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Some questions for my Oahu trip (a bit long)

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Hi all. I'll be in Oahu for the upcoming holidays. It makes planning a bit difficult because many places close down. I like to mix it up between casual and fancy. I'm from NYC and prefer to eat things that I have trouble finding in my hometown -- so no burgers and Italian on this trip. I'm really psyched to indulge in all of your awesome seafood, though I'm also a big fan of land animals as well. We're going to be based in Waikiki, but will have a car.

It was really difficult to narrow it down, but this is my tentative itinerary:

Breakfasts (trying to keep it light so I have more room in my stomach; I also don't snack so using breakfast is a good way to get my RDA of cocoa puffs)
Leonard's for masaladas
Liliha Bakery for cocoa puffs
Ted's for chocolate coconut cream pie
Fresh tropical fruit
Waiola shave ice (okay, probably more of a snack than breakfast) -- am hoping the texture is like my beloved Hansen's Sno-Blitz in New Orleans

Lunches
one of the shrimp trucks at the North Shore
Fresh Catch
Ono
Sam Choy's (DH is requesting this)
Huli-huli chicken somewhere
Chinatown -- Char Hung Sut; Royal Kitchen
Sunrise (b/c there's no Okinawan in NYC)
Helena's

Dinners
Sushi Sasabune
Side Street Inn
Roy's
Tokkuri-Tei
Mavro
Alan Wong
Papa Ole (b/c it's near PCC)
Hoku (b/c it's one of the very few restaurants that offers a regular a la carte menu on NYE)

Have a few questions (OK, a bit more than a few). But I hope some of you can help me out.

1. Best place for huli huli chicken? I understand that some grocery stores carry it. But I'm looking for the outdoor experience. I see there's one on the North Shore (Ray Kiawe) that seems well reviewed. Is that one superior over the one at Ward's Warehouse?

2. I plan on doing the whole touristy PCC thing. However, I think I want to skip the food part there and find something on my own. Looks like there aren't too many choices in the immediate vicinity (want to get back for the fire show at night). The best thing I've found so far is Papa Ole. Any other recs near PCC?

3. Generally I order a la carte when I go to sushi restaurants in my hometown as I know what I like to eat. It seems that you're strongly urged to order omakase at Sasabune. Do you get off-menu items or better pieces of fish when you do omakase versus ordering a la carte? I've also looked at Mitch's, but I think I would be happier at Sasabune. The fish pieces at Mitch's look way too large for my taste.

4. If you had only one farmer's market to go to, which one would you go to in or near Honolulu?

5. Where is the best place to purchase tropical fruit? Chinatown? Farmer's markets? Supermarket? Am very partial to mangosteens. And I was also wondering whether the white sugarloaf pineapple and mangoes were to be found this time of year.

6. Any other places in Chinatown that carry local-inspired Chinese food?

7. I'm sure debating shrimp trucks is like debating pizza in NYC. Part of me wants to visit Giovanni's because it's the original. But Macky's seems to be getting some good reviews as well. Which one would you go to? And taste will triumph over history for me.

8. Is it worth going to both Ono's and Helena's? Or should I swap one of them out and try Boots and Kimo for their macadamia pancakes?

Thanks so much for reading.

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  1. Miss Needle, you have done quite a bit of good research for your trip. A couple of observations.

    Ono's or Helena's? If this is your first time trying Hawaiian food, one or the other will probably be enough and either place is a good choice with Ono's being closer to Waikiki.

    Tokkuri Tei has its fans but I really think either Imana's Tei or Gaku's would be a better choice for an izakaya experience. Sunrise will be an interesting hole in the wall visit.

    Char Hung Sut has really gone downhill and I wouldn't recommend it, Royal Kitchen is also quite mediocre. If you want to try dim sum, Legend at the Chinese Cultural Plaza would be a good choice. I know you have dim sum in NYC, but Legend is one of the better places in Chinatown and equal or better than most of what you can get back home. The last good dim sum I had in NYC was more than 15 years ago at 20 Mott Street which is no longer in business, I think it's Ping's now.

    Foodland supermarkets sell Ted's pies (or is it Times?). No need to hit the North Shore just for that, unless you happen to be passing by going around the island. Waiola is ok for shave ice, but I prefer Matsumoto's in Haleiwa or the B&S store on School Street more. Have a great visit and good eating.

    1 Reply
    1. re: curiousgeo

      Curiousgeo, I appreciate your insights. Ha ha. Yeah, I've been racking my brain trying to come up with what I feel is a balanced itinerary. The holidays and the hours of some of the places have certainly made it more challenging.

      Yes, it is indeed my first time trying Hawaiian food like lau lau (though I've had than my fair share of plate lunches). Perhaps the second meal would be better spent at Boots and Kimo as I can do a combo plate at Ono to try a bunch of stuff. Difficult to find macadamia pancakes in NYC.

      Can I ask you why you think the other izakayas would be a better choice? I wish I could find menus for these places online, but I cannot. One of the big reasons I chose Tokkuri Tei is that they're actually opened on New Year's Day.

      Oh, that's too bad about Char Hung Sut and Royal. The only reason I wanted to try it is because I can't find things like lau lau pork buns in NYC. I'm not a char siu bao fan, but DH is and I think he would find this stuff interesting. Actually, there's some really good dim sum in NYC now -- not in Manhattan, but in Flushing. It is definitely on par with many places in the Bay area (where I also visit frequently due to having family there). So I feel that I just can't find myself spending a meal on dim sum when I can get that at home (which is one of the reasons why I'm avoiding restaurants like La Mer). Do they have some dim sum with a local twist -- like wok-fried opihi with ginger and scallions or sticky rice with lotus leaf with Spam and kalua pork (I don't know if these things actually exist -- just a fantasy concoction I came up with in my head)?

      The texture of the ice is very important to me, and I've heard that Waiola's has the finest grain. I like my ice more like snow. Are there shave ice places that you know of that are fine-textured?

      Thanks for letting me know about Foodland. I hope they sell slices as I don't think I can get an entire pie. I was just planning on sharing a slice with DH for breakfast.

      Oh, and I don't know if this would make a difference but I will be heading to Oahu after spending a week in Maui. I'll be writing up my Maui post separately as I still need to do more research.

    2. wow you really did your research.

      1. Huli Huli Chicken. Huli Huli is a trade name for a teriayki based barbeque sauce. I don't know of anyplace that has Huli Huli in a fixed location all the time, at least not the "real thing" It is sold for fundraisers, and the only way I know to find it is to look for clouds of smoke billowing up from church and school parking lots. You may be able to find out who is having a fundraiser by calling the fundraising office (808)222-0797.

      2. PCC can be fascinating or touristy. It seems to vary monthly if not daily. You are right, there is very little anywhere near there to eat except McDonalds next door. The Hukilau Cafe (of 50 first dates fame) gets mixed reviews, but it closes around 2pm, so that wouldn't work for you. Laie Chop Suey also gets mixed reviews. And of course Turtle bay is 6 or 7 miles down the road. Papa Ole's is a good choice (have to admit its been a couple of years since i was out there.)

      3. Iv'e not been to sasabune (for shame) but I've never seen anything but great reviews in here and they all say to do the omakase.

      4. If your schedule allows you should do the KCC/Diamond Head farmer's market (saturday morning only.) The others just don't compare. I saw some of the sugarloaf pineapple there two weeks ago. But like farmer's markets anyhwhere, it is hit or miss. There is a LOT of prepared food there, so that can be one breakfast. The kahuku sweet corn is always good, the fried green tomatoes are good too, but the line is insane. As for the other options, the traveling market has really gone downhill, half the stuff is still in the cardboard shipping crates stamped sunkist or chiquita. You won't be finding any mangosteens threre.

      5. The markets in chinatown along king, hotel, and pauahi from smith to river are the best place to find a lot of tropical fruit, but only if it is in season. The other place to try is Don Quijote (yes thats how they spell it) on Kaheka street near Ala Moana Center.

      6. I don't work downtown any more, others can answer this better than I.

      7. Exactly. Giovanni's is still the most popular, but it also depends where you are when hunger strikes... or how much shrimp you want to eat. I've known people to hit two or three of the trucks as they do a circle island trip.

      8. You could start a feud in here with questions like that. This haole boy gonna keep his big mouth shut for once.

      You have a great list... although I'm not sure I'd think of coco puffs for breakfast. Liliha Bakery does make some mean pancakes.... then you could just cart some coco puffs along in the car for a snack on that long ride out to Haleiwa or wherever (buy the frozen ones...hehehe)

      1 Reply
      1. re: KaimukiMan

        adding to my own post based on curiousgeo's comments and your replies.

        Char Hung Sut and Royal Kitchen are not dim sum places, they are Manapua Places (along with Libbey Manapua on Kalihi Street.) Royal Kitchen has the most diverse menu, but their buns are baked, not the more traditional steamed. I think you should make menu suggestions, although Royal Kitchen does have lup chong and kalua pork buns. None of these places have anywhere to sit and eat. Counter service only.

        If you want dim sum, as geo mentioned, then legends, mei sum, and Tai Pan are your best bets. Mei sum used to be a lot cheaper, and "in" chinatown, but their prices have jumped. I haven't been to Tai Pan in a long time. Outside Chinatown Happy Days in Kaimuki, Royal Garden at the Ala Moana Hotel, and Panda restaurant on Keeamoku are all well known for Dim Sum. I think in a fairly recent post geo and I agreed that Mandalay on Alakea is a pass. I recently went to Hee Hing for dim sum and was disappointed there as well.

        I think you better hit Waiola Store AND Matsumoto's and let us know what you think. I'm a Waiola devotee, and i still think the one on Waiola street has a slight edge (over the kapahulu location... but that is only a block from rainbow drive inn.....), but both Waiola's have the same ultra fine ice.

        Foodland and Star Market both carry teds pies, sometimes in slices. The King/Beretania/University Star Market closed recently. They are mostly in the burb's now.

      2. Miss Needle, lots of good insight and information from KaimukiMan.

        Regarding Tokkuri Tei, I just prefer the taste and preparation of Imana's and Gaku, I think they do a much better job, but whether they are open on New Year's Day could be a major factor. If that's the case Tokkuri Tei will be fine.

        If you go to Ono's they make a great lau lau and salt meat watercress. Helena's is famous for their pipikaula short ribs and imu (underground pit) kalua pig as opposed to oven baked with liquid smoke. I forget which day it comes in fresh though.

        Shave ice can be a very personal thing and Waiola does make a super fine grind which is why I prefer Matsumoto's, but I've gone there since I was a small kid, so that may also be why I like it more. Nothing wrong with Waiola, I've eaten shave ice there many times too.

        I agree if you can find dim sum equal to the Bay area in Flushing there's no need to eat it in Hawaii. Any recommendations you might have for a future New York visit would be appreciated. Thanks.

        2 Replies
        1. re: curiousgeo

          There are some great reports people have posted on the Outer Boroughs board about dim sum. But my favorite is Jade Asian in Flushing. Large selection -- both old school and new school (things like shark's fin dim sum). It's a cart restaurant and not order by the piece. My preference are the restaurants where you place the order on a sheet of paper as they're made to order and a lot more fresh. But Jade Asian has such good turnover that I've been pretty happy with everything I've gotten.

          Flushing also has some great regional Chinese cuisines that may be difficult to find elsewhere. One of my favorite things is the gua bao, a Taiwanese "burger" composed of steamed mantou, braised pork belly, pickled mustard greens and sweetened chopped peanuts. My favorite place to have it is Temple Snacks in the Flushing Mall.

          Another great unique (well, at least in NYC) place is Xi'an Famous Foods in Flushing. Here is their website:

          http://www.xianfoods.com/

          1. re: Miss Needle

            Because you plan to get around, and apparently visit Kailua, we think the best malasadas are from Agnes' Portuguese Bakery in Kailua. Different style from Leonards, which are perfectly shaped like a jelley doughnut, while Agnes' are more unevenly shaped and crisper with a more custardly interior.

