Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Maui, Part 3, Section B: On The Road From Hana...A Stop At (Yo') Mama's Fish House

(Sorry, I just couldn't resist the Yo' Mama part!)

With a 5:30 pm reservation at one of the most coveted tables in Maui, Isaac and I had a decision to make: Do we turn back now, or do we drive on past Hana and visit the Seven Sacred Pools?


Or more waterfalls?


Or more waterfalls?

With such a difficult decision to make, we couldn't help but feel like we were in the Looney Tunes cartoon
Rabbit Seasoning:

"Would you like to shoot me now, or wait 'til you get home?"

Rabbit season? Or Duck Season? Oh, decisions, decisions...

Suddenly, the sound of Daffy Duck screaming to Elmer Fudd resonated in our heads: "Shoot him now! Shoot him now!" which we translated as "Turn back now! Turn back now!" It made sense: everybody knows that there's not much to actually see in Hana itself, and we'd already OD'd on natural pools and waterfalls anyway. And so it was that we decided to skip the beautiful sights at the famous Seven Sacred Pools and did a 180 at
Wai'napanapa State Park to make sure we arrived at our dinner reservations on time. Daffy Duck is a very wise duck.

Mama's Fish House is located in Pa'ia, an old plantation town on Maui's northern coast. It's not on the main stretch of Highway 36 where all the eccentric little shops are, but it's off on its own just a tad more eastward. After driving in, valet parking your car, and walking around to the restaurant's entrance, you'll feel as if you've been whisked away to a larger, airier version of Disneyland's
Enchanted Tiki Room. The decor is true Polynesian kitsch--there are tikis and surfboards and birds-of-paradise as well as real live birds here. I would have normally passed this place off as a little too cheesy for my taste, because there is a difference between Polynesian kitsch that mocks Polynesian kitsch, which is cool, and Polynesian kitsch that really is Polynesian kitsch, which is cheesy. And this place just happens to be kinda cheesy. In pure Hawaiian tourist-destination fashion, they even presented me with a lei since we were on our honeymoon; I was gracious, yes, but I was admittedly also a little embarrased as everyone in the room turned to hem and haw at the "happy couple."

polly want some kitsch?

can one OD on kitsch?

i can just picture the cheesy t-shirt: i got lei'd in maui
and all i got was this lousy shirt

Soon the kitschy-ness and the tourist-trap cheesiness would go out the door, however, because the nice people at Mama's Fish House gave us some prime real estate at one of their oceanfront tables which more than made up for the cheese factor.

where'd all the cheesiness go?

Mama's Fish House's menu focuses on (duh) fresh fish and seafood, and for most of the menu entrees, even mentions the name of the fisherman who caught the fileted and pan-seared bastard that's going to be lying on your plate. I wish they'd also put a little picture of the fisherman next to his name for a little face-to-name association, but they didn't so we just had to let our imaginations run awry. My sauteed onaga was caught by a dude named Don Wakamatsu, who I imagined to look like "Uncle Marvin"--one of
my Dad's old friends--a short and pleasant-mannered Japanese man with a mustache who used to bring us freshly caught fish from his fishing expeditions. There was no specific fisherman named for Isaac's opah; the only information we had was that his fish was caught aboard the "Spacer K." For kicks, and because we had nothing better to do, we imagined that the opah was caught by a guy we named Tom Grundy, an old, onery fisherman with a beard. We pictured him as a rough & gruff kind of fellow, one who maybe wears the same flannel shirt day in and day out; we pictured him to look kinda like that hillbilly "Other" guy on Lost, you know, the one who sailed up to the Michael's escape boat and kidnapped Walt.

it's like my fisherman and i have known each other for years

A warm and fluffy loaf of whole wheat bread so small & bubbly that it looked like it should have been in a cartoon was brought to our table first to soak up the couple of vodka tonics we'd just downed. An amuse-bouche of carrot-tomato bisque was comforting and soothing going down the hatch, even for a humid Maui evening.

