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Monday, September 01, 2014         

Weekly Eater

A few weeks ago I wrote about the un-restaurant, new establishments that defy the rules of traditional restaurants, throwing out even the most basic notions of set menus and set hours.

Eggs 'n Things Waikiki has been a beloved institution since it opened in 1974, particularly for a generation of Wave Waikiki patrons who found the late-night breakfast spot perfect for recharging depleted food reserves and sobering up before driving home.

I heard about Ming's Chinese Restaurant some time ago from a reader who appreciates excellence in unexpected places.

Maybe it's because I'd just returned from East Coast escapades that I was searching for ways to keep the post-vacation glow alive, and SHOR American Seafood Grill, the Hyatt Regency's third-floor dining spot, provided ample excuse to kick back and relax in the open air.

In the olden days of journalism, finding an audience was difficult. You had to build a portfolio of clips to convince an editor you were worth publishing.

I always liked the options presented to me at Shirokiya’s food court at Ala Moana Center.
If I didn’t know exactly what I wanted, I could always circle the many food stations, eye all the selections and pick up a single bento, tonkatsu sandwich or small entree, combining it with side dishes such as kim chee, sweet potatoes or fried noodles.

If I hadn't been interested in journalism, I might have considered a career in teaching.

There was a time when I could easily name my favorite dim sum restaurant. These days, quality is even across the board, so it's more a matter of cherry-picking the best haunts for your favorite selections. You might go to one place for shrimp dumplings, another for siu mai, another for chive cakes.

Contrary to logic, it rarely pays to lead in business. Sure, it's great to be acknowledged as an original, but consumers generally don't like change and it could take a few years for them to catch up to your innovative ideas.

Control freaks beware. To enter Nanzan GiroGiro is to surrender to the chef and the moment.

Cuisines have always been subject to interpretation as they've traveled around the globe, so it's no surprise to find vast regional differences when traveling.

If Tangō Contemporary Cafe is the chic sophisticate of the cafe world, Tangō Market is her more casual, breezy little sister who lives just kitty corner from TCC's Hokua haunt, fronting Auahi Street at Ward Centre.

Usually at this time of year, I'd be hailing the latest Mexican cuisine, but diners likely already have a favorite spot for burritos, tacos, nachos and margaritas.

When a good restaurant opens and a positive review is inevitable, friends will often request that I hold off writing about it for a couple of weeks to allow them to squeeze in just one more dinner.

Whenever there's a line, you can be sure that I'm going to steer clear of it (unless it's work-related). I've never believed in followingthe crowd and never will, so I'm always curious about others' attraction to lines.

It’s not every day a chef manages to make people happy by raising prices, but that is Nick Yamada’s fait accompli at Uahi Island Grill in Kailua.

There was a time when kai­ten, or conveyor belt, sushi was new and trendy and the whole market was up for grabs.

I want to live as long as the next person, but at what cost? If the price of longevity means subsisting on seitan and tempeh, there's only so much a nonvegan can take.

I was sad to see Satura Cake close. It was a favorite place to meet with my fashion story sources, because, 1) it was easy to direct those coming in from New York and L.A., and 2) it was the perfect place for people who don't eat, and their friends who do.

As disconcerting as it may be to see sleepy Waipahu Town grow up, sometimes change is good.

Change has been constant on Keeaumoku Street over several years, and more recently, it's become like a Waikiki side street, with a growing cluster of restaurants and more on the way.

Jin Din Rou opened slowly, starting with a series of private meals to practice service and attend to VIPs before opening to the public for limited lunch service last month.

With ll Lupino Trattoria and Wine Bar's opening following that of the successful launch of Wolfgang's Restaurant by Wolfgang Zwiener last year, Zwiener is hoping lightning will strike twice for him at Royal Hawaiian Center.

After stopping in to Ni Hao for dinner a few weeks ago, I thought I would drop into nearby Yogurstory for dessert with the idea of making a brief mention as a sidebar to last week's review. It could have been a finale spot to add to your itinerary if you were in the vicinity.

If not for the boom in Japanese tourism beginning in the mid-1990s, we would not be blessed with the wonderful Japanese restaurants we have now.

In December, when the pace of restaurant openings was picking up, I got an e-mail from one of my restaurant faithfuls, who said he saw a new Japanese restaurant called Shinn and was going to check it out and report back to me.

The Waimalu Shopping Plaza has served as Leeward Oahu's casual restaurant row for more than 40 years, home to anchors Zippy's and Kapiolani Coffee Shop, with many of the dominant island ethnic cuisines represented by small restaurants sandwiched in between.

When I saw the menu at La Tour Cafe, I just about cried. I was so excited. It has all the simple sort of cafe sandwiches, sides and flatbreads (pizza) I want to eat, at reasonable prices.

Chinese banquet restaurants have been on the wane for several years. Without a guarantee of large parties most nights of the week, the resources and manpower needed to keep these large spaces running are unsustainable in slow times.

I tend to be more analytical than superstitious, but the one thing I can't escape is the force of the new year and all the good-luck, bad-luck symbolism it entails.

