Monday, October 20, 2014

Hawaii and Japan, 2014 - 10/19 - Day 4 - See Fish, Eat Fish.

Statuary at Humuhumunukunukuapa'a Restaurant at the
Grand Wailea
Post wedding day. Surprisingly, neither of us were hungover, probably because of the inordinate amount dancing that took place the night before. The sky was once again a cloudy, windy, drizzly affair as the hurricane had left us a parting gift on its way back out into the Pacific.
Originally today was going to be snorkeling on Molokini bay, but they called a few days before to cancel. We had then planned to hike long the large volcanic crater in the middle of the island and potentially see the sunset from there...but the national parks were all closed due to the storm and there was so much cloud cover we weren't going to get a sunset.
So we sat over our brunch plates at the last hurrah of the wedding, gave our last well-wishes to the bride and groom, and formed a loose plan between a group of seven of us to find something to do in our last full day in Maui.
We eventually settled on the Maui Ocean Center, an aquarium where we could see all the exotic and colorful fishes we weren't going to be able to see in the wild because of the wild's fickle wildness. Five of us packed into one of the rental cars with two more in another (they had to potentially bail early to catch their plane) and we drove out to the northwest part of the island.
There was a second moment of indecision when we actually arrived at the Maui Ocean Center due to the sticker shock of entry fees. We stood outside the door, wondering if we could potentially find something else to do that didn't cost as much as a month of car insurance, but concluded that because of the storm we weren't going to have many options, so we sucked it up and paid their island tax.
A tour group was coming into the aquarium at the same time as us, and one of the cashiers decided her routine for convincing the long line of aged tourists to spend more money was to sell them on audio tours. Her schtick was, in its entirety, to repeat "audio guides, three dollars, very helpful" with a loud, unmodulated intonation, over and over again, even when the line wasn't progressing. We had the pleasure of hearing her unfortunate pitch phrase about fifty times before we cleared through the front entrance and were ushered over for our forced souvenir photo. 
Da Fishes in the Maui Ocean Center
The aquarium itself was a so-so affair, but we did get to see a few things I'd never seen before, like the absurd unicorn fishes, which looks the world like a tank full of Fyvush Finkels. The sea turtles were also charming with their little paddle feet. The aquarium had a marine mammal exhibit which featured not a single actual animal, and a walk-through glass tunnel area, which featured a lot of little animals -- the screeching, smelly human kind. Still, it wasn't a bad aquarium, just small for the cost.
I have a tendency, and I think it's shared with a lot of my friends, to get really hungry after going to zoos and aquariums. I think that's natural. You see a bunch of edible things just out of reach, taunting you with their hidden meats, and the dark primal part of you demands reparation for its patience. We did a little research and found a little dive sushi bar about thirty minutes away with good reviews, so we decided to check out "Miso Phat Sushi."
I know. Bear with me.
The restaurant was in the back of an apartment complex, with limited, tiny parking spaces. We all piled out of the car to allow the driver to actually squeeze into the space, and then all piled into the very small restaurant, where we took up nearly half the of space with our party of seven. I had the salmon poke bowl (I also made far too many pok├ęball jokes during lunch. My friends are very patient.) I also had a kampyo roll, which is made from a kind of sweetened squash and was a nice surprise. Sean got a natto roll, which was not a nice surprise, at least for me. 
I am proud of my palate. It is my most finely tuned sense by far and are very few foods I can not derive some sort of pleasure from the eating thereof. I understand that taste is very subjective, but I just can't find the appeal of natto.
Natto is a fermented soy bean dish, often served for breakfast in Japan. The fermentation process causes the proteins in the soy beans to construct long sticky strands of...protein goo, so when you eat natto, the beans stick together by tendrils of snotty gunk. It smells sharp and earthy, like ripe cheese, and that profile persists in its flavor, which to me is reminiscent of the less enjoyable parts of blue cheese. I like a stinky cheese as much as the next guy...probably a deal more than the next guy...but the context of the cheesy flavor in natto just puts me right off. In short, there are a multitude of other things I'd rather have in my sushi.
Go, Pokebowl!
The ahi poke bowl (poke-bowl! Gotta eat it all!) itself was wonderful. The fish was super-fresh and the rice had a nice sprinkling of furikake seasoning on it. The avocado was fresh and fruity. It was a winner. We were all pretty satisfied with that little dive sushi bar. I'd recommend giving it a try if you're ever in Maui. Miso Phat. Try to remember the name, I know its a tough one.
The next step on our day trip was to head to the shopping town of Lahaina. Lahaina has a main road with an expanse of little shops and galleries, and since we couldn't do nature stuff, we decided on doing consumer stuff instead.
We went to a bunch of galleries and shops selling tchotchkes, posters and artwork, but the highlight of the stroll for me was discovering the surreal art of  Vladimir Kush.
Kush is a self described "metaphorical realist" and his work is strongly influenced by Dali and Bosche. He works in oils and has a bold, precise and colorful style that while aesthetically beautiful, also plays with the grotesque. I love it, and I encourage you to look him and his work up.
The last food adventure of the day was a visit to Ululani's Shave Ice stall. I've never really understood the appeal of shave ice. It's predominantly sugar water, a glorified sno-cone, but I gritted my teeth and went along with everyone and was actually pleasantly surprised by the experience. Unlike sno-cones, the shaved ice had an the actual consistency of snow. There were no huge bits of grainy ice in it. The sugar syrup was definitely presant, but along with that was a nice natural tasting flavor (I had coconut). The best part though was the sweetened condensed milk topper and the small scoop of coconut ice cream that rested at the bottom of the cone, so let's be honest, the most enjoyable features of the shave ice was everything but the shave ice. Still, it was acceptable.
You and Me and a Banyan Tree
The last stop of the day was to see the massive banyan tree that dwells in a park in Lahaina. It is the oldest tree in Maui, and is so massive it looks like its own little forest. Banyan trees have a complex root system that creates sub-trunks that appear for all the world like separate trees, but the whole thing is one organism. It was dark under the giant tree, and a cacophony of hidden birds threatened to rain their vengeance down upon us at any moment, but other than the nearly overpowering smell of ammonia, they left us alone. We took some pictures, glared at the people ignoring the "no climb, no swing" sign and hanging off the branches, paid our respects to nature's splendour, and took off back home.
Tonight is laundry and preparing for our flight tomorrow to Oahu, where we'll spend a few days exploring the city and hopefully attending a few hikes. Tomorrow threatens to be a beautiful day in Maui, so it's a shame we're going to have to leave her at the height of her glory, but we've got lots of places to see on this trip, so onward!

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