Monday, October 26, 2015

Singapore Diary: A visit to Justin Quek's Sky on 57

Nadine Kam photos
Chef Justin Quek presides over Sky at 57 on the 57th floor of the luxurious Marina Bay Sands Resort, which covers 1.3 million acres.


Food festivals are a wonderful place for restaurant fanboys and fangirls to mix and mingle with their favorite culinary superstars, but they are no substitute for heading to their restaurants for a firsthand experience of what they can accomplish in their own kitchens with their own staff and arsenal of regional ingredients.

I’d sampled Singapore chef Justin Quek’s offerings at the Hawai’i Food & Wine Festival, but it did not leave me with a sense of his full capabilities.

An orange sunset from the 57th floor of the luxurious Marina Bay Sands Resort, which covers 1.3 million acres.

In Singapore, where he presides over Sky on 57, I got a taste of Singaporean cuisine, elevated to match its surroundings on the rooftop of the luxurious Marina Bay Sands. From the rooftop, Quek reminisced about starting his career in nearly the same spot, though 57 stories lower, in a Marina Bay riverboat galley.

He’s come a long way, and proves it via his Sky on 57 “Ultimate Dining Experience,” a degustation menu of “seasonal bespoke creations.” The cost of the meal was SG$250, but with the current exchange rate, it amounted to about $185 per person, which I felt was totally worth the price.

Here’s what Quek’s meal at Sky on 57 looked like:

The first course in his degustation menu was a parfait of Oscietra caviar over smoked mackerel. So delicious and extravagant, it set the pace for the meal to come.

Next up was an ocean salad of Hokkaido scallop, Kagoshima hamachi, French oyster and Norway langoustine with ginger flower dressing.

Foie gras xiao long bao with truffle consomme. Yup, the one in front is topped with gold leaf.

Tasmanian cod fillet with sweet sour sauce, is topped with its own crispy scales. For some reason, they don't mind scales in Singapore, so if you get the Chongqing fish in Chinatown, you'll be spitting out scales. This one is supposed to be so crispy you don't mind, but it's still much harder than the deep-fried shrimp shells we might eat at a typical Chinese restaurant.

Quek’s upscale version of Hokkien prawn mee featured lobster, and set us off to find the street version of this dish. Alas, we only found soup prawn me, which paled in comparison.

Wok-fried Kagoshima wagyu with black pepper sauce. By this time we were so full, and the richness of the wagyu made us feel we could only eat one cube, but we perservered. Could not let this go to waste.

Laksa was not part of the menu, but I had mentioned it in passing, so Quek offered up his version of the classic Peranakan (Chinese-Malay) spicy noodle soup.

"Crazy About Chocolate" finale with chocolate fondant, brownie, milk chocolate mousse crumble, chocolate tuille and Macallan 15-year-old Scotch ice cream.

How to afford such a meal on a restricted budget? Much of Singapore’s specialties are available at hawker stalls for cheap. About USD$3 will get you a huge bowl of laksa or prqwn mee, or lunch plate of fried chicken with rice, fried egg and sambal. About USD $4 will get you a plate of shrimp sauce fried chicken. Even with a splurge dinner, over six days, it’s easy to get buy on dining for $40 a day or less.
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, October 22, 2015

Singapore culinary artist Janice Wong's sweet life

Nadine Kam photos
Acclaimed pastry artist Janice Wong in her Singapore studio.


SINGAPORE-Janice Wong grew up left brain with a mind for math and economics. Then, like a work of classic narrative fiction, 11 years ago, a bump on the head in a car accident awakened the right side of her brain, triggering a quest to find new outlets for her newfound visions and creativity.

Already a fan of sweets and pastries, her new direction entailed using sugar, candy, chocolate and food as media for art canvases, sculptures and installations that have brought her international renown.

The Singapore-based chef counts fashion brands such as Fendi, Tiffany and Kate Spade among her clients, and her art has won her invitations around the globe to set up exhbitions, more than 45 this year alone.

She’s won the World Gourmet Summit Awards title of Pastry Chef of the Year in 2011, 2013 and 2015, and the title of Asia’s Best Pastry Chef award from Restaurant magazine in 2013 and 2014. She’s also the author of “Perfection in Imperfection.”

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At home in Singapore, her truffles and edible paints can be found at The Shoppes in Marina Bay Sands to bring home as omiyage, while her dessert confections can be enjoyed at her 2am:dessertbar at 21a Lorong Liput in Holland Village. The dessert bar is open from 3 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays, closing at 2 a.m., and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

At 2am:dessertbar, Janice Wong’s Cassis Plum, a cassis bombe with elderflower yogurt foam, Choya (ume plum wine) granite, yuzu pears and yuzu rubies.