            Not sure Boots & Kimo's is worth the trek; that macadamia nut sauce is very sugary, but....I'd have breakfast elsewhere and grab coffee from Daily Grinds in Kailua and then some malasadas at Agnes, where the coffee is poor.

            Instead of Giovanni's, which used frozen shrimp, stop at Romy's stand, they actually grow their own shrimp in the acqualculture ponds behind them.

            One other suggestion, if you want local, try Mitch's for sushi. Owned by a seafood wholesaler, the fish is impeccably fresh. You can find your own sushi Nazi in NY.

            And for dim sum, while we've enjoyed Legend multiple times, nothing matches mainland dim sum, at least by San Francisco standards (Yank Sing, Tong Kiang, plus multiple spots in Burlingame/Daly City.)

            Our favorite shave ice is a cart in the big shopping center in Waipahu, near the Sports Authority. And if you're looking for local suhsi-esque, you could do a lot worse than Poke Stop in Waipahu or Mililani Mauka for hamachi sashimi or any of a number of different kinds of poke'...local raw fish tossed with ginger, soy and sesame oil.

        2. Excellent list - I am jealous!
          1. huli huli chicken is tough to find on demand (as Kaimukiman points out). The ward center one is fine. It's generally handed over to you in a bag, and my family always ate at least half a chicken with our fingers out of the bag. Last trip to HI my SO and I did just that in the parking lot. YUM. Could be a snack.
          2. PCC is sort of a deadzone - way out in the middle of nowhere, unfortunately. Maybe pick up a cheap cooler to stow in the trunk and bring a picnic lunch?
          3. Don't know.
          4. KCC or Kailua (it's been a while, though). Kailua has (or at least used to have) two farmer's market - the real one with all the farm stands and one on Thursday night with more interesting prepared food and less produce.
          5. Chinatown is a good place to walk around and find fruit. Good luck with mangosteens - still not very common.
          6. Make sure you try manapua, pork hash (basically pork shumai) and crispy gaugee dipped in chinese hot mustard and soy sauce for the local chinese snack experience.
          7. All the shrimp trucks I've been to have been pretty good if you like shrimp, butter and garlic.
          8. It depends how much you end up liking Hawaiian food. If you don't like it much, I wouldn't expect the second restaurant to change your mind. If you do like it, you might have a good time eating at both and it's one of the things you really will have a hard time finding outside of HI.
          Boots & Kimos is a pretty standard HI breakfast/diner type place, but those pancakes are really tasty. I think they've moved (just down the block) to a bigger place, so that should make it easier to get in.

          A note: shave ice is not supposed to be superfine like those sno cones, so you might be happier if you aren't expecting that consistency. I actually like Island Snow in Kailua the best (with a snow cap). If you happen across something called "guri guri" you might like that.
          If you find yourself in Ala moana, check out upstairs at Shirokiya. They have a ton of pickles, etc. to sample and they rotate the food available up there. Last time I went they had people flown in from Japan making really good takoyaki. YUM.
          On your way out to PCC, check out the Haleiwa Coffee Gallery for a nice cup of coffee. They roast their coffee on site and you can get excellent blends as well as a variety of local beans. My favorite! http://www.roastmaster.com/

          1 Reply
          1. re: akq

            akq makes a good point about shave ice. traditional asian shave ice is more granular than a typical "sno cone." there are a lot of different toppings that are put on it depending on where in asia it comes from. Shave ice in Hawaii is a little different, and there is a lot of discussion about what is and what is not "authentic" shave ice. curiousgeo grew up with the somewhat more granular Matsumoto's, but even this is not as granular as "Japanese" shave ice. Matsumoto's also has a wide variety of tropical flavor syrups, but like most local/Hawaiian shave ice, only azuki beans and ice cream go under the ice, and just syrup and perhaps condensed milk (sno-cap) go over the ice. Waiola and a few other places shave their ice superfine. It was the first shave ice I ever had, and I am still mystified how ice can be shaved to create such a smooth almost creamy consistency.

            I said it tongue in cheek earlier, but I really do think both types are worth trying, and along with akq, a lot of people on the windward side swear by Island Snow. So many choices.

          2. Thanks to all for responding! Yeah, the KCC one was the one I was originally looking at. And the places to get my fruit are very helpful. Drat! Mangosteens aren't as popular as finding bananas in a supermarket? I love that fruit. Luckily, in the last couple of years, NYC has been getting some mangosteens -- most are previously frozen (gross, makes it bitter), but there will be a few bags of fresh ones here and there (costing a small fortune). But it's not the same as trying one grown from the region.

            Ooh! I didn't realize that Ono's versus Helena's could start a war? Helena's makes their kalua pork in an imu? Then I'm assuming that Ono bakes it in the oven with liquid smoke. Oh no! This will certainly make my decision more difficult. Perhaps I should try one place. If I love it, then I'll try the other one. The difficulty is deciding which one. Though that would mean my pancake lunch would have to be sacrificed. Decisions! Decisions!

            My preference is indeed for the finer grind in shave ice. There are some Korean and Chinese places in NYC that do their take on it. If room in my stomach allows, I'll sample several and compare.

            And thanks for the tip on the Coffee Gallery. DH is indeed a huge coffee fan and will definitely be interested in trying some local ones. And looking at the menu at Alan Wong, it seems they even have a coffee bar! How fascinating!

            Yeah, I think I've got a couple of weeks of some good eating ahead for me soon. I'll be sure to report back.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Miss Needle

              Unlike most popular thought there are seasons here in terms of both weather/climate and
              crops. Mangosteen is not a winter crop, they were very delicious last year in the summer.
              If you can find the bananas with the sticker 'Candy Apple" you will not be disappointed. I get them at the Safeway and they have spoiled me for all other bananas, they come from the
              Big Island. Sure we have other apple bananas but these rule.

              The coffee at Alan Wong's is impressive in that the menu presents the different farms with description of their growing region, soil, roast type etc. They bring it in a French Press and the price is completely worth it. Their tea selection is equally treated the Jasmine Pearls
              is the most beautifully presented and scented in the French Press as well.

              If you pass through Kailua (seems everyone has to) a good place for coffee is Morning Brew, much of their coffee is locally roasted by Koko Crater roasters. They serve breakfast, lunch, pupus and have entertainment in the evenings during the weekends.
              It is a local favorite and has a great atmosphere.

              In Kaneohe on Alaloa St. behind Windward Mall every Saturday there is "Huli Huli" chicken for sale, don't know how much or the hours but it's always there. Foodland
              sells this type of chicken everyday and it is packaged like a Costco rotisserie chicken
              in a sturdy plastic container I have bought it several times and it is very good and
              completely cooked - sometimes that is not always the case and not a good thing if
              you just plan to eat it right away say at a picnic on the beach.

              Oh, mangoes are like the mangosteens not in season. We've gotten good pineapple year round and grill it weekly. Oh, Costco also sell's Ted's as does Long's (at least the one near my house does.)
              Have a great trip. Bring a sweater! It's chilly now especially in the morning and night!

            2. Agh!!!! Due to miscommunication between DH and me, didn't realize that I'll be in Oahu one less day than I had originally thought. So I've got to say bye-bye to two meals. Decided to drop Boots & Kimo and Hoku. Was a painful decision, but what can you do?

              I actually have looked into Romy's. I thought the fact that they grew their own shrimp was pretty cool. It will be difficult to decide which shrimp truck. I may do a tasting of two different trucks. But I can also be lazy and just not feel like waiting in line more than once.

              And I did realize they were seasons and I thought I read somewhere that mangos aren't really a winter thing. Thanks for confirming that and thanks for all the fruit tips. I'll still probably try one if I come across it anyway and see. And I will totally be jumping on mangosteens if I come across them as they are my absolute favorite fruit in the world.

              12 Replies
              1. re: Miss Needle

                I made the trek out from Honolulu to Boots & Kimo with high hopes, and wasn't terribly impressed, so I think you're right to drop it for this trip.

                To help maximize your time, Sunrise is around the corner from Waiola, and Leonard's is an easy walk up from Ono.

                1. re: Debbie M

                  Thanks for the tips. I plan on mapping all of these on google maps to help me figure out the best course of action.

                  Question for all of you who live in Oahu: How safe is it to walk from Waikiki to certain restaurants like Alan Wong's, Sushi Sasabune, Side Street Inn, Chef Mavro at night? I'm used to walking long distances, and hope that this will help defray some calories I'll be eating on this trip.

                  1. re: Miss Needle

                    I wouldn't do it. Waikiki itself is generally fine, but the areas around it get a bit deserted at night and could be a bit sketchy. Alan Wongs and Chef Mavro (about a block from one another) are in a not so well-lit area that doesn't get a ton of pedestrians at night. Side Street Inn is on the far side of Ala Moana shopping mall tucked away into a really sketchy industrial/mixed use area. If you are going while the mall is still open, no problem - just walk close to/through the mall. I wouldn't want to walk *back* to Waikiki from either of these places at 10pm or later, though. Probably nothing would happen in either place, but I've gotten sketched out in both areas at night (and I grew up on Oahu). You'll be identifiable as tourists (if for no other reason than that most locals wouldn't be walking there) so more at risk for a mugging/hassle.

                    1. re: Miss Needle

                      Oh Miss Needle-Take it from a fellow New Yorker-SAFE SAFE SAFE!!!!!!! you will be fine!!!! I will be there same time as you and will probably cross paths!

                      1. re: Miss Needle

                        Hopefully this won't start an Ono/Helena or a shrimp truck war. I walk in areas of NYC where some people may think I'm crazy for doing it. But I know the streets and know where I'm going, which is not the case in Honolulu.

                        And I probably will pass for a local in terms of looks (frequently NYers will ask if I'm Hawaiian -- probably because I'm on the dark side for a Korean-American). But if locals aren't walking around the area, I certainly don't want to attract attention to myself and label myself as a tourist.

                        Guess I'll take a wait and see approach on this. Thanks for your opinions.

                        1. re: Miss Needle

                          I am a total wimp, so just because I wouldn't do it, doesn't mean anything will happen to you. I will say, though, that in the last 10 years or so the meth problem in HI has really changed the atmosphere in some places.

                          Maybe walk to the restos (earlier in the evening) and then play it by ear - if it looks sketchy at night, call a cab to get back home.

                          1. re: Miss Needle

                            For the most part these areas are safe to walk in the early evening, but as akq points out, there is a meth problem (ongoing since the 1990's) and a growing homeless population. Better to be safe than sorry while on vacation and when in doubt just call a taxi.

                            1. re: curiousgeo

                              Completely concur with the last two posts and I'd be afraid of falling into a hole or something similar the roads there are not very well paved and the poor lighting would encourage some unfortunate stumbling. I'm waiting for the Chowhound team to stop this line of subject already! I'm sure you'll enjoy your meals at wherever it is you want to walk to but maybe a cab back would be in your best interest. Living here I know I sure wouldn't want to be walking around there late.

                            2. re: Miss Needle

                              Ok. Sounds like driving might be a good plan. I remember once walking alone on Skid Row in LA by accident in broad daylight (I thought I was in Japantown!) and wishing that I could disappear. Don't want to relive that again.

                              1. re: Miss Needle

                                you would probably be fine. but getting in any kind of trouble on vacation is a whole lot more of a hassle than at home. As someone above mentioned I would be more worried about tripping on a rock or pothole than getting mugged. Lots of mainland people seem to think Alan Wongs and Chef Mavro are in a "sketchy" area. I admit, its not rodeo drive, but King Street is hardly the like finding yourself on Skid Row. Side Street Inn is two blocks from some of the newest and most expensive condominiums in Honolulu. People walk in that area all the time, and you are likely to have just as far to find parking as you would if you were walking from ala moana center.