Whenever the economy tanks, I always worry that I'll run out of new restaurants to talk about. That hasn't happened, proving one axiom of business: No matter how tough the times we face, the one certainty is that people gotta eat.

Now we know that neither rain nor flooding nor fear of crowds will keep diners away from Jollibee. The new Philippines-based fast-food restaurant opened in Waipahu last week and drew lines from Day One.

Now's the time for caterers, as well as restaurants, to shine. Two of my recent leads have come from catered events. Going to a new restaurant is always a risky proposition when you don't know whether it's gonna be good or bad, but there's comfort in having already sampled and liked their food.

If you're eastbound on King Street, it's hard to miss the bright fluorescent lights of Mama Woo's, obviously fast food. With all the rushing around that precedes the holidays, fast works for me.

Usually I take a break from writing a Thanksgiving column to (a) avoid overtaxing the opu, and (b) considering that most people gorge on turkey, ham, pumpkin pie and all the trimmings on Thanksgiving Day, I've always assumed few can stomach more feasting the day after.

You've read about people who've struck it rich in their youth and foundered for lack of what to do with their money. Well, I've been poor for so long that I've had quite a while to think about what I would do if I were to suddenly hit the jackpot.

I live in Liliha, where the passage of time can be measured in the disappearance of mom-and-pop restaurants. In that environment I'd grown to believe that the saimin restaurant is a particularly endangered species.

Through the years, I've heard people complain about the dearth of authentic Mexican fare in Hawaii. Well, they can now put their money where their mouths are. All of a sudden there are two new entries to the scene, both authentic and rather equal in scope.

I like the option of dining at a Hello Kitty/Sanrio restaurant, but the first couple of forays leave me feeling like Goldilocks in the Three Bears story.

Human beings are creatures of habit, even when it comes to tracking down one's next meal. Choosing a restaurant isn't all about the food. If it were, the so-called "best" restaurants would command all diners' attention. We may pride ourselves on seeking out the best, but that's typically for special occasions. On a daily basis, it's eat at home or love the one closest to you.

A trip to Morimoto Waikiki last week showed the kind of theater money and fame can buy. But for every Morimoto there are dozens of potential restaurateurs who simply want to put their ideas on the table, no matter how small their start, evident in an ever-expanding convoy of buses, vans and trucks that bring edibles to events or parking lots near you.

I've talked to doctors and artists who've told me they don't like to socialize because they don't want to answer work-related questions.

Last year, a ringed-neck parakeet flew into my life, and, long story short, I found him an excellent home in Waianae where he now lives with his new mate in a large outdoor flight aviary. On visiting with him, I asked his new family if they had heard of an organic restaurant nearby.

For too long, the rallying cry for the Internet and its myriad blogs and websites -- to the detriment of, ahem, old media -- has been "information wants to be free."

For many people, Castagnola's Pizzeria marks a brand new arrival on the dining scene, but the name has some deep roots on Oahu.

Ask and ye shall receive. I've long bemoaned the dearth of vegetarian restaurants in Honolulu. All of a sudden we have two new options, both opened over summer.

I think a lot of people were surprised when Sean Priester left his long-standing, lofty perch at The Top of Waikiki to roll out his lunchwagon Soul Patrol.

By the time I stopped into Honolulu Burger Co. a few days after its opening, another food writer about town was on her second visit and, being mostly on the same page about food, I found she'd come to the same conclusion as me, proclaiming a "New No. 1" burger in town.

It's said that if you lose one sense, other senses make up for it. That turned out to be true at Formaggio Grill in ways expected and unexpected. The restaurant has been testing a fun monthly series called Dining in the Dark, which has proved to be a hit with culinary adventurers willing to put their tastebuds to the test by eating dinner blindfolded for a very sensual, multisensory experience.

You're going to have to work to find Gaan Sushi, but for sushi purists, it's worth the expedition.

The last thing I wanted to do was rile the owner of Ah-Lang Korean restaurant, but there I was, at the end of dinner, with no means of paying. Not only had I forgotten my wallet at home and, therefore, all cash, credit and bank cards, but so had my dinner guest.

The corner of Keeaumoku and King streets would seem to be prime real estate, but there has been little on the mauka side to persuade pau hana commuters to stop continuing on their merry way.

To glance upon Izakaya Tairyo is to come close to witnessing an ukiyo-e print spring to life in 3-D. The art form's Golden Age was from 1603 to 1868, when Edo, a small fishing village chosen to be the capital of the Tokugawa shogunate, grew into a city bustling with culture, arts and commerce.

One measure of a restaurant's appeal is the distance people are willing to travel to be there. Restaurateurs from Hawaii Kai to Kailua will proudly proclaim that people drive in from as far away as Waianae and Pearl City to eat at their establishments.

In the hospital immediately following his second daughter's birth, Luis Silva was calling me, not to announce, "It's a girl," but to gush about his other baby, Luibueno's Mexican & Seafood Restaurant.

Ever since this column began in 1988, I've devoted about 850 words a week to helping readers decide whether a particular restaurant might be their kind of place.

After moving into Honolulu from Kailua, I mourned the dearth of breakfast places of the casual-fresh sort that I'd enjoyed over 10 years on the Windward side.


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