Monday, May 23, 2016

Titus Chan still a booster for Chinese cuisine

Nadine Kam photos
Lobster with mochi rice steamed a lotus leaf bowl was among the highlights of a dinner presented at Jade Dynasty by hosts Titus Chan and Kimo Wong.

Once an educator, always an educator. People 40 and older may remember Titus Chan as one of the original television chefs, right up there with "The French Chef" Julia Child, and "The Galloping Gourmet" Graham Kerr.

But few know Chan was a math instructor before finding TV stardom in 1972, when "Cooking the Chan-ese Way" debuted on KHET, followed by a national PBS release in 1973, introducing the art of Chinese cooking to 200 public television stations across the United States.

It was a combination of ease with instruction and being in front of the cameras, as well as his knowledge of Chinese cooking that got him the gig, and more than 40 years after starting to educate people in the "Chan-ese" way of cooking, he's still a proponent of learning more about Chinese cuisine.

One of the origiinal celebrity TV chefs, Titus Chan.

A frequenter of Chinese restaurants, he says he feels he hasn't done his job when he sees people going to the restaurants and ordering the same old, like beef broccoli and sweet-sour pork, when Chinese fare has evolved so much over the decades.

To prove his point, he teamed up with Kimo Wong to host a nine-course dinner at Jade Dynasty Restaurant, showcasing options beyond beef broccoli, in hope that of encouraging people to step outside their comfort zone and perhaps try one new dish at a time.

Now that it's graduation season, most of these festive dishes can be prepared with 24 hours notice.

In addition, the restaurant in the fourth-level Ho'okipa Terrace offers dim sum offerings during the day, mirroring the latest innovations in Hong Kong and China. Call 947-8818 for reservations or information.

The big reveal for the the lobster on mochi rice: www.instagram.com/p/BFidVuPva7a/

Jade Dynasty owners Alan and Sylvia Ho with Bank of Hawaii VP Kimo Wong and Titus Chan.

The first course of crisp, juicy pork in egg crepes, and garlic-marinated cucumbers (also plated below), arrived on this lighted vessel.


Steamed whole wintermelon soup arrived looking like a flower in bloom or burst of fireworks, with the rim of the melon lined with crab meat.
A baked Pacific oyster was topped with shrimp, scallop, spinach and a Portuguese-style curry sauce.
Crispy Peking duck skin and bun.

The duck meat was presented in lettuce cups.

Sweet, tea-smoked tiger prawns was one of my favorite dishes of the evening.

Braised pork ribs were presented for viewing before being taken back to the kitchen for shredding for individually portioned buns, below.


Housemade silken tofu was ladled into bowls with ginger nectar for dessert.

 —————
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 nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

First course: Mahina & Sun's in the Surfjack Hotel

Nadine Kam photos
Deep-fried whole snapper, and salads of root vegetables and pohole ferns are part of the Family Feast at Mahina & Sun's.

Following a zombie apocalypse and cut off from the rest of the world, what would we eat?

If you envision such a future, sustainability makes perfect sense. I'm not saying Ed Kenney and Dave Caldiero are thinking in those bleak terms, but with their latest restaurant, Mahina & Sun's, I think they have the opposite in mind—a bright sunny future in which people awaken to caring for the planet and nurturing their bodies in a single move, by choosing foods both healthful and sustainable.

The two have been preaching this concept for about a decade, but takes it even further with Mahina & Sun's, making sustainable seem more palatable than ever.

A "snack" of Sweet Land Farms goat cheese beignets with beet ketchup and arugula.

It all starts with teaching us to love such basics as 'ulu and ugly root vegetables, hairy roots, green tops and all. There was a time I would have lopped off these unsightly ends, but here, they're a joy to pop whole into the mouth, and I was surprised to see my meat-loving friends reaching continuously for the bowls of vegetables and 'ulu.

Kenney would be the first to tell you he could do more, noting that it is still difficult to go without imported oils, beans, grains, Japanese products, pastas and spices, as well as most bar content.

