NYC 'hound eats across Oahu (long) report (link to pics)
Okay, 'Hounds, I'm back in Brooklyn after a week on Oahu. Big thanks for your input in helping me plan the chow-portion of my trip. Below is my big ol' trip report, as promised.
Also, here's a link to my chow pics from the trip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/iamarockstar/sets/72157607726463312/
Agnes Portuguese Bakery:
Coconut pan - hands down my favorite. The filling is very finely ground, sweet and oh so good. Texture of the bread is perfect - light, fluffy, luxuriant and always very very fresh. I went back for one every morning. (I should mention that I don't really like sweets/pastries that much, too.) I also tried the malassada, which they make to order. My verdict? Meh. It was fresh out of the kitchen, nice and hot, but it was undercooked in the middle. I don't need to have this ever again. The coffee pretty much sucked. Too thin, though this was my experience everywhere.
Sat at the bar and had a not-so-good glass of wine. The menu was really unappealing (so heavy!) and the food of nearby diners was not at all appealing. I ditched and would never bother, truthfully.
Came here after leaving Formaggio Grill. It's expensive, but I had a great piece of fish done Chinese style - opakapaka steamed over a bed of shredded cabbage with a sweet/savory sauce of garlic, soy, ginger, green onion, etc. and topped with cilantro. Delicious and simple, but one of my favorite meals during my vacation (p.s. salad bar is pretty gross and bread isn't worth the calories).
A fun little place that locals seemed to recommend a lot, too. I just happened to be staying across the street. I had a panko-crusted opa that was fine but forgettable. The side of broccoli tasted smoked - ew - great mai tai, though. This place is essentially just bar food.
I had the calamari "steak" balinese style - very tasty but the batter just didn't stick to the squid. There was a second course, but I cannot remember it. Surely it was some kind of fish, hmmm? Another meh.
Kailua farmers market (Thursday):
Tried the pork/shrimp lumpia from the "everything fried" stall (everything as in beignets, lumpia, arrancini and polenta)--they were darn good for $2, too. Tried the mango lavash from Ba-Le - a thin cracker rather than a bread, flavored with mango and topped with large brown sugar crystals. This is an addictive TV snack. I liked eating the edges that were just a hint thicker than the other pieces. Also got a shrimp scampi plate from Hawaiian Chili Co. - comes with rice, macaroni salad and mixed green salad (courtesy of Nalo Farms). This was delish, the scampi is done in a cream sauce and is garlicky, but doesn't have the uber-chunks of garlic like the shrimp truck version. For an extra couple bucks you can sub pasta for the rice. This was a LOT of food, enough for two meals. I also picked up some grape tomatoes, red papaya (amazing - the flavor is almost perfume-y!), bananas and a perfect avocado.
Boots and Kimo's:
Thanks to jet lag, I was up EARLY. A great time to pop in for breakfast before the line hits--they were full by 8:30am. I had the macadamia nut pancakes, which were good, the sauce was a bit heavy for me (it sure seems like an ice cream base--anyone, anyone?) I'm not much of a sweets person, especially for breakfast, but I did thrown down at least half of this huge portion and for someone who likes sweets, this is certainly a destination. Coffee was pretty good and the waiter was HOT--all in all, a good start to the day!
Tried the pork lau lau plate. There was hardly any meat in the taro leaves, and what was there was not very good. I trashed most of it but realized (later) that I just don't like lau lau. Sorry lau lau, it's not you, it's me...
KCC farmers market:
Enjoyed an awesome fried rice that was basically a vehicle for a multitude of pork varieties: bacon, sausage, spam. Served with a choice of meat and I went half and half based on the recommendation: lil smokies and portuguese sausage...more pork! I didn't want to love this as much as I did. :-) I also bought eggs, string beans, organic kona coffee. Also bought (yikes, $5 for 1/2 lb.!) fresh heart of palm. Being an East Coast girl, I've only had this from the jar and I cannot believe how amazing this tasted fresh. I had some raw for salad and also stir fried some, which was fantastic.
Walked in walked out. It was a Sunday afternoon with zero people and food was just sitting around in steam trays. Not knowing who to order from/what to order, I just didn't feel like taking one for the team this time around.
