Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Heavenly rewards await at Yoshi's temple of meat

Nadine Kam photos
Bacon-wrapped enoki were a favorite item. This represents two orders.

I want to live as long as the next person, but at what cost? If the price of longevity means subsisting on seitan and tempeh, there's only so much a nonvegan can take. Give me a fruit or vegetable any day instead of wheat gluten and soy products masquerading as meat.

That might have been the problem at Hale Macrobiotic Restaurant, where true believers in the macrobiotic religion and secular foodies could always count on a wonderful, nutritious meal, but the food just didn't incite the same ardor as a good burger or a multicultural taco.

So now, the space across Makaloa from Wal-Mart and Sam's Club has been turned into a temple of meat, home to Yakitori Yoshi. That's something that will attract attention because it appeals to our most primitive instincts. Few can resist the lure of sitting around a grill, salivating over the promise of food to come.

The setting itself is quite civilized. The austere beauty of both the former Kai Okonomiyaki restaurant and Hale has been left intact, though now a small grill is the centerpiece of the open cooking area. You can spot a regular by how quickly they pick up the order forms left on the table and start marking it up with their selections. Newbies will likely sit there and wait for someone to take their order. Either method works.

Grilled specialties are priced per single skewer, ranging from gizzards ($1.95) and pork stomach ($1.95) to bacon-wrapped asparagus ($2.25) or enoki mushrooms ($2.25). Bacon with anything is always welcome, so you could also get it wrapped around tomato ($2.25), mochi ($2.50) and quail egg ($2.25). In the latter case, the bacon might mask the egg's unwelcome rubbery texture. But the asparagus was great, as were the enoki mushrooms that were chewy but sweetened by the bacon fat, giving it a quality similar to shredded, smoked scallops.

Shiitake is a grill option, but I don't find the treatment optimal for this 'shroom. It is sautàeing that brings out its silky, velvety characteristic and depth of flavor.

Shrimp topped with mentai, or cod roe sauce and nori.

Beef skewers are made with tender and juicy short ribs, enhanced with your choice of garlic ($2.25), garlic ponzu ($2.50) or radish ponzu ($2.50) sauces. The only sauce I found somewhat overwhelming was the spicy miso on the skewered, grilled pork ($2.25). It was more salty than spicy.

Tsukune lovers will find their chicken meatballs served with a choice of shiso ponzu, mentai (cod roe) mayo, shiso plum or garlic ponzu, at $2.25 each for a portion about the size of half a Popsicle.

It may be tempting to try a specialty of sliced sirloin steak, served with a small portion of a Yoshi lettuce salad topped with a creamy carrot dressing. The steak is dry and overcooked and didn't have the same appeal as the skewered specialties. If you do get the steak, you might want to add a side order of compatible fried garlic ($4.20).

If you stick to skewered specialties, you probably won't spend very much on food here. It's when you start adding $4.50 to $6.70 pupu, not to mention sake, shochu by the glass or bottle, and wine by the glass or bottle, that your bill will start to climb.

A six-item chef's choice assortment featured asparagus, sausage, grilled chicken with wasabi sauce, quail eggs, tsukune and pork with spicy miso sauce.

I made the mistake of assuming that by ordering a six-stick assortment for $11, I would be able to pick my own assortment, so I started rattling off my six selections. I got those and was feeling quite satisfied. Then the actual six-stick assortment, chef-selected, arrived. As full as I already was, I got to work on that, and thought they had done a wonderful job basing the selections on what I had already ordered, without duplicating a single item. In other words, if you hadn't ordered anything challenging, they're not going to present you with any offal or cartilage.

Those scouring the menu for something different will likely spy the fried fish sausage ($4.70), but that is merely a nori-flecked fishcake equivalent.

Deep-fried garlic. The side order is $4.20.

Whatever you select might be accompanied by croquettes of sweet potato ($1.95), creamed corn ($2.95) or potato curry ($1.95). You can also go the rice route, selecting mentai, plum or butter-sauced rice balls off the grill. Just as with bacon, the butter rice is so ono that I, a non-white-rice eater, was tempted to order one of my own after sampling a tablemate's order. Lunch is still new and comprises combination plates of teppan-grilled beef and chicken ($7.50), beef and shrimp ($8.50), and chicken and shrimp ($8.50) served with two scoops of rice and Yoshi Salad. I'll definitely be back for more.
Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Advertiser. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

'Sweet & Sour' at Smithsonian

Smithsonian photo

The Smithsonian National Museum of American History opened its "Sweet & Sour" exhibition today, focusing Chinese-American history as reflected through its menus, restaurant memorabilia and signs on a chop suey journey toward assimilation.

Hawaii was one of the stops on researchers' itinerary last June. The local search included Kalihi’s Tasty Chop Suey, Waikiki’s Lau Yee Chai, and Chinatown’s Wo Fat.

The exhibit is a small one, at about 10 feet, according to Dennis Wong, son of Tasty Chop Suey’s original owner, but there are plans to increase the display to 3,000 feet and create a travelilng show of the wares.

