LAHAINA - For many years, right on the water's edge just behind the Lahaina Cannery Mall stood a much neglected property. It seemed to be just waiting for someone with vision to come along and magically transform it into an ocean gem with large bay windows and a panoramic view of the sea. Enter culinary visionaries Mark and Judy Ellman, who had that vision.
"It took 15 months and the patience of Job to acquire the property and necessary permits to make it functional as a restaurant," said Mark, "but it was worth it!"
Welcome to Honu, right next door to Mala, their Ocean Tavern. Now one has a choice of either restaurant, where gentle waves nearly lap at your feet and cool ocean zephyrs dance about your table as you feast - and don't forget the turtles! Yes, Honu is Hawaiian for "turtles," which nibble on seaweed close to shore. As we dined, their heads popped up as if posing for the many camera buffs present.
Judy and Mark Ellman sit before their Honu feast (clockwise from top center): Lamb Riblets, Live Clam Chowder, Grilled Octopus (center), Kale Salad, Fresh Dungeness Crab Louis Salad and Oyster Roll and Lobster Roll. Photo by Rob Reed.
The Ellmans formerly owned Maui Tacos and Penne Pasta, which have been sold. Presently, they own Mala in Wailea, Mala on the West Side and now the new Honu next door.
We remember their first restaurant on Maui in the late '80s, Avalon. With Mark's superb cuisine and endless creativity, the eatery became one of the most popular restaurants on Maui!
Their family-run restaurants include wife Judy assisting wherever needed, and daughters Michelle and Ariana, who are co-managers of Honu. Mark's sister, Gerry, former sous chef at Avalon, now assists at Honu.
"At our restaurants, we strongly believe in fresh, wholesome ingredients," said Mark. "We buy organic when possible; we believe in whole grains, no preservatives. We believe that hydrogenated oils are not good for the body. We believe in handmade. We believe in balance. We offer you carbohydrates, proteins, sugars, salt and fats all in smaller, balanced portions."
After our sampling of several fine dishes, we surmised that Honu is a must for gregarious foodies. Mark is a master with his effortless ability to blend flavors and culinary techniques inherited from countries around the world.
And what superb cuisine!
For starters, we began with a bowl of Fried Chickpeas with Hawaiian Sea Salt: healthful garbonzo beans - crispy on the outside, soft inside. It was followed with a novel dish: Grilled Octopus with Olive Oil, Garlic and Edamame Hummus - leave it to Mark for imaginative ideas!
Another original idea of his is serving Lamb Riblets with Greek Yogurt Sauce - zesty with good lamb flavor - while the Live Clam Chowder with Potatoes and Bacon has an excellent depth of flavor and texture. Close your eyes and imagine dining in an old fish shanty along the coast of New England on a stormy, wintery day. It is the best chowder broth we've tasted 5,000 miles from the East Coast!
The nutritious Kale Salad was chilled and crisp with dates, pomegranate and lemon vinaigrette. And someone in your party should order the Fresh Dungeness Crab Louis Salad brimming over with local butter lettuce, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, Louis Dressing and literally thick, succulent slices of crab meat. What a healthful, splendid salad!
Seafood Sandwiches include Fried Pacific Oysters, Fried Ipswich Clams, Maine Bay Shrimp, Dungeness Crab and that day's special, Lobster Roll! OH MY! We thoroughly enjoyed the Oyster and Lobster Roll - just overflowing with seafood. Each sandwich is an utterly satisfying seafood experience.
Again on the menu is the all-time favorite of children and adults: Crab Mac and Cheese created with bechamel, cheddar, pepper jack and white truffle oil - the Sophisticated Comfort Dish!
Give yourself a treat - do not leave Honu without ordering the splendid Vegan Chocolate Mousse Cake created by Pastry Chef Elizabeth McDonald. It is a gluten-free brownie nut bottom with tofu pureed with cocoa powder in a rich frozen chocolate mousse, served with fresh berries and berry coulis. You don't have to share this delectable dessert - tell your companions to order their own!
Honu offers over 100 varieties of wine plus an Organic Wine List from their extensive Reserve Wine Collection with price-friendly offerings of a five-and-a-half-ounce glass instead of a whole bottle.
The Ellmans remain warm and generous entrepreneurs who contribute to the community in their own special way. They have supported Punana Leo O Maui Preschool since 1998, where preschoolers learn the Hawaiian language early and only speak Hawaiian there.
"We donate to whoever asks us," said Mark.
Honu is an ocean gem with big bay windows, where one can dine in a blend of sun, sea and shore with the neighbor islands of Lanai and Molokai on the horizon. And if you dine at twilight, you'll find the warmth of the island lingers on long after the sun goes down. For reservations, call 667-9390.
Pau for now...