Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Hello New York, this is the real poke

Nadine Kam photos
At Da Hawaiian Poke Co. at the Kapahulu Safeway Center, Kellsie Ladegaard shows the shop’s ahi limu poke.


Like Hawaii fashion before it, Hawaii food is trending across the country.

Last year, I traveled to San Francisco for a taste of Hawaii at Liholiho Yacht Club, where chef Ravi Kapur’s Spam fried rice won the restaurant a place in Bon Appetit and the Washington Post deemed his Chinese-style steamed buns with beef tongue and cucumber kimchi as one of its “Top dishes from each of America’s 10 best food cities.”

Trying to make sense of this phenom and how it all started, Jennifer Conrad, writing for Vogue, said, “In New York, as these things often happen, Hawaiian restaurants came in a crashing wave starting around 2013. Onomea in Williamsburg makes dishes like loco moco (white rice topped with a hamburger patty, fried egg, and gravy) and shoyu chicken (soy sauce–marinated drumsticks with greens and macaroni salad) accompanied by rum-spiked fresh juices.”

She also added restaurants Suzume, Makana, and Noreetuh to the mix. (Noreetuh might actually be good so I need to go check it out.)

The classic ahi poke with ogo, green onions and inamona.

But the dish of the moment is poke because of the healthier option of having a fish- rather than meat-based meal.

Only question is, how well do mainlanders know poke? On Facebook, an Insider Food video about the “poké” craze sweeping Manhattan recently sparked outrage among diners with local ties, drawing about 7,000 mostly negative comments, because what they’re creating at Wisefish and other restaurants is not poke as we know it. Instead of incorporating ingredients into the mixture, they are building salads by piling raw fish over vegetables, and covering the fish with toppings and sauces. (And yes your eyes didn’t deceive you. It’s picked up a diacritical mark at places like Poké Works and Wisefish Poké, to help beginners get the pronunciation right.)

As one of the more moderate toned commenters posted, “They couldn’t be doing poke any more wrong, and this has been a staple in Hawaii for so long. Small kine late guys, come to Hawaii if you wanna know what real poke taste like.”

I get that, just as has happened throughout history, food evolves as it crosses oceans and is reinvented as it embraces indigenous ingredients. Poke has certainly evolved here from the time the first Hawaiian fishermen augmented their fish with alae and ogo, the ingredients readily available to them. Over time, with immigration, people added their own flavors to the mix: green onions from the garden, soy sauce, tobiko, sesame oil, Sriracha, and more.
 Da Hawaiian Poke Co also gives clams ($6 per pound) and below, peeled shrimp, the poke treatment.

Kim chee shrimp poke was recently being offered at $11 per pound.

Sesame tako poke was recently offered for $13 a pound.

Perhaps chef Sam Choy had the biggest influence over the direction of poke when he launched his annual poke festival and competition in the early 1990s, causing an explosion in styles and ingredients. Most audaciously, he started searing the traditionally raw dish, and by 1997 was serving up “Sam’s original fried poke” at Sam Choy’s Breakfast, Lunch and Crab. A year later, he was calling it “Fried Poke Magic.”

The biggest offense is that missing from all these national media outlets is … Hawaii. No one is heaping these accolades on local purveyors of poke, in the place where poke was born and where it’s most ono.

Outsiders might be viewing Hawaii as a land of angry people. But we are just tired of being marginalized and seeing local culture misrepresented. Respect.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

AAA Award merits return of Chef Mavro classic onaga

Photo courtesy Chef Mavro
Chef Mavro’s George Mavrothalassitis is bringing back his salt-crusted onaga in celebration of the restaurant’s latest AAA Five Diamond Award.


In celebration of another Five Diamond Award from The American Automobile Association, Chef Mavro is bringing back his famous onaga baked in a rosemary-Hawaiian salt crust, through Feb. 12.

