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First Bites: Taverna

Taverna Polpette $12 Beef and Pancetta Meat balls, Chunky Tomato Sauce, Grilled Ciabatta.
Taverna, located at 2000 Village Road in Kapalua serves Italian-inspired lunch and dinner.
Taverna, located at 2000 Village Road in Kapalua serves Italian-inspired lunch and dinner.
A few months ago (March 14th to be exact) Taverna opened its doors in West Maui. I decided to give it some time to work out the kinks and hash out the glitches, before dining and reviewing this notable hotspot. The rustic urban interior blends well with the open-air location facing Kapalua Golf Course. We were greeted with warm smiles and lots of energy then immediately seated at a table overlooking the rolling green hills. Our server was knowledgable, personable and gave us time to look over the menu.

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First up — the drinks. You’re paying luxury prices for these cocktails but they are not messing around. Handcrafted and composed with the finest liquor and freshest ingredients these well thought out recipes were the highlight of the night. I am a drinker of clear liquids so I went for the Liquid Assets which was delicious and I sipped on it all night. The My Tai was a new spin on an old favorite and the flavors layered nicely. Lost in Translation had a great combination that paired well with the appetizers. You can also checkout their 20+ craft beers (starting at $6) and fine wines.

Now on to the food. I gotta say there were some hits and misses. There are two items I would definitely return for but you’ll have to read on to find out what those are. Here’s a look at the Beef Carpaccio. A staple in most Italian restaurants, this was good portion size but under seasoned. The paper-thin slices of elegant beef were topped off with arugula and parmesan cheese. However, the dish needed more acid and salt & pepper to bring out the flavors of the appetizer. The olive oil was sparse and the lemon nonexistent.

Beef Carpaccio $15 Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Meyer Lemon, Arugula, Shaved Parmesan.
Beef Carpaccio $15 Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Meyer Lemon, Arugula, Shaved Parmesan.

Absolutely loved the meatballs. These perfectly cooked polpettes of ground beef and pancetta were amazing. The chunky marinara complimented the dish perfectly and satisfied my craving for tomato sauce. Also, the grilled toast was light, crisp and the perfect tool for mopping up the sauce and whatever else remained in the hot bowl of yummy goodness.

Taverna Polpette $12 Beef and Pancetta Meat balls, Chunky Tomato Sauce, Grilled Ciabatta.
Taverna Polpette $12 Beef and Pancetta Meatballs, Chunky Tomato Sauce, Grilled Ciabatta.

Delicate, crisp and tasty. The seafood appetizer, Fritto Misto, was a perfect combo of creamy, acid, crunch and bite from the arugula. The tomato jam was hidden underneath but you didn’t really need it since the seafood was drizzled with lemon aioli.

Fritto Misto $14 Fried Shrimp, Calamari, Arugula Spicy Tomato Jam and Lemon Aioli.
Fritto Misto $14 Fried Shrimp, Calamari, Arugula Spicy Tomato Jam and Lemon Aioli.

Hello bread-lovers! The house-made foccacia bread is a winner! It’s crisp on the outside, warm, chewy, light and airy on the inside. It comes with olive oil and Hawaiian salt, but we got a side of marinara and that was the perfect combination using the bread to dip in the tomato sauce. Do it!

Woodstone Oven Baked House Bread with Maui Olive Co. Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Hawaiian Salt $5
Woodstone Oven Baked House Bread with Maui Olive Co. Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Hawaiian Salt $5

There’s a T-Bone Steak under there I promise. It was a hefty size and topped with a generous helping or arugula. I believe arugula might be the favorite green/garnish here. The steak was perfectly cooked, and didn’t have too much in the way of seasoning, and was rather basic. It didn’t come with any sauces, or bells and whistles, except lemon and apparently truffle oil, which we couldn’t taste. If you are a steak purist this is for you, but again this may have benefitted from some salt and pepper to enhance the natural flavors.

Bistecca alla Florentina $35 Grilled T-Bone Steak, Roasted Onions, Arugula, Lemon and Truffle Oil.
Bistecca alla Florentina $35 Grilled T-Bone Steak, Roasted Onions, Arugula, Lemon and Truffle Oil.

I am noticing  a trend here with some of the dishes that could use improvement, they are all really simple and a bit under seasoned. The Branzino was light, flaky, moist and perfectly cooked. We opted for some pasta instead of potatoes and the side of marinara helped add more flavor.

Pan Roasted Branzino $29 Lemon Brown Butter, Parsley, sub potatoes with Pasta and Broccolini.
Pan Roasted Branzino $29 Lemon Brown Butter, Parsley, sub potatoes with Pasta and Broccolini.

I love a great carbonara! Typically you have the egg yolk on top, some bacon, pepper and cheese, this version was similar to an alfredo with its super creamy cheese sauce. It was a huge portion, one that I could barely eat half of, and was very tasty but a bit rich for my palate and stomach.

Spaghetti Carbonara $23 Pancetta, Farm Fresh Egg, Cream and Parmesan Cheese.
Spaghetti Carbonara $23 Pancetta, Farm Fresh Egg, Cream and Parmesan Cheese.

The pasta special of the evening was a house-made pappardelle with crab meat and shrimp. The portion again was very generous, but something about the sauce was overwhelming. There was a star anise/licorice/sweet flavor that was very strong, perhaps from the vodka in the sauce.

Pasta Special: House-Made Pappardelle, Crab, Shrimp and Pau Vodka crema rossa sauce.
Pasta Special: House-Made Pappardelle, Crab, Shrimp and Pau Vodka crema rossa sauce.

Honestly, we were too full to order anything else and desserts looked appealing but we just couldn’t fit it in.

Overall, the venue is spectacular, the service is wonderful and the portions are good. I think there needs to be some fine tuning of the menu and perhaps a refocus on balance and how to enhance the dishes. I would definitely return for a cocktail, some meatballs and the bread!

Promotional Considerations:
Inter-Island Travel for Olena is brought to you by Island Air.
Travel Accommodations provided by Maui Coast Hotel.

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About Olena Heu

Olena is Executive Editor, Food & Lifestyle at MAUIWatch. The founder of Olena Heu Communications, a social media, digital marketing, consulting and freelance writing company, Olena holds a BA and MA in Communication and Speech from Hawaii Pacific University. An adjunct professor, lecturer and motivational speaker Olena is also an award winning journalist, writer, photographer and avid traveler.

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