Wong with a work of sugar flowers she created for Fendi. The peg board held lollipops for guests to enjoy.

A "living" chocolate table at 2am:dessertbar. The chocolate is under glass and the changing tremperature over the course of the day causes it to expand and contract, changing the pattern over time.
Inside 2am:dessertbar.

On the retail front, a few of Wong’s hand-painted bon bons in salt caramel (top) and whiskey and orange flavors.

At the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, you can mix and match those bon bons to bring home in her beautiful colored boxes.

You can also exercise your creativity by bringing home some of her chocolate paints.

Another of Wong’s works wrapped to travel for an exhibition in Dubai where she was heading the day after our interview.

Wong is the rare cerebral chef and I can't even begin to make sense of her notes in coming up with her dessert creations. Where others take a random, scattershot approach that shows in the nonsensical taste of a final product, her combinations manage to be both multi-dimensional and precise, without a note out of place, and a total joy on the palate. Produce enzymes are her latest passion, as a morning tonic and for the chemical reactions they bring about in the cooking process.

Andy Warhol in Wong’s studio.

Wong created her own stoneware and ceramic ware for presentation of desserts at 2am:dessertbar.

 I love green tea so loved her dessert of a Kyoto Tsujirihei matcha tart with jasmine rice sherbet and yuzu drops, $20 or about $15USD.

But my favorite of her desserts was Hoijicha Sesame, a tofu parfait with Hojicha green tea custard, pear vodka sorbet, sesame sauce and ginger.
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, October 20, 2015

On the road: Singapore a foodie paradise

Nadine Kam photos
In Singapore, a love of food is proudly on display.


SINGAPORE—I knew Singapore was a foodie destination, but I didn’t realize the extent of pride they have in their food heritage.

As soon as I got out of the plane, I came across two food sculptures lauding two of the dishes any visitor must try when they are here. In other food courts, some like People’s Park in Chinatown with hundreds of small hawker stalls, you might spot top 10 lists of must-try dishes, and murals around town also pay homage to the country’s culinary delights.

Here’s a look at Day 1 of eating Singapore style:

Getting off the plane at Singapore’s Changi Airport, I was greeted by this sculpture of Hainanese chicken and rice, one of the specialties here. Another sculpture paid tribute to roti prata.

This mural reflecting multi-cultural Singapore's universal love of food marked the site of Holland Village Market & Food Centre.

At Holland Market & Food Center, there are dozens of hawker food stalls and food is very inexpensive. These $3 plates are the USD equivalent of about $2.25.

At New Lucky Claypot Rice at Holland Market & Food Center, rice is layered with meat, vegetables and seafood of your choice, and cooked over a charcoal flame.

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I had their specialty, the Wu Wei Clay Pot filled with lup cheong and shrimp paste, or harm ha, chicken. So delicious! Feeds two or three for $10 Singapore, about $7.50 in USD.

 On Day 1, also had laksa at Katong Laksa in another area of Holland Village. Very close to what’s served at Panya, except more shrimp paste flavor and the noodles are cut up into bite-size pieces so they don’t slosh and spatter as much as noodles in the U.S. I kind of like it this way. This was $4 Singapore, or about $3 USD.

Also at Katong Laksa, a fried chicken plate with rice, egg, dried fish and spicy sambal. At lunch time, more people were ordering the rice plates than laksa.

Coca-Cola celebrated in a mural at Katong Laksa.

Spent the morning with pastry chef extraordinaire Janice Wong. More on her and her art work later. What a story she has!
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, October 14, 2015

'Ilima winners create dining magic

Nadine Kam photos
Our 'Ilima Award partnership with Diamond Head Theatre means guests at the event can enjoy an evening of song and dance, as well as a fabulous dinner of dishes prepared by the award-winning restaurants. On stage from left are Megan Mount, Laurence Paxton, Loretta Ables Sayre and Tony Young.


The months leading up to October are a busy time for us at the Star-Advertiser. That’s when we’re putting together our annual ‘Ilima Awards book, our guide to Oahu’s top restaurants.
Because there are now so many such guides in Hawaii, people often write them off, telling me, “It’s just advertising.”

As a journalist I find that insulting and feel I have to correct that impression that honors and titles can be bought. While some media outlets may indeed choose their top restaurants only from a pool of their own advertisers, that is not the case with the ‘Ilima book, which is a newsroom project reflecting months of serious discussion among our food reviewers and writers to arrive at our choices.

