Monday, May 25, 2015         

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Not all food forays go as planned. The Japanese-based Blue Marlin opened last July in the Marine Surf Waikiki Hotel with the intent of emulating Vintage Cave, but the reality was a confusing fusion of local, Japanese and faux Spanish/ Mediterranean cuisine.

Nepali cuisine bears the strong influence of both its neighbors, China and India, and although Suman Basnet’s small restaurant, Masala, advertises Nepali and Indian cuisine, it’s the Indian influences that dominate.

Ethiopia is a world away, but its people have a saying about back-stabbers, similar to the adage we know as, "Don't bite the hand that feeds you." This became literal truth during one of my forays to Ethiopian Love, a former Kapa­hulu pop-up that has set down permanent roots in Chinatown.

Former customers of Ninja Sushi at Ward Village are surprised to walk into the new Ginza Sushi that appeared in its place and see the familiar faces of Russell and Hannah Won.

For all those who sit in traffic going westbound, I commend you for your patience. Much of my family still resides in Waipahu, and heading in that direction Easter morning, I made the mistake of thinking Kamehameha Highway would be clear.

Nanthana Jenniges has run the popular sandwich shop Nana's Deli, inside downtown Honolulu's Topa Financial Center, for five years. Offering something different from the lunchtime norm, the menu also grew to include a short roster of Thai curries introducing her native Isaan cuisine.

With its exceptional quality, presentation and service, Sushi Ginza Onodera has become a trusted destination for sushi aficionados in spite of its $160- to $250-per-person omakase dinners.

People often tell me that they wait to hear my opinion about a restaurant before trying it out themselves. I don't particularly believe in that practice because I don't believe there is ever a substitute for making decisions based on your own firsthand experiences.

In 2007, Chrissie Kaila Castillo had the prescience to open a little breakfast nook in Market City Shopping Center. The appearance of Cafe Kaila was a big deal to me because a few years earlier I had moved back into town from Kailua, where I was spoiled by the number of varied early-morning haunts, from delis to creperies.

I once believed that if only someone would pay me for each of my great ideas, I'd be a millionaire many times over. But I learned pretty quickly that great ideas abound. They bubble up with the zeitgeist, so obvious in a particular time, place and circumstance that if you're not prepared to act, someone else will beat you to it.

The new year is already shaping up to be like the last, with the trending of the Japanese restaurant. Rijo has opened in the long-shuttered Palomino space in downtown Honolulu, and elsewhere there's teppanyaki for the high-earner crowd.

The scent of doughnuts wafts through the garage at Chinatown Cultural Plaza. It's been that way since Regal Bakery moved in, offering its familiar mix of local plate lunches and cake doughnuts.

If not for some intrepid chefs' obsessions, we would not have the innovations in cuisine we have seen over time. On one trajectory are global culinary movements flowing from nouvelle to fusion to molecular gastronomy.

Paul Uyehara never intended to get into the restaurant biz. He has more than enough work as president of Aloha Tofu, the company founded in 1950 by his grandparents Kamesaburo and Tsuruko Uyehara. Business is booming to the point where a second location at Dole Cannery was meant to house the company's deep-frying operation.

Something's cooking at the Waikiki Sand Villa Hotel, once home to The Noodle Shop and the comedy/music trio of Frank de Lima and Na Kolohe. At some point the property went quiet, but now, all of a sudden, there's been a burst of activity.

The Japan-based Pier thirty group breezed into town in the fall with one of the most ambitious plans I've heard in a long time: Open 300 restaurants across the United States within 10 years, 20 of them in Hawaii -- all different concepts -- to open in five to six years.

Before I began writing about restaurants, I thought it was normal to eat a varied diet. I like trying new things, and I thought everyone else was the same way. But over the years I've met many people who are satisfied with the tried and true and rarely step out of their comfort zones.