                                1. re: KaimukiMan

                                  I know that even as a frequent visitor I don't have as complete an appreciation of the area as a resident, but I would basically agree with KaimukiMan's assessment. When I visit, I get around Honolulu/Oahu exclusively by bus/walking, and I frequent that area all the time. I take the bus to Alan Wong's (about a 3-block walk from the bus stop at Kalakaua/S. King), and afterwards, I walk down Kalakaua to Don Quijote (open 24 hrs!) just to poke around there, because it's fun (Miss Needle -- this is an excellent place for reasonably-priced gifts of the macadamia variety). I'm also constantly walking through that area between Ala Moana and Kapiolani where Side Street Inn is located. (And, coincidentally, my cousin lives at Manoa Pacific Towers, which I assume are the condos you're talking about.) If you're staying in Waikiki, I don't think I'd have any problem walking back down Ala Moana Blvd. from the shopping center. The only reason I don't is because the hotel I stay at is all the way down by the zoo.

                                  I think that, just as anywhere, if you're aware of your surroundings and use good judgment, you'll be okay. And walking really is an excellent way to get to truly get to know the city. Not to menton that some of the "sketchy," i.e. older areas of Honolulu are my favorite.

                                  1. re: Debbie M

                                    Thanks for the tip about Don Quijote. I believe Kaimuki Man also recommended the place for fruit. Will make a stop. The state of fruit that I like to eat in NYC is so dismal at this time of the year. Not an apple/pear type of person. But I love tropical fruit.

                                    It is kind of difficult to ascertain how "sketchy" a place is if I haven't been there. And people have all different ideas of what sketchy is. My tolerance is high. I'm OK if there are a lot of people around (unless it's 100% homeless like in Skid Row). Hopefully my NYC paranoia will help me avoid trouble.

                      2. If you feel like it, e-mail me (look at my chow.com home page for my e-mail address) and I'll give you a listing of the places we really like in Oahu... we've been quite a few times and, since we're here with you in NYC, we can help you compare them to places here (style and price). You have to go to Chinatown there... it's different from Flushing, Manhattan or Bklyn. There are a couple of great dim sum places that are very different in what they offer. The place we loved so much we hit it twice was Tai Pan (100 N.Beretania), inside the office building/shop complex.... seriously fresh and good.

                        Here's a link to my last trip summary (May '09) http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/622037

                        I'd highly recommend Helena's for lunch. Order everything... it's cheap and very good. Hard to find in their new-ish location. The Community College Saturday market is the place to go. And there was a foodie tour that was well worth the $$$... an entire day driving around in their van for 12, eating hole in the wall foods and going thru Chinatown. And go to Alan Wongs... sit at the counter... it's like Hearth, only better. Have a great time.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Steve R

                          Thanks Steve. Will do.

                          1. re: Steve R

                            Note that you liked Fumi's -- we always stop there because it's the only place that sells live shrimp and prawns from their acquaculture ponds. Fumi's and Romy's are the only shrimp spots that actually grow their own (the rest use frozen for the most part.)

                            Add Poke Stop to your shopping list (the one in Mililani Mauka is right off H2 the route to/from the North Shore, in a small strip mall behind the Chevron and McDonald's). Better than Tomashiro's, which is a great place to visit anyway.

                            Ditto on Helena's. Will try Tai Pan and compare with Legend, our usual favorite.

                            1. re: MRMoggie

                              I also highly recommend Fumi's. If you like really spicy garlic shrimp, this may be the only stand that makes it in this particular style, a combination of sriracha sauce and hot pepper flakes, with tons of garlic and butter. Others correct me if I'm mistaken. Nevertheless, I dream about Fumi's shrimp here on the mainland and long to go back and partake again. The shrimp were indeed very fresh from their own farm, as MRMoggie points out.

                              1. re: chazuke

                                If I have the patience, I'll try to do a shrimp plate at a frozen shrimp place like Giovanni's or Macky's and do one at a fresh one at Fumi's or Romy's and compare.

                          2. Having read through your Qs and the first 27 replies, here are a few disorganized thoughts:
                            1. Yes, apple bananas are a must. Also local avocados. They are better here than any others I've ever had.
                            2. Try spam musubi. There is a thread on the best Oahu musubi, but the Delux at Tanioka's in Waipahu is quite good (lots of sesame seeds).
                            3. Do you have access to filipino food? Not Haute Cuisine, but can be hearty and good. Thelma's and Auntie's Kitchen stand in the Waipahu Marketplace in Waipahu and Gloria's in Wahiawa are good.
                            4. My wife and I have walked from Waikiki to Alan Wong's and back at night without worrying about our safety.
                            5. Eat poke at one of the Poke Stops or ?, but at PS - at least the one in Waipahu - the eggplant fries are a MUST. They should be made fresh for you.
                            6. If driving up the east side, get free samples of mac nuts (many flavors) and coffee. Then buy some at one of the several Don Quijote's, which also have lots of bags of local snacks.
                            7. The Sansei on Maui was terrific several years ago, but if you don't go there, the Sansei in the Waikiki Marriot has a good deal: Holiday Omakase Menu for two; 5 courses, $38pp. A worthwhile addition is the sake pairings, $15pp. Sake diversity is fascinating.
                            8. Though you probably have better in NYC, Opal's truck in Haliewa (in the gulch across from McD's has good Thai, and the guy is really sweet.
                            9. If you ever see ripe Hawaiian Pink Snakefruit, buy and try.
                            10. Last, Sasabune is EXPENSIVE. You have been warned.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: Joebob

                              Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Can't picture myself munching into an avocado for breakfast, but I will be in Maui one day where I'll be cooking my own dinner. I'll sure remember to pick up an avocado.

                              I'll definitely be having spam musubi. Actually, I grew up with the stuff so it will bring back memories.

                              There actually is a pretty decent Filipino community in Queens (borough in NYC). I have to admit that Filipino food isn't too high on my list (I think it's because I find a lot of the stuff greasy, salty and not enough veggies) but always love a good pancit or lumpia or leche flan. I know that Honolulu's Chinatown is supposed to house some Filipino restaurants. So if there's something that I can easily take out, I will try to fit that in.

                              Turns out that Cafe Ole is going to be closed the day I plan to be there and I can't really shift things around (the holidays hours of some places makes it kind of tough). So I've decided to try the poke @ Kahuku Superette the day I'm at PCC, which means I will probably be eliminating my Fresh Catch lunch (and, in turn, dining at BOTH Helena's and Ono). I wish I could try 10 poke places on this trip, but don't think I can fit it all in.

                              Oooh! Snakefruit. Never heard of it, but googled it. It looks very interesting! Will be on the lookout.

                              How expensive is Sasabune? I did reserve seats at the sushi counter and have no choice but to do omakase if I'm sitting there. Does one set a price limit there? Or does the chef just give you food until you say stop? NYC has some expensive sushi restaurants, and we generally end up spending at least $100 per person. So I'm kind of used to the sticker shock of sushi. But if we're talking $200/person, that's a different story.

                              1. re: Miss Needle

                                Sasabune is approx $100- pp without drinks.

                                1. re: russkar

                                  Thanks. Sounds reasonable if quality is superb.

                                  1. re: Miss Needle

                                    Where in Waikiki will you be staying?

                                    1. re: UES Mayor

                                      We'll be staying a couple of days at the Sheraton and then five days at Outrigger. Originally, I wanted to stay at the North Shore for a couple of days but didn't work out because it turns out that there was a three-night minimum at all of the places I was looking at. I ran into that problem in Maui as well.

                            2. Hi, we will be visiting Oahu next week, and have similar questions as Miss Needle. I have already booked dinners at Roy's Hawaii Kai, Alan Wong's, and Ola's at Turtle Bay (where we will be staying). We are planning to go to the shrimp trucks, Matsumoto shave ice, Leonard's, and Liliha as well.

                              Thanks in advance!

                              We want to eat the best grilled butterfish - where to go?
                              And for lunch - is Zippy's or L&L worth a visit for plate lunch?
                              Best sushi at a price point far less than Sasabune?
                              Best poke?

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: donutfaceny

                                Roy's grilled misoyaki butterfish hands down is my favorite. It's a classic of his repetoire
                                and you can get it in appetizer size or entree size. Yum Yum!

                                1. re: donutfaceny

                                  Ill answer on the plate lunch issue. Personally I am not a fan of L&L. The mac salad is so loaded with mayonnaise I don't know why they even bother to put macaroni in it. All their barbecue items taste of msg and too much salt, and their serving sizes are less generous than zippy's. Zippy's is OK if that's all that is around, but you are really better off going to someplace like Rainbow Drive-In (kapahulu), Byron's (airport area) Grace's (kaimuki or makiki/king st), Tsukenjo's (kakaako), alicia's (kalihi kai), or Bob's Barbecue (kalihi). I feel like I've left out someplace important, but I'm sure someone will think of it.

                                  1. re: donutfaceny

                                    Based on your screen name, I'm not sure if you're based in NYC. But if you are, there's an L&L on Fulton Street in lower Manhattan. And it's pretty mediocre. There used to be one in Midtown as well but it closed a few years ago.

                                  2. DH has informed me that he would like to visit a tiki bar. Quality of food and drinks aren't as important as how kitschy and cheezy it is. Any recs? The only one I could come up with in my hasty search is La Mariana.

                                    18 Replies
                                    1. re: Miss Needle

                                      There is one out by the Hon. airport. It was on Bourdain's "No Reservations" show. Here's the quote:

                                      "La Mariana Sailing Club. Lloyd Kandell, tiki expert and member of the Hawaii musical group Don Tiki, takes Tony back in time to the only remaining tiki bar in Hawaii -- La Mariana Sailing Club. Here they sample exotic drinks including the zombie and the scorpion. Address: 50 Sand Island Road, Honolulu, HI"
                                      ( http://www.travelchannel.com/TV_Shows... )

                                      1. re: Steve R

                                        LaMariana is the place. Not easy to find. Go down Sand Island Access Road and just before the curve you pass the Auiki /Pohounui intersection. Go through the curve and look for the painted sign for La Mariana on the right, but you have to be looking for it - Red Letters, white background. Make the right hand turn at the intersection - the street has no name. After a couple dozen yards, the road veers to the right, and La Mariana is on the left. You have to park outside. The neighborhood is NOT as bad as it looks. You will wonder if you can possibly be in the right place. But once you are there you will spend the next hour expecting Thurston and Lovey Howell to stroll through the door for cocktails. It is truly Tiki.

                                        The food isn't bad, I wouldn't put it on the top ten list, but it's not on the "last place on earth" list either. The drinks are good, and the atmosphere can't be matched.

                                        1. re: KaimukiMan

                                          Amen. La Marianna is it, perhaps the last remaining real Tiki Bar on the islands, maybe all of Hawaii. It has a history, it's wonderfully a tad worn around the edges, but it's what you want.

                                          Go for the drinks and order a couple of appetizers and enjoy the faded surroundings. Not sure how long it will be around since the owner is aged and no one wants to take it over, other than to have the location for something else. (Advertiser or Star-Bulletin had a feature a few years ago...)

                                          1. re: MRMoggie

                                            The lovely owner died and they have extended the lease so for now they
                                            stay there/in business which is great. It is an most interesting place to go and in my opinion helps fill the void of the old Edgewater Hotel bar which all the regulars from there went on to La Mariana for the piano bar sing alongs.

                                            1. re: manomin

                                              yes, it was a sad thing having her pass. she always made the rounds talked to each table and made sure everyone was happy with their meal and having a good time, and somehow managed to do it without intruding on your meal.

                                              1. re: manomin

                                                Thanks. It's been a couple of years since we've been to La Marianna, will have to make it more of a priority while it's still there. Somehow guests want to go to Waikiki, despite the miserable traffic.

