Friday, when I walked into the spectacular open-air Tropica, I realized I was far from being on "Maui time."
Instead, I was early. So I grabbed a seat in the lounge and waited for my interview with the chefs.
Since the restaurant is situated just off of the beachwalk at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali, I settled back and drank in the magnificent sunset views, meandering streams and tumbling waterfalls that enchant diners nightly.
Fresh and sustainable produce is at the forefront with Westin’s Executive Chef Garrett Fujieda (left) and Chef de Cuisine Ikaika Manaku.
The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo
Longtime bartender Freddie Sconfienza greeted me and then told me how Tropica is trying to kick up its cocktail program with sexy new beverages.
"We're making more thought-provoking cocktails and fitting them with each client," he says. "We do modern-day fusion drinks based on the classics. For instance, we use a little cayenne, fresh cucumber and elder flowers in various cocktails and if there's something fresh and fun, we use it."
Signature drinks include the Dragonberry Bomb over ice (a recent winner at the first Bartending Competition in Lahaina), the Nutty Hawaiian, the St. Germain martini and the Tahitian Princess, Tropica's famous blended drink.
Tropica Restaurant & Bar facts:
Hours: Open from 5 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays to Sundays. Happy hour runs from 5 to 6 p.m. in the bar and lounge with $4 draft beers and $5 off martinis.
Off days: You may rent the entire restaurant for private parties. Or opt for the smaller Bamboo Room.
Ahupua'a menu: Four-course Hawaiian feast costs $55 per person, $75 with wines, plus tax and tip.
Other promos: Enjoy a three- course meal for $33; Wednesdays, get 25 percent off wines by the glass; Thursdays, sip $7 cocktails; Fridays, sip $9 signature martinis; Saturdays, get 50 percent off select wines; and Sundays, it's Industry Night for those in hospitality.
For more details:?Call 667-2525 or visit www.westinmaui.com
Freddie created the award-winning Dragonberry drink, and he'll also be featured in the HDNet show "Drinking Made Easy" when it airs this fall.
The cocktails he and his compadres have designed pair perfectly with pupu such as pohaku-seared flank steak, served on a hot cooking stone with ponzu sauce and Kula onion confit; and Hawaiian chili-pepper- rubbed seared ahi with crispy pork belly and Maui onion jam.
In addition, Tropica's dinner menu lists wine pairing suggestions for its starters, stone-hearth-fired flatbreads, Maui greens and entrees.
"We also extend a 20 percent discount on food only for all kamaaina residents with Hawaii ID," says the Westin's director of public relations, Sumithra Balraj. "Locals may also book the kamaaina room package at only $189 per night."
"Enjoy Westin-inspired comfort including our famed Heavenly Bed and our 87,000-square-foot aquatic playground with five pools, two slides and a swim-through grotto hidden by waterfalls."
Now, doesn't getting a room, splashing in the pools and savoring discounts on food sound like fun?
In addition, Tropica offers Industry Night discounts on Sundays and it's a sea of locals getting 25 percent off food and drinks all night long.
You just have to prove you work in the hospitality industry by producing a badge or official ID.
Just then, Executive Chef Garrett Fujieda walked over to our table as did Tropica's Chef de Cuisine Ikaika Manaku and new Restaurant Manager Eric Waddell. All were pumped with information they want to get out to the public.
"I'm really excited about our Ahupua'a four-course tasting menu," says Fujieda. "Ahupua'a is an ancient Hawaiian way of life that focuses on sustainability with a pie- shaped piece of land that runs from the top of the mountain to the sea."
One landowner would have it all, and now one diner can.
You may begin with Hawaiian blue opae, or freshwater shrimp, served on pohole fern shoot salad with Hawaiian chili pepper and opal-basil gastrique. The next course is Kula onion risotto with creamy Surfing Goat Dairy cheese, roasted Kapalua beets and essence of parsley.
The Ahupua'a entree is Maui Cattle Co. strip loin, dusted in inamona (crushed kukui nuts) with Kula grape tomato limu kohu (a fabulous type of seaweed) and Upcountry sweet-potato croquette.
The piece de resistance is baked Hawaii, with coconut ice cream, toasted meringue, Kula strawberries, mint and Chambord. All the courses may be paired with suggested wines for an extra charge.
Chef de Cuisine Manaku is responsible for implementing the meals night after night. His specialties include Pacific bouillabaisse with Kona lobster, golden potato gnocchi with cream of Meyer lemon, parsley and pistachio; and Oriental-mushroom linguine with grilled tiger shrimp.
"My misoyaki butterfish is really popular with locals and it's served with spinach and bacon. We also make our own Maui onion butter, sprinkled with Hawaiian sea salt and serve it with pesto focaccia."
Restaurant Manager Waddle wants to get the word out about Tropica's new oceanfront dining. He's arranged for six tables to be out front near the sand.
"It's nice and romantic and you notice the boats going by and when the stars come out at night, it's perfect," he says.
"Every seat has an ocean view," chimes in Manaku. "It's great for honeymooners, and we keep it first-come, first-served. All of Tropica is great for both kamaaina as well as visitors. If you want to feel special, come and check us out."