Monday, February 28, 2011

Oscar Night's celebratory meal

Nadine Kam photos

A white chocolate box of candied popcorn and petits fours was a postprandial treat at HIFF's Oscar Night America viewing party at Halekulani.

It's not every day you see grits on the menu at Halekulani, but for one night, Feb. 27, it was all about Oscar and executive chef Vikram Garg presented an Academy Awards-themed dinner to coincide with the hotel's hosting of the Hawaii International Film Festival's annual Oscar Night America 2011 viewing party.

After the red carpet walk, guests settled in for dinner and a 5 p.m. viewing of the Oscar ceremonies that others would be watching on their television sets at 7 p.m. The way the room and screens are set up help give the effect that you are there in the room with the nominees and winners.

I was downstairs taking photos, so missed "The Social Network" of canapes, but here are the rest of the dishes in the order presented:

"Inception" salad of Manoa salad with discs of hearts of palm and cured Saikou salmon, topped with a crunchy carambola star.
Creamy blue "True Grits" were topped with two jumbo shrimp, Iberico bellota and baby arugula.

Orange Fanta granité was the intermezzo.
"Beef Oscar" comprised a natural beef filet, topped with two large pieces of Alaskan king crab, with asparagus and mashed potatoes with BĂ©arnaise.
A "Blue Valentine" dessert comprised a chocolate and champagne bombe, with blueberry and rose confit.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Oscar-themed cocktails at Lewers Lounge

Nadine Kam photos
Lewers Lounge’s head bartender Tim Rita shows sample sizes of his "Network of Vodka" inspired by the film "The Social Network."

Just in time for the Academy Awards show, Halekulani’s master mixologist Tim Rita has come up with a slate of original cocktails themed around movies up for an award.

Rita, the head bartender at the hotel’s Lewers Lounge, created five drinks inspired by "The Black Swan" (La Danse Noir), "The Fighter" (Mickey's Ward), "True Grit" (Prickly Pear Smash), "The Social Network" (Network of Vodka) and his own favorite movie, "Toy Story 3" (Playful Punch).

The drinks are on the menu at Lewers Lounge through Oscar night, Sunday, when those attending the HIFF Oscar Night America party from 4 to 9 p.m. at the Halekulani, can continue the party in the lounge. Tickets for the event are $300 per person, available by mailing HIFF at or calling 792-1577 ext. 1 Visit for more information.

It was fun to talk to Rita about his process, from remembering the fruity flavors of punch at his grandmother's house when he was a kid, to creating a trio of flavors, from sweet and spicy to spirited to reflect personalities that might comprise a social network.

La Danse Noir captures the dark, mysterious beauty of "The Black Swan," made with spiced brandy, Marie Brizard blackberry, fresh lime and simple syrup, and garnished with blackberries and sage leaves.

Mickey's Ward, created for "The Fighter," is Tim's take on the Ward Eight that originated in Boston, using Irish whiskey (Jameson), orange curacao, Maraschino cherry liquor and Peychauds bitters.

A closeup view of the "The Social Network"-inspired Network of Vodka. Tim used Kai vodka to reinforce the spirit of gathering and enjoyment. The trio reflect "Sweet and Spicy" (Kai lychee, Pama liquor, lime juice, chile simple syrup); "Very Spirited" (Kai 80 proof, Lillet blanc, St. Germain); and "Organic Green" (Kai 80 proof, lime and agave syrup) personality profiles.

"True Grit"-inspired Prickly Pear Smash stars Makers mark, lemon juice, Rotui soursop (prickly pear) and Reagan's orange bitters.

"Toy Story 3"-inspired "Playful Punch" is a bright, lively blend of spiced brandy, Grand Marnier and fresh lilikoi, pineapple juice and lemon juice spritzer.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

YogurStory's aspirations go beyond dessert

The second-floor dining area of Yogurstory provides a view of the sleek, airy restaurant.

