Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Blessings on the table at Taste of Taiwan

Nadine Kam photos
A "Tray of Togetherness," assorted fresh fruit, captured the spirit of the "Taste of Taiwan" friendship dinner that brought Taiwanese and local Chinese together at the table.

Can you build friendships through food? That is question and the driving philosophy behind the United Chinese Society's Hawaii-sponsored "Taste of Taiwan" that took place Aug. 22 at Jade Dynasty restaurant.

From what I saw, yes you can. If not through food itself and the cooperation behind the scenes that goes into feeding hundreds, then through the camaraderie of sitting through a five-hour, 12-course meal. In between courses, there was also a lively bit of alcohol-fueled karaoke, for a good cause as friends challenged friends to step up to the mic in exchange for $100-plus donations to UCS.

The Taiwan chefs and crew took their bows following the dinner.

On the menu were homestyle comfort dishes from southern Taiwan, "not restaurant dishes," our hosts made clear. Many dishes looked familiar to anyone versed in local Chinese cuisine, but flavors were not. You don't often find cinnamon, and never find basil stirred into dishes at our Cantonese or Hong Kong style restaurants.

The one thing these cuisines do have in common is that the major ingredients have meanings tied to blessings and prosperity, and dishes presented were intended to bestow all guests with good wishes and abundance, and they sent us all home with a small planter of lucky bamboo.

Co-sponsoring the event were the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Honolulu, the Hawaii Taiwanese Center, China Airlines, Lucoral Museum and Jade Dynasty.

The dinner started with an appetizer of blessings, foods representing abundance, prosperity and all-round success. Plates comprised a shrimp fritter, a sliver of abalone, sea snail, mullet roe and spicy abalone.

Auspicious soup consists of crab meat, shrimp, ham and mushrooms. The Chinese word for crab and harmony are pronounced “xie.” Therefore, the dish reinforces the desire for peace. Shrimp represents liveliness, and mushrooms represent longevity and ability to sieze opportunities.

Lobster is known as the “dragon of the sea” and it represents strength, energy and good fortune. It was served chilled in these individual portions of salad.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Your shot at being a Food Network star


Courtesy Food Network
The Food Network is casting for the next season of "Guy's Grocery Games," open to both professionals and non-pro cooks.

Local firefighters are known for their kitchen as well as fire-fighting skills, and are among the specialty cooks being sought for the next season of Guy Fieri's "Guy's Grocery Games."

The Food Network is searching nationwide for outgoing, skilled chefs and professional cooks from all backgrounds to compete for the $20,000 prize. If you think you have the chops, or know someone who does, applications are being taken at beonguysgrocerygames.com.


All applicants must be 18 or older, and residents of the United States.

Producers are casting the following specialty episodes:

Burgers: Open to pro chefs and cooks with unique skills and perspective on burgers.
Bacon: Seeking pro chefs and cooks with unique skills and perspective on bacon.
Cheese: Pro chefs and cooks with unique skills and perspective on cheese.
All in the family: Seeking four family members who are or have been professional chefs/cooks, who will compete against each other.
Mothers Day/Father's Day: Looking for parent and son or daughter, and parent or adult child with some pro cooking experience.
Carnival games: For pro chefs and cooks with unique skills and perspective on carnival eats.
Superfans: Cooks/chefs who are epic fans of the show.
Firefighters: Amateur cooks with skills.
Police officers: Amateur cooks with skills.
Veterans: (Amateur Armed Forces cooks with skills.
Food truck chefs
Station chefs, Chef de Parties, line cooks: Representing from every part of a pro kitchen.

The deadline is Oct. 1 for the following episodes:

Burgers, Bacon, Cheese, Carnival Eats, Father's Day (Chef Father and his daughter or son, 18 or older), Superfan, Firefighters, Police, Veterans

Casting will continue through December for additional episodes that haven't been themed yet.

Pass on the word to anyone qualified.

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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.

Vote HFWF in USA Today poll

Hawai'i Food & Wine Festival photo
Among local chefs involved in the. Hawai'i Food & Wine Festival are co-founders Alan Wong, left, and Roy Yamaguchi, right, and between them, Mark Noguchi, Lee Anne Wong and George Mavrothalassitis. Now they're asking you to vote for the festival as best in the nation in a USA Today poll.

Sunshine. Beaches. Food and wine selections from an international roster of top chefs and sommeliers. What's not to love about the Hawai'i Food & Wine Festival?

We've always known Hawaii is epicenter of world-class culinary events and word is getting out about the festival that, since 2011, has raised $1.3 million for local culinary and agricultural programs. HFWF is in the running for a USA Today poll looking for the Best Wine Festival in the USA Today 10 Best Poll.

HFWF has a good head start, currently in 2nd place out of 20 candidates and is hoping fans will push the festival into the top spot over the next two days.

Voting is open through 5:59 a.m. Aug. 15, Hawaii time. Here's the link to vote: 10best.com/awards/travel/best-wine-festival/hawaii-food-wine-festival-honolulu.

