Wednesday, January 28, 2015

MW cafe series hones in on Hawaii chocolate

Nadine Kam photos
The Evolution of Chocolate dessert highlighted flavors from several aspects of chocolate production, including a tart and fruity sorbet with essence derived from the pulp of the cacao pod.

Wade Ueoka and Michelle Karr-Ueoka continue to be the hardest working couple in the biz. If it seems like I’m always at their MW Restaurant, it’s because they are so creative in coming up with new ideas, and tireless in their execution.

On the heels of their Secret Menu dinner I documented yesterday, was their Chocolate Cafe, the inaugural event for a series that will highlightvarious island ingredients throughout the year; in this case, chocolate from around the islands.

The event took place in MW’s new private dining room, with patrons lining up to indulge in all manner of savory and sweet treats priced from $3 to $18. Orders were taken at the door, and chocolate lovers could opt to eat in or take out, though trying to find a table was a squeeze in the 40-capacity room.

Dishes proved to be irresistible, but after trying to share a hot chocolate, it was so good I wanted my own, and oh boy was that filling! I think all of us were willing to risk a tummy ache later for ambrosia NOW!

Plans are to host a themed event once a month, the next one highlighting products from Naked Cow Dairy, pitting cow vs. goat milk. I have a feeling I would be drawn to the goat team, but with the goods in their capable hands, I may be surprised.

Follow for updates.

Michelle Karr-Ueoka, friend of cacao.

Savory items on the menu included a beautiful grilled chicken mole, and below, pork chili.

Chocolate bruschetta.

Treats packaged to go.

All items made the long journey from pod to finished form. Among speakers that day was Madre Chocolate's Nat Bletter, who talked of his first time making chocolate in his New York apartment. He now offers a $24.80 .bean-to-bar kit to help guide others in the process.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The 'Secret' is out

Nadine Kam photos
MW Restaurant’s Secret Menu dinner that took place Jan. 22 started with a quartet of hand-passed canapes.

Foodies are a restless lot. While others are content with their teri beef plates, loco mocos and poke bowls, the foodie is constantly prowling about, sniffing out the best new thing to put in his or her mouth.

Instead of waiting for things to happen, foodie Sean Morris seems to enjoy prodding chefs to make things happen. He’s a fan of secret and hidden menus, full of dishes chefs are capable of creating apart from their regular menus, and arranged such a meal at MW restaurant for 10 of his fellow food enthusiasts.

But when he found out Thursday’s dinner would be held in the restaurant’s new, adjoining private dining room, he thought it might be a waste of owners Wade Ueoka and Michelle Karr-Ueoka’s time, so to make it worthwhile, he promised to fill the 40-seat room. A simple post to Facebook did the trick, with fellow foodies shelling out $70 apiece to partake in the special dinner.

MW Restaurant’s Wade Ueoka and Michelle Karr-Ueoka introduced the dinner and their secret ingredient.

In the spirit of fun and with a little bit of showbiz flair, the Ueokas introduced the dinner with a mystery brown paper bag containing a secret ingredient that would permeate the meal. And, ta-da, from out of the bag, they pulled a foodie favorite, foie gras.

Beyond the main courses, details like housemade Naked Cow milk butter, with its marvelous straight-from-the-farm stinky cow aroma, were well appreciated.

My aim here is not to tease, but inform, so I wanted to let you know you can enjoy any of the secret menu dishes with 48-hour notice. You might also want to note the Kona lobster cannelloni was the consensus savory-side hit of the evening.

Smoked tako canape, and below, arancini. Before dessert’s arrival, we were also treated to airy potato beignets.

Kabayaki unagi over foie gras fried rice was the first of the main courses.

Kona lobster-filled cannelloni was also crowned with the shellfish and served with a tomato ragout, the savory-side hit of the evening.

Smoky Kurobuta pork loin in an upscale dish of kalua pig and cabbage was the most filling dish of the evening.

Beneath the chocolate tuille was “one way” of Waialua chocolate mousse served “two ways.” The one in the cup was in standard mousse form, although at first glance I thought it was a souffle and was surprised when I slipped in my spoon. The other “way” was dehydrated mousse.

The evening left many asking when the next secret dinner would take place. There are at least five restaurants interested in hosting the next dinners, and right now, one every other month seems to be a workable goal. And of course they will take place at restaurants Morris — whose taste is most in line with mine out of everybody I know — loves.

You can stay informed by following Sean Morris on Facebook or @incurablepicure on Twitter.

First Bite: Waikiki Sand Villa's Wood & Bucket

Nadine Kam photos
Oysters presented during Wood & Bucket’s Jan. 9 grand opening are $3 apiece, topped with tomato and jalapeño salsa.