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After stopping in to Ni Hao for dinner a few weeks ago, I thought I would drop into nearby Yogurstory for dessert with the idea of making a brief mention as a sidebar to last week's review. It could have been a finale spot to add to your itinerary if you were in the vicinity.

Based on what I'd heard from others, it didn't sound like a destination in its own right, and as I eyed the cavernous space, I wondered how they would fill it on the strength of yogurt, coffee and dessert.

Just one look around, though, and it was pretty obvious Yogurstory demanded its own full story. It wasn't merely the dessert and yogurt shop others had made it out to be. On the chalkboard were offerings of sandwiches, salads and "Fat Pig" fried rice that called for investigation some other time, when I hadn't just eaten dinner.

I ended up there on Super Bowl Sunday, my idea of a national holiday, when Ala Moana Center is virtually empty and so are most restaurants. Parking was good in the lot Yogurstory shares with Sorabol, and while there were more people than I expected, the small crowd was mostly middle-age, subdued and manageable.

Even so, service was slower than it should have been. Heaven help them should they get busy, I thought. They have an ambitious menu but a kitchen that seems to function more like a small neighborhood coffee bar serving light fare to 15 max. Here, the capacity appears to be 50-plus, hungry for much more than coffee. Which is a good thing because the coffee leaves much to be desired, as do the sugary soft drinks, like flavored lemonades that are pretty to look at but more syrup than fruit.

So you might find yourself waiting for food and service, but the wait offers more time to take in the sleek two-story setting. I love the nod to nature, with a tree in one corner of the room, shadowed by a painting of the tree, with more leaf motifs echoed on other walls.

I wondered if staffers considered the large second-story area before taking their jobs. With all the stair-climbing, they definitely won't need to hit the gym much. For diners, one downside of sitting upstairs is proximity to the cafe's music speakers. When I was there, there was much '80s music I didn't care for the first time around.

Long story short, Yogurstory is a hit because people are hungry for simple, inexpensive cafe fare presented without attitude. That's also why there's such a varied cross section of patrons young and old, with large baby shower and birthday parties as well.

While certain menu items can be very froufrou, befitting girlfriend get-togethers, there are enough substantial offerings to make it comfortable and filling for guys as well, starting with that Fat Pig fried rice I had to try. At $9.50 it's shot through with threads of pork adobo, ham, bacon bits and oyster sauce for salty, meaty flavor throughout and enough koge rice bits to give it some prized pan-fried crunchiness. It's topped with julienne egg crepe and pork rinds. Add $4.45 and you can upgrade to the Oinker, with Portuguese sausage sliced in half lengthwise, and two beautiful eggs, sunny side up.

Omelets are tidy and neat. They're nothing spectacular, but their strength is in the quality of ingredients that go into them. I mean, how do you go wrong with a filling of bacon, cheddar, sauteed mushrooms and caramelized onions ($9.75) with herbed potatoes on the side? Or spinach, mushroom and Swiss cheese ($9.75), or a Cobb omelet ($9.75) with chicken, smoked bacon, blue cheese, tomato and avocado?
That Cobb is just as good in the form of a mesclun salad dressed with basic vinaigrette.

Sandwiches such as lean pastrami ($10.75), Philly cheesesteak ($10.75), cranberry chicken salad croissant ($9.25) and BLT ($8.50) also form a large portion of the menu.

They also offer banh mi ($10.50) of curry chicken with a liver pate spread, but the thin line of pate was negligible. It tasted more like a chicken salad sandwich than its Vietnamese counterpart.

Nadine Kam photo
Red Carpet Waffle, with purple taro cream cheese, red velvet croutons and Belgian chocolate sauce.

No doubt you will be tempted by a roster of waffles, but just as you would warn children not to eat dessert before mealtime, I would advise against making these your meal, unless you're OK with the idea of subsisting on sweets. A better idea is to have a salad or sandwich and save the waffles to share for dessert. It's the only way to enjoy the "Red Carpet," for instance, without guilt.

