Maui has always been a wonderful dining destination for seafood, and there are certainly some restaurants that have upped the ante in the last decade. But it wasn’t until Lineage came along just one year ago that the island seemed to catapult into full-on culinary must-visit status.
Chef-owner Sheldon Simeon is no stranger to the restaurant scene. His Tin Roof in Kahului (close to the Maui airport) is still wildly popular. But there’s something about Lineage that makes it the most exciting spot on the island. It’s not the location (in The Shops at Wailea but with nary a view) or the menu as a standalone consideration — figuring out how to order is tricky because the categories (Slab, Cart, Snacks, Classics, Pupu Line) aren’t decipherable in terms of size or potential sequence.
But here’s a secret: It doesn’t matter. Your server will cut you off when you’ve ordered enough, and the sequence of dishes will be determined by the kitchen. It’s all good here, and I mean that both ways — literally and colloquially.
And the best news of all is that there’s now a tasting menu, so you don’t have to think about a thing beyond what cocktail to start with. I had no idea about the tasting menu when we walked in last month and were negotiating what to order, pretty much all of it on my list of a potentially perfect meal. It was only my second time here, and I knew to follow my instincts.
The first thing to come out is the cart, a dim sum-style presentation of small dishes to eat at any point during the meal. We ordered the pipikaula straightaway, a classic Hawaiian dish of dried and salted beef.
But the tasting menu was a no-brainer; it instantly solved all my decision-making problems. It had just gone live the day after the restaurant’s first anniversary celebration, and the server let us know that parts of it were still in flux, but we didn’t mind being the test cases.
Now, back to that cocktail. We went with one Lineage Paloma (Gran Centenario Blanco, aperol, Giffard pamplemousse, grapefruit oleo, lime, lihing mui, Peychauds, and Maui Brewing tonic water) and one Gimme Da Chicken Skin (Prairie cucumber vodka, Broker’s gin, Carpano Bianco, false lime, false ‘awa, shoyu, and habañero shrub, served with crispy chicken skin). The latter is topped with a sprig of rosemary that is lit tableside with a match and then dropped into the drink so its smoky essences infuses the cocktail.
The tasting menu is comprised of seven courses, each named for its focus ingredients.
“Caviar” is house-brined caviar served atop a Hana ulu (breadfruit) chip and served with Simeon’s own SLAB chili water (the remainder of which you get to take home (or sip throughout the meal).
Next up is “Okazuya,” which represents deli-style foods, a spectacular pairing of Kaua’i prawn musubi and inari, a twist on two classic dishes.
The third course is baked ulu topped with crushed macadamia nuts and and dried aku (tuna bottarga) and served with a Hawaiian chile sauce.
Look Fun, course number two, is a thick, rolled rice noodle filled with roasted peanuts, abalone and shrimp head and served with homemade XO sauce.
A rich, deeply umami Lopes Farm pork with turnip kimchee, tomato jam and tomato raisins had me questioning my stamina. The “pork” is pork belly with an irresistible shelf of crispy skin on top.
Beef broccoli was the last dish before dessert, a beautiful swirl of brassicas with Kualoa oyster sauce and cubes of medium-rare Kunuoa ribeye, so good that it made me wish it had been an earlier course. It’s the most refined version of this dish I’ve ever had.
Full disclosure: I was too full to really experience the fig newton dessert, but I did eat a cookie the next day. The full presentation came with cinnamon leaf ice cream and fig leaf oil, which I managed to taste — it was subtly spiced-toned and given deep nuance by the oil.
Our server knew every corner of these complex, multi-layered dishes, their backstories, and the debates various staff members had about each. It really is the result of a collaborative journey, and I am sure that process will continue to unfold as more guests partake.
If you find you can’t do the tasting menu — and I get that — there are many ways to slice and dice the menu, including to dive right into the section of “Classics,” which are basically the recipes Simeon grew up eating: smoke meat, pork ‘n’ peas, crispy pata, adobo, and “Hoppin’ Juan’s,” a variation on Hoppin’ John but with oxtail instead of ham hock.
There’s simply no way to go wrong here. And what makes Lineage such a game-changer is elusive, but it has to do with the cumulative presence of local ingredients fused with Simeon’s Filipino heritage and a most confident and joyous presentation of flavor combinations that are second nature to him.