There's nothing like starting the new year with a bang to set the tone for the rest of the year. So I'm grateful that Yakiniku House Futago came to town, as a nice gift, opening on Christmas Day in Kapahulu. "Futago" is the Japanese word for "twins," in reference to the chain's youthful founders, Sunchol and Sunbong Lee.

There's something new happening in the food world nearly every day, but with print space limited, it would take a month to catch up on "Bite Size" bits cataloging the new and small, so to clear the decks for the new year, here's a roundup of recent intros:

As the year comes to a close, here's a look at the way we ate in 2014. Koko Head Cafe made cornflake French toast and Ohayou Eggs a morning staple for those in Kaimuki. Tucker & Bevvy and Bills brought a taste of Aussie breakfast to Kapahulu Avenue and Waikiki, respectively.

The way I see it, restaurants in Hawaii largely fall into three camps: the local, the national corporate and the Japan-affiliated, whether the owner is a transplant or the company has Japan ties.

I constantly listen to people tell me they wish they could try this restaurant or that restaurant but, due to family obligations, work hours or financial reasons, are unable to do so.

Following up on the success of Lucky Belly on Hotel Street, restaurant partners Dusty Grable and chef Jesse Cruz cleaned up Amy's Place across the street to offer a taste of rustic Americana.

One major holiday down, three more to go through New Year 2015. If you haven't yet had your fill of Halloween candy, you'll have many more reasons to indulge over the holidays, whether your downfall is turkey with Portuguese sausage stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cookies, pumpkin pie, fruitcake or eggnog.

People love pizza, so even with competition within five blocks in downtown Honolulu bounded by Maunakea, Hotel, Bethel and Beretania streets, you can find an audience for pizza at Rosarina, Bar 35, JJ Dolan's and Fresh Cafe.

Today's restaurants can feel like TV productions with the dominant mindset that it's the high concept that sells. So we have "channels" delivering the "all-day breakfast" or touting "all organic all the time," and while those are great ideas, food in the service of a concept can feel rather soulless.

Just 100 years ago in Hawaii, everyone was well acquainted with the idea of living off the land, whether by fishing, farming or maintaining an ample backyard garden.

We speak of a nation's cuisine as a single common entity, but traversing a country from north to south or east to west, you will find an amazing variation in food based on regional tastes, terroir and geography that allows particular ingredients to flourish.

Certain food cravings and memories that endure over time cannot be sated, for whatever reason -- a restaurant closure, for example, or the passing of a generation of cooks who held the family's secret recipes.

Few ever take the time to consider the bagel. It's a most serviceable form of food, providing cheap fuel or a sturdy base for lovely lox and nice and fatty cream cheese.

Anicea Seiko Campanale and Hailey Berkey have been friends since they were 8-year-olds growing up in California, and although their paths diverged as adults, the two reconnected and partnered to create The Nook Neighborhood Bistro in Puck's Alley.

The first time I spotted Restaurant Wada, the signage at the front of the 611 Kapa­hulu complex — with no breaks between words and no logos to separate it from its neighbor — gave me the impression it was a laundromat restaurant.

Kauai's loss is our gain now that the family restaurant Tiano's has moved from Lihue to Waipahu. It's a Filipino-American restaurant with the kind of breadth that, when just perusing the menu, scares me.

When I moved back to Honolulu from Kailua a decade ago, I complained about the dearth of breakfast nooks — save for old-fashioned pancake houses — on this side of the island.

They came with their picnic baskets and tables and chairs and linens, congregating in the parking lot of Iolani Palace for the inaugural Diner en Blanc Hono­lulu event Saturday.

At the new Liliha Bakery in Iwilei, stick with the burgers and breakfast while the new location finds its way.

By geographically challenged townie calculus, Ewa Beach is the same as Kapolei, so one starts wondering how one more Italian restaurant will be able to compete with those already in place, like Assaggio and Le Nonne.

A high-profile Aussie restaurant came to town this year, aiming to please but falling flat with an international fusion menu that registered more like a nonsensical mash-up. Trying too hard can be a curse.