The Red Carpet ($9.95) comprises a chocolate waffle, quartered for four individual portions, each topped with a dollop of taro cream cheese, drizzled with 58 percent Belgian chocolate sauce and sprinkled with red velvet croutons. I will pray for your future body if you eat all this yourself.

The sweet potato waffle ($9.95) is sculpted to resemble a Viking's helmet, dripping with coconut haupia sauce with wafer horns. Dolce de Leche ($9.95) is given more straightforward treatment, like a sushi roll layered with pecan pretzel crunch, caramel and length of halved caramelized banana.

So you're going to struggle with your desire to try a waffle or try yogurt with fresh clean flavors of taro, lychee, pineapple, strawberries and more, with topping options that include mochi, fresh fruit and boba pearls, protected from a potentially germ-breathing public by stainless-steel refrigerator cases.

It's self-serve, so if you grab some, just have it weighed at the cash register counter and it will be added to your bill.

There's much on the menu to sample, and the price is right. You might not realize until you leave that this humble formula marks the start of a beautiful love story.

Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Advertiser. E-mail

The Oinker builds on Fat Pig fried rice with the addition of Portuguese sausage and eggs.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Soup dumplings on at Jin Din Rou

Video link for iPhone

For months, commuters on King Street couldn’t miss the red signage outside Jin Din Rou at King and Kaheka, so when the banners came down, they were ready and waiting.

The restaurant opened its doors for simple lunch service last Thursday, with dumpling and entree combos for $9.99 and $12.99. Dinner service will follow in a couple of weeks, so I’ll wait until the full menu is out to review.

The main thing is the soup dumplings are good, made by chef Hiromasa Yamanaka from Japan, in Taiwan fashion, where he trained for 10 years. These are more compact and taller than their Shanghai counterparts.

I made a video so you can see how they’re made, wrapper and all. Click on the dumpling photo or iPhone link to view.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Izakaya Heaven

Shinn's impressive menu is both delicious and perfect for any budget

By Nadine Kam

Hamachi is served at Sushi Izakaya Shinn with a tart, salty yuzu sauce and a complement of vegetables and seaweed.

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In December, when the pace of restaurant openings was picking up, I got an e-mail from one of my restaurant faithfuls, who said he saw a new Japanese restaurant called Shinn and was going to check it out and report back to me.

Then, I never heard from him.

No matter, there's been no shortage of newcomers. Now that I've been to Shinn, I know why he didn't get back to me. Da buggah! If I were him, I wouldn't tell me either. Why spoil a new favorite restaurant — and that's what it is — by making it impossible to get into?

The new izakaya is as contemporary as they come. I love the way Japanese restaurants, no matter how sleek, always manage to introduce a sense of nature. Here, it's achieved through walls embedded with river rock, an earthy, textured accent to an otherwise stark palette of blacks and grays.

If it were not so popular, you would have a choice of four seating areas to suit your mood. There are traditional western-style tables, plus a robata bar, sushi bar and tatami area. Early birds can reserve a spot, but once the room fills, you'll have to go where the seats open, though the smoke-averse may not want to sit near the robata bar, where the grill is in constant demand.

The flow of people can seem overwhelming at the door, and Shinn could do a better job communicating with guests about when they might be seated. Workers can also be slow to take names and clear tables. Once you're seated, flow is good, but communication can be sketchy when certain dishes run out. You can be nursing a craving for a dish that never arrives, and it's only when you ask your waiter that he discovers the last (maybe yours) was just sent to another table.


2065 S. Beretania St.
» 946-7466
Hours: 5 p.m. to midnight Mondays to Saturdays
Cost: $40 to $50 for two without alcohol
Ratings compare similar restaurants:
**** - excellent
*** - very good; exceeds expectations
** - average
* - below average.
IT'S RARE TO come across a menu as vast as Shinn's that doesn't have its fair share of bad dishes. But this may be the only restaurant, ever, where I didn't have a quibble with regard to the food. I actually don't know how the restaurant does so much so well. You can get just about anything you want, tailored to fit both appetite and pocketbook. If you're running low on cash you can enjoy $2 to $4.50 skewers from the robata bar, whether it's three pieces of Berkshire pork ($3) or shortribs ($3.25), two pieces of shiitake ($2) or organic chicken tsukune ($3) brushed with a light housemade teriyaki sauce.