Satisfying kahala (amberjack) crudo with preserved lemon, toasted inamona, purslane and brown butter vinaigrette.

But moreso than most outlets, I see a commitment, not only to the locally grown, but foods basic to the earliest Hawaii settlers. Most chefs, and diners, would find that limiting, but Mahina & Sun's is doing its best to win over a 21st century audience accustomed to getting any foodstuff they want, sourced from all parts of the planet.

It won't be an easy feat bringing diners back to the homestead, but they're committed to trying.

The setting, poolside at the equally new Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club.

——————
Mahina & Sun's is in the new Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club at 412 Lewers St. Call 924-5810.


Mild, clean-tasting Kualoa Ranch oysters are simply graced with chili pepper water, succulents and slices of kalamansi.


 It doesn't get much more local than pa'i 'ai topped with akule. Not for those who don't like fishy fish.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Eating Dubai 2: Call me nomad, dining Bedouin-style

Nadine Kam photos
There's a reason I stayed covered up in the desert. The fine sand gets everywhere.

As a wayward Sagittarian, I often leap before I look, and in signing up for a desert safari in Dubai, I didn't quite know what I was getting into, as in, "How we gonna get there?"

I knew we were in trouble when our driver picked us up in a Toyota Land Cruiser fitted with roll bars, and I noticed that all of the overhead grips (the ones that help passengers lift themselves into tall vehicles) in the cruiser were broken, except the driver's. I guessed that the damage came via previous passengers holding on for dear life.

It was all going fine as long as we were on asphalt, and not knowing the desert terrain, I just assumed it might be a bumpy ride. Pretty soon we came to the end of the paved road, and what ensued was a sport called dune bashing, off-roading on sand dunes that involved drifting, sliding down and surfing the slopes in our oversized vehicles as we screamed our way through the desert. Pictures and video don't do the natural roller coaster experience justice.

Camels are quite goofy looking. A bunch of them were roaming the Lahbab desert, and for some reason, my travel companions thought we were going to eat camel for dinner.

There was order to the huge caravan of Land Cruisers because everyone had to be going in the same direction. What we didn't want was someone coming in from the opposite direction, rising to top of the same blind peaks, with the potential for a head-on collisions. Check out the video walkthrough on this dune-bashing game link for an idea of what it feels like: freeonlinegames.com/game/dune-bashing-in-dubai. Obviously I could not shoot my own video or photos because I was hanging on for dear life.

Check out our experience here:


Video link

I checked out other YouTube videos and note that the screams are the same in any language:


Video link


Video link

Hilarious.

Safaris Arabia photo
Depending on which company you choose, the cost of the desert safari ranges from about $40 USD for the dune-bashing experience, to about $54 for the ride plus dinner.

I felt so much better when the ride was over and we could relax on the Persian rugs that lined the ground of a Bedouin-style camp, with low tables for dining.

The English word "Bedouin" is the derived from the Arabic words "bedu," referring to those who live in the open desert, and "Badawiyin," a generic name for a desert dweller.

Although the Bedouin population—from the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt to the Sahara Desert of North Africa—numbers about 4 million today, only about 5 percent of Bedouins still live as nomads in all of the Middle East because it is becoming increasingly dangerous to do so.

In that moment, it was so beautiful being under the open sky, that I could easily see the attraction to the desert lifestyle. I would have loved to spend the night there. Throughout Dubai, I could see a fascination with the night sky in the architecture and murals. Even on our Emirates flight, there was enough empty seats on the way over so that I could lie down and stretch out, and looking up, the ceiling was full of tiny twinkling lights, like the night sky.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Eating Dubai 1: Puffy pitas at Wafi Gourmet

Nadine Kam photos
A colorful array of vegetable and meat kebabs on display at Wafi Gourmet in Dubai Mall, which specializes in Lebanese cuisine.