The AAA Five Diamond list is based on anonymous visits by restaurant inspectors. Only 0.2 percent of the 30,000 restaurants reviewed earn the top rating. Chef Mavro restaurant’s first Five Diamond Award was in 2008 and it continues to be the only independently owned restaurant in Hawaii, and one of only a handful in the U.S. to achieve the AAA’s highest rating, placing the restaurant in the company of such internationally renowned restaurants as Le Bernardin, Per Se, Daniel, Eleven Madison Park, and Jean Georges in New York; and in California. The French Laundry, Gary Danko, and Benu, among others.

Here is the link to the award winners.
Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Celebrate V-Day your way, with oysters to chocolates to pizza

Nadine Kam photos
What looks like a sculpture is the San Valentino dessert at Arancino at the Kahala, a special five-course menu being offered Feb. 12 through 14. Torta al Cioccolato is housemade chocolate mousse topped with raspberry sorbetto.


Whether you’re a traditionalist or independent, you’ll find plenty of edibles to suit your Valentine’s Day style. Celebrate with the love of your life, or just say bah, humbug, and indulge in a solo tin of chocolates or heart-shaped pizza. Here’s a little roundup.

Papa John’s Hawaii: The pizza specialist is bringing back its heart-shaped pizza through Monday, or while supplies last. The one-topping pizza is being paired with an 8-inch pan of fudge brownies and a bouquet of a dozen roses for $60, or a single long-stemmed rose for $25. Pre-orders beginning tomorrow are recommended. Call 979-PAPA (7272) or visit For every online order made with the promo code MAWROSES, Papa John’s will also donate $5 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Pierre Marcolini: A tin containing seven of the chocolatier’s Coeurs Framboise raspberry hearts is $27. Three words about this isle newcomer: Best. Chocolates. Ever. Look for the shop on the third level of Ala Moana Center’s new Ewa Wing.
Hyatt Place Waikiki Beach: The hotel at 175 Paoakalani Ave. will host a Valentine’s Day popup featuring special guest Miller Royer of Wing Shave Ice & Ice Cream, who will be serving scoops and sundaes, from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday in the lobby. Ice cream selections available will be Rose, Mayan Xocolātl (chocolate with cinnamon and a hint of cayenne pepper), and 100 percent Kona coffee (made with award-winning Aikane Kona Coffee). A strawberry and champagne sorbet will also be available. Single scoops will be $4.71, while double scoops will cost $6.81. For those seeking something sweet to share, Royer will offer sundaes with a choice of homemade sauces, including hot fudge, strawberry sauce, or Hawaiian sea-salt caramel. The single scoop sundae will go for $6.28, with double scoop sundaes are $8.38. All prices are tax inclusive. Call (808) 922-3861 or visit for more information.

Kahala Hotel & Resort: Pick up a box of the resort’s special hand-dipped truffles in flavors of Kula lavender milk chocolate, roasted mac-nut blonde chocolate, mango yuzu white chocolate and guava strawberry dark chocolate, to share or indulge on your own. The 16-piece box of truffles, with four of each flavor, sells for $38 at Hoku’s, Plumeria Beach House and The Veranda. Call 739-8760 or email to reserve for pick up through Monday.

Also at the hotel, Arancino at The Kahala is offering a five-course San Valentino prix fixe dinner at $89 per person, with $30 per person wine pairings, from Friday through Sunday. Reserve at 380-4400.

Here is what’s on the menu:

The meal starts with an appropriately aphrodisiacal stuzzichino, or appetizer, of Goose Point oyster and finger lime, with Sevruga caviar, ocean water gelée, and spicy olive oil presented in a pipette. Wine pairing: Taltarni "tache," Victoria, Tasmania, Australia.
Another view of the oyster with olive oil and pearls of finger lime added, plus succulent.

A fondue of imported Italian fontina is presented as the antipasti course with locally grown sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts and baked pane. It is tempting to finish all the fondue, and we asked for some extra veggies, but you don't want to be too full to enjoy dessert or any post-meal recreation. Wine pairing: Pinot noir, Dog Point, Marlborough, New Zealand.

