LAHAINA - When I first heard about a new restaurant in the Front Street location that has been home to four businesses in the past decade, I wondered what the newest owners would do differently. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it's simply affordable... including a million-dollar view... an occurrence to celebrate.
Koa's Seaside Grill is on the oceanfront side of Front Street tucked between Lahaina Yacht Club and Kimo's. Follow the sea breezes past the jewelry boutiques to the refreshingly cool bi-level restaurant that features a shady bar and open-air dining room below and a wide lanai perched over the ocean upstairs. The view of Lahaina's harbor and roadstead is unbeatable.
I met with Koa's managing partner, the popular West Maui restaurateur Buff Weaver, to learn what the new restaurant is all about.
Koa’s staff includes (from left) Managing Partner Buff Weaver, Food Server Brenda Jackson and Chef Andre Clark. PHOTOS BY KAREE CARLUCCI.
"We're a little different for Front Street," Weaver explained. "Our prices are reasonable and the food is simple, yet filling, in the comfort food style. We want people to leave full and happy after enjoying the view."
Since its March 1 opening, Koa's has been serving breakfast, lunch and dinner to thousands of satisfied customers. Weaver said that people are coming in for breakfast and coming back for dinner. He sees visitors return at least two to three times a week.
Co-owner Jerry Corson brought the breakfast menu from his award-winning Gazebo restaurant. Specialties include fluffy pancakes topped with macadamia nuts and whipped cream, eggs in any combination served with bacon, ham, Portuguese sausage, corned beef hash, even garlic prime rib. Then there are the omelets, which are tantalizingly huge. The Big Kahuna comes with onions, mushrooms, sausage and pepper jack cheese and is covered with slices of bacon and avocado. Fresh home-fried potatoes and toast make it a complete meal for breakfast or lunch (both menus are served concurrently from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.).
New lunch and dinner menus were created by Chef Andre Clark. I asked Clark about his philosophy of food and style of cooking.
"I like to do everything from scratch and use the freshest ingredients available. I source as much local produce, meat and seafood as I can," said Chef Andre.
The salad offerings are diverse and plentiful. I tried a garden salad of Kula mixed greens, lush red and gold Teardrop tomatoes, julienned cucumbers and carrots all tossed in a light papaya vinaigrette. The house-made dressing was a perfect complement to this delightful, farm fresh salad. The beet salad features Maui-grown beets and baby arugula, poached pears and a macadamia nut puree drizzled with white Balsamic vinaigrette. The traditional wedge salad offers a twist with sliced green apples, and the spinach salad features pancetta and feta cheese.
Chef Andre's culinary prowess shines on his appetizer menu. The signature dish, Spinach and Artichoke Dip, is a prime example. He blends artichoke hearts and fresh spinach with parmesan, romano and asiago cheeses and serves the dip with lightly grilled crostini. Crab cakes are served with a mango sofrito tropical salsa; the Teriyaki New York steak is sliced pupu style and topped with shaved ginger.
The pupu and salad menu is available anytime, which Buff characterizes as "female-friendly and really affordable." The partners pair the menu with a wide selection of wines by the glass, including sparkling Prosecco and light Pinot Grigio from Italy, a German Riesling, and California Pinot Noir, Merlot and Zinfandel.
Dinner is a feast of generous portions and dishes influenced by Maui's bountiful waters and mama's savory kitchen. Fish selections include 'Alaea Salt Rubbed Ahi with peach emulsion and peach salsa, and Koa's Daily Fish baked with Koa's crab mix and topped with a spicy lobster sauce. Seafood Koa's is a delectable melange of lobster, shrimp, scallops and fish enhanced with mushrooms in a garlic yuzu, lobster veloute with cilantro and basil, and pecorino au gratin. The Filet Mignon is nicely complemented by a bacon and shallot demi-glace. Maui Meatloaf features mushroom gravy, and a Kalua Style Pork Plate includes seasonal veggies with tropical salsa.
Whether you have a family to feed or you're a couple looking for a midweek break, you'll find Koa's to be the right place for comfort food in a relaxed setting.
Buff encourages guests to stay as long as they like and catch some rays on the upper lanai: "It's a casual celebration anytime you come here to eat!"
Celebrate Independence Day with a front-line view of the Fourth of July fireworks display from Koa's lanai. Reservations are required for dinner seatings between 6:45 and 7:45 p.m. with a cover charge of $50 per table.
Koa's Seaside Grill can accommodate any taste or diet preference and offers a large menu for just for kids. Open everyday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; happy hour specials are featured from 3 to 5:30 p.m. To make reservations, call 667-7737 or e-mail email@example.com.