It's hot out there, and cool drinks and desserts provide one way to survive the sweltering summer months. Luckily, there's no shortage of cool AND healthy drinks with the growing popularity of juice bars.

Two former denizens of London started reading up on Hawaiian history before moving to Hawaii in November, when they began converting the back of a bookstore into what is now the Monarch Tea Room.

Fresh Box, a meal kit subscription startup, allows you to cook up a gourmet, restaurant-quality meal at home with ease. It puts an end to that daily dilemma, "What's for dinner?"

A name like Pioneer Saloon might lead one to expect grinds of the Wild West, such chuckwagon fare as hearty chilies, buffalo burgers, barbecue brisket and pork and beans. Doesn't that sound good?

It seems as if the hot-pot format would be easy to replicate in neighborhoods islandwide many times over, because customers pitch in to do the hard work of cooking.

For a certain ravenous, goal-oriented segment of the population, food has become sport. Social media has fostered an atmosphere of gorging and sharing, without much time for reflection or context.

Just last week I talked about humble, no-frills Japanese comfort food for all, in favor of the nontrendy restaurant, and this week I'm back with the local equivalent, Holoholo Bar & Grill.

There are a number of people who are always ready and willing to stand in line for the latest and greatest new restaurants the minute they open their doors.

I'd been waiting for Grondin to open as soon as I heard about it in December, and it's been worth the wait for such tapas-style dishes as a ceviche ($13) of Kauai shrimp with the heat of serrano peppers, and pulpo ($15), marinated octopus tossed with onion, olives, roasted red pepper and chilies, or fried plantain chips.

The first time I visited Nagomi Teppan restaurant in early January, it was a work in progress. The dining room was finished but the lounge was still under construction. So I made plans to return when the work was expected to be complete, in three weeks time.

Bills is a restaurant of the size and scope we haven't been seeing in a time of austerity and bootstrapping pop-ups.

I have three words for you: kim chee scones. They'll be your new obsession, and the place to get them is at the new Koko Head Cafe in Kaimuki, in the space that was formerly home to 12th Ave Grill, which moved to bigger digs up the street.

Izakaya Torae Torae is a prime example of why it pays to be patient while waiting for a new restaurant to find its bearings. At the one-month mark, the new restaurant continues to improve week after week, causing all my initial reservations to vanish.

The Pig & the Lady's chef-owner Andrew Le emerged from Chef Mavro's kitchen with the aim of developing his own style and signature, rooted in his Vietnamese heritage.

When it comes to good eats in Kakaako, most of the press has gone to the area that, for the sake of quick identification, I'm going to call SoHa, south of Halekauwila Street.

Ramen lovers were in a frenzy late last fall, trying to make their way to a spate of promising newcomers serving Japa­nese-style ramen. When the dust settled, Agu easily emerged as my favorite.

During a trial by fire that included Valentine's Day weekend, the new restaurant, W Bistro at 1010 S. King St., managed to maintain its quality, which bodes well for this first-time effort.

Employees of Sushi Ginza Onodera had their doubts as to whether Honolulu was ready for a $250-per-person omakase, telling its Japanese owners prior to opening day that they would be fortunate to seat four people a night.

With a name like Goofy Cafe, one has to wonder what mischief the chef is up to. The reaction to the name is likely to range from glee (top of mind for people I quizzed was the Disney character) to bafflement. A lot of us take our food seriously, and "goofy" is not a word we tend to associate with food.

As soon as Sven Ullrich took on executive chef duties at the Hyatt Regency Waikiki in fall 2011, he embraced all things local, and then some.

Over the past 20 years, Italian restaurants on Oahu have fallen into two camps: the Assaggio school of rich, garlic-saturated dishes or the Japanese school of delicate sauces accented with uni, mentaiko and other briny essences.