For the primi course, you will have a choice of linguine with Saltspring Island, B.C., mussels in a garlic pomodoro sauce, or the risotto below. This linguine is the lighter choice and I love the texture of the housemade pasta. Pairing: Vermentino, Poggio al Tesoro, Toscana, Italy.

Gold leaf-topped saffron risotto was luxurious, but braised oxtail was a little tricky to eat gracefully. Maybe not the perfect date-night option. Pairing: Amarone della Valpolicella, Bolla, Veneto, Italy.

The secondo course is a sous vide and grille local Shinsato center-cut pork loin, served over fried leeks and lotus root. Pairing: Chardonnay, Sonona "The Cutrer," Sonoma Coast, Calif.

As for The Kahala’s restaurants, from Feb. 12 to 14, Plumeria Beach House will be offering an all-you-can-eat dinner buffet, at $80 per adult and $40 for children. Favorites such as prime rib and crab legs will be available, along with such special dishes as baked oysters with lehua honey butter and roasted duck breast with a raspberry gastrique. If fine dining is more your style, a lover’s four-course dinner ($120 per person) will be available at Hoku’s, or enjoy a $75 per person prix fixe menu at The Veranda, with main course choices of grilled beef tenderloin and sautéed foie gras, or roasted Maine lobster with scallops. For reservations, call (808) 739-8760 or email

The Pineapple Room by Alan Wong:
Valentine’s dinner, with reservations from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Sunday, starts with a choice of Kula tomato biqsue of roasted beet and Waipoli greens salad, followed by a choice of grilled ahi or steamed crab and shrimp appetizer. Then pick one of three entrée choices from petit filet mignon, Okinawan awamori pork belly rafute, or seared mahi with Bhutanese red rice with lup cheong. Dessert is a matcha opera cake with green tea buttercream, azuki mousse and Waialua chocolate. The cost is $65 per person. Call (808) 945-6573. The restaurant is on the third floor at Macy’s, Ala Moana Center.

Bali Steak & Seafood: The restaurant at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort & Spa is offering a Pre-Valentine’s Day dinner Feb. 12 and 13, at $89 per person, starting with an amuse bouche of Kona kampachi tartare with jicama, watermelon radish, cilantro and finger lime. Then take your pick of first course of island beet and Surfing Goat cheese salad; or poached Kauai prawn with Nalo Farms baby mizuna, Big Island oranges, toasted walnuts and Meyer lemon vinaigrette. Then choose from main course of Kona coffee and cocoa-dusted beef filet; pan-roasted fresh catch; or roasted Kona lobster tail. Dessert is burnt honey Pots de Crème with strawberry medallions and ganache.

Then on Valentine’s Day the $89 per person menu starts with the same amuse bouche followed by one of three first course choices of the beet-and-goat cheese salad; hamachi and strawberry carpaccio; or seared diver scallops. Then choose one of four entrées, starting with the three above, or Maui sugar-glazed duck breast. Dessert is the same as the pre-Valentine menu. A Valentine’s Day limited a la carte menu will also feature steaks and such aphrodisiac selections as blue crab cakes with mustard sauce and sambal ($21), abalone and Parmesan gnocchi ($20), market price King crab legs or a Bali Seafood Platter for two, that for $95 includes ahi poke, King crab, jumbo shrimp, abalone, Kona Kampachi Crudo, and more. Reservations: (808) 941-2254.

Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Nook now welcomes diners to dinner

Nadine Kam photos
I never get tired of ordering The Nook’s grilled ribeye with wasabi creme fraiche and Yukon potato with pork belly bits. It’s on the menu now that the restaurant has launched dinner service.


The Nook Neighborhood Bistro opened in summer of 2014 and quickly picked up a following because of its homey vibe, and casual brunch offerings with creative twists within a framework of sustainability. We were all set for breakfast and brunch, but given the great food, many longed for more.

