Even if by serendipity, my partner and I were turned away from a few of our favorite upcountry restaurants last night [long waits] and ended up at Hana Hou Café in Haiku. As it turned out it was a stroke of great luck as dinner was really exceptional! There was some live music playing as we dashed through a typical Haiku deluge and made our way inside. Were the weather nicer the outdoor area looked quite inviting…

We settled in at a table, just about the only folks there at 7:30 on Sat. evening and thought, erroneously as it turns out, that was a bad sign –or a good sign of a bad restaurant…

The menu didn’t look all that exciting but we started off with a nice cabernet from Horse Heaven Hills out of Washington. Turns out to be owned by Columbia Crest. It took a while to open up but when it did we were pleased to find a lot of dark cherry and cassis.

Pupu time and what’s this? A rarely seen appearance on menus around the island, Escargot and it arrive in a proper Escargot dish –piping hot and savory with lots of garlic and herbs and perfectly toasted bread. The owner and chef Laurent Thibault not only did the a great job on the escargot he was savvy enough to cut the bread so that each piece had the right shape to plunder the depths of the dish and harvest all of that succulent infused butter! They were the best Escargot I’ve ever had on Maui and the wine was opening up and the other tables were filling and the music was at the perfect level to enjoy it all… This was turning out to be fun!

The salad section of the menu had the typical cast of characters but our friendly waitress told us of a goat cheese and baby greens salad with candied walnuts and one of Maui best dressings: papaya seed.  What a great salad, there were sliced beets and roasted [mild] garlic cloves and resting atop the generous green mound was a patty of lightly sautéed and herbed goat cheese. This was beautifully presented on a wooden plate for us to share. It really was wonderful and that was the first thing I told Laurent when he stopped by the table and introduced himself. I was intrigued by the garlic, I often make a garlic confit and always keep a container in the ice box to use both the flavored olive oil and the roasted garlic clove in cooking. His garlic however was much milder than mine is and added perfectly to the salad, we compared notes and it sounds like the same technique. Whatever the case, he’s got it down and I hope ads that salad as a regular menu item!

Time for dinner and I opted for the Shitake pasta with chicken, my partner was drawn to the cheeseburger. It arrived perfectly cooked and still pink in the center, why is it that most restaurants can’t accomplish this?? My pasta was also perfectly cooked –al dente, and the shitake, of which there was lots, the garlic and parmesan all at just the right levels to make a great sauce. This wasn’t a cream sauce and while I didn’t ask exactly, I assume he used a judicious amount of the pasta water to ‘loosen’ the whole mix… A dash of salt and crack of fresh pepper from their peppermill and I was off to the races.

The pasta was delicious right to the last bite and just the right size. I would have kept eating it were it larger but finished completely satisfied and not stuffed. Sadly [maybe] that left no room for desert, even my partner wasn’t tempted, but that gives us something [else] to look forward to on our next visit!

I just loved Laurent’s style, he is a chef’s chef knowing when to let the flavors of the dish carry and not trying to “kick it up a notch”. We had a number of chats with him during the evening and learned that they have live music almost every night and even have occasional theme nights. The next one, whose date escapes me, is a tribute to Mark Twain, with food from the great American south and dramatic readings of some of Mr. Clemen’s more popular dramas. Other events have been along different line like a  Beaujolais Nouveau evening with an all French menu. Laurent was telling us in his thick French accent about it last evening and from a mutual friend this morning understood that we missed a real treat. We’re on his mailing list now and if you wish to hear from him about these types of events you can email him or his wife Katie at [email protected] and ask to be put on the list.

Food for Thought….