Thursday, April 23, 2015

Mahaloha Burger going places, starting with Waikiki and Kailua

Nadine Kam photos
Mahaloha Burger’s blue cheese bacon combo is $7.25 for a single patty, and $8.25 for a double.

After building a career on Hawaii’s “ninth island”—Las Vegas—Jesse Aguinaldo has returned home to open his startup, Mahaloha Burger.

His first shop is in Royal Hawaiian Center, and he just opened a second branch in Kailua, where Windward diners can now enjoy juicy burgers made with grass-fed Parker Ranch beef, sold in single or double patties, served on buns grilled in caramelized whip butter.

The flavors are local through and through, and if the basic burger isn’t enough, try the loco moco burger ($6.75 single, $7.75 double). I thought the egg could be bigger, but the gravy and burger itself are excellent.

Those who don’t eat beef, can opt for a turkey burger or mahi sandwich instead, at $7.25 each.

Then consider a side of “Parmaroni” fries ($5.95), combining fries, pepperoni and a sprinkling of condiment-style Parmesan cheese.

Aguinaldo said he returned home for more work/life balance. “It started 50-50 but now it’s creeping up to 60-40,” he said of the expansion. But he isn’t stopping. His next move will be west side, in the Ka Makana Ali’i—The Center for West O‘ahu development, and he’s considering other sites before pursuing the Asian market.
The new Mahaloha Burger is at 143 Hekili St., Suite 150. Call 263-2777.

They had me at avocado, $7.25 single, and $8.25 double. With a slice of Swiss cheese.

A Hawaii original goes mobile, the loco moco burger.

The dogs are also delish, this one accompanied by a side of Parmaroni fries, with pepperoni and Parmesan, natch.

Contemporary “hieroglyphics” give the burger house a Hawaii branded appeal. You just know this concept is going places.
Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Alan Wong celebrates 20th anniversary

Photo courtesy Alice Inoue
Chef Alan Wong celebrated the 20th anniversary of his eponymous restaurant, with Alice Inoue.

Time flies when you’re having fun, and nothing makes me feel older than to witness the anniversaries of food movements and restaurants that I was writing about from their starts.

I was there when Alan Wong opened his eponymous restaurant in 1995, and I was in the room when he celebrated his 20th anniversary April 15, another tax day, just like Day 1!

It’s another landmark year for Wong in that, come summer, he’ll be opening his first restaurant in China.

As much as I get down on a new generation of chefs who seem to take a nonchalant, somewhat lackadaisical approach to running their businesses—often failing to keep regular hours or opening without training staff or opening with only an outline of a menu—Wong’s remarks on his anniversary evening reminded me that today’s pros didn’t start out perfect either, even if they had a more polished veneer.

He said he remembered being told to put out signs telling motorists passing by his nondescript King Street building that the restaurant would be opening soon. So he put out a sign that said, “Coming Soon,” with no indication as to what exactly was coming. And, after the restaurant opened, they forgot to take down the sign for a long time.

In an earlier interview for HI Luxury magazine, he told me, “To tell you the truth, I didn’t know what I was doing. The only thing I was envisioning was survival.”

Nadine Kam photos
This was one of my favorite dishes, so refreshing with a fiery kick. Kualoa Ranch poached shrimp wrapped in somen, with kochu jang Asian pear sauce, mint and basil.

Coming to Oahu after working at Lutece in New York City, and opening The Canoe House Restaurant at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows on Hawaii Island, he hoped his restaurant would last five years, knowing that within the industry, nine out of 10 restaurants fail in their first year.

Well, he made it, and with a celebratory menu of 14 savory dishes and 11 sweet bites, showed what keeps diners coming back for more. There were about five food and dessert stations set up around the restaurant and lanai, so I thought, “I can handle this.”

But, food kept emerging from the kitchen. Sadly, I was able to enjoy only about eight dishes, but they were all wonderful.

Some of the things I missed were a Keahole lobster summer roll, five spice pork with mustard cabbage chimichurri, kim chee porridge, and opakapaka with savoy cabbage daikon broth.

One dish I didn’t photograph was Kauai Makaweli Ranch “Flintstone Steak” accompanied by a decadent glob of roasted bone marrow. So silky amazing, I had to have seconds!

Here are some of the other dishes:

Niihau eland carpaccio with chili Parmesan and Nalo Farms arugula.

Kombu-cured Hawaiian kampachi with shiso ahi tartare, uni, opihi and ocean foam.