There’s something cooking at the Waikiki Sand Villa Hotel. At one time it was home to The Noodle Shop and the comedy/music trio if Frank de Lima and Na Kolohe. Then at some point in the ’90s, or maybe sooner, it went quiet.

Now all of a sudden, there’s been a burst of activity. Perhaps motivated by the popularity of the poolside Il Buco, an unassuming gem of a wine bar, hotel management has gone forward and refurbished the former street front Sand Bar, and rechristened it Wood & Bucket.

Company president Hiroki Shuto was in town to celebrate the bar’s grand opening on Jan. 9, saying he’s wanted to make changes since 1987, and along with the redesign, thought the name change was necessary.

The name Wood & Bucket is one of the most nonsensical I’ve heard lately, and has no deep meaning save for the fact that most of the interior comprises wood, and the menu comprises a bucket of ambitious and far-flung ideas. That is typically the starting point for the naming of a thing, but that is as far as they went. But, should you happen to find yourself there on Super Bowl Sunday or beyond, you will find a casual, no-nonsense setting with some classic bar fare as well as more upscale temptations on shareable big and small plates.

The food is the work of chef Winston Madayag, formerly at Top of Waikiki, Ruth's Chris Steak House, and Fresco.

Added bonus No. 1: Night owls will be happy to know it’s open until 4 a.m. daily for those late-night or early morning munchies.

Added bonus No. 2: Before or after a visit, you can rest your feet in the warm water of the hotel’s free ashiyu, or solar-powered foot spa, a pleasant way to end the day.
The Waikiki Sand Villa hotel is located at 2375 Ala Wai Boulevard; cross street is Kanekapolei. Call (808) 922-4744.

My favorite dish here was the lamb lollipops with five-spice and cumin.

I loved the buttery polenta on a small plate of polenta and BBQ shrimp, which was quite bland. The polenta was nice compensation, but may be too rich for some, so I thought the portion was perfect, at $8.

The kalbi tapa comprises a few pieces of boneless shortrib with sides of kim chee and mac salad, $7.

Tortilla Española with a filling of sliced potatoes and onions was just OK. It could have used a bit of spice and heat. The anchovies on top were not enough to flavor the entire omelet.

A classic caprese had an extra layer of chorizo, $5.

Seafood pescatore is one of the bar’s entrée plates, at $16. It was rather dry when I was there, and if you want pasta, you will be better off heading to the Waikiki Sand Villa’s poolside wine bar, Il Buco.

Sizzling New York steak platter, $17.

Sweet lilikoi ribs and the polenta and ribs were among the sample dishes at the Jan. 9 grand opening.

First bite: Gokoku Sushi at Koko Marina

Nadine Kam photos
Sashimi arrangement at the Dec. 9 grand opening of Gokoku Sushi.

Gokoku Sushi had a rough start, though at its grand opening Dec. 9, it held so much promise. I’d heard that people in the vicinity of the restaurant’s Koko Marina Center home were starved for sushi, but it turns out, not at the price of $20 for rolls and about $10.25 to $17 for appetizers.

Worst of all was the service of inexperienced high schoolers who milled about like extras on a movie set, roaming here and there without interacting with guests or doing anything constructive like bringing tea or refilling water glasses. I watched one boy set a table by making about 30 trips when perhaps four or five would have sufficed. It took him longer than most because he was grabbing one pair of chopsticks, laying it down, going back to the service area, grabbing another, and so on and so forth with tea cups, plates and napkins. Oy, and such a shame for a beautiful new restaurant.

The room is quite pretty, with a mix of traditional and contemporary flourishes.

After two visits there without improvement, I was about to give up and allow customers’ nature to take its course rather than take the fall for its demise. I’d heard the space the restaurant moved into is unlucky.

But then, I started hearing some good things. The service was getting better, and there is about a 50-50 reaction of positives to negatives about the food.

There have been other restaurants in town that have gone unreviewed by me while I wait for them to correct their problems. Here, there is hope. And that is crucial because the Japan-based Pierthirty Group—which owns about 200 restaurants in Japan and more in China—aims to open at least 30 restaurants in Hawaii over the next 10 years. All will have different themes, and the next to open may be an Italian restaurant, bakery and tempura shop, that will be part of the mix when the new Ala Moana Center additions are completed.

Let’s hope those get off to a better start.

Note: Photos are from a mix of grand opening and two more visits.

Scenes from the Dec. 9 grand opening celebration, including ahi-cutting demo.

From left, parent company Pierthirty president and CEO Akiyuki Takahashi, executive chef Katsuhisa Inoue, and vice-president Masayoshi Kurita.

Chawanmushi served at the restaurant’s grand opening was beautiful and special, served in eggshells with the flourish of gold leaf. Not on the menu though.