DUBAI, U.A.E. — While in Dubai, I thought we would certainly be eating at Saudi or Emirati restaurants, but somehow, we always ended up eating Lebanese or Indian cuisine, at malls and hotels, no less.

What gives? I put the question to one of the Dubai chefs and he said it's because the Saudis have no real cuisine, and it's only been in the last year that three Emirati restaurants have opened, in a city of 2.5 million people.

Well that was a shocking statement. In my food-centric world, every culture has a cuisine that speaks to its soul and is a point of pride to its people, such that you can't talk stink about anyone's food.

Before reaching the tables at Wafi Gourmet, we were tempted with all kinds of marketplace treats, such as a variety of olives, sweets, pastries, and below, pistachios, dried fruit and almonds.


But, it made sense. People of Saudi Arabia were descended from nomadic sheep- and goat-herding tribes, who could only eat what they could carry, such as dates, nuts, figs, flat bread called fatir, and spices that flavored meat grilled in the desert.

Dubai, on the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea, started as a fishing village, making grilled fish a simple, satisfying meal.

Also, the nation's Islamic laws include restrictions against eating pork and drinking alcohol, and it's only in places where visitors congregate—malls and hotels—that alcohol is allowed.

I've never come across fresh pita like this in Hawaii. Sadly, the ones we get are already stale. They're light and puffy when fresh, and deflate when left sitting.

I wasn't complaining. Though the names of dishes are different, food in the region is similar from country to country, and Middle Eastern cuisine has always been one of my favorites, though it's sad to say, coming from Hawaii, I never knew what it was like to enjoy a warm, pillowy fresh pita. More times than not, you have to go to straight to the source.

The hummus, or hommos in their spelling, at Wafi Gourmet had a whipped, light texture and tasted less like chickpeas than we have here. Instead the chickpeas sit inside the bowl of hummus. The cost was $33 dirhams, roughly $10 USD.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

'Ai Love Nalo feeds body & soul



Nadine Kam photos
The Medi Bowl, a Mediterranean combo comprising kalo falafel, roasted baba ganoush, beet hummus, millet tabouleh and greens with an herb tahini sauce, is one of my favorite dishes on the menu at 'Ai Love Nalo. The colors are a feast for the eyes.

Because my foodie diet is so rich in protein and fat, I'm happy for those occasions when I can escape to such basics as fresh veggies and hummus, staples in every food writer's/blogger's kitchen for those detoxing down times when we're not at a restaurant.

I once suggested we feed hummus to the hungry instead of stocking up on salt-, sugar- and preservative-laden canned goods during food drives, only to be told the hungry wouldn't eat it. Critics of my plan had a point. As much as I love hummus and a good salad, I don't crave them the way I crave fried chicken, pork ribs, or lately, Fat Boy ice cream sandwiches.

Humans have a natural affinity for fats, sweets and carbs. You can read up on some of the science here: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK53528/

You can opt to sit indoors, or, if you don't like being confined by four walls, bring a mat to sit outside in the "Garden of Eatin'," pictured below.


Yet, immediately after visiting 'Ai Love Nalo, I found myself craving the casual vegan restaurant's tofu poke bowl, with limu providing all the ocean essence I needed, and avocado providing body and richness, so I didn't miss the fattiness and texture of fish at all.

I also crave the Medi Bowl ($11), a Mediterranean-inspired combo of kalo falafel served over greens with an herb tahini sauce, millet tabouleh, and small portions of local eggplant baba ganoush and beet hummus with all the flavor of chickpea hummus with a tinge of beet.

It's no wonder the restaurant tends to be packed on the weekends, when people are most likely to have the time to make the drive to Waimanalo. It's well worth the trip.

Dishes here are fresh and delicious, and there is many a dessert lover who will rejoice over its non-dairy, all-natural dessert of Outta This Swirled soft-serve sundae. Replacing the ice cream is a mixture of coconut milk and bananas, coated with a no-added sugar "Cacao Magic" shell.

