Friday, July 31, 2015

Going bananas at Hawaiian Pie Co.

Nadine Kam photo
Banana pie is August’s pie of the month at Hawaiian Pie Co., where the pies will be available beginning tomorrow.


If you’re among the hundreds who fell in love with Hawaiian Pie Co.’s POG pie, the July pie of the month, you’d better get there today for the last of your fill, before it makes way for August’s special.

Working their way through the compendium of local fruit, the Hori clan settled on a wonderful 3-pound, deep-dish buttery banana pie that will be available through Aug. 31.

While picking up the last of the POG pies today, you’ll also spot Grandpa Yasu’s grab-and-go pastele pans ($3.50). If that’s hard to imagine, think baked manapua with a pastele filling of pork, olives and spices. Yummers, and perfect for a quick lunch.
Hawaiian Pie Co. is at 508 Waiakamilo Road. Call (808) 988-7828.

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.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Beat mid-summer heat at Taormina

Nadine Kam photos
The colors of summer are on the plate at Taormina Sicilian Cuisine, where a chilled spaghettini with avocado, tomatoes and dill is one of the new mid-summer menu additions.


Taormina Sicilian Cuisine has added a handful of midsummer dishes to its menu to take some of the heat out of 90-degree days.

The offerings begin with a refreshing peach bellini (right, $21) of champagne and peach puree, followed by executive chef Hiroyuki Mimura’s light, chilled summer spaghettini ($19) that won’t weigh you down. The pasta is tossed with a light tomato sauce, avocado, arugula, tomatoes and dill.

A peach compote ($12) over orange granite is a fantastic meal ender that won’t leave you in need of a siesta.

If you can stomach heavier dishes, a truffle-topped carbonara ($48) and tender slow-baked chicken with brown butter-caper sauce ($24) are not to be missed.
Taormina is at Waikiki Beach Walk, 227 Lewers St. Call 926-5050.

The $75 Trinacria Collection starts with a first course of mini puff pastry and chilled pea soup, followed by seared ahi with pickled hearts of palm.

Chef Hiroyuki Mimura, below, shaves truffle over carbonara ($48 seasonal pricing).

Nadine Kam photos

Even a simple dish of chicken with brown butter-caper sauce is a standout here.

Not new but ordered for the food porn effect, was the restaurant’s classic Italian Ricci Di Mare Uni pasta ($33).

We swooned over this dessert of a poached white peach with ice cream, over orange granite. So wonderfully refreshing!
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.

First bite: Making a 'Stand' for contemporary Korean

Nadine Kam photos
K-ramen is one of the specialties at Red Stand, a new contemporary Korean restaurant in the Samsung Plaza.


Locals are accustomed to Korean meals with a centerpiece of grilled meat, but a new wave of contemporary Korean restaurants is veering from that format.

The latest is Red Stand, where carbs form a large part of the menu, with meat taking a secondary role.

It will probably take a while to adjust, but enter by day and you will find an array of grab-and-go fare, such as Spam musubi ($1.90) and its Korean equivalent, samgak kimbap, triangular musubi packed with such ingredients as kim chee and tuna, beef bulgogi, spicy pork, and spicy squid, at $2.25 each. It’s like a smaller version of Mana Bu’s.

The restaurant is small and cozy.

If you choose to stay, dining here is like being fed by your mom, starting with the tidy bentos packed to-go—sending you off to a day at school or work—to tableside service as staffers, currently all women, carefully stir dishes of tteokbokki (spicy rice cake) and stews so you don’t go splattering red gochujang sauce all over yourselves.

There is a definite feminine vibe to the room that is cozy, clean and appointed with floral touches and teddy bears dressed in Red Stand logo shirts. The bears are gifts to customers who spend a minimum of $50.

And the gluten-free demographic may appreciate the presence of rice burgers, with white rice buns standing in for the usual wheat bun. The combination of rice, with centers of kalbi ($3.95), beef bulgogi, spicy chicken, and spicy pork ($3.75 per burger), amounts to eating a giant musubi or a hand-held plate lunch.

