Wednesday, June 26, 2013

First course: Arancino at the Kahala

Nadine Kam photos
Arancino at the Kahala's bagna cauda comprised orange and purple carrots, potato, okra, tomato and other greens beautifully "potted" and served with a warm anchovy and oil dip. I've seen children enjoy their vegetables when presented this way. A non-fish eating companion was offered a melted cheese dip instead.

I was wondering what Arancino's owners would do to differentiate the new Kahala Hotel & Resort branch of the restaurant from its popular Waikiki restaurants.

The answer was to go more upscale in keeping with the resort ambience. I see a bit of the Vintage Cave here in terms of plating and the focus on every detail of the ingredients that comprise each dish. The presentation is beautiful.

They've also gone with a prix fixe concept, following the Italian progression of five-course dinners, for $100, or four-course dinners for $85. Only lunch will be available a la carte.

During a media preview that took place June 17, the Inamura family, CEO Ichiro, wife Fumie and daughter Aya Inamura, vice president of Arancino Restaurants, introduced chef Daisuke Hamamoto and grand master sommelier Shinya Tasaki of Tokyo—named the World's Best Sommelier 1995 by the Association de la Sommellerie Internationale—who created the wine list for the restaurant, comprising 100 selections from Italian and Pacific Rim countries, at a cost of $7 to $12 per glass.

From left, Arancino at the Kahala's Fumie Inamura, CEO Ichiro Inamura, Vice President Aya Inamura and grand master sommelier Shinya Tasaki.

The Arancino restaurants started with Ichiro's love of food, and upon moving to Hawaii, he opened a beer bar on Beachwalk Avenue, a few steps from the original Arancino at 255 Beachwalk. Arancino di Mare opened at the other end of Waikiki, in the Waikiki Beach Marriott, in the fall of 2010.

The Kahala venue, Aya said, presents the perfect opportunity to bring the cuisine up a notch and "serve the perfect upscale Italian."

The setting is the site of the former Tokyo Tokyo, and Arancino at the Kahala now features al fresco dining for about 60, outdoor bar, and a private dining area for up to 12 guests.

It'll be open from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and 5 to 10:30 p.m. daily. The dress code for lunch is casual resort with shoes or dressy sandals. For dinner, it's evening resort wear and aloha wear with shoes of dressy sandals. Swimwear, sleeveless T-shirts, athletic apparel and hats will not be permitted.
Reservations: Call 808.380.4400

The private dining room.

During a media preview event, the amuse bouche was a lovely Kahuku sweet corn foam with proscuitto di Parma.

The bread selection included housemade whole wheat roll, foccaccia and grissini al formaggio (cheese breadsticks), served with unsalted butter and black salt.

The antipasti course comprised Crostacei di Mare, abalone and amaebi (sweet shrimp) lightly drizzled with herb oil. Rolled cucumber served as "planters" for sprigs of basil, parsley and other greens. Thin-sliced cauliflower added to the arrangement. Paired with 900 grapes sauvignon blanc Marlborough, New Zealand.

Chitarra alla Pescatora was one of the primi courses, featuring al dente housemade squid ink chitarra pasta, topped with a small dice of lobster, scallops and shrimp tossed with a garlic tomato sauce, and topped with two slices of grilled calamari. It was paired with Dog Point pinot noir, Marlborough, New Zealand.

General manager Matt Stancato shows the stringed chitarra used to cut sheets of pasta, inviting the "guitar" reference that gives the pasta dish, above, its name.

The secondi course was Bistecca alla Lavanda, or lavender-infused sous vide Tajima beef, surrouned by petite potatoes and onion petals, a spring of lavender, arugula, Dijon mustard, pepper and salt. This was so wonderful and the beef may look startlingly rare, but it's fully cooked and oh-so-tender. Paired with Bookwalter Foreshadow cabernet sauvignon, Yakima Valley, Wash.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Smoke gets in your heart and opu

Nadine Kam photos
One of the entries in the "Anything Goes" category of Fresh Catch's "Hogs Gone Wild" Up in Smoke cook-off. Crab-stuffed red and yellow bell peppers were wrapped with smoked bacon.

One of the food events I look forward to each year is Fresh Catch's "Up in Smoke" cook-off, with this year's 5th annual themed "Hogs Gone Wild" and taking place at Cycle City & JN Automotive Group, at 600 Puuloa Road and Nimitz Highway.