Thang French Coffee:
Just outside/around the corner from Maunakea Marketplace. This was a great - and big - iced Vietnamese coffee that you order "sweet" or "little sweet." "Little sweet" was just fine for me. Lots of fresh fruit smoothies and bubble tea, too.
Farmers Market behind Ward's Warehouse Shopping Center:
Seemed like a lot was closed up, or I just missed it. Didn't feel like experimenting this day either. I did hit up the little store to buy some snacks/crack seed type stuff, including li hing mui powder-covered sour candy for my chef friend back home.
I had the kalua pork and pork sausage baked manapua. The pork "sausage" wasn't really - but shredded, bright pink pork similar to the filling of steamed pork buns that I'm used to at dim sum. Except this was 1000 times tastier and I'll dream about this morsel of porky goodness. I should have got a couple to go. Yum! Sitting on the benches outside watching all the old men shuffle around was fun, too.
Ono Hawaiian Foods:
pork laulau plate. Yeah, this was my second try and I just don't like lau lau (the aforementioned, it's not you, it's me.) Why ruin a good piece of pork with a super-fishy tasting/smelling piece of fish thrown in for good measure? I enjoyed the sides - the fried/dried steak was fantastic, tomato/smoked salmon salad was a great balance between salty/sweet and smoky/bright. Even poi was interesting to me and I can see the value as a "rest" or palate cleanser when taken with high fat foods. I won't be craving it, mind you, but I'd definitely have it again as an accompaniment. I also order a poke which was great - a huge portion, for very short money. Overall, this was definitely one of the best values on the island.
House Without A Key:
Thought I would have a sunset drink there but it was way too boring and stuffy and I ran. It seriously felt like a library/retirement home. No thanks. I left and went to Duke's. Not really my scene there either, but the people watching was decent and I enjoyed a mai tai before my Alan Wong reservation.
This was a big let down. Number one, it is simply not okay to keep someone waiting 40 minutes for a reservation, with very little effort made to correct the problem and even then, it was a case of too little too late, IMHO. I thought about leaving and, in retrospect, I probably should have. But you know when you're really looking forward to an experience and don't want to give up? Service was not on point at all and please no "island time" arguments for a restaurant at this level. I picked up on and enjoyed the casual vibe of the place, but casual does not equal unprofessional, which at times it really was. Too many servers (at least 4?), some with food and wine knowledge, some with very little. I felt like an afterthought, not a guest. The only great service I had was from the kitchen, Sean was running it on this particular Sunday, I unfortunately cannot now recall the names of the other two men cooking. But any positive impression that I have of this restaurant is due ONLY to the kitchen team.
As far as the food, a couple of courses on the tasting menu were really interesting. In particular, the cold seafood salad (Kona Abalone, Lobster and Lump Crab with Abalone Gelee, Soy Katsuo & Green Onion Oil) and the steamed kona kampachi (Dried Scallop Truffle Risotto Flan) were completely new taste experiences for me, the first is the only dish that wowed me. I also really enjoyed the "soup and sandwich" (Chilled Vine Ripened Hamakua Springs Tomato Soup with Grilled Mozzarella Cheese, Foie Gras, Kalua Pig Sandwich), though what's not to love? The Kabayaki unagi pork hash terrine was too much of an identity crisis and I didn't really get the flavors coming through. The kitchen sent out two amuse courses before I got started on the menu. One was the "shooter" (Local Limpet in Spicy Tomato Water, Fennel Basil Ume Shiso Essences) - lovely flavors and perfect as an amuse - I cannot recall the second. There were a few other courses that I don't really recall either. Desserts were nice, portions overall were generous. Coffee was never offered because the restaurant was closed around me. Yeah, that feels good. Now that I'm typing up my travel report, I realize that this really just was shitty service. What a bummer.
I scored a room at the Hilton Hawaiian Village for $150 on hotwire.com (scored an upgrade to ocean view, too!) and so the next morning I decided to walk along Waikiki beach to the far east end and back. On the return I stopped at the Moana Surfrider for brunch on the terrace. Kailua pork eggs "benedict" was pretty tasty, though could have used some additional "bright" component. Eggs were nicely done, good potatoes, decent coffee and great service. The outdoor setting is lovely.
