I really wish I could remember the name of our favorite valet at the Grand Wailea. He really gave us some great tips on places to eat during our stay on Maui. One place that he told us about early during our visit was a place in Kihei called Cuatro. He categorized it as a "boutique restaurant" with a fusion of Pacific, Latin and Mediterranean cuisines. He told us, "I think it's the best place to eat in the area. And there are some pretty good places to eat around here." On our last full night on Maui and in Hawaii, we took him up on his recommendation and had dinner at Cuatro.
Cuatro has been in business less than two years. The owner/chef of the restaurant is Eric Arbogast (left), who is a veteran of many Maui restaurants. The last place he worked at was at the Sansei on Maui, which just happens to be next door in the Kihei Town Center shopping complex (see map). With the help of Sansei's owner, Dave "D.K." Kodama, Arbogast opened his restaurant in late 2008. In 2009, it was voted "Best New Restaurant" by readers of the Maui News.
We were told by our valet friend at the Grand Wailea that we really needed reservations to Cuatro as it was a tiny place that sat less than 40 people total. I called the restaurant the afternoon before we ate there and requested a table for two around 7:30. The man on the end of the phone said, "I can do 7 p.m., but may have trouble at 7:30." I told him 7:00 p.m. would be fine.
We were actually a little early for our reservation, but the manager, Brad, seated us at a table in the corner of the cozy little restaurant. We were given menus and told that our waiter would be with us shortly. Our waiter, a 50-something man by the name of George, stopped by to greet us and to let us know he'd be with us shortly. There was something strangely familiar about George. It was like I had known him at some point in my life, he looked so familiar.
George came back with a sampling of something Eric Arbogast had come up with in the kitchen, homemade won ton chips with a spicy mango salsa. It was very good, a pleasant surprise to start our meal at Cuatro.
The name Cuatro comes from the term Puerto Ricans call a four-string guitar, similar to an ukulele. In the 1800's, a number of Puerto Ricans emigrated to Hawaii and Cuatro pays homage to the Puerto Rican heritage that is found throughout the Hawaiian Islands.
George told us about the food at Cuatro - it features a strong Southwestern and Mexican influence, blending bits of Asia, the Mediterranean and Hawaiian cuisines within. He said, "A lot of people thought our chef was nuts when he blended all these cuisines together, but I think you'll find that he does a pretty good job of pulling it off."
George heartily recommended one of Cuatro's number of interesting appetizers. The spicy tuna nachos had already caught my eye. He said, "The won ton chips that I brought out to you earlier? We take those same chips and add spicy sushi-grade tuna and then we drizzle some aioli truffle sauce, Latin cilantro and an avacado relish on top." I told him it sounded great. "It is," he replied in a matter of fact way. We signed up for one of those.
We were looking through the very small wine list at Cuatro. George said that up until about a year ago, it was a "Bring-Your-Own-Bottle" place. "We don't have much room here for much of a wine selection. So the ones we have on our limited menu are top-notch." I ended up ordering a Kris Pinot Grigio out of Italy that turned out to be a great compliment to our meal that evening.
While we waited on our appetizer, we looked through the menu and our mouth watered at all the selections. Their feature item is a fresh "catch-of-the-day" and you have your choice of preparation - 1) House style (blackened with Mexican spices topped with a beurre blanc - French for "white butter" - sauce and salsa verde, served with fresh veggies, rice pilaf with an avacado pico de gallo.) 2) Maui-terranean style (grilled fish topped with a basil infused beurre blanc sauce and a balsamic syrup, served with garlic mashed potatoes and a tomato-caper relish.) 3) Roasted style (fish roasted with chopped tomatoes, onions, garlic, and peppers, served with a basmati pilaf with fresh veggies.) And 4) Classic style (sauteed with rock shrimp in a lemon caper butter sauce, served with white truffled mashed potatoes and steamed asparagus.) Each way sounded delicious.