Around the world at Kahala

Nadine Kam photos
A view from inside the Plumeria Beach House toward the ocean, al fresco tables and musicians.

The Kahala Hotel & Resorts hosted the second of its "Kahala Restaurants Present: Island Heritage Cuisine" in the Plumeria Beach House on March 12, with an international array of appetizers, salads, entrees and desserts in a buffet reflecting the way various cuisines came together to become island favorites.

The selections are forever linked to Hawaii's history of plantation labor, and the Chinese, Filipino, Hawaiian, Japanese, Korean and Portuguese dishes represent the ethnic backgrounds of executive chef Wayne Hirabayashi and his team of chefs. Although the circumstances of our ancestors were trying, what's left is a remarkable food legacy ingrained in our culture.

The amount and array of food offered was so vast that one has to make a tour of the room and come up with a strategy for making the most of the buffet without overdoing it. For me, it meant starting with dishes that I don't see every day, like salt cod-stuffed Portuguese bread and caldo verde, a delicious soup of chorizo, kale and diced potatoes.

Prawns sinigang with New Caledonia prawns, tamarind, squash and eggplant.

I was also tempted by the Philippines section with its old-style prawns sinigang and braised oxtail kare kare. I think a lot of people are still wary about Filipino cuisine so those dishes were barely touched, but they were among the best dishes available that night. Also amazing to me were the amazingly compact Korea bi bim bap, molded musubi style, so the meat and veggie fillings were inside the crisped rice!

Oxtail kare kare, and below, shrimp paste that accompanied the Filipino dishes.

It added up to an educational experience for some of the visitors there, like a tourist in the Japan section, who, studying the hasu, kabocha and assorted tsukemono, asked of one item, what's that?

"Taro," I said. "What's that?" she asked again.

That's something that doesn't require an explanation for locals.

A noodle bar allowed diners to pick their own ingredients for a stir-fry.

The next event, taking place 6:30 to 10 p.m. April 9 will be themed "Buns and Dumplings," with another selection of dishes from around the world, with staples of salads, raw bar, cheese tray and desserts. The cost is $75 plus tax and 20 percent gratuity per adult, and $37.50 plus tax and 20 percent gratuity per child age 4 to 12.

Hasu, or lotus root, in the Japan section of the buffet.


Here's what will be on the menu on April 9:  

Cold selections: Chinese chicken salad, salmon tofu salad, Waimanalo greens, chopped romaine, tomato mozzarella, domestic and imported cheese platter.

Raw bar: Assorted nigiri sushi; California, spicy ahi, unagi and maki rolls; inari sushi; ahi sashimi; ahi, tako and mussel poke; oysters, crab claws and shrimp on ice.

Buns and dumplings: Vegetable Samosas, fried masa bun with pulled beef cheeks, kalua pig paroshki, duck and mochi rice dumpling with Asian gremolata, imperial scallop soup buns, har gau and vegetarian pot stickers.

Hot pans: Black truffle gnocchi, chicken and dumplings, monk fish dumplings in consommé, and grilled catch with mochi rice lup cheong dumplings.

Carving station: Prime rib of beef au jus with horseradish buns, roast duck and roast pork with buns, and lemon-bacon roast chicken with rosemary buns.

Desserts: Seasonal whole and sliced fruits, ube and coconut ice cream sandwiches, pineapple turnovers, apricot “ravioli” cookies, blueberry panna cotta, chocolate dobash Cake, haupia cake, strawberry Napoleons, Kona coffee profiteroles, stuffed marshmallows, brownies and blondies, and bun pudding with crème Anglaise.

Desserts available March 12 included the resort's specialty Kahalasadas with lilikoi sugar, and above, Portuguese custard cream, chocolate and matcha green tea torte.
Chocolate fans were delighted by jasmine tea-infused pots de creme.

Fixings for halo halo included tapioca pearls, ube, toasted coconut, red beans and cantaloupe.

Fresh fruit was pretty enough to lure those that might normally choose more sinful desserts.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sustainability delicious at Halekulani

Nadine Kam photos
Patricia Tam, vice president of brand development for Halekulani with the hotel's executive chef Vikram Garg, welcomed guests to "An Evening of Sustainable Cuisine."

Thinking about food sustainability is a luxury when many struggle to simply put a nutritious meal on the table, but it is a topic that should have been discussed long ago, when it might have been possible for a farm industry to thrive and grow with the population.

Living on islands, we're always just one disaster away from being cut off from the rest of the world. If planes couldn't land, if ships couldn't dock, it wouldn't take long for food supplies to disappear.

There are environmental benefits to sustainable cuisine—using products that are grown, harvested and processed with the least amount of impact on the environment—as well, and Halekulani is doing its part to raise awareness through events like "An Evening of Sustainable Cuisne," which took place March 11.

The event, a benefit for the Culinary Insitute of the Pacific at Diamond Head, featured cuisine by Halekulani executive chef Vikram Garg, Roy Yamaguchi of Roy's Restaurants, and Ed Kenney of Town.