Well, the moment has arrived. Over the holidays, the Nook quietly introduced dinner service, and if you’re already a fan of their breakfasts, you’ll likely find yourself returning at night.

It’s taken them this long to secure a liquor license that makes extending food service worthwhile. To put things into perspective, the menu features one page of food and three pages of drinks ranging from wines by the glass or bottle, draft and bottle beers, and cocktails such as a “Classic-ish Mai Tai” ($10) with bruléed pineapple.

Owners Hailey Berkey and Anicea Campanale are a welcome sight and score extra points for being among the few women restaurateurs able to make a go of their business in what’s still a man’s world. The oversight of these longtime friends provides assurance that service will run smoothly. Berkey works the front of the house while Campanale exercises her creativity in the kitchen.

Although people inquired whether favorites from the brunch menu would reappear on the dinner menu, Campanale didn’t want to repeat herself and has created a menu that will give you amnesia over just what you liked about breakfast once you find your new favorite dishes.

Campanale said her family didn’t know how to eat fennel other than to bite into the raw bulb. She now turns them into tempura-battered frites ($7) made even more delicious when dipped into a curry aioli.

The anise flavor of fennel is an acquired taste and not everyone can appreciate it. If you’re not sure where you stand, try the crunchy polenta fries ($7) instead, served with a blue cheese and balsamic reduction or garlic Sriracha aioli.

There’s not a single wrong note in the “First Bites” selections that boil down to a matter of preference. Do you want the fresh, bright lime notes of Kauai shrimp and fish ceviche ($14), above, or the warmth of steamed clams ($13) in a warm broth of white wine, garlic, lime and chilies, with crumbled Shinsato pork sausage, below? Note: Those First Bites also make great late-night bites after a movie or show.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Chef Mavro makes Foodie Top 100 U.S. list

Chef Mavro photos
Chef George Mavrothalassitis harvests watercress at Sumida Farm. Accolades keep rolling in for the chef and his restaurant.


Chef Mavro is the only Hawaii restaurant to have made Mode Media’s Foodie Top 100 Restaurants Awards list.

Critics said “A synergic union of French technique, local ingredients and Hawaiian flavor,” is what earned the restaurant a spot on the list.

The Foodie Top 100 Restaurant Awards are created by a select group of food critics, based on food first, followed by experience, service and beverage options. It allows the critics to select the leading chefs at restaurants without a price point or wine list as a requirement.

“The Foodie Top 100 Restaurants list stands apart as a guide for global restaurant exploration that is focused on carefully curating the most outstanding food experiences,” said Patricia Wells, representing France.

Other participating critics are Gael Greene (United States), Masuhiro Yamamoto (Japan), Jonathan Gold (United States), Charles Campion (United Kingdom), Alexander Lobrano (France), Sam Ohta (Japan), Yuki Yamamura (Japan) Kundo Koyama (Japan), Aun Koh (Singapore), Vir Sanghvi (India) Michael Bauer (United States), Karen Brooks (United States), Phil Vettel (United States), Marie-Claude Lortie (Canada) and the Mode Media team: Samir Arora (publisher/editor), Erika Lenkert (editor) and Diane Tapscott (mnaging editor).

Here are links to my most recent visit to Mavro, at 1969 S. King St., as well as SF Area’s State Bird Provisions, showing two very different, but excellent experiences.

Inside Chef Mavro.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Pierre Marcolini opens at Ala Moana Center

Nadine Kam photos
Valentine’s Day is coming up, and I know I would want a few treats from Pierre Marcolini. Pictured are Pierre Marcolini’s signature ganache with the finest chocolate from Venezuela, Ghana and Peru, flavored with fresh vanilla, and Coeur Framboise, raspberry ganache coated in white chocolate.


You think you know what your favorite chocolate is. Think again. Belgian chocolatier Pierre Marcolini will change your mind when he welcomes chocolate lovers to his new boutique in the new Ala Moana Center Ewa Wing, for a grand opening celebration from 10 to 11 a.m. Jan. 30.

