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: http://takeabite.staradvertiserblogs.com/2012/05/01/opening-the-senses-to-jin-xuans-tea-experience

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.


It's all about the beef at Japanese B.B.Q. Restaurant Yoshi

Nadine Kam photos
Crazy Rib Eye Yoshi Style is one of the highlights of Japanese B.B.Q. Restaurant Yoshi, Japan wagyu shot through with its streaks of monounsaturated (bad cholesterol-reducing) fat.

The new year is already shaping up to be like the last with the trending of the Japanese restaurant, with multiple new entries around town.

Restaurants out of Japan tend to be backed by quality, but the trend is toward more specialization and transparency in sourcing in response to equally growing sophistification of diners.


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With guidance from knowledgeable staffers formerly from Hiroshi, another lauded yakiniku house, the Japanese B.B.Q. Yoshi experience manages to be both delicious and educational. You’ll want to pay close attention to grasp differences between various cuts of ribeye, outside skirt steak ($16) and inside skirt steak ($14), knuckles ($38) and more. It all adds up to a carnivore’s paradise.

Typical of Japanese-style yakiniku, the meat portions that arrive at Yoshi are quite small, and cook down to little nothings that leave you wanting more. But my near iron-clad stomach from years of professional eating did not prepare me for this much richness. If you don’t normally eat rich food, you may not want to overindulge on your first visit.

The star of the menu is superb A5-grade Japan wagyu, Crazy Rib Eye Yoshi ($32), with its candy-stripe streaks of red meat and white fat. Connoisseurs consider A5 wagyu the best in the world, and Yoshi showcases it beautifully. Have some patience. Trying the other cuts before graduating to this beef will be enlightening. A visit here is not about stuffing your face, but ultimately about appreciation.
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The restaurant is at 1316 Young St., open 5:30 to 11 p.m. daily except Wednesdays. Call (808) 784-0067.

If you’re a fan of cow tongue, nodotomo is the tenderest part closest to the throat.

A Grade ribeye yakisuki is grilled then slathered with a mixture of yamaimo and egg to increase the silkiness quotient.

Anchang nakaochi kalbi, left, and skirt steak.

Rib steak.

Flap meat yukke was delicious.

Yoshi’s chicken wings.

Yes you will find such things as shrimp—shown here after being sautéed in butter in this pot on the grill—pork and Jidori chicken on the menu, but very little salads or sides. Here, it’s all about meat.

Pork jowl was served with wasabi.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

It's savory vs. sweet in Off The Wall Craft's food fight

Nadine Kam photos
From left are Off The Wall Craft’s Kyle Matsumoto, Andrew Mitani and Ed Morita.

In the spirit of fun, Off The Wall Craft Desserts & Kitchen (OTW Craft), tried to get a lover’s quarrel started on Valentine’s Day.

There could be no better opening day to demonstrate its concept than with a Chocolate Lover’s Spat party, a food fight pitting those who opt for #DessertFirst vs. the traditionalists who put #FoodFirst.

Perhaps it wasn’t entirely fair that dessert and pastry chef Ed Morita had a dominant spot in the dining room, while chef de cuisine Andrew Mitani was off in a side room, busily cooking up mocha brisket sliders, mole-sauced BBQ ribs with daikon gratin and rafute-style sushi with braised Kurobuta pork belly and chocolate-peanut butter-miso glaze. Hmm, that sounds a bit like joining the frenemy.


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In a battle for supremecy, #dessertfirst and #foodfirst tied on the Valentine’s Day grand opening of Off The Wall Craft. Pictured here are beeramisu desserts, mole sauce ribs and delicious mocha brisket sliders.

In the main room, Morita was slicing his chocolate-filled Twinkies and Nutella-roasted banana sandwich rolls, laid out with chocolate-peanut butter crunches, kabochasadas, and a couple of different S’more tarts.

Also offered were sauteed clams, an assortment of salads, flat breads and raw bar.

The new restaurant concept by Off The Wall owner Kyle Matsumoto and Morita, formerly of Highway Inn, Kakaako, was created to offer local-style comfort food with a twist. It also raises awareness of those individuals who can’t wait until the end of a meal to order dessert, or who won’t risk filling up on other courses before having dessert first. The first time I was with someone who ordered dessert first, I was a little shocked. I admit I’ve become less of a dessert person over time and the less sugar I eat, the less I crave. But hey, people are entitled to dine the way they prefer, and if they want to start with chocolate and sugar or cake and strawberries, so be it.

