Oahu (Mostly Honolulu) Trip Report
Did not get to as many places as I had originally hoped as it was raining for most of our trip & I hurt my foot the first day we were in Oahu! :( Did not really explore Ala Moana or Chinatown, spent a lot of time sitting and resting instead. Sometimes on the beach. :)
Original itinerary post:
But during our five days we were able to hit up: Ono Seafood, Leonard's, House Without a Key, KCC Farmers Market, Ono Hawaiian Foods, Waiola Shave Ice, Chef Mavro, Orchids Sunday Brunch, Nanzan GiroGiro, Morning Glass, KJ's Local Grindz, Ailana Shave Ice, Sushi Izakaya Gaku, Ramen Nakamura, and got to try Dole Whip!
Ono Seafood -- Very nice poke, I had a regular bowl with half shoyu tako poke and half spicy ahi poke. I thought the texture of the tako poke was great. High quality and very fresh tasting. Husband got a Super bowl with shoyu ahi and Hawaiian ahi. Overall, their poke comes with more onions and the dressing is more spicy than others we've tried, but the poke here is overall very good. Takeout with one picnic table outside. People here were so nice, too. Would definitely become a regular if we lived in Honolulu. Closed Tuesdays; their Yelp listing is wrong.
Leonard's -- Went twice. Grabbed a bunch for breakfast one of the days. Hot, soft, fresh malasadas. Tried all the non filled ones: sugar, cinnamon, and li hing mui. Liked the li hing mui one best. They looked like they would be heavy, but were quite light.
Of the filled ones, tried them all as well. They were coconut, chocolate, custard, and flavor of the month, guava. Delicious! My favorite was the custard.
House Without a Key -- Great atmosphere, service, and live music. Liked the drinks (a little sweet) and the beef curry puffs. The lilikoi daiquiri was great, the hale passion was a bit too sweet for me. The Mai Tai was decent ad strong. But husband's burger with avocado was great! My catch of the day (Opah) was mediocre, though I liked the bok choy. It was raining right after we arrived so they moved us inside. Got a nice spot to enjoy the live music, ended up ordering dinner, as we were enjoying the show and didn't want to go back out in the rain just yet. Should have just stuck to drinks and appetizers.
KCC Farmers Market on Saturdays -- Great market and worth the trek! Crowded but not insane at 7:30am. Got worse closer to 9am. Had a banh mi with egg from The Pig & The Lady, delicious. Good pickles. Tried kimchee fried rice with Portuguese sausage and scrambled eggs from Grandma G's. I think their fried rice had additional sausage inside as well. Short lines, ate at the picnic tables by P&L. Tried the BBQ abalone, too, which was fun, but maybe not worth waiting too long for. The line was only about 10-15 minutes long for us luckily. Picked up some passionfruit butter (drool) and fresh strawberry-red bean mochi from Made in Hawaii foods. The strawberry-red bean mochi was so good! Even my husband who normally does not like non-ice cream mochi liked it. Also had a fresh pineapple juice, which was so good and so sweet, as well as a delightful coconut and pineapple smoothie. Lots of free samples around, too. Super friendly vendors. Lots of fun walking around and wishing we had a full kitchen to cook with during our trip. Thought about hiking Diamond Head afterwards but I somehow hurt my foot the previous day, so we just went back to the hotel to relax instead. So we ended up skipping Diamond Head Bar & Grill. Oh well, but I was able to squeeze in a late lunch at...
Ono Hawaiian Foods -- Ono is right! Kalua pork, rice, pork lau lau, lomi salmon, pipikuala, onions, haupia pudding. Only $22 for the combo plate, enough food for two. Loved the smoky and salty kalua pork. The lau lau was also good, very fatty, the leaves provided an interesting contrast, husband though it tasted a bit like seaweed. The pipikuala was also awesome! Extremely satisfying. Would come back again and again. Closed Sundays, I think.
