Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Gorgonzola lumpia, Kapiolani Farmer's Market

We tried a number of different snacks when wandering through the Saturday Farmer's Market at Kapiolani Community College, just at the base of Diamond Head, but by far the best thing we ate were these gorgonzola-filled lumpia.

The stand had a variety of lumpia filled with non-traditional ingredients. I wish I remembered the others...

North Shore shrimp truck

This was one of the two places that everyone, and I mean everyone, told me we had to go to when we were on the North Shore of Oahu -- the shrimp guy. (The other being the shave ice place) Well we figured we'd know it when we saw it, and sure enough on the side of the road was this sign:

Not to be confused with the Johnny-come-lately knock-offs, who I noticed all parked closer to the main beaches...

There were 3 types of shrimp plates: scampi (with garlic), spicy, and lemon-butter. Each one came with 12 shrimp and 2 scoops of rice. We opted to share a spicy - it had kick, for sure. But overall, I wondered what the hype was about... It wasn't the experience of the shrimp places in Taiwan, where you fish your own lunch out and have it cooked fresh.

But I suppose before Giovanni's became a tourist destination, there must have been that sense of discovery, of finding something wonderful on the side of the road, of sitting on benches in sandy bathing suits peeling shrimp with salty hands.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Homemade Red Beans & Rice

My secretary is from New Orleans, so sometimes, I'm lucky enough to get to try some of her and her family's home cooking. This week, her family made some seriously great red beans & rice. The sauce included sausage, but also had some pig's tail and other pork bones in it. Incredibly delicious.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Ono Hawaiian Foods, Honolulu

While plate lunch joints like L&L or I Love Country Cafe serve up hybrid eats, Ono's in Honolulu serves traditional Hawaiian native foods. The menu is simple - order from a handful of traditional dishes either a la carte or as a set dinner. They also have this thing about having you wait on the bench right outside the front door until they call you in... We followed the instructions on the door, but we actually saw people get sent back outside!

Redneckhunter and I both ordered full dinners -- which all came with little dishes of lomi salmon (tomato and salmon salad), pipikaula (beef jerky), and haupia (coconut jelly). Then you got your choice of rice or poi. I ordered poi and was given the option of fresh poi or day-0ld. I had to ask her what the difference was -- fresh poi is sweet, and day-old poi is sour. I had never actually had fresh poi, I think, it's always been a bit sour when I've had it, so I ordered the fresh. Apparently, the stuff really doesn't last more than 5 days!

Now, you can see how big a bowl of poi they brought. Not in my wildest dreams could I imagine eating an entire bowl this big of starchy, gluey mashed taro! Not sure how the Hawaiians eat it, but I used my poi kind of like a dipping sauce of my meat - the starchiness of the poi cuts the saltiness of the meat. But I watched the woman at the table next to us eat her entire bowl up with a spoon - guess it just has to be something you've grown up with...

Redneckhunter's main dish was a combination of lau lau and kalua pork. The lau lau is pictured above - the pork is wrapped in both taro and ti leaves and steamed. The pork inside was absolutely melt-in-your-mouth with the fat melding so much flavor into the leaves. The kalua pork (right) was shredded from pig that's roasted in underground firepits, like they do at luaus.

My main dish was chicken long rice (below), which is such a great pidgin name for a dish. It was basically soup with chicken and feng si (clear rice noodles) that have been slow-cooked for a long long time - definitely descended from the Chinese.

Ono Hawaiian Foods
726 Kapahulu Ave
Honolulu, HI 96816 (808) 737-2275

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hawaiian local grindz

Hawaiian local food is a hybrid of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Portuguese, US Military, and native cuisine. The plate lunch is building block of this cuisine, which generally consists of whatever main dish on top of rice with a side of mac salad. I believe you will never truly appreciate the humble mac salad until you've been to Hawaii.

Redneckhunter was an instant convert to loco moco, a dish so wrong it's right. Two beef patties, two fried eggs, smothered in mushroom gravy on top of white rice. And of course with mac salad. The one above from I Love Country Cafe was suberb - seasoned beef patties, rich gravy, eggs over easy, huge portion and the mac salad was awesome -- I think it was more of a combo mac/potato salad. There was none of that cloying overt mayonnaisey-ness to it.

