Lāhainā Grill: Decades of Excellence
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Start with culinary, pour in some creativity, add a dash of chemistry, and you’ve got Annabehl Sinclair’s recipe for success behind the bar at Lāhainā Grill.
“I’ve been able to combine my culinary background with the cocktail thing and it’s really fun,” says Sinclair, who started as a chef in Lāhainā Grill’s kitchen almost 19 years ago.
Bringing her talents to the front of the house, the mixologist crafts cocktails like Jungle Juice, which includes Selvarey white rum from Panama, her very own lemongrass-kaffir lime-coconut simple syrup and fresh lemon juice with a toasted coconut rim.
Then there’s her favorite, the Smoking Gun, an artful combination of Bulleit bourbon, Glenfiddich Scotch and her house-made spicy Garam Masala apple syrup, finished off with an organic apple slice.
“It’s really popular,” she says. “It packs kind of a punch, but it’s really, really delicious!”
Sinclair also describes the Bee Sting, which uses Okolehao, an ancient Hawaiian alcoholic spirit whose main ingredient was the root of the tī plant. It’s served with lemon juice, lavender-honey and a lavender-sugar rim.
“It’s kind of like a Lemon Drop, but it’s got a little more ‘oomph’ to it,” she smiles.
Beverage is a big source of pride at Lāhainā Grill, which recently won a Hale ‘Aina award for Best Wine Program. That’s been sommelier Richard Olson’s passion since he was young, and he puts his energy into snagging rare, limited-reserve wines that are tough to find elsewhere. His wine cellar is stocked with quite a variety.
“We have wines for $4,500; wines that you really can’t get, or are very low in quantity,” Olson says.
But if price is a factor, Lāhainā Grill also has $32 bottles of wine, along with 28 wines-by-the-glass. Even half-glasses are available to try out food pairings, one of Olson’s specialties.
“You want to enhance, not overpower,” he says.
Olson adds that achieving balance between acidic flavors and more mellow tones is a good rule of thumb for pairings. He also says food and wine from similar parts of the world typically belong together.
“In Germany, those sauerkrauts and all those big beautiful Rieslings with the sweetness, which calms down the acid and the tartness of the vegetables,” he explains.
Olson is also a big fan of the food, which is considered new American cuisine and includes everything from foie gras to ravioli, fresh fish, steak, New Zealand venison and Colorado rack of lamb.
“All the meats are the best, all the salads, everything coming off Kula with the roughage and the ingredients that go into the dressings themselves,” Olson says. “We’re hitting all our bases, not just focusing on Italian food, or focusing on French food; there’s definitely a big mix.”
Lāhainā Grill offers two specials a night, one meat and one fish, open from 5:30 (5 p.m. starting in November) to 9 p.m. just off Front Street on Lāhainalunā Road. Olson says the kitchen staff of six can often handle 250 covers a night.
“Chef Arnulfo Gonzalez is unbelievable, and his staff, it really blows my mind,” he says. “The quality, the quantity, it’s just amazing; just keeping that consistent food and flavor day in and day out!”
As dining review websites give customers a platform for comments, Lāhainā Grill proudly displays two distinctions. It’s included among the Top 100 Places to Eat in the United States on Yelp.com for 2016, and ranked #15 on TripAdvisor.com’s Top 25 Restaurants in the U.S. last year. Olson says customers are tuned in.
“Nowadays everybody looks on TripAdvisor or Yelp: ‘Where do we I have to eat?’,” he explains. “It’s so nice to see people come in and going, ‘We’ve been waiting six months just to come into this restaurant ‘cause we’ve heard so much about it!'”
A recent diner stands out; Olson says after eating, the man got up from his table, marched straight into the kitchen, and told the chef this:
“I travel around the world every year, I’ve been to the best places in the world, and this food was unbelievable!”
Olson is enjoying his 18th year at Lahaina Grill, named Best Maui Restaurant by Honolulu Magazine’s readers poll for 22 years running. With many long-time employees among the staff of 29, he and mixologist Sinclair agree; it’s like ‘ohana.
“It’s wonderful. It’s one big happy family; it’s a little dysfunctional at times,” Sinclair laughs, “but it’s really cool. We’ve all got each other’s backs and it’s really groovy.”