Mauka Makai

Westin Nanea’s signature restaurant up and running

Executive Chef Ikaika Manaku of the Westin Nanea Ocean Villas flames a garlic beef dish on the grill to sear in the juices. Westin Nanea Ocean Villas photo

From the mountains to the ocean is the menu concept at the new Mauka Makai, which celebrated its grand opening Friday at the Westin Nanea Ocean Villas, the newest resort on island.

In fact, the Hawaiian word mauka means “toward the mountains” and makai refers to the vicinity of the ocean, and so the menu is based upon the ancient Hawaiian way of life in the ahupuaa, or pie-shaped districts that ran from the top of the volcano all the way down to the plentiful sea, serving all of the needs of those living on them.

“Mauka Makai is all about sharing local food with visitors and kamaaina alike,” says Ricky Hamasaki, assistant director of food and beverage.

“As a resort, we aim to deliver a culturally rich, authentic experience. Taste is one of the strongest senses, which gives us the opportunity to use our cuisine to create a connection to Maui for our guests,” Hamasaki adds. “For the locals, Mauka Makai will be a spot to enjoy familiar favorites presented with chef’s distinct approach.”

Inspired by the ahupuaa, Executive Chef Ikaika Manaku has planned a menu that will appeal to landlubbers and seafarers alike.

Pork and ahi with fun sauces on the side. Westin Nanea Ocean Villas photo

Choose from whole crispy island catch to garlic beef with butter fried rice to natural prime ribeye, served on a hot pohaku stone that you finish cooking at the table.

“As for the pohaku prime, we want the diners to have fun with it,” says the chef. “The crust on the outside is seasoning and I hard sear the cut and essentially send it out raw for you to cook yourself on the hot stone and then you dip it into local chimichurri and fresh ponzu sauce made with calamansi lime instead of yuzu,”

This was one dish that those at the grand opening didn’t get to experience as there were action stations set up with prepared food for the crowds.

“The grand opening party was awesome,” says Manaku, who previously was chef at a sister Westin in Kaanapali.

“We really got to have some fun with the presentations and utilized top local vendors like Makaweli Ranch.”

Because Manaku grew up on Kauai, he knows Makaweli is a coveted vendor for its Kauai bone-marrow canoes as well as Maui venison that is processed by the company on the island.

“I got to make poke with the venison and I made some unagi (eel). My pork and ahi dish has been with me for a bit now so it will be a signature, for sure.”

Manaku sears one side of the thick slice of sashimi and adds in pork and Maui onion jam with it.

“People have to be risky to take a bite. But it works, when you dip it into the Sriracha honey, the Yamasa caramel and the sweet soy sauces.”

After the grand opening, the sea of happy diners all vowed to come back for more of the chef’s inspiring tastes. They also raved about the locally sourced smoked tako, or octopus, with pohole ferns, Kula tomatoes, Maui onion and blue ginger and onaga cooked underground in an imu.

Beverages also entice. The handcrafted cocktails are infused with spirits made on the island that include unique components, such as house-made hibiscus syrup and smoky kiawe wood.

Breakfast is also exciting with a bento of miso butterfish with a poached egg, fluffy mac-nut pancakes, and home-smoked pork fried rice.

“It’s all food that I like to eat,” Manaku says. “When you take a bite — it’s familiar. We do a lot of local favorites.”

Mauka Makai details: It’s open daily for breakfast from 6:30 to 10:30 a.m. and for dinner with Pacific Rim fare from 5:30 to 9 p.m. For reservations, call 662-6400.