No need to enter email or personal information. Just click on "Vote."

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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.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Sea Dragon's Korean transformation worth a new look

Nadine Kam photos
Sea Dragon Cold Noodle House's namesake cold noodles with ban chan including fishcake, fantastic roasted eggplant, beansprouts and daikon kim chee.

I wasn't very interested in Sea Dragon's various shape-shifting evolutions, from Sea Dragon Table to Chukaya Sea Dragon Table, because I just didn't find the Japan-style Chinese cuisine as good as our own. After one visit, I just never went back. Even when the name changed slightly every few years, that old "once bitten-twice shy" phobia had set in and I wasn't going back until a major rehaul happened.

So I was surprised when a friend wanted to take me there, saying it had changed to Korean cuisine. The Sea Dragon name is still there, but attached to it is Cold Noodle Restaurant. The perfect draw for another hot summer.

And it turns out, the food is the best being offered on this site since the Shanghai dumpling restaurant Jin Din Rou brought this corner to life in 2011. My review is in the paper today.
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Sea Dragon Cold Noodle House is at 1491 S. King St. Call 941-2929.


I've been seeing "L.A. galbi" popping up on more Korean menus lately, which is what this bone-in cut is called in Korea. But it's also been Hawaii's style for years due to the proliferation of Korean fast-food and casual restaurants, vs. the all-meat wang galbi, or "king's cut" galbi available only at high-end restaurants. Sea Dragon's is plenty meaty for our taste.
The start of the spicy pork stone pot bi bim bap, before all the ingredients are mixed together on the skillet to make what is essentially fried rice with nice crispy crust.


One thing I didn't care for here was the steamed mandoo, veggies served in a Chinese-style bao bun. Too much carbs without an equal flavor payoff.

Goat stew is not for everyone because the meat is as gamey as lamb. The goat meat shares the pot with sesame seeds, green onions, chives, water parsley and kkaenip, also called sesame leaf in Korea, although it is more closely related to mint than sesame, and has a strong herbal taste that I liked less than the goat.

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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.

Mud Hen Water introduces Saturday brunch

Nadine Kam photos
A cava bar is at the heart of new Saturday morning brunch at Mud Hen Water in Kaimuki. It starts with sparkling wine for build-your-own mimosas and sangrias with ingredients like mango and lilikoi purées, champagne grapes, sliced strawberries, and simple syrups.

Many of us use weekends for catching up on all the errands we can't get to over the busy week. But, it should be a time to restore a little balance and relaxation to our lives. For me, there are few things more relaxing than a weekend brunch, and Mud Hen Water separates itself from the pack with the offering of a cava bar and dishes that are strictly local in inspiration.

Start with a $12 carafe of sparkling wine for build-your-own mimosas and sangrias with ingredients like mango and lilikoi purées, champagne grapes, sliced strawberries, and simple syrups.

With drink in hand, you can start perusing a menu that follows through on Ed Kenney's philosophy for the restaurant, of delivering a "Hawaiian sense of plate," setting it apart from just about every restaurant in town. Don't expect your basic bacon and eggs here. Instead, your locally inspired breakfast will more likely feature biscuit and mapo tofu gravy, waffle-fried chicken wings with spicy guava sauce, and corned beef hash with kim chee.

Here's a look:

It's always nice to share, and Mud Hen allows you to do that with its popular Sea Board, on this visit comprising smoked a'u ku, preserved akule, walu brandade fritter, cheese, soda crackers, bread, starfruit mostarda and pickles, for $22. I loved the varied flavor profiles of the fish, and liked the walu fritter so much I ordered seconds.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

'Hawaiian' pizza gets a reboot at Sophie's

Nadine Kam photos
The Hawaii Pie-0 pizza at Sophie's Gourmet Hawaiian Pizzeria in Koko Marina Shopping Center is closer to what a Hawaiian pizza should be than the pineapple-ham combo that has carried the name for nearly 60 years. The local equivalent to a meat lover’s pizza, it features mild Sriracha red sauce, mozzarella, salami, pepperoni, a small dice of char siu and Portuguese sausage, fresh cilantro and dots of cilantro aioli that deliver a nice herbaceous counterpoint to the meat.

For nearly 60 years we've lived with the Canadian invention known as "Hawaiian pizza." You can read more about it here: villagevoice.com/restaurants/do-hawaiians-eat-hawaiian-pizza-plus-a-little-history-6556091

OK, so the pineapple part might be considered Hawaiian, but the combination of pineapple and ham doesn't pop up much here unless you're thinking holiday ham with a pineapple glaze.

People here become irate when outsiders mess with our poke, yet we have lived with this so-called Hawaiian pizza for decades, accepting it as just one of those bizarre facts of life that always was and will forever be.

It's amazing to me, however, that in the whole course of Hawaii's culinary evolution and all the makeovers and reinvention of dishes, that it's only now that someone has turned attention on what a true Hawaiian pizza might be.

