Oahu Trip Report
Luckily we were there for the Okinawan Festival and it was only a 5 minute walk from our condo! There really isn't too many things Okinawan in NYC so I was very excited. I tried the andagi (Okinawan donut) served piping hot. I wanted to try the chicken nishime but it was already sold out! I saw the huge line for the yaki soba so I joined it. It was fine -- guess fried noodles are really popular. The most interesting dish I had was taco rice which is basically the makings of a tex-mex taco served over white rice. It was a bit strange eating bits of shredded cheese and rice together but it worked with the ground beef and lettuce. Having some scrips left I ended up picking up a package of potato chip arame cookies that was pretty good. Who thought about putting seaweed, soy sauce and potato chips into a delicious cookie?
Whole Foods (locations in Kailua and Kahala)
The Kailua location is newer and larger than the Kahala one. It was really interesting to see the differences between the Hawaii Whole Foods and NYC locations. Ooh -- poke bar! I also really dug the bulk bins of sprouted nuts and seeds. Wish my local Whole Foods would do that. I ended up getting a bit of this coconut banana breakfast porridge from the bulk bin to try. If I liked it I would have picked it up for gifts. Unfortunately it tasted a bit like soap to me. The best thing about the Whole Foods was that the people working there were so friendly -- a bit different than the NYC Whole Foods!
We stopped there to get some wines. Had good prices and decent selection of sparkling wines. Their French burgundy selection wasn't too hot. Seems that Hawaii is more into California wines. Big selection of beer and liquors as well. There's a small amount of food (eg. poke) as well.
The largest seafood market in Honolulu. Unfortunately we got there late on a Sunday afternoon and pickins were slim. But I picked up some lobster, prawns, and manilla clams. The prawns and manilla clams were reasonably priced. But the lobster was expensive compared to NYC. We were glad they took credit cards.
Shirokiya's (Ala Moana Center)
We picked up some food before our flight departed Honolulu. We kind of rushed it (luckily we scoped out the selections the day prior) as some of our luggage was in the back seat of our car. Our convertible could not fit two suitcases in its trunk and we both wanted to pick our own food. We ended up getting eel over rice, meat jun, bitter melon stir-fried with egg, spam musubi and garlic chicken. Way too much food -- our eyes were bigger than our stomach. There's so much to choose from!
Wed Night Blaisdell Market (Honolulu)
Comprised mostly of locals. Smaller in scope compared to the KCC Saturday one, but a lot easier to navigate. Ended up having dinner at the Pig and Lady and had the fish rice noodle soup with tomatoes and pineapple, fried smelts in honey sauce, string beans with peanut sauce and shrimp, oxtail gnocchi. A huge benefit of renting a condo is that you can take home leftovers and eat them the next day for breakfast or lunch. The fish noodle soup was outstanding. Reminiscent of canh chua but using fishcakes instead of whole fish. The broth was quite soothing and I could drink bowls and bowls of it. The fried smelts were good, but a bit soggy. Lucky we got the last of the string beans (it was only 6P). The peanut sauce is so good that I could eat spoonfuls of it. The oxtail gnocchi was quite rich but tasty. Also ended up picking up a pineapple for the next day.
Sat AM KCC Market (Honolulu)
I was planning to get a lot of produce in addition to the prepared foods so I got there earlier than I have usually done in the past -- around 7:40A. Holy crap! Market was already super busy with locals and tourists. I ended up getting some lillikoi, rambutan, choy sum, edamame pods, corn, pineapple, mango ($5/lb), and tomatoes. Where were the mangosteens? I heard they were in season during the summer but couldn't find them anywhere.