A quick stop (thanks to the true courtesy of the rental car courtesy shuttle bus driver, who offered to stop!) for sushi to take to the airport for lunch. One spicy poke maki roll and one "Batman" that was essentially pork three ways - good to say I tried it, but otherwise 1/2 of it went in the trash. The spicy poke roll was fantastic. And a free bag of peanut M&Ms that came in handy on a long flight!
Cheap breakfasts, though not memorable. Scrambled eggs are basically just a plain omelette. The potatoes suck. Egg and cheese sandwich on a soft portuguese bulkie roll is just okay. Coffee was thin and bland. I did have two addictive awesome treats here. #1, the plain glazed donut was kick ass good. Didn't try this until my last day and went back to buy some to bring home and they were gone!! #2, the spam musubi was totally kick ass--who knew!?
This was the most comfortable/easiest place to dine at the bar (I was traveling solo). One night was poke (good) for an app and marlin (okay) for an entree, which came with some seriously awesome mashed potatoes (I'm guessing it's due to the serious butter-dependency issue that seems to be a theme in the restaurants I tried!) Another night, when I made it for happy hour and discounted pupus, I had the coconut shrimp (good) and spicy edamame.
Lei Lei's (at Turtle Bay):
Dinner at the bar. Caesar salad was just okay. Seriously, why does a so-called "upscale" restaurant used boxed/bagged crouton cubes? They're not tough to make, for crying out loud! Coconut shrimp were fine. I was upsold on a macadamia nut pie for dessert..."they put it in the oven," I was told. Um, make that microwave, which ruined the crust. It was served a la mode and neither the ice cream nor the whipped cream had any flavor. Just not worth the calories or the effort. My bourbon after dinner, I realized, was in a dirty glass. "Oh, that's because I keep my pens in the glass." Hello!? She comp'ed it, but still. Grrrrr... I wouldn't ever recommend this place, though it seemed to be popular (someone I met recommended it since I had arrived in town late and was hungry).
Medium shave ice with vanilla ice cream: melon and coconut flavors. This was a welcomed, tasty and cool treat after hiking out to Ka'ena Point. Totally kickass.
Giovanni's shrimp truck:
Holy garlic, Batman! Rice was overcooked and smooshy, though it soaked up the garlic sauce pretty darn well. Shrimp were so good, but this high maintenance girl hates peeling them. Poor me, huh? It was a fun experience and a meal that kept me full, especially since I also got a papaya smoothie from the adjacent truck. Wow that was good.
WHAT I MISSED:
I didn't find a good cup of coffee.
I didn't get to try a luau.
There seemed to be a big lack of green vegetables on menus--not much local fruit either. What gives?
I would have liked to enjoy more of the Asian/Asian-influenced cuisines-- bentos, katsu chicken, terikayi -- plus some plate lunches, which I didn't really get to experiment with. I also never made it to dim sum, which would have been fun to compare/contrast with Boston, NYC and San Francisco experiences. I missed Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese recommendations, too. So sad.
I didn't love everything I tried, but the cuisine of Hawaii is so interesting and fun to explore. Thanks to the 'hounds for helping with my research because I feel like I got a good overview with only 7 days on island. My vacation was really fun and I will surely be back, though next time I'm bringing my bicycle, so I'll need a cue sheet with bike routes AND snack stops. :)
Hell, I've lived here for 5 years and still haven't been to a luau.
Good coffee is available in Kailua at Morning Brew and sometimes in town at Fresh Cafe.
Lack of green vegetables- IT'S AN ISLAND. Vegetables are perishable. Easier to ship rice than asparagus.
Reference Buzz's the bread is bad, it always has been. It tastes like that bad pre-packaged dough...
Pinky's is a place to get poopy-faced, not eat. Even the shrimp on the bloody marys aren't good.
Boots n Kimos is good but the savory breakfasts are a little better IMO. Fried rice, portuguese sausage and over easy eggs. Also if you're back in Kailua for breakfast try Cinnamon's for Eggs Benedict.
Next time also you should check out some pho spots, even Bale for Vietnamese sandwiches..
And thanks for noting Thang coffee, I'm gonna go try some!
Thanks for the detailed report...Buzz's has become a default favorite because they have fresh local fish and don't muck it up.