                                                1. re: MRMoggie

                                                  I actually left my house and went to Waikiki after the KCC market and had lunch at the bar @ Roy's traffic was no problem whatsoever! Lovely afternoon and great food!

                                        2. re: Miss Needle

                                          Thanks everybody! Luckily, we have a GPS. So hopefully it will make finding it a bit easier.

                                          1. re: Miss Needle

                                            Hope you post your experiences - we'll be there in May and it would be great to hear back from you...

                                            1. re: RWCFoodie

                                              Will do. Still in Oahu but I'll post when I return home.

                                              1. re: Miss Needle

                                                We recently returned from a week in Oahu. Some observations:

                                                1. Shrimp trucks - Giovanni was much more flavorful and enjoyable than Romy's or Fumi's. The garlic and other flavors are much more fully absorbed into the shrimp; I felt Romy's equivalent dish was relatively flavorless once peeled. Definitely go for the scampi, skip the lemon butter (boring).

                                                2. Ola's at Turtle Bay is superb. Their misoyaki butterfish was top notch, and the tuna was very good (great okinawan potato side with it).

                                                3. Went to both Roy's Hawaii Kai and Waikiki. Both were great, Hawaii Kai's big open kitchen was nice touch.

                                                4. Liliha Bakery Coco Puffs were ridiculously good, if a tad over-indulgent. What's on top, a condensed milk concoction?

                                                5. Ted's Bakery was a frequent stop for breakfast and the Chocolate Coconut Pie. Excellent - coconut flavor was well balanced and not overwhelming. Also enjoyed their take on doughnuts - glazers.

                                                6. Matsumoto shave ice was a nice treat - the condensed milk sno cone is a must have, the plain version was not quite as exciting.

                                                1. re: donutfaceny

                                                  4. yes, it is a condensed milk concoction referred to locally as chantilly, check the following link:

                                                  http://alohaworld.com/ono/viewrecipe....

                                                  or this one

                                                  http://allrecipes.com/recipe/chantill...

                                                  1. re: donutfaceny

                                                    I ended up going to Macky's and Romy's and ordered garlic butter shrimp at both places. I will have to agree with you about Romy's. I ordered the shrimp as they had no prawns available.There was a slight difference in the texture of the shrimp between Romy's and the previously frozen ones at Macky's. But it wasn't significant like ordering live shrimp (that is cooked once it reaches your table) at a good sushi restaurant. Romy's was slightly firmer in texture over Macky's. But I found Macky's to be more flavorful because they had butterflied the shrimp, allowing the flavors to penetrate. I'm assuming that Giovanni's did something similar. I'm somebody who eats shrimp shells. So I probably got more flavor than you did when eating at Romy's. DH is like you -- doesn't eat shrimp shells and found it kind of flavorless. But we both found that the garlic butter flavor did not really penetrate into the meat. I think if Romy's had butterflied their shrimp, the flavors would have been able to penetrate better leading to a better experience. I was also not crazy about Romy's system of cooking. Macky's basically cooks and plates your shrimp to order. Romy's cooks in batches. So if you're unlucky (like we were), we waited a long time for the people ahead of us to get their food. Then we placed our order (first in our batch) and had to watch a ton of people behind us to place their orders. Then Romy's proceeded to cook in bulk and plate the entire batch, allowing the shrimp to sit around while they plated at least 12 plates. So instead of receiving freshly cooked shrimp, I ended up eating shrimp that was sitting around for a while. It was lukewarm, not hot. Big no-no in my book. The thing that I really liked about Romy's, though, was that they left the heads on. There's so much flavor in the heads, and they tinted the garlic butter to a delicious reddish hue.

                                                    If I had to do it over and could only pick one place, I would go for Macky's. Wish I had been able to try Giovanni's.

                                                    ETA: Looking at a pic of the shrimp at Fumi's, that may have been a good choice as well as it looks like they also butterfly their shrimps.

                                                    1. re: Miss Needle

                                                      Giovanni's doesn't butterfly, but I've never found lack of flavor a problem (I also eat the shells). Do the other trucks put butter and garlic on the rice? I like that almost as much as the shrimp!

                                                       
                                                      1. re: Debbie M

                                                        From what I've heard, it does seem that most people feel that Giovanni's has the best sauce. The garlic butter mixture on the rice is the best part! Yes, they do put it on the rice -- well, maybe not right on top of the rice but on the shrimp which went on the rice. They were pretty generous with it so that the garlic butter would seep into the rice. I was hoping they would give spoons as it's a bit difficult to eat buttery rice with a fork as the grains would slip between the tines. Can't speak for Macky's, but at Romy's they precooked all of the shrimp and plated them. Then they made the different sauces (I think most people got butter garlic) and added the sauces to the shrimp and rice at the end. I'm thinking that the shrimp would have been more flavorful if they cooked the shrimp in the sauce. I'm going to have to soon tackle my own "granola" take on it at home.

                                                      2. re: Miss Needle

                                                        No, Fumi's does not butterfly. I suppose whether it's better to butterfly or leave the shells on boils down to preference. Butterflying would seem to be very labor intensive since the shrimp would have to be peeled, possibly deveined, then split, so it seems surprising to me that Mackey's would bother. This method also runs the risk of making the shrimp more rubbery when cooked. There is no doubt, however, that more flavor penetration of the sauce is possible. The shrimp at Romy's and Fumi's are sourced from their own farms, and cooking them in their shells would seem to be the only way to guarantee their succulence. For those who eat shells and all, the lack of sauce penetration into the shrimp is not an issue. For peelers, like myself, sucking off all the sauce beforehand is one way not to waste any of that precious liquid. And, yes, the extra sauce on the rice is pure heaven. Is it possible to request more sauce at any of these places?

                                                        1. re: chazuke

                                                          I felt the Giovanni superiority vs. Romy was driven by the fact that the shrimps are sauteed from the beginning in the intense garlic butter sauce. Giovanni does not butter-fly, it is shell-on as well; the falvor just penetrated far more deeply. I used the suck off sauce from shell, then peel and eat method at both places.

                                                          Since coming back to NY, I did try to replicate the recipe at home (there's a helpful youtube demo that someone attempted) and got pretty good results.

                                                          1. re: chazuke

                                                            Sorry. Perhaps butterfly was not quite the right word. The shrimp was split but the shells still remained. So if you're not a shell lover, it was very easy to peel it off -- much easier than at a place like Romy's where they cooked the shrimp shell and all. If you like to eat shells, you can still eat them and get the extra bit of flavor. And the shrimp wasn't rubbery -- perhaps it was because they served it as soon as they cooked it and didn't leave it sitting around like they did at Romy's.

                                                            Yes, cooking in the sauce would seem key to having them be flavorful. The sauce was just added at the end to Romy's shrimp -- probably because of their method of assembly line cooking.

                                              2. Did you end up eating at both Ono and Helena's? I've eaten at Ono and thoroughly enjoyed it, and everybody and their brother raves about it being the best place to eat local Hawaiian food so I am curious to see how Helena's compares.

                                                Did you also decide whether you were gonna eat manapua or dim sum, and find yourself some huli huli chicken? I am prolly going out in May, and want to try "new things" that I didn't get to in my previous trips.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: catzuella

                                                  I ate at Ono but wasn't able to try Helena's because they were closed for the entire time I was there! I ran into this issue with other places as well. Traveling during holiday times can be frustrating. Hopefully you won't face these issues in May.

                                                  I ate both manapua and dim sum and did find some huli huli chicken. I'll be writing up those reports soon but will do it in installments. It will definitely be up soon.

                                                2. Huge thanks to all of you guys for helping me on my Oahu trip. When I usually go away on vacation, I do end up missing NYC by the end (even though I'm having an awesome time). This was actually the first time in my life where I did not miss my hometown in the very least. I'm thinking the cold brutal NYC weather probably had something to do with it. But I can definitely picture myself living in Oahu at some point -- it has the cosmopolitan city that I love. But half an hour away, there's beautiful nature. Folks are really chill and food is wonderful. It does help that I love Asian food -- and that you guys have fresh mangosteens!

                                                  I've decided to break this report up into sections based on genre.

                                                  BAKED GOODS

                                                  LEONARD'S

                                                  Well, it seems that Leonard's is the benchmark for malasadas in Oahu. Note we did not do all this on one trip. We ordered the plain, chocolate, custard, macadamia (flavor of the month) and a small cream puff topped with chantilly. Wonderful! The malasadas were all warm. As unsexy as it sounds, my favorite was the plain. The plain made you appreciate the beautiful rich eggy dough a lot more. The custard was also delicious as well. I found the macadamia a bit too sweet for my taste. And there wasn't enough milk in the chocolate for my taste. It tasted like a mixture of a dark chocolate bar and water. DH is a fan of hot chocolate made with water -- so he liked it. There was also way too much chocolate filling compared to dough. The cream puff (filled with custard) was good, but my preference was for the cocoa puff at Liliha Bakery. Would definitely put Leonard's as a must-do for tourists.

                                                  CHAMPION BAKERY

                                                  We had to do a comparison. So we also made it out to Champion for malasadas. We ordered the plain, custard and chocolate. The texture of dough is very different from Leonard's. It's a lot lighter and fluffier -- almost kind of like you're biting into a fluffy pillow. Good, but my preference is for Leonard's as I find it richer. I did enjoy the chocolate filling a lot more at Champion, but they didn't put enough chocolate filling in it. I'm thinking it was an anomaly as there was a good ratio of filling to dough in the custard.

                                                  We tried to go to Agnes Portugese Bake Shop twice. But it was closed each time. Ah, it wasn't in the cards for this trip. Too bad. I would have been interested in trying it as the pictures I've seen looked very interesting. It looked more rustic than the malasadas at Leonard's and Champion's.

                                                  PAALAA KAI BAKERY

                                                  This bakery is on the North Shore. A bit difficult to find but it was worth it. We got a puffy which is a rectangular shaped puff pastry filled with custard topped with chocolate icing and powdered sugar. Delicious! Much tastier than a napoleon. I really dug this one a lot. We also got a black and white donut. It was just a plain donut where half of it was topped with chocolate icing and the other half topped with vanilla icing. OK. It was no puffy, but was all right if you're into that type of stuff. I am not. Donut was unremarkable.

                                                  HONOLULU COOKIE COMPANY

                                                  It's hard not to run into a Honolulu Cookie Company. Seems that they are everywhere. It wasn't our intention to get them but they had samples available. I dragged DH to the sample section (I'm a sucker for samples). Next thing I knew he was getting a box of them. We got an assortment. My favorite was the espresso chocolate ones.

                                                  LILIHA BAKERY

                                                  Holy crap! I got there on New Year's Eve and that place was packed! There was a wait for parking. However, the workers were really orderly and the customers weren't pushy. So the wait wasn't too bad. We ended up getting a couple of cocoa puffs which are small cream puffs filled with chocolate cream and topped with chantilly. Never had anything like this before and thought they were quite delicious. I would have preferred it if they filled the cream puff to order as I like the crispness of the choux pastry, but it was still good. The chantilly is quite addictive. Wish I tried a chantilly filled cake. Oh well, next time.

                                                  TED'S CHOCOLATE HAUPIA PIE

                                                  I had a bit of trouble finding a slice of this pie. I went to countless supermarkets and could never find a slice. And I realized that most markets were not carrying the chocolate haupia one. Perhaps they had run out. I went to Don Quijote in Kailua and found an entire pie. This was towards the end of our trip. Afraid that I wouldn't run into it again, I purchased it. It was well balanced and good. I'm not the largest haupia fan and think I probably would have preferred the chocolate macadamia pie. Because it isn't too sweet, it is easy to eat too much of it.

                                                  http://www.flickr.com/photos/46599399...

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: Miss Needle

                                                    GREAT reports are your rule Miss N., not exceptions. Perhaps the closed places will give you an excuse to return?