Waiola Shave Ice -- Good shave ice, maybe a little too melty for my taste. Grumpy service at the location just off Kapahulu. Had mango/passionfruit with vanilla ice cream and a snow cap. Thought Ululani's on Maui was much better in terms of consistency. And it didn't melt so quickly. Became soup after a few minutes! Perhaps shaved TOO finely?
Chef Mavro -- Lovely dinner here. We did the four course prix fixe with some substitutions for me (foie gras and lamb). The abalone with hearts of palm, green apple, corn, and grapes was excellent. Chewy but tender and flavorful abalone. I loved my foie gras with fig and balsamic. Not a terribly creative dish, but very well executed. My husband had the catch of the day with ratatouille. This was also good but not really exciting. We both liked the foie better. I had the lamb with harissa for my meat course; husband had the guinea fowl with chestnut purée. Both were well executed and cooked perfectly. But the real star was the lilikoi malasadas. With lilikoi ice cream, lilikoi custard, lilikoi whipped cream, yogurt whipped cream, candied pistachios, and lilikoi sauce. An explosion of passionfruit! Not sure if it really distinguishes itself when compared to Mainland expensive restaurants but it was very enjoyable if you're looking to do an intimate white tablecloth dinner away from Waikiki.
(So yes, it is possible to do the KCC Farmers Market, Ono Hawaiian Foods, Waiola Shave Ice, and Chef Mavro all in one day!)
Orchids Sunday brunch -- Pretty good...for a pricey hotel buffet. Decent poke, sashimi, gravlax. The salmon benedict, guava crepes, waffles, and suckling pig with crackling, also fair but not excellent. Popovers and waffles were much better when smothered in lilikoi butter. All you can eat slices of their famous coconut cake, too, if you like tons of cake for breakfast. Pineapple juice is not fresh & and unappetizing brown color. Gross! I ate tons of fresh pineapple and papaya, while husband ate a whole plate of poke and rice. Beautiful setting but watch out for the birds. Not sure we would come back esp for $57pp. Felt like we were stuffing ourselves just to get our money's worth.
Nanzan Giro Giro -- Wow! Loved this place. Open kitchen, modern decor, friendly and laid back staff, excellent food, and a stellar price. A genuine but modern kaiseki meal for only $50? Dessert and matcha $8 more? Four glass wine pairing for $25?! Reservations requirements I believe as every seat was taken when we arrived and they only do two seatings a night.
The opening sakizuke dish of chawanmushi with ume, abalone, and chestnut was excellent. Tasted wonderful, smelled like the ocean, in a good way. Followed by the zensai appetizer platter: sweet potato with gobo sauce (the best tater tot ever), shimeji mushrooms with ikura (savory and briny), poke with almond purée (unusual and oh so good), cucumber with cabbage tartare (best dip ever), and a very thin slice of pickled daikon around herring roe (delightful). Next up was white miso soup enhanced by monkfish liver in the broth (!), with steamed monchong, as the wanmono course.
Then my favorite dish of the night for the oshinogi course: two slices of medium rare steak served with fresh raw kampachi, and a dollop of uni, all piled onto some rice with a shiso leaf. Damn! I jokingly asked for another and our charming and hilarious server said he'd check with the kitchen! I quickly took it back and he mentioned they can usually do it when asked! Then came the next course: grilled yuan shirako (cod milt), chicken meatball, tempura dashi. Strange, tasty, great broth. Now I can say I've had fish sperm! Wow. Next course was a bit of a palate cleanser: crab meat salad, served cold, with a tomato broth, a little paprika on top.This was fine, but it was the next course that was stunning.
For the last savory: very thin somen (I think) noodles in broth with perfectly cooked Hawaiian snapper, shredded tofu skins, marinated shitake mushrooms, mitsuba, all full of umami and a tiny bit of heat from a little yuzu kosho. Really excellent, deeply flavored, stick to your ribs broth. Served with some refreshing pickles of daikon, Japanese cucumber, and more on the side. Dessert was matcha tea with three petit four like items: marmalade ice cream in a tiny cup, cinnamon cake with apple jam, and a small Japanese black soy bean flavored macaron. Overall, a really fun meal. We lingered for a while afterward, chatting with the staff, the chef, and other guests. So great! We'd definitely come back again and again.