The acclaimed chocolatier was named grand winner in his class at the “Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie” (World Champion of Pastry) in 1995. Since then, he has earned several accolades, including being inducted into “Le Salon du Chocolate Hall of Fame” in Paris in 2014, and becoming a new certified supplier to the Belgian royal family last month.

You don’t feed royals anything less than pure chocolate ganaches. Biting into each delicate piece, you’ll be able to taste the distinctive notes of chocolate sourced from independent farmers in Ecuador, Brazil, Peru, Venezuela, Madagascar, Ghana, Vietnam, Java, Cameroon, Cuba and Mexico. All the chocolates are made in Brussels.

Photo courtesy Pierre Marcolini
Pierre Marcolini talks story with one of his cacao growers. The chocolatier recently opened shop at Ala Moana Center’s new Ewa Wing and will be in town to meet fans of his fine chocolate.

Visit or call (808) 951-0456.

Here’s a peek at what is being offered at the new chocolate boutique, and it’s just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Nadine Kam photos
A selection of Hawaii-exclusive “Marine Life” chocolates is priced at $23 for seven pieces presented in a boxed collection, below.

You will cast your Nutella aside after sampling Pierre Marcolini's Casse-Noisette Pâte à Tartiner, a creamy spread of cocoa and roasted Piedmont hazelnuts.

One of Pierre Marcolini’s chocolate tablets.

The Pierre Marcolini window on the third floor of Ala Moana Center's Ewa Wing.

Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The way we eat, according to Google, Zagat

Zagat graphics
Americans love Sriracha; green juice, not so much.


Google launched a study in cooperation with Zagat today regarding dining in cities across the United States, including Honolulu, and here are some of the findings on our dining out habits and preferences:

Respondents in Honolulu estimated they eat out (for breakfast, lunch or dinner) approximately 5.8 times a week.

Honolulu residents spend an average of $32.12 per person for a dinner out at a restaurant, tipping approximately 18.5 percent for service. In comparison, the national average per person is $36.30 and average tip is 18.9 percent.

Given Hawaii’s higher cost of living, this came as a surprise to me, but maybe this is how we are compensating for the higher cost of housing.

The No. 1 complaint about dining out is service (30 percent), followed by crowds (17 percent), parking (15 percent), noise (13 percent), and prices (13 percent).

The favorite cuisine of choice for Honolulu diners is Japanese (28 percent), proceeded by American (14 percent), Italian (13 percent), Thai (10 percent), steakhouses (9 percent), and Korean (6 percent). Nationally, Italian is the favorite cuisine.

Although Honolulans tend to eat out frequently, we're not big spenders on a per-visit basis, spending $32.12 per person, when compared to our fellow Americans' expenditure.

More numbers:

— 51 percent of Honolulu residents make reservations by calling the restaurant while just 36% use the Internet.
— 67 percent of Honolulu residents think that using cellphones at the table is OK in moderation, whereas 22 percent believe it is completely unacceptable. Only 7 percent think it is perfectly acceptable.
— 82 percent of Honolulu diners have planned or would plan a getaway to eat at a specific restaurant.
— The top dining deal-breaker in Honolulu is a cash-only policy (45 percent), followed by communal tables (44 percent) and jacket required establishments (40 percent).
— And, 69 percent of Honolulu respondents consider themselves foodies, compared to 40 percent of Americans who think of themselves as foodies.

We’re not the biggest tippers either, ranking close to the bottom with our 18.5 percent average tip.

That is not a shocker, but a pretty high number considering that I speak to many of these self-proclaimed “foodies” who won’t even eat fish and many other basic ingredients, not due to any health or allergy reason, but just … because.

I would say a foodie needs to have a willingness to try all food, which is necessary to form a baseline of culinary experience and flavor profile knowledge. I know people with aversion to onions, for example, who will never understand the alchemy of raw onions in a hamburger, or those who won’t eat cilantro, who can’t appreciate how much it adds to salsa.

You can find a link to the survey at, or take a look at this video.

Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.