Archive for the ‘Oahu’ Category

IMG_2027Inside the Vintage Cave dining room which was built with more than 170,000 bricks from Pennsylvania and features original artwork by Picasso and many other artists worth millions.

I have to say 2012 was a hell of year filled with great eating! From Hawaii to Memphis and New York City, those who follow me on Foodspotting, Twitter, and Instagram know very well there was an abundance of deliciousness enjoyed at restaurants off all varieties. I’m sure the last 12 months were equally palate pleasing for you.

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But for me, there was one meal that stood out from the rest and that was a 19 course gastronomic experience at the Vintage Cave Honolulu. Let me briefly explain why.

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I first met Vintage Cave Executive Chef Chris Kajioka (pictured above with Pastry Chef Rachel Murai) a little more than two years ago when he was cooking at Roy’s Waikiki. Many friends spoke highly of his culinary talents and passion for his craft having worked at many fine restaurants across the U.S., including the three-star Michelin Per Se in New York City and one-star Michelin Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco. I never had a chance to taste Kajioka’s food before he left Roy’s to return to San Francisco to cook at Aziza, but did have the opportunity to get to know the chef better on a trip to Chicago in 2010 to promote Hawaii. It was on that trip we dined at one of the best restaurants in the world, Alinea, and from there stayed in touch.

In future trips to the Bay Area, we made Aziza a regular stop to see how Kajioka was doing enjoying many great meals there. About a year later, I learned that he was returning to the Ritz-Carlton to team up once again with Ron Siegel at Parallel 37. After a short stint there, Kajioka made the decision to return home after getting married with no firm job in place.

That got many Hawaii foodies excited with anticipation at what Kajioka might have in store. In the end, he landed the Executive Chef position at The Vintage Cave and has assembled a team that’s doing some amazing things in the kitchen and using some of the best ingredients from Hawaii and around the world.

The result, in my opinion, is a dining experience that rivals any Michelin-starred restaurant in the country in terms of culinary creativity, service, and ambiance. Those who ask me what eating there is like, I can only describe it as “theater on a plate” featuring skillful, modern cooking techniques and delicious flavors honoring Asia, Europe, and beyond. It’s the kind of place where it’s quality over quantity, but after 19 courses that range from one to three bites, you leave satisfied and transformed at how delicious food can be.

That seems like enough of my raving in this post. Let me let the pictures speak for themselves. I was fortunate to be hosted to two tastings prior to the restaurant’s opening in December. The following photos (and this video by Mari Taketa of Nonstop Honolulu) are of a special media dinner served on November 30 featuring a total of 30 delicious bites.

IMG_2362For $295/person (exclusive of tax, gratuity, and wine pairings), the tasting menu is a creative and dazzling feast for the senses.

IMG_2035OYSTER hibiscus shiso ginger

IMG_2042sweet smoked PAIN AU LAIT

IMG_2036fish skin CRACKER black bean clam lime

IMG_2039MERINGUE tomato basil

IMG_2356vanilla bean macaroon CAVIAR

IMG_2358cold smoked TORO red onion jicama
KONA KAMPACHI lemon radish shiso
UNI ham film black truffle
AMA EBI fennel
AJI smoked onion pear

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IMG_2361HAKUREI TURNIP asian pear yogurt sumac

IMG_2046golden osetra CAVIAR smoked tuna gel

IMG_2053HOKKAIDO IKURA potato green apple cress

IMG_2055charred CABBAGE leaves miso konbu dill anchovy
(One of my favorite dishes.)

IMG