Spend $50 on a meal, and the small bear in the logo tee is yours.

For the gluten averse, there are rice burgers, such as this one with kalbi center ($3.95). It’s like eating a giant musubi, or plate lunch in your hands.

One of my favorite dishes here is the shrimp fried rice, the rice flavored with seafood broth to give it beautiful depth.

Mini set bentos can be prepared for those looking for a quick, simple and inexpensive breakfast or lunch. The smallest is a combo of Spam musubi and scrambled egg, accompanied by your choice of kim chee, miso or corn soup, for $4.50. There’s nothing particularly exciting about it, but it’s polished and comforting.

If you’re a diehard meat eater, this probably won’t be the place for you. You won’t find the heaps of grilled chicken, kalbi and other meats associated with old-school Korean take-out spots. In their place you’ll find more carbs in the form of fried rice, tteokbokki and K-ramen (read: instant, which is what’s popular in Korea, where they have yet to embrace the notion of artisan noodles) and stews that serve two or three, cooked over a hot plate.

In spite of the instant status of the noodles, the broth, like most of what’s served here, is cooked from scratch and the ramen is beautifully presented in a covered pot. Seafood ramen ($7.95) is topped with shrimp, squid and negi. Other ramen options are topped with spicy beansprouts ($5.95), cheese ($5.95), kim chee ($6.95), and ham ($5.95).

The restaurant also specializes in housemade tteokbokki, also known by the more Western user-friendly name toppoki. This is the seafood version with shrimp, clams, mussels and fishcake.

Many who dine here gravitate toward the tteokbokki, also known by the more Western-user friendly name topokki. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a big fan of carbs, so generally steer clear of these thick, tubular rice cakes. At most places, they’re usually reconstituted from dry form with the tendency to be hard and chewy. No thanks. But Red Stand makes its rice cakes from scratch so they’re much softer and pillowy. One order of tteokbokki, at $9.95 to $18.95, generally serves two. A large serving will serve three to four, at $15.95 to $27.95.

The seafood version ($18.95/$27.95) features shrimp, mussels, clams and thin sheets of fishcake, with cabbage, carrots and negi. To these ingredients you can add on such extras as ramen ($3) added to the broth at the end of the meal, hard-boiled egg ($1 each), cheese ($2) or fried mandoo ($2.50). The mandoo features a housemade wrap, so it arrives looking more like a misshapen pancake, with filling that’s milder than usual, without as much of the oil and salt component of typical dumplings.

The spicy sausage stew ($27) might be considered a Hawaiian lunch meat special because of the array of processed meat in it: Portuguese sausage, Spam, Vienna sausage, ham, and one of my friends swears he tasted a slice of bologne, beautifully arranged before it’s tossed with tofu, negi, cabbage, bean sprouts, onion, cabbage and beans.

Finish a meal, or simply stop in for dessert of bing soo, or Korean shave ice ($7.25), with green tea, strawberry or red bean granite topped with pastel mochi, slivered almonds, dried cranberries and fresh fruit. It’s one more way to cool off this summer.

Spicy sausage stew might better be described as a lunch meat stew. The meat comprises ham, Vienna sausage and Spam, cooked over a hot plate with bean sprouts, green and white onions, cabbage, carrots, beans and tofu.

A twist on bi bim bap, with the rice swapped out for noodles.

Sujebi, a soup with filling-less dumplings is a specialty that I just don’t get because I don’t crave carbs.

Korean-style shave ice, or bing soo, is available for dessert. Options include strawberry, green tea, mango and coffee flavors for $7.25 to $8.95. This one is green tea.
Red Stand is in the Samsung Plaza, 655 Keeaumoku St., open 7 to 10 p.m. daily (subject to change). Call (808) 947-7272.

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, July 23, 2015

Veg burger smackdown on Capitol Hill

Photos courtesy Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Equinox chef/owner Todd Gray created four new sauces and toppings for his FLOTUS burger, in honor of Capitol Hill vegetarians, including Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.


