If I had to eat the same meal in the same place every day, there is only one place I would want to be: Mama’s Fish House on Maui at sunset.
You would think it would be a favorite home-cooked meal prepared by a close friend or family member – like Thanksgiving or something. No way. I hazard a guess that if you had been to this Mama’s, and someone made you choose between it and your mama’s, you would sit right down and join me at one of their open air tables. Care for a Mai Tai? After all, it just got voted by TripAdvisor as among the top ten restaurants in the U.S. right after USA today gave it a similar honor. This love I have is not a secret.
Every afternoon fishermen show up at Mama’s with their catch right from the waters that you can see from your table. The chef will prepare your choice of those fish in any of the seven or so different ways on the menu. My latest fav is lobster and crab stuffed mahi with macadamia nut crust. Pair that with fresh seasonal island-grown veggies and an array of killer appetizers like tuna tar tar and taro chips. Their bar can’t be beat when it comes to tropical drinks like the Singapore sling. And nothing finishes dinner off like a tart but creamy Lilikoi (passion-fruit) crème brûlée.
There is a lot more to Mama’s than the food. Time seems to slow down there. You can hear and smell the ocean from the table. The wait staff are trained at the highest level of service, and reek of Aloha. The landscaping and decor are the product of years of tweaking and adding on historical artifacts from around the island. A freaking guy blows a conch shell every day at 11 am when they open. So many fine dining restaurants in tropical places are either cheesy or take themselves too seriously and come off cold. Not Mama’s – they get it just right.
My connection to Mama’s goes even deeper. Aside from the fact that I grew up on Maui and have been to the restaurant for many special occasion dinners, my brother Shawn was, until very recently, an employee. He started there at 18 working as a dishwasher. Then he became a prep cook – chopping and chopping every day. Then they taught him cold prep (appetizers and salads). Then they taught him sauces. Eventually he worked the grill, learning to cook fish to perfection like no other restaurant does. When my brother came to Seattle to get his degree in culinary arts, he finished his 2 hour knife skills exam in 15 minutes.
Ironically, I have never eaten at Mama’s while my brother was cooking. My most memorable meal at Mama’s was with my brother when he wasn’t working. He had an employee discount of course, but the best part was that he got the star treatment. It was better than I could ever have imagined. The staff was friendlier than ever and just about everyone came by to chat. Food just started showing up. Shawn was ordering stuff that wasn’t on the menu. We ordered bottles of wine and were giddy by dusk. After dinner, we got a tour of the kitchen and got to see the walk-in fish cooler starring a 6-foot tuna on ice with little chunks cut out of it’s side.
Whenever friends ask me what they should do when they go to Maui, Mama’s Fish House is on the list. I always tell them to make a reservation before they get on the plane and that the sun sets at 7:30 p.m.. If I could afford to live on Maui and eat dinner at Mama’s every night, I would dine with my visiting friends, and occasionally fly my brother out for a reunion meal when I want something off-menu.
Oh and please don’t bother with their website. It’s such a turnoff. Instead just enjoy these photos and get the reservation phone number from Google. I need to call and offer to make them a new site. Maybe I can trade for free dinners for life.
My man and a menu – both full of deliciousness.
Prompt #17 (Nov 19) On Friday, Bat Kid saved Gotham, er, San Francisco. What’s your super hero fantasy?