Not many restaurants can compete with I’o and its sister/neighbor, Pacific’O, when it comes to ambiance and setting. On an island brimming with dining spots touting picture postcard views this one on the Lahaina shores grabs all five tikis.
The dreamy vision of the sun setting beyond distant Lanai escorted by sailboats and canoe paddlers would be enough eye candy but I’o also serves up an award winning, dazzling interior. Etched glass aquariums, hip lighting, a bar just begging for an enchantress to take a seat and challenge its sensuous curves, and a “must peak” exhibition kitchen compete with the views. With so much to see, my preference is actually a window table rather than the more popular al fresco seats on the front lanai. That way, you don’t miss a thing including what’s going on at the bar and in the kitchen.
Wherever you settle in while awaiting the glorious sunset, you’ll notice Martinis rather than Mai Tais predominate the drink menu. Although I don’t drink the potent devils, the Dreamsicle and Lemon Drop versions sound mighty tasty served with ocean breezes wrapped around them.
Various wines offered by the glass are also enticing. The menu recommends vintages to specifically match various dishes; for instance, the fois gras topped ono served on “wilted Hana vegetable salad, tropical fruit coulis and balsamic reduction” served with a nice Vouvray. Yea! That I can handle.
I`o’s also prepares some of the best appetizers on the island; Cowboy Ribs, Smoked Sashimi, or Crab Cakes can all stand alone as dinner. But you won’t want to stop there. The Waipoli Road Salad is tossed with assorted organic O’o Farm greens, seasonal produce, herbs and heirloom tomatoes with Maui onions and feta cheese tossed in citrus mustard vinaigrette, everything grown or produced not more than 20 miles away at the O`O farms in Kula and Surfing Goat Dairy. The Crispy Ahi, fresh sashimi tuna rolled in nori and panko crust and green papaya salad, ($27.00) purportedly has inspired a cult following but don’t feel you have to dress up in funky garb or join a chat room to admit you love it.
A table with a view is obviously a major asset for restaurants on Maui but I`o doesn’t take its location for granted or slip guests mediocre food hoping they won’t notice. (It happens!) On the contrary I`o goes the vistas one better by presenting outstanding sustainable, healthy, original dishes using local ingredients spiced with considerable originality.