The winner of our top Publisher’s Award was Arancino at the Kahala, whose executive chef Daisuke Hamamoto prepared a wonderful Hokkaido uni pasta, below. I had to have two helpings. The funny thing is that before last year, I didn't even like uni. It just took finding the best ones from Japan. Now, I get it.

Taste is all subjective and sure, sometimes we miss a few good restaurants because the listing would be diluted if we were to include 1,000 restaurants instead of 200, but we do our best to present a snapshot of what’s current up until our cut-off point around late August when writing begins.

Adding democracy to the process, we also feature a People’s Choice Award.

Sometimes, a restaurant will drop off our the critics top lists from one year to the next. It’s not because we don’t love them anymore, but our jobs take us to many more places than the average diner, and given the many new restaurants that open year after, we must look forward and acknowledge the new, rather than be repetitive.

It all comes together at the annual awards ceremony that takes place at Diamond Head Theatre, where guests are able to enjoy a food-centric song-and-dance show by DHT performers, guest stars and the DHT Shooting Stars, followed by a dinner presented by the award-winning restaurants.

To me, the dinner—marking the combined choices of people and critics—is always reassurance that we got it right.

I just regret that with the 20 or so food stations, many offering two dishes, there is no way I can sample everything. As much as I would like to taste each dish, the reality is, rather than suffer a sore stomach from overeating, at this point I know my limit and that is about eight dishes out of about 30.

What I wanted to check out most were some of the ‘Ilima newbies that happen to be concentrated in Downtown Honolulu, places like Grondin French-Latin Kitchen, Scratch Kitchen and Bake Shop and Square Barrels.

At the Scratch Kitchen booth, diners got a taste of savory chicken chilaquiles and the sweet with chef/restaurateur Brian Chan’s compost cookies, an “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink” sort of recipe into which go potato chips, chocolate chips, butterscotch, coffee, bacon, oats and pretzels. Had to try those, one of the few occasions where I started dining with dessert!

You can view all the winners at

Another of my favorite dishes was Highway Inn’s lychee-wood smoked pork with paiai.

This being Hawaii Seafood Month, Grondin French-Latin Kitchen served up a ceviche of uku with Meyer lemon, lilikoi, red onion, red jalapeƱo and cilantro. So fresh, light and wonderful.

The crew at Golden Pork Ton-kotsu Ramen cooked up their rich tonkotsu broth, with shrimp dumplings exclusive to the occasion.

Downtown Honolulu’s Scratch Kitchen & Bake Shop served up chicken chilaquiles along with “Compost Cookies” with a kitchen sink roster of ingredients.

The Nook offered up samples of its popular mochi waffles.

Square Barrels served up a grass-fed Molokai beef slider and highlighted the venison burger on its menu with a display of Axis deer antlers.

MW Restaurant presented beer-braised pork with red cabbage and mustard vinaigrette.
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, October 13, 2015

Moco Monday surprises await at Highway Inn

Nadine Kam photos
The Highway Inn Hawaiian loco moco is a high-rise plate lunch, the rice topped with full size laulau, egg and lomi salmon, surrounded by a pool of beef stew.


There was a time when the smoked meat Smokin’ Moco was the be-all-end-all of loco mocos at Highway Inn. Well, now that the restaurant has launched weekly Moco Mondays at Kaka’ako, chef Mike Kealoha has a lot of work trying to top himself each week in testing the possibilities for transforming the beloved island combo of rice, hamburger patty and gravy topped with eggs over easy.

The basic hamburger patty loco moco ($11.25 regular or $7.85 mini), and the Smokin’ Moco ($12.50, or $8.75 mini) have been staples for years, but man cannot live on the same loco moco day in and day out, so Moco Monday was born, and you never know what you’ll get from week to week. To stay up to date, follow the restaurant’s Facebook page.
An ahi tartare and avocado sushi-style loco moco was recently introduced during Highway Inn's Moco Monday.

An ahi tartare and avocado sushi-style loco moco was recently introduced during Highway Inn’s Moco Monday.

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Recent experiments included a truffled ahi tartar sushi-style moco ($16.25); “I Wanna Wana Moco” ($17.95), topped with sea urchin and thin strips of nori to mimic the wana’s spines; and “Highway Inn Hawaiian Plate” loco moco ($15.95) that I hop will find a permanent spot on the menu. It has all the weightiness of a Hawaiian plate, the rice surrounded with beef stew, topped with a full size pork laulau and over-easy egg garnished with lomi salmon. The presentation may be different, but it all adds up to happiness in your opu.

