Sunday, September 30, 2012

Go Italian to feed a kid

Romano's Macaroni Grill photo

To counter all the effects of dining out for a living, I try to be kind to my body on "off" days, sparing myself from salt, sugar and fat overloading.

I could never do all the work involved in going as far as making the mac nut ricotta in the raw vegan Living Lasagna at Licious Dishes, but I really love Sylvia Thompson's lasagna and it inspired me to sub the usual layers of pasta with layers of sliced zucchini. To make the slicing task easier, you can use a mandoline, but I find it just as easy to use a knife for a small quantity.

My husband sounded leery about the idea and likes the pasta, so in a first pass, we compromised. I did the bottom layer with pasta, and middle and top tiers with zucchini, and neither of us missed a thing.

The beauty of any lasagna recipe is that they're quite forgiving, and this doesn't have to be vegetarian at all. You can muse a meat filling if you want, but you an feel a little better knowing you've included more vegetable than you would have otherwise.

I'm sharing this recipe after being invited by Romano's Macaroni Grill to share an Italian recipe toward a goal of ending childhood hunger.

The restaurant partnered with Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign to connect kids to 1 Million Meals, 500 meals per post. According to Share our Strength, one in five, or 16 million children, go hungry in America on a regular basis.

The long-term cost to society are:

>> Nationally: According to a report by the Center for American Progress and Brandeis University, “hunger costs our nation at least $167.5 billion due to the combination of lost economic productivity per year, more expensive public education because of the rising costs of poor education outcomes, avoidable health care costs, and the cost of charity to keep families fed.”

>> Individually: The center also calculated that “the impact of being held back a grade or more in school resulting from hunger and its threat resulted in $6.9 billion in lost income for 2009 dropouts in 2010 and that high school absenteeism led to a loss of $5.8 billion, also in 2010. In total, food insecurity led to a loss of $19.2 billion in (lifetime) earnings in 2010.”

>> Your cost: “it cost every citizen $542 due to the far-reaching consequences of hunger in our nation.” If the number of hungry Americans remains constant, “each individual’s bill for hunger in our nation will amount to about $42,400” on a lifetime basis.

Readers can also visit the restaurant and donate $2 to receive $5 off their next meal. For more information, visit

Here's the recipe:

Spinach Lasagna with Zucchini and Ricotta
3 sheets lasagna pasta
1 large onion, small dice
6 cloves garlic, chopped
Olive oil
1 10-ounce package frozen spinach, unfrozen
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1 pound zucchini, sliced thin
15-ounce Ricotta
2 eggs
1 24-ounce jar Mario Batali vodka sauce (or your favorite tomato/spaghetti sauce)
Grated Parmesan to taste

Boil the pasta; remove to a plate. Spread about 2 tablespoons of sauce in a 13-by-9 Pyrex baking dish. Spread pasta on dish
Saute the onion and garlic in olive oil. When caramelized, add the spinach. Season to taste.
Layer one-half of filling over pasta. Beat eggs wih ricotta, and layer half of this mixture over vegetables, followed by a layer of one-third of the sauce.
Layer half of zucchini strips.
Create another layer of filling, ricotta, sauce and zucchini.
Cover zucchini with remaining sauce and sprinkle Parmesan over all.
Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Allow to rest 15 minutes before serving.
Makes 8 servings.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Karai Crab heats up the scene

I was excited by the possibility of heat and spice promised in the name Karai Crab, but it's only after I sat down and saw the restaurant's crab logo and that fiery furnace of a mouth that I felt a little scared by just how much heat would arrive.

I like spicy food, and can practically drink Sriracha, but things are a quite a bit hotter here. I slipped in before a media preview Sept. 21, and this half order of "No Mess" (that is, peeled) shrimp nearly killed my tastebuds with its so-called "medium" cayenne-pepper heat. If this was medium, I don't know if I really wanted to explore spicy (habanero heat) or extra spicy (ghost pepper heat).

