Travels in Maui – The Road to Paia: Day 6

This is Day 6 of our Maui adventure, to read Day 1, go here.

Sleeping in is nice. Of course our definition of sleeping in while in Hawaii meant getting up shortly after the sun came up instead of before. Lots of coffee since it was time to say goodbye to Halemano, for today we would be setting off to Paia!
Goodbye Halemano! Thank you for all the memories!

We set out early to Paia. The morning brought heavy rain. Flooding everywhere. 5 days of perfect weather and then on the one day we would be driving the rain comes. Such luck! We passed the Seven Sacred Pools on the way out and it was closed due to flash floods. On the bridge we stopped and shot some pictures.
The Seven Sacred Pools after heavy rainfall

As you can see the "pools" had been transformed into raging waterfalls. Rains like these are dangerous as they come fast and heavy causing water levels to rise without warning. Many signs are posted in the park warning of the dangers of such situations. It is very easy to get caught the flash floods and swept out to sea. The park would no doubt be closed today. Thankfully we had seen all there was to see at the park!

Waterfalls sprung up everywhere. The mountains had been transformed by the rain. As we drove further the rain got heavier and the roads started to change. We were inching along at 10 mph on a journey that would take 3 hours at 60. It was going to be a long drive. About half of the road to Hana was one lane and we didn't know what to expect on the "Road to Paia".

Below is a map of the road we traveled on into Hana.

Map of the road to Hana

The "Road to Hana" was long and the last 1/4 of it was dirt road and one lane. A small fraction of the "road to Hana" is right up on a sea cliff with no visibility around curves. The road is not for the faint of heart. Going the wrong speeds or driving blindly into a turn could be fatal. One of the things that we left out on our previous postings is that we were involved in a small accident on the "Road to Hana". We came face to face with a tour bus going the opposite direction on a one lane road at a blind curve. While they had traffic behind them we had none, and there was no where for them to go. If there had been traffic behind us, things would have been much worst. In order to get out of the predicament, we had to maneuver the car into a small pocket to allow everyone to pass through. A guard railing that was protecting us from going over the seacliff got caught on the car back bumper. Our rental car got scratched up pretty badly in the process. Luckily I had predicted the need for rental insurance. I was expecting drunk drivers though, not impassable roads.

With all this in mind, we had no idea what to expect for the "road to Paia" which continues on the other side of the island.
Map of Road to Paia

The "Road to Paia" was said to be just as difficult to drive through as the road to Hana. The road to Paia is also the more popular route into Hana, which meant we would be fighting more traffic head on. How many times would we have to stop to let opposite traffic pass? It was unknown, but our research had told us that one laned roads and bridges were the norm. For those who don't know, when stuck on a one lane road in the middle of nowhere, the only recourse is to tuck yourself into a tiny pocket and wait for everyone to pass. Patience and courtesy is needed.

It doesn't help that the bridges are old and appear fragile with the weight limits stenciled in large block letters across the sides.
One of the one laned bridges we hit on the road to Paia.

The journey doesn't get any better when dealing with heavy rainfall and the mountain that you share the road with is falling apart right in front of you.
The mountain falling into the road
Mr. Mountain's new bald spot and the mud washing over the road.

Once again I was thankful to have rented an SUV. The clearance needed to get around some of the mud and debris in the road would not have worked with an economy car.

Thankfully, we weren't in any hurry. There was still lots to see, even with the rain. The Road to Paia is just as captivating as the Road to Hana. It was a different side of the island with rain instead of wind. Tall trees instead of rolling hills. The scenery changed from oceanside drives to forest drives and back again.
A drive with a view.
Eventually we broke through the rain and the weather went from gloomy to just cloudy. The drive is a trip in itself and worth every moment of it. We highly recommend taking a day to experience it. Make sure you have a full tank, empty bladder, and some snacks, as there isn't many places to stop.

Our destination was the modern studio apartment located in Haiku, which we found on By its placement on google maps appeared to be isolated. It wasn't hard to find, as it was located right off the road to Paia. The owners of the property lived at the location as well and we had emailed them ahead of time to let them know we were on the way. They were away for the day but had left the modern studio apartment unlocked for us, so we let ourselves in.

Two of the biggest concerns about renting a house where the owners are next door is two things, will the homeowners be a nuisance? And will the house be as clean and well kept. The price for the apartment per night was one of the cheapest we saw on that offered our own private "home". This was the last leg of our trip, and all we really wanted was a clean and comfortable place to sleep for our last three nights on the island.
The studio bedroom and kitchen
Our own private bathroom!

The best part was having our very own private bathroom with hot water on demand. No more awkward greetings while sitting on the throne in the morning. No more freezing cold showers. The apartment had an outdoor shower which was enclosed.

Just our luck, as soon as we arrived at the Modern Studio, the weather cleared.
The view from the porch of the modern studio apartment.

