I must admit. I've never heard a Maui restaurant owner sing bossa nova before.
That is, until Renata Demoraes soulfully crooned, "The Girl from Ipanema," one afternoon as saxophone softly wailed in the background.
You see, she wanted me to get a taste of what transpires at her new Ziriguidun restaurant on Saturday nights, when she's the lead singer with some of Maui's top jazz musicians rotating in as her backup.
Ziriguidun owner Renata Demoraes shows off her chicken by chance and fish in Zig rosewine sauce as well as the cachaca pitu Brazilian drink.
The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo
Crunch oven chips with goat cheese, tomatoes and fresh basil
Fresh spinach salad with strawberries, blue cheese and candied nuts in balsamic dressing
Situated in the old Jawz Tacos at Azeka Mauka shopping center in Kihei, Ziriguidun is a Latin-island fusion restaurant that serves lunch and dinner with a little bossa nova on the side. Musicians are Bita Fonseca, Shiro Mori, Brian Cuomo and John Zangrando.
"We opened April 6, and I recently introduced live music, Brazilian jazz, from 7 to 10 p.m. on Saturday nights," says the longtime stage singer. "We've had a very good response with diners so far.
"For 20 years on Maui, I've always felt a little displaced," she continues. "I felt that nightclub music was too loud, or too late in the evening. Zig, as I call it, is a place where adults can enjoy good food, music and conversation early in South Maui."
Vibrant with colorful murals, flowers and tablecloths, Zig is a great place to take the children, too. The restaurant was transformed by Demoraes with paint, new upolstery, plants and lively memorabilia. And, the food is an exciting mix of something exotic and unusual for Maui.
"I've been dreaming of doing this since I was five years old," says Demoraes, who grew up as the daughter of a Brazilian diplomat and an Italian mother in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. "I come from a culture where we don't have the opportunity to buy new things, so we transform the old - even my food. I use old recipes from my youth and my travels in Latin America and transform it."
But since she's been on Maui quite awhile, Demoraes calls herself an "island girl with an accent," and the food reflects her segue into American life.
The Zig steak is based on her grandmother's recipe, and the fish and seafood Muqueca is a choice of salmon or basa (snapper family) with shrimp, mussels and Brazilian coconut sauce over a bed of steamed rice.
"I've been a passionate cook from a young age. Each time we moved, I took cultural classes and of course, cooking was always a part of it. But I was educated in fine art, music and have a masters in education."
Demoraes says she has a repertoire of about 50 sauces. Her sauteed shrimp in rose wine sauce with a tomato-cream base had me singing some high notes in praise of this simple yet appealing dish.
The top-selling and popular Chicken by Chance is fun and decidedly different, served on shoyu-lime sauce over rice; and mussels in creamy wine sauce are aromatic, presented on a bed of penne with garlic toast.
Green salad comes with delightful guava vinaigrette; and chicken-bacon kisses are imbued with vibrant chimichurri sauce with a side of potato chips. Shrimp ceviche also bursts with fresh flavors and tropical potato salad puts a tangy spin on the classic side dish with apples. Diced roasted garlic gives it some kick.
Ziriguidun is an African onomatopoeic word brought to Brazil that expresses the buzz or murmuring sounds made by sambas, drums and other percussion instruments during carnival.
"When I really want to feel the beat, I use my own pots and pans I am familiar with and make the food exactly how it's made at my house," says Demoraes. "I try to have a healthful slant, and I use as much fresh ingredients as I can. For instance, you will never see tomatoes out of a can at Zig."
The liquor license was recently put into place and you'll find spirts, beers and wines. Do try the refreshing cachaca pitu or leblon, muddled and shaken by hand. Top it off with desserts such as the Macakito (little monkey): fried dough stuffed with bananas, cream cheese, sugar and cinnamon, served warm with ice cream. Call 875-7515.