While in Kakaako, you’re welcome to check out the lau lau-making process that takes place 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. See the video below.

Highway Inn Kakaako is at 680 Ala Moana Blvd. Call 954-4955.

Also, if you’re in Kalihi, check out the new Bishop Museum Cafe by Highway Inn, open to museum visitors and the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. The museum is at 1525 Bernice St. You can check out the menu ahead of time at

The Highway Inn Smokin’ Moco with a centerpiece of lychee-wood smoked meat.
The "I Wanna Wana" moco, with nori strips to mimic the sea urchin's spines.

I put a Moco Monday visit with Real Jobs’ Steve Yeti on Periscope, which had visitors tuning in from all over the world, and one commenting, “Hawaii is so random.” Yes, we can be very different from the rest of the nation but I think that’s a good thing. All’s I can say is yetis have to eat too. And they like loco mocos!

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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, October 8, 2015

A call for sustainability awareness during Hawaii Seafood Month

Nadine Kam photos
I knew there was a reason I snapped this photo when I was at Paradise Seafood & Gourmet Market over the weekend. It's National Seafood Month and Hawaii Seafood Month, and the market specializes in offering the kind of fish, like the yellow taape, that are typically ignored by consumers.


Hawaii’s well-being is tied to the health of the ocean surrounding us. The ocean sustains us in many ways, from providing food and healing, to relaxation and recreation, and for some, a steady income.

But the economics of development on land and overexploitation of ocean resources has put stress on marine ecosystems, leaving the sustainability of global fisheries in question. Add to that a killoff of microscopic marine life with the advance of global warming, and it’s easy to foresee a day when we will no longer have seafood for our tables.

I can almost hear vegans and animal rights activists crying, “Yes! Just stop eating fish!”

But the reality is that with the global population set to increase 4 billion to 11 billion by 2050, how is the planet going to feed that many mouths? In this case, I don’t think kale and amaranth are the answers.

Hawaii Seafood Month is a statewide campaign in conjunction with National Seafood Month, to raise awareness of sustainability issues and food self-sufficiency.

The campaign had its Oct. 7 launch at MW Restaurant, one of several restaurant, supermarket and retail partners offering sustainably harvested, locally produced seafood to minimize the impact on overfished species and ecological systems, and help ensure future supplies.

From left, MW chef Wade Ueoka, United Fishing Agency assistant general manager Brooks Takenaka, and chef Lee Anne Wong of Koko Head Cafe and Hale Ohuna, have time to relax after guests at the Hawaii Seafood Month launch party have all been fed.

Visit and click on the “Partners” tab to see its links to, which tracks seafood by code to offer information on when, where and how your fish was caught, as well as special offers continuing through the end of October.

For instance, at Grondin: French Latin Kitchen, a portion of sales of a daily fresh local catch special will go to the Hawaii Seafood Council to help in its mission. Recently, opelu on its menu was harvested on the Miloli’i Fishing Grounds, South Kona.

Consumers can also do their part by choosing less popular, but abundant species of fish. Visit to learn about Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch and download a Hawaii Seafood Watch guide to restaurant and sushi bar “Best Choices,” “Alternatives” and seafood to “Avoid.”

Ueoka's contribution to the Hawaii Seafood Month kickoff was amaebi with pickled Hamakua eryngi, nagaimo and wasabi mashed potato, and below, smoked opah with Kahuku sea asparagus, tomato and onion.

Kampachi crudo with beet sauce and avocado (hidden under the fish) made a nice starter for the evening, served up by chef Lee Anne Wong.

 Pili Group and Mission Social Hall & Cafe chef Mark Noguchi offered up Samoan crab dip and ulu chips. The crab was fished out of He’eia Fishpond, where it is considered an invasive species. The stomach don’t know that. I grew up in Waipahu fishing the crabs out of West Loch. Now I have to wonder, was I eating out of polluted water? That area is now fenced off.

Wong also presented a cured opelu fritter over luau and coconut milk accented with chili pepper water, with paiai “croutons” that we first assumed—this being Hawaii—was Spam. Though in keeping with the evening’s message, Spam might be considered an introduced species, and therefore, not to be used on such an occasion.

Noguchi’s he’e was a favorite at my table, the octopus made tender with a 45-minute pounding that paid off for the diner. With that kind of workout who needs a gym?

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.