Settled in and rested, it was time for some GRUB! We were a bit concerned about the location of the Modern Studio apartment. The location on the map showed it in the middle of nowhere, but turns out we were a simple ten minute drive from Paia.

Paia is an awesome little town. It's small, cozy, full of character and colors. Once we arrived we quickly searched for one of the most talked about restaurants in Paia:
Paia Fish Market

The Paia Fish Market restaurant. It was easy to find, just look for the place with the line out the door in the center of the town. The restaurant has picnic style seating with everyone crammed into the restaurant like a sardines in a can. Not sure what the seating limits were but the place was definitely filled to capacity since all the tables were full and the line was full as well. It was a long wait in line, a longer wait to find a seat, and even longer wait to receive our food.
The Ono Burger and Seafood Chowder

We ordered the ono burger to share which came with home fried potatoes. The potatoes were a bit soggy but the best part of the meal. The one burger was expensive and to be perfectly honest, a waste of a perfectly good Ono Filet. The cheese tasted like it had been shredded a few days ago, dry and old. There was no sauce or seasoning on the burger. The fish filet itself was perfectly fine, but ruined by the subpar components of the burger.

We also had a bowl of seafood chowder which was gritty and bland. All in all, Paia Fish Market was one of the most disappointing experiences we had in Maui. It wasn't worth the long wait in line, and definitely not worth the cost. Better food can be found at Eskimo Candy in Kihei and Coconut's Fish Cafe in Kihei. There are also many other restaurants in Paia, but we didn't get a chance to try them.

Paia Fish Market had one saving grace. BEER!
Maui Brewing Company

We ordered a drink to calm the nerves at lunch and the beer was very tasty. Ended up searching for more at a local grocery store to see what other brews the company offered. Wonderful beer. If we ever come back to Maui we will make a point of visiting the Maui Brewing Company Brewery and Pub in Maui.

In the end, we would not visit Paia Fish Market Restaurant ever again, but don't let one restaurant alter your view of Paia. Paia is a beautiful small town, and offers many great places to stroll through after lunch to window shop and admire the ocean view. If there was one place in Maui that would be nice to call home, it would be Paia. Sure, Hana is amazing, but there isn't much to be found out there. Paia offered a bit more civilization.
Paia main street.

The cool thing about Paia is all of the activity going on. We stopped on the way back to watch the windsurfers and kitesurfers off the highway.
Watching the kitesurfers off the highway.

It's easy to lose track of time in Paia. Watching all the activity going on can be a hypnotizing, lazy-day experience. Ships in the distance crossing the horizon, windsurfers and kitesurfers jumping the waves, people going from one place to another like ants in the sand. Before we knew it, the time had come to head back to the house and get ready for dinner. Our first fancy meal since Wailea-Makena.

For dinner we made the 30 minute drive to Kihei for some sushi! This was one of the restaurants we had planned to dine at before the trip even started. Coming from the dry and barren desert where fresh seafood is hard to come by, we love to make a point of visiting popular seafood or sushi restaurants. It just happened that Sansei offered both!
Sansei seafood restaurant and sushi bar

Now it is worth noting that Sansei is the topic of much debate when it comes to sushi. It isn't traditional sushi and the chefs take a lot of creative freedom when it comes to crafting their dishes. This is not the place to come if you are looking for traditional sushi. We were intrigued and curious so we arrived early (before the doors opened) to get a spot at the popular restaurant. Since it was a Thursday we didn't expect to need reservations. It was  good thing we showed up early. The line had already formed before the doors even opened. If you like to eat late or you don't want to wait in line, MAKE A RESERVATION! This is a very popular location and fills up quickly.

The good news is, being one of the first few in the door we were quickly seated. Right away I ordered some traditional sushi to give it a try.
The required food groups Maguro (tuna), Hamachi (yellowtail), Sake (salmon), and Tako (octopus).

There's no better feeling than stunning and fresh sushi with a bit of wasabi, ginger, and soy sauce hitting your tongue. The pieces were all masterfully prepared. The rice was perfect and the fish was cool and fresh. It can be difficult to tell how fresh fish is as flavors can be masked but tako is always a quick indication of how well a sushi bar takes care of its products. Tako takes a bit of prep and if not fresh has very rubbery texture to it. The tako, along with the other fish, was heavenly.

While we enjoyed our sushi dishes we went over the drink lists. Sasnei offers some really neat mixed hot sake: Purple Haze with Raspberry Liqueur, Golden Haze with Grand Marnier, and Almond Haze with Amaretto. An order of the Purple Haze was placed.
Sake - Purple Haze with Raspberry Liqueur

We try to make a point of asking our waiter/waitress at any restaurant what they recommend. Not the specials, but what they think is the highlight of the restaurant. This sometimes gives us a bit more insight on the strength of the restaurant. It's also nice to get someone's opinion who handles the food on a daily basis and can lead to some interesting unlisted menu options. Sometimes they will just go directly to the specials. Either way, we make a point of ordering the recommendation without debate. This gives us a taste of some of the popular foods at the restaurant without giving in to our own cravings for the day. It helps to establish the baseline and make sure that our expectations of the restaurant aren't skewed by our odd dining habits.

