Thursday, January 28, 2016

Chef Mavro makes Foodie Top 100 U.S. list

Chef Mavro photos
Chef George Mavrothalassitis harvests watercress at Sumida Farm. Accolades keep rolling in for the chef and his restaurant.


Chef Mavro is the only Hawaii restaurant to have made Mode Media’s Foodie Top 100 Restaurants Awards list.

Critics said “A synergic union of French technique, local ingredients and Hawaiian flavor,” is what earned the restaurant a spot on the list.

The Foodie Top 100 Restaurant Awards are created by a select group of food critics, based on food first, followed by experience, service and beverage options. It allows the critics to select the leading chefs at restaurants without a price point or wine list as a requirement.

“The Foodie Top 100 Restaurants list stands apart as a guide for global restaurant exploration that is focused on carefully curating the most outstanding food experiences,” said Patricia Wells, representing France.

Other participating critics are Gael Greene (United States), Masuhiro Yamamoto (Japan), Jonathan Gold (United States), Charles Campion (United Kingdom), Alexander Lobrano (France), Sam Ohta (Japan), Yuki Yamamura (Japan) Kundo Koyama (Japan), Aun Koh (Singapore), Vir Sanghvi (India) Michael Bauer (United States), Karen Brooks (United States), Phil Vettel (United States), Marie-Claude Lortie (Canada) and the Mode Media team: Samir Arora (publisher/editor), Erika Lenkert (editor) and Diane Tapscott (mnaging editor).

Here are links to my most recent visit to Mavro, at 1969 S. King St., as well as SF Area’s State Bird Provisions, showing two very different, but excellent experiences.

Inside Chef Mavro.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Pierre Marcolini opens at Ala Moana Center

Nadine Kam photos
Valentine’s Day is coming up, and I know I would want a few treats from Pierre Marcolini. Pictured are Pierre Marcolini’s signature ganache with the finest chocolate from Venezuela, Ghana and Peru, flavored with fresh vanilla, and Coeur Framboise, raspberry ganache coated in white chocolate.


You think you know what your favorite chocolate is. Think again. Belgian chocolatier Pierre Marcolini will change your mind when he welcomes chocolate lovers to his new boutique in the new Ala Moana Center Ewa Wing, for a grand opening celebration from 10 to 11 a.m. Jan. 30.

The acclaimed chocolatier was named grand winner in his class at the “Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie” (World Champion of Pastry) in 1995. Since then, he has earned several accolades, including being inducted into “Le Salon du Chocolate Hall of Fame” in Paris in 2014, and becoming a new certified supplier to the Belgian royal family last month.

You don’t feed royals anything less than pure chocolate ganaches. Biting into each delicate piece, you’ll be able to taste the distinctive notes of chocolate sourced from independent farmers in Ecuador, Brazil, Peru, Venezuela, Madagascar, Ghana, Vietnam, Java, Cameroon, Cuba and Mexico. All the chocolates are made in Brussels.

Photo courtesy Pierre Marcolini
Pierre Marcolini talks story with one of his cacao growers. The chocolatier recently opened shop at Ala Moana Center’s new Ewa Wing and will be in town to meet fans of his fine chocolate.

Visit or call (808) 951-0456.

Here’s a peek at what is being offered at the new chocolate boutique, and it’s just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Nadine Kam photos
A selection of Hawaii-exclusive “Marine Life” chocolates is priced at $23 for seven pieces presented in a boxed collection, below.

You will cast your Nutella aside after sampling Pierre Marcolini's Casse-Noisette Pâte à Tartiner, a creamy spread of cocoa and roasted Piedmont hazelnuts.

One of Pierre Marcolini’s chocolate tablets.

The Pierre Marcolini window on the third floor of Ala Moana Center's Ewa Wing.

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, January 26, 2016

The way we eat, according to Google, Zagat

Zagat graphics
Americans love Sriracha; green juice, not so much.


