Sugar Cane Maui: A Lahaina Cafe & Eat Bar is the newest kid on Front Street's block. Ever since it opened upstairs in the former Famous Dave's location in early September, it's been growing interest far and wide with diners.
That's because it's got a powerhouse of an owner-chef in Philippe Chin. Born in Paris and classically trained at L 'Ecole Hoteliere de Paris, he's French Chinese. Francophiles will love his accent.
Chin is credited with helping to put French fusion food on the U.S. map with his famous Chanterelles restaurant in Philadelphia back in the day.
Chef de Cuisine Decio DaCosta, (left), and chef-owner Philippe Chin take a rare break outside on the upstairs lanai.
The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo
Most recently, he operated a restaurant in Somers Point, N.J., directly across from Ocean City, N.J.
"We were right in the path of Hurricane Sandy and it was badly damaged," Chin says. "I've been friends with Sam Choy for a long time, and he's been begging me for 20 years to come to Hawaii. I felt it was the right time, and so here I am."
In fact, Choy made an appearance at Sugar Cane Maui's opening party and prepared poke, for which he is renowned.
Fast facts: Located upstairs at 736 Front St., Lahaina. Open daily for breakfast from 7:30 to 11 a.m.; all-day menu from 11 a.m. to close with an assortment of daily specials. Through Oct. 31, kamaaina get 30 percent off food. You may BYOB. Call 214-6662 or visit www.sugarcanemaui.com.
"I won Sam's annual poke contest one year at the Hapuna Beach Hotel on the Big Island," says Chin. "I even displayed a live 'mermaid' on the table."
Chin has also appeared on "Sam Choy's Kitchen," as well as in numerous other TV and radio shows and cookbooks, and he's got too many prestigious awards under his belt to list them all here. But he's in the Guinness Book of World Records for creating a meal for 17,000 people at one of President Barack Obama's inaugural parties.
"Philippe and I go back a long, long way," says Choy, who plans to open a Kaanapali restaurant by year's end. "What a talented chef, world class. His love for food and for people is legendary."
After having eaten there, I say it may be the best meal for the money in Lahaina. But it's a bit hard to find as it's tucked away upstairs above Diamond Head Gallery.
As for the chef's take, "Sugar Cane Maui is a craft kitchen. It's personalized. I don't want to do what anybody else is doing. I have a freezer, and I haven't turned it on yet. It's for dry storage."
What he is doing will astound you. During breakfast, he makes syrup with pineapple, mango and papaya. Bakes scones and muffins from scratch. Even makes his own guava jam for your enjoyment. Coffee is French press, and it's gourmet."
"Famous Dave's left its smoker, so I make my own bacon," he says. "We cure it for eight days with salt, pepper, garlic, a little thyme, bay leaves, onion. Then I dry rub Chinese five spice powder and ginger and soak in pineapple juice. I slice it thick, and I also make my own Portuguese sausage patties without any casings. I don't believe in buying anything with chemicals or preservatives."
Chef Chin's famous ahi nachos are a super fun share plate with fresh ahi chunks, sesame spinach salad on won ton chips, with a trio of aiolis. Focaccia is baked fresh daily and he adds house-smoked sea salt. And, you must try the Chin-Choy short rib with Burgundy five spice and tobacco onions.
Oh-la-la. You can taste the difference. And, prices are very reasonable. Sugar Cane Maui -how sweet it is!