The menus were made possible with the support of Big Island Abalone Corp, Kahuku Farms, United Fishing Agency, Nalo Farms, Hamakua Mushrooms, Shinsato Hog Farm and Ma'o Organic Farms.

There was also wine from Hall Winery, California's first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold-Certified Winery, as well as cocktails by Julie Reiner, beverage artist in residence, and herbal and kaffir and acai cocktails from Southern Wine & Spirits. Guests interested in the superfruit could also walk away with a bracelet made with acai seeds distributed to promote VeeV Acai Spirit.

Dishes put on the table proved that working for environmental and social good can be delicious.

Of course one part of sustainability is learning to use and appreciate all the food that comes from one animal, and not just savoring the "good parts." Ed Kenney put diners to the test with his coppa di testa or head cheese. Most people opted for sausage, instead. I passed as well, having come from a nine-course Chinese feast earlier that day.

Sorry, Ed! Maybe next time!

"Hawaii Five-0's" Alex O'Loughlin was there and I asked for a picture, which was OK until someone told him I was from the newspaper. He declined because he said he wasn't dressed for press, baseball cap and all. He looked good anyway and was the nicest guy nevertheless.

Chef Roy Yamaguchi with his team, from left, Jason Peel, Clayton Lau and Jacqueline Lau.

Red veal tartare, Vietnamese style, with cold phó noodles, basil lime aioli and quail egg, from Roy's.

Hawaiian ono sashimi with Hawaiian vanilla vinaigrette, Big Island heart of palm and Kahuku sea asparagus, from Roy's.

Among the dishes served by Halekulani was chilled Kona lobster with a sauce of Sumida Farm watercress and fenugreek butter. It was delicious and the first to run out, so I'm glad I got a taste while I could.

Town's Ed Kenney put his family to work, including daughter Celia and mom Beverly Noa.

Ed served a trio of dishes from one pig, from Shinsato Hog Farm. Shinsato chipolatas was an amazing light sausage, served with Ma'o Organic Farms radicchio and saba lima beans.
Master mixologist and Halekulani beverage artist in residence Julie Reiner created two drinks for the occasion, La Rosa of tequila, amaro, lemon juice, organic strawberry syrup finished with rose champagne, and here, she gives New Orleans Buck a shake. It's a refreshing blend of rum, ginger beer, lime juice, simple syrup and fresh pineapple juice.

Bob and Janice Stanga of Hamakua Mushrooms show a beautiful mix of frilly pepeiao, giant Ali'i and white shimeji mushrooms, plus their newest offering, the Italian pioppini, the smaller brown ones in the midst of the Ali'is and shimejis.

Dean Okimoto's Nalo Farms provided most of the greens served by Roy's and Halekulani for the event. He's with Mandy Nguyen, left, and Vikram Garg's wife Abhilasha Kumar.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bon Ton Girls gather at Royal Garden

Nadine Kam photos
The Bon Ton Girls, in the front row are, from left, birthday girl Jane Lyman, Gladys Goka, Kimiko Kitagawa, Lillian Hattae and Dorothy Nakama. In the back row, from left, are Dr. Thomas Sakoda, Peggy Ono, Gayle Ozawa (Lillian's daughter), Ryuko Sakoda and Joyce Ho (Kimiko's daughter).

Longtime friends got together at Royal Garden restaurant in the Ala Moana Hotel March 11 for a lunch celebrating Jane Lyman's birthday. Now 89, Jane is the youngest of the "Bon Ton Girls" who worked together at Hawaii's first grand department store, Bon Ton, or sister store, Bon Marche, between the 1930s and mid-1940s when it closed after World War II.

Gladys took care of ordering a fabulous nine-course feast, plus dessert, in advance at her favorite restaurant, including Long Life Noodles for women already in their 90s. Just when everyone was stuffed, there were two desserts. We thought that a peach chiffon cake from Napoleon's Bakery was enough, but Chinese dessert also awaited, a choice of almond float with fruit cocktail, honey melon with tapioca and coconut milk or mango pudding.

These girls still know how to enjoy life!

Jane Lyman enjoys an active social life at 89.

First course of scallops with bell pepper and black bean sauce.

Ty Yu shows a third course of uhu with ginger and green onions.

The second course of sizzling shrimp.

Also on the table, from left foreground, pork with winter bamboo shoots and pea pods, sweet-sour shrimp Canton, and beef with pineapple and pickled ginger. The food arrived so quickly, I missed the photo of shrimp and chicken in potato basket when waiters cut into it to serve.

Lemon chicken.
Last to arrive was the house longevity fried noodles with shrimp and chicken.

Gayle Ozawa cut the birthday cake. As mom of prominent local blogger/social media guy Ryan Ozawa, she says his writing about the family is off limits, but it's OK for a stranger like me! LOL!

Dr. Thomas Sakoda, with his wife Ryuko, are members of the Chaine des Rotisseurs. Dr. Sakoda is the son of Bon Ton general manager Horace Sakoda. Instead of following his path in retail, Thomas became a neurosurgeon.

Joyce Ho with her mother, Kimiko Kitagawa.