Google launched a study in cooperation with Zagat today regarding dining in cities across the United States, including Honolulu, and here are some of the findings on our dining out habits and preferences:

Respondents in Honolulu estimated they eat out (for breakfast, lunch or dinner) approximately 5.8 times a week.

Honolulu residents spend an average of $32.12 per person for a dinner out at a restaurant, tipping approximately 18.5 percent for service. In comparison, the national average per person is $36.30 and average tip is 18.9 percent.

Given Hawaii’s higher cost of living, this came as a surprise to me, but maybe this is how we are compensating for the higher cost of housing.

The No. 1 complaint about dining out is service (30 percent), followed by crowds (17 percent), parking (15 percent), noise (13 percent), and prices (13 percent).

The favorite cuisine of choice for Honolulu diners is Japanese (28 percent), proceeded by American (14 percent), Italian (13 percent), Thai (10 percent), steakhouses (9 percent), and Korean (6 percent). Nationally, Italian is the favorite cuisine.

Although Honolulans tend to eat out frequently, we're not big spenders on a per-visit basis, spending $32.12 per person, when compared to our fellow Americans' expenditure.

More numbers:

— 51 percent of Honolulu residents make reservations by calling the restaurant while just 36% use the Internet.
— 67 percent of Honolulu residents think that using cellphones at the table is OK in moderation, whereas 22 percent believe it is completely unacceptable. Only 7 percent think it is perfectly acceptable.
— 82 percent of Honolulu diners have planned or would plan a getaway to eat at a specific restaurant.
— The top dining deal-breaker in Honolulu is a cash-only policy (45 percent), followed by communal tables (44 percent) and jacket required establishments (40 percent).
— And, 69 percent of Honolulu respondents consider themselves foodies, compared to 40 percent of Americans who think of themselves as foodies.

We’re not the biggest tippers either, ranking close to the bottom with our 18.5 percent average tip.

That is not a shocker, but a pretty high number considering that I speak to many of these self-proclaimed “foodies” who won’t even eat fish and many other basic ingredients, not due to any health or allergy reason, but just … because.

I would say a foodie needs to have a willingness to try all food, which is necessary to form a baseline of culinary experience and flavor profile knowledge. I know people with aversion to onions, for example, who will never understand the alchemy of raw onions in a hamburger, or those who won’t eat cilantro, who can’t appreciate how much it adds to salsa.

You can find a link to the survey at, or take a look at this video.

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.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Noi Thai fête marked by food, drink and naughty puppets

Nadine Kam photos
Imagery of Thai shadow puppets line the space designated as the “inner palace” at Noi Thai Cuisine, with an interior modeled on the concept of the Thai royal palace.


Noi Thai Cuisine hosted a grand opening Celebration last night, with festivities continuing through Jan. 30 to benefit Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children.

It was a fun evening if you consider there was plenty of food and drink to go around in the beautiful space, Thai music and dance, and interactive puppetry, even if one puppet got a little out of hand in feeling up the guests. Naughty!

Ten percent of all proceeds from meals through Jan. 29 will be donated to Kapiolani. Then from 5 to 9 p.m. Jan. 30, local celebs will be the servers, with all gratuities turned over to Kapiolani.

Noi Thai's Golden Pavilion, a private room seating eight to 10, is decorated with bo leaves representing the Bodhi tree under which Siddartha Gautama found enlightenment.

The restaurant is the first upscale establishment from the Bai Tong family of six restaurants in the Pacific Northwest. The original Bai Tong in Seattle was a favorite stop for Thai Airways crews at Sea-Tac airport.

During a trip to Hawaii, co-owner Chadillada “Noi” Lapangkura fell in love with the islands and longed to bring her family’s Thai dishes here, envisioning a royal experience. The restaurant is build with the idea of the Thai palace in mind. The space is divided into outer, central and inner palace spaces, including a protected “War Room,” which serves as a private dining/meeting room, as well as a Pavilion Room festooned with golden bo leaves symbolic of the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha found enlightenment.

