Wednesday, September 21, 2011

On the plate: 'Ama'Ama

Nadine Kam photos
The entry to 'Ama'Ama, Aulani A Disney Resort & Spa's new contemporary restaurant.

What a treat it was to venture out to out to Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa, last week. It may have been work, but it felt like a vacation to wander the newly open resort at Ko Olina.

A team of us went out for a first look regarding our respective beats of dining, art, entertainment and travel. By late afternoon, I was starving, having skipped lunch, so a couple of us stayed to check out lunch at the resort's contemporary restaurant 'Ama'Ama.

It was a hot lazy day, and so relaxing to look out over the ocean during the late lunch that started at about 2:30 p.m.

Food—just a burger, chicken sandwich and kalua pig buns—took a long time to come out of the kitchen, so by the time we were finished it was 4:30 p.m., which is OK if you're a tourist and have all the time in the world.

What I really wanted to do was return for dinner, and my review appears in the paper on Sept. 21, 2011. Essentially, the quality's high, but I couldn't help thinking it was created to Disney taste, with all the middle-of-the-road sweetness that implies. Here's the pictorial version.

Stepping through the entryway to a world of relaxation and leisure. Can't you just feel yourself breathing deeper and your shoulders relaxing already?

The room by day.

On the lunch menu, pulled pork, local-style, $14.

A starter of Hamakua mushroom "tart," really more like an elaborate crostini also topped with arugula, coriander creme fraiche and Parmesan, turned out to be one of the better dishes I tried, at $16.

Head-on grilled jumbo shrimp ($18) was painted with sweet barbecue sauce, too much for my taste, but good for those with a sweet tooth, who like to bury their food in sauce.

This side of souffle potato (I was expecting it to be mashed) was fun. I like potatoes anyway, and these were deep-fried to puff up like balloons. The trick is to eat 'em while they're hot without filling up before you've touched your entree.

Eating local at Sushi ii

Nadine Kam photos
Coconut-crusted mahimahi was beautifully crispy on the outside, flaky and tender on the inside, drizzled with mango sauce and served with kalua pork on fried paiai, a thick, near waterless pounded taro, with barbecue sauce. You can see I was so anxious to bite into the pork and paiai that I ruined it before snapping this photo.

Kanu Hawai'i’s third annual Eat Local Challenge is underway, asking island residents to join together in helping to build a more sustainable, secure and healthy local food system. Part of their mission is to raise awareness of eating local every September. It's definitely something easier said than done for those of us who have trouble simply planning what to eat from day to day, much less contemplating how to keep it all local.

Restaurateurs on four islands are helping to make it easier by offering Eat Local specials through the end of the month. You can find the complete list of restaurants and meal offers at

In addition, during Yelp Eats Local week through Sept. 25, 11 restaurants will donate a portion of the proceeds from their special, locally sourced menu items to Kanu Hawaii. The participating restaurants are: Brasserie Du Vin, Chai's Island Bistro, He‘eia Kea Pier, Hula Grill Waikiki, J.J. Dolan's, Pah Ke's Chinese Restaurant, SOUL, Stage Restaurant, Sushi ii, Thirtyninehotel, and Tiki's Grill & Bar.

A $10 donation is made to Kanu Hawaii for every Yelper that spends at least $30 when they visit during the week. (Let servers know you are participating and drop your receipts in a ballot box provided.)

To get a taste of what eating local can be, about a dozen Yelp Elites and media descended on Sushi ii Sept. 19 for a remarkable and memorable meal. The tiny gem of a restaurant is deep within Samsung Plaza on Ke'eaumoku Street, and was chosen for what Yelp community manager describes as its "Yelp-y qualities."

That is, she said is something "so amazing and unexpected, off the beaten track" and of course, that possesses necessary "wow factor."I went in expecting sushi, but what the Sushi ii is offering for the challenge is a prix fixe menu for about $45, featuring a 100 percent locally grown entree, salad, appetizer and/or dessert.

Sushi chef/owner Garrett Wong and Sabrina Saiki-Mita did a great job with a three-course menu that surprised and delighted with every course, something all the restaurants must do to help Kanu Hawai'i succeed.

Founded in 2007, the nonprofit's mission is to encourage and support environmental and social change. Its 14,000 members make individual commitments as simple as I will take shorter showers or I will buy local. To make a commitment, go to

From left, Kasha Ho, Kanu community organizer, with Sushi Ii's Sabrina Saiki-Mita and Emi Hart.

Amber-Lynn Hyden snaps a photo of lemon balm intermezzo.

A petite burger char-grilled to a perfect medium rare, with a surprise center of Naked Cow Dairy goat cheese, and accompanied by crave-worthy sour cherry and caramelized onion ketchup. They need to bottle this so we can take it home.

Sushi Ii owner Garrett Wong doubled as a server for the evening, delivering a second refreshing non-alcohol watermelon and kaffir lime cocktail.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Taste of Helumoa on Friday

Nadine Kam photos
Chibo Okonomiyaki assistant executive chef Joel Mayo prepares to cook up a dish of okonomiyaki with bacon, asparagus and cheese.

The second annual “Taste of Helumoa Food & Wine Festival” takes place from 6 to 9 p.m. Sept. 16 at the Royal Grove at Royal Hawaiian Center, with eight food-and-wine pairings by center tenants and Azure restaurant, plus coffee from Island Vintage Coffee and wine from Young’s Market Co.

Pre-sale tickets are $75, available at Lei ‘Ohu Guest Services near Royal Grove, or online at A limited quantity will be available at the door for $85.

I was able to taste some of the dishes last week, a diverse menu that features steak sliders from Wolfgang’s Steakhouse on toasty buttered French bread; P.F. Chang’s spicy chicken and fried rice combo; snapper carpaccio from Doraku Sushi; okonomiyaki with bacon and cheese from Chibo Okonomiyaki; roasted prawns with pecorino butter from Azure; caponata bruschetta from Il Lupino; and Hershey’s Chocolate Bar cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory.

The tasting took place late in the afternoon, after lunch, so by the time it was over, I felt like they should have rolled me out of the restaurants, but everything was so tasty, it was hard to stop eating!

It's all for a good cause. A portion of the proceeds from Friday's event will benefit Aloha Festivals and the Hawaiian Legacy Reforestation Initiative. Call 922-2299 or visit

The cheese, egg and flour batter and vegetables that go into the okonomiyaki is topped with chopped spinach and asparagus, while the bacon cooks on the teppan.

Topped with bonito flakes, slices of the okonomiyaki will be one of the dishes offered at Taste of Helumoa.

Snapper carpaccio on shiso is Doraku Sushi's contribution to Friday's menu.

Steak sliders from Wolfgang's Steakhouse by Wolfgang Zweiner, served with housemade potato chips, will also be one of the selections, all paired with wine.

If you want to know where to find the best crab cake in town, it's not at a seafood restaurant, but at Wolfgang's Steakhouse. It's plated here with the restaurant's thick-cut Canadian bacon, another must-try. You might want to plan a follow-up visit to sample both.

I also got a preview of Doraku Sushi chef Hide Yoshimoto's panko-crusted hamachi with mango sauce, oyster mushrooms, mango salsa, sweet-spicy ponzu sauce and sancho oil. So good, and due to arrive on the menu in a few weeks, along with other new dishes.