Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Koko Head Cafe hosts Secret Menu dinner

Nadine Kam photos
Lee Anne Wong spoons sauce over Volcano Meatballs on focaccia during a Secret Menu dinner. No, it wasn’t spicy, just red as lava.

Koko Head Cafe was the site of the second in food writer Sean Morris’ Secret Menu dining series. As a culinary insider, he’s privvy to dishes chefs are able to pull together with ingredients in their kitchen, that are not on their formal menus. These dishes are generally available by request, staff time permitting.

The dishes they build are often the things they like to eat themselves, and at Koko Head Cafe represent, that meant a no-holds barred feeding frenzy far more decadent than anything you could create for yourself at home, considering what they’re starting with. Imagine: A whole deep-fried Jidori chicken karaage burger topped with cheddar cheese, sugar-coated billionaire’s bacon and rich mushroom gravy, on sweetbread bun, arriving halfway through the meal.

Then there was Donburi Chen, named after fellow chef William Chen, who helped Koko Head Cafe chef Lee Anne Wong in preparations for her book, “Dumplings All Day Wong.” After preparing a meal for all who helped her, Chen insisted he put this particular dish on her menu, a sweet chili glazed pork and egg combo over greens with black garlic “soil.”

Non-flash video

With chefs trying to outdo each other with each dinner presented, there was a generous amount of food, and with nine similarly weighted courses, there was plenty of to-go boxes being handed out at the end of the meal.

If you are intrigued by any of these dishes, it doesn’t hurt to inquire about availability. I was particularly enamored of another over-the-top course of a kim chee hash brown Reuben, which I would love to have again … next time starting with an empty stomach!

During the evening, chef Lee Anne Wong took the opportunity to give shoutouts to her kitchen staff, including Clark Neugold and chef de cuisine Nicole Anderson, who will take over duties at Koko Head to allow Wong to focus on her newest endeavor, a ramen bar slated to open before summer.

The Parmesan and basil-finished meatballs.

Haloa gnocchi, comprising luau leaf and pa’i'ai, with coconut cream.

 Call it over the top, but the kim chee hash brown Reuben was my favorite dish of the evening. I will definitely be back for this. The slaw makes it healthy, right?

The Koko Head Cafe staff gets creative in building their daily “kitchen sink salads.” On this night it was all about fried tofu on a bed of greens beautifully garnished with Ali’i mushrooms, watermelon and timely Easter egg radishes, with the crunch of bubu arare.

 By the time the Jidori chicken sandwich arrived, people were beginning to feel stuffed and we could not believe we each received a whole sandwich. We thought they would be quartered, because that’s all I could handle of this mochiko fried chicken topped with cheese, billionaire’s bacon and mushroom gravy on sweetbread bun. Oy! This proved to be a favorite of many. I loved the gravy the most, with all its glorious mushroom essence. Because our table of four shared a couple of sandwiches, I was able to take home 3/4 of mine to enjoy the next day. (It was just as good!)

Next up was a soothing bowl of jook topped with scallions and scallion sauce, chili flakes, bubu arare, chili oil and Indonesian sweet soy sauce, all meant to be stirred in. Because the shoyu was more sweet than salty, a pinch more salt and heat would have been nice.
 By the time Donburi Chen—named after fellow chef William Chen who prompted Wong to add it to her menu—arrived, I was sad I had but one stomach. As delicious as this sweet chili glazed pork and egg combo was, I could not finish.

I could not finish the pork belly and certainly couldn’t add carbs to my opu so a course of Okinawan soba with miso smoked pork and caramelized and crispy fried onions also came home with me.

Dessert was cornflake-crusted banana drizzled with lehua honey, that Wong said we should be able to finish in one bite, but no, after the feast that came before, I could only nibble. This is one instance in which I wish I could have started with dessert.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Refresh with Lemona Hawaii shave ice

Nadine Kam photos
The healthful, healing and refreshing properties of Hawaii Island Meyer lemons reflect the philosophy behind natural flavor shave ices at Lemona Hawaii. The Meyer lemon shave ice is zingy and zesty.

When I was a kid, I was confused by the Popsicle-like Otter Pops. I was trained to recognize the red Pops as an approximation of cherry or strawberry flavors, the yellow of lemons, and the purple of grape, but I had no flavor association for the color blue. It certainly didn’t taste like any fruit.

Never mind that the purple and grape flavors we associate with commercial jams and juice still taste nothing like grapes off the vine. Like anyone who grew up following the rise of convenience food era, my earliest tastes were shaped by the artificial.

Eric Ho felt the same way and never questioned the flavors of sugary shave ice. But the disconnect from the real thing bothered him more and more as an adult. He and his wife Mamiko Ando now run Lemona Hawaii, adding to the growing number of purveyors of shave ice shops promoting natural syrups derived from fresh fruit and other ingredients, rather than plain old sugar, as in the past.