At the Pig and Lady (I just love that place -- super sweet folks with the best food), we got the pho gai and breakfast banh mi which basically is like a regular banh mi with a fried poached egg on top. The rice noodles in the pho gai seemed hand made and it's the perfect breakfast food for me (I'm not a traditional American breakfast person). I've had the pho ga before when they were operating their pop-up dinners at Hank's Haute Dogs. It seemed to be slightly better at Hank's -- probably because they were cooking it in smaller batches. But it was still so good. It seems that the Japanese tourists haven't gotten wind of Pig and Lady yet -- they were at the sausage, fried tomato, pesto pizza, grilled corn and grilled abalone stalls. So the line at Pig and Lady was relatively short at the KCC Market. At the Blaisdell Market, Pig and the Lady had the longest line. We shared a Pacific Kool basil ginger ale with our meal (though the Pig and Lady folks gave us complimentary cups of the pandan jasmine tea). I also got a milk chocolate strawberry mochi from Made in Hawaii (they were already out of the dark chocolate ones and it wasn't even 8A yet!). It was OK, but I prefer the mochi from Happy Hearts as I thought the texture of the mochi is lighter and fluffier. There's no storefront for Happy Hearts. You order via Email or phone and pick them up from Natsunoya Tea House (located in a residential area of Honolulu). I ordered a few bentos for gifts and picked them up on the day I was leaving.
Leonard's (Honolulu -- Kapahulu)
Always busy which is a good sign. Got the chocolate, plain, cinnamon and lilikoi. Favorite is still the plain. Please avoid the coffee. No cream or milk for it -- only had powdered creamer. Not good.
I prefer Agnes over Leonard's, but this time Agnes didn't fry the malasadas to order. Agnes is more rustic in style. I think one should definitely try it if in Kailua.
In the mood for something lighter, we went for nabe at Ichiriki. On a weeknight around 5P, I called to see what they had available. They said the first time was 8:30P. We were hoping to eat a bit earlier but that was okay. When we got there there were a lot of empty seats. I was wondering if they told us 8:30P so they could pace the service better. I ended up getting the seafood nabe and DH got the mushroom nabe. We ordered an appetizer of deep-fried poke which was okay, but I wouldn't order it again as the tuna became fully cooked. Both nabes were delicious and we were incredibly full. Both of us couldn't finish. To be perfectly honest I think we would have been fine sharing one nabe between the two of us but we wouldn't be able to try different items.
Diamond Head Market and Grill (Honolulu)
We did take-out and ate it at our condo. One surf and turf plate which had garlic shrimp, wasabi ahi, teri chicken, teri beef and char siu pork. To be perfectly honest, all the meats and fish were overcooked. It was quite filling (we only finished half of it) and I guess a good deal for the price. This was more about filling your belly than anything. The potato mac salad was excellent. I also ordered a side of fries which were quite good. I sauteed some greens at the condo with olive oil and garlic. He also picked up a couple of desserts -- blueberry cheese bar and chocolate torte, both of which were delicious. Unfortunately this was towards the end of the trip and we were getting sick of eating sweets. My body just didn't feel good from all this sugar.
Tita's Grill (North Shore -- Kahuku)
We were short on time and couldn't wait on line at the shrimp trucks. So we went to Tita's and ordered one killa moco which is basically a souped up loco moco. Two beef patties, spam, Portugese sausage over rice covered with gravy topped with two eggs. We asked for sunnyside up. Huge huge portion. Not the fanciest food, but quite comforting. I added a bit of Sriracha on my portion to zip it up. We ended up eating about half of it and took the leftovers. The owner was very personable and was offering everybody warm slices of yellow cake with chocolate sauce. So moist and comforting! We shared one slice and he asked me five more times if I wanted more cake. While I would have loved to eat some more, I was pretty full.
JJ's Seafood (Kaneohe)
Guy who owned it was super nice. He even threw in some cucumber kimchi for free. Very unassuming little shop, but the poke was very fresh and tasty. I will say that it was on the expensive side. The ahi pokes were around $26/lb! Generous sampling policy. We ended up getting 1/4 lb each of four different pokes and a couple of sides of rice -- they don't do poke bowls. He asked us whether we would be eating it right away. When I told him no, he gave us a separate container of shoyu for the shoyu poke so we can add it when we're ready to eat it. We took it to the Ho'omaluhia Gardens to eat our poke in a lovely setting.
Poke Stop (Waipahu)
We ordered two poke bowls. If we knew how large they were going to be we would have only ordered one. A good value (around $8 for a humongous bowl of two pokes over rice -- you can get different types of fried rice but I ended up getting plain). Unfortunately I found the texture of the fish very strange and mushy -- I think it might have been pre-frozen fish. I also thought it was too salty for my taste. I didn't eat very much of it and saved my appetite for those eggplant fries! Oh, Joebob from Chowhound was right! These were really outrageous and very addictive. While I probably won't come here for poke, I would definitely return for those fries!
