More than 300,000 people pour into Maui Ocean Center in Maalaea every year to tour its amazing aquarium and other marine attractions. Many enjoy dining at its signature Seascape Ma'alaea Restaurant or the more casual Coffee Cart kiosk.
"Admission is not required to dine in the restaurant," says Maui Ocean Center's public relations coordinator Kelsey Daimon. "Just use the sidewalk entrance located on the side of the aquarium."
In addition, "Admission to the Maui Ocean Treasure store is complimentary and entry is through the aquarium's front gate," Daimon continues.
Chef Henry Tariga puts sustainable seafood and more on the tables at the open-air, harbor-front restaurant in Maalaea that’s open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily.
The Maui News / CARLA TRACY photo
Through Monday, shoppers get 35 percent off holiday themed items, and then from Tuesday to Dec. 31, it's 50 percent off. I say, forget about the big-box stores, and enjoy leisurely shopping and a gourmet lunch here.
The gift shop offers a nice selection of Hawaiian coffees, candies, cooking oils, jams and jellies, gourmet sea salts, spices, cutting boards and platters.
As for Seascape, it abides by Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program, serving only sustainable seafood, and it's easy on the pocketbook.
Not only is the menu quality driven with the freshest of island ingredients, but there are plenty of options, harbor and ocean views, and tables that are spread wide apart for your privacy and comfort.
"We purchase locally grown veggies and fresh fish, and many of our herbs come from local vendors," says Chef Henry Tariga, a James Beard Award nominee who works in a team with chefs Ronald Caban, Arsenio "Jun" Jose and Mae Sawamura. "The restaurant is also starting an herb garden with everything from garlic chives to rosemary to purple basil," he adds.
The team just added some new menu items such as seared ahi bruschetta, mushroom ravioli in balsamic-butter glaze, calamari and quinoa salad over a bed of baby spinach and other fresh vegetables; teriyaki chicken with furikake-dusted jasmine rice, kim chee and petit salad; and calamari steak with caper-garlic beurre blanc.
My calamari entree was flavorful: tender and moist on the inside and crunchy on the outside. My sister raved about the hanapa'a fresh fish and shrimp special with salmon mousse over angel-hair pasta in lemon-cream sauce that will also be served on Christmas Day.
Baby-back ribs are slow cooked with mango-and-hoisin barbecue sauce; and local-boy subs come in a duo with bay shrimp salad and dill mayo piled on one loaf and crab and lobster on the other one.
"They're soft French rolls, and you get one of each," says Chef Tariga. "And we serve the fall-off-the-bone ribs with Kula vegetables sauteed in butter and fresh garlic. We also have a signature Seascape salad, served with basil Louie, our own version of Thousand Island dressing piled with cajun seared ahi, snow crab and shrimp."
If you do decide to check out the aquarium, just ask your server to assist with purchase for your admission. Now the countdown is on for the "12 Days of FISH-mas," and "Scuba Claus" dives daily at 11 a.m. and his underwater elf appears at 3 p.m. through Christmas.
Drink specials include the Candy Cane shake, banana-nut latte and Santa's Sleigh Ride, while Mrs. Claus' dessert is a warm brownie with seasonal ice cream such as peppermint, and whipped cream.
"Take time out of your busy holiday schedule and join us for lunch," says Food and Beverage Manager Shannon Blakely. "Besides our new menu items, you may enjoy our delicious holiday-themed food and drink specials through the '12 Days of FISH-mas.' "
Reservations are optional at Seascape. Call 270-7068.