the powerpuff girls could have baked this

carrot tomato bisque was amusing to my bouche

Our appetizer of ahi poke, served in an oh-so-hip martini glass with taro chip garnishes, came next. The glistening cubes of red ahi tuna were obscenely fresh, but whoever seasoned the dish went a little overboard on the shoyu, making it a bit too salty for our tastes. Some sweet Maui onion added a slight kick which helped to offset the saltiness.

ahi poke: salty, but gets an "A" for effort

Don Wakamatsu, the catcher of the sauteed onaga I had on my plate, did a fine job as this fish, a type of Hawaiian red snapper, was also insanely fresh. Its white flesh was clean tasting with a flaky and tender texture; the preparation and presentation, however, was good, but not phenomenal. The fish was sauteed in a garlic, tomato and caper sauce that was reminiscent of sauces I've tasted at dozens of other restaurants; the rice was pretty much just plain rice given a little tang by the addition of some chopped parsley, and the sauteed vegetables were, well, just a bunch of sauteed vegetables. Good, but nothing out of this world, and I would have expected more for a $46 entree.

call it red snapper and it would have cost 60% less

Our fictitious fisherman Tom Grundy may not have very good social skills, but man does he catch a mean fish. Isaac's upcountry style opah was so obscenely fresh that we actually felt like we were doing something kinda perverse by eating it. It had a texture that was almost creamy and a taste so clean that was a little reminiscent of drinking a tall, ice cold glass of milk. Its preparation was tastier and a little more interesting than that of my onaga, with sweet soy flavors, caramelized Maui onion, tomato, and some chunks of avocado to add a cool edge. Jasmine rice wrapped up in a ti leaf cone and some sauteed baby bok choy came with, as did a pretty magenta colored orchid. (But we didn't care much about that, did we?)

opah...makes you wanna drink ouzo & break dishes

No dessert for us, as we were completely stuffed, but our meal did end with some wonderful hot almond-scented handtowels, some delicious (and gratis!) cubes of coconut custard, and a bill for about 175 bucks.

about the only free thing here

There is a price for paradise and I suppose this is it. Of course, we didn't mind because we were on our honeymoon after all, but the bottom line is--despite the fresh fish, the million dollar view of the sunset over the Pacific and the attentive service--I think this place is just a little too much buck for the bang. Yo' mama would think so too.

Mama's Fish House
799 Poho Place
Pa'ia, Maui, HI 96779
(808) 579-8488


Anonymous said...

Hi Pam - Ah yes, the price of paradise. We had thought about Mama's but decided that even though the fish there is about as good as it gets, it often gets buried, so we decided to stay closer to Kapalua. Your comment about Uncle Marvin hit home....we often comment about how every Sansei has an "Uncle Masa"...and they are all pretty much alike.

elmomonster said...

Wild! They put the fisherman's name on the freakin' menu! By the way, I know you made up Tom Grundy...but I couldn't resist googling him. First hit is this guy.

Give 'em a couple years, and a few deep fried fish sticks, and I think he'll look like this.

Daily Gluttony said...


When it comes to fresh fish, I guess I'm a purist, so eating sashimi is about as good as it gets!


LOL! Yeah, your 1st Ted Grundy is waaay off. Now the 2nd one...dead on! hahaha!

Chubbypanda said...


Powerpuff girls rock, but good lord that's a lot for fish. You must have helped put Tom Grundy's hard-working daughter through the Ivy League college of her choice.

- Chubbypanda

Daily Gluttony said...


we did order a few drinks w/ our dinner, so the bill came out higher than expected. actually, their drinks are waaay expensive too--$16 for a specialty cocktail and about $11 for a vodka tonic. i guess our drinking habits are going directly into tom grundy's daughter's college fund! LOL!

~ Wayne said...

My wife and I made the trek to Mamas when we were in Maui for a wedding. I forgot about the fisherman's names and the tiki atmosphere because the awesome fresh fish completely swamped my memory (I guess that is why I don't blog about restaurants). Thanks for the trek down memory lane.