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Monday, April 21, 2014         

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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.

After attending the grand opening of Monkeypod Kitchen, I knew restaurant partners chef Peter Merriman and Bill Terry had a hit on their hands.

Restaurants are in the blood of Grand Cafe & Bakery's owner, so even when the restaurant closed last summer, its fans found reassurance in Mona Chang-Vierra's vow to return.

Within the heart of burgeoning Kakaako, Ngon Vietnamese Cuisine is a welcome surprise. As small as it is, it's hard to miss, situated inside Herbal Spa and Saunas, a two-building complex that stands out in bright orange amidst the dull landscape of warehouses and auto repair shops.

Doraku Sushi has opened in the Pacifica Hono­lulu building, making it more accessible to diners who swear they never drive into Waikiki and have never been to Hawaii's first Doraku, which opened nearly five years ago at the Royal Hawaiian Center.

I was happy to get an email suggesting a visit to Thai Lao in Kapolei, a restaurant I would never have discovered on my own.

After going through several incarnations under Donato Loperfido and Philippe Padovani, the space that has been Elua, then Sapori Enoteca Birreria and the solo Padovani’s Grill, the restaurant in the Uraku Tower welcomed a new tenant over the holidays.

In years past I’ve talked about being bored by the monotony of seeing virtually the same dishes at every category of restaurant while waiting for someone to show some imagination and introduce something new to the dining scene.

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.

For a certain subset of diners, the opening of Sakura Restaurant and Pupu Bar will come as a relief from the excitement of the past couple of years, now that diners need to be adept with a computer, smartphone or electronic tablet to keep up with all the food trucks, pop-ups and other startups about town.

Shirokiya is delivering a wonderful Christmas gift to all of Hawaii with the soon-to-open Vintage Cave Honolulu, one enterprise in what I am calling the new phenomenon of the un-restaurant.

Like our sports and reality television, dining has gone extreme, from the "Man vs. Food" pigouts that involve watching people tackle restaurants' most massive dishes, to following the latest culinary adventurer willing to feast on insects, rodents or anything else that repulses most diners.

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.

You'll forgive the "everything but the kitchen sink" approach to the menu at HASR Bistro. After waiting five years for the space adjoining HASR Wine Shop, owner Terry Kakazu had a lot of time to dream up ideas for a restaurant that would dovetail with her wine store and vice versa.

Before the planet started heating up, temperatures here started falling in October to the point where we could dig out favorite sweaters and jackets from our closets. But in recent years the heat has continued well into December.

When I started working as the first restaurant critic for the Hono­lulu Star-Bulletin, I was charged by publisher and foodie Catherine Shen — who was married to San Francisco chef Bruce Cost — to raise the bar on dining in Hawaii.

When people ask chefs and food critics about where they eat on their off-time, it's usually to glean tips about the best restaurants and dishes in town, but for me it's increasingly about finding food that won't lead to a premature demise.

While watching the female gymnasts compete during the summer Olympic Games, I started thinking about the relative merits of performing first or last. Having performed/competed in music and storytelling in the past, I’m at my best hitting a stage first.

John Dominis restaurant must have been something to behold when it opened in the late 1970s, with its indoor garden and a stream running through it.

After I parked my car behind the Waikiki Joy Hotel, an attendant from another lot came running up to the automated pay machine, urging me to move my car to his lot for half the cost.

A plate lunch usually adds up to two or three meals for me. I tend to stop eating before I reach the point of discomfort because I hate feeling bloated after a meal.

Upon my introduction to Nagasaki champon and sara udon noodles at the newly open Ringer Hut, my first thought was, "This is Chinese."

It's said that bad news comes in threes, so in light of two unfavorable occurrences, I tend to wait for the inevitable. Right now I'm waiting for my third parking ticket in a month.

Honolulu has had a long history of Asian chefs opening Italian restaurants. It started in the 1980s in the kitchen of Casta­gnola's, where George "Cass" Casta­gnola trained his staff so well that many became successful restaurateurs themselves — most notably, Thomas Ky of the Assaggio Ristorante Italiano empire.

In a opinion piece, "The New Elitists," that appeared on July 7, writer Shamus Khan described the rise of the cultural omnivore.