Morning Glass -- Loved the atmosphere, service, location. The Egg-Uh-Muffin was excellent. Housemade English muffin, pork sausage, gruyere cheese, runny egg, arugula, tomato jam. Wish this were in my neighborhood!
Dean's Drive Inn -- CLOSED on Mondays despite what their official Facebook Page and Yelp page says.
KJ's Local Grindz -- Wanted hot food, looked for a plate lunch place on Yelp. Ended up here. Good fried chicken thighs, reminded me of Popeye's, in a good way. Enjoyed but didn't love the furikake chicken. Just didn't seem "furikake" flavored at all, but maybe that's just how it's supposed to be. Their Mac salad is also very odd--short strands of spaghetti and tuna?! Odd place.
Ailana Shave Ice -- Was only OK. The texture of the ice was a bit coarse. We had the mango, papaya, coconut, with condensed milk and ice cream combo. Ice cream was great. Syrups were very stingy. The bottom half of the bowl was ALL unflavored ice. Meh.
Sushi Izakaya Gaku -- Awesome place. So glad we made reservations in advance.
Liked the spicy hamachi and green onion tartare, topped with a quail egg yolk. Fun to make little cones with the seaweed wrapper. The flavors all went really well together. The baked crab also was great. Like the best crab cake ever. Wonderful flavors, no filler. The Japanese fried chicken was also excellent. But maybe not a standout in comparison to the other dishes. Also tried the tako with basil sauce. Incredibly tender. Our favorite though was te awesome seared chu toro tataki. Fatty. Smoky. Melts in your mouth. This dish will haunt my dreams. Perfect.
Ramen Nakamura -- Arrived at 6pm to a mostly empty restaurant. And left at 7pm to a line of about a dozen people. Had the oxtail ramen combo with gyoza (good) and fried rice (OK, not really noteworthy). Ramen was very good. Liked the noodle texture. Broth was very good. Flavorful and comforting. Oxtail was tender and served three pieces on the bone, more flavorful when dipped into ginger and soy sauce. Yum. A ton of food for $20.
Island Freeze at International Marketplace -- One of the few places in Waikiki serving Dole Whip! Tried the pineapple flavor. Delicious. Not sure how it compares to the one at the Dole Plantation, but this was really good.
Sorry that Sunday Brunch at Orchids was not wonderful - it should have been.
We have done that, maybe 8 times, and each was perfect. I hate to think that they are slipping, but then, maybe they are. We did our breakfasts there, and they were great. We did one evening meal (new to us), and it was very good too.
At one time, I placed their Sunday Brunch near the top of the heap, and unfortunately, the two above them, are no longer. We were sad to miss it, last trip, but then we would probably have been disappointed too. Maybe it's best to rely on memories?
Thank you for the detailed reviews. They will be helpful to many, who do a Search here, before their trip.
Mahalo, and aloha,
re: Bill Hunt
I've had amazing brunches in NYC, LA, Chicago, Boston, etc so when I read that Orchids was "the best in Oahu" I had very high expectations. But I guess a hotel buffet can only rise to a certain level... It's not really fair to compare a buffet to a cooked to order brunch. But inevitably we didn't feel like the value was there.
Great report! You managed to quite a bit of damage during your short stay.
I agree with you about Chef Mavro -- food is prepared well, but doesn't seem particularly Hawaiian (if that's important to you). But those malasadas are definitely wonderful! Speaking of malasadas, after DH and I first went to Leonard's, we were doing a bit of dreaming thinking how great it would be to open a malasada and coffee place in NYC.
And, yes, I also thought that Orchids was kind of expensive for the amount of food we were able to have. Nothing was really bad, but nothing was really great either.
Hope you get to try Helena's at some point. I really prefer their pipikaula ribs to Ono. They deep-fry it so there's a nice crispy exterior to complement the chew.
Sorry to hear about your foot. It was probably wise that you stayed off of it. Hope it fully heals soon.