Or, you could enjoy a bowl of oden in a smoky broth, filling it with various fishcake such as chikuwa, hanpen or gobo-filled gobouten, octopus, potato and konnyaku, all sold by the piece, at $1.50 to $2.50 per item. It was the first time I'd tried kinkyakumochi ($2.50), an elegant tofu pouch filled with soft mochi, oozing out like melted cheese.

If money is tight, a warm bowl of oden and a couple of robata will send you on your merry way for about $15, but who can stop there, knowing there are plenty of sushi and kitchen specialties as well?

Beyond the regular menu you're handed a list of about 30 daily specialties. Don't faint if you see $36 bluefin fatty tuna sashimi. There are plenty of good things to eat for much less, such as hot starters of clams steamed in sake ($8.25) and kurobuta kakuni ($7.50), which made me think of Morimoto's and how this much smaller restaurant has managed to beat the giant in delivering the magic combination of both style and substance. Where Morimoto's pork was heavy and lethargic, here, it is a delicate, melt-on-the-tongue marvel.

Earthenware dishes in hues of brown, sienna, green and ochre present a warm environment that highlights the freshness and naturalness of the ingredients used. I appreciate the kitchen's lighthandedness throughout, allowing the food to speak for itself without the interjections of human ego.

Cold starters include the requisite ahi poke ($16) and beef tataki salad ($12). You'll also see Botan shrimp with yuzu gelee ($13.50), but you might also go straight for the hamachi yuzukoshou ($14) prepared the same way, dotted with a tart, salty yuzu sauce. Pure heaven! It's served with vegetables, ogo and onion, but I'd stay away from the latter overpowering ingredient because the fish and sauce should be enjoyed in their most elemental state.

Later, when I tried to order hamachi nigiri, I was disappointed to find the kitchen had run out of the fish. In fact, if you show up late — that is, by 8 p.m. on a Saturday night, just before the restaurant's one day of closure — it may have run out of lot of things. Gone when I visited: fish collars, Berkshire pork sausages and jumbo shrimp for robata. I was also tempted by the thought of grilled smelt but was told it's no longer on the menu.

After the hamachi ran out, Kona kampachi was offered as a substitute, to which I readily agreed. But as much as I like the local fish, there's no comparison.

Two recent specials that seemed popular enough to merit a place on the daily menu are grilled moi ($17) and a bowl of udon topped with thin slices of duck breast ($6). The dissected, flattened moi is not very pretty to look at, but delicious. The udon is not the bouncy variety that dominates the market here. Its soft texture makes it ideal for kids, which also makes it popular with parents. Speaking of which, Shinn has been drawing a diverse audience that wouldn't quite mix anywhere else: families, cool kids, foodies, couples, businessmen and old folks. Maybe that speaks to the comfort level Shinn offers, or maybe the food is worth giving integration a try. Imagine what this food could do for world peace.

All these goodies distracted me from the fish mainstays of the menu. Nigiri sushi is available by the piece at $3 to $7. You can get small rolls as well, about six slender pieces for $4 to $8. I tried the salmon avocado roll ($5) as an option to the more common California roll ($7) but discovered why salmon isn't usually used when the heavy salt flavor overwhelmed the avocado. Otherwise, I had more interest in the cooked menu than the raw.

For dessert, there's the no-miss, refreshing almond tofu ($5.50), topped with cubes of plum wine jelly and granita of frozen strawberries. Frozen berries warmed with a pour of grenadine are another option ($6.50).
Now, try to stay out of my way.

Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Advertiser.