Cane & Canoe: Fine Dining at Maui’s Montage Kapalua Bay

by Nancy Zaffaro
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The tropical bounty of the Hawaiian Islands means ready availability of incredibly fresh produce, seafood and a growing number of artisan foods. Cane and Canoe, Montage Kapalua Bay’s award winning signature restaurant, with Executive Chef David Viviano at its helm, uses that abundance to create a dining experience to remember.

The entry at Montage Kapalua Bay leads a stunning water view.

Overlooking one of Maui’s most beautiful vantage points, Montage Kapalua Bay is one of only two 5-star resorts on Maui. On 24 oceanfront acres, the resort has 56 one- to four-bedroom suites, all with gourmet kitchens, separate living areas and every amenity one could hope for. There’s a full-service spa, a championship golf course, a three-tier swimming pool facing the ocean, cultural and family activities, (plus a kid’s camp), event space, and two restaurants and lounges, including Cane & Canoe.

The resort’s entry and the restaurant is designed to resemble a Hawaiian canoe house, with a tall, pointed roof, and great wood and fiber details. Inside, there’s a great open air view of the restaurant’s outdoor seating, the pools, and beyond, blue sky and water. At ground level, the restaurant décor is clean, modern and comfortable. Artwork, textiles, rich woods and stone create a natural palette augmented by lush and colorful fauna. Enjoy beautiful views from anywhere in the restaurant.

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Our seating time allows for the perfect combination of the last of a warm sun, the soft glow of dusk, and an absolutely stunning sunset.

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The drama continues with the lighting of torches surrounding the perimeter of the restaurant, casting a romantic evening glow. Live music from an acoustic guitarist added to the ambiance.

Cane & Canoe's refreshing 'Akala

Cane & Canoe’s refreshing ‘Akala

We settle in with a cocktail. I have the ‘Akala, a soft tea-rose hued mix of vodka, elderflower liqueur, fresh pink grapefruit juice and orange bitters which was refreshing and fresh rather than too-sweet, and my dining companion enjoyed the Early Evening, with mescal, blanco tequila, yellow chartreuse, and lychee.

Our friendly and well-informed server, Stacy, arrives bearing a bread basket of scrumptious and biscuits with Molokai sweet potatoes. The bread is served with unsalted whipped butter topped with course ground black sea salt and a taro leaf, olive oil and garlic pesto. (Taro is ubiquitous in Hawaii, but this is a preparation I’ve never tasted before. Apparently the leaves can be toxic and need to be either soaked or cooked before use. You would think soaking or cooking would detract from the flavor, but it didn’t; the spinach-like fresh flavor just burst from this fabulous pesto.)

Breads arrive with delicious accompaniments.

Starters Not to Be Missed

The entrée items are each enticing, but it’s also true you could put together a marvelous meal from only the Starters and Sides Menu.

The Sous Chefs, Davis and Nathan Hood, are from Charleston, and Chef Viviano adds their version of this mainland Southeast Coast classic to the menu. Four colossal tiger prawns are sautéed with diced Portuguese sausage and grace a plate of white grits cooked over a tomato pan sauce, and garnished with green onion. Cooking the grits in dashi broth adds to the Aloha. Delicious.

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Shrimp and grits; not just a southern favorite.

The Goat Cheese Tempura is a must-have starter. Globes of fresh goat cheese are lightly fried in a thin envelope of tempura batter to create a dish that is so light, they almost float. (Yes, I know. But really.) These beautiful cheese tempura are topped with arugula, lightly dressed in liliko’i (an Hawaiian passionfruit) and orange. The sweetness of the fruit and pepper of the arugula are perfect. The cheese lacks the saltiness I was expecting, and the creaminess and sweetness shines. The cheese is purveyed from the artisan goat cheese producers, Surfing Goat Dairy in Kula.

Light and creamy goat cheese tempura.

A meal in Hawaii is not complete without ahi tuna and Chef Viviano’s is divine. Slices of fresh, raw sashimi-grade Ahi tuna arrive marinated in a citric Japanese ponzu sauce. Dots of wasabi cream complement the fish, and the jalapeno and cilantro garnish add final flavor kick.