Proceedings on Capitol Hill can be dry, but the inaugural Congressional Veggie Burger Smackdown that took place yesterday brought some levity to the serious subject of the correlation between food and health.

The nonprofit Physicians Committee teamed up with the bipartisan Vegetarian Caucus to host the smackdown for Hill staffers looking for a healthful alternative to the North American Meat Institute’s annual Hot Dog Lunch that took place the same day, just ahead of today, designated National Hot Dog Day.

Equinox chef Todd Gray’s vegan FLOTUS burger was topped with a new caramelized black pepper-pineapple topping to honor the Hawaii state fruit, and vegetarian Congresswoman Rep Tulsi Gabbard.

Chef Gray found inspiration in the state’s fruits and vegetables, including the pineapple for his Hawaii burger, created in honor of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

Gray also prepared a slow-cooked tomato sauce to honor Gabbard’s fellow Congress vegetarians Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.); roasted corn and sweet pepper salsa for Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), and a savory blend of shredded carrot and orange jam for Rep. Ted Deutch (Fla.)

The FLOTUS burger comprises a mix of mushrooms, black beans and quinoa. It is a veggie version of chef Spike Mendelsohn’s Prez Obama Burgers. Members of Congress and their staff were able to sample the FLOTUS burgers and vote on their favorite sauce.

When the votes were tallied, New Jersey took first place with 36 percent of the votes, followed by Hawaii with 35 percent of the votes, then Florida, with 15 percent of the votes.

Noting that personalities like Beyoncé and former president Bill Clinton dramatically improved their health by opting for vegetarian fare, the Physicians Committee wants to extend this trend by calling attention to other individuals who embrace a plant-based diet, and showing that healthful foods can taste delicious.

 The event was staged to provide a healthier alternative to the annual American Meat Institute Hot Dog Lunch that took place the same day.

The physicians group also wanted to educate attendees about the dangers of hot dogs and other processed meats, warning that studies show that processed meats are linked to cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and that ingestimg hot dogs, bacon and sausage may increase colorectal cancer by 21 percent.

A panel of America’s top nutrition experts recently warned against processed meat products and encouraged the U.S. government to exclude them from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The panel also found that 89 percent of Americans fall short on daily vegetable consumption.

While Democrats and Republicans rarely see eye to eye, Neal Barnard, M.D., Physicians Committee president, said in a press release statement: “I think both sides of the aisle can agree that fruits and veggies should replace disease-causing hot dogs on Capitol Hill and in the American diet.

“It’s never too early or too late to plant the seed about foods that have the power to transform your health, and in many cases, transform your life.”

The Physicians Committee was founded in 1985, and comprises more than 12,000 doctor members. The organization promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.

A salad and fruit kebabs accompanied the vegan FLOTUS burger.

Votes for the best sauce were cast with marbles, with Hawaii’s pineapple burger taking second place.

Here is the recipe for both burger and pineapple topping:

Chef Todd Gray’s FLOTUS Burger
1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, and sliced
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton)
1 cup cooked or canned no-salt-added black beans
1 cup cooked red quinoa
1/2 cup rolled oats (do not use instant)
2 cups plain panko
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons egg replacer, such as Ener-G
1 cup water
5 multigrain vegan buns, toasted

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the onion and garlic. Cook for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, then add the mushrooms; cook for 5 minutes, then add the chili, onion and garlic powders, and the smoked paprika; cook for 2 minutes, stirring to distribute evenly.

Transfer the mixture to a food processor. Add the black beans, quinoa, oats, and 1/2 cup of the panko; pulse to a coarse-paste consistency, then transfer to a mixing bowl. Season lightly with salt and pepper; stir to incorporate. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 1 day.

Whisk together the egg replacer and water in a medium bowl.

When ready to cook, form the chilled burger mixture into 4 equal-size patties. Spread the remaining 1-1/2 cups of panko on a plate. Whisk together the egg-replacer and water in a medium bowl to form a smooth slurry.

Briefly dip each patty into the egg replacer slurry so it’s coated on both sides, then gently press into the panko until evenly coated on all sides. (Discard excess slurry and panko.)