We also made a stop to the classic drive-in L&L (which has a branch in NYC). There I got the wondrous innovation that is Spam musubi. Hawaii is the world's second largest consumer of the canned meat product (the first being Guam). Thank the US Military for that.

I for one also believe that salty meats are especially suited for poi, and have a theory that that's why Spam is so popular there, but more on poi later...

I wasn't aware that my saimin would also have a slice of Spam in it.... Saimin is a dish born of the cross-breeding of Japanese and Chinese ramen, Filipino pancit, and Portuguese meats. The key components are egg noodles in dashi (bonito broth), with nori, green onions or bok choy, and different types of meat including Portuguese sausage, char siu, lunch meat (Spam), or fish cake.

Redneckhunter tried L&L's loco moco -- not as good as Country Cafe, but they did offer it in a more manageable "mini" size.

I Love Country Cafe
Three locations: 451 Pi'ikoi, near Ala Moana Center, 596-8108; Pearl Harbor Navy Exchange, 423-6555; and I Love Country Express, Kahala Mall, 4211 Wai'alae Ave.

L&L Hawaiian Barbecue
Multiple Locations

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Amuse Wine Bar, Honolulu Design Center

After Gyu-kaku we head across the street to the Honolulu Design Center. There, within the furniture showrooms is Amuse, a wine bar. The concept is you buy a debit card which you can use on any of the wine dispensers throughout the bar, dispensing a variety of wines by the ounce. That way you can taste several wines through the course of the night without getting sloshed.

We also had our second round of desserts there: a goat cheese apple tart, and Valrhona chocolate ice cream.

Amuse Wine Bar
At Honolulu Design Center, 2nd floor
1250 Kapiolani Boulevard
Honolulu, HI

Gyu-kaku Yakiniku, Honolulu

In Honolulu, our friends took us for yakiniku (Japanese grilled meat) at Gyu-kaku. Turns out Gyu-kaku is a chain with branches in Japan, California, Hawaii, and even New York City. Yakiniku is a bit different than Korean BBQ. The meat is marinated in different sauces, or sometimes simply dressed with just salt or garlic. Also the dipping sauces are different and there's no practice of wrapping in lettuce.

We got 2 sampler plates - one premium, which included 30-day aged filet mignon, wagyu, and premium ribeye.

The other meat sampler had shrimp with garlic, chicken with basil, and some other cuts of beef.

We also ordered the happy hour special Harami (skirt steak) marinated with miso. We also got kalbi with garlic, kurobuta sausage, and beef tongue. And vegetables wrapped in foil to throw on the grill -- potatoes with butter and enoki mushrooms.

Two interesting things I've never had were cheese yakko - our friend Ro had mistakenly remembered this as something else when he ordered it. Turns out it was cubes of cream cheese, dressed with bonito flakes and soy - the way tofu would have been - it was strange and Ro and Lani felt so bad for ordering it they took it home (for their bagels!).

The other was dessert. Little squares of mochi are cooked on the grill until the puff up, which you then throw on ice cream!

1221 Kapiolani Blvd
Honolulu, HI
(808) 589-2989

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bradley Ogden, Las Vegas

In 2004, when my family was in Las Vegas, one of the best dining experiences I had was at Napa-style restaurant Bradley Ogden in Caesar's Palace: amazing food, fantastic service, great experience.
Needless to say, we were looking forward to having yet another great meal there on this recent trip. However, the experience was definitely soured by mediocre service.
It started when an error was made in our reservation, and my uncle, who was in charge of the party, was treated as if the error was his fault. This inappropriate attitude to a customer was then also transferred to our waiter, who was also very neglectful in his service to our table.

Well, let's get to the food. We started with a seared foie gras appetizer that was nice.
For my entree, I got the bison tenderloin, one of my favorite dishes there. It's seared, then split in half- since I got it medium rare- the meat looked great on the plate.

My dad got the butter poached lobster. This tasted fantastic. I liked the foam on the plate.