El Mariachi is on a roll. The restaurant has locations in Kaneohe and Aiea, and over the holidays opened an outpost in Kapo­lei Marketplace. What I like about this place is that they don’t shy from heat.

With 2014 comes the desire to start anew. A few months ago a friend tried Blue Tree Cafe's juice cleanse program, and I thought it would be a great start to the new year. I was interested in it not as a weight-loss regimen, but as a detoxification ritual.

We embraced new cuisines • Noodle love • Dessert reinvented • We drank our veggies • Rising Stars set up shop • Go west young chef • High-end comeback

In the age of fractured media, social media is a double-edged sword for businesses trying to broadcast their messages. On the one hand, in the olden days of minimal media outlets, it was easy to follow the numbers — the largest circulation and viewership — to reach mass audiences.

Hughley’s Southern Cuisine started life about six months ago as Ken Nae’s, a mash-up of owner Kenneth Hughley’s name and his mother’s, Renae. But with his wife and daughters also working the restaurant, he recently made the switch to the family name to reflect their collective effort.

Ten years ago restaurateurs had cold feet over introducing new cuisines on Oahu because diners were conservative, fearing the unknown. They were loathe to veer from ordering the same thing off the same menu with every visit to a favored restaurant.

Deciding what and where to eat is always a chore, but at least those of us who live in town-side Hono­lulu are lucky to have a lot of options. Imagine if you live in tiny Waia­lua, where dining out often means braving the two-lane traffic to Hale­iwa or Wahiawa.

For young chefs, culinary education doesn’t end with the classroom, but continues on the job, and the Hawaii experience over 25 years has proven that one successful restaurant can beget exponential success.

Bella Bistro is a lot like its Kailua surroundings, laid-back and cas­ual. The name and location at the site of the former Zia’s Caffe suggests an Italian bent, but no, it’s simply named after chef-owner David Kaminski’s and wife and manager Stephanie Pierobello’s well-fed chocolate lab, a sometime presence at the open-air restaurant.

I'm always leery of the big menu and chefs who try to take on more than they can handle. Pride aside, it's easier to win accolades as a one-hit wonder with one fabulous claim to fame than put out a full menu that is likely to include a handful of restaurant equivalents of bloopers, assuring a place in the middle of the pack in the ratings game.

Given the fractured nature of media today, it's hard for any entity to blanket a community with news of interest. Not everyone got the memo that 12th Ave Grill has a new address.

In Arabic, "Kan Zaman" means "Once upon a time," and chefs Youssef Dakroub and Kamal Jemmari have teamed up to offer a taste of some of the world's earliest cuisines, from Morocco and Lebanon, to diners in downtown Honolulu.

The ghosts of restaurant tenants past — from Oko­­nomi Cuisine Kai to Yaki­­tori Yoshi — still haunt 1427 Maka­loa St., and that's a good thing for Japa­nese Restaurant Aki.

Crab mania hit town-side last summer and this year has made it to the Leeward side with the opening of Cajun King in Waimalu Shopping Center. It's a sibling to King Street's Lobster King and Shabu Shabu King restaurants.

Honolulu has come a long way since the days that mac nuts, mahimahi, pineapple and surf ’n’ turf solely defined gracious dining. But every 20 years or so — enough time for a generational shift and rediscovery — everything old becomes new again, so maybe we’re ready to accommodate a macadamia nut revival?

There’s been a spate of new restaurants opening, and while I’m giving them a little breathing room to settle in, I checked out two familiar places making return appearances.

The past couple of months has been a whirlwind of sticker shock as new entries into the dining scene tested the limits of how much people will pay for a meal. Maybe you know the feeling of having heart palpitations when opening a menu, then settling on the chicken.

Summer is the season for travel, but even if you can't leave home, you can live vicariously through friends who are proficient with a camera and are ready and willing to share photos of what they've seen and done on their vacations.