Heat a medium cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Generously grease with cooking oil spray, then add the burgers. Cook about 5 minutes on each side, reducing the heat as needed to avoid scorching, until a nicely browned crust forms. Use more cooking oil spray as needed-including on the burgers themselves-to keep the burgers from sticking or becoming too dry.

Place the burgers on the bottom buns. Top each burger with equal portions of your favorite sauce and condiments. Makes 5 servings.

Caramelized Pineapple with Cracked Pepper
1 pineapple, cored and sliced (1/8-inch thick)
Sugar, for dusting
Fresh cracked black pepper

Preheat broiler to 500 F.
Place sliced pineapple on cookie sheet. Dust with sugar and top with cracked black pepper, and place under preheated broiler until golden brown (about 3-4 minutes).
Place rings on veggie burger. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Aloha Terrace the Mother Lode of loco moco

 Nadine Kam photos
The prime rib loco moco is one of eight loco moco options offered daily at Aloha Terrace.


Maybe you haven’t noticed, but the loco moco has become an object of adoration over the past decade — to the Japanese.

The height, breadth and girth of the dish, the audacity of layers of messy ingredients, the decadent pool of brown gravy topped with a fried egg yolk eye staring back at you, has runaway appeal to imaginations generally tamped down by generations of decorum and finesse. In Japan, there is poetry in cuisine, which is very different from American pursuit summed up here as “mo’ biggah, mo’ bettah.”

Meanwhile, Japan’s pursuit of simple elegance is evidenced by tidy mounds of sushi, compact domesof bean-paste filled mochi, and the delicacy of mousse-filled cakes in miniature.

Their obsession is our gain because there is fatigue in the same old, so it doesn’t take long for hunger for the next big thing to set in.

Chefs have been happy to offer up their enhanced versions of this local staple to keep the fascination alive for residents and travelers alike. These would include a shortrib version at Moena Cafe in Koko Marina Shopping Center; a sous vide filet mignon, Hamakua mushroom and foie gras loco moco at Japengo in the Hyatt Regency Waikiki; a smoked meat breakfast loco moco at Holoholo Bar & Grill; and prime rib loco moco at Yogurstory. An Italian variation from another prominent restaurant is coming at the end of the month.

For most of these places, just one loco moco on the menu suffices for their clientele, but a new cafe puts the spotlight on eight variations of the loco moco daily. Chef Keola Kanamu came up with 30 iterations for Aloha Terrace but left it up to the cafe’s owners to choose those that made it onto the daily menu. The others will appear from time to time as specials.

Kanamu said every dish is a reflection of the things he likes to eat, saying, “I make every dish as if I’m going to eat it myself. Otherwise, why bother serving it?”

If you’re not in the mood for loco moco, misoyaki chicken and below, teriyaki-style mochiko beef are among the plate-lunch offerings.

The Aloha Loco Moco is the local classic. Elsewhere on the menu, you will find prime rib, plastic fork-tender braised shortribs, curry stew, beef stew and more to replace the original ground beef patty.

It’s enough to make those with weaker stomachs groan, but don’t knock it until you try it. With his classical culinary education, Kanamu starts all his dishes from scratch and there’s delicacy to his brown gravy that’s not all salt and cornstarch or powder-based as may be the case at fast-food outlets. I’m also generally not a fan of runny local-style beef stew and curry, but Kanamu’s full-bodied stews are an exception. Tender beef, potatoes, carrots and onions all maintain their fresh-from-the-market integrity, and are not reduced to mush as often the case elsewhere.

The price structure is easy to remember. For now, every plate is $10, soft drink included, with your choice of white rice or kim chee fried rice, and a choice of white spaghetti noodle pasta salad or tossed greens. The kim chee fried rice is steller, with the saturated flavors of gochujang, kim chee, Sriracha, garlic, onion, bacon and a bit of sesame oil.

If you’re not in the mood for the loco moco, half of the protein choices are available sans egg and brown gravy, in plate-lunch form. Other plate-lunch options are misoyaki chicken, mochiko chicken and mochiko beef.