Minimums apply for meals in two private rooms, the Golden Pavilion and the War Room, accommodating eight to 10 people, with advance reservations

Among Thai specialties offered during the grand opening were egg yolk sweets tong yod (golden drops) and foy tong (golden threads). Their golden color symbolizes wealth, fame and fortune. Those flowers are carved from vegetables, by the way. And the sweets look a lot like those I saw when I was in Bangkok.

Among Thai specialties offered during the grand opening were egg yolk sweets tong yod (golden drops) and foy tong (golden threads). Their golden color symbolizes wealth, fame and fortune. Those flowers are carved from vegetables, by the way. And the sweets look a lot like those I saw when I was in Bangkok. A little peek here.

There is also a chef’s table that offers an up-close view of the kitchen, where co-owner/executive chef Settapong “Pag” Nilket, head chef Jutamas Kanjanamai and sous chef Jamrus Singduang aim to present cuisine worthy of Thailand’s royal family, for whom they have cooked. Those who request this glass-enclosed private room will enjoy a special off-the-menu meal prepared for up to six guests.

Since testing the Noi Thai concept in Hawaii beginning with its soft opening in October, the family is proceeding to open next month in Downtown Seattle, near Pike Place Market, and a third is planned for San Francisco later this year.

Food for the event was presented in pupu form, such as this ahi salad. Below is salad as presented when I first visited in November.

During regular dinner service, the ahi salad is presented on a lotus leaf and lotus petals, which are edible.

The room was filled with examples of their vegetable- and fruit-carving skills.

Presentation here is elaborate. This is the first look at a dish of tom yum lobster; $32. Where's the soup, you ask? ...

… The spicy sour soup is presented in this device that sends the steaming broth up to meet the mixture of kaffir lime leaf, lemongrass, cilantro and onion for infused flavors eventually poured over the lobster.

It’s back! Kam Bowl ready to launch

Nadine Kam photos
Kam Bowl’s famous oxtail soup. I would like to see more peanuts and anise.


Kam Bowl restaurant quietly opened its doors with a blessing and trial run of its meal service today, ahead of its official opening day Jan. 27, when it will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. for breakfast and lunch through Feb. 2.

Beginning Feb. 3, the restaurant hours will be 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

The restaurant moved into the space once filled by Kenny’s Coffee House, in the Kamehameha Shopping Center, across the street from the original Kam Bowl bowling alley that closed in 2007.

It was sad to see an island institution like Kenny’s close. Living in the neighborhood, I often had breakfast there. When these restaurants close, they’re often replaced by much more contemporary cafés that often leave us with more lost than gained.

So it’s great to see something of a merging of the two kama’aina brands, a sort of “best of” arrangement that will see the return of Kenny’s Chinese chicken salad, and Kam Bowl’s oxtail soup.

I’ll be back when the restaurant hits full speed in about three weeks, when a grand opening celebration is planned. Call the restaurant at 841-0931 for more information.

Credible kalbi outside of a Korean restaurant.

Lup cheong fried rice comes in $7.50 or $9.50 portions with choice of one or two, respectively, eggs prepared your way. Here, scrambled.

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.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Rua Catering pops up at Vineyard Food Co.

Nadine Kam photos
Friends Jayse Sato, left, and Grant Oura of Rua Catering team up to bring weekend pop-ups to the site of Vineyard Food Co., in Wailuku, Maui.


When faced with a surplus of seafood last summer, the friends behind Rua Catering did what they know best. They threw a party.

Grant Oura and Jayse Sato’s backyard parties in Wailuku, Maui, drew friends family and neighbors to sample nigiri sushi at $1 a piece, which made them the most popular guys in town.

Those popular impromptu bashes soon turned into an occasional pop-up at Vineyard Food Co., in Wailuku town, a space that serves as a commercial kitchen for a handful of small catering companies and food preparers.