Over at Sophie's Gourmet Hawaiian Pizza, conceived as a build-your-own pizza joint, John Kim has also created a handful of house pizzas bearing delicious combinations of flavors inspired by our culinary diversity. What's more, all the ingredients used, from Italian-imported 00 flour, to Roma tomato sauce, to toppings, are all top notch. For the quality, you'd expect the pizzas to cost $20 or so, but the house pizzas are $12.95 ... for now at least.

He's working on getting a liquor license. Until then, it's BYOB. Sophie's is in the Koko Marina Shopping Center. Call 892-4121.

My full review is in the paper today, but here's a look at some of the selections. Apparently, I was so excited to start eating, I failed to take a picture of the Seoul Mate pizza that inspired the operation, when Kim, excited by the Korean bulgogi taco craze, wondered why no one else had put bulgogi on a pizza. Awesome stuff, and he recommends having it folded, calzone-style, for meat and oozy cheese in every bite:

I would like to say I have a favorite, but each one always seems better than the last. This is the Thai-dal Wave, with a laayer of macadamia nut cream sauce topped with Thai curry chicken infused with lemongrass and garlic, with jalapeños, cilantro and green onions, finished with a coconut drizzle.

This cheese pizza was a recent special, topped with mozzarella, fontina, Parmesan and goat cheese with a touch of basil. They were testing the combo, but even if it doesn't become a permanent addition to the menu, you could go the build-it-yourself route.

I thought the Sophie’sticated pizza was too basic to be interesting, but the combination of salami and arugula form a perfect union.

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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.

Stage pops up at Mari's Garden

Nadine Kam photos
Following a tour of Mari's Gardens, guests at Stage restaurant's Fresh Pop-up Dinner got to try freshly harvested vegetables from the farm grounds, such as roasted beets.

When I think of Mililani, I think "suburbia." The last thing I would expect to find there is a sprawling farm. Mari's Gardens is such a hidden gem that neighbors don't even know they exist, as I learned after getting lost en route. For townies, it might as well be another world, and during a Fresh Pop-up Dinner hosted by Stage restaurant at Mari's Gardens, I did feel like I was in another world, more Napa than Hawaii.

Before dinner, we were welcome to stroll the grounds, where baby lettuces were farming and beets were ready for harvest. Because I got there a bit late, I missed the aquaponic tanks where tilapia and Chinese catfish are raised as much for food as for their contributions to the nutrient-rich water that feed the farm's organic produce.

Dinner under a canopy that kept us dry during a sudden downpour.

The dinner showcased produce from Mari's Garden beautifully, as a demonstration of what farm-to-table dining could look like at Stage restaurant, whose owner Thomas Sorensen, is considering a rooftop aquaponic system to someday fill some of the restaurant's produce needs. Sorensen, owner of the Hawaii Design Center, where Stage is housed, has already been a longtime supporter of green, sustainable initiatives, and his building utilizes many energy efficient systems to serve as examples of what customers might want to do at home to reduce their carbon footprint.

That said, he's also a businessman, and knows the "ideal" is not always practical. Calculating the number of days it takes to grow a head of Manoa lettuce, and the volume that his rooftop can contain, he estimates that every 52 days, he will have enough to last through a single lunch service. But, where there's a will there's a way, and an herb garden might be one way to make such a system work from a green, and a business, perspective.

It's something I have had to think about while trying to raise greens at home. For the amount of water I used on tomatoes—only to see birds attack them at the first sign of ripening—it was barely worth the effort. When they did survive the odds, I had enough to make salads for a couple of days, hardly life sustaining.

Baby lettuce protected from hungry insects.

It is amazing work that Fred Lau and his family and staff do, and Stage executive chef Ron De Guzman, pastry chef Cainan Sabey and their staff also did an excellent job. I also appreciated all their effort at delivering 40 meals when it started raining heavily and they had to make multiple trips under cover of umbrella!

I also learned a little bit more about the difficulties of farming during the downpour, because I never realized how fragile a farm ecosystem can be. All I know is, you stick a seed in the ground, it grows, and weeks later, you have food. So when I suggested that the rain will be good for the plants, I was wrong. Here, soil and water pH is constantly monitored for optimal conditions. Rain can introduce too much heavy metal in the atmosphere or make water too alkaline, impeding plants' uptake of nutrients.

Fish are also susceptible to the same conditions, and as much as we often believe that nature takes care of itself, the fish are fragile creatures that require a certain balance in their environmental conditions. Think about that, because so do we. Events like this are a first step toward opening eyes toward the balance between man and nature, and how much work we have to do to prevent excess waste and pollution.

The dinner also turned out to be a post-birthday celebration for Thomas Sorensen, owner of Hawaii Design Center and its in-store restaurant, Stage. He celebrated the occasion with his wife Michele Conan Sorensen.

"Act 1" was Mari's Garden Salad, comprising the farm's Manoa lettuce and roasted baby beets, with garlic croutons and wasabi-lilikoi dressing. The salad also included smoked goat cheese from nearby Sweetland Farms. Wine pairing: Galerie Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, Calif., 2014.