Our waitress pointed us to the specials so we placed the order as per their recommendation.
Tempura Butterfish Belly with mixed greens and a spicy miso sauce.

The waitress explained that this was their popular dish and very good. Unfortunately, I am not sure if she was pushing for the sale or if it was just a bad day to be Tempura Butterfish Belly, but the dish was borderline disgusting. We were unable to finish it. I am not familiar with butterfish but from my experience with fish it tasted as if it had not been properly drained of water. The tempura came out wet and soggy like bread dipped in water. The spicy miso sauce was visible on the dish, but tasteless. The fish was unappetizing due the amount of liquid and moisture trapped underneath the panko.

The next dish was proclaimed to be the award winning "Taste of Lahiana" dish. After a brief internet search, "the Taste of Lahaina" is an event showcasing music and food, where restaurants showcase their signature samples, but I am unsure if the restaurants are in competition against each other or only against their other samples. It is also unclear of who picks the winning dishes. The event normally takes place in September.
Panko-crusted Fresh Ahi Sashimi - island fresh ahi tuna wrapped with arugula and spinach, panko crusted and flash fried; served with a soy wasabi butter sauce.

Remember how I said this was not traditional sushi? We attempt to keep that in mind while tasting the Panko crusted Sashimi. I'll admit it is a bit difficult not to judge it as a sushi dish. It looks like sushi. It tastes somewhat like sushi. It is presented as sushi.

It was... odd. The dish was well made, the tempura was crunchy and crispy. The tuna was stunning, the arugula and spinach were both fresh. The sauce didn't lend much to the taste but it was an awkward combination. Well cooked, well prepared, fresh ingredients, but we were left feeling unsure of its place. The bitterness of the spinach and arugula distracted from the other flavors of the dish. It wasn't a traditional seafood dish, nor was it a traditional sushi dish. The dish in all respects was very well prepared.

I wouldn't order it again. Was it worth a try? Possibly. Perhaps it needed a different seasoning or sauce. If you are feeling adventurous, give it a try, but dive in with an open mind.

After tasting the two dishes recommended for the seafood side of the restaurant we decided to try the sushi route but leaning more on the raw side. One of the big disappointments with American sushi is the direction towards "cooked" sushi. Fried sushi, cooked fish, "baked" sushi, and the heavy use of mayonnaise and cream cheese are becoming more and more popular at American sushi restaurants. For the Piglet and the Boar, sushi isn't sushi if it is cooked and please keep the mayo and cream cheese away from our sushi.

Sansei offers an exotic menu of American sushi and offers a list of interesting ingredients inside each roll. A treat for those looking for experimentation when it comes to mixing ingredients and combining sauces. If you're the type to order the California Roll, you'll find a home at Sansei sushi. It's creative, well-crafted and colorful sushi, that is non-threatening to the inexperienced.
The drinks were as colorful and interesting as the sushi menu. 
Lychee Martini and Haleakala Sunrise Martini

After a bit of searching through the menu we found a few dishes that were not smoked, cooked, fried, or containing shellfish and ordered them.
Orange Dragon roll - Spicy salmon and cucumber rolled inside out topped with fresh salmon and avocado then drizzled with sweet Thai chili aioli and unagi glaze.

We inquired to our waitress if there was a dish similar to the orange dragon roll but with spicy tuna, as a sushi meal is not complete without a well prepared spicy tuna roll. There was! It was ordered and she brought it out shortly.
Special order - Dragonfly roll - Spicy tuna and cucumber rolled inside out topped with fresh tuna and avocado then drizzled with sweet Thai chili aioli and unagi glaze.

These two dishes hit that craving we had for some delicious sushi. The cool, refreshing fish with a hint of spice and a bit of avocado was delightful. There wasn't too much sauce so we were able to dip it in the perfect mix of wasabi, soy sauce and ginger to bring out a lot of the flavors. These two dishes were the highlight of the evening.

It finally came time for dessert!
Tempura Fried Macadamia Nut Ice Cream - Vanilla ice cream wrapped with buttery pound cake rolled in roasted macadamia nuts, flashed fried and served with chocolate and caramel sauces.

Overall - Sansei sushi is a great place for American inspired sushi. It's heavy on the fried side, but they are creative with their sauces, and the fish and seafood is fresh. They do need to work on that butterfish though.

We drove back to the studio with the windows down. Two more days before we would be leaving paradise and going back home to the desert.

To continue to Day 7, go here.