Chocolate-peanut butter crunch desserts.

It’s probably every pastry chef’s lament that they feel like second-class citizens in the kitchen. (It’s the same in the newsroom when you pit feature writers against news writers, when news simply carries more gravitas than lifestyle coverage.)

About his half of the menu, Morita said, “Every restaurant I’ve ever worked at treated desserts as an afterthought. That is why I knew that if I ever had the chance to develop a dining concept, it would revolve around highlighting dessert first.”

Mitani will ward off competition with familiar local cuisine infused with Japanese, Korean, Italian, and French flavors, and the two will be working together to blur the lines between sweet and savory. It’s an experience that will challenge your taste buds.

OTW Craft is in the former Tsunami Night Club space at 1272 S. King St.

The chefs tested some of their dishes during a preview event that took place Jan. 21:

One of the most interesting aspects of the OTW Craft experience was sampling Morita’s smoked honey that goes into cocktails and desserts. From left are Moscow Mule, Manhattan, Sazerac and Falernum-inspired honey. I urged them to offer a flight so that other diners might better appreciate the work behind the desserts. Nuance is sometimes lost at the table.

Food First: Ahi poke cupcake with sesame-ginger frosting, bubu arare and yuzu tobiko.

Dessert First: Bacon-pecan sticky buns with Manhattan-spiked honey.

Food First: Ozoni pizza.

 Bacon goat cheese chive puffs with lilikoi and spice glaze.

A mix of eggplant rolls (back) and Nutella rolls with white chocolate-haupia sauce.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Regal Bakery introduces hot pot at Chinatown Cultural Plaza

Nadine Kam photos
The Super Deluxe Combo features won bok, mustard cabbage, zucchini, fish balls, enoki and shimeji mushrooms, tofu, clams, shrimp, meatballs, ribeye, chicken and look funn. The cost is $28.95 for this “small” order for two, and $44.95 for large.

Hot pot restaurants abound in Honolulu, but beyond a brief trial at the top of Smith Street, which didn’t work out, the hot pot hasn’t established roots in Chinatown.

Regal Bakery Downtown, in the Chinatown Cultural Plaza, is now giving it a try. The hot pot was introduced to help drive traffic in the evening, a time when the business district empties out. It’s also available during the day, although due to the often busy lunch traffic, I find that they don’t yet have adequate manpower to address sit-down customers. To date, some patience is required from patrons.

Some selling points include the restaurant’s MSG-free broths, including a light jook, and a roster of ingredients that include such local, homespun options as lup cheong, Spam, Vienna sausage and Chinese-style orange beef balls that are not widely available at other hot pot restaurants.

The Chinatown Cultural Plaza is at 100 N. Beretania St., and Regal Bakery faces the street. Call (808) 540-1000.

Here’s a little of what you can expect:

Choose from seven MSG-free soups. Pictured on one side is the milky white Healthy Soup with soy broth accented with goji berries, dragon eye fruit, Chinese yam and tangerine peel. On the other is the powerful Hot Spicy soup that will be a joy to fire eaters among us, in all its cough and runny nose-inducing glory. On this visit, we were given garlic butter and soy sauce with green onions that we mixed together as one sauce. Depending on your waiter, you may get something else. For instance, on a followup visit, I was offered a choice of four sauces. Like I said, it’s a work in progress.


The Meat Lover’s Combo features a mix of prime rib, chicken and beef balls, with assorted vegetables, tofu and look funn. This is the small order, $18.95, which easily serves two. A large order is $34.95.

There are many, many supplemental offerings ranging from local-out Spam and lup cheong to beef tendon, tripe, cow tongue and rib eye. Pictured here are frozen shrimp wontons and lamb. Meat cuts are thicker than most places.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

On set with Lanai Tabura's 'Cooking Hawaiian Style'

Nadine Kam photos
On set during a taping of "Cooking Hawaiian Style" on Sunday were, from left, Thyra Abraham, chef Lee Anne Wong, "Cooking Hawaiian Style" website founder and producer Frank Abraham, Yolanda Santos-King representing one of the show's sponsors, Island Princess and host Lanai Tabura.

