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.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

New year sparked old memory of dau lau

Nadine Kam photos
Dau Lau, or Dau Lo, was a surprise treat at Grand Cafe and Bakery’s Chinese new year celebration. We picked up the mochi with a toothpick, and that’s a piece of candied lotus in the background.

Grand Cafe and Bakery hosted a Chinese New Year celebration Feb. 26 at the Hawaii State Museum, with new year delicacies on the table and lion dancers from Saam Fu Chinese Cultural Arts.

What was amazing was the power of food to bring back forgotten memories from my childhood, that had been wiped away by every outside-my-own-heritage food experience I’ve had since then. I may be Chinese by blood, but all-American by culture, and that culture is so strong I remember making pancakes with my mom and siblings as a bonding experience because I see pancakes all the time. But I forgot that we shared that same experience making dau lau, or dau lo, soft mochi dumplings coated with crushed peanuts and brown sugar.

It was one of the sweets served up by Grand Cafe and Bakery chef owner Mona Chang Vierra and her son Anthony Kui Sin Vierra, and I don’t even think I recognized it on sight. But as soon as I tasted it, I thought, “Hey, I made this with my mom when I was a kid. How come she stopped making this?”

Well, we kids grew up. There are things people are willing to do for others and offspring that seem like luxuries or humbug to do for oneself. I know this because I cooked at least four evenings a week when my husband Christopher was alive. He was always fun to cook for because he was the most loving and appreciative audience a woman could have. Absent that cheerleading and support, I feel no desire to cook for myself when the prep takes hours and the payoff lasts 15 minutes.

Shrimp chips and salad.

Look funn rolls.

Grand Cafe is all about maintaining a legacy of family ties and recipes. During the event, I also enjoyed picking candied dried fruit from “The Tray of Togetherness” as a sweet way to start the new year. I haven't enjoyed these since the closing of Chinatown's Shung Chong Yuein, so it was nice to nibble on candied coconut symbolic of togetherness, and lotus root, representing abundance.

I'm left wondering what else I may have forgotten in my journey through life.

There's a science to this phenomenon of recall through smell and taste. Food molecules reach the olfactory bulb that is part of the brain's limbic system, associated with memory and feeling, and this prompts instant recall of memories and the people, places and emotions linked with them.

That just tells me how important it is to share family meals together. You don't want your kid one day recalling, "Oh yeah, I used to eat this when I was all alone in my room watching YouTube."

Kalua pork bau.

Patsy Izumo and Mona Chang Vierra, foreground, feed the lions at Grand Cafe and Bakery’s Chinese new year celebration.

Chef Anthony Vierra is also blessed by the lion.

It’s always fun to watch kids respond to the lions.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Tiki's Grill & Bar welcomes SKYY Infusions

Nadine Kam photos
Tiki’s Grill & Bar hosted the launch of SKYY Vodka’s new Texas Grapefruit and Pacific Blueberry SKYYInfusions.

Tiki’s Grill & Bar hosted the launch of SKYY Vodka’s new Texas Grapefruit and Pacific Blueberry SKYYInfusions on Feb. 24.

The new fruit-infused vodkas lend themselves to spring and summertime cocktails, with no muddling involved, and guests were invited to a quartet of drinks made from the SKYYInfusions, including Texas Toast, with the Texas Grapefruit, lemon-lime soda, grenadine and fresh lime, and Blueberry Blush, with the Pacific Blueberry, cranberry juice, lime juice and simple syrup.

In keeping with the event’s theme, Tiki’s executive chef Ronnie Nasuti came up with a handful of dishes incorporating the fruits of the day, including blueberry-sauced ribs and ahi crudo with avocado and grapefruit, for a yummy evening.
Tiki’s Grill and Bar is located at 2570 Kalakaua Ave. Call (808) 923-8454.

Chef Ronnie Nasuti cooks up a saute of smoked meat, fruit and onions, shown below:

Grapefruit- and blueberry-infused water.

Some of the SKYYInfusion cocktails were served in Tiki’s signature ceramic glasses.

Nasuti’s menu played off the fruit theme, and included such pupu as ribs with blueberry sauce and a fiery kick. Yum!

Watermelon topped with feta and onions, with a sprinkling of blueberries.

Ahi crudo with avocado, grapefruit and caviar.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Neiman Marcus introduces Pacific Tea Garden curated artisanal teas

Nadine Kam photos
The Chinese New Year season marked the debut of the Neiman Marcus Tea Collection by The Pacific Tea Garden.

The Pacific Place Tea Garden on the fourth floor of Ala Moana Center was always a pleasant oasis for tea and sweets or sandwiches and other beverages and shave ice, before becoming a casualty of the center’s expansion plans.

But owner Lynette Jee, known around town as The Tea Lady, has been hard at work on other projects, including a new curated selection of artisan teas for former neighbor Neiman Marcus.

The Neiman Marcus Tea Collection by The Pacific Tea Garden made its debut during a Lunar New Year tea tasting that took place Feb. 20 in NM’s Mermaid Bar. Tins sell for $14 for Lychee Black Tea or Chai, to $24 for Superior Green Oolong.

Samples of teas and fruit tisanes were passed around the room to allow us to breathe in their fragrance before steeping.

Tisane with coconut gau and li see envelope containing chocolate.

On the evening’s tasting menu were four of the teas, alongside New Year’s gau and other treats.

First up for sipping was the sweet, elegant “Pink Ginger Forest,” fruit-and-vegetable tisane comprising passionfruit, beets, organic bamboo, pineapple and lemon.

Jee demonstrated the gong fu ritual of using a gaiwan, or lidded tea cup, for making tea, and passed around samples that allowed comparison between the aromas of the dry teas and the scent of the steeped tea inside the emptied gaiwan.

She also passed around a brick of Yunnan Pu-erh, an earthy, incense-like three-year-aged reddish-brown tea associated with good health because of its antioxidant content. It takes work prying the leaves from the brick, so we sampled the loose-leaf version.

The third tea was the popular Dragon Phoenix Jasmine Pearls from Fujian. Each leaf is rolled into an orb the size of pearls, resulting in intense fragrance released with the pearl’s blossoming in hot water. There were many requests for seconds.

Superior Green Oolong from Fu Shou Shan, Taiwan, offered a mellow finish, representative of spring harvest leaves with floral notes.

In addition to the traditional Chinese teas, the collection also features Darjeeling, Earl Grey, English Breakfast teas and a handful inspired by Hawaii, including Queen Emma Rose, Summer Palace and Mango Hawaii.

There is also a teabag selection that includes flavors of Mango Hawaii, Pineapple Plantation, Rainbow Hawaii and PassionBerry Iced Tea.

For more about the traditional Chinese tea ritual, here’s a link to one of my earlier posts from a trip to Shanghai:

Pu-erh tea is often sold in brick form. The compressed tea leaves almost resemble the cloud patterns in Asian art.

Jasmine pearls open and release their perfume while steeping.

Timed for the Chinese, or Lunar New Year, symbols of long life, luck and wealth filled The Mermaid Bar, including narcissus plants, and below, oranges.