A meal here is a treat for the body, soul and senses from beginning to end.
———————
'Ai Love Nalo is at 41-1025 Kalanianaole Highway. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Mondays. Online at ailovenalo.com. There's no phone.

 
The tofu poke is delicious, available in a generous poke bowl that starts with a choice of brown rice, millet or a half/half combination, with limu, onion, avocado, green onion, furikake and greens. Recently, $11.

The Kaukau Lu'au plate is 'Ai Love Nalo's healthier remake of the Hawaiian plate lunch. Local Okinawan potato and an assortment of local veggies are baked in creamy coconut lu’au, and served with your choice of poi, brown rice or millet, with a sampling of tofu poke and a side salad. Recently $11.

Roasted veggies and avocado are piled onto a veggie sandwich, but the whole-wheat vegan bun didn't hold up well to the ingredients and became mushy quickly.

Dessert lovers will rejoice over 'Ai Love Nalo's vegan, guilt-free soft serve, made with bananas and coconut milk, with cocoa powder shell that mimics chocolate. It's presented here with sliced bananas, papaya and housemade granola.

There are several smoothies on the menu. This is the Lime in Da Coconut, made with coconut milk, key limes, avocado, honey and bananas, and topped with coconut flakes.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Before leaving, head next door to visit the Waimanalo Market Co-op. There, you'll find fresh produce, 'Nalo-related merchandise including jewelry, clothing and tote bags, and a couple of food purveyors. The co-op is at 41-1029 Kalanianaole Highway, open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays to Saturdays, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays. Call 690-7607.

Produce at the Waimanalo Market Co-op is sourced from the area ahupua'a.

If you think you've found the island's best poke, better remake your list if you haven't tried poke from Hale I‘a Hawaii. Lance and Lucie Kaanoi's poke is exceptionally fresh and delicious, making both their Korean-style, and ogo and ahi poke must-trys on your next visit to Waimanalo. They also serve poke hoagies.

 —————
Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her food coverage is in print in Wednesdays'a Crave section. Contact her via email at nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Going off menu at Forty Carrots

Nadine Kam photos
Maui Nui Venison tartare with quail egg, pickled wasabi and chicharron was one of the off-menu dishes presented by chef Jon Matsubara at Bloomingdale's Forty Carrots May 5.

Foodies are always on the prowl for what's new, but to think every diner is thrilled by change is a mistake. There are many more people who seek the tried and true, people I don't understand, who can eat teriyaki beef (or whatever their favorite food is) every day.

Trying to satisfy both kinds of diners is a balancing act for chefs, creatives who for the most part must commit to a menu—whether for three months to decades—but who otherwise get to play and wow us through daily specials and special occasion menus.

Over at Bloomingdale's third-floor Forty Carrots restaurant, chef Jon Matsubara bridges the gap between the two kinds of diners by introducing specials that riff on classic, familiar local fare. He can also go off-menu to create unique dinner menus for organizations or individuals who want to book the space for evening events or special occasions.

One such recent menu was highlighted by a local, literal and luxurious take on the French beef stew, pot-au-feu, or "pot on fire."

In it, the chopped watercress, salt meat and chili pepper water of a Hawaiian diner was upgraded. The greens and beef were layered with a generous helping of foie gras, followed by a pour of chili pepper bouillon. Served with rice.

And we all had second helpings of crispy chicharrons that accompanied the opening dish of Maui Nui Venison tartare.
——————
Forty Carrots is on the third floor of Bloomingdale's Ala Moana Center. For special menu inquiries, email jon.matsubara@bloomingdales.com.


A juicy Hokkaido scallop was paired with Kona abalone in Italian black truffle sauce. Hidden on the other side of the dish was an elegant slice of pork "shumai" freed of its wrapper.

A generous piece of foie gras was layered over three slices of salt beef and presented with chopped watercress for a local-style pot-au-feu. Below, the pour of chili pepper bouillon.