Ahi tuna appetizer.

Ahi tuna appetizer.

Creative and Well-Chosen Sips

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Sommelier Vanessa Lampson’s training and travel experience guide her in her recommendations.

Resort Sommelier Vanessa Lampson oversees the wine program and her portfolio  includes wines from France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Lebanon, Argentina, and New Zealand, and from the US; California, Washington, and Oregon. The celebratory and romantic setting definitely calls for bubbles and there’s an extensive selection of champagnes and sparkling wines.

She says, “I select wines that truly represent the place they come from, the philosophy of the grape grower, and the intricacies of the vintage. I prefer wine that is grown without chemicals and has very little added to it, or taken away, during the wine making process. My list is a balance between familiar favorites and a healthy dose of quirky or avante garde wines.”

The beverage menu includes a list of beers from the US, Belgium and Japan, as well as local brews from Maui, Mahana and Kona Brewing companies. The Spanish, French and Oregon aged cider selections and sake options are well-chosen.

After-dinner drinks are hardly afterthoughts. There’s a variety of ports, digestifs, ice wines, and brandies.

Main Courses Excel

Large portions of two perfectly grilled lamb chops has my companion raving, although he generously shares some of this “cut through like butter” flavor-packed dish. Surfing Goat cheese makes a second appearance in the accompanying cheese-potato gratin. A ratatouille of vegetables sourced from Maui’s upcountry and a gremolata with macadamia nuts tops off the dish.

With the lamb chops, Lampson recommends a 2013 Saint-Joseph Nicolas Badel, from Rhone. It’s a subtly spicy Syrah balanced with blackberries, with tannins meaty enough to complement the lamb chops.

Grilled lamb chops are delicious.

My grilled swordfish appears on a medley of red and white potatoes and caramelized onions. A light cream sauce is added to the plate at the table, allowing the potatoes and fish to retain their own flavors. The flavorful swordfish is meaty, sweet and perfectly succulent.

A glass of Monte Tondo Soave Classico, has wonderful initial florals full-bodied zesty flavors and a long finish that held up wonderfully with the firm-fleshed swordfish.

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A Perfect Finish

Cane & Canoe panna cotta with coconut cream and passionfruit puree.

Cane & Canoe panna cotta with coconut cream and passionfruit puree.

We are more than happily sated, but remind one another how active we’d been all day and manage to say “yes” to sharing the panna cotta. Chef Viviano’s take on this classic includes a mild coconut whipped cream and a layer of passion fruit puree that just popped with delightful fresh flavor.

With a cup of well-brewed Hawaiian grown and roasted black coffee, the dessert is the perfect finish to our best meal in Maui.

Celebrating Fresh, Locally Sourced Ingredients

Executive Chef David Viviano is committed to fresh, locally sourced ingredients. In addition to Surfing Goat, he works with Local Harvest, Kumu Farms, Napili Flo and Valley Isle Seafood and others.

“We highlight Hawaii’s best products,” he says. “Honey from Lahaina, eggs from Launiopoko, finger limes from the Big Island, heirloom tomatoes from Kula, Kauai prawns, Kona lobster, and papayas from Molokai are a few of the many local ingredients we use on a daily basis.”

Viviano heads the operations for the resort’s other restaurants, market, in-residence and private dining. He brings twenty years of experience in fine dining; cooking, menu creation and managing culinary programs. He says, “Working in San Francisco early in my culinary career shaped who I am a chef. Having access to such wonderful products from artisan farmers was truly inspiring. I look to recreate this experience for my guests by highlighting Maui’s finest ingredients. ”

At Cane and Canoe, these exceptional ingredients are brought together with experienced culinary technique to create a wonderful evening out. Aloha!

The restaurant and grounds at night.

The restaurant and grounds at night.

The resort's Sunset Room, available for events or private dining.

The resort’s Cliff House, available for events or private events and dining.


-All photos by Nancy Zaffaro.

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