Lemona Hawaii is becoming known in Waikiki for its combination of fluffy snow ice drizzled throughout with handmade syrups made from seasonal fresh fruit and other ingredients, plus add-ons such as homemade organic condensed milk, and Tokachi azuki beans from Hokkaido.

Premium matcha and homemade condensed milk are added to several layers of snow ice to allow the flavors to permeate the bowlful. It can be topped with a layer of Tokachi azuki beans.

Non-flash video

Recent flavors were Meyer lemon, pineapple, papaya, mango and strawberry, at $6.50 per bowl. One new favorite is 100 percent UCC Kona coffee with condensed milk.

The Lemona name is inspired by Meyer lemons grown on Hawaii Island. The couple did their research and Ho said he was surprised to learn all the beneficial properties of the Meyer lemon. Historically, lemons have been used for protection from infections and science confirms the healing, antioxidant, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties of the lemon’s vitamin C, B complex vitamins, bioflavinoids, magnesium and potassium content.

Essential oils from the fruit also help to reduce anxiety and tension, improve concentration and alertness, simulate memory and brain activity, and promote productivity.

Sustainable and healthy practices are great things, but most important, the shave ice is delicious!

Mango shave ice. Below, the daily chalkboard specials. Because seasonal fresh fruit is used, the menu is subject to change.

Lemona is at 421 Lewers St. behind the Wyland Hotel Waikiki. Call 922-9590.

Golden Pork Ton-kotsu Ramen Bar newest ramen hotspot

Nadine Kam photos
Meet your new obsession, the Golden Pork Classic ramen at Golden Pork Ton-kotsu Ramen Bar.

IKKA Dining International, the Hawaii subsidiary of Japan-based IKKA Dining Project, opened Golden Pork Ton-kotsu Ramen Bar with the intention of offering the best ramen in Honolulu, and I think they’ve struck gold with their Golden Pork classic Kyushu-style ramen.

This is the one foodies I know have been craving since their first taste of the collagen-thickened pork bone broth. Spicy and garlic versions also have their merits to the point where, until you find your favorite, you will be caught up in a vicious cycle of desire. If you order the classic, you will long for the spicy. If you order the spicy, you will long for garlic, etc., etc. As much as I like them all, I appreciate the unadorned purity of the classic.

The funny thing is that while the classic elicits many a “Wow!” and “OMG!” moment from local ramen enthusiasts, friends from Japan say people from the Motherland would not be as excited because all this is standard over there. If this raises standards here, so much the better.

The space formerly occupied by Mediterraneo has been fully transformed.

A moonscape featuring Mount Fuji was created in tile on one side of the room.

Of course the broth, created by extracting marrow, minerals and collagen from pork bones over four hours, is only half the equation. The other half is the noodle, and chef Masahiro Endo spent a year going back and forth with Sun Noodle to perfect the thin, straight noodle exclusive to Golden Pork. It is so fine and so much like ramen noodles from Japan that I was surprised it was made by Sun, which I associate with a bouncier, chewier noodle. This breakthrough is very impressive.

Golden Pork was set to be open straight through from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, but word spread quickly during the soft opening period. When the restaurant officially opened its doors March 29, they ended up having to close early after running out of broth by 8:30 p.m.

Beyond the three ramen and three tsukemen specialties, there are salads and side dishes. For something new, try the “Monja” salad, a variation of the Tokyo street-style monjayaki, or crisp veggie pancake. Shredded cabbage and crisp fried noodles are tossed together with corn, bonito flakes and a light dusting of yellow curry. My full review appears in the April 1 issue of the Star-Advertiser.

Golden Pork Ton-kotsu Ramen Bar is at 1279 S. King St. Call 888-5358. Until further notice, hours are 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch, and 5 to 11 p.m. for dinner with last call for food 30 minutes prior to closing. Also, while the restaurant awaits its liquor license, patrons are invited to BYOB with no corkage fee.

A D.I.Y. Caesar salad allows you to mix in as much or as little of the soft-boiled egg as you want (it’s hidden under all that Parmesan).

Golden Pork buns are juicy and topped with a teriyaki glaze and sweet aioli with mustard; currently $3.50 each.

Spicy red miso dragon ramen with shichimi tonkotsu broth.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

First bite: Teppanyaki done right at Sumikawa

Nadine Kam photos
A slice of A5 Kobe simply flavored with a drag across a pink Himalayan salt dish that guests take home for later use. The hope is that you bring it back on a return visit to Teppanyaki Ginza Sumikawa.