Some of the dishes are nostalgic odes to area restaurants that are no longer here, said Kanamu, who grew up in Kapahulu and still makes his home there. Some of these dishes are the misoyaki chicken and shortribs inspired by Good to Grill, and mochiko beef from long-gone KK Plate Lunch, a sort of chicken fried steak infused with teriyaki flavor. It comes with a wasabi sauce for extra kick, but if you prefer a different flavor, there’s Sriracha and other communal condiments available.

The miso glaze of the misoyaki chicken doesn’t have as much of an impact on chicken as on fish, but I appreciated the light hand.

Kanamu said some have complained about the size of the plate lunches before realizing that the compact takeout container still packs in the requisite two scoops of white or kim chee fried rice, just in compressed form. If you eat until it’s all gone, you may end up over-stuffed, but the flavors make it near impossible to stop eating. Whenever I’ve eaten here for lunch, I’ve been able to skip dinner.
Aloha Terrace is at 740 Kapahulu Ave. (at Kamuela Avenue), open for now from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. They’re aiming to extend hours from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. when fully staffed. Call 737-7505.

Coincidentally, here's BuzzFeed's video on mainlanders' reactions to trying the loco moco and other local foods for the first time. My question is, who did the prep? I think they need to come here to try it.

These Americans Tried Food From Hawaii For The First Time And Their Reactions Were Perfect
Posted by BuzzFeed Video on Monday, August 18, 2014
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.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

New drinks, chicken, hot at Yard House

Nadine Kam photos
From Tennessee to Waikiki: Nashville Hot Chicken is now on the menu at Yard House.


Yard House has introduced a quintet of new handcrafted cocktails to help you beat the summer heat, borrowing from the romance of the past.

Noting that shows like “Mad Men” and “Boardwalk Empire” have given new life to forgotten drinks, the company’s executive chef Carlito Jocson creating the new cocktail collection:

Blood & Smoke: Blood orange and ancho chili spiced margarita made with Del Maguey “Vida” Mezcal, El Jimador Silver Tequila, Ancho Reyes, Monin Blood Orange, house-made citrus agave and aromatic bitters poured into a salt-rimmed glass.

Bourbon Berry Sour: Made with Buffalo Trace Bourbon, housemade citrus agave, Dekuyper Razzmatazz, orange bitters and raspberries for added sweetness.

Hibiscus Rose: A refreshing herbal and botanical gin martini featuring Bulldog Gin, St. Germain and Lillet Blanc with orange bitters and Monin Hibiscus.

Sidecar: This classic cocktail steps into the 21st century with D’Ussé VSOP Cognac, Cointreau and housemade citrus agave poured into a sugar-rimmed glass.

Cucumber Citrus Tonic: A light, spa-like drink made with Bulldog Gin, Aperol, house-made citrus agave, tonic, cucumber and orange plus orange bitters.

You can probably tell the Hibiscus Rose and Cucumber Citrus Tonic are the girlier drinks, and the latter was especially refreshing on the last very humid Friday evening.

I also enjoyed the Blood & Smoke on its own, though thinking those smokey notes would probably go great with a burger or steak.

New cocktails to help you cool off this summer, from top counter-clockwise, Hibiscus Rose, Blood and Smoke ancho chili spiced margarita, and a Cucumber-Citrus tonic.

The restaurant also added a few new dishes to its summer menu, including Nashville Hot Chicken, a Tennessee variation on Southern fried chicken, inspired by Jocson’s recent visit to the city where it is every bit the local institution as the loco moco and laulau are in Honolulu.

According to area lore, Thorton Prince was served fried chicken doused with extra pepper as punishment after a late night out on the town, but he enjoyed it so much that he and his brothers perfected the recipe and opened Prince’s Hot Chicken in the mid-1930s. It’s still going strong today.

I can see why. For one thing, who doesn’t love fried chicken? This is a twist on the fried chicken and waffle idea, the waffles swapped here for a trio of small sweet potato pancakes.

Then, I love spicy food, and this combines chipotle and pepper with a crisped exterior, and sour-honey hot sauce to help cut some of the heat, though for me, it could have been way hotter.