Ono Seafood (Honolulu - Kapahulu)
Last time we were there they made our pokes to order. This time they were premade -- not sure if it's because we went during prime lunch time hours or they changed their policy. But the poke was still terrific. I think this is my favorite place for poke so far. I think prices went up a bit but still a bargain. Two pokes over rice and soda for $8.
Honolulu's Chinatown is quite different than NYC's or San Francisco's Chinatown. A bit smaller and more run-down. But I still think it's a not-to-be missed destination. We ended up going to Fong's Meat Market for the best roast pork ever. I was a bit alarmed a few months ago when I read a Yelp review saying that the store has been sold and the meat that they served was cold. When I was there, the same man from December was there and the pork was hot. We got there at the right time when the folks in front of us got the last roast pork from the slab. So he went back and got another fresh slab from the oven, cut off the char and started hacking away. I know a lot of people like Nam Fong, but when I passed by the store there were a couple of roast pork slabs just sitting out there with nobody buying it. So I have a feeling that it probably would have been cold. Fong's Meat Market only does two items -- so I think the chance of getting hot pork is greater. We rushed it back to the condo (where we would sneak in bites in the car) and ate it with some rice and sauteed greens.
I picked up a butter mochi from a neighboring bakery. Never had it before. Wasn't quite my thing but preferred it to Orchid's butter mochi that they served during Sunday brunch. It was kind of like chewy dry yellow cake. Chinatown's version was chewier and moister. Also got some fruit for the condo at some of the shops.
Sushi Izakaya Gaku (Honolulu)
We loved it so much the first time that we ended up going twice! Actually we had only planned on one meal there (reserved at the bar) and had other plans to go to Sasabune (reserved at the bar). I made the Sasabune reservation two months ago. I was kind of miffed that they called us the day before the reservation and let us know that the bar wasn't available, especially as I made it so far in advance. So I canceled it and decided to do a walk-in to Gaku again. This is what we ended up having on both trips (and we ended up sitting at the bar both times):
negihama tartar -- signature dish; good combo of flavors; served on nori sheets
yellowtail collar -- DH's request; good
uni shooters -- shot glass filled with two lobes of uni, shoyu jelly, dashi and a dab of wasabi -- amazing; like a party in your mouth
seared chu toro -- tender smoky chu toro in a soy-based sauce; really delectable
anikimo -- well-done
chicken kaarage -- nicely fried and not greasy
crab cake -- not the traditional American crab cake but still very delicious
fresh tofu topped with shoyu jelly and uni and a dab of wasabi -- nice and soothing
sushi -- toro, uni, moi, tamago, spicy scallop, ikura -- would strongly recommend to try the moi as it's difficult to procure this outside of Hawaii (well, at least in NYC). Moi in sushi form is rich and light at the same time. The ikura was also special in that I think it was marinated in soy -- I usually have it salted. The soy added another dimension. toro did not have sinews, sometimes happening in sushi restaurants as you waste less fish that way.
sashimi -- mirugai -- first time we went there they were out; second time we were there they only had a tiny bit left so we asked them to save it for us
rare cheesecake -- funny name; similar to a cheesecake except it's lighter than the traditional NY style; glad that I got it as it was really good
What a winner! I did miss Sasabune's crab stuffed squid and toro tartar sushi. But Gaku's menu was far more extensive than Sasabune. I loved every single dish and will definitely be on my must-do list when I come back.
If you don't want to wait, get there when it opens at 10A. We got there around 11:30A on a weekday thinking we beat the lunch rush. Wrong! We still had to wait for about half an hour. But their Hawaiian food is so ono. Got one side of rice, pipikaula ribs, squid luau (lots of squid this time), lau lau and kalua pork. We ordered small portions when we could so we could try a larger variety of items. Ono is closer to Waikiki but I prefer Helena's overall. This is one of the reasons why I think tourists should rent a car.