When it comes to Korean cuisine, Hawaii diners are a spoiled lot, accustomed to a range of grilled meats, broiled fish, spicy soups and stews and mandoo. So the Budnamujip experience may come as a shock to the system.

The cool kids have been generating all the buzz in Kakaako in recent years, from the graffiti artists of Pow Wow Hawaii to the food truck and pop-up purveyors.

Arancino has all the markings of being the product of a large Japanese corporation, from ambience and consistency, to a sense of perfection and professionalism.

In light of the effects of sequestration and increased cost of living in the 50th state, I wondered whether Honolulu needs another high-end steak restaurant.

If you’re not looking after your health, it’s great to have Isamu and Motoko “Moco” Kubota on your side. Like a protective mom and dad, the duo in recent years have tried to look after diners’ health through various forms of vegan, vegetarian and macrobiotic cuisine.

Restaurants don't exist in a vacuum. Their chefs and owners may start by placing what they want on the menu, but sooner or later, a handful of diners will assert their own wishes.

Westside diners have reason to cheer with the recent opening of Sushi Yuzu in Kapo­lei.

These days branding is everything, so it's unusual to find a company swapping a big-brand name for an untested one.

Over the years, I've presented many socioeconomic reasons for the emergence of small restaurants, little Davids that now run circles around bigger, more traditional Goliaths.

Some people crave the food they grew up eating. Not me. Familiarity doesn't breed contempt, but it does breed a certain amount of indifference.

Korean restaurants have a reputation for not serving dessert, so if you happen to be dining in the “Korea­moku” vicinity and need a bit of post-meal refreshment, just walk over to Cafe Cooland.

From the beginning, Blazin' Steaks' Atkinson Center location diverged from the brand's simple formula of serving up basic grilled steak, chicken and fish with rice and a simple salad.

Kyung Cha thought she was ready to retire when she sold her Keeaumoku Street seafood business. But, thankfully for her fans, retirement didn't last long.

With the opening of North Shore Kula Grille at the Turtle Bay Resort, the sustainable, Hawaiian regional movement veers even more specific with an attempt to focus on produce procured from the North Shore, though generously augmented with ingredients from Maui to Hawaii island.

Creating a healthful kitchen seems to come easily to a generation of up-and-coming chefs raised on quinoa and açai, but crossing over to greener platters represents a big step for one of Hawaii’s premier chefs.

The Royal Hawaiian Hotel has never been known for Sunday brunch, having ceded the territory to the Moana Surfrider and Halekulani. But that has changed.

The hottest restaurant among the Japanese-speaking set is Rinka, where you can't get in without a reservation, and even then, a twosome is likely to end up at the sushi bar, lest they take up valuable real estate at a four-top.

Growing up in a Chinese household, tea was a birthright for Ervin Gong, so it makes sense to find him running an online tea business and tea cafe today. But, it was far from a linear experience.

There comes a time in a young chef's life when he yearns to leave a comfortable nest to realize his capabilities. In the past a chef, backed by family and/or deep-pocketed investors, simply opened a restaurant. That was the expected path.

I was sad to hear that the former tenant at 905-A Keeaumoku St., Orine Sarang Chae, had closed. It was a hidden gem of a restaurant under a tree in the back of all the small restaurants lining Keeaumoku, and an alley away from Keeaumoku Supermarket.

Being spontaneous makes life interesting, but you have to take the good with the bad. On the downside, I'd tried to pop into Morio's Sushi Bistro twice to no avail because the tiny 18-seat sushi bar is always packed, a favorite among those in the know.

The good news is the deviled eggs are back with the reopening of the Spalding House Cafe at the Honolulu Museum of Art Spalding House (formerly Contemporary Cafe at The Contemporary Museum).

When I heard a new restaurant had popped up in the space of Ninniku-ya, the garlic restaurant, I headed to Kaimuki, only to overshoot my destination. I knew the general vicinity and, out of habit, was looking for the familiar old building and coconut trees wrapped with lights.

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