It’s also served with ranch dressing and pickles, and topped with crispy sage.

The California Roll has been remade with a base of pan-crisped koge rice that is perfection. So flavorful it didn’t need the soy-mirin sauce. Hint: watch out for the serrano peppers.

Everyone serves fried chicken, but no one else offers crispy duck wings, served with a vaguely Southeast Asian herb salad of cilantro, basil, mint and red onion.

At the other end of the country, Jocson’s trip to Portland, Ore., fueled the addition of Crispy Duck Wings to the menu. It has a vaguely Southeast Asian appeal, tossed with a maple-sambal soy glaze and toasted sesame seeds, then served with an herb salad of cilantro, basil and mint with red onion, all flavors well-represented in Vietnamese and Thai restaurants here.

Other Yard House classics have been updated, such as grilled Korean pork belly now served with kimchi sour cream and green onions, a Cobb salad with several protein options, and a Cobb with kale option.

The California Roll, a staple on the Yard House menu for most of the restaurant’s 18-year history, has also been refreshed, and fans need not worry about the change, which I think is an improvement. The usual white rice now spends time on the grill to get the bottoms nice, crisp and slightly koge. The texture is wonderful.

It’s also worth noting that guests who opt to participate in Yard House’s Round It Up America program can have their tabs rounded up to the nearest dollar, as a painless way to put your spare change to work helping national and local non-profit causes.

Dince 2010, RIUA has raised more than $2 million that has gone toward feeding the hungry, culinary scholarships, international disaster relief, assistance to military families and veterans, and more.

Guests who want to round up when visiting Yard House can ask their server or bartender for more details.

Yard House is at Waikiki Beach Walk, 226 Lewers St. Call 923-9273. Visit

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, July 14, 2015

Healthy is tasty at HiBlend Health Bar & Cafe

Nadine Kam photos
HiBlend’s Aloha Bowl ($12.50) is a triple combination of acai, pitaya and poi, which really works here, the taro flavor shining through, along with the tropical flavors of mango, pineapple and papaya in addition to strawberries, blueberries and kiwi. It’s finished with honey, mint, granola, chia seeds and bee pollen. Share it with a friend.


Through their HiBlend Health Bar & Cafe, brothers Joey and Miles Sugahara and Jason Chang seem out to prove once and for all that healthy can be tasty and satisfying.

It’s not so hard to get people to drink up juices and smoothies because they’re refreshing and typically sweet, but on the food side, dishes deemed healthy generally taste green, a color and flavor profile that repels lifelong meat eaters.

Brothers Joey, left, and Miles Sugahara. Joey said he was always into fitness but only recently became interested in the nutrition aspect of health, and by walking the talk espoused by the cafe, dropped 40 pounds in six months.

Knowing that, HiBlend offers a range of dishes so diners can get a vegan salad if they wish, but those attempting to transition from an unhealthy diet to a more healthful one do have access to fish, small amounts of bacon and cheese to help greens go down easier.

Joey’s savory dressings also increase the flavor quotient.

I love this place for its combination of juices and food. I, for one, cannot survive on a liquid diet. For balance, I need food and most juice bars don’t offer any food, or they offer cursory to-go sandwiches, salads and pastries. Chances are those are refrigerated or hours-old or otherwise unpalatable.

Here, food is made fresh to order and always tasty, and Joey said the road to good health starts with changing your relationship with food by recognizing what food is in the first place. It’s not about the artificial or the processed. Borrowing from the Paleo philosophy of eating only what our forebears would have recognized as food, it means starting with fresh produce and studying labels to make sure you are getting food, not fillers and chemicals with names you don’t understand.

HiBlend uses certified and non-GMO products sources local organic ingredients from Wally’s Farm in Hawaii Kai. Here’s a sampling of what’s on the table:

Candy Greens and a Red Dragon Smoothie. Candy Greens was formulated with kids in mind, a drink that incorporates spinach and kale with the sweetness of apple and pear juices so you don’t notice the greens. The smoothie features pitaya, organic grapes, oranges and lilikoi.

