The highly anticipated MiGRANT is finally taking root, growing nicely, at an easy, comfortable pace in Mala Wailea’s lounge.
“You may now come and enjoy our modern local cuisine concept,” says managing partner Shep Gordon. “We just put up the MiGRANT sign, printed T-shirts, and the menu is available to diners. We’ve been introducing about three or four new dishes each week.”
The T-shirts are printed with the pidgeon-English slogan: “Come My House. Eat.” It’s a fun tagline that bespeaks of the concept: Comfort foods that immigrants introduced here and eat at home. But these dishes have urban twists and fun presentations – yet just like at home – they are served pupu style for sharing with friends.
Of course, the man behind the menu is Sheldon Simeon, the “People’s Choice” winner on last season’s “Top Chef” on the Bravo Channel, and the Best Chef on Maui in 2013 and 2011 in The Best of Maui contest as voted by readers of The Maui News.
Maui foodies have been trying to guess where Simeon would end up after his meteoric rise on the cable channel’s No. 1 food show and his many guest chef appearances that followed after he left Star Noodle.
Now, the secret is out, and so is his bar menu that goes back to his family’s roots. We’re talking about pipinola shoot salad with cuttlefish, lime and sunny side egg; Hibachi hangar steak with Vietnamese nouc cham sauce, watercress and pickled shallots; and fried ahi belly with hot shoyu and Hawaiian chilies.
“The food is so good, it’s scary,” Gordon says. “For me, it’s like the first time I dined at Star Noodle. The food is just mind-blowingly simple, but the tastes on all of the ethnic dishes are off the charts.
“But since Mala is already a successful restaurant,” he continues, “we’re taking our time to get the lounge menu at MiGRANT right. We’re evolving it the way we hope it should evolve. So right now, if somebody still wants a pizza or a burger, we’re not going to be ‘no’ guys. We’re going to be ‘yes’ guys.
“If you want our fabulous vegan cuisine from the Mala menu, we’ll accommodate you. We won’t encourage it, but we want to make you happy. In fact, we’re happy to have you come in to preview Sheldon’s evolving menu now – before MiGRANT will be fully finalized after the new year, hopefully sometime in January.”
By then, MiGRANT should have San Miguel beer on tap to match Simeon’s modern-local cuisine take on bar foods, such as Tocino Filipino-style sweet pork with guava jelly and pickled Kula onions; and Korean fried chicken with Thai peanut sauce and Thai basil.
It will have new chairs and tables; and the wine cruvinet will be dedicated to the largest sake selection on island. Bring your pals, share some plates, gaze at whales and other marine action from the oceanfront perch, and eat educated comfort foods that a chef such as Simeon might serve at his own backyard barbecue.
“It’s food that I grew up with,” says the 30-year-old Hilo native, whose grandfather immigrated to Hawaii from the Philippines. “But I’ve taken it a step further from my time as Star Noodle chef and with influences from my travels. I’ve learned from my failures on ‘Top Chef’ and have removed the lipstick and the gloss and backed it down, and there’s no ego here.”
So come, have fun and enjoy Filipino and other ethnic fare kicked up a notch, just like Simeon’s former judge, Emeril Lagasse, would say. In fact, he and Tom Colicchio came in as guinea pigs awhile back and gave it the total thumbs up.
Crunch chicharon (fried pork rinds) in chili pepper water shots. Dive into a plate of Kilawen or Filipino sashimi with papaya jam and cilantro; and fresh ahi poke with uni (sea urchin) that is so out of this world, it’s like “Hawaiian Regional Cuisine on steroids,” according to Gordon.
You’ll also be bowled over by street corn on the cob with bacon and cotija cheese; fat chow funn noodles; and pickled vegetables packed with powerful probiotics. Blistered shishito peppers are dipped in Hidden Valley Ranch dressing; and bibingka (Filipino rice cakes) come with peanut butter out of a jar. It’s way retro cool.
“Sheldon is young and passionate and his food is great,” says Mala’s chef-partner Mark Ellman. “It’s honest, good food, and people are telling us they love it.”
On New Year’s Eve, Gordon and Ellman will once again present a gala benefit at Mala Wailea/MiGRANT with an all-star lineup of performers. The dinner buffet starts at 7:30, and music will get you in the groove until after midnight in the Marriott’s small ballroom next door.
Gordon, who is also a rock-star manager and concert impressario, will bring in “No More Mr. Nice Guy” Alice Cooper, “Walk This Way” Aerosmith frontman Steve Tyler, along with Sammy Hagar, Bob Rock, Pat Simmons and Weird Al Yankovic, among other famous guests.
Comic Tom Arnold will return as emcee. You may enjoy specialty drinks by Hagar’s Beach Bar Rum line.
Can’t make it? MiGRANT will be waiting . . . and so will its stellar fare.