First there was Vintage Cave with a $300 per person set menu. Then Sushi Ginza Onodera with its $160 to $250 per person omakase. Was Honolulu ready for such pricey dining experiences, with no cheaper diversion? Other restaurants may have offered similar set menus, but also offered a la carte options for those who could only afford a trio of appetizers or so.

There is also the question of value. We’ve all had experiences in which the quality was not commensurate to the steep price.

Yet, I feel both these restaurants deliver on quality and experience, and there are enough in town who agree, who have made a sister Ginza restaurant possible.

With its exceptional quality, presentation and service, Sushi Ginza Onodera has become a trusted destination for sushi aficionados, and the company has full intention to do the same with teppanyaki at the newly open Teppanyaki Ginza Sumikawa.

They are able to produce Japan’s Kobe Beef Certificate of Authenticity.

I have to admit I still had some doubts when I heard the company was opening a teppanyaki restaurant with similar price points to Onodera. I think many of us are acquainted with the idea of the high-price sushi bar. But when it comes to teppanyaki, the American experience is most closely associated with Benihana of Tokyo and its founder’s emphasis on fun and entertainment above all, making it a sort of Chuck E. Cheese party place for adults.

In Japan, teppanyaki is taken much more seriously. Even so, I couldn’t fathom a $250 per person teppanyaki meal when I still imagined itty bitty morsels of beef and shrimp. To pay just $100 for two still seems like a lot for that.

Well, consider me a believer now. All my doubts dissipated with each mouthful at Sumikawa, and it was with a spirit of zen, reverence and awe that I watched the chefs work their magic.

There are no knife tricks here, no turning a chef’s toque into a basket for catching flying morsels of shrimp, and no onion volcanoes spouting steam. There is only the clean, deft grilling of meat, seafood, shellfish and preparation of sauces in just the right measure, before your eyes.

Of interest to gourmands is the focus on the quality of ingredients, such that sauce or dressings don’t distract from the essence of the meat and seafood. I don’t expect everyone to understand or appreciate this. I watch too many people dump ketchup or shoyu on food before even tasting it, and note that many are fond of heavy sauces and gravies that I think have a masking effect on food. Those who understand this will have no qualms about paying the asking price here.
Teppanyaki Ginza Sumikawa is at 1726 S. King St. (past Punahou, between Elsie and Pawaa Lanes). Open 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays. Set menu prices: $200, $225 or $250 per person. As in Japan, no gratuity policy. Call 784-0567.

Chef de Cuisine Keijiro Yamane, left, with Executive Chef Takanori Kambe, who came from Japan to oversee the restaurant’s opening.

We started by putting on a bib to protect us from possible spatters from the teppan. But considering the chefs’ skill, I wasn’t worried at all. I’ve done much worse at Italian restaurants. Red sauce = danger.

Sweet potato mousse with caviar served on crostini.

Kobe tenderloin topped with fried elephant garlic chip and freshly grated wasabi.

Blinis took shape on the grill, and were filled with minced A5 Omi wagyu.

Kagoshima A4 wagyu carpaccio with a touch of light curry mayonnaise dressing, Parmesan and topped with a mini salad of amaranth, kaiware sprouts, radish and arugula.

Foie gras and daikon line the teppan. The oil comes off the foie gras and is drained away.

The foie gras layered over daikon and served with poivre sauce.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Waikiki's Wang Chung karaoke bar introduces new pupu menu

Nadine Kam photos
Bet you can’t eat just one of the flied pickles—that’s right, flied—at Wang Chung, which just launched its new pupu menu. Even though I don’t usually like pickles, I loved these sour-salty, beer drinkers' pupu.

Of course when I first learned about the karaoke bar Wang Chung, I had to wonder, “Is that named after the 1980s song?”
Don’t lie, you know the one, that goes: “Everybody have fun tonight, everybody Wang Chung tonight.”

Nobody knew what that meant then, and nobody knows what it means today, but the song is forever associated with the cheesy, party-all-the-time ethos of the time, and when it came time to name his bar, Danny Chang just thought it was a great directive to head to a physical space called Wang Chung and forged ahead, even though his friends warned him it was the stupidest name ever.

It’s a colorful place for karaoke.

Silly as it may seem, Wang Chung proves memorable and last night launched a new bar menu created by chef Randy Sanchez, fusing Mexican and Asian ingredients in just the right measure. And prices are reasonable at an average of only $5 to $7 per item, and a max of $10 for Uncle Juan Tachos, kalua pork on won ton nachos created in honor of Sanchez’s uncle, Juan Tachos.

There are some racist tones in a menu that features “flied” instead of “fried” pickles, and offers a “drinkie drinkie” menu, but I suppose being Chinese himself, Chang can get away with the tease.

Originally from San Francisco, Chang is an engineer by education, but in a state where who you know is all-important, he wasn’t able to find work in his field.