Who knew, when Lanai Tabura burst onto the standup comedy scene, that he would turn out to be such a foodie? From establishing Look Me in the Eye by Lanai wine company to winning The Food Network’s Great Truck Race with his Aloha Plate food truck, to hosting “Cooking Hawaiian Style,” he now brings a taste of Hawaiian cooking to viewers all over the world.

Talk about being a modern renaissance man.

I was invited, along with other social media guests, to sit in on a taping of the show during an episode featuring Koko Head Cafe’s Lee Anne Wong—no slouch in the media universe herself, having initially captured the public’s attention as a contestant on Bravo’s “Top Chef,” for which she went on to become a producer.

The event took place at the Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery in Kalihi, a nice promo for their kitchens.

It was an eye-opening experience because I didn’t know they had to be so precise in the taping. Because I do a lot of editing and chopping on my quickie, news-style, guerilla videos, I always believed these shows were put together with a lot of takes and editing, but no. Pros that Lanai and Lee Anne are, they’re just told they have 18 seconds for their intro. They overshoot the target by 8 seconds, so they do another take, and fall under. Third time’s the charm, and so on.

Dumpling ingredients ready to go.

Mahi poke omelet with masago aioli. Nom nom. Could not get enough of the crunchy goodness, thanks to a coating that includes masago arare.


There’s also no redo for the mixing of ingredients. In showing how to create her chicken dumplings in lemongrass-chicken broth, excellent fried poke (recipe below) omelet and dessert of macadamia nut pie, each is demonstrated seamlessly in a matter of minutes. There is no second take because there is no second batch of ingredients to mix! They are crazy good at what they do. Crazy good is my new catchphrase BTW. Last year it was WAO!

Of course the best part came after the taping, sampling what Wong had made. She was a bit dismayed when she learned we had eaten the dumplings because, being on television, they weren’t cooked through for final cut. But after sitting in the lemongrass chicken broth, they were indeed cooked. And ono!

The episode will air sometime in April. You can keep up with the show and view past recipes here: http://cookinghawaiianstyle.com

One of many cameras.

 The finished chicken dumplings in lemongrass-chicken broth.

Makamae Kahawai scoops up chicken meatballs made from the leftover dumpling filling after the taping.

The were gracious enough to share the recipe for the mahi fried poke ahead of air date. Note that Wong cooks for the masses so the recipe calls for a lot of fish! Adjust to your needs.

Lee Anne Wong’s fried poke
7 pounds mahi filet, diced

Marinade
1/2 cup shoyu
1/2 cup mirin
1/2 cup saikyo (white miso)
6 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup sesame oil
2 tablespoons Sriracha

Poke dredge
2 cups cornstarch
1/2 cup furikake
1 cup masago arare

Combine marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Add fish and toss to coat.
Combine dredge ingredients in a large bowl. Add fish in batches and toss to coat.
Heat frying oil. Drop in fish in small batches and cook until light brown. Remove and serve with dipping sauce of mayo and masago mixed to taste.

Enjoy!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

On the menu: Soufflé pancakes star at Aloha Kitchen

Nadine Kam photos
The fruit soufflé pancake is a top seller at Aloha Kitchen. As of this writing, $17.

If not for some intrepid chefs’ obsessions, we would not have the innovations in cuisine we have seen over time.

On one trajectory are global culinary movements flowing from nouvelle to fusion to molecular gastronomy. On the other is the simple joy of seeing just how far experimentation can push one particular dish to exalted heights.

Americans are accustomed to seeing pancakes and flapjacks in familiar stackable form because we’re comfortable with the homey sight. Not everyone has the same upbringing, but I associate pancakes with leisurely weekends at home, waking up to the sizzle of the griddle and sitting down with the family and a nice big bottle of Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup. Depending on your family tradition, that stack might have been accompanied by marmalade, jam or jelly, a tradition in no need of a remake.

A side view of this chocolate-banana soufflé pancake ($15) gives you an idea of the height of these babies.

But for people from Japan, raised on breakfasts of rice, miso soup, fish and natto, a pancake is something foreign that could use improvement. And so the tweaking began. How could they make these flat, flabby, chewy and somewhat leaden discs more exciting?

Enter the new, inflated eggy soufflé pancake. It has reached epic proportion at Aloha Kitchen in Waikiki, owned by Japanese Olympic trainer Toshi­yuki Yamamoto, who also owns a chain of restaurants in Japan.

