Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hawaii 4-0, Part 4 - A Birthday to Remember

You don’t turn 40 very often. And when you do…if you are fortunate…you will be able to celebrate with friends and do so in a fun and exotic place. If you’re really lucky, you’ll be able to have an excellent birthday dinner on top of everything else.

Well, count me fortunate and lucky because that all is exactly what came to pass on my own 40th birthday. Diane and I knew we would go to Maui for my four-decade-a-palooza, but we were very fortunate that a number of friends joined us on our Hawaiian trip. Many of our friends who we would have loved to have been there couldn’t make it for one reason or another, and certainly asking people to do something other than visit with their families over the Thanksgiving holiday limits who is willing and able to participate. So, we were super pleased that 11 of them could make it to Maui.

However, we wanted to avoid daily "group think," so mostly people in our group did their own thing while there – beach, pool, shop, snorkel, surf, eat out, etc. The one thing we all did together was my birthday dinner on November 26…also Thanksgiving Day.

Here’s how it unfolded…

A good party deserves a “prefunc.” And so it was for my birthday. Meeting at the upper bar of the Westin pool deck area, our group kicked off festivities with a round of cocktails as the sun went down over the horizon and a friendly Hawaiian played a ukulele for the gathered. Somebody must have tipped him off that it was my birthday because he suddenly broke into the birthday song for me. As the group sang along, I have to say that this was as unique a birthday serenade as I’ve ever had. At right is a picture of Diane and me at the bar where this all happened.

Party on Wheels
The restaurant where we were to have our dinner was an hour drive from the hotel, and so with great foresight Diane arranged for a van – more of a bus – to take our entire group there together. A stroke of genius. Another stroke of genius was bringing some very nice champagne with us to keep the party going as we traveled to the restaurant. The only thing was, the bus company would not let us bring glass bottles on board. Hmmm. What to do? Third stroke of genius…put the champagne in plastic pitchers and give everyone a plastic champagne glass. Perfect. Carefully planning our exit from the hotel so the Westin “police” wouldn’t see us dispensing our first round on their property, we covertly assembled our drinks on the back bumper of one of our vehicles. See picture below.

From there it was over to the bus with plenty of bubbly in reserve in those pitchers and off to our dinner. Dark outside now, we were on the road with a driver who knew where he was going and so we continued the festivities all the way…all the way to Mama’s Fish House.

The Main Event
Pulling into the parking lot of Mama’s near the town of Paia, we now realized it was raining. This was kind of a bummer, but it was still a good 75 degrees outside so we quickly dashed from the bus to the safety of the undercover greeting station at the top of the hill above the main restaurant. Securing some complementary umbrellas, we made our way down the steps, across the beach side lawn and over to check our group in.

Unfortunately, despite having reservations for our group for about eight months in advance, the restaurant could not seat us at our reservation time of 7:45 p.m. All told, the made us wait for about an hour. But, at least if you have to wait an hour for your table at Mama’s you can do so in a really cool South Pacific and Hawaiian themed bar. Equal parts tiki tacky and upscale modern (really, it’s both) the bar and restaurant as a whole deploys a very unique and enjoyable ambiance. They also deploy a mean mai thai…which most of us quickly ordered upon entering the bar.

As we looked around the bar, we realized that the restaurant structure wasn’t really a building in the four-walls-and-a-ceiling sense of it. Rather, the roof line appeared to be cobbled together in pieces with drainage pipes placed strategically to catch and distribute rainwater elsewhere. Also, there were not too many solid external walls – especially on the sides of the restaurant facing the ocean. Perfectly dry and warm the whole night through, I thought this was a pretty neat feature of the restaurant. Seated at one big table in the middle of the restaurant, our group got down the serious business of ordering and eating.

One of the first things brought to our table after another round of mai thais was a beautiful, colorful and fresh Hawaiian lei – for me! At left is a picture of Diane and me, and I'm wearing the lei.

The table started out with a round of shrimp won tons, ono and ahi in coconut, wasabi crusted calamari and probably a few things I'm now forgetting. But suffice it to say that the flavors really lit up our mouths!

I ordered a savory piece of mahi mahi stuffed with lobser, crab and Maui onions and cooked with a macadamian nut glaze. Wow. Diane had the Opah fish with Maui onions and avocado.

NOTE: You can see the Mama's menu by

Just having friends along to celebrate is a gift enough, and certainly nobody needed to or was asked to bring me any gifts. However, generous as our crew is, I did receive some nice presents and cards. Thank you to everyone who gave me something.

Like the lei, unbeknownst to me, Diane had arranged for a delightful birthday cake for me and the table to cap off the meal. Below is a picture of it. She knows I’m a chocolate cake man, and this cake did not disappoint!

A Silent Return
As the very last diners to leave the restaurant this night, we hefted ourselves back up the stairs to the waiting bus. Once aboard, our driver got us going back toward home. Not more than 10 minutes when by and our whole group slipped into a post-dinner, post-cocktails, long-day, its-dark-in-the-bus silence that wasn’t broken until we arrived back at the Westin. As we glided along the coastal highway, I noticed how pretty the Hawaiian moon shone off the Pacific ocean and bounced up to catch the silhouette of the palm trees lining the shore. A very calm and beautiful last vision for my birthday.

Approaching midnight, our bus pulled back into the Westin parking lot and our friends all bid adieu for the evening.

Back at our condo, as Diane and I climbed into our bed I noticed that the clock in our room read 12 midnight. I said, “Well, it’s not my 40th birthday anymore.” Diane quickly replied, “Yep, you’re just another 40 year old dude now.” I laughed because, well, it was true. Too true. But what a way to enter my fourth decade!

A very special thank you to my wife Diane for arranging the party bus, the diner reservations, the champagne, the lei, the cake, and…putting up with me for the last 12+ years. I love you!

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