My uncle, despite everything, ordered 8 oz of the kobe steak, which ended being a $400 piece of meat, but still no change in the attitude of the staff.
Needless to say the meat was amazingly good.

I really liked my dessert. I ordered the sorbets over blood orange tapioca pearls. Nice, light, and sweet.

My dad got the doughnuts. Who doesn't love doughnuts?

Redneckhunter got something with macaroons that was tasty as well. It was a good meal, but it could have been great had the service at the restaurant been better.

Mesa Grill, Las Vegas

While staying at Caesar's, our family really enjoyed lunch at Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill.
Even Fougoo's and my parents really liked the Southwestern flavors from the menu.
I liked the corn muffin on the bread basket, especially with the blend of blue corn visible in the muffin. It also had some chili pepper in it to give it a kick.

My mom really liked her prix fixe menu entree, the seared red chili crusted sea scallops. The scallops were great- large and really fresh.

Fougoo ordered the shrimp with grits platter. I'm a sucker for grits so I had to try some- really smooth and nice.
My entree was the Florida black grouper with a "wet rub" which was good, but my fevorite part was the oregano spoonbread it came with.

Redneckhunter ordered the hearty Mesa burger which was the size of about half of his head. The fries it came with were very tasty.

For dessert, I really liked my fruit cobbler with ice cream.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Leonard's Malasadas, Hawaii

I'm always drawn to food trucks. So when we spotted this truck in the parking lot of the Pearl City mall in Oahu, Hawaii it was like a magnetic pull.

Leonard Jr's Hot Malasadas -- well, I didn't know what they were, but I wanted to try one!

Turns out malasadas are like donuts without holes. Fresh from the fryer they were eggy, buttery heaven in your mouth. We got 2 to try - one cinnamon sugar, one filled with custard.

They were so good, we had to find out where to get them in Honolulu where we were staying. Luckily my friend pointed us to the original Leonard's Bakery in town. It became a nightly stop -- the malasadas are always hot and fresh! We were so enamored of our original choices -- cinnamon sugar (my favorite) and custard (redneckhunter's favorite) -- that we didn't even try the other varieties, chocolate-filled, haupia-filled, etc.

I've been searching around for somewhere in the Jersey-area to feed the craving, but so far sadly Massachusetts seems like our closest option...

Leonard's Bakery
933 Kapahulu Ave
Honolulu, HI 96816
(808) 737-5591

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Payard, Las Vegas

While staying at Caesar's Palace in Vegas, we made it a habit to go to Payard every morning for a delicious breakfast.
A couple mornings, we even say chef Guy Savoy there getting breakfast.

First off, the croissants were good, simple, and delicious. Always good with a cup of joe.
In their sit down breakfast area, they made an eggs Benedict using the croissants that was incredible.

We also tried two kinds of waffles: the vanilla waffle with whipped cream and berries, and the chocolate waffles with bananas and Nutella. Both were great.

Payard also had a nice breakfast buffet including breads and pastries as well as smoked salmon and fresh fruit. Fougoo loved the granola & yogurt parfait.
I picked up a ham & brie sandwich and a chocolate croissant for my plane trip home- so much better than airport food.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Dinner at Rao's, Las Vegas

While staying at Caesar's Palace last week, we had dinner one night at Italian restaurant, Rao's, a branch of the New York Rao's which was apparently so exclusive no one could ever eat there. Not so in Vegas.

The restaurant is pretty good Italian cuisine. I liked that it was served family style, so we all got to try a good variety of dishes.
For appetizers, we got the Insalata Caprese, which was not quite in season, but the cheese was nice. We also got the Fritto Misto di Mare, which had some nice fried calamari, shrimp, cod and shredded zucchini.

My favorite dish was our pasta dish. We got the linguine with clams, served in a spicy garlic, tomato broth. It was really good.

We also got the Salmon with black lentils. The skin was nice a crisp, and the lentils were pretty tasty.

We ordered the veal parmesan, which was huge, served on the bone and sliced for everyone to share.

We also had a nice side of peas with slice prosciutto de parma and onions.

We were so full from dinner, that for dessert, we just shared a small order of profiteroles.