So much food and so little stomach! Loong report on Honolulu/Oahu
Spent just over a week on Oahu and wanted to report back, since we on the CA board don't often get reports back from visitors to San Diego...
1050 Ala Moana Blvd.
Got a small limu ahi poke bowl w/ yam, furukake, spicy sauce over white rice. A nice, compact bowl of poke and warm rice, very filling and tasty. I am not a poke expert, but the only things I would change are a spicier sauce and a sprinkling of either soy sauce or sea salt to bring out the flavors. Also got a mango soda which had good mango flavor and wasn’t sugary sweet or overly carbonated.
My favorite high-end restaurant in Honolulu! I still remember my dinner from a few years back that had mochi-encrusted fish! Ended up coming here twice because our first dinner was so good!
First round: We were a party of 6, which allowed for sharing of food. My only mistake was eating too much lunch at Opal Thai lunch truck, so I wasn’t very hungry.
Hearts of palm, cucumber, beet salad w/ li hing and ume dressing: The dressing combo was ironic b/c earlier in the day, I was wondering what ume and li hing combined together would taste like. Now I know—very, very good! Meticulously sliced cucumber and hearts of palm with tiny cubes of fresh beets surrounded by a pool of li hing/ume dressing. The dressing is designed to “hit you in the face” because as you continue dipping the veggies in it, the pungency dilutes down.
Ahi “poki “ balls— deep fried ahi tuna balls wrapped in julienned wonton skins w/ “pokey” fronds sticking upwards. A little disappointing, given that the ahi was cooked all the way through. I was hoping for more raw ahi.
Got to taste:
1. Kim chee crab spring rolls. Absolutely delicious! Lots of flavor in a rice paper wrapper. Dish came w/ butter lettuce leaves, shiso leaf, green onions, kim chee cucumbers that you wrap the rolls in and dip into a spicy sauce.
2. Garlic mashed potatoes—light, smooth mashed potatoes cooked au gratin with a wonderfully pungent layer of melted cheese on top! Could eat a whole bowl of this!
3. Mini moco loco—3 medium sized patties of chopped unagi encrusted with mochi and topped w/ quail egg and gravy. We all commented on how this could be an entrée b/c there was so much on the plate. Excellent flavor and texture. Then again, it’s hard to go wrong w/ mochi!
4. Whole Tomato Salad w/ li hing and ume dressing—liked it so much that I had to go back for a 2nd dinner to get my own dish!
5. Opihi shooter—just tried the spicy tomato water and LOVED it! Also came back to get my own shooter. The only downer was the ume getting stuck at the bottom of the narrow glass, although it made for good entertainment as we all tried to fish it out.
6. Roast duck chowder—very interesting blend of Chinese roast duck and barley with the texture similar to jook. I think it makes a good fall dish. Hearty in a delicate way.
Strawberries Romanoff (dessert)—goat cheese panna cotta surrounded by sliced strawberries and sabayon. Great flavors and a light dessert. Would have enjoyed it more if I wasn’t so full!
Several of us got fish for entrees. Beware—Alan Wong’s portions are generous and the fillets were easily 12 oz apiece! They have a 5 and 7 course tasting menu while looked delicious and I’m sure if we tried it, we’d have to be carried out in a stretcher!
2nd round: Went back for the Whole Tomato Salad in li hing and ume dressing and opihi shooter. Whole Tomato Salad is more food for a single person than you’d expect by looking at it, but I scarfed the whole thing down and had to restrain myself from licking the dressing off the plate!
Opihi shooter had a surprising chili kick to it, nice, briny and flavorful. Not too much trouble fishing the ume from the bottom this time.
New dishes were the asparagus with pureed asparagus and Chinese pickled mustard greens and ahi sashimi poke stack. Steamed or par-boiled asparagus was neatly crosshatched in 2 layers with 4 spears each topped with a pile of semi-pureed asparagus, pickled mustard greens and deep fried garlic slices, surrounded by hot oil w/ a little bit of soy and more mustard greens. I LOVED this dish, especially how the brininess of the mustard greens and sharpness of the garlic played off the mellowness of the asparagus.
Ahi sashimi stack—a 4” diameter x 3” high circle of ahi, guacamole, deep fried noodles accompanied by wasabi dip and tobiko/cucumber “salsa.” Ahi by itself was very good but when you put it together with the rest of the elements on the place, the whole dish exploded in texture and flavor! Only unfortunate thing was that I was getting very full and could not finish it due to a late lunch. I tried and cried “Uncle” about ½ way through. Was too full for a formal dessert, so they were gracious enough to bring me sliced strawberries in the sabayon from the previous night. Of note, I was a solo diner and they treated me as well as with the party of 6.