Orchids (Honolulu - Waikiki)
I'm not a brunch person at all, but have heard about the famed Orchids Sunday brunch. Looking over pictures on the Internet, I saw that they had non-traditional brunch offerings so I decided to make reservations for it in advance. Pretty pricey at around $60/head but thought we should try it at least once. I'm glad that I tried it but probably won't be going back. Huge spread of items ranging from raw seafood to roasted meats and desserts. My plate ended up consisting mostly of the smoked salmon, sashimi, poke and Korean vegetables. I tried a few other items off of DH's plate as well. He got some crispy pork skin that was pretty good. For a buffet, quality is very good though you can definitely get better food elsewhere. I wonder if there's anybody who can try everything at once. There is just so much food. The dessert selection was enormous. I think the only one I finished was the delectable signature coconut cake. Service was really good and the view was quite pretty. A very wonderful experience. Like I said before, I'm glad I experienced this once. I just don't think it was worth the money I paid, at least for us. I'm sure many others disagree as the place is always busy. And this would make an excellent training ground for competitive eaters. I'd rather take my $60 and get some top rate sushi at Sushi Izakaya Gaku.
La Mariana Sailing Club
We just went for drinks and shared an ahi spring roll. Surprisingly the ahi spring roll was good. The ahi was still raw inside and the spring rolls weren't greasy at all. We went there after Hiroshi's. DH claimed that this would have fit in perfectly fine if it was on the menu at Hiroshi's.
3660 on the Rise (Honolulu - Kaimuki)
This was our first time there, and having loved the furikake tempura catfish at the chef's more casual restaurant (Kaka'ako Kitchen), I wanted to try it. We started off with the ahi katsu and the foie gras. Both were good. We ordered the smaller size entree portions of the steamed onaga in black bean broth and mahi mahi with truffled prawns and dashi butter which ended up to be perfect size for us. They were half the size of a regular entree at about 2/3 the price. We ordered a side of onion rings which were kind of tough and difficult to eat. Our dessert was the famed bread pudding which was really good. Not a huge bread pudding fan but this one was a hit with me. Overall the food was good, but I preferred restaurants like Alan Wong and Roy's for Pacific Rim food. But if you want to try something new, 3660 on the Rise is not a bad place to be. Decor is reminiscent of a hotel restaurant. Restaurant comprised mostly of locals when I was there.
Alan Wong's (Honolulu)
We've sat at the chef's counter the last couple of times dining there but decided to get a table this time. DH asked for a quiet table and we were sat in the corner. It was intimate as can be in a busy crazy place like Alan Wong's and was exactly what we were looking for. I started off with a housemade lillikoi soda (so much better than Waiola soda) as it didn't taste synthetic. I followed that up with a shot of freshly squeezed lillikoi juice. That was one of the best things I've ever had. Right amount of sweetness and tartness. All of my taste buds were on fire. I wanted to swim in a pool of lillikoi juice. Looking back I should have ordered a few more shots as I still remember that experience very fondly. We ordered a la carte:
Whole tomato salad with li hing mui dressing -- way too much dressing but it was arranged that I just dipped my slices of tomato in the thick dressing; very interesting dressing and am glad that I tried it
Mini loco moco -- higher end loco moco; really good but very filling
Seafood duo -- lobster, shrimp and scallop "lasagne" with butter poached kona lobster -- very rich and satisfying
Macadamia nut crusted lamb chops -- good, DH ordered it; wouldn't have been my first choice but I still enjoyed it
The entrees came with a choice of sides -- rice, mashed potatoes and vegetables. We choose one order of mashed potatoes and one order of vegetables stir-fried. The potatoes were so rich and made with so much cream that you could almost drink them. I loved that you finally get your veggies at a higher-end restaurant! Those three spears of asparagus that you get with your entree at other higher end restaurants just don't cut it.
We ended our meal ordering the coconut and the chocolate "crunch" bars. I originally wanted to try the coffee and doughnuts but they were already out of that. Our favorite dining experience in Oahu for sure. We saved this meal for our last dinner so we ended it off on a good note.
