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Devouring Olivine: Hawaii’s Delicious Italian Secret

Our contributor travels to Hawaii and discovers, Olivine, a gem of an Italian restaurant in the Grand Wailea Maui Resort.

The exterior of Olivine at the Grand Wailea in Maui.

The exterior of Olivine at the Grand Wailea in Maui.

The day before I leave for Hawaii, I’m making the typical preparations: picking out my most colorful tropical shirts, finding my sunscreen in the back of my medicine cabinet, and googling what Italian restaurants are near my hotel in Maui. Believe it or not, Italian food isn’t the first thing people think of when they travel to Hawaii. But whether it was out of morbid curiosity, to embark on a fool’s errand, or out of plain hunger, there I was on Google Maps. Suffice to say, I didn’t find much, though I did find Olivine.

After a 14-hour flight, I arrive at the glorious Grand Wailea, a longtime Hawaiian staple operated now by the people behind Waldorf Astoria. Despite the long haul from New York, I somehow landed invigorated and perky. Then again, maybe that’s the effect of escaping a sunless urban hellscape and arriving in a bright tropical oasis. I feel free! Anything is possible here! I’ve traded Williamsburg for Wailea with no regrets. I’m sure my local bodega won’t miss me too much. 

The oceanfront grounds of the Grand Wailea Maui Resort.
The oceanfront grounds of the Grand Wailea Maui Resort.

The Grand Wailea recently went under a massive renovation, including an expansive spa, Kilolani, which opened this month. There are wading pools, cold plunges, steam rooms, masseuses, astrology readings and the like, all overlooking the placid Pacific. It’s late afternoon, and around this exact time back home in Brooklyn, I'd be waiting in my subway station for the next L train, balancing along the tracks with my back against duct-taped scaffolding, holding my nose against the odors. Here, the godly breezes of island life waft over me as I traverse the pools. So, let’s just say the vibes are... different. 

Armed with my newfound lease on life, I waltz around the property. And what to my wondering eyes should appear: an Italian restaurant! It’s called Olivine, and it’s “where the natural bounty of Maui is perfectly paired with the art of coastal Italian cuisine.” My manifestation came true! But as intrigued as I was, there’s also a deep skepticism that comes with being Italian outside of Italy. Are we talking (whispers) Hawaiian pizza? I’m not sure I can show my face around my neighborhood if I willfully order one topped with pineapples and ham. Actually, I wouldn’t be able to look in the mirror. 

Squash Blossom pizza at Olivine.
Squash Blossom pizza at Olivine.

I find out later that Olivine’s heart and soul is the Grand Wailea’s Executive Chef Ryan Urig. A native of Arizona, Chef Ryan is accustomed to luxury properties, cooking everywhere from Ritz Carltons and Biltmores the world over. He has a passion for cooking and later told me a story about how he started his illustrious career: he’d chef up for his ex-girlfriend and her parents so much, they eventually gave him a Christmas stocking full of cash to go to culinary school. That must have been some damn good food.

Part of the hotel renovation included opening Olivine last summer, its vineyard-sounding moniker actually the name of a mineral found in Hawaiian lava. Needless to say, Chef Ryan did a ton of research, including going on culinary trips to Los Angeles and New York and visiting multiple Italian restaurants a day to build out his menu. So, to answer my question, at Olivine there were no Pizza Hut-style Hawiian pizzas, but rather some of the best coastal Italian food I’ve had outside of the Amalfi, even though Positano is 7,000,000 miles from Maui. To be honest, I didn’t do the math, but it’s probably something like that.

A seafood offering at Olivine.
A seafood offering at Olivine.

Thinking back to my trip to southern Italy, where I stayed at the blissful Palazzo Avino in Ravello, I had the most amazing dishes like stuffed zucchini flowers, a speciality of the area. The treats are hard to find back home in New York, but sure enough Olivine has squash blossoms, each bite transporting me back to Italia. The difference? The squash is grown and fostered by the nurturing sun here in Maui, from a farm sourced by the Grand Wailea.

The same vegetables are used on a pizza (which is also topped with macadamia nut pesto, local honey, and Espelette pepper). Meatballs? Chef Ryan had amazing ones: moist, slathered in a perfect marina and made with meat and pork. Only the Hawaiian spin is that it’s pork from pigs raised on a Mālama Farm here on Maui. Oh, what a life to be a Hawaiian pig (before the slaughtering, of course). Ingenuous island touches on Italian staples can be found elsewhere. The fennel sausage is made with local Maui onion, while the prawns are of the nearby Kona variety. In fact, nearly all of the fish on the menu is local, including the clams in the Linguini alla Vongole.

The meatballs of Chef Ryan at Olivine.
The meatballs of Chef Ryan at Olivine.

The pasta is another story, including a Black Truffle dish with Mafalde and Parmigiano Reggiano. The pasta is entirely handmade nearby and also serves as a reminder of a recent tragedy the island faced. When fires swept through the historic community of nearby Lahaina (which lies up the coast from here in Wailea) last year, it affected nearly everybody, including Chef Ryan. One of the many businesses lost was Sale Pepe, a beloved Italian restaurant located in town with the slogan “One part Milan, one part Brooklyn.” In a twist of fate, around the same time, Chef Ryan was seeking handmade pasta to feature on Olivine’s menu and wound up recruiting the team of Sale Pepe. Instead of stumbling due to the massive setback, they expanded their team to meet demand. 

I took it easy with the squash blossom pizza and only ate five slices instead of the entire pie (this is not an exaggeration). By the time I sipped my espresso and rolled out of Olivine, I was satisfied. Italian food crossed with Hawaiian lifestyle: grazie and mahalo for that, Maui.

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