Niihau lamb shoulder moo shu with salsa roja and a choice of toppings from a condiment bar, below. I opted for fresh corn salsa, goat cheese and verde sauce.

Pork hash “katsu” slider with shredded cabbage and hoisin mustard vinaigrette.

Cambodian kampot black pepper surf and turf with Maui Cattle Co. beef, Hamakua mushrooms and king crab.

North Shore Aqua Farms misoyaki tilapia on onigiri.

 Macarons and Hawaiian Sun guava fruit jelly.

An assortment of cookies and castella cake with local honey glaze.
Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Rotary Club's crab fest an annual hit

Nadine Kam photos
Dungeness crab was the centerpiece of Rotary Club of Ala Moana’s annual crab fest.

The Rotary Club of Ala Moana celebrated its annual fundraising Crab Fest April 11 in Kapiolani Community College’s Ohia Cafeteria.

Guests always look forward to this event, still one of a kind on Oahu, with a centerpiece of all-you-can-eat Dungeness crabs. The crabs are huge and just one leaves me full. Some people manage three, and I heard the maximum devoured was six, but they would not share the name of this person.

Devotées always plan ahead for this event and come prepared with their own condiments, whether vinegar, ponzu or Tabasco sauce. I like my crab plain with the drawn butter provided. The only other thing needed is Old Bay seasoning, but I’m always running around here and there, too flustered and frenzied to plan.

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And, in the everyone’s a critic department, people who know how to rip into a crab look askance at newbs or landlubbers who pound the tops of the crabs with their mallets, or let the insides go to waste. Pity.

It’s definitely an event you want to attend with people you know well, because there really is no way to eat crab without getting messy, although I always come across some lucky people have spouses or parents happy to put in all the labor of shelling and shredding.

Funds raised from $80 ticket sales and a silent auction of wines and other merchandise will go toward a number of Rotary’s local and ambitious international causes, from providing scholarships, books and supplies to Hawaii youths, to providing safe drinking water to villagers in Kenya and Indonesia, to helping to provide pre-natal care and cardiac care to people in Thailand.

Keep tabs on the organization at

 Soy beans, and below, spring rolls, were some of the starters.

KCC students served up trays of chowder.

Those seated at premium tables had the beautiful presentation at the top of the page. The rest of us plucked our crabs out of aluminum trays. They taste the same either way.
Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Centenarian Gladys Goka celebrates at the Prince

Nadine Kam photos
Gladys Goka chose Hawaii Prince Hotel’s Prince Court restaurant to be the setting for her 100th birthday party. She’s with her daughter Gladys Aanerud.

Gladys Goka celebrated her 100th birthday in style at the Hawaii Prince Hotel’s Prince Court restaurant on April 11.

I met the centenarian in 2008 while working on a story on the fashionable Bon Ton Girls who worked in downtown Honolulu’s biggest department stores in the 1930s and ’40s, Bon Ton and Bon Marche.

They were the eras “It girls,” who caused a stir everywhere they went because of their youth and aura of glamour that followed them. They served as models for the store, role models in the community, and partied together.

Over the years, their lives took them in different directions, but funerals of friends brought the remaining Bon Ton Girls back together in the early 1990s, and they began to reunite once a year at various restaurants around town.

Gladys Goka shows the letter of recognition from the state House of Representatives, honoring her 100th birthday.

After meeting some of the Bon Ton Girls in 2008 for a feature story in the Star-Bulletin, I guess I became an honorary member and they invited me to join them at lunches hosted by Dr. Thomas Sakoda, the son of their former boss, Horace Sakoda, who served as general manager at Bon Ton.

With the few remaining Bon Ton Girls in care homes or suffering from dementia, the reunions stopped in 2013, but Gladys is still feisty and going strong.

“I feel young,” she said. “I feel like I’m 80.”

She shared some of her advice for living a long and healthy life, which includes working hard and eating healthfully. True to her advice, while the rest of us feasted on Prince Court’s Hawaii-style buffet with laulau, chicken long rice, oxtail soup, and much, much more, Gladys enjoyed a plate of fresh fruit before her birthday cake arrived. She plans to come back to the Prince for her 101st birthday.

About 75 family and friends turned out to celebrate her milestone birthday, and on display were congratulatory messages from Gov. David Ige, the state House of Representatives, and President Barack Obama.

Happy birthday Gladys!