Hiroshi's Eurasian Tapas (Honolulu)
They have a happy hour of everything on the menu 50% off starting at 5:30P if you eat at the bar. I got there on a weekday (Tues I believe) at 5:30P and found that all the seats at the bar were already taken! Luckily the hostess said that the chef said he was also serving the same menu at the bar of their sister restaurant Vino which was next door. She said that the chef doesn't always decide to do that. So if you're really interested in the happy hour get there before 5:30P. There were already people seated at Vino as well! We ordered:
sous vide of kona lobster tail with squid ink pasta -- good
sizzlin hamachi carpaccio -- probably a can't miss dish
foie gras sushi -- not that great; the foie gras was cooked in advance and very dry and shriveled; was to the point we were wondering if we even received foie gras
kampachi with crispy skin -- very good and the broth was very savory
sea urchin pasta (on Vino's menu) -- I enjoyed this one a lot
Overall, it was very good, especially since it was 50% off. Our young bartender (probably a college kid) was so nice and helpful. He had the graciousness of somebody who's been working in the service industry for a long time but not too long where you start getting jaded. I would definitely recommend doing the happy hour for this as I'm not sure how I would have felt if I paid full price for it. Note that they add 18% tip to the pre-discounted bill. I gave him extra as I would have tipped him more than 18%.
We requested to sit on the lanai when we made the reservation and they were able to accommodate us. It was lovely to sit on the lanai and watch the action of Waikiki from the 2nd floor. We ordered:
poisson cru -- DH prefers poke but I thought this was a nice change; loved the sea beans
bacon and eggs -- a very hearty dish; well done
chicken larb -- I asked them to make it spicy and boy did they comply; it was fine for me but DH had a difficult time eating the dish
curried beef short rib with molokai potatoes -- humongous portion; short ribs and curry are a good combo!
lillikoi creme brulee -- can't get enough of liilikoi
I liked the place. Casual, friendly with a view of the ocean. Prices are not out of line with what they're offering.
A beautiful setting with wonderful refined service. I asked for an oceanside table and they ended up seating us at a table overlooking House without a Key. We did the four course a la carte. We had:
Smoked salmon with leek puree, quail eggs, sea urchin, baby leeks -- delicious but I'm a sucker for anything with good uni (bad uni should be abolished)
Millefuille of seasonal truffles and scallops on bok choy with perigeaux sauce -- DH liked it but I thought it was really strange texturally. Scallop is such a wonderful food item texturally and they transformed the scallop into something spongy by turning it into some pate mixed with egg whites and perhaps a binder; texture was similar to a softer kamaboko
Lobster tail with saffron butter -- Good
Lamb loin encrusted with kataifi with eggplant caviar -- Good
Pork cheeks braised in red wine -- A newer dish and quite a favorite from what our waiter told us; It was too heavy for my taste in the summer but DH liked it; Humongous portion as they gave us seven cheeks! Most of it was wrapped up
Hawaiian vanilla souflee served with chocolate, lillikoi and coconut sauce -- Very well executed with the perfect amount of sweetness; I just chose to have it with lillikoi sauce as I'm a lillikoi freak
Chocolate mousse with ginger cotton candy, pineapple, yogurt ravioli and pistachio sponge -- cotton candy was very sweet and was intended to have been balanced with yogurt ravioli (tart) and pistachio sponge (not very sweet at all); there was just way too much cotton candy for the dish
DH enjoyed the dinner more than I did (but he was the one who requested to dine here). The food was really well executed technically but the chef really likes these mousse accompaniments that I'm not a fan of. It was also the priciest of all of our meals. I think I would have preferred to go back to Mavro at this price point. Setting was probably the most lovely of all of the places I've dined at in Oahu. Restaurant was not busy at all with ample space between tables. And the view was very lovely.
Town (Honolulu - Kaimuki)
We went there for a late lunch. I've heard a lot of great things about Town and was curious to see what the fuss was all about. There is a strong Italian influence on the menu. We ended up ordering a burger medium rare with swiss and with fries and mahi mahi with local vegetables. The burger came out medium but was still tasty. We didn't get so lucky with the fries as it was all comprised of little burnt nubs. I looked at the next table with envy as those folks had nice long sleek fries. The mahi mahi was perfectly cooked and came with some veggies and salsa verde. I guess it was a low-carb dish because it didn't come with any starch. I asked the waitress if it came with bread. She told me no but brought me a few slices of baguette. The dinner menu looks a lot more interesting than the lunch menu. Perhaps I'll try it again for dinner next time and hope they give me some decent fries this time.
