chocolate, so I order the Avocado Lava Cake ($16). My buds go for the Banana Bread Ice Cream Sandwich ($14) and the Carrot Cake ($15). The lava cake stands out from other lava cakes, featuring deep chocolate with avocado adding lightness to the cake. The rest of the table is hard on carrot cake, and break it up as if you had the best leftovers from home. Moist bits of spiced carrot cake join juicy carrot slices, sweetened walnuts and caramelized pineapple on a cloud of fluffy cream cheese dotted with flecks of vanilla bean.

SEE ALSO: Upcountry Maui gets a new pizzeria

I’m excited to see Bancaco once again in the spotlight in a busy spot (Pacific’o serves over 200 dinners a night) and within a restaurant culture tied to local farming. Great strides have been made at Pacific’o, and it tastes like it’s already paying off.

505 Front St., Lahaina, (808) 667-4341, pacificomaui.com, pacificomaui

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