Kula Bistro: Upcountry’s Comfort Food Oasis (Maui Now)

scallops at Kula BistroAnd you may find yourself bracing against freezing cold

And you may find yourself in another part of the world

And you may find yourself behind the wheel of an out-of-control bike

And you may find yourself in a beautiful room, with some beautiful food

And you may ask yourself

Well…How did I get here?

We don’t know for sure, Mr. Short Term Memory, but hopefully your inability to recall such details aren’t the result of some kind of head injury.

Neverthelesss, odds are good someone rousted you from bed this morning in the unforgiving wee hours, drove you up to arctic (comparatively speaking) Haleakala and possibly sent you back down the dormant volcano again on a rented bicycle.

Good news: you’re still alive!

Better news: you’ve made your way to Kula Bistro!

Best news of all: the Crabcake Benedict!

Woot.That’s right, Intrepid Adventurer, the big payoff for violating every warning your mother ever gave you isn’t just that gnarly scar, but one of the best breakfasts Upcountry has to offer.

Case in point, the Crabcake Benedict ($14.50) finds toasted baguettes topped with spinach, crab cakes, poached eggs and delectable hollandaise sauce.

You know how we feel about fixing what ain’t broken (i.e. substituting other breadstuffs for English muffins) and, as usual, the starch-to-everything-else ratio is thrown off by the thick bread… but to each his own.

Otherwise, flavors are spot-on; the delicate crab enhanced by the runny yolks and rich lemony hollandaise. Being alive despite it all never felt so good.

Should you wander in a little later, lunch offers a smattering of sandwiches, paninis and salads.

The Cajun Style Chicken Sandwich ($10.95) arrives on the house-made focaccia.

There is a strong oregano flavor to the fresh bread, but happily that plays well with the slightly spicy Cajun seasonings.

Accompanied by a large portion of crisp romaine tossed in Caesar salad dressing, it’s a filling lunch at (for Maui) bargain prices.The chicken breast itself was perfectly cooked and there’s a pleasing balance of flavors.

The only downside is the trouble you’ll have ordering it.

Meet Gossip Girl and Chatty Charlie: BFFs with no time for you.

On our first visit, breaking these two up was more difficult than getting into Harvard.

No use gesticulating wildly. Get up from your seat, walk over to the register, clear your throat and attempt to get some attention in order to:

  1. a) order your food,
  2. b) request a refill on your coffee, water, you name it
  3. c) obtain the check
  4. d) pay the bill

If you have or have ever lived with a cat, perhaps emulating its 5 a.m. “I AM HUNGRY. FEED ME NOW.” face – heck, maybe even meow a couple times – might speed things along.

If only we’d had someone to advise us on the menu, we imagine the Rueben Panini ($11.95) would not have made the cut for this review.Possibly.

Granted, we should have known better. In hindsight, the combination of the words “Rueben” and “Panini” spell incongruent (if you add a C, O, G, and T) and we’ve been burned by this menu item before.

Fate may not be kind, but she is consistent.

Oy vey. Why was this sandwich so saddening?

You know how Cap’n Crunch cereal tears the roof of your mouth to smithereens?

That.

Only in sandwich form.

It seemed that ours had been a bit over panini-ed to the point of being toasted to black in spots. As a result, each bite was rock hard and razor sharp.

The sandwich also suffered from a very skimpy portion of corned beef. Some bites didn’t contain as much as a single speck.

Happily, it was once again accompanied by the superior caesar salad: enough to fill us up until the next meal.

Gossip Girl was once again on shift at the register, but her siren song had no effect on our new waiter, Efficient Eddie.Happily, on our final visit, we experienced a complete a total turnaround in service.

A night and day contrast, he ran the entire place like a well-oiled machine, showing admirable hustle while skillfully managing five or six tables (seemingly) effortlessly.

Our hats off to you, sir.

At his suggestion we tried the Scallop Bruschetta Special ($16.95).

What an interesting concoction we have here.

Essentially caprese + bruschetta + scallops all in one bite.

Slices of toasted baguette are loaded with the typical melange of tomatoes, basil, onions, and garlic, which is then topped with big hunks of fresh mozzarella.

Gilded with the lily of seared scallops, it’s an inventive, flavorful, sloppy and far more filling version of what you’d normally expect from a bruschetta appetizer.

Lighter eaters can expect to make an entire meal of it.

They aren’t all winners – far from it, really. Definitely think twice about anything with Ponzi or Krabb in the title – but Kula Bistro’s rendition takes the gold.Speaking of filling up on appetizers, much like pyramid schemes, we are always a sucker for a Crisp Crab Cake ($13.95).

The two cakes are Maryland blue crab-rich and devoid of unnecessary filler. The mix has a little bit of onion, bell pepper and celery, but this trinity only serves to enrich and highlight the sweet crustacean meat, not overpower.

For those hoping to add some calories and/or roughage, lemon aioli and Thai sweet chili sauce are drizzled on the plate along with a salad-size portion of spring greens dusted with Parmesan.

And why not?

And after spilling down a 1.1 million-year old volcano in near darkness on an unfamiliar bike, narrowly avoiding livestock and rental cars while living to tell the tale; some calories, roughage and an Ace bandage are probably just what the doctor ordered.