I met a friend for lunch at the Kula Ranch Steakhouse and was looking forward to sampling another one of Bill Lee's successes. I was very disappointed to say the least. I went to this site frequently under it's former guise as AJ Spurs and while I hated the food in that restaurant , I loved their bar and it's separate kitchen with lighter faire. I do have to say the ocean view here is a stretch but you can see a little slice of blue from the bar.
When I go to a new restaurant I have a strict rule to just sit back and enjoy the ride to scope it out and not ever send things back or complain on that first visit. I like to give a new place a chance to just strut their stuff. I should have broken that rule this visit.
We arrived for lunch at 12:00 and the place was so deserted looking we had ask inside if they were even open. There were only two other tables with diners and a couple of rough looking guys drinking at the bar. This restaurant is set up in large semi circle booths as before, the decor is charming and welcoming. The art work is Bill Lee's trade mark and is that wonderful Maui artist (I think) who does lively, vibrant scenes. Despite the fact that only 2 other tables were filled, the waitress sat us in the very top tier right next to the kitchen door which was propped open and made things very noisy despite how empty the place was. The menu was typical Bill Lee, with many of my favorites from his other restaurants influencing the dishes here. My friend and I started with drinks, a lovely Chardonnay for her and I requested a Top Shelf margarita with Patron. I am a Margarita connoisseur and knowing that one of the owners of Kula Ranch had come from Baja Cantina (known for it's coma inducing Margarita's) I was really looking forward to trying the Margarita's here. I was totally let down. The drink arrived in a very small rocks glass, barely any ice and no salt (which I requested and did not get with each drink I ordered) I could not taste the Patron at all and there was no evidence of Grand Mariner or other topper which is why I had ordered it "Top Shelf". The drink had not been stirred or shaken and the bottom of the drink was warm, almost hot and melted what little ice was there. We lingered over our first drink (service was very sloooooow) and finally ordered the deep fried artichoke hearts to start. The Wasabi Ranch sauce was wonderful, even finger dipping good but the artichokes were very greasy and tough. The scant bed of greens they were resting on was covered in grease and wilted making the dish look unappetizing. We only ate a few and moved onto more food and another attempt at a Margarita. Margarita number two was worse then number one and still no salt as requested. We were now the only patrons in the restaurant. Thinking to have a light lunch I ordered theWedge Salad and my friend the Asian Chicken salad. My salad was wonderful, no complaints here, crisp iceberg covered with Ginger Blue Cheese dressing, to die for! Of course we could not resist an order of sweet potato fries, also superb with the Pineapple Ginger Aioli, despite the fact that they were cold when they came out of the kitchen. The serving of fries was huge too!
Unfortunately, my friend's salad was awful. Served in some kind of shell (Taro?) tipped on its side with all the green spilling artistically out, its really looked like a mess of field greens someone had accidentally dropped. No chicken, won ton strips, nuts or mandarin oranges were in sight. After digging a little, some of each did surface but the amounts were paltry and the greens so unappetizing looking my friend just passed on the whole thing.
Okay, then I decided to try one more margarita, big mistake. Come on, guys, 3 margies in 2 hours, I expect at least a little buzz but I remained stone cold sober!
Our bill for 1 glass of wine, 3 tepid margaritas ($3 extra for Patron making it $11 drink), artichoke appetizer, 2 salads and some fries..... $85 before tip.
Bottom line, I went because of Bill Lee's stellar reputation but was disappointed. Seating choice was poor, service was slow, food was not consistent, the drinks need work and while I love a long expensive lunches on my day off, I did not feel I got the bang for my buck here. Will I go back, absolutely! Bill Lee has created too many winners not to give it one more try. And next time I am sending the margies back!
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