With an eye toward testing restaurant feasibility in that space, the friends are now bringing their pop-up to the site from 5 to 10 p.m. every Friday and Saturday. I was able to check it out Jan. 16.

Japanese noodles with day catch of Hana spiny lobster head broth, topped with salmon belly, with accents of basil oil.

Jayse Sato shapes nigiri of snapper in the kitchen.

Sato, who worked in Seattle before returning home to work as a sushi chef at Nuka, still provides the sushi on the menu, while Oura tends to the hot entrées.

Trained in the kitchens of Sam Choy, Bev Gannon and Alan Wong’s Amasia, Oura, who also worked at Nuka, prepares some dishes I have yet to see on Oahu, including an oxtail katsu and miso-Buffalo wings.

The two also combine their efforts in putting their own spin on local favorites, such as a dish of pastele stew over a gandule rice and crab roll ($12), and lechón roll ($10), made better by adding a few drops of the spicy ponzu from an oyster shooter ($5).

Their focus is on fresh ingredients, with as much as possible made from scratch, including soy sauce, azuki bean paste and kinako ice cream.

For as much work put into the food, a la carte prices are reasonable, starting with that $5 shooter, $6 to $8 for two pieces of nigiri sushi, $10 to $17 for sushi rolls, and $10 to $16 for entrées. Menus will change with availability of seasonal ingredients.

Dishes were accompanied by a light show as a combination of LED ice cubes and sparklers lighted up eyes during the presentation of several courses, as seen in the video below.

Non-flash link

Vineyard Food Co. is at 1951 E. Vineyard St., Wailuku, Maui. No reservations are taken.

Rua's Surf 'N Turf Roll presents the challenge of stuffing this lobster and ginger roll topped with seared rib eye, truffle butter, kabayaki sauce and micro basil into your mouth. Recently, $17.

A trio of Kobe burger sliders topped with bacon jam, tomato, brie and onion cream sauce, with buns made by Four Sisters Bakery across the street from the Vineyard Food Co. This was presented under glass with LED light and a cloud of hickory smoke. Recently priced at $15.

Garlic, Parmesan, truffle fries are a natural complement for the sliders, at $7.

I was a little scared of the aquarium gravel colors of the shrimp tempura roll ($15), until discovering these were the crispy bits that turned sushi of spicy tuna, shrimp and hamachi into a tempura roll.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

First bite: Sushi Murayama delivers food and fun

Nadine Kam photos
Black tiger prawns were torched and served in that perfect crunchy/sweet state between being sashimi and fully cooked.


Sushi Murayama is one of the few restaurants lately, to open as an instant hit, thanks to chef/owner Ryuji Murayama’s sterling reputation at Tokkuri-Tei. His first solo restaurant is therefore packed, so don’t expect to get a reservation right away.

The biggest draw may very well be the chef himself. Born in Japan and raised here since 3, he’s more local than Japanese so you don’t have to worry about any language barriers. He spent three-and-a-half years honing his sushi skills in Japan, but in another life, he could have been a comedian as he keeps jokes coming, while welcoming each guest as a long-time friend.

In the age of the celebrity chef, he brings the one thing to the table that others have forgotten in recent years, hospitality. He leaves guests feeling good, and that positive vibe carries over to the entire experience.

Chef Murayama presents the prawns at the sushi counter.

The restaurant has a decent sized izakaya menu, but it’s the sushi that stands out, and the chef’s $75 per person omakase menu is a good place to start for those game to try anything. At any rate, it will lift you out of ahi mode to try many other types of fish.

Considering that, squeezing in between others’ reservations, I had an hour to complete this menu of chef’s selections, Murayama put out 10 selections at a rate of one selection about every 6 minutes. That’s some speedy work. The type and number of selections vary with availability of fish and shellfish, and perhaps your enthusiasm level. If you’re gushing over every dish, chef may just want to keep the praise coming.