Luckily, I had ordered mussels with habanero sauce before trying the cayenne, and I liked the habaƱero much more, which here, is more of a glowy, citrusy heat than a burning one like the cayenne.

Nadine Kam photos
No Mess shrimp really absorbed the heat. I and my dinner companion could only manage one apiece, so the rest went to waste.

I was afraid to tackle the ghost pepper heat, but took a tentative bite later on at the media lunch that followed the restaurant's blessing. And I liked that too. Even so, it did have a sting so I had to alternate between dipping pieces of king crab leg in habaƱero and ghost pepper sauces that were served on the side, along with garlic butter.

Before visiting the restaurant, I wondered how it would find its niche, considering its latecomer status as the fourth crab restaurant to open within six months. But, the flavors are delicious and they're working to differentiate themselves from the pack with chef's specials and new sauces that will keep visits interesting over time. And, you can see the clean presentation, sans plastic bags:

Dungeness crab is tasty, if not quite as cute as Karai Crab's logo, top of page.

After a blessing by kahu Cordell Kekoa, from left, Karai Crab manager Garrett Kamei, executive chef Miles Miyamoto and Michael J. Robinson from Kapiolani Medical Center untie the maile lei. A portion of proceeds from food service through Sept. 30 will be donated to Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children.

For a person who writes about food, Lindsey Muraoka of the Honolulu Pulse blog Food La La is really squeamish about pulling a crab apart getting her hands dirty. She tackles a Karai Combo ($25) with crab legs available separately at market price.

Like the other shellfish, you can add one of six seasonings to an order of clams, then add spice, or no spice if you can't take the heat.

I was lucky to be dining on a day they were experimenting with salt-pepper shrimp in the kitchen. Everyone in the restaurant at the time was lucky to get a sample of the crisp shrimp that was just as good, if not better, than the Chinatown originals, though without the sprinkling of green onions, garlic and chilies. If it's not on the menu by now, they'd better add it quick!

An order of corn is $3, and the portion is small, but it's really sweet and not soggy at all.

King crab legs added to a Karai combo bowl.

Bacon-jalapeno cornbread is good for cutting the heat of the chilies.
Karai Crab is at The Willows, with separate makai building and entrance, 901 Hausten St. Call 952-6990.

Friday, September 14, 2012

First course: 53 By the Sea now open

Nadine Kam photos
Oysters that are part of the 53 Seafood Showcase platter. This was the grand opening selection. The actual $30 seafood platter will be portioned for two.

Now open on the site of the former John Dominis restaurant is 53 By the Sea, Honolulu's latest Italian restaurant helmed in the kitchen by a Japanese chef, Hiroshi Hayakawa.

No one who's ever been to John Dominis will see a trace of the former restaurant here. It's given way to a $16 million Mediterranean-style chapel-looking building that will also serve as a wedding venue marketed to Japanese lovebirds.

The 200-seat Italian restaurant is on the ground floor, and a ballroom staircase will lead to the Terrace by the Sea. The two-story, 18,825-square-foot building features two wedding chapels and six banquet rooms in an unbeatable setting right on the water's edge in Kakaako, with a straight-ahead view of Diamond Head.

Whereas the former restaurant was built close to the water, with waves splashing against glass walls, the new restaurant is raised, with glass doors and outdoor seating for those who want to actually feel the ocean breeze and take unobstructed photos.

The restaurant is open for dinner, and lunch service is set to begin around Sept. 26. During a media reception this morning, the restaurant offered a sampling of its menu, with entree prices ranging from $18 for spaghetti Bolgonese, to $42 for grilled Maine lobster with fried island vegetables.

*Note that the dishes below were presented in group portions, and not the actual individual portions.

The exterior of the new 53 By the Sea restaurant built on the site of the former John Dominis restaurant.

The ballroom staircase leading to the wedding chapels.

Chef Hiroshi Hayakawa.

Prosciutto and Pecorino.

Among the beef offerings is grilled Black Angus filet mignon.

Bow-tie pasta and pesto scampi.

Seafood penne.

Escargot-stuffed mushrooms.

The million-dollar view.