DJ Eliza peers down at her laptop, focused on culling through tracks that elevate the tempo but without disrupting the natural vibe at Waicoco, the new culinary venture by local chef Chris Kajioka and Michelin-starred Mourad Lahlou from San Francisco. The guest DJ’s rhythmic beats are well received by bobbling guests, invigorating the subdued brunch atmosphere of a restaurant that encapsulates the natural allure and multicultural appeal of Maui.
Mornings on the deck at Waicoco are luxurious functions of space and time. The panoramic views of azure skies distinguished from the cerulean sea by an aquatic strip of cobalt blue are all framed by a sill of verdant lawns lined with tropical foliage. The outdoor ambiance extends toward the restaurant, transitioning in more terrestrial accents including wooden flooring on the patio to woven light fixtures and parallel ligneous slats inside that curve to conform to the ceiling’s tiers. For me, time seems to stand relatively still here, advanced only by the sequence of craft cocktails and breakfast plates.
Few liberties exude extravagance more than the prerogative of having an alcoholic libation in the morning, be it a juicy Morning Mimosa splashed with a selection of orange, grapefruit, pineapple, or POG (passionfruit-orange-guava) nectars or a spicy Beachside Bloody spiked with vodka, aged aquavit, tequila, or ale — the latter of the three which would propel a lightweight like me into a timeless but comatose state. Fortunately, my leisurely staycation schedule affords me such indulgences.
The first bites of a local fruit platter of pineapple, papaya, mango, melon and berries, a serving of fresh Maui avocado, and a pastry trio of a chocolate croissant, banana muffin and cheddar biscuit guide me a more continental path before I redirect my attention towards heartier presentations that truly establish a sense of place, paying homage to the multi-cultural diversity embraced by Hawai‘i. Familiar flavors are given slight elevation through plates as smoky kalua pork and cabbage with dashi rice, creamy soft scrambled eggs speckled with black truffles, and Portuguese Benedicts featuring round toast points topped with small temperate-spiced sausage links, cloaked with poached eggs and a generous slather of brown butter Hollandaise.
“Every dish has a direct link to the melding of cultures and cuisines that is found in Hawai‘i and the plantation days,” expresses Kajioka, alluding to that metaphorical melting pot which guides the conceptualization of the menu. However, Waicoco’s menu also takes inspiration from beyond the shores of Hawai‘i.
Besides the sprinkling of dried Aleppo pepper flakes on the Benedicts, other exotic traces of North African influence are discovered on the menu. A shakshuka with baked egg and goat cheese delivers comfort-driven flavors with its fragrant tomato-based sauce, while a hen egg yolk with a skirt of smoked potato foam resembling a sunny side up egg exerts garlicky, herbaceous flavors imparted by a scintilla of chermoula. After such an ostentatious display of food, the beat of the music is probably the only element preventing me from becoming blissfully incapacitated.
The dinner scene at Waicoco seems mellower, especially with the absence of a live DJ. However, my carefree mode is pleasantly sustained by the conspired forces of rye whiskey, lemon juice, Angostura bitters and orgeat in a Trinidad Sour magically concocted by mixologist Israel. The cocktail pairs beautifully with starters imbued with local flavors such as the Pacific salmon poke with Portuguese sausage and furikake over salt and vinegar prawn crisps, dynamite ahi with avocado mousse over rice crisps, and prawn poke with avocado, watermelon radish and cilantro.
Main courses are dichotomized into about a half dozen entrees such as a volcano spiced seared ahi and firecracker glazed short rib, and a handful of selections labeled “Ohana Style,” which are larger format dishes that feed two to four diners. In my continued pursuit of gluttony, I find myself voraciously devouring a seared half kampachi glazed in a soy-based reduction and served with ginger rice, herb and Kula greens, and a heavenly miso beurre blanc. A latent feeling of guilt over my recent sessions of culinary debauchery suddenly compels me to revert to at least one healthy dish, Auntie’s Vegan Hawaiian Coconut Curry. The sweet, spiced stew of Hawaiian purple cauliflower, toasted peanuts, green beans and peppers topped with aromatic rice consoles me until the arrival of my warm Maui Gold pineapple upside down cake.
“Chefs Chris Kajioka and Mourad Lahlou have worked diligently to create a menu that captures the true beauty and culture of Maui through supporting local farms and featuring familiar dishes with a unique twist,” shares Mike Kass, General Manager of The Westin Maui Resort & Spa, Ka‘anapali, the host property where Waicoco resides.
Waicoco establishes an appreciation for Maui through the culinary lens. Its multiethnic presentations and spectacular oceanfront dining milieu may ebb in color as the sun sets over the Valley Isle, but the vibrant flavors and creative brilliance will flood the senses morning through night.