Mini Garden was a downtown institution where, until recent years, those with a craving — day or late, late night — could get Hong Kong-style noodles with duck or won ton soup.

As you probably know — but wish you didn't — restaurant food usually astounds because of copious amounts of salt, fat and/or sugar (pick your vice). If you believe otherwise, you're in denial.

Feng shui may be considered a pseudoscience, but there is a lot of common sense in its original principles, from orienting a structure to make the best use of nature's elements, to having a source of life-sustaining water.

One of the state's top CEOs asked recently whether I'd visited Fine Dining Burgundy on Kapahulu where Wasabi Bistro once was. I told him I hadn't been there, asking, "Have you?"
"No, I'm waiting for you to go."

The timing couldn’t be any better for the opening of REAL a gastropub. School’s out and that means the party starts early and no one needs to get home before last call at the place, now open at Ward Farmers Market next door to Marukai Zakka Avenue.

Studying the quiet, peaceful grounds of the shuttered cafe at the Richards Street YWCA, Lance Kosaka imagined casual, leisurely paced service for a maximum 80 diners inside the restaurant.

People often ask whether I re-review restaurants. Sure do. Just give me a reason.

Many people who love food are averse to the chain restaurant. It's not that the restaurants aren't capable of producing good food, but responsibility to shareholders over diners invites assumptions of bottom-line cost measures.

In the year of the dragon, chefs are on fire. After so many years of lamenting the lack of culinary diversity here, we've seen the arrival of Jamaican jerk at Jawaiian Irie Jerk in Kaimuki, Brazilian and Portuguese fare at Adega downtown, and now Latin American fare at Cactus in Kailua.

Servers preface a meal at Kickin' Kajun by informing newbies, "This is going to be the messiest but one of the best meals you'll ever have."

WAILEA, Maui » Alan Wong may not have been officially entered in the Maui Onion Festival Recipe Contest over the weekend, but in my mind, he was.

Hawaii is home to the food-obsessed. The social media realm is always abuzz with a chorus of raves for the best of everything, whether cupcake, tiramisú, ramen or sushi.

Upon returning from Shanghai, I had a short list of restaurants due for a visit. "The List" is subject to change at any time, and a restaurant can jump the line for any of a variety of reasons.

Like many journalists, I started on the city desk. I covered the debate over a rail transit system before being lured to the features desk with the promise of being able to interview rock stars.

I was so happy when I heard about Adega. Finally! The restaurant promised Portuguese fare, which hasn't been available here for mass consumption since the 1980s. As a result, our familiarity with the cuisine rests with Portuguese bean soup.

Last week's arrival of Eden Grinshpan, host of the Cooking Channel program "Eden Eats," provided a good excuse to return to Pacific Gateway Center's Lemongrass Café to see what's new.

My initial response to The Grove was a feeling of disconnect. Where some of the most popular neighborhood restaurants are winning hearts through moderately priced, good eats, here is a Kailua neighborhood bar and grill with resort prices. And, night after night, it's packed.

The Big Island might be called the Napa of Hawaii, with fertile farmland that is home to many of the best edibles in the island chain.

Pete Townshend was 20 when he wrote "My Generation" with the line, "I hope I die before I get old. "Old" being relative, most people that age probably peg a 30-year-old as old. But let's be generous here and set the outer limit at 35.

When in the course of a week, three people ask, "Hey, have you been to the new Nico's?" you know you'd better get there pronto. Naturally, a hundred other people have the same idea, so you have a clue what proprietor Nico Chaize is up against.

One casualty of the diverse restaurant scene as it’s grown over the decades is the buffet restaurant. While most were not as extravagant as those in Vegas, the idea of a mountainous plate of food appealed to those with ginormous appetites and/or a taste for variety.

I often find my enthusiasm for local restaurants wanes in light of my experiences in other cities, as well as reading about menus elsewhere, like Boulud Sud's in New York City, with its octopus in marcona-almond purée and kibbeh (lamb meatballs) with feta and pine nuts.

When the latest Chun Wah Kam Noodle Factory opened its doors last week, a couple of employees were dispatched to stand outside the restaurant at the corner of Pensacola and Wai­manu and wave menus at drivers and pedestrians.



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