Friday, May 18, 2012

Mala Ocean Tavern

Mark and Judy Ellman, who owned the memorable Avalon Restaurant some years ago, gutted a small restaurant space on the water near Mala Wharf and created a sophisticated, light-filled restaurant/bar. A menu statement explains the concept: small plates, organic whenever possible, whole grains, no preservatives, no hydrogenated oils and everything in proportion. A popular spot for weddings and special events, Mala Ocean Tavern highlights fresh seafood using Mediterranean flavors and style with their fun small plates presentation, but the menu has somewhat of an identity crisis with its mixed Italian and Asian cuisine.


After checking out the quaint shops in Lahaina, we watched the beautiful sun set over the ocean and then headed down the road to Mala Ocean Tavern for dinner.  Although we had reservations, the place was packed and we were asked to wait at the bar until a table opened up.  Keith requested a table outside, overlooking the ocean, but the hostess informed us that would be an extra one to two hour wait. Since it was already 8pm, we said we'd take the first availability.  I ordered a glass of sangria from the bar while Keith sipped on a Mai Tai.  My sangria was sweet and sour and strong enough to last me the whole night.  Eventually we were seated at a tiny table and nibbled on their take on chips and salsa with a healthy twist of added edamame paste.  The menu was peppered with healthier options like edamame, flax seed, and brown rice.  But it was confusing with these healthy ingredients infused into Italian cheese starters next to Chinese-style preparations next to Mediterranean hummus platters.  I was not sure what the restaurant's point of view was.

We ordered one of the specials to start as I am a huge fan of burrata cheese, even though Keith was somewhat skeptical if this classic caprese dish with its Italian flavors would merge well with the rest of our meal.  But we decided to go for it and also ordered ahi tartare which came with light pieces of lettuce instead of chips.  The tartare had too many onion chunks and the flax seed on top was odd - not my favorite interpretation.  For our main meal, we shared a whole sea bass that was fried in a wok with Chinese flavors of black bean sauce and garlic.  This was the most cluttered dish of the evening as the ginger and mushrooms and other vegetables jumbled in the sauce and overpowered the white fish.  Additionally, the mixture of brown rice and mashed potatoes created a gluey mess underneath the fish.  To try and lighten things up, we ordered a side of cucumber salad which provided a refreshing crunch to round out the odd meal.  I appreciated the fresh ingredients and healthy emphasis, but the convoluted menu did not work for me.  Their saving grace is the friendly service with a lot of "aloha" and beautiful location - but book ahead of time and ask for lanai seating to be able to enjoy the view.

Total Rating: 3.875
Food: 4, Price: 3, Service: 4, Ambience: 5, Accessibility: 3.5

What I ate:

Edamame Paste with Salsa
served with tortilla chips

Mark's Ahi Tartare
Tomato Relish, Tobiko Caviar & Flax Seed Lavosh
served with lettuce wraps

Burrata with Tomatoes, Basil, and Dried Figs
served with flax seed bread

Whole Wok Fried Sea Bass
Ginger Garlic Black Bean Sauce, Shiitakes, Tomatoes & Snap Peas
served with brown rice and mashed potatoes

Cucumber Salad


Mala Ocean Tavern on Urbanspoon

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