Dinner at Kapalua’s Banyan Tree Is Not Your Average Date Night
A revamped menu of bold flavors balanced with a tranquil dining experience overlooking Honokahua Bay makes Banyan Tree at the Ritz-Carlton Maui worth the drive.
Crossing the lawn of the Ritz-Carlton Maui in Kapalua, a cool breeze whooshes past us. Rolling green hills dotted with tall pines lead our eyes to the blue horizon defined by the silhouette of Moloka‘i. Shallow steps take us down to the softly lit entrance of the new Banyan Tree Kapalua. Lush, tropical foliage with more than 160 blooming orchid plants embrace us from every direction. Various Edison lightbulbs fill the intimate space with a warm soup of light and each table has a view of Honokahua Bay.
If it sounds like we’re walking into a cozy, spa-like experience, it is. Once seated, you can’t help but take a deep breath to absorb the moment. Frolic Assistant Editor Thomas Obungen and I were invited to a hosted dinner at the renovated restaurant, to taste its reimagined menu by Puerto Rican-born Marimer Garcia, the newly appointed chef de cuisine. After experiencing a few flops at hotel restaurants, I’m on edge about how the night will unfold. There’s nothing worse than booking an out-of-the-way destination restaurant to celebrate a special occasion, only to be sorely underwhelmed. Tonight’s vibe at the Banyan Tree’s is impressive enough to stir my curiosity about the food to come.
There are only four signature cocktails on the menu, and they all sound appealing. We go with the Upcountry Smash ($19) and the Olivine ($22). We’re pleasantly surprised by the Smash’s fortitude of flavor. Cappalletti (a red bitter Italian aperitif) gives depth to fresh watermelon juice while lime lifts it up to blend seamlessly with cucumber notes in a smooth vodka. Mint on the nose is a refreshing bonus. I’m swooning at the blend of smoke, citrus and spice of the Olivine where Casamigos mezcal is the star. The floral, lychee-esque notes from the elderflower tame the bitterness of grapefruit and lime, working with the creamy locally made falernum (orgeat’s spiced, boozy cousin) for a sublime mouthfeel. I understand why they don’t need a huge list of drinks and would come back just to try the others.
Next up, an amuse bouche of taro bread in the style of pan con tomate topped with thinly shaved serrano ham from Spain. This bite takes me right back to the streets of Barcelona with a twist: the bread is better. The grilled taro bread is moist and smoky with a hint of sweetness echoed by the crushed tomato. Garlic adds a savory spike of flavor, while the luscious ham melts in your mouth, bringing it all together. Simple and comforting, I craved more of this little starter even days after we leave.
We enjoy a few more dishes like the colorful shrimp ceviche ($32) set in a pool of mouthwatering coconut lemongrass leche de tigre complete with a pop of heat, and a satisfying beet salad ($24) with rich Surfing Goat Dairy cheese, fragrant strawberry vinaigrette and toasty pumpkin seeds. Our first entrée, the Coconut Red Curry Seafood ($69), arrives practically overflowing with shrimp, mahi mahi, mussels, clams and lobster. The lobster is a tad overcooked, but the other seafood more than make up for it. I’m already intrigued by Garcia’s control of flavors and confident seasoning, but this broth has me wanting to hug her. The balance of lemongrass and makrut lime are intense and addicting. The rich coconut milk has an umami backbone that makes me go back, slurp after slurp, dunking clam shells, house bread and whatever else I can to capture its delicious flavor. Treatment of vegetables in the dish are not an afterthought either: each is prepared to bring out its peak texture and flavor, adding freshness and balance to the bowl.
I’m approaching fullness at this point when the Snake River Farms washugyu filet ($72) lands in front of us. I marvel in the portion alone. Its plating is simple but my first bite reveals much more. The beef itself is lush, but not overtly fatty, a result of cooking this marbled steak to medium, concentrating its beefiness. The seasonal vegetables grown just up the hill at Hua Momona Farms and parsnip purée are a nice company to the steak, but are outshined by the caramelized onion demi-glace that coats the beef and enhances its natural flavor with umami and a touch of sweetness. This dish also lives rent-free in my brain, just ask Thomas.
Sitting at the table basking in the afterglow, I thought to myself that if I lived in Maui, I would definitely drive to Kapalua for this meal. I might even plan a staycation around it because I stan for bold, female chefs doing their thing. Honestly, I kept forgetting that we were even on a hotel property, and I didn’t feel like one of the hundreds of guests either. Beyond the food being delicious, the experience feels special, dreamy even and in the company of good friends, surely romantic.
Banyan Tree offers a 20% discount, year-round to Kama‘āina diners.