It's because those who don't live with—as I don't anymore—or know any hunters, don't have much access to the result of the hunt, the smoked meat that is the reward for a day's labor and uncertainty over whether one will be able find and track a worthwhile target.

The annual event is a labor of love hosted by Fresh Catch's Reno Henriques, and made possible by the participating teams, who work year 'round to perfect their smoked dishes for the annual competition.

Event host Reno Henriques, of Fresh Catch, left, invited judges' victor Lisa Dejournett of VRM Pit Crew, and People's Choice winners Shawn, second from left, and Curtis Bautista, representing Always Smok'n Sum'n, to the event's throwdown competition, which resulted in a grand prize win for Always Smok'n Sum'n.

In keeping with the hog theme, many a spectator pulled up on a Harley, and a few classic cars also made their way through the parking lot in a mini parade.

Of course the highlight of the day is the opportunity to taste the myriad assortment of smoked meat, that ranged from the top-billed pork, various seafood, Molokai axis deer, and most unusual for me, Capt. Smokey's Alaska black bear, which, coated in a teriyaki-style marinade, simply tasted like beef jerky! It was the work of Henriques' brother Dominic.

Fresh Catch Hawaii locations are at 3109 Waialae Ave. (808.735.POKE) and 45-1118 Kamehameha Highway in Kaneohe (808.235.POKE).

Alaska black bear jerky was one of the offerings, courtesy of the Capt. Smokey team, led by Dominic Henriques, brother of Fresh Catch's Reno Henriques.

Non-flash video link

Dishes were judged on smoked taste, tenderness and appearance. Judges selection count as 75 percent of a contestant’s overall score. People’s Choice selection will count for 25 percent.

The grand prize victor, winning over both judges and the people's choice voters, was Alwayz Smok'n Sum'n, which placed in all five of the competition categories: pork, fish, chicken, beef and anything goes.

VRM Pit Crew, which came in 4th place last year in the smoked pork category, and 2nd in the smoked beef category, moved to the top of the heap in both contests this year. In the pork category, the crew traded places with Guava Smoked, who came in first last year. But don't cry for the Guava Smoked crew, which moved from second place last year to first position this year in both the smoked chicken and anything goes categories.

Here's one guy lucky to have avoided being a main course. Cesar, rescued as a young boar in the Waiahole-Waikane valley, is now a beloved 3-year-old pet who likes eating smoked pork and McDonald's french fries but rejects Jack in the Box fries, according to his owner. Cesar was the only living boar at the event. Others were splayed out on the back of trucks.

Alwayz Smok'n Sum'n, $1,000

1st place: VRM Pit Crew, $1,000 cash award
2nd place: Alwayz Smok'n Sum'n, $ 500
3rd place: Smokin' Shiggy, $100
4th place: Guava Smoked, $50
5th place: Smo'KING, $100 gift certificate
6th place: Team Hoku, $50 gift certificate
7th place: (tie) Simply Smoked ABCDE, and Pilau M/C Oahu, $25

1st place: Action Smokers, $250
2nd place: Guava Smoked, $100
3rd place: Smo'KING, $100 gift certificate
4th place: Diamond Head Market & Grill, $50
5th place: Alwayz Smok'n Sum'n, $ 50 gift certificate
6th place: Capt. Smokey, $25

1st place: Guava Smoked, $250
2nd place: VRM Pit Crew, $100
3rd place: (tie) Smokin' Shiggy, and Action Smokers, $100 gift certificate
5th place: Alwayz Smok'n Sum'n, $50
6th place: Team Hoku, $25

1st place: VRM Pit Crew, $250
2nd place: (tie) Capt. Smokey, and Prime Time Smoker, $100
4th place: Alwayz Smok'n Sum'n, $50
5th place: Smokin' Shiggy; $50 gift certificate

1st place: Guava smoked, $250
2nd place: Capt. Smokey, $100
3rd place: Alwayz Smok'n Sum'n, $100 gift certificate
4th place: Action Smokers, $50
5th place: VRM Pit Crew, $50 gift certificate
6th place: Prime Time Smoker, $25

Smoked pork offered to attendees.

Theme of the day, with a touch of the tropics.

One of the judges, 3660 on the Rise's Russell Siu, shows some of the pork offerings awaiting judges' verdicts.