Just because he trains elite athletes, don’t assume he’s aiming to impose diet restrictions on the rest of us. The proof is in the soufflé pancakes that are equivalent to eating cake for breakfast. These are as big as a cheesecake. Outside, the texture is like a light chiffon cake. Inside, it has a silky, custardy meringue texture that is easy to devour, but much more substantial and satisfying than an egg-white soufflé.

The soufflé pancake is the highlight of the breakfast menu, topped with various fruit combinations. Considering the size and probable calories involved, I assume it’s meant to be shared, though I have no doubt I could eat the whole thing myself.
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Aloha Kitchen is at 432 Ena Road. Call (808) 943-6105.

They do savory breakfasts as well, such as this eggs Benedict with succulent marinated ham.

If you have the stomach for rich foods, the lobster risotto is not to be missed, made with 18-month aged Parmesan and a satisfying helping of lobster; currently $18 and available day and night.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Arancino at the Kahala offers V-Day menu

Nadine Kam photos
Insalata ai Frutti di Mare is the antipasto course on Arancino at The Kahala’s Valentine’s Day menu. A closer look is available below.

Time is running out to make your reservations for Valentine’s Day next Saturday. Arancino at The Kahala offered a reminder with a preview of its $89 per person Valentine’s Day menu that will be available from from 5 to 9:30 p.m. Feb. 14.

The presentation starts with an amuse and bread platter before launching into the four-course prix fixe menu that hits all the romantic notes, starting with a beautiful aphrodisiac seafood platter, Insalata ai Frutti di Mare, featuring ahi, Kona kampachi, sweet uni, grilled abalone, amaebi and scallop. The plate is ornamented with touches of red and green microgreens, and such is chef Daisuke Hamamoto’s deft, artistic eye, that not a leaf is out of place. When I tried to alter his arrangement by moving one leaf for a photo, it looked dreadfully wrong, so I quickly returned the dish to its proper form.


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Next up is the primo course which offers a choice of Linguine con Granchio e Pomodoro (king crab and tomato), or Risotto al Vino Rosso con Anatra. Although the latter is not much to look at—even when dressed in thin strips of fried Tokyo negi and a touch of gold leaf—it offers a pleasant departure from typical risotto dishes, colored with wine in the spirit of the holiday associated with the color red. (The result is more purple.) The risotto is topped with a small serving of grilled Muscovy duck.

Decadence arrives with the secondo course of Filetto di Manzo alla Griglia, a strip of grilled organic U.S. Prime tenderloin accompanied by two pieces of sautéed foie gras, two gnocchi-like servings of truffle mashed potatoes, and a red wine reduction sauce. Cut and layered the multiple offerings to reach nirvana.

And, just when you think you’re too full to eat another bite, dessert of Torta al Cioccolato arrives as a light and airy chocolate mousse surrounded by a textured sheet of chocolate. Not everyone will notice how different it is from other desserts in town, but I appreciated its barely there delicate candy snap immensely and could not figure out how this was achieved.

Arancino VP Aya Inamura shed some light, explaining the shell is airbrush sprayed chocolate that hardens around the mousse. Bamboo charcoal in the chocolate gives the mixture its deep, mysterious black color.

Add wine pairings for the four courses for $29 per person, and for your entertainment, accordion player Wallen Ellingson will perform romantic tunes to set the mood.

Here’s a look at what’s on the table:

 Amuse of prosciutto and fig.

The Insalata ai Frutti di Mare is a beautiful melange of maguro, uni, buttery Kona kampachi and scallop sashimi festooned with microgreens.

 Linguine con Ganchio e Pomodoro (king crab and tomato) is one of two Primo course options. This dish is paired with Dobbes pinot noir.

The secondo course is a Filetto di Manzo all Griglia, grilled organic U.S. prime tenderloin accompanied by two pieces of sautéed foie gras, truffled mashed potatoes presented like gnocchi, and red wine reduction. Paired with Gianfranco Bovio barolo. Tableside truffle service by chef Hamamoto will be $20 per person.

 Dessert of Torta al Cioccolato. I don’t even know how they got such a beautiful, delicate chocolate sheath around the mousse. Sublime. Paired with Branchetto Banfi. Below, a detail of raspberries and gold flake.



Such is Hamamoto’s attention to detail that a close inspection of the plate reveals such details as gold flake and tapioca powder in addition to raspberries and flower petals.