Dessert of vanilla bean sticky rice topped with toasted almonds and spearmint, served with ruby grapefruit and lemon-ginger syrup.

 —————
Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her food coverage is in print in Wednesday's Crave section. Contact her via email at nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Fête draws a crowd in downtown Honolulu

Nadine Kam photo
Bacalao fritters served with a mild harissa aioli are among the highlights on the evening menu at Fête, the newest addition to the ever-growing Downtown food scene. Chicken liver mousse was another favorite.

I have eaten at so many poorly managed restaurants in the past year that I feel a little gun-shy when visiting an eatery for the first time. If I walked into a new establishment with no expectations in years past, I now walk in with skepticism.

A restaurant run by professionals has become a rarity as barriers to entry have been broken down by food trucks and popups, and so many who graduate to bricks and mortar appear to be winging it.

But, sitting down to dinner at downtown Honolulu’s newest restaurant, Fête, and speedily plied with greetings, menus, ordered drinks and pupu in spite of the full house, I breathed a sigh of relief. Yes! Obviously, professionals at work, and diners are responding. Barely a month old, it's packed, making reservations a must.

Even though Fête is a first-time effort from the husband-and-wife team of Chuck Bussler, who serves as general manager, and Robynne Maii, executive chef, the two have lengthy backgrounds in food service.

Maii’s extensive culinary métier starts with such local restaurants as 3660 on the Rise and Padovani’s Grill, leading to New York’s Waldorf Astoria. She’s also been an educator and worked for Gourmet magazine as a research assistant and "Truth in Labeling" columnist. The couple met in New York, where Bussler worked at several restaurants over time, including Savoy, Blue Hill and Prune.

Craig T. Kojima photo
I’m already a sucker for Chinatown’s brick walls and picture window storefronts, but the additions bring warmth and a modern sophisticated grace to the early 20th century space. It’s a restaurant that could fit in easily in San Francisco’s or Brooklyn’s food scene, but we’re the lucky ones.

Bussler, who also worked with “Top Chef’s” Hugh Acheson to open 5&10 in Athens, Ga., designed Féte’s interior, which included tasking local artists to create glass lighting fixtures, a living wall and other unique details.

Fête’s artisanal menu is short and sweet to keep service manageable for the kitchen. In spite of its brevity, there’s no shortage of good ideas, so you’ll probably be hungering for all 11 lunch dishes and 16 dinner items, plus a handful of sides and desserts. This is a place where it’s just as pleasant ordering a few small grazing bites before a night at Hawaii Theatre, as it is sitting down for a full meal.

The bar is similarly curated with a handful of old-fashioned cocktails, predominantly local craft beers, and an eclectic roster of small production wines from around the globe.

———————
Fête is at 2 N. Hotel St. (corner of Nuuanu Avenue). Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays, and 5 to 11 p.m. Saturdays. Call (808) 369-1390.



At the bar, Mari Maffioli created a Clover Club cockktail, that includes Brooklyn Gin, a shout-out to the city the owners' once called home.
Owner Chuck Bussler takes a hands-on approach in running the restaurant, and to date, the staff has been equally capable. This should be a given, but alas, so rare in this town.

Nadine Kam photosMarinated olives accented with orange zest was a delicious amuse bouche. I could have eaten these all night.

There wasn't enough foie gras to be satisfying in a foie gras gyoza appetizer.
Kabocha squash risotto (recently, $23) isn't very sexy, but delivers a healthier take on the rice dish, with curly kale and shiitake, shimeji and maitake mushrooms that also give the dish texture.

Maii shows her Korean heritage with a dish of grilled kalbi-marinated bavette ($28), the steak flavored with a mild touch of kochujang sauce and layered over flavorful fernbraken and mungbean sprout fried rice. The dish is topped by an overeasy egg and cucumber namul.

If you can get past an unusually hard shell, you might enjoy the juiciness of Fetê's fried chicken. I think a lot of people would appreciate a change in the batter.

——————
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 nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.