An ahi-cutting demonstration was also featured during the grand opening celebration.

Chicken and egg udon was a nice comfort dish.

There’s been a lot of inconsistency in presentation here, from lunch offerings to tempura. I felt cheated when my tempura was missing kabocha, while other plates had it.

Smoked salmon carpaccio is one of the evening appetizers, $16.50.

An ahi and salmon poke salad was nothing special, but I loved the accompanying salty/fiery wasabi sorbet.
Sushi rolls are pricey, but filling. The Dragon Roll is a California with shiso and layers of maguro, salmon and hamachi. I loved the heat and ctirus from the dollop of yuzukosho on top.

Tender chicken nanban with tartar sauce.

Misoyaki lamb wasn’t special enough to justify the $48 price tag.

Snapper sushi.

Japanese seafood stew can be described as a miso-based bouillabaisse.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Foodland launches Eat Local Tuesdays

Nadine Kam photos
Aya Nishihara and Eric Newhouse have fun with props during the launch of Eat Local Tuesdays at Foodland Aina Haina.

Foodland launched its new weekly Eat Local Tuesdays program Jan. 20, with all Foodland Hawaii locations supporting the idea of buying local in support of farmers and a safe, sustainable food supply for Hawaii.

They will be making local products easier to find, tagging them with orange “locally grown” and “locally made” signs, and sharing samples from 3 to 6 p.m. or 4 to 7 p.m. depending on the store. Students from neighboring high schools will be offering free samples to customers, their participation made possible through a “Buy Local It Matters” Eat Local 2015 grant from the State Department of Agriculture.

They are also inviting customers to take the Eat Local Tuesdays pledge at checkout or online at, by committing to eat local at least one day a week.

Customers who take the pledge will receive double Maika’i points on the local items they purchase on Tuesdays. In addition, each week there will be a “Local Item of the Week” offered at a reduced price. You can also sign up to receive weekly notice of the Local Item of the Week, as well as recipes and information about the item and grower.

Also, on Tuesdays only, there will be a specially priced local deli offering and seafood poke offering. This week’s items were a Hawaiian plate lunch of laulau, hulihuli chicken, lomi salmon and pineapple, for $8.99, and a lomi poke bowl of ahi tossed with lomi salmon and sea asparagus, for $10.99.

For updates, follow @foodlandhi on Instagram and Twitter, and FoodlandHawaii on Facebook, and use the hashtag #EatLocalTuesdays

Kalani High School juniors Christina Shin, left, and Victoria Huynh were there to offer samples of meatloaf made with the Local Item of the Week, local ground beef, that this week was priced at $5.49 per pound with Maka’i Card.

Now here’s something I didn’t know, the River of Life Mission has its own chocolate-making enterprise, Chocolate on a Mission, to help raise funds for its support services. Learn more at

Also offering chocolate was Amy Hammond of Aloha Chocolate Co., whose tins feature locally themed chocolates incorporating Waialua Estate Chocolate, and below, chocolate shaped like coffee beans.

More local sweets came in the form of macadamia nut and vanilla nougat made with local ingredients, shared by Christian Acerogiles. The roasted macadamia nuts were so pure and intense.

During the launch, Foodland Aina Haina welcomed a sizable neighbor island contingent of farmers and food producers, including beautiful Maui Fruit Jewels inspired by French patés de fruits, fresh fruit purees cooked with pectin to create a concentrated jammy jewel candy.

Stacy Au and Jan Tsue, left, came from the Big Island to represent Na’alehu’s Paradise Meadows Orchard and Bee Farm, whose products include Hawaii’s Local Buzz honey, macadamia nuts and coffee. Tsue told an amazing story of her aunt and uncle coming to Hawaii for peace and quiet, buying some land, and after clearing it, discovering they had a farm with lime and lemon trees, macadamia nuts and coffee.

A sampling of Paradise Meadows garlic roasted- and chocolate-covered macadamia nuts.

Kokohead Foods smoked ahi spread was the hit of the afternoon, a product of Kaimuki’s 12th Ave Grill.

Naked Cow Dairy’s Sabrina St. Martin was there to share new products, including honey- and Kona coffee-rubbed Kona Buzz cheese, and Pink Hawaii cheese studded with crushed pink peppercorns. Coming up will be a squid-ink brie.

Maui Pasta Co. offered crostini with artichoke heart dip, spinach linguini with tomato cream sauce and pesto lasagna.

Lomi poke was Tuesday’s seafood special, at $10.99 per pound with Maika’i Card.

This Hawaiian plate was the week’s local deli special.

Many of love the combination of sweet and spicy offered in Ohelo’s Four Pepper Jelly.

Foodland’s seafood salad was being served on beds of aquaponic lettuce from Mari’s Gardens.