Caprese plus! The classic salad of tomatoes, mozzarella and basil is enhanced with capers, red onions and feta, served over mixed greens with three dressings: garlic citrus aioli, balsamic vinaigrette and pesto.

This is my favorite dish, ahi tartare served in a half avocado over spinach. The ahi itself is spiked with capers and red onions, and coated with a creamy housemade Caesar dressing.

I also love the smoked salmon and bacon sandwich served on sourdough bread with tomato, avocado, spinach and a bit of cream cheese, with your choice of the eight house dressings listed below.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Who named the poke bowl?

Nadine Kam photos
Pa’ina Cafe’s Poke Crunch Bowl starts with your choice of white or brown rice with teri glaze, nori and your choice of poke, topped with crispy tempura flakes inspired by udon for awesome texture. They are now approaching a milestone of selling their millionth poke bowl sometime this summer.


Ward Village hosted an Auahi Street Dine-Around dining event on June 29 as an introduction to its newest restaurants, Agu, Bellini, Ginza Sushi, Mexico and Pa’ina Cafe-Ward Centre. I had already visited all of them, but never like to miss out on a potential story, so was willing to retry.

And what a story I found when, at Pa’ina Cafe, co-owner Derek Uyehara hit me and writer Simplicio Paragas with the tantalizing bit of information that he and his partners had come up with the poke bowl name in 2008 when they opened Paina Cafe’s predecessor, The Poke Bowl, at the Ward Farmer’s Market.

We were like, “What!?”

It’s amazing because this little bit of Hawaii food history happened within a decade or so, and few of us noticed. I never paid much attention to Pa‘ina Cafe’s catchphrase, “Home of the Original Poke Bowl,” because in these days of excess branding, there’s a lot of cred inflation going on. And, the photographic proof predates Instagram, which launched in 2010.

I truly believe that in the future, all claims of food origin will be settled via social media. With chefs and thousands of diners snapping pics of their creations/meals every day on Instagram, coupled with aggregation, it will be much easier for future historians to find first mentions of a specific dish.

When it comes to works of literature or music, authorship can be proven by copyrights, but taking credit for food creations is more difficult.

England’s 18th century 4th Earl of Sandwich is credited for inventing the sandwich when, during a card game, he became hungry but didn’t want to stop playing. As the story goes, he sent a servant to fetch bread and slices of roast beef, thus forever becoming immortalized in the lexicon of food we can’t live without.

But who’s to say some anonymous shepherd didn’t do the same with some slices of lamb when hunger arose in the field? The only difference? No historian was there to document the event.

As marketing became more prevalent, it became more important to establish first-server status as a matter of having proper bragging rights.

Depending on who you believe, the Caesar salad was the creation of Caesar Cardini during a busy Fourth of July, 1924, in his Tijuana, Mexico, restaurant, or by his partner Paul Maggiora, in 1927, or by an employee, Livio Santini, who claimed he made his mother’s salad in the kitchen of Caesar’s in 1925, and that Caesar took his recipe. Thus making Santini’s mother the actual creator.

Locally, the most high-profile battle for credit took place over the mai tai, which was either the creation of Don the Beachcomber (Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt) in 1933, Trader Vic (Victor Bergeron) in 1944, or music man Harry Owens in 1954.  (On a side note, Owens' grandson Alex, also naturally gifted musician, was one of my roomies when I lived in Kailua, but we never talked about the mai tai.)

Honolulu Advertiser three-dot columnist Eddie Sherman questioned the origin of the mai tai in 1970, causing Bergeron to quip, “Anyone who says I didn’t create this drink is a dirty stinker.”

Proscuitto and melon was accompanied by bellinis at Bellini.

I’ve been writing about food for a quarter century, and I believed the ubiquitous poke bowl was something that has always been around. After all, what could be easier than scooping poke over rice? But as I thought more about it, fish is generally considered one of the most expensive items on a plate, and therefore poke was often a dish served on the side in a small portion on Hawaiian plates, on buffet lines, or sold by the pound at fish markets and grocery stores, to pick on like pupu, or throw over rice yourself at home.

