LARGER THAN LIFE . . . At Taste of Chocolate on Friday, the annual favorite of the Maui Film Festival at Wailea, I couldn't help but notice my younger female counterparts ogling actor Ryan Phillippe of "Flags of Our Fathers."
The older gals were checking out Oahu's own newscaster Howard "Dash" Dashefsky; while I was starstruck by the, er, martini bar.
Maui's own Master Distiller Mark Nigbur was also in awe of the spectacle. Between cool sips of his newly bottled PAU vodka that was poured throughout the festival, he says he just got back from Vegas, where he and rocker Sammy Hagar just launched Sammy Hagar's Red Head Topper mac-nut rum at the Venetian.
The Taste of Chocolate at Four Seasons Resort Maui flowed with chocolate and other martinis by Maui’s own PAU Vodka, which boasts new bottles and a new look, with the same fab taste.
HILLARY FRANCIS photo
"The Venetian launch was called the Sammy Hagar Tiki Party with Emeril Lagasse on the Grill. Emeril roasted two whole pigs and made sandwiches with sweet buns, and I had a blast, pouring our rum.
"It's red in color, cause Sammy's a red-headed rocker, and it goes on top of mai tais," Nigbur continues. "Sammy performed a concert, too."
Nigbur also created Sammy's Beach Bar Rum, which will be the official liquor at Don The Beachcomber Festival on Aug. 17 at Royal Kona Resort.
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Ran into actor/producer Eric Gilliom and writer-director Jonathan Yudis of "Aloha Santa" at Gannon's dinner and a show before the Celestial Cinema.
" 'Aloha Santa' will be Hawaii's first family comedy about how a newly appointed Santa gets stuck on Maui a week before Christmas without his magical powers, and so he must enlist locals to help him," says Gilliom. "We'll be working with two big Hollywood producers and plan to start shooting at the end of year."
Randy J. Braun's camera drone was spotted flying over the opening party at Capische?, filming the crowds, which included Mrs. Las Vegas, who caused quite a stir in her "I dream of Jeanie" outfit times 10.
J.R. Martinez, who was a winner in "Dancing With The Stars" and grand marshall of the Rose Parade, was spotted dining at Mala Wailea, lobby level of the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa. The hotel's general manager Bill Countryman is a big fan, he says.
Mala Wailea's chef-partner Mark Ellman tells me that his other two restaurants on Front Street in Lahaina, Mala Ocean Tavern and Honu Seafood and Pizza, are the only two places in the entire state that carry the Bruce Cost brand ultra-premium fresh ginger ale that is unfiltered and infused with such flavors as passion fruit, jasmine and pomegranate with hibiscus.
Ellman is also selling up a storm of St. Bernardus beer, the No. 2 ale in the world. "We also carry the SB 12 the SB Triple and the SB Wit along with Delirium Nocturnam of Belgium."
Moki Chong Kee, general manager of 5 Palms in Kihei, says the restaurant's $34.95 sunset three-course that runs until the end of June is doing swimmingly well, especially since you may bring in your own bottle of wine with only a $5 corkage fee, and proceeds benefit the Maui Food Bank. He also is enticing diners with the house Bloody Mary with two slices of crisp applewood-smoked bacon as stirs, as well as pepperoncini and olives.
I?also chatted with Fairmont Kea Lani, Maui's director of public relations, Megan Haertling, and she says the resort's Ko restaurant is featuring the "sleeping beauty" of wines through June.
Enjoy, say, an effervescent, sparkling rose from Chandon Winery in California, a pinot-noir-based rose from Belle Glos Winery, or an old world French rose. You may also sip it by the glass at Luana Lounge.
"Luana Lounge also recently introduced a new Rum Bar menu that includes creative and new twists on tropical rum classics using locally grown fruits and herbs, and a list of fine rums from around the world," she says.
Word has it Relish Burger Bistro will aim to provide an innovative and modern twist to the American classic burger experience, when it opens at the Westin Maui Resort & Spa in Kaanapali.
I was also honored to be invited to the coolest chef's table on Monday night at Maui Chefs Catering in Haiku, where the owners completely floored a group of chefs that included Isaac Bancaco, named chef de cuisine of Andaz Maui at Wailea when it opens. He says Ben Marquez, who was chef instructor at Maui Culinary Academy forever, will join the Andaz team as sous chef. By the way, Maui Chefs Catering business partners Jeff Scheer and Jason Hacker are looking to open a restaurant. I say they're smokin' hot right now, and I look forward to "ogling" their entrees.