TO A VERY GOOD YEAR . . . Just like a fine Opus One wine, Maui keeps getting more complex with age. There were exhilarating moments, sad moments and lots of surprises.
On a sad note, legendary Maui restaurateur Bob Longhi, the man "who loved to eat," passed away; Joyce Smith, wife of the Waterfront partner Gary Smith, also left us; so did Maui Bake Shop Pastry Chef-owner Jose Krall, in an all-too-recent, tragic plane crash.
Famous restaurateurs continued to roll into Maui like waves, one after another. Alan Wong's Amasia opened in the former Kincha at Grand Wailea with James Beard Award-winner Alan Wong at the helm.
Employees Ashlee Nakamura and Justin Pascua shake Cosmo martinis at the Bistro in the new Courtyard by Marriott Hotel in Kahului.
The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo
In Lahaina, L.A. celebrity chef Jose Citron opened Sure Thing Burger; and rocker Mick Fleetwood drummed up Fleetwood's on Front St. World-renowned chef Nobu Matsuhisa opened Nobu's Lanai just a few days ago at Four Seasons at Manele Bay. TV's superstar "Iron Chef" Masaharu Morimoto announced he will land on Maui at the upcoming Andaz next year.
Food trucks proliferated like bamboo in the rainforest. Gogi Korean BBQ Taco Truck got islanders into short ribs and kim chee piled between tiny corn tortillas. Papa Hapa's wowed with chicken curry and other fun manapua fillings; Iron Imu expanded on its food trucks to open sit-down, Southern fare in Napili; Kinaole Grill truck rocks with seafood in Kihei, and much more.
Ruby Tuesday opened on a Wednesday in the former Roy's Kihei. Just Wing It took flight in the same Piilani Shopping Village, serving hot wings, fun sides and tons of sauces. Roy's Kahana moved and morphed into Roy's Kaanapali. In its old spot is now Kahana Grill with quite an extensive island menu.
Speaking of grills, Paradise Grill opened at the entrance to Kaanapali Resort, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner; and Mello's Bar is its counterpart downstairs. Makawao Steak House was bought by Cafe O'Lei's owners. David Paul's Island Grill closed.
Maui's newest hotel, Courtyard by Marriott, warmed kamaaina hearts with its reasonable rooms, outdoor fire pit and convenient spot near the airport in Central Maui. Its The Bistro boasts fun booths, walk-up service and computers to keep you dialed into it all.
The $5-million-plus renovation at Ko in the Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui made a splash at its grand reopening with more than 450 VIPs in attendance. Cliff House in Kapalua also underwent a striking renovation and is now available for private parties. Amigo's in Kahului did a striking expansion. So did A Saigon Cafe in Wailuku.
Upcountry, musical chairs occurred when Kula Bistro sprang up across from Morihara Store; and Cafe 808 moved down to Waikapu. Fatburger began sizzling in the old KFC spot in Pukalani Terrace. Kojima's Sushi Bar & Cafe also opened in Pukalani. Wayne's Sushi & Karaoke Bar in Haiku entices with song and fresh catch.
Maui's first Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf brewed up some buzz in The Shops at Wailea. Brick Oven Pizza began to cook up gluten-free pies near Long's in Kihei. Manoli's went into the former Matteo's in Wailea, and Porto into Maalaea Harbor Shops, both baking up a storm of tasty pizza pies. Kono's On The Green restaurant took over the vacant Palms spot at Elleair Golf Course in Kihei, and Waterfront returned in a tonier new Maalaea locale.
100 Wines popped open next to its sister restaurant, The Melting Pot, upstairs in Lahaina Gateway center, offering old-world cuisine and, well, 100 wines.
Fabiani's continues to delight Italian food lovers in Kihei as it announces that a second location will open in Wailea Gateway in the next two months. Kamaole Poolside Cafe took over Tradewinds at Maui Coast Hotel.
Johnny B's burgers plumped up Paia, when it opened on the Kahului side of town. Silicon Valley owners infused new blood into Paia's Moana Cafe. . . Yum Yum brought a taste of things yummy to Wailuku Industrial.
Several new culinary festivals exploded onto the island scene. The inaugural Niu Festival outdoors at Grand Wailea had people going nuts over the "coconut" for which it was named. Ka'anapali Fresh took jazz, wine and gourmet fare to the next level over Labor Day weekend. Four Seasons, Four Pinots debuted in sunny south Maui. And the recent Wailea Wine & Food Festival still has people raving about how fun it was.
The new Corkage Law was Maui restaurant industry's biggest controversy in 2012. No doubt, GMO labeling will be next year's hot-potato topic. Maui is always exciting, and I look forward to divulging more news in 2013.
Happy New Year, "Hau'oli Makahiki Hou," everyone!