I dropped by for lunch at Uncle's right before our plane was departing Hawaii as it's near the airport. DH wanted to bring poke on the plane but I thought it wouldn't be that great as it would have sat in room temperature for at least five hours before eating. So we enjoyed it during our last meal.
We ordered their signature poke tower that was comprised of white rice, ahi poke, ahi tartar and guacacmole and served with tortilla chips. I think both the rice and tortilla chips together were overkill but I just didn't eat any of the rice. DH ordered a lobster special that was also good. I think this was a great last meal in Hawaii.
re: Miss Needle
Dear, dear Miss Needle,
Boy, you give good reports! I agreed with all you wrote (though not so fond of Hawai'ian). Next time, send the fried nubs back. You definitely deserve better. Also recommend you make a reservation at Mitch's next time a few of hours before the plane takes you back to the deliciousness that is NYC.
I agree with Joebob, should have sent the fries back, because when they do them right they are wonderful. Surprised the burger was overcooked, its hard to appreciate the grass fed flavor when it's much past medium rare.
All in all a wonderful set of reports. I still pick Nico's over Uncle's, but Uncle's isn't a bad choice. Glad you had such a good (and flavorful) trip.
re: Miss Needle
I am replying down here, so as to not break the formatting of your post - it should be easier for others to read.
Thank you for the La Mer review. It has been a whole year, since we dined there last, and changes have been happenings. It appears that the new chef has changed things greatly. As we will be dining there in November, I will keep an eye on their menus, and the reviews.
From a culinary standpoint, we have only had very good to great meals there. The one issue that I had some years ago, was directly related to the wine service.
Personally, I choose the table that you had, right over HWAK, though have dined twice over the ocean. Sunsets are nice, but then the music and show below your table is not to be missed.
Mahalo for the report.
COOKING AT THE CONDO
Had some friends over the condo and made an indoor clambake consisting of lobster, manilla clams, prawns, leeks, onions, Portuguese sausage, potatoes, Kahuku corn and white wine. Sopped up the juices with a baguette and also served a caprese salad made with burrata. Ended dinner with cocoa puffs from Liliha Bakery. I know I should have cooked some greens but there was really just too much food. We ended up eating the leftovers for a few days.
Taking advantage of the wonderful tropical fruit here, I made a smoothie of apple bananas, papaya and pineapple with some coconut milk. I just wish I could get this quality of fruit in NYC without paying an arm or a leg. There is one place in Brooklyn that has marvelous fruit, but it is so expensive that I can't make it a regular habit.
BEACH BUM CAFE (DOWNTOWN HONOLULU)
Thanks to amberloo from Tripadvisor, we ended up going to Beach Bum Cafe. We've been looking for a shop like this for a while. People have steered us to places like Honolulu Coffee Company, Morning Brew, Coffee Gallery. While those shops were fine, it was not what we were looking for. Beach Bum was exactly what we were looking for. The owner knows his coffee -- all beans are from different areas of Hawaii. Closed on Sundays and open only during the AM on Saturday. I went there once. DH went twice. He tried to go three times but they were closed. Luckily this was towards the end of our trip. Otherwise I'm afraid he would have been there every day.
Great report! My husband and I are heading back to Oahu next month after a 2 year absence and plan on dining at Alan Wong, Hiroshi and many other places you listed. I was wavering on La Mer and will probably pass. I've only dined there once and wasn't terribly impressed (I know they have a new chef), wonderful atmosphere though. Thanks for your report.
Thanks for your comments!
Joebob and Kman, I didn't spy the girl eating those long fries until the end of my meal. By that time, the fries were almost gone. But now that I know the nubs aren't the default I'll be sure to send them back if that happens next time.
ETA: I wanted to mention that DH and I had a late night dinner at Blue Ribbon Sushi in NYC last night. We didn't eat very much at all (I just had two pieces of sushi, 2/3 of a roll and some fried rice). Our bill for a tiny amount of food was higher than our meals at Sushi Izakaya Gaku. How I miss Hawaii!