Our family vacation on Maui was spectacular and one of our favorite memories is our dinner at Sangrita Grill + Cantina. The surprise dish on the menu at Sangrita Grill + Cantina in Kaanapali was the Octopus Tiradito. Days later, my 19-year old niece wanted to return to Sangrita just to eat this dish. We’d been snorkeling around the island of Maui and seen octopus swimming, but this is not what we were eating. The octopus is flown in from Spain and is as tender as a slice of the ubiquitous ahi sashimi served at all the high end restaurants on Kannapali Beach where Sangrita is located. Chef de Cuisine, Eduardo Pineda cuts the octopus into fine shavings and marinates it with a peppery chimichurri. He combines it with fresh arugula and shoestring potatoes, which add a nice crunch to this got-to-have dish.
We were the guests of Paris Nabavi, chef and owner of the five-month old Sangrita Grill + Cantina. Sangrita had the perfect offerings for our family of four, travelling on a budget. (That is if you can call Hawaii a budget vacation when airfares to Maui run about $700 or more from Los Angeles during the summer season.) At Sangrita we experienced inventive world class cuisine at an enormous value. Consider that much of anything must be flown into this land of paradise on expensive airline seats. Food is generally 30-50% more than on the mainland, unless is can be grown in their backyard. Eat all the pineapples you want, but even locally sourced ingredients have their price. At Sangrita, Platos Fuertes or main courses run $15 for their Rotisserie Chicken Plato to $25 for the Grilled Ono marinated in achiote. Lunch specials run $9 – $13. Compare this to other Maui restaurants where a Macadamia Crusted Fish will set you back about $40.
Our evening at Sangrita was delightful as we were regaled with tales of Paris’ lifetime of travels. He grew up in Persia and worked in London restaurants from age 17. After graduating from the London Culinary Academy, he cooked all over Europe and India. He traversed the Atlantic and resided in British Columbia attending the Vancouver Hotel School. Next, he crossed the Pacific and became the Food & Beverage Director at the Kapalua Bay Hotel on West Maui. He is now well entrenched in the Maui lifestyle and likes to “give back” by involving himself in “Grow Some Good”, which is an organization that promotes organic gardening in the school curriculum. He funds organic seed for the “Maui School Garden”, which now boasts 47 school gardens in the 74 schools on three islands. With Sangrita Grill + Cantina, his goal is “To be the best Mexican food on Maui. Period.”
There were no corners cut in creating Sangrita located in the Fairway Shops near the Kaanapali golf course. Island rustic meets hipster décor with furniture brought in from Indonesia and made from the wood of a recycled shipwreck. How cool is that? A tequila bar that boasts the island’s largest selection of artisanal tequila and mezcal. A fine dining Chef de Cuisine straight from Mexico City. High quality organic ingredients, 75% locally sourced and vegetarian sauces, made fresh with lots of care. This is not the heavy, combination plate Mexican joint around the corner.
Paris treated us to a sampling of Chef Eduardo Pineda’s signature dishes on the menu. In addition to the Octopus Tiradito, we devoured everything put in front of us by our charming waitress, Danielle.
The Cuatro Ceviche was a perfect dish to share with family. I happen to adore ceviche, which is different from a Hawaiian poke. Poke contains soy sauce and seaweed along with raw seafood. Ceviche is raw seafood that is “cooked” with lime juice. It has a bright fresh flavor. A sampling of four ceviches was just the right amount to share. The ahi ceviche is creatively served on a bed of fresh pico de gallo, avocado and bound together with a strawberry puree. The shrimp ceviche has a watermelon, avocado and jicama topping that is light and delicious. The dorado ceviche is mahi mahi topped with a fresh mango salsa. The fourth was a Todo del Mar Ceviche served in a cup which included shrimp, ono and more Spanish octopus in a tomato broth. All this fresh fish for $24 was a bargain and a great way to wake up our tastebuds for the complex flavors that lie ahead.
The Short Ribs Fig Mole Enchilada was spectacular. Local Lahaina grown figs add sweetness and thicken the ample mole that surrounds the enchilada. Between the short ribs and the mole, this dish has gotten at least seven hours of love from Chef Eduardo – all on your plate for a mere $17 and served up with rice and beans.
The Carnitas Nortenas is made in a “confit method” of braising in fat for seven hours. The long slow cooking method made this pork shoulder melt in your mouth. We loved the caramelized chipotle pineapple salsa as much and could have eaten that alone. Envelope this mixture in a warm tortilla and you are in heaven.
For good measure, we tasted the Eggplant Enchilada Roja. The eggplant roulades with vegetable centers of sweet potato, leeks, celery, carrots and onion meld with the vegetarian red sauce and melted cheese. A fabulous taste sensation in the mouth.
Although we swore we couldn’t eat more, we had to try one of the desserts. Crepes de Cajeta were light airy crepes stuffed with local goat cheese. So local, we saw the goats who gave up their milk for this dish grazing a couple days later on our drive down from Haleakala. Chef Eduardo surrounds the crepes in an ample pool of Mexican cajeta and goat milk sauce. I am an absolute sucker for anything with caramel in it, so this was a great end to a fabulous meal.
Come hungry to Sangrita Grill + Cantina and your tastebuds will be tickled with delight. This is a different kind of Mexican food. Light, refreshing, healthy and delicious. The type of meal you want to eat after swimming and snorkeling all day on lively and sparkling Kaanapali Beach. It won’t break the bank and you’ll still look good in your bikini the next day. The next time you are visiting West Maui, don’t miss this gem. Sangrita Grill + Cantina, Fairway Shops Kaanapali, 2580 Kekaa Drive, Lahaina, Hawaii. 808-662-6000 Daily 11 am – 10 pm. Happy Hour every day 3-6 pm. Margarita Mondays. Taco Tuesdays.