Costwise, this broke down to $7.50 per selection. If you were to go the a la carte route for sushi, the range is $5 for tako, $8 for hamachi, ikura or scallop, up to $20 for ootoro and $27 for black tiger prawns.

The presentation is more fish market vendor than artisan, but few would complain about the huge slabs of fish Murayama layers over rice, including a generous cut of premium chutoro, the tuna’s fatty underbelly, the starting dish of the day’s omakase.

It was the opposite of my first experience with this chef and chutoro, ordered as sashimi. When he presented a plate with just a pinky finger size portion of fish, my friends and I were like, “What the …?” before realizing he was just toying with us.

The full-size serving chutoro sashimi, part of another dinner exploring the izakaya menu.

 Next up on our omakase was hirame, or fluke, topped with crunchy engawa, or fluke fin, for extra texture. It isn’t often that engawa shows up on the table, so I felt very privileged. Murayama dusted the serving tray with snow-mimicking salt, a reminder that winter fish from Japan are at their most voluptuous state of fattiness, prompting us to try to get in as many visits as we can before warmer weather sets in. That little touch of salt was all this fish needed.

A perfect marriage of sake, or salmon, and ikura. Not a single morsel of the pearl-size roe went to waste.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Maui no ka oi for Whole Foods 'ONO award

Whole Foods photos
Among Whole Foods ‘ONO Award winners are, clockwise from left, Maui Breadfruit Co.’s Pono Pies, Two Chicks in a Hammock’s Backyard Juice Chili Pepper Water, Hawaii Taro Co.’s Maui Taro Burger, and Kumu Farms produce.


Whole Foods Market Hawai‘i named the winners of its third annual 2015 ‘ONO Awards Sunday night at Maui Brewing Co., in Kihei.

The awards were created to honor local companies and growers that embody Whole Foods Market’s mission and core values, and the event took place on Maui because the island is the home of all of this year’s winners, though nominees came from throughout the islands.

“The fact that we have a Maui sweep is a real testament to the thriving and exciting local food community there,” said Dabney Gough, metro marketing field team leader at Whole Foods Market Kāhala, who created the awards in 2012.

To be eligible, products must be grown or produced within the state and carried at Whole Foods Market Hawai’i locations.

Winners were selected by the Whole Foods Market Hawai’i team, except for the People’s Choice award winner which was determined by a two-part nomination and final voting process that took place on social media channels.

Since opening its first Hawaii store in 1980, Whole Foods Market has partnered with local farmers and producers that currently number 300. Last year, the stores purchased nearly $12 million in agricultural and value-added products from local farmers and producers, and continue to seek additional local products and producers.

For more information, visit Whole Foods Market Kāhala, Kailua, and Maui, or @wfmhawaii on Twitter.

Maui Breadfruit Co.’s Maui Coffee and Chocolate Pono Pie, is one of several gluten-, dairy- and GMO-free products that earned the company a berth in Whole Foods Market.

Here are the 2015 winners:

Team Member Pick of the Year: Maui Breadfruit Co. Pono Pies
Sustainability Award: Maui Breadfruit Co. Pono Pies
Innovation Award: Hawaii Taro Co. Maui Taro Burger
Best New Product: Maui Brewing Co. Lorenzini Double IPA
Partner of the Year: Kumu Farms, grower of papayas, kale, and other produce
Hall of Fame: Yee’s Orchard mangoes
People’s Choice Award: Two Chicks in a Hammock’s Backyard Juice Chili Pepper Water

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, January 12, 2016

Nordstrom unveils Hawaii restaurant plans

Rendering courtesy Nordstrom


During a media lunch that took place today at MW Restaurant, Nordstrom announced it will open with two new dining concepts when it opens the doors to its new Ala Moana Center Ewa Wing store on March 11.

When I heard about the site of the luncheon—you know a journalist’s mind is always roiling and trying to connect dots—I thought it was likely that the MW crew would be involved in some way. But no, it’s just that Cafe Nordstrom is too busy to accommodate an extra party of 30.

