Taverna, one of Maui’s newest restaurants, opened at Kapalua Resort a few weeks ago and like many hotspots, hit the ground running. Located in the former Vino space adjacent to the Kapalua Visitor Center, it benefits from daily visitor traffic, but on the weekends you’ll see the place buzzing with local patrons, as well.
We tried it recently on high recommendations from our foodie friends on Maui’s west side.
The dining room is open and airy, it feels even more spacious than it is. I’m guessing they have it this way so they can move tables for large events and have it flow out to the patio.
On any given night, you’ll find most of the patrons at the huge bar area. This photo doesn’t really capture how large it is! And they’re not just drinking; halfway through the night, Taverna had served 121 dinners, of which 78 were at the bar.
These guys are veterans of the Maui restaurant business, so bringing Taverna to life was done right. Their resumes are so extensive, it would take up half this blog, so click here to see their backgrounds. From left, principal partner Chris Kaiwi and operations manager Greg Shepherd. The kitchen was so slammed that chef Roger Stettler couldn’t come out for a photo.
Just kidding! Greg dragged me into the kitchen to risk my life making Roger smile. I did want you to see the man behind the menu, as you’ll find real Italian fare infused with local ingredients wherever possible. Roger was extra stressed out at Taverna’s initial opening, as his Italian mom flew over to see him unveil his project and wanted to see if his cooking was authentic. (She proudly approved of it.)
Greg worked on creating 10 specialty handcrafted cocktails, six spritzers and three negronis in addition to their extensive wine and beer menu. These are two of the cocktails, which were very refreshing. I expected the My Tai to have its own flair, as many local bartenders put their interpretive twists on this classic drink, but it was much more than that. It packs a punch with two kinds of rum and has a beautiful balance of fruity flavors and a hint of nuttiness. I expected the Liquid Assets to be very vegetal, as many cucumber drinks are, but it was surprisingly hefty on the palate, with a kind of savoriness brought out by the Salers (a French aperitif), lime, and lemon basil. These drinks are at resort prices, but are meant for sipping while enjoying conversation and that view.
The seafood salad is a plate full of tender island fish, tako, lobster, shrimp and scallop with arugula tossed in a white balsamic emulsion, micro basil and fried capers. Make sure you get a caper in each bite — the seafood tastes good on its own, but awesome with the capers, which offer the right amount of saltiness and tartness.
I usually try to eat whatever is listed on the menu so you can see what a new restaurant is serving, but we couldn’t resist the fig and prosciutto special. It’s super simple, with fresh figs, prosciutto, balsamic, olive oil and micro greens. Nuff said.
Carb lovers need to order the house bread, which is a fresh, warm slab of fluffy focaccia. They serve it with olive oil and salt on the side so you can sprinkle and dip as you please (don’t be shame to ask for your own olive oil dish!). My friend Julie Yoneyama, who avoids carbs, couldn’t stop eating this and even took leftovers home.
The lasagna seems a little expensive at $24, but it is very good. The oozy layers of pasta have beef bolognese, tomato sauce, béchamel, mozzarella and parmesan cheese. We loved how the cheese is burnt perfectly around the edges!
The veal osso buco is served on carnaroli risotto and topped with a gremolata with a bit of ginger, which we thought gave it a slight Asian twist. This dish is very rich, so be sure to have a good wine with it to balance it out. It’s so tender, you can use the marrow spoon to eat it. And the marrow is perfect when slathered on that fluffy focaccia!
I had initially wanted to order this: a grilled T-bone steak with roasted cipollini onions, arugula, lemon and truffle oil. When I saw it in the kitchen, it smelled so wonderful that I couldn’t help but want it. But you can see that it’s also pretty huge. I wouldn’t mind splitting this with a couple of other people, next time.
They don’t have an extensive dessert menu, which isn’t a big deal because most people will be too full by the time they get to that point. Our waitress had to talk us into something light, like the tiramisu. I liked the strong flavors soaked into the lady fingers, but be aware that this does have espresso in it, for those of you sensitive to caffeine (I’m not, but many people are).
Taverna takes walk-in customers, but on a weekend night, I’d highly recommend reservations. “We’ve exceeded our expectations,” Chris said with wild eyes, looking at the bustling dining room. “We’re so grateful for the support we’ve gotten from the community.”
Taverna is open daily for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; mid-day at the bar from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m., and dinner from 5:30 p.m. until closing. They offer an ala carte Italian brunch on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
2000 Village Rd.
To see Julie Yoneyama’s blog about this restaurant, click here.