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The Hawaii Prince is at 100 Holomoana St. The Prince Court Buffet is open for breakfast 6 to 10:30 a.m. Mondays to Saturdays and 6 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. Sundays ; Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; lunch 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, and seafood dinner buffet 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. daily. Call 944-4494. View menu details here.

Gladys with her daughter Gladys, son George and granddaughter, left, Shari Spring.

Customizable oxtail soup on the Prince Court buffet. I love cilantro! Passed on the ginger.

Kalua pork.

Loads of shrimp and vegetable tempura.

Steamed fish, Chinese style, with lup cheong and more cilantro.

Slurping good chicken long rice.

They have some remarkably light and wonderful desserts here including these fruit tarts, and below, Japanese-style cheesecake.

Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Koko Head Cafe hosts Secret Menu dinner

Nadine Kam photos
Lee Anne Wong spoons sauce over Volcano Meatballs on focaccia during a Secret Menu dinner. No, it wasn’t spicy, just red as lava.

Koko Head Cafe was the site of the second in food writer Sean Morris’ Secret Menu dining series. As a culinary insider, he’s privvy to dishes chefs are able to pull together with ingredients in their kitchen, that are not on their formal menus. These dishes are generally available by request, staff time permitting.

The dishes they build are often the things they like to eat themselves, and at Koko Head Cafe represent, that meant a no-holds barred feeding frenzy far more decadent than anything you could create for yourself at home, considering what they’re starting with. Imagine: A whole deep-fried Jidori chicken karaage burger topped with cheddar cheese, sugar-coated billionaire’s bacon and rich mushroom gravy, on sweetbread bun, arriving halfway through the meal.

Then there was Donburi Chen, named after fellow chef William Chen, who helped Koko Head Cafe chef Lee Anne Wong in preparations for her book, “Dumplings All Day Wong.” After preparing a meal for all who helped her, Chen insisted he put this particular dish on her menu, a sweet chili glazed pork and egg combo over greens with black garlic “soil.”

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With chefs trying to outdo each other with each dinner presented, there was a generous amount of food, and with nine similarly weighted courses, there was plenty of to-go boxes being handed out at the end of the meal.

If you are intrigued by any of these dishes, it doesn’t hurt to inquire about availability. I was particularly enamored of another over-the-top course of a kim chee hash brown Reuben, which I would love to have again … next time starting with an empty stomach!

During the evening, chef Lee Anne Wong took the opportunity to give shoutouts to her kitchen staff, including Clark Neugold and chef de cuisine Nicole Anderson, who will take over duties at Koko Head to allow Wong to focus on her newest endeavor, a ramen bar slated to open before summer.

The Parmesan and basil-finished meatballs.

Haloa gnocchi, comprising luau leaf and pa’i'ai, with coconut cream.

 Call it over the top, but the kim chee hash brown Reuben was my favorite dish of the evening. I will definitely be back for this. The slaw makes it healthy, right?

The Koko Head Cafe staff gets creative in building their daily “kitchen sink salads.” On this night it was all about fried tofu on a bed of greens beautifully garnished with Ali’i mushrooms, watermelon and timely Easter egg radishes, with the crunch of bubu arare.

 By the time the Jidori chicken sandwich arrived, people were beginning to feel stuffed and we could not believe we each received a whole sandwich. We thought they would be quartered, because that’s all I could handle of this mochiko fried chicken topped with cheese, billionaire’s bacon and mushroom gravy on sweetbread bun. Oy! This proved to be a favorite of many. I loved the gravy the most, with all its glorious mushroom essence. Because our table of four shared a couple of sandwiches, I was able to take home 3/4 of mine to enjoy the next day. (It was just as good!)

Next up was a soothing bowl of jook topped with scallions and scallion sauce, chili flakes, bubu arare, chili oil and Indonesian sweet soy sauce, all meant to be stirred in. Because the shoyu was more sweet than salty, a pinch more salt and heat would have been nice.
 By the time Donburi Chen—named after fellow chef William Chen who prompted Wong to add it to her menu—arrived, I was sad I had but one stomach. As delicious as this sweet chili glazed pork and egg combo was, I could not finish.

I could not finish the pork belly and certainly couldn’t add carbs to my opu so a course of Okinawan soba with miso smoked pork and caramelized and crispy fried onions also came home with me.

Dessert was cornflake-crusted banana drizzled with lehua honey, that Wong said we should be able to finish in one bite, but no, after the feast that came before, I could only nibble. This is one instance in which I wish I could have started with dessert.
Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.