But I never ate poke bowls until Pa‘ina Cafe made it easy to pick one up as a quick, inexpensive lunch.

One reason commercial establishments didn’t put two and two together is because the hot rice would cook the fish, which defeated the purpose of ordering the raw seasoned fish. Cooking poke wasn’t done commercially until poke don Sam Choy introduced us to “Sam’s original fried poke.” I wrote about it in 1997 when he opened Sam Choy’s Breakfast, Lunch and Crab. By the time he opened Sam Choy’s Kahului in 1998, he was calling it “Fried Poke Magic” and it was still so new I had to explain it had been “seared and served around a mound of rice.” It was served entrée style on a plate, not in a bowl.

He had launched his Poke Festival in 1991 or 1992, and I attended many over the years. The poke was still a star in its own right, and rice was nowhere in sight.

Guacamole is always made to order at Mexico Restaurant.

Pa‘ina Cafe co-owner Blaine Kimura explained that he and Uyehara were brainstorming with Uyehara’s brother Craig in 2007, when they needed a name for a concept they were about to unleash, the build-your-own poke bowl. Opting for simplicity, someone said, “Why not just call it a poke bowl?”

“At that time I was looking for a one-handed meal, something you could carry,” Kimura said. “A lot of yogurt shops were opening and I liked the idea of customization. Choose your rice, choose your sauce, choose your toppings.”

But over on the North Shore, Kahuku Superette’s claim to fame is being “home of the best poke,” and Sheraton Waikiki executive sous chef Colin Hazama remembers frequently eating poke over rice there as early as 2006. “I would go diving out there and eat that before I started working at Rum Fire, which was in 2007,” he said. But the dish was not offered as a poke bowl. Diners simply requested to have their poke served over rice.

I put the poke bowl claim out on social media, and friends and followers quickly piped up that they swore they could get poke bowls at Gyotaku more than seven years ago.

Gyotaku co-founders Tom Jones and chef Nobutaka “Tony” Sato were considering acquiring Suehiro restaurant in 2001, and ate there as way to study the operation.
“They were serving poke with salmon belly, ahi, hamachi and tako, for something like $4.95,” Jones said. “It was the first time I’d ever seen poke made with an assortment of high-quality fish. I thought, ‘Well no wonder they’re losing money, they’re giving this stuff away.’

“A week later, I ordered it again with a side bowl of rice, and I told Tony we’ve got to put this on our menu.”

A deal was struck, the Suehiro name changed to Gyotaku, and in early 2002 they introduced their new dish as “assorted poke don,” using the Japanese word for “rice bowl.”

Sato, who grew up in Iwate, Japan, said, “Japan has something similar to poke don. We call it zuke don, many pieces of maguro in shoyu over rice.”

“Zuke,” meaning “marinated,” was developed by fishermen during the Edo period (1603 to 1868), as a means of preserving their catch.

“Maybe poke came from zuke too,” Sato said.

He has a point. Hawaiian poke consists of sea salt, limu and inamona. There would be no ahi shoyu poke without the Japanese influence.

Calamari, sushi and teishoku plates were served up at Ginza Sushi.

“My background is in the IT business, so we did a lot of searching for poke bowl references online and we believe we were the first,” Kimura said. “As more people, Foodland and Times started offering poke bowls, we came up with spin-offs like the Kewalo Bowl and California Bowl.

“At one point, I was talking to Mel Tanioka, the godfather of poke, and he told me he wanted to start offering poke bowls, and I said, ‘Go for it!’

“Anybody can make a poke bowl, but we wanted to do it for a mass market.”

During our phone interview from California, where he is vacationing, he said he’d seen several poke outlets and as the idea spreads far beyond our shores, he said what’s most important now is to let the rest of the world know that poke and poke bowls are Hawaiian products, no matter who came up with the name.

Agu’s newest creation, Tan Tan Tonkotsu, is topped with pickled Chinese mustard cabbage, baby bok choy and aji tamago.

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.