Another 2 trip place! Got mini pao dolce and malasadas. Tried the sugar, cinnamon, li hing sugar and guava. Li hing sugar was by and far my fave! Nice kick of salty, tangy and sweet surrounding a freshly made, hot and poufy malasada! Had to eat one malasada the next day b/c was too full to eat it fresh. It kept “ok” overnight but the texture was denser and the sugar turned to a thin syrupy coating from the humidity. Pao dolce was interesting. Nice, soft texture and not as sweet as Hawaiian sweet bread. Made a good substitute for a late-night snack.
Another 2 trip place! Small, easy-to-miss Japanese noodle house but oh so good! Thank you to the ‘hounds who pointed us here! Fresh, housemade soba and I think udon, given the texture. I almost made a 3rd trip here (was the backup if I couldn’t get into Alan Wong’s for the 2nd time) it was sooo good! Had cold soba with hot duck soup w/ green onion. Soba had perfect teeth “pull,” wasn’t brittle or dried out and good flavor on its own. Hot duck soup was clear and flavorful, although a little salty if drunk by itself but was perfect w/ the soba. One of the best surprises was their ahi poke! I’ve been looking for this since having it at Soba-Ya in NYC and getting blank stares at all the sushi and Japanese places I’ve been to since. Lightly marinated in soy sauce and I think sugar and/or rice wine until it is softer and has a light brownish glisten to it. Almost falls apart on your chopsticks and melts in your mouth! Sliced tomato salad was fresh and sprinkled w/ white onion slices, sliced shiso leaf and soy sauce. I like the play between the shiso and tomato and will have to remember it for next summer when tomatoes are in season. Cucumber salad came dressed w/ soy sauce and bonito flakes. Was good, although the dressing was a little generous for my taste.
2nd trip repeated the tomato salad. I resisted getting the poke, although I wish I did. Again, an issue w/ not enough stomach! Had the spicy ahi and avocado salad w/ Korean seaweed. This was tasty, although there was nothing spicy about it unless you put the yellow chili powder or togarishi pepper mix on it. Salad was small diced ahi and avocado in a mayo-based dressing. Wasn’t exactly sure how to eat it w/ the seaweed, so we made little “rolls” of seaweed and salad, which gave a nice mix of crunch to the softer textures. Had the kineko and mountain potato udon (hot) and was immediately transported to heaven by the broth and noodles! I have never had such flavorful broth that was so “transparent” at the same time. Even better was the udon. Instead of the fat, squiggly, densely chewy noodles that I usually see, they were thinner and softer with a gentle “tooth” pull that is softer than pho noodles. Decided to go for dessert and the options were macadamia nut ice cream or warabimochi. This is where I realized that most of the servers have limited English skills b/c they had to get another server who could explain to me what was in the mochi. Due to difficulties w/ explaining what the “dark sauce” was on the picture (“very sweet sauce, Japanese sweet”), he brought out a taste for me to try. I cannot remember the Japanese word for it, but at one of the Japanese eateries at home (Okan), it’s called “black honey.” We immediately ordered it and were very happy again! The most interesting part was the mochi itself. Similar to the udon noodles, the mochi was not the usual dense balls of chewiness but instead a soft, almost gelatinous-like texture that threatened to fall apart on your chopsticks! They were covered in the tan powder that I’ve seen other mochi dusted in (waiter told me the name and I forgot it again) and surrounded by the “black honey.” We repeatedly dipped the mochi in the “honey” for a wonderful mix of soft chewiness and light molasses-like sweetness. It was so good that we ordered another one and promptly scarfed that one down too!
My dining companions were the only haulies there and the rest of the guests were all Japanese tourists. My hunch is that it is not necessarily a “local” place because of the prices ($10-18/bowl) and parking. We parked in the bank’s parking structure on Beachwalk (entrance is before Matsugen) and w/ validation, the fee was only $1. I would have loved to compare it to other “local” places but ran out of time and stomach. However, I would definitely NOT miss this place if you’re into soba and udon and will definitely come again when we’re in town.
Matsumoto’s Shave Ice
I have made it a pilgrimage every time we’re on Oahu to come here and it looks like everyone else has too! Lots of Japanese tourists flocking the store, mixed in with a few locals. Got the small li hing with red bean and ice cream and was extremely happy with it! I LOVED the fact that it wasn’t too sweet or too tart but this nice balance of tanginess that melded nicely with the sweet azuki beans and ice cream. S.O. got the Matsumoto combination of lemon, coconut and pineapple w/ ice cream. It was a little sweeter than mine, but again, not sugary sweet and a good balance of flavors. The ice itself is what makes Matsumoto’s famous—soft and fluffy with none of the iciness or brittleness that can happen sometimes. Also picked up a couple of cute t-shirts while we were there.