Smoked salmon was one of the entries in the fish category. Others offered salmon fillets and crisped salmon skin.

A combination of smoked lobster, scallops and fish were entered in the "Anything Goes" category.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Exploring Hudson's Fish & Game

Nadine Kam photos
Inside the dining room at Fish & Game in Hudson, New York.

HUDSON, NY — Move over Brooklyn! The hottest restaurant in New York at the moment is Zakary Pelaccio's Fish & Game, over in Hudson, and I was lucky enough to be in the area just a week after it opened on May 15.

It was serendipitous that I was visiting in-laws in Lakeville, CT, after flying to New York via Delta, where I read a small blurb about the restaurant in the airline's SKY magazine. I made a mental note to visit when I was up in Lakeville, an hour's drive to Hudson, which impressed me on my last trip. It's a small, day tripper's town, right on the train line, that makes it easy for Manhattanites to get there. With that steady stream of explorers, Warren Street has filled up with stylish boutiques, jewelers and antique shops, as well as the restaurants that keep them fueled.

When visiting Hudson, though, you really need to keep your eye on the calendar. Many spots open only Thursdays through Saturdays. Restaurants may open only in the evening, making it hard for planning to drive in just for a day. I had planned to be out of there while it was still light to see the way home, or at least out of Hudson, but alas, the prix fixe menu meant dining was on their time and "in by 5:30-out by 7:30" dining plans became out by the darkness of 9 p.m. It took two hours to get back to Lakeville navigating by my phone's Apple Maps—sorry, I hadn't loaded the Google maps yet—after my friend's phone with Google Maps died, and we reached home with 8 percent phone battery. Of course, by then the whole extended family in CT was frantically looking for us in a search that extended to family in New York and Hawaii! I never heard the end of it the rest of my trip.

My desire to visit the restaurant was reinforced when the New York Times followed up with a blurb on the restaurant in their food section on May 22nd. The funny thing is, even though the writers all live in the area, none had been able to make it out there yet, allowing the Hawaii reporter to beat them to the table, though I walked in without reservations on a rainy day, wrongly thinking that perhaps the hype hadn't kicked in yet.

Well, the restaurant was packed and we were told there were no tables available that evening. I asked if we could have dinner in the bar, and they said we could. When I looked over, the bar area was full as well, so we waited a bit and it seemed that a couple was preparing to leave. Just about then, GM Scott Brenner came up to us and said he had made room for us, explaining they try to be accommodating. Nice!

A fireplace that sometimes doubles as an extra oven, brings a rustic, homey ambience to the dining room.

What made it nice, was that it was a followup to my visit to one of Pelaccio's other creations, the Malaysian barbecue restaurant Fatty 'Cue, in Brooklyn, two years ago. He seems to favor Asian flavors, but the effect is much subtler at Fish & Game, where the menu highlights fish, game and produce from throughout the fertile Hudson Valley region.

The entire project marked a collaboration between the chef and architect Michael Davis, who restored the red brick 19th century blacksmith shop, owned by Pelaccio’s partner, Patrick Milling Smith, with handcrafted and/or reclaimed and repurposed details. The dark wood interior warmed by a wood-burning oven and fireplace. The decor is vaguely hunting lodge meets bordello, an effect of red velvet wallpaper in the foyer.

The seasonally driven menu changes each day, and we were presented with the option of two seven-course tasting menus—one vegetarian, one not—at $68 per person. Quite reasonable, though one couldn't be too strict a vegetarian because I saw duck egg as one of the ingredients on the menu. At any rate, my friend and I are confirmed meat eaters, so ordered the same menu as follows. Food is prepared simply to allow diners to appreciate the freshness and natural flavors of the area ingredients. Truly the work of an assured chef who doesn't feel the need to entertain with the bells and whistles of heavy sauces and liberal spicing, though there is enough there to maintain diners' interest, such as the use of preserved lemon and salted chili to spark the palate.

Trout rillette with chicharones and cherry.

Swoon-worthy bread, including salted pretzel bread, all accompanied by nine-month aged butter, washed with moonshine, with the flavor of a goat milk cheese.

Crunchy Hakkurei turnips with a sauce of preserved citrus (lemon peel), and topped with tender duck giblets.