The new Ruscello Restaurant will mark an evolution of the Cafe Nordstrom concept with casual favorites and a menu of Italian- and Mediterranean-inspired specialties. And we warned them not to ever remove the tomato bisque from the menu.

Also new will be a stylish new Habitant Lounge and Bar offering casual lunches and a full bar with handcrafted cocktails.

The quick-stop Ebar and Gelato Bar will make the move to the new site as well.

Can’t wait for a taste!

Stay up to date on social media as follows:
Use the hashtag #NordstromHawaii.

Now, be alert and don’t get confused, but the following is what was served up at MW while we listened to this exciting food news:

Nadine Kam photosMW’s arancini arrived as one of the family-style appetizers offered.

With a short list of selections to order from, including grilled kalbi shortribs, I opted for a dish of Kauai shrimp and bacon risotto with Waialua asparagus and kale.

Rick Blangiardi, general manager at Hawaii News Now, had to leave before entrées arrived, but his grass-fed beef burger with pipikaula and avocado salsa topping did not go to waste, scarfed down by the women of Oahu Publications. Thanks Rick! The burger was so juicy. Don’t ask me why there’s no bun. Maybe Rick is gluten-free? Maybe they were all bunless. We were too busy devouring fries to notice.

The meal was to end with Hawaiian Crown chocolate banana cream pie with strata of Graham crackers, chocolate pudding, kinako-banana ice cream and salted butterscotch shortbread. But MW's Michelle Karr-Ueoka can never put out one dessert ...

… so diners could also opt for a lilikoi and fruit-filled crème brûlée. Many sampled both desserts.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Morimoto launches new happy hour R&D menu

Nadine Kam photos
A Fall en Pomegranate cocktail with Absolut Pear and housemade grenadine is $7 on Morimoto Waikiki’s new happy hour R&D menu.


Morimoto Waikiki has launched a satisfying new happy hour R&D menu, available 5 to 7 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays at the bar or in the lounge.

It features a short but sweet menu of eats, craft cocktails and beer at accessible prices of $5 to $10.

The menu will change seasonally as a way of introducing new menu and bar items that chefs and mixologists are considering adding to the menu on a more permanent basis.

Current bites include maki sushi of the day ($8), sticky ribs with tamarind glaze ($10), shishito peppers with sea salt ($6), hamachi tacos ($8), edamame with sea salt ($6), and soba with shrimp tempura ($10).

Bud Light, Heineken and Kirin are $5 each.

The restaurant is in The MODERN Honolulu, at 1775 Ala Moana Boulevard. Call (808) 943-5900.

Here’s a look at some of the possibilities:

Scallop in ponzu sauce topped with chili threads was one seasonal special offered during Morimoto happy hour last month. Let's hope for a return!

Wagyu carpaccio finished with hot oil, ginger, yuzu and soy sauce on the main menu at Morimoto Waikiki, was on the R&D menu last month.

Monday, January 4, 2016

IHOP reintroduces all-you-can-eat pancakes for new year

IHOP photo
All-you-can-eat pancakes are back at IHOP.


So much for that diet resolution. For the new year, IHOP is bringing back its “All You Can Eat” pancakes.

Today through Feb. 14, dine-in guests at participating IHOP restaurants can order either five famous buttermilk pancakes or a short stack of two pancakes with a combo plate of eggs, golden hash browns and their choice of breakfast meats for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Once that initial serving of pancakes has been devoured, guests can keep a short stack of two buttermilk pancakes coming again and again until they’ve had all they can eat.

Guests can choose to add and switch among four toppings—strawberries, blueberries, cinnamon apples and peaches—for one additional cost.

Note that this year Fat Tuesday, also known as Pancake Day, falls on Feb. 9, the last day of feasting and gorging on pancakes before Lent. Pancakes are associated with Shrove Tuesday because making them was a way to use up rich ingredients such as eggs, milk and sugar, before the 40-day fasting of Lent.

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.