Well, engineering’s loss is our gain. Wang Chung is a colorful place with a friendly vibe, fun food and libations, with pupu beautifully served atop pages of Chinese newspaper wrapped with waxed paper that doesn’t come cheap.

Chang explained he approaches Chinatown’s vendor with an offer to take old newspapers off their hands, only to be told he still has to pay full price. Aw!
Wang Chung is in the Stay Hotel, at 2424 Koa Ave. Open from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily. Call (808) 921-9176.

Take a seat at the bar or tables in two rooms.

Loved the Saigon pork hash sliders, a twist on the banh mi, served on a soft sweetbread roll that doesn’t hurt the roof of your mouth the way typically stale French bread does. Also enjoyed the crunch of minced water chestnuts in the meatballs.

Uncle Juan Tachos are nachos of kalua pork, tomatoes, onions and fresh jalapeños over deep-fried won ton pi. It works.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Wine Loft & Sake Collection move into Kaka'ako

Nadine Kam photos
Sukit Kanaprach and Rebecca Sinn Kanaprach, at far left, observe the Shinto ceremony that mark the opening of their Kaka’ako Wine Loft & Sake Collection.

Kaka’ako Wine Loft & Sake Collection celebrated its grand opening at 665 Halekauwila St. C-107 in Kaka’ako on Thursday with a Shinto blessing followed by wine and sake tasting.

Guests were greeted with flower lei from owner Sukit Kanaprach and wife Rebecca Sinn Kanaprach’s other business, The Orchid Lei Co. (And the joke was, no one knows what kind of host or hostess gift to bring them now that flowers, wine and sake are out!)

Well-wishers filled the small, but well-stocked shop, a welcome neighbor in Kaka’ako, which the couple calls home.

Congratulatory messages were welcome on a posterboard set up for the occasion.

The store is designed so you can zero in on your favorite style of wine easily.

Rebecca is a fan of rosés, and these are priced from about $13.29 to $14.69.

Apparently, the two are an odd couple when it comes to their tastes in wine. Her preference is for rosés and sauvignon blancs, whereas he likes a deep red, but between them they cover the gamut of whites to reds.

Sukit has been a student of wine for years, an oenophile since he was a teenager reading up on wines, and waiting for the day he could take his first legal sip.

Evergreen foliage is presented to Sukit as a symbol of abundance.

There are sections devoted to the Italians, the French and the Americans.

Among the Americans is Amy Hanaiali’i Gilliom’s Napa Valley merlot.

Sea Salts of Hawaii products are also being sold at the shop.

The Shinto ritual took place in front of the sake and shochu showcase.

Sake lovers looking for something different will find effervescent sparkling sake. In the spirit of discovery, the shop will be hosting its first sake tasting from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday. Drop by if interested.

They are also making delivery service available within a 3-mile radius of shop — which means if you’re in downtown Honolulu, you’re in luck. Call (808) 545-7756 or visit Shop hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Shokudo giving away $10,000 for 10th anniversary

Nadine Kam photos
Ordering Shokudo’s anniversary maple-bacon honey toast this month could make you $1,000 richer.

Shokudo Japanese Restaurant & Bar celebrated 10 years in Hawaii with a media party on its Kapiolani Boulevard open-air patio on March 10.

Wine and Kirin frozen foam beer flowed, while guests nibbled on pupu including roast pork, potstickers, fried rice and arabiki sausages, ordered hand-rolled sushi, and sampled the month’s anniversary special of maple-bacon honey toast.

It’s a three-tier monster of a dessert which, playing off Willy Wonka, could be your golden ticket toward winning $1,000. Each order of the maple-bacon honey toast—$19.95 and available for purchase with any food item—will come with a gold envelope containing a prize ranging from a $10 discount coupon for your next visit to the restaurant, to one of 10 $1,000 cash prizes. Other prizes include surfboards and golf clubs.

The restaurant will be rolling out new menu items next month, and will also be unveiling its sister restaurant next door, in the former Angelo Pietro space. I’m looking forward to trying its tapas and Italian fare.
Shokudo Japanese Restaurant & Bar is in the Ala Moana Pacific Center, 1585 Kapiolani Boulevard. Call 941-3701.

Kirin frozen foam beer was in demand.

Shokudo is marking its 10th anniversary, and will soon debut a new menu, as well as a sister restaurant next door, specializing in tapas and Italian fare.

Hamachi, and salmon and avocado, were among handroll sushi options.

Plenty of soybeans served as pupu.

Crunchy arabiki sausage isn’t on Shokudo’s current recipe, but it should be!

The honey toast aftermath. Four people only managed to polish off 1-1/2 layers of the three-tiered dessert.