Cuatro also featured a teriyaki marinated steak, a Mexican-style marinated pork entree and roasted chicken breast stuffed with green chiles, ham and pepper jack cheese. Oh, man! I could have ordered anything prepared any way on the menu and been overly happy. It all sounded so good and so interesting.
Our spicy tuna nachos came out and they were everything George promised they would be. The spicy tuna was fresh and wonderful, the won ton chips were light and crispy, just like the ones we had gotten as a welcoming gesture from George, and the cilantro pesto and avacado relish for dipping was just outstanding. I could have easily ordered up a couple more of those, the spicy tuna nachos were so good. And the sauces that we either dipped or put on top of the won ton chips and spicy tuna were outstanding, as well. I couldn't decide with sauce I liked the best.
George let us know that they had two fresh caught fish featured that evening - mahi mahi and ahi tuna. I normally don't eat chicken when we go out to a restaurant, but I really was intrigued by the stuffed chicken breast. But I then realized that I could probably make something like that at home. And when would I be back in Hawaii to have such fresh fish? I decided to get the ahi tuna - house style. Cindy didn't hesitate when he told us the fish selections - she got the mahi mahi, roasted with the veggies and served with the basmati.
Cuatro was very busy and packed. Brad, the manager, greeted a number of people who were obviously regulars to the place. It had a nice, homey feel to the place. The lighting was subdued, but bright enough so you could easily read the menu and get a gander at your meal. Other than the view of the parking lot of the strip mall, the restaurant was a great little place.
George brought out our main entrees and we dug in. The ahi tuna was cooked exactly as I like - seared with a lot pink inside. Large cilantro leaves garnished the top of the fish. The blackened Mexican spices gave the fish a mighty kick on the taste buds, but not over-powering so you couldn't enjoy the taste. Putting a little of the avacado pico de gallo on the fish helped tame the spiciness. It was actually pretty good. The beurre blanc sauce gave the ahi tuna a nice finish, as well. I had an adequate helping of steamed green beans and healthy amount of rice on the plate. I was much more interested in the fish.
Cindy's mahi mahi (above at right) was - in her words - "out of this world." The combination of the tomatoes, onions, garlic and roasted peppers helped enhance the taste of the fish. She also got a nice garnish of cilantro on top. She was overly happy with what she got.
As we finished up the meal, George came out with a dessert menu. Actually, we were pretty stuffed but he described this dessert where they take vanilla ice cream, top it with crushed macadamia nuts, then drizzled with a butterscotch topping, then they finalize it off by putting fresh raspberries, blackberries and blueberries with sliced bananas on top of all that. Cindy gave me that look of "C'mon! Let's try that!" Cindy finally said, "We'll take that with two spoons."
I'm glad she ordered it because it was wonderful. I'm a sucker for anything with butterscotch on it. I developed a taste and a strong liking of macadamia nuts while in Hawaii. And blueberries with ice cream is one of my all-time guilty pleasures. I don't care for bananas, so I let Cindy eat the banana slices. But the rest of it was outstanding. A wonderful end to a wonderful meal.
George, our waiter, spent some time with us as we were getting ready to leave. I told him that he looked so familiar and I tried to tie us together at some point in our lives. He lived in San Diego for years before moving his family out to Hawaii about 14 years ago. I asked him if he had ever been in the audio business, if he'd ever done this or that, but nothing was coming up. He said, "I guess I'm one of those unique characters where people think they know me from somewhere, but they really don't." His overall service and table demeanor were both excellent. He got a handsome tip from us.
The next afternoon as we were leaving the hotel, our favorite valet happened to be out front. I walked up to him and handed him a $10 dollar bill and thanked him for all his great suggestions for restaurants while we were there. I told him that we had made it to Cuatro the night before. "How did you like it," he asked.
I told him, "We've eaten at a lot of great restaurants on our trip to Hawaii. But Cuatro may have been the best of them all."
He said, "I'm glad you enjoyed it."
I shook his hand, wished him good luck and told him we hoped to see him again. We got in the car and drove away.
And with that, our trip to Hawaii came to an all too rapid end.