Thursday, October 11, 2012

'Ilima Awards 2012: The way we dined

Nadine Kam photos
PR woman Kristin Jackson, left, in her other life as Kiss My Grits restaurateur, with Kim Oswald. Kiss My Grits was a double winner in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser's 'Ilima Awards. The public voted it "Best New Restaurant," and critics gave it one of 22 Critics Choice Awards.

Work on the annual Diamond Head Theatre and Honolulu Star-Advertiser 'Ilima Awards officially begins in June, but the work actually continues all year as we eat our way through many, many restaurants and take notes on what was memorable and what we liked best.

June is when I and fellow food and entertainment writers—Joleen Oshiro, Nina Wu, Elizabeth Kieszowski, Jason Genegabus and Betty Shimabukuro—start comparing notes in advance of the October announcement of award winners, and soon after, we start fanning out to make sure the restaurants are continuing to perform well.

We try to include mix of restaurants high, low and spots in between for diversity that reflects the entire dining scene. Of course, for the restaurants, it helps to have a visible profile throughout the year to remind us who's out there. There are many more restaurateurs who go about running their restaurants in a low-key way, and I admit we always miss a few of these. I already have a few in mind that didn't make the book this year but deserve another look next year. And, of course, it helps to open before August, when our decisions are finalized.

Click here for a look inside book.

If you're wondering why I disappear from Facebook and Twitter all summer, it's because of the extra task of helping to write the book. The reward is the annual 'Ilima Awards ceremony that took place Oct. 8, a benefit for the theater, that begins with cocktails and a DHT song and dance performance honoring the award winners.

This year marks the 17th annual awards, which started in partnership with the Honolulu Advertiser before our papers merged.

On stage, Loretta Ables Sayre—straight from her star turn in "South Pacific" on Broadway—joined the cast and cracked up the audience with a particularly suggestive number sung to the tune of "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," which had her getting up close and personal with a few of the representatives from Kiss My Grits, Prima, Lahaina Grill and Amasia, which included the Lahaina Grill rep burying his head in her bosom.

Other highlights included "Funny Girl" star Isabelle Decauwert singing about food to the tune of the musical's "Don't Rain on My Parade," and Tricia Marciel bringing hilarity to the otherwise bittersweet tune of "The Way We Were," sung as "The Way We Dined."

And, a representative from 3660 on the Rise provided one of the most entertaining moments of the night during the finale, when the members of the youth ensemble Shooting Stars got him to his feet and he joined in, rather well, on matching their dance moves.

Then, it was all about tasting, and the ultimate reward was hearing from guests that they enjoyed sampling from restaurants that they hadn't heard of prior to that night.

Kiss My Grits offered a generous combination of catfish, okra and black-eyed peas, along with grits and hush puppies, below, that all threatened to fill a diner up before hitting any other booth. I missed the bread pudding that came later.

Alan Takasaki, left, is the chef-owner of this year's Critic's Choice of Best Restaurant, Le Bistro. He was cooking up shortribs, below:

Azure executive chef Jon Matsubara with his inspired sambal clam banh mi and liquid brandade.

Diners accustomed to grabbing a plate were caught off guard when Matsubara placed the cracker-style "banh mi" in their hands, instructing them to take a bite, then follow with a sip of the chowdery salt cod brandade.
The stack of small brandade cups caught the eye of our 'Ilima Awards book page designer Joe Guinto, who admired their architectural form.

The Pacific Club executive chef Eric Leterc and Veronique Spanier were also there to enjoy the show and cuisine of fellow chefs.

Anne Namba and David Cassidy sipped champagne before the start of DHT's musical tribute to the winning restaurants.

Mistress of ceremonies Loretta Ables Sayre opened the stage program.

Toward the end of the evening, DHT executive director Deena Dray and artistic director John Rampage got help from a couple of the theater's Shooting Stars to pick the names of raffle winners. At stake were trips to San Francisco, New York and Chicago.

Jawaiian Irie Jerk chef/owner Cassie Simmonds was serving his delicious jerk chicken and festival, below, with a nod to the food truck and restaurant's appearance on Guy Fieri's "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives."

KCC chef instructor Warren Uchida, left, oversaw a team of students representing the school's Ka 'Ikena dining room, who prepared Sri Lankan shrimp curry with saffron rice, cucumber-mint raita and pineapple chutney, below, and pan-roasted swordfish with choi sum, gingered lomi tomato, carrot-ginger smear and cumin sweet-soy vinaigrette. I put my Jawaiian jerk chicken down for a second, and one of the students ate it.

Mariposa chef Marc Anthony Freiberg prepared kabocha-coconut curry soup with a seared scallop centerpiece and truffled bananas, below. It was among the favorite dishes at our table.

The taps tell all at the display for REAL A Gastropub, another of the Critic's Picks. They served their signature duck confit corndog with Guinness mustard and cranberry compote.

Nobu offered crispy duck harumaki, or spring roll, dipped into a salty-sour tamarind-miso sauce.

Alan Wong's offering was shoyu duck mu shu, with plenty hot picked red jalapeño, basil, cilantro and mint.
Hiroshi Fukui, whose Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas was a repeat Critics Choice winner, never fails to impress with his seafood.

Brett Villarmia of Rum Fire, winner of the DHT Producer's Award, shows one of the restaurant's offering of a truffled slider that was accompanied by a rum Coke float.

People's Choice "Best Casual Restaurant" Kissaten showed off its diverse repertoire by serving a roasted beet and chicken salad, and for dessert, granola parfait.

I also searched out Critic's Choice winner Tanioka's Seafood & Catering for a helping of spicy ahi and spicy tako on rice.

Leeward Community College students presented miso smoked salmon with sea asparagus and umami pearls. We were eating in the dark, so I didn't even see the pearls until I went direct to their booth.

People's Choice "Best Restaurant" 3660 on the Rise presented ahi tataki.

Morimoto Waikiki served up a pork belly bao with watercress and shiitake, drizzled with an Asian mitsuba pesto.

People's Choice breakfast winner Cinnamon's offered up laulau.

I loved the ancho chili-spiced chicken from thirtyninehotel, one of the Critic's Picks.

Morimoto also served up a yummy cheesecake that was light as air. I couldn't believe it was made from tofu! It was topped with equally light meringue straws. Now there's a dessert that won't leave you feeling guilty!

More people photos at Honolulu Pulse:

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