Opal Thai lunch truck
Haleiwa, across from McDonald’s
Thanks again to the ‘hounds for this tip! I was afraid we’d be stuck w/ Mickey D’s, Jamieson’s or some sub-par food in North Shore. Opal’s lunch tables were packed with locals and tourists. Had trouble deciding what to get b/c it all looked good. Ended up w/ Drunken Noodles w/ chicken and pad thai w/ tofu and veggies. Drunken Noodles were the best! A generous pile of smoky, garlicky, spicy noodles and veggies straight out of the wok! Couldn’t stop eating it! Pad Thai was good, although in retrospect I think I wanted something either very “clean” (ie: green papaya salad and fresh spring rolls) or garlicky and spicy. It came w/ a generous helping of crushed peanuts on top. Pad Thai was even better with a dousing of dried chili peppers. Unlike Americanized Pad Thai, Opal’s is not overly sweet but has that tangy tamarind flavor mixed with the brininess of nam pla. The owner was very friendly and invited us to call him if we needed more food recommendations.
Of note, Giovanni’s shrimp truck is in the same parking lot. One of our friends said their shrimp scampi is the best!
ABC Store (at Hilton Hawaiian Village)
The ubiquitous ABC Stores are everywhere in Honolulu. I noticed that all the Japanese foods were gone from the shelves every night, indicating that they were fresh on a daily basis. And to my surprise, their musubi are quite tasty and better than the one I got from Shiyokiya. Their musubi became a snack staple. Alternated between the ume and konbu musubi. What set them apart from Shiyokiya’s is the rice. Rice had FLAVOR to it. I could eat the rice by itself all day. Also tried the spicy ahi hand roll once, which was more spice than fish but decent, nevertheless. ABC Store saved me again with a roast beef and Provolone croissant sandwich for the plane trip back home. Mayo and mustard were in packets so the bread would keep.
In Ala Moana Mall
Inside this Japanese department store is a bakery (St. Germain’s) and an upstairs food court. Tried several pastries from St. Germain’s and I’d recommend sticking w/ the Japanese ones. The Japanese rolls filled with sweet azuki beans or white beans were all very good. The bread was soft, gently sweet and the beans were a little sweet but not overly so. Also tried a “cream roll,” which had the same kind of bread from the bean rolls but filled w/ vanilla custard. Also quite good. We tried the almond croissant (ok), flaky biscuit (seemed a little stale), pain du chocolate croissant (stale and chocolate was too sweet).
Tried 2 mochi from the “Mochicream” stand next to St. Germain’s. I was expecting ice cream mochi, so was surprised to get more traditional mochi filled w/ beans. Two things—they give you frozen mochi that is rock-hard if you don’t let it thaw out. The other problem was that the fillings were waaay too sweet for me. I think I’d spend my $$ elsewhere.
Wandered around the upstairs food court. There’s a cafeteria-style section that touted “homemade” cooking and several stations w/ bento boxes, sushi, noodles, cream puffs, etc. I was there close to closing so most of the food was gone. Picked up a box of pickled “stems,” pickled cucumbers, a box of 3 musubi and an apple-filled fish shaped cream puff. The pickles were very good, esp the “stems,” which had a little chili heat. Musubi were very disappointing and ended up not finishing them. The rice lacked any flavor and the salmon one was overly fishy. Cream puff wasn’t very satisfying, probably didn’t help that it had been sitting around for a while. I would go again earlier in the day and try the cafeteria food.
Yummy Korean BBQ
Ala Moana Mall food court
One of my friends recommended another Korean place in the mall, Chodang, but we were on a time schedule. Now I wish we had gone to Chodang. We split kalbi, wakame salad, “spinach” salad, kim chee, cucumber salad and rice. General critcism—the flavors were unbalanced. Kalbi didn’t have enough flavor from the marinade, so what may have been there was overwhelmed by charcoal sear. Kim chee was bland and totally unspicy. Wakame salad was too sweet and not vinegary or savory enough. Cucumber salad was also too sweet and despite a chili redness to them, completely unspicy. “Spinach” salad was actually made from Chinese greens, I think gai choy (the smaller, more tender version of gai lan). Was ok, although the amount of sesame oil was overpowering.
Places we missed: Kua Aina (considered getting a sandwich to-go for the plane back home but was afraid it would be too messy), Poke Stop and Phuket Thai. Thanks to all the ‘hounds for the great tips and locals who put up w/ a geographically-challenged tourist driving in circles!
Mahalo for the comprehensive reports. Some were new to me, but not lost on me.
We are avowed AW fans, and we always appreciate any review of his fare. In all of the years, since he opened, we have only missed him on one trip, and it took major illness to do that. We've done the cab from HNL to King St, when not really on O`ahu, except to connect from inter-island to the mainland. That's how much we love it.