Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Luibueno: Mexican flair returns

Mexican flair returns

Tapas, seafood and, of course, tacos are on the menu at Luibueno's in Haleiwa

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jun 23, 2010

Luis Silva, owner of Luibueno's Mexican & Seafood Restaurant in Haleiwa Town Center, posed with his wife, Taryn, as he held fish tacos and Paella Valenciana.

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In the hospital immediately following his second daughter's birth, Luis Silva was calling me, not to announce, "It's a girl," but to gush about his other baby, Luibueno's Mexican & Seafood Restaurant.

The most crucial measure of restaurant is a restaurateur's dedication, so it was a good sign, maybe not so much for his wife Taryn Silva, but for fans of Mexican food. (Just kidding; Taryn's an integral part of the restaurant, working behind the scenes and keeping the books.)

The restaurant fills the void left by last fall's closing of Rosie's Cantina in the Haleiwa Town Center, across from Kua 'Aina, but Silva's no stranger to North Shore foodies. In the 20 years he's been in Hawaii, he's worked at restaurants from Roy's Ko Olina on the west side to such landmark restaurants as Jameson's by the Sea and Chart House-Haleiwa, filling every position from dishwasher to cook.

Like everyone else, he'd heard about the dearth of good Mexican fare in Hawaii, but it struck him a little more personally because he grew up in San Diego, surfing Baja and crossing the border for the real deal. He started his own catering business in 2005 to provide south-of-the-border food for surf competitions and other North Shore events. He now brings some of the same surf and casual Baja vibe to Luibueno's, to the point where the amiable, energetic restaurateur will sit down with customers to talk story.

The restaurant's opening provides the perfect excuse for a summer day's cruise to the North Shore, to be rewarded with thirst-quenching margaritas and comidas. You can also leave with fresh seafood he'll be selling on the premises. Stay alert on the road, though. On an otherwise pleasant midday Saturday trek, my car was nearly sideswiped twice by lunatic drivers, whose numbers seem to increase daily.


Haleiwa Town Center, 66-165 Kamehameha Highway » 637-7717
Food ***1/2
Service ***
Ambience ***
Value ***1/2
Hours: Open daily, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., lite menu from 3 to 5 p.m., dinner from 5 to 9:30 p.m., and lite menu from 9:30 to 10:30 p.m. Cost: About $30 to $40 for lunch or dinner for two without alcohol
Ratings compare similar restaurants:
**** - excellent
*** - very good; exceeds expectations
** - average
* - below average.

THE RESTAURANT is not built for people watchers. Tables are separated by partitions in sunny orange and yellow, giving diners a small measure of privacy. You can see those closest to you, but you can't scan the room.

Of interest to grazers is a tapas menu filled with delicious offerings such as ceviche ($8) with the perfect blend of lime juice, tomatoes, onions and cilantro; and camarones a la plancha ($9.75), shrimp sauteed in butter, garlic and chile de arbol. There's more of the butter and garlic than spice, but few would complain about that. If you do want more of a kick, tables come provisioned with Guacamaya hot sauce, a perfect match for seafood.
You have to be a seafood lover to enjoy the appetizer portion of the menu. There's more shrimp and scallops served aguachile style ($10.75 each), chilled in a marinade of lime, chile, onions and cucumbers. Sashimi, crispy calamari ($8.50) and steamed clams ($14.95) also appear. The only meat that appears is chorizo; the Spanish sausage is a $2 add-on to queso fundido, a toasted baguette served with manchego and warm goat cheese ($11.50).

Fisherman's catch (market) can be prepared three ways: "ajillo," pan-seared with butter, garlic and chile de arbol; breaded, fried and served with chipotle aioli; and Vera Cruz style, pan-seared and topped with spicy tomato sauce and olives. This being a fish market, you'll also have your pick of fish, usually three different offerings daily. When I was there, the choices were monchong, ono and mahimahi.

I like scallops when they're done well, but I generally steer clear of them when trying an unfamiliar restaurant because they too often come out flabby and flavorless. I was sold on the seared scallops ($21.95) here on the strength of our waiter's recommendation and found them to be perfect, with a nice sear encasing the tender meat, and doused with a smooth tequila cream sauce. Like other entrees, it comes with your choice of flour or corn tortillas for constructing your own tacos or burritos if desired, and I love the accompaniment of a fresh grilled dice of zucchini, summer squash and red bell peppers.

And of course there are the Baja tacos, served on a flat tortilla. You can order them a la carte, at $4 (veggie) to $6.95 (Gobernador with melted jack, sauteed shrimp and Pico de Gallo), or two on a plate with beans and rice ($12 to $17.90). The Fisherman's Catch ($6.25 a la carte) featured white fish piled with green and purple cabbage, cilantro, onions, cheese, roasted salsa and white sauce. It was a lot of food, but I would have preferred less, for clarity, rather than a jumble of flavors.

A Baja-style carne asada taco ($4.95) sounded simple enough - marinated steak topped with onions, cilantro, guacamole and salsa - but this time, the beef didn't have enough flavor.

To his credit, Silva creates his dishes from scratch, down to the housemade chocolate that coats a dessert of deep-fried ice cream. And his work ethic has caught on since his sous chef took it upon himself to make ketchup from scratch.

My search for killer tacos continues, but they could still be on this menu. I didn't try the grilled and blacked ahi yet, or the pollo asada. Crossing my fingers.

Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Advertiser. E-mail

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Pizza in the Raw

By Kam, Nadine
Publication: Honolulu Star-Bulletin
Date: Wednesday, June 2 2010  

In tough times, people improvise, and over time, changes become permanent. The economy may have led us to a eureka moment, as some food purveyors are learning they no longer need to do the cooking for those willing to take-and-bake.
A vegetarian pizza under construction. It's a step above frozen pizzas for those with the patience to cook it up.
A few weeks ago, I proclaimed Bruno Iezzi a genius for developing a small pasta cafe in a space with no prep kitchen but room for an oven for heating lasagna made at his other nearby restaurant. You can dine at the premises, or take the lasagna home for reheating yourself.
Pizza in the Raw goes one step further. Billed as a take-and-bake pizzeria, it offers no cooking whatsoever to save on the owner's personnel and electricity costs. It's what I expected of the pizza, but spotting semi-sweet chocolate-and-butterscotch-chip cookies on the menu, I went ahead and ordered a half-pound for $5. I was handed a chilled brown log in plastic wrap.
I had failed to note the words, "Cookies in the Raw."
Well, just goes to show you how often I bake cookies. My response was, "What's this?!"
"It's the cookies."
Ha, I'm more accustomed to cookies as objects of instant gratification, not a source of labor. But, hey, I was game.

None of this is new, I might add. Grocery stores have been offering frozen and microwave-ready foods all along. And for those who can afford it, private chefs will provide packages of a week's worth of meals to store in the fridge, ready to heat and eat on prescribed days of the week.

But Pizza in the Raw presents pizza built fresh, with dozens of ingredients at your disposal. Given that Boston's Pizza is right down the street, I tried to imagine how Pizza in the Raw could make a person's life any easier. I figured that for kitchen DIY-ers, it would take a lot of effort and cost to assemble the selection of 38 ingredients, so in that way, Pizza in the Raw offers a shortcut.

If you're hungry, though, it adds about 20 to 30 minutes to your being fed, no longer than sitting at a restaurant waiting for it to bake up, but you have to consider your commute, and during summer, how hot it will be to open your oven, heated to a toasty 425 degrees.
When I first heard about this place, I was excited by the possibility of sitting around, getting hands dirty by building a mini pizza from scratch to toss in the oven and eat on the spot. THAT would have been fun, bringing a whole new dimension to the idea of a pizza party.
But no. Here, you tell them what you want, they roll out the dough, dress it up and wrap it to go. At home, you'll preheat your oven and bake it 17 to 22 minutes. To me, it cedes a lot of control over the final product to the customer, who may or may not know what they're doing. (At least at Bruno's, you could eat on the spot for a lesson in how his lasagna should turn out.)
I, for instance, decided it might be too much of a mess to leave the pizza on the same-size parchment paper placed directly on the rack (I could imagine overflow cheese and difficulty removing it from my gas oven). So I put the whole thing on a cookie sheet. That left the crust a little underdone and chewy. To correct, I placed large pieces in a nonstick skillet, covered, to cook over very low heat for about 20 minutes, which worked perfectly.
A second time, I followed the instructions, and while the crust was crisper, it's not the crackling crisp I like from a professional pizza oven. The crust occupies a place between crisp and pan-style bready. I like crusts both ways, but the in-between seems like a weak compromise.
While I was waiting for the pizza to be made, a couple of people asked if they needed a pizza stone and were assured they did not. I'd say whatever tools you have to help the process may come in handy. Most people do not have the proper accouterments for dealing with pizza. As I was walking out the door, my first thought was, "I don't even have a pizza knife."
YOU CAN build your own pizza (from $11) or choose one of their specialty pizzas ($17). They also offer a pizza of the day for $14, usually a half-half combo of two specialty pizzas.
My favorites of the specialties are the spinach-and-garlic white pizza, which tastes a lot like Boston's, and the Greek chicken, which starts with a layer of sun-dried tomato pesto, topped with feta, banana peppers and kalamata olives.
The go-tos for traditionalists will be the Carnivore's Delight with pepperoni, sausage, ham and bacon; and the Italian Sausage Red with Italian sausage, mushrooms, sweet onion and four cheeses.
There's also a vegetarian offering, as well as pizzas that borrow from other fave foods, such as a BLT with apple-smoked bacon, and the Whole Enchilada, with taco sauce, ground beef and cheddar.
If you're building your own, start with a hand-tossed or whole-wheat crust, which can be smeared with sauces ranging from basil pesto and creamy alfredo to smoky barbecue and Louisiana hot sauce. The last of which also is the starter for a Buffalo chicken specialty pizza.
Toppings include choices of 10 meats and 16 veggies, from caramelized onions to roasted eggplant.
Round out your meal with a generous salad. The Italian chop ($12) is enough to feed two adults and two young children. In it, julienned Romaine is topped with thin-sliced salami, provolone and turkey, with a sprinkling of garbanzos and diced tomato, and balsamic vinaigrette on the side.
There also is a spinach salad ($7) with strawberries and candied almonds, and "mesclun" ($9) with mandarin oranges and candied almonds. The mesclun turns out to be, not a mix of multiple greens, but a couple types of lettuce, and the almonds are more candy than nutty, like eating rock candy.
I'm on the line about the pizza. It's fresh for sure, but most people look at pizza as a convenience, and the process isn't convenient enough for me. I'd go back for the cookies and Italian salad, though.
Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. E-mail