The news hit - right after we savored a thoroughly enjoyable lunch of finger foods under the umbrellas at 'Umalu, located poolside at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali.
The hotel's food and beverage director, Peter Donnelly, and executive chef, Matt Smith, approached our table, sat down, and spilled the beans.
"We want to get the word out that we're closing Cascades at the end of February," Donnelly said. "We're rebranding it and refreshing it, and will reopen it as Cafe Japengo, right before the holidays."
The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo
‘Umalu servers Danica Moral (left) and Trinity Medeiros showcase the Kobe beef sliders and the fresh ahi poke nachos.
My jaw dropped, as Cascades has been one of my all-time favorite Maui restaurants for decades. But then a memory of another great meal took its place and I realized I've eaten at a Japengo before - on the Mainland.
"The original Japengo is in La?Jolla, California," said Chef Smith. "The one we put in here will be off the hook. It's still going to feature sushi, and the sushi bar and Chef Jay Ledee are part of the new footprint."
In the meantime, 'Umalu will step up the plate along with the independently owned Son'z at Swan Court to be the main Hyatt restaurants. The change takes place March 1, the day after Cascades closes.
"We'll bring some of the sushi chefs down here and inject new energy into the dinner menu," said Chef Smith. "We'll upgrade the food quality to more fine dining. But the prices won't be sky high. We'll shed our reputation for serving burgers, and we'll forge a more modern and cutting-edge Asian-fusion menu."
Chef Ledee will be among those on a roll evenings at 'Umalu. There won't be a designated sushi bar, per se, but you may order from the freshest yellowtail (hamachi) to the s.w.a.t. roll packed with spicy tuna, salmon, green onion, sesame seeds and ponzu.
Perfect to share with pals as you listen to live music and dine under the stars are shared appetizers. Choose from the hummus plate with Surfing Goat Dairy cheese, house-cured olives and taro lavosh; to the stack of day-boat scallops and tiger-prawns layered with crisp won tons with ocean salad, tobiko caviar and wasabi aioli.
"We open our daily live music sessions with local artists at 5 p.m, then we bring on the featured solo guitarists from 6 to 8 p.m.," said Donnelly.
'Umalu is all about contemporary food and drink, friends and fun, sea and sunsets. The word means "the shade under a cliff," or "to cast a shadow" in Hawaiian as it's situated into a hill near the pool.
It cost $8 million to build just a couple of years ago and it boasts granite, tumbled stone, cool flagstone walkways, lush foliage and ocean views.
Signature plates include whole wok-fried opakapaka with bamboo sticky rice and emperor's ponzu; taro-crusted mahi mahi with local chevre whipped potatoes; Volcano-spiced slow roasted prime rib, and pan-roasted organic chicken with natural jus.
For more details, call the Hyatt Maui at 661-1234.