Alas your experience at Alan Wong's mirrors ours over multiple visits, including when reservations were made well in advance, they were told on two of them that it was a special ocassion and we would up at the bar for 20-30 minutes. Never a "gee, sorry" either. They make a big deal over wine but when we asked if they could do something special for a very special bottle, were told to pick something from the menu, period, and reminded of the corkage policy multiple times.
This used to be a very special place; the service has never been stunning but it was competent and the food was a knockout. Now with so many other places, it just doesn't cut it and the slack service -- especially being kept waiting most of the time -- means the experience isn't worth the cost.
Chef Mavro, on the other hand, is worth the price. It would do well here in the Napa Valley.
Thanks for the report. Interesting how different folk can have totally different experiences. Haleiwa Joe's was the worst meal on O`ahu (and this goes back almost 30 years), that we've ever had.
Also, Allan Wong's King St. has never kept us waiting for more than 5 mins. and all has been nearly perfect on maybe 20 trips.
Your "top spot" was our "worst ever," and the place that did not work for you is our all-time favorite. Go figure...
As for the lu`au, well, you probably are better off not having tried one. Unless one connects with a private group, or family, they are usually not what one expects, especially from the chow standpoint.
I do know your feelings, about not getting to all of the spots. Even when we do two weeks on O`ahu, we feel like we had to cut our list short. Too much great food, at all levels, and too little time.
I do recommend Indigo's for Asian-fusion, with a Hawaiian twist. We have always had great meals there. OTOH, considering how things seem to go with our differing experiences, maybe Indigo's is not the place to try.
Thanks for the reviews,
re: Bill Hunt
I wouldn't say that Haleiwa Joe's was a top spot at all - as a solo woman it was simply one of the more comfortable places for dining at the bar. It is still just bar food.
I don't know if Alan Wong's was running with the B team because it was a Sunday night, but it was not world-class service. That said, my "top" food experiences definitely include a couple of the dishes from AW's, plus my farmers market meals, the Chinese style opakapaka and the manapua. Obviously I dined at some places out of convenience, though as 'hounds we try our best not to! :)
re: MB fka MB
I would chalk it up to the "B Team," or a bad night, as AW's is not the sort of spot that would be THAT good for pickups.
Still, dining alone (male or female) should make NO difference to the level of service at a restaurant, like AW's. Everyone is a client - regardless.
I know that some in the corporate office read this board. I also know that their site has a response area, and urge MB fka MB to please post details of her experience to their site. I also know that they take their performance very seriously with regards to both food and service. As many details (time, date, etc.) will help them to do better. Please take the time, as they will appreciate it, even if they are pained to read it.
Again, thanks for the review.
In reply to your comment on fruits and vegetables, with the exception of the plantations (sugar cane and pineapple) there is not much of a tradition of agriculture in Hawaii, although the native Hawaiian culture was intensively agricultural. Even tropical fruits in the supermarket here often come from other places. That is slowly changing, but it's going to take time. Basically it is cheaper to bring food in from the west coast than to grow it locally. Another factor is Mediterranean fruit fly that makes it difficult to export local fruits and limits our market.
There's a big agricultural tradition upcountry on Maui. Kula was the source of a lot of the fruits and vegetables eaten in California during the Gold Rush of the mid-19th century, and still grows the best onions anywhere. The Big Island has a lot of ag, too, from coffee to mac nuts to citrus groves to ...
To the OP:
Good coffee can be surprisingly hard to find. Alan Wong's always has several great estate coffees, prepared carefully and properly; too bad that didn't pan out for you in so many ways. Based on my limited personal experiences and the recommendations of others, though, I'd urge you to them another shot next time you're on-island. And maybe try a luau, too, just to be unrepentantly touristy for a night.
Thanks for the report. I see from the report you kind of worked off your original list but also made adjustments and ate at other places as they came up, depending on where you were. Exactly what happens to me when I travel, which is why no matter how solid my restaurant list is, I rarely get a quarter of the way through it. You'll just have to make a return visit and keep eating.
Sorry you didn't like lau lau, but I admire that you were willing to try it twice. I grew up with it and love it, but I can understand why someone else may not. There are lots of Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese options available for your next visit so do come back.