                                                    1. re: Joebob

                                                      I wish Hawaii wasn't so far away. Otherwise I'd be there all the time to get my malasada fix! : )

                                                  2. MARKETS

                                                    KAHUKU MARKET
                                                    I was up in Laie and needed to find dinner. Wasn't sure if Giovanni's shrimp truck would still be open, but DH vetoed my suggestion. I think two shrimp trucks was all he could handle in a day. We originally headed to Foodtown to pick up some casual eats. Got some chips. The poke was all prepackaged (no fresh deli counter) so we headed to Kahuku Superette (which, btw, was the only place I encountered where they sold Ted's pies by the slice -- but no haupia chocolate flavor). There was a little section in the back with some poke. Not the largest selection. We got limu poke with rice and some lomi salmon. Limu poke was good. Destination worthy? No. But it looked better than the prepackaged ones at the Laie Foodtown. I don't think lomi salmon was my thing. Not terrible, but a bit on the bland side for my taste. Perhaps if I had some more strongly flavored foods would I find the lomi salmon to be a nice counterpoint.

                                                    TAMASHIRO MARKET
                                                    This was toward the end of our trip and I still hadn't encountered opihi (even in Chinatown). Really determined to try it, I decided to check out Tamashiro Market in Honolulu. Really cool market with an excellent selection of seafood. It was interesting to see all the different grades of ahi they had for sale. But I was more psyched to see that they carried opihi. Purchased a couple and ate it in the car. It kind of tasted like how I thought it was taste -- similar to clams but chewier and a stronger finish. Interesting appearance. When you flip the sucker over, it looks a bit like -- er -- a part of the female anatomy.

                                                    http://www.flickr.com/photos/46915313...

                                                    1. JAPANESE

                                                      We went to Tokkuri Tei on New Year's Day for dinner. I know that curiousgeo stated he preferred a couple of other izakayas. I did look into them but they were closed. So Tokkuri Tei it was. When we were seated, there were a few boiled peanuts on the table. A lot of people I know seem to go ga ga over boiled peanuts. Never did a thing for me. Give me some roasted peanuts anytime. Menu was humongous. This started to get me a bit worried. In my experience, the best restaurants tend to be places that specialize in a few things as opposed to trying to be the jack of all trades.

                                                      We started off with some steamed monkfish liver. It was pretty good, and I haven't met an ankimo that I didn't like. Then we got some skewers -- chicken hearts, chicken gizzards, kurobota sausage and shishito peppers. The chicken hearts were really not my thing (and I love chicken hearts). I didn't try the gizzards as I'm not a fan of them. DH said they weren't that great. He was also disappointed in the shishito peppers (he usually loves the stuff). I didn't know exactly what kurobota sausage would be -- thought it would something like a chorizo or a fresh sausage. I was a bit disappointed when I saw what looked like vienna sausages coming towards me. OK, I ordered wrong. I actually really dislike hot dogs so it was no surprise when I didn't enjoy my dish. I really don't think yakitori is Tokkuri Tei's strong suit.

                                                      We placed an order of miso butterfish. Imagine my surprise when a sushi roll topped with tempura flakes came out. OK, thought that I misinterpreted the menu. When I looked at the menu later on, I realized that I didn't misinterpret it. They brought out the wrong dish. Oh well. Ate it. Was all right, but not really my thing. The roll started to really fill us up.

                                                      Also placed an order for the salmon skin salad with soft tofu. Warning -- it's a pretty large portion. I think it works best if you're in a group of at least 4 people. It was an interesting juxtaposition of textures and flavors. Not a bad dish. Probably my second favorite dish of the evening.

                                                      We ended our meal with some stir-fried noodles. I forgot what the dish was called. But on the menu it said that the chef really likes to prepare this dish. So I thought this would have been a good bet. When the dish came out I realized why the chef likes to cook it. This looked like a noodle dish full of whatever leftover scraps the chef had lying around in the kitchen. Really paltry portion for $12 as it was a small amount of noodles and scraps of veggies and a couple of small shrimp and a couple of strips of pork. Not good. It's probably their highest profit item on the menu. No wonder the menu talked it up.

                                                      Overall, I was disappointed with this meal. I think their menu was way too large where they're not able to focus their efforts on doing something really well. Nothing was terrible, but nothing was very good (except maybe for the ankimo).

                                                      SUSHI SASABUNE

                                                      We reserved seats at the counter and did the omakase. When I called to make reservations, the reservationist warned me that there were no spider rolls and California rolls. That's fine by me -- though I do like spider rolls. California rolls? Not really unless they're made with real crab. I know some people are really upset by Sasabune's so-called "nazi" policies where they tell you how to eat the food. I didn't really have a problem with it -- in fact, it seems like common sense not to add soy sauce when your fish already has sauce on it.

                                                      We started off with bluefin and albacore tuna sashimi in a soy-based sauce. Very fresh and delicious. I generally don't order bluefin tuna in NYC because it is an endangered species (though I will admit to ordering a piece of toro now and then). But as this was omakase, I didn't really want to offend anybody and just ate it. Yeah yeah. Blame it on the omakase. It was pretty good. Wish it wasn't an endangered species because I would eat more of it.

                                                      Then a piece of raw squid stuffed with mayo crab (real crab, no fake stuff) studded with sesame seeds in a soy-based sauce arrived. I've never had anything like it! I enjoyed it a lot. This was followed by two pieces of toro sushi. The chef told me no sinews. Good! Many places I know cut it so that there are sinews because you waste less of the toro. But there is a huge difference between eating toro with sinews and eating it without. Very buttery and succulent.

                                                      Then a bit of a surprise came. After all the rich items followed a very light course of two pieces of sushi -- one red snapper and one (fluke)? It was a little odd because I thought chefs generally like to start light and end richer. Perhaps it was meant to function more of a palate cleanser. I think I would have preferred to start off with the lighter fish.

                                                      Following the light fish were two pieces of sushi -- one raw scallop and one salmon. Scallop was sweet and succulent in my mouth. Salmon was really tasty as well (it's generally my favorite fish to order in a sushi restaurant). Then we received a couple of pieces of yellowtail sushi. So far so good.

                                                      Next item was a cooked dish -- one broiled oyster topped with a creamy cheesy sauce. It was not really one of my favorites as I'm not a fan of cooked oysters (unless they're fried in lard at Cassamento's in New Orleans). We then received a raw shrimp sushi and mackerel sushi. I really like raw shrimp, but DH isn't a fan. And the piece of mackerel was the best piece of mackerel I've ever had. Rich and delicious and not at all fishy. They cured it really well.

                                                      Then was the signature chopped toro sushi. Wow! This literally melted in your mouth. If you wanted to, you could probably drink this sushi. This must have been really labor intensive as the chopping had to have been done by hand. A broiled lobster tail then appeared. There was some sort of miso-based sauce (I think) on it. It was good and cooked perfectly. I do have to admit that I'm partial to Maine lobsters. So while good, it was not totally up my alley.

                                                      Then we got a piece of tamago topped with grilled unagi. I haven't had that combo before, but it really rocked. Both were covered with kabayaki sauce. Our last item was a crab handroll. The crab was the same crab mixture from the squid course. Delicious. The chef then asked us if we wanted more. Both of us were pretty full but I was kind of hoping for some uni. The chef recommended uni and salmon caviar sushi. We both ordered it. The uni was sweet and briny and not at all tasting like dirty underwear (which can sometimes happen if you order uni at a cheaper sushi place). And the salmon caviar was the best I've ever had! Most places I find are too heavily salted. This was just right. I couldn't eat any more, but DH wanted a couple of more pieces of toro which he ate happily. We ended the evening sharing a green tea custard. It was OK -- green tea desserts aren't really my thing.

                                                      I have to say that this was the best sushi meal I've had in my life, definitely beating out a lot of great sushi restaurants in NYC. Quality was superb. The chefs had a nice touch with the sauces. Considering the quality, I think the price is more than reasonable. I believe our check (two omakase dinners + extra courses, one dessert and about three drinks) came to around $240. Definitely worth it IMO.

                                                      http://www.flickr.com/photos/46915313...

                                                      5 Replies
                                                      1. re: Miss Needle

                                                        I'm so glad you liked Sasabune. I was afraid I was overselling it. Now you have someplace to come back to beside Leonard's!

                                                        1. re: Joebob

                                                          I've been to a few of the better Japanese restaurants in NYC and thought that Sasabune was much better, especially for the price. It was really awesome. However, I haven't been to Masa in NYC -- nor do I think I'll probably go in the near future as dinners start at $450/person.

                                                          Oh, there are so many places I want to go back to. And there are so many places that I haven't tried yet! This is when I wish Star Trek's beaming technology was available.

                                                          1. re: Miss Needle

                                                            Beaming tech. or not, come back soon! Hawaii needs the tourist dollars. And Chowhound needs your valuable reports.

                                                            1. re: Joebob

                                                              Yes, it is indeed sad. Hawaii's tourism has suffered a great deal. I was actually surprised how relatively inexpensive Waikiki hotels were during the holidays. Car rentals, however, were a totally different story.

                                                        2. re: Miss Needle

                                                          HAWAIIAN FUSION/PACIFIC RIM -- LOWER END

                                                          SAM CHOY'S BREAKFAST, LUNCH AND CRAB

                                                          We ended up going to Sam Choy's Breakast, Lunch and Crab because that was one of DH's requests. I wasn't super enthusiastic about it in the beginning, mainly because I've thumbed through one of his cookbooks and didn't find the recipes to be too interesting just on sight. Boy, I'm glad that I was wrong because I really had a nice lunch there.

                                                          It's located in a very industrial area in a very industrial looking space. I was curious to see the enormous crab tank they were talking about. I don't know if they have removed it because I've seen larger tanks and more crabs in Chinatown. We ordered Sam's Bowl of Shellfish (appetizer) which consisted of steamed clams, shrimps, mussels, scallops and Alaskan king crab in a garlic white wine and ginger broth. It was delicious! It was simple and a lot healthier than what we've been eating during the past week and a half. We also got the signature ahi salad which had flash-fried pieces of ahi over greens and noodles served with a slightly spicy, tangy sesame dressing. I ordered the ahi salad because I wanted something that wasn't too heavy. I'm not really into creamy salad dressings but this one was addictive! I couldn't stop eating it. And I'm not a salad type of person but I could definitely see myself eating this more often. It's definitely a substantial dish and will fill up most people. But the raw veggies kept it lighter. Of course we couldn't just have two lighter courses. I ordered a side of chili garlic tater tots. I would pass on those. They weren't fried correctly and soggy and greasy. And they were doused with some chili oil sauce made out of sambal oelek and hot oil which made it even greasier.

                                                          SIDE STREET INN

                                                          Side Street Inn doesn't accept reservations for a party of two. We got there around 7:00P so we were expecting to wait. Wow! Huge line! The hostess (whom I had to find in the restaurant) asked me for my name and # in party. She told me it was going to be 40 minutes. After I gave her the info, I noticed that she didn't write anything down and wandered off somewhere. Ok. Didn't know if it would be too NY of me to follow her and ask her if she would remember us. I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and just waited outside with everybody else. After half an hour I decided to check up on the status of our table. She looked at me and said, "I don't know who you are. Never saw you before." And then instead of trying to rectify the situation, she ended up walking away! I don't know who hired that girl, but she needs to learn some serious lessons in customer service. She seemed really spacey the entire night as she kept wandering around the restaurant. Personally I think she was on something. I found a couple of seats at the bar and decided to sit there as I was not in the mood to deal with the incompetent hostess anymore.

                                                          We knew going in that the portion sizes were going to be large. But we underestimated how large they were going to be. They said they didn't do any half sizes. We ordered fried pork chops, kimchi fried rice, fried chicken gizzard and kalua pork sliders served with BBQ sauce. Holy crap! If I knew the portions would be that large, I would have just ordered a lot less food.