Wood-roasted hake in clam juice with salted chili and sweet razor clam with green onions. This dish was delicate perfection.

In memory of Christopher Neil

Nadine Kam photos
My late husband, Christopher Neil, during one of our lunches at Du Vin.

Yes, I've been absent from this blog for a while. Maybe you read in the paper or heard that my husband Christoper Neil died, and I have been dealing with all the personal matters that follow with the passing of a loved one.

For as much as I've been in the public eye, we were very private, so most people never knew we shared 22 wonderful years together. And, strangely enough, he never accompanied me much on my restaurant reviews, remnants of a time when we were the outlaw Romeo and Juliet of our two newsrooms, he at the Honolulu Advertiser, me at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, and the Honolulu Newspaper Agency library was the neutral turf between the two competing newsrooms. The library was where we met, and it was a good thing, because for our entire careers, he worked nights and I worked days, and although I had seen him a handful of times before he introduced himself, after that, I rarely saw him in the building.

Sometimes I would see him peeking into our newsroom from the top of the library steps. It's only now that someone who once worked for us told me that he was looking for me, and when she'd tell him, "She's not here!" he'd run away. But I was there, I did see him and wondered what he was doing there. I never put two and two together.

Because of the competition between the two dailies, once word got out that we were together, he was banned by our management from accompanying me on my restaurant reviews. He was never a foodie anyway. Yes, he had excellent taste and enjoyed good food, but he was too sophisticated to spend his time chasing trends, the next chef, the next hot cuisine. He appreciated the good things in life on his terms, at his leisure.

My favorite story about getting to know him was when, after a couple of botched attempts to go to concerts together—he had invited me to Los Lobos but I couldn't make it, I had invited him to Dread Zeppelin but he couldn't make it—we ended up at some dive bar on Kapiolani Boulevard. I don't even remember the name of it. As we looked at the menus, he said, "I heard the sardines are good here."

Christopher at a restaurant in Kailua, where we lived for 10 years.

At that time, I was the first and only daily newspaper restaurant critic in town and most guys would have tried to impress me with their good taste and knowledge of food. Not Chris. He was neither pretentious nor ever went out of his way to impress anyone. He was just real and honest to a fault. I was so enamored that in my review of Manoa's Cafe Brio one year, I spelled his name out in the first sentence of every paragraph.

Chris had a beguiling mix of swagger and sensitivity. A rock star is what many people called him. He had an aura and energy that drew people in, irregardless of age or gender. Even those who only met him once came away with strong opinions about Chris and after his passing they were able to detail all the particulars of their meeting.

He cultivated a tough facade, but I knew him to be a kind, sensitive soul. "A soft touch," is how a colleague described his generosity. He was a selfless individual in many big and small ways. Even when he was sick, he put my needs and feelings above his own, so if I came home after a hard day he would ask, with great concern, if I was all right and would do everything possible to make things right. If I even mentioned in passing, that I was hungry, he'd jump out of bed to make me cheese and crackers, when simply moving caused him great pain.

After Chris became sick with lung cancer, whenever he felt sorry for himself, he often thought of students he met in his college dormitory at Kent State, before he moved on to earn a Philosophy degree at Boston University. At school in Ohio, able-bodied students were paired with handicapped students, many of whom had but a few more years to live. Yet, they worked so diligently toward their degrees. He admired their tenacity and the experience taught him a lesson in the strength and capacity of the human spirit. He had also learned early, growing up in Connecticut, about the inequities of life and the arbitrary nature of wealth and poverty, as well as the generational continuity of both states. It made him a crusader for equality and the idea that every child deserves a chance to succeed in life.

Neither I nor doctors could keep him alive, but I do want to keep his spirit alive.

Since the death of his friend Alex Lee, an aspiring chef who was killed outside a bar in the early 1990s when he was in his 20s, Chris and I had always talked about establishing a culinary scholarship once we retired and had some spare cash. I can't think of a more appropriate time than now to make his wish come true, which is why I have established a culinary scholarship at KCC's Culinary Institute.

For those who wish to contribute, checks can be made out to UH Foundation, with the notation "Christopher Neil scholarship fund," and sent to:

Linh Hoang, Director of Development
UH Foundation, Kapiolani Community College
4303 Diamond Head Road, ‘Ilima 212
Honolulu, HI 96816

Or use this button:

Thank you very much for your support.