Botero Lounge, in Grand Wailea’s lavish lobby, has always had cocktails, and the food in the space has varied widely, from bar bites to burgers. But the drinks – and the art, of course – were always the draw. Surrounded by some of the world’s most famous pieces by Colombian sculptor Fernando Botero, visitors to the hotel were able to indulge in museum-like splendor. Now serious sushi lovers can rejoice – Botero Lounge is now a real sushi destination. Chef YongHo Mun, AKA Chef Moony, a South Korean-born, Matsuhisa-trained chef who worked at the flagship Matsuhisa Aspen, a pinnacle of Japanese dining in the US, has brought his exquisite talent — and humorous charm — to what soon will be Maui’s hottest table. It opened quietly last month and is not taking reservations. Once the word comes out, there will be a line outside the door. It’s so good.
The Grand Wailea, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, has long been a destination for luxury and family travel. The largest resort on the island is undergoing a complete renovation and the rollout of the new Botero Lounge is a promising harbinger of things to come.
Chef Moony exemplifies the adage that you must know the rules before you can break them. His mastery of traditional sushi preparation would have been enough to shake up South Maui, but he’s gone way beyond that with his own creative twists on the freshest raw fish you’ll find on the island: think octopus carpaccio with yuzu chimichurri and white sashimi with truffle.
While it’s possible to drop by for a quick cocktail and a few bits of nigiri, this is the kind of place you want to settle down and have a full dinner. Start with a craft cocktail from the new list, then let Chef Moony recommend dishes. You can’t go wrong unless you count overordering, which is a predictable hazard and can’t be faulted.
We started with a nigiri sampler, each bite the ideal representation of its classic idea, then moved on to some of the new style raw dishes as well as a few cooked dishes. There isn’t a single item that’s not on point, so you can just follow your craving through the extensive menu—which, by the way, includes a bar burger of sorts: Wagyu with crispy prosciutto, pepperoncini aioli, and pickled Maui onions. My only regret is that I don’t have the nutritional bandwidth to try this. The next time!
As immersed as you will be in the food, don’t forget to look up and remember that you are surrounded by nine Botero sculptures commissioned by the property, all lovingly maintained (and some are now under restoration which is fascinating to see).
The new cocktail list is designed to complement both the sushi menu and the lounge vibe. Sakura in Bloom combines Suntory Roku gin with Geikkaikan Umeshu Sakura – essentially plum wine and gin – and gives it a lemon lift. It’s a crisp, refreshing drink with anything on the menu.
Chef Moony is not back in the kitchen, he takes center stage behind the sushi bar and also likes to come to your table to talk about each dish with care and pride.
The opening of Botero Lounge is an exciting event for regular visitors to South Maui, and a true world-class sushi destination worth a drive from anywhere on the island.