                                                          They must have been slammed because we waited an awfully long time for our food to arrive. Thank goodness the bartender was a sweetheart. Food slowly started to arrive. The fried pork chops were well-fried and tasty. Nothing groundbreaking but good. The kimchi fried rice was probably my favorite -- tastier than the one I had at The Gazebo in Maui. I wasn't a huge fan of the fried chicken gizzard and neither was DH (he's the gizzard fan). You couldn't even taste the gizzard because there was way too much breading. The bartender made a mistake with the kalua pork sliders and brought out the pork belly sliders with mustard sauce. When we told him there was a mistake, he apologized and the kalua pork sliders were sent to us later. The kalua pork sliders were OK, but not my thing as there was a bit too much BBQ sauce on for my taste. We had tons of leftovers, half of which we ended up giving away. We took the other half back to our hotel.

                                                          The two girls sitting next to us were sharing a salad, one order of pork chops and one order of fried rice. They told me that they do this about once a month, order the same things, and stay until they finish every single thing on their plates! Wow! I was truly amazed! We were both stuffed beyond belief after dinner but our plates looked like we didn't make a dent. I think Side Street Inn is best for larger groups as you can share different dishes. Is it a must-do for tourists? IMHO, probably not unless you're a Bourdain fan and have to eat everywhere he's been to. I can see myself getting into this place more if I was a local as the food was generally well-prepared and inexpensive. But I think with a tourist's limited time, the meal could be spent better somewhere else.

                                                          http://www.flickr.com/photos/46915313...

                                                        3. TRADITIONAL HAWAIIAN FOOD

                                                          ONO

                                                          I have to admit I first heard about Ono through Bourdain's No Reservations. Never having authentic Hawaiian food before, I was quite anxious to try it. We ended up ordering some tripe stew, pork lau lau, salt meat watercress and an order of fresh poi. The tripe stew was just OK -- and I really like tripe. I think I just have had other preparations of tripe that I preferred. DH liked it more than I did. The pork lau lau was awesome! It's really a simple dish with not too many ingredients. It was hearty and tasty. While I loved it, I don't see newbies to Hawaiian food taking to this dish like they would take to something like kalua pork. I can see some people thinking it was too fatty or too simple. But I think one should definitely an attempt to at least try the lau lau. But my absolute favorite dish of the meal was the salt watercress. It was like a soup with some salted meat topped off with watercress. A very hearty comforting dish. Add some kochugaru (Korean red hot pepper) and tons of minced garlic, I can see a lot of Koreans digging it. The poi? I wish I liked it but I didn't. I knew to get the fresh one because I probably wouldn't have been able to handle the day-old. I don't think it tastes like wallpaper paste (not that I've actually tried wallpaper paste). But I still didn't find it pleasing. And I love taro. I tried to eat it with some pieces of laulau. It was more palatable that way, but I still didn't enjoy it. I gave up after a few spoons. I felt bad, especially knowing that a lot of tourists make fun of it. But there was no way I was going to force something down that I didn't like. Oh well, I at least gave it the old college try.

                                                          The day I tried to go to Helena's, I was really disappointed to see a sign saying they were closed. I think they closed down for about three weeks. Oh, that was a shame! So we decided to head out to Kaka'ako Kitchen at Ward Center. We placed an order for one fish plate lunch. The cashier took some time to doublecheck that they had the fish in stock. The kitchen said yes, so we placed our order and waited outside. While we were waiting, I remembered we had a ton of Side Street Inn leftovers. Oh, what a shame that we already placed our order. After about 15 minutes, a guy comes out and tells us that there's no more fish. Ok. Not exactly sure why they first told us they had it in stock and now they said they didn't (we were wondering if a regular came in requesting the dish and our fish was given to him). But at least this gave us an excuse to eat our leftovers. So we just got our money back and went back to our hotel. This will give you an idea of how large Side Street Inn portions are -- we ate till we were in a food coma on the night of the dinner; gave half of our leftovers away and still couldn't finish the remainder of our leftovers for lunch!

                                                          We also had plans to go to Sunrise. I called them a couple of weeks ago to confirm they were going to be open for lunch on that particular date. They said yes. So imagine my surprise when I found it closed! This was on our last day and our flight home was going to leave in a few hours. We couldn't really drive around looking for something. We needed something quick and in the area. So we went to Ono again. This time, we ordered a much smaller meal -- one beef stew and an order of pipikaula ribs. The beef stew was OK, but that was about it. I found it to be really bland. Bland is good when it comes to things like congee or broth, but not when it comes to beef stew The pepper water condiment definitely helped to perk it up, but I would definitely not order this one again. The ribs were good -- kind of salty and chewy. I wish I was able to try Helena's version. Overall, I did enjoy my first meal at Ono a lot more than this one.

                                                          http://www.flickr.com/photos/46915313...

                                                          12 Replies
                                                          1. re: Miss Needle

                                                            We have lived here only 2 1/2 years and we have tries to like Hawaiian food, but it just hasn't worked out. As you say, too bland/blah. Even the "barbecued" dishes are nowhere as good as we enjoyed in Texas. With all the good ethnic food we can get here, why eat Hawaiian?

                                                            1. re: Joebob

                                                              I really did enjoy my salt meat watercress and lau lau the most. But I don't think those dishes are for everyone. I can see why some people wouldn't be huge fans of Hawaiian food. While I love strongly flavored foods, I do enjoy "bland" food in certain dishes such as Korean sul long tang (beef bone soup). But I have definitely heard sul long tang being compared to dirty dishwater more than once.

                                                              1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                I definitely enjoy Cantonese cuisine as well as Sichuan. Perhaps one person's bland is another's subtle. One of the best Chinese dishes I've ever had was a "bland" fish soup served in South SF (Foster City), CA.

                                                                1. re: Joebob

                                                                  Me too. Love Cantonese food. Love Sichuan.

                                                                  I'm wondering if expectations and previous experiences have anything to do with it? For example, I've had much strongly flavored beef stew and tripe preps (my favorite being stewed with garlic, onions, pancetta and topped with poached eggs) before. So I was kind of disappointed eating Ono's beef stew and tripe -- though I've had mild versions of tripe in the form of Cantonese dim sum. And we have both had Texas BBQ. I also preferred Texas style BBQ to the pipikaula ribs. Perhaps if we haven't had these previous experiences we would perceive Hawaiian food differently.

                                                                  I can definitely see some folks not getting into the salt meat watercress and lau lau. But I really enjoyed it. Maybe I liked the salt meat watercress because it reminded me of some Korean soups I've had before. Maybe I liked the lau lau because I dig eating boiled meat. If my soup experiences revolved around eating really processed canned soups, I may think the salt meat watercress was too bland.

                                                                  1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                    I am really surprised at your take on the lau lau - I always thought that lau lau and kalua pig were the most accessible Hawaiian foods. Lau lau always seemed like a really easy sell to someone who likes meat and dark greens (if the person doesn't like dark greens like collards, etc. then I can see why they wouldn't like lau lau).

                                                                    Too bad about the poi, but it seems to take a few tries (took my SO about 6 tries before he said he enjoyed, rather than tolerated, it). Conventional wisdom says to start with fresh poi, but day old (or three day old!) will have more "texture" and taste, the lack of which are usually newbies' chief complaints. Ideally, one could order both fresh and day old to try side by side. Also, the thickness can be modified with the addition of more water -poi's consistency is often referred to as "one finger," "two finger," or "three finger" (thicker the poi, the fewer fingers needed to eat it). When I mix my poi at home I tend to make it less thick for my SO.

                                                                    It's best to try mixing the poi with some of the more flavorful and salty foods like kalua pig. My favorite is kalua pig and cabbage, rice and poi all mixed on the spoon. YUM.

                                                                    1. re: akq

                                                                      A lot of people I know don't like their meat boiled or steamed -- they prefer meat that has been roasted, grilled or stir-fried. I've heard enough people comparing something to boiled chicken when disparaging a dish. Personally, I think boiled chicken is great. That's why I think that lau lau may not be so popular with some.

                                                                      The poi did taste better when I was eating it with the lau lau. But I realized that I preferred eating the lau lau solo because the poi muted the flavors. I had no complaints about the poi's texture and taste. Even though I had ordered fresh poi, there was a bit of a funky undertone to it. Maybe they brought out the day-old to me by accident.

                                                                      1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                        Interesting. I guess I never thought that people wouldn't like steamed or boiled meats since they are both so common. I'll have to think about that a bit.

                                                                        1. re: akq

                                                                          Just a quick thank you, Miss Needle, for both your questions and the answers that resulted, your report, and your photographs.

                                                                          I will be on Oahu for the first time next month and definitely plan to try Leonard's malasadas, the ones at Agnes' Portuguese bake shop (I had Portuguese custard tarts for the first time this year and must admit I became an instant fan so I'll do a comparison since the ones I ate came from New Jersey), and now thanks to your report I'm also going to have to try the cocoa puffs. I made a reservation for Alan Wong's and will sample several shrimp trucks and let you know what I think. I'd also like to try Sam's Kitchen.

                                                                          After reading your description, I think we'll skip Ono's and maybe Side Street Inn, too. I'll report back after our trip. We're going on to Maui for a much longer visit so I'll report on our eating adventures there, too.

                                                                          Thanks again!
                                                                          Linda

                                                                          1. re: wiselindag

                                                                            Thanks for the detailed trip report...we're fans of Agnes', think it's the best malasada in the islands, so hope you come back and perhaps recreate our "Malasada Day" tasting tour starting with Leonard's, then Champion, ending with Agnes'

                                                                            We like poi as a counterpoint to something salty, like pipikaula ribs at Helena's or strong, such as dried salted aku and green onions, which locals like served with plenty of cold beer.

                                                                            1. re: MRMoggie

                                                                              It would have to be a year from now, during next year's Punahou carnival. Can you believe it didn't rain either night this year.

                                                                              1. re: MRMoggie

                                                                                Yes, I could see the poi going a lot better with something like the pipikaula ribs. I did find the ribs pretty salty. The flavors of the lau lau and salt meat watercress weren't assertive enough to stand up to the poi IMHO.

                                                                              2. re: wiselindag

                                                                                I really hope you have a great time. Yes, I love those pasteis de nata. Did you have them in Newark, NJ? That's the most recent place I've had them. You can also find them in some Chinese bakeries as well. I wish I made it to Agnes. Looking forward to reading your report!

                                                              2. HAWAIIAN FUSION/PACIFIC RIM -- HIGHER END

                                                                ROY'S IN HAWAII KAI
                                                                Even though Roy's in Waikiki was just a two minute walk from where we were staying, I was intent on trying the original, especially as I've heard not-so-good things about some of the US outposts. This was the first meal we had in Oahu (having just spent a week in Maui). So my first impressions were how inexpensive everything was! Wow! Only $32 for an entree! Yeah, Maui can totally distort one's sense of money.

                                                                It was a boisterous dining room with a view of the open kitchen. Everybody working there was really friendly and service was very good. We started off with some complimentary edamame pods dressed a soy/sesame oil based sauce. This was excellent -- so much better than the edamame pods sprinkled with sea salt! It was pretty addictive, but we were trying to save room for dinner. We started off with the Roy's Dim Sum Canoe for two because I love to try more variety. It was a tasting of five appetizers -- crab cakes, tempura spicy ahi maki, mongolian pork ribs, chicken spring rolls, and chilled shrimp. It was also served with a small side of tempered kimchi. Everything was fresh and well prepared. I'd be hard pressed to name a favorite. But I really recommend people ordering this as it gives you an opportunity to try a ton of different items.

                                                                For our mains, we got the Roy's classic macadamia nut mahimahi. Holy crap! This really was excellent, and I can understand why it's considered a classic. We also got the garlic brushed rib eye with herbed potato salad, grilled veggies and a leek horseradish sauce. They achieved a nice crust to the meat. Humongous portion! If you're a tourist and staying in a place without a fridge, I'd recommend sharing this entree or ordering something else. It was delicious but portion size was bordering on Flintstone-like.

                                                                For dessert we ended up ordering the chocolate lava cake that I've heard so much about. I've been eating these cakes for a long time since Jean-Georges Vongerichten made it popular. So after many chocolate lava cakes, I was starting to get a bit tired of them. But as I've heard nothing but raves, I had to order it to see what the fuss was about. I'm sure glad I did because this was the best one I've ever tasted! This cake was so well-balanced and possessed the perfect amount of ooze. Sorry, Jean-Georges, I know you made it popular, but Roy's was tastier. I did find a recipe online and will try to make it soon. Hopefully it will turn out as delicious as the one I've had. I even purchased the Guittard chocolate.

                                                                CHEF MAVRO
                                                                I can see why a lot of people would want to celebrate romantic occasions at Chef Mavro. The room was much quieter than at Roy's and Alan Wong's. It is probably the most "plush" out of the three and the service was the most formal. Personally, I thought the decor was outdated and reminded me a bit of the 80s and preferred the more contemporary vibe of Roy's and Alan Wong. But I guess everybody has his or her own taste.

                                                                We started off with an amuse-bouche of chilled almond soup. Not bad, but the soup was on the gritty side. I don't know if this was just a holiday thing, but we only had a couple of tasting menus to choose from -- one four-course and one six-course. We both got the six-course menu but did a couple of swap outs with the four-course to have more variety. These are the items we tried:

                                                                Foie gras torchon with marcona almonds, granny smith tomato marmalade with caramelized fig vinegar -- Well executed; I've never had a granny smith tomato, but I thought this was extremely tasty. I'm definitely going to be on the lookout for granny smith tomatoes at the farmers markets in NYC this summer. It was served with portuguese sweet bread, which I have to say, was indistinguishable from brioche.

                                                                Day boat catch provencale -- The fish was crusted with black olives, cured lemon, tomato, capers, herbs and served with braised fennel and lemon thyme emulsion. It was my favorite fish course out of the two. This one was actually a sub out from the four-course menu.

                                                                Tamarind roasted sablefish -- This was served with celery, cucumber and radish marinated in yogurt and olive oil with puree of garlic with esplette pepper. The tamarind must have been very subtle because I didn't really taste the tartness.

                                                                Keahole lobster "paella" served with roasted red bell pepper, green olives, fried cilantro, chorizo, saffron -- I put "paella" in quotes because it was a deconstructed one (Ron from Top Chef should have done something like this for Season 6). Instead of rice was rice crispies. It was definitely interesting dish. Lobster was cooked to perfection.

                                                                Strip loin and burgundy braised short ribs -- This was wagyu beef, served with a chickpea cake, cream of swiss chard and parsnip puree. It was mighty tasty. Definitely more sensible portions, I can see some large eaters being disappointed with the size. Personally, I thought this was better because one isn't in a food coma after eating this. I especially enjoyed the panisse.

                                                                Palate cleanser of canteloupe in champagne jelly -- It was a beautiful to look at. I'm not really a canteloupe fan so I won't say any more. If you like canteloupe, you'll probably like this.

                                                                Goat cheese quenelle with verbena-watermelon rind chutney and poppyseed biscuit -- In lieu of the cheese course, we were served this very light and fluffy goat cheese mousse. I liked this one a lot. And as I'm a huge fan of verbena, this was definitely up my alley.

                                                                Chocolate and pumpkin dessert -- a flourless chocolate cake served side by side with a pumpkin cake served with chocolate sauce, pumpkin ice cream and a pumpkin seed crisp. I didn't really enjoy this dessert very much. I do like chocolate and I do like pumpkin -- just don't like them together.

                                                                Lillikoi malasada with guava coulis and pineapple coconut ice cream -- This was a swap-out from the four-course menu. Fabulous! The malasadas were hot and light, and the passionfruit was delicious. I wish I saw more lillikoi malasadas in establishments like Leonard's and Champion.

                                                                Overall, the meal was very good. I've seen this restaurant labeled as Hawaiian Regional. I would probably say this is more of a Provencial French/Mediterranean restaurant using a few Hawaiian ingredients. Probably the most "Hawaiian" dish was the malasadas. While the preparation of the foods was excellent, this type of food is something that I can find easily in my hometown. So my opinion is that if you're from an area where contemporary French cuisine is common, you may want to dine elsewhere -- unless you just want to dine at Chef Mavro.

                                                                ALAN WONG
                                                                We made reservations at the chef counter. If there's just one or two people, I would highly recommend it as it's really fascinating to watch the chefs in action. If you are a larger party, I think it would probably be better to sit at a table as conversation can be difficult with a larger group of people -- unless all of you are big-time food nerds (and I'm not using "nerd" in a pejorative way) who would rather watch the kitchen than converse with one another.

                                                                Our waiter started off really strong. He had me cracking up as he reminded me of a nicer version of Stephen Aspirinio on Top Chef -- some BSing, but incredibly knowledgeable. He was quite verbose, and that may have led to some service issues we faced at a later point. Things were going well until the main courses. I think the waiter was overwhelmed with a large party. He probably would have been a lot quicker if he didn't give monologues. We ended up waiting for quite a long time for our food to arrive. At least we were sitting at the chef's counter with a lot of interesting things to look at. Overall, we thought the people who worked there were so nice and amiable.

                                                                We started off with the opihi shooter. It was quite delicious. As it's really small and won't fill you up, I'd recommend ordering it, especially if you never tried opihi. It was definitely tastier than the soy sauce one I had at the seafood market.

                                                                We then had a tasting of the soup and sandwich and poke tempura. The soup and sandwich consisted of a delicious tomato soup with a grilled mozzarella, foie gras and kalua pig sandwich. I could definitely eat a much larger portion of this one. The poke was wrapped up in a gyoza wrapper and fried. It was quite a labor intensive dish to make. Poke was well seasoned and the gyoza was well-fried as it wasn't greasy at all.

                                                                As DH loves seared foie gras, he got the seared Hudson Valley foie gras with pineapple. It was good. I don't think he's had a foie gras dish that he didn't like. When he first moved to Manhattan he purchased an entire lobe of foie gras, just seasoned with salt and pepper and ate it in two days! This one had a lot more finesse.

                                                                This was followed with a butter poached lobster over goat cheese(?) ravioli. The lobster was perfectly cooked, being ever so rare in the middle. I don't remember too much about the ravioli except that the pasta was tender. This is where my memory lapses start coming in as I probably waited a bit too long to start writing up my reports. I don't take any notes while eating so there may be some gaps in the report. Sorry.

                                                                After this was the ginger crusted onaga with miso sesame vinaigrette served with mushrooms and corn. Fish was very moist and the dish was visually stunning.

                                                                We then had a twice cooked short rib, soy braised and grilled "kalbi" style topped with shrimp and gochujang sauce. Basically it was like a really delectable kalbi jim. Meat was super tender and the grilling gave it some char. The gochujang sauce wasn't too strong on the gochujang and enhanced the meat. Accompanying this dish was a delectable creamy corn pudding topped with toasted fregola(?). Oh, this one was so good. I was a bit dismayed when my spoon reached the end of the pudding.

                                                                For dessert, they presented us with a duo of tuile filled with sorbet and tropical fruit paired with a flourless chocolate cake. The tuile was quite delicate and buttery. Normally I wouldn't order something like this off the menu, but was glad they gave it to us as it was quite good. The flourless chocolate cake was great too. Then as it was our anniversary, they presented us with an extra dessert of strawberries and vanilla ice cream topped with a thin almond cookie round. I know it sounds pedestrian, but it really wasn't. This was my favorite dessert of the evening.

                                                                We ended the evening off with some coffee. Our waiter was also a coffee sommelier. He knew all the ins and outs of the different coffees offered. We told him what our preferences were and he selected the coffees to suit our tastes. Perfect match.

                                                                We really enjoyed Alan Wong's in spite of the service lag because the food was outstanding. If you only can do one higher-end dinner in Oahu, I think this should be the one.

                                                                Roy's
                                                                http://www.flickr.com/photos/46915313...

                                                                Chef Mavro
                                                                http://www.flickr.com/photos/46915313...

                                                                Alan Wong's
                                                                http://www.flickr.com/photos/46915313...

                                                                1. DIM SUM

                                                                  ISLAND MANAPUA FACTORY IN MANOA

                                                                  It really wasn't our intent on going there. I was looking for Soy to the World for some freshly made soy milk (which I unfortunately found out is closed) when I stumbled onto this place. Even though I was full, I decided to try a couple of things. I justified it because I was going hiking at Manoa Falls.

                                                                  Tried the steamed pizza manapua. It was stone cold. While I'm OK with eating cold baked manapua, I think the steamed ones would probably taste best served hot. I also had the kalua pork manapua. It was OK -- not really my thing. DH, who is a huge fan of roast pork buns, wasn't too crazy about them either. I also got a pork hash. But DH dropped it on the floor before I got to take a bite!

                                                                  AIEA MANAPUA AND SNACKS

                                                                  If you're going to go to the Aloha Swap Meet, Aiea Manapua and Snacks is pretty close to the stadium. The food at the swap meet didn't seem so hot so I'm glad that we came here for breakfast before the shopping (which, btw, wasn't my kind of thing. If you love cheap souvenirs, this is the place to go -- you'll save a lot of money).

                                                                  I ordered the baked soy sauce chicken manapua. Not bad -- I preferred it to the cold steamed pizza one from Island Manapua Factory. I also tried the pork hash and made sure DH didn't drop it this time. It looks like a shu mai and kind of tastes like a shu mai. But the flavors didn't seem as delicate. My preference is for the Cantonese shu mai one gets at dim sum parlors. Got the crispy gau gee which is kind of like a huge fried dumpling. They didn't give us mustard sauce which was OK since I'm not too crazy about it. It was all right, but not quite my thing. I also tried the half moon which is a wheat starch based dumpling filled with various things -- the most notable thing I detected was minced water chestnuts. It was kind of sweet, and, again, not really my cup of tea. Unfortunately, I don't think the Hawaiian version of dim sum really does it for me.

                                                                  TAI PAN DIM SUM

                                                                  Because of an enthusiastic recommendation from Steve R, we went to Tai Pan Dim Sum. We were there on a Sunday and it was pretty crowded (though not nearly as crazy as Legend where the line extended for quite a while). We hadn't eaten lunch, but this was towards the end of our trip where eating started to get pretty painful for us. Must eat -- but it hurts so much. We were so full that we weren't able to sit down and have a full meal of dim sum items. So we got a couple of things to go. We got steamed scallop dumplings and seafood shumai. Both were quite delicious. Too bad we were so full we couldn't really order more. I would have loved to try more items from there.

                                                                  http://www.flickr.com/photos/46915313...

                                                                  1. COCKTAILS

                                                                    HOUSE WITHOUT A KEY

                                                                    If you're there to see the sunset, I would get there at least 1/2 an hour before. We had to wait for a while to be seated. Nice atmosphere. Music and performance was terrific. We were entertained my the very lovely ex-Miss Universe Brooke Lee (who, btw, bears the eeriest resemblance to one of my cousins) while we munched on the complimentary freshly-made potato chips and cocktails. We also ordered some poke sliders which were pretty good. Not cheap, but the experience was great. The only thing that ruined it were all the tourists who blocked my view when they all got up simultaneously to take pics of the sunset.

                                                                    LA MARIANA
                                                                    Oh man, we spent so much time finding this place. Kaimuki Man, I know you said it was difficult to find. I thought it wasn't going to be too bad because we had GPS. But the GPS led us to nothing. Couldn't get this thread to open up on DH's Blackberry to read Kaimuki Man's directions. Because it was the weekend, nobody was around the area. I went into a small deli to ask for directions. The man working there was too engrossed eating his ramen and watching his Korean drama to give me the time of day. Without looking up from his TV set, he just made a circle with his hands. Great. We ended up calling the place and still had some issues finding it. Hint for those going there -- write down KM's directions. When we finally arrived (about half an hour later), we still had plenty of seats to choose from because it was still on the early side. I have to say that the place never really got crowded. Hope it stays in business. The waitress was very sweet. We ordered a couple of drinks and a pupu of shrimp spring rolls. The spring rolls were surprisingly good. Everything was extremely well priced. I believe the cocktails were about six or seven dollars a piece (though I just had ginger ale). We had quite an enjoyable time (after getting frustrated driving on the same street for who knows how many times).

                                                                    http://www.flickr.com/photos/47613691...

                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                      Miss Needle,

                                                                      1) Glad you enjoyed so much. I trust you gave your scale to the salvation army or goodwill before you left home.

                                                                      2) Glad you didn't give up on LaMariana, it really is a throwback. I have to make a point of going again soon.

                                                                      3) Thanks for the great reporting. Is 5:30 and you made me hungry, good thing it's still shrove tuesday and I don't have to behave myself while eating pancakes at church tonight.

                                                                      Aloha, come back soon.

                                                                      1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                                        Lol. I have no idea where my scale is. : )

                                                                        Aloha. I hope to be back at some point. Wish Hawaii was closer.

                                                                    2. Miscellaneous/Other

                                                                      This will be my last installment. Many thanks to all for your input. I loved Hawaii and will most definitely be back in the future. I hope it is sooner rather than later.

                                                                      SHRIMP TRUCKS

                                                                      I've already covered this one in another post.

                                                                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6713...

                                                                      One thing I will say is that the GPS presets can be wrong. I was looking for Giovanni's. The preset led me to drive an awfully long time on some steep precarious roads to a private house on top of a mountain. Don't rely on the presets!

                                                                      ALOHA STADIUM SWAP MEET

                                                                      The food selections looked very disappointing. I don't trust a shave ice stand who names it "Shaved Ice." At Lin's Market, DH picked up some crispy spicy crabs and some sour gummy candy. I found a very small package of li hing mui. I've seen it all over the island. It looked like something I've had in the past but I wasn't 100% sure. As I saw a $1 mini package, I decided to try it. Yes, I've indeed had it at those Chinese snack shops like Aji Ichiban. Not quite my thing. I'm not a huge Asian snack fan so Lin's Market didn't really appeal to me. But if you're into these things, Lin's Market has the largest selection. There's also another location at Ala Moana Center.

                                                                      HULI HULI CHICKEN @ WARD'S LOT

                                                                      From reading the net, I thought the chicken would have tasted a lot more complex with soy, pineapple, ginger, etc. But all I tasted was soy and char. It was on the salty side for my taste. Perhaps I got a bad batch, but I'm not in a huge hurry to try it again. It is extremely inexpensive so it wouldn't hurt to try it. We ate it on the curb of the parking lot -- a really messy experience. Helps to have lots of napkins.

                                                                      WAILOA SHAVE ICE

                                                                      We never got to try Matsumoto's due to logistical issues. But we did make it to Wailoa. Ice was quite fluffy and very tasty. We got the small which I think was a mistake. It was served to us in a small dixie cup which made it very difficult to distribute all of the ingredients properly. If you are going to order it, I would opt for a larger size.

                                                                      COFFEE
                                                                      We weren't able to get to Coffee Gallery. We did hit Morning Brew in Kailua. I don't think this was exactly what we were looking for in terms of coffee. But I really liked the environment -- a tad crunchy granola. I could picture myself hanging around the shop for a few hours if I lived near there. And it was definitely an improvement over Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf (which I found way too acidic for my taste). I was looking for something like the coffee selection at Alan Wong's but with a more casual atmosphere. Maybe Coffee Gallery would have been more of what I was looking for.

                                                                      KCC FARMER'S MARKET

                                                                      It was a bit difficult to find parking as we didn't get there super early. But we finally found a spot. We started off with some roasted kahuku corn with garlic herb butter. It was very good. I know there's tons of pizza in NYC, but the pesto pizza looked so good. This is actually my favorite grilled cheese sandwich so I was happy to see it in pizza form. On the crust was a pesto base topped with fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil. I think this was my favorite item from all that I've tried. We washed our food down with Pacifickool Island ginger ale. I wanted to try the basil but DH wanted the plain. The ginger ale was his favorite thing here. We ended our breakfast with grilled Kona abalone. I don't think there are too many places where you can find abalone at a farmer's market. We must have arrived on the late side as there were hardly any vendors that were selling fruits and veggies. I think arriving early is probably your best bet.

                                                                      FRUIT

                                                                      We picked up different fruit in Chinatown -- sour sop (never had it before), papaya, mango, something that looked like kiwi fruit but was kind of orangish-brown inside, and tangerines. I don't know if the sour sop was ripe or not because it was pretty hard without too much flavor. Wasn't a big fan of the fruit that resembled a non-fuzzy kiwi. Papaya was good. As mangoes were out of season, they weren't any too different from what we get in NYC. And believe it or not, I found mangosteens! The woman at the fruit stand told me they were the last batch she had. Not super good but were a lot better than the frozen ones. Really expensive though. I think I'm more of a summer fruit person. Well, I guess this is an excuse to come back in the summer.

                                                                      On the last day in Oahu, we picked up some Maui Gold pineapples from Safeway to take home with us. It wasn't that easy to find Maui Gold -- Dole was a lot more popular (probably because it's grown in Oahu). They were good, but my favorite pineapple was the ones I had at The Gazebo in Maui as I found it a lot sweeter.

                                                                      PLANE RIDE HOME
                                                                      While most folks would spend their last day on the beach or visiting some tourist site, we decided to spend our morning picking up food for our plane ride home. We hit Mana Bu's and got a few musubis. The people there were some of the nicest folks I've met in a long time. They were super enthusiastic about their product and very helpful. I also got one strawberry and red bean mochi because I just had to try it.

                                                                      We then went to Shirokiya Department Store and picked up a few items. I remember that one of them was meat jun. The Korean meat jun on the mainland seems a bit different than the Hawaiian meat jun in that the mainland one is made from ground beef while the Hawaiian one is made from slices of beef.

                                                                      Well, I was really bummed to discover that we left them in the rental car due to miscommunication! DH thought that I had it. I thought that he had it. We had already checked through security and it was way too late to leave and take the shuttle back to the rental car site. Oh, I was so bummed! I was quite sullen and moped like an idiot for about an hour. DH erroneously thought I was mad at him. I was so upset that we left so much good food in the car that I couldn't speak. Yeah, I acted like a big baby. On a bright note I got to try the strawberry red bean mochi which was fabulous! I wish I can find a place in NY that makes this. It probably doesn't exist so I've got to try making it at home. But all of the other food was gone. We ended up picking up crappy food at the airport -- I don't even remember what it was -- Burger King? Sushi? I hope the person who finds it at the car rental place eats it and doesn't throw it away.

                                                                      Shrimp Trucks
                                                                      http://www.flickr.com/photos/47613691...

                                                                      KCC Farmer's Market
                                                                      http://www.flickr.com/photos/47613691...

                                                                      Fruit
                                                                      http://www.flickr.com/photos/47613691...

                                                                      Miscellaneous
                                                                      http://www.flickr.com/photos/47613691...

                                                                      10 Replies
                                                                      1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                        Too bad about leaving the food behind in the car. I really like the offerings at Mana Bu's and the care they put into their onigiri, especially the one's made with brown rice. Be sure you go back the next time you are in town, their vegetables are as good as their desserts too.

                                                                        Have you tried Oms/b on E. 45th? Is the food there worth a visit? Thanks for your detailed reports and glad you enjoyed Ono's..

                                                                        1. re: curiousgeo

                                                                          I will definitely hit up Mana Bu's next time I'm in Oahu. I was so pissed that I didn't even try one musubi. I did get a couple of brown rice ones and a couple of multi-grain ones. It's not that easy to make brown rice ones as they're not as sticky as the white rice one

                                                                          And, yes, I love Oms/b! It's a terrific place -- well, at least for rice balls. I haven't had any of the other stuff. They only have rice balls made out of white rice. But their variety is amazing.

                                                                        2. re: Miss Needle

                                                                          Miss Needle, I enjoyed your reviews. Thanks so much for sharing them. I am about to head back to Oahu at month's end and look forward to foods onolicious again. I won't hit all the same places as you did, but certainly a few of them. I have a list of places based on chow posts and recommendations from friends. I hope to post reviews in this space after I return. And, by the way, I think it's a great idea to pick up a few things to consume on the flight home, despite its not working for you this time around. Really too bad. Thanks again.

                                                                          1. re: chazuke

                                                                            I'll second chazuke's thanks. Sorry you missed Poke Stop. You MUST try the deep-fried eggplant on your next visit.

                                                                            1. re: Joebob

                                                                              Chazuke, hope you have a nice time when you're visiting. There are a ton of treasures here. And, Joebob, I will try to make it to Poke Stop next time. I love poke. It was really difficult this time due to only being here for a week. There are definitely a bunch of new places I wouldn't mind hitting while still trying to fit in a few of the old ones.

                                                                              1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                                Miss Needle-We need to get together so I can give you full rundown on local eats especially since we both live in NYC and I am from Oahu-hit me back on personal email if interested-would be fun! We could pick a great NYC place to tawk amongst ourselves!!

                                                                                1. re: UES Mayor

                                                                                  If you want a couple more for dinner... (our best friend grew up there and we go with her to visit her mom reasonably regularly).

                                                                                  1. re: Steve R

                                                                                    perhaps u can organize w miss needle and contact me so she doesnt think i am a stalker-lol

                                                                                    1. re: UES Mayor

                                                                                      James, looking at your profile, you don't list an Email address. It will be easier getting in contact with you if you Email me -- my address is on my profile.

                                                                                      Steve R and wiselindag, I'd love to get together with you guys as well. wiselindag, end of March would be good for me -- I'll be kind of busy as well. wiselindag, please shoot me an Email as well.

                                                                                      And so as the mods won't delete this, here's some chow info -- wiselindag, not sure why you don't plan on going to Roy's. I hope I didn't give you a negative impression of the place. I thought it was really a great experience -- unless you just want to make room for a different restaurant.

                                                                                      Yeah, I don't take photos at restaurants so I had to train myself to remember to take a pic before I ate. I got pretty good at remembering towards the end of the trip. The first meal I ate at a restaurant in NYC after I came back from Hawaii, my first instinct was to grab for my camera! I do have to admit it is nice just to eat without worrying about documenting my meal. I hope you have a great time there. Looking forward to hearing all about it!

                                                                                      1. re: Miss Needle

                                                                                        I updated so my email on my profile now-yours bounced back-maybe i did something wrong-anyhow would be nice to gather fellow local chowhounders together in the big city so we can "tawk"

                                                                        3. Thank you for the great reviews. I had planned to go to Roy's when we get to Maui (I ate there years back), but you have me rethinking that based on your review. We're already booked for Alan Wong's.

                                                                          Your photographs were fabulous. I have lots of problems taking food pictures. As soon as the food hits the table, I dive in, and then later remember that I should have taken pictures first... very poor impulse control!

                                                                          I also loved your description of the airport meltdown. I would have been in exactly the same state. Missing out on a great eating experience (or what I think would have been great eating) sends me right back to early childhood. All the more reason to return to Oahu sooner rather than later.

                                                                          Regarding the pasteis de nata, I think they came from some place near Newark. A former student brought them to a party I organized last fall and I still dream about them.

                                                                          Finally, I, too would love to be part of a NYC gtg. It will be tough to do before I leave for Honolulu, but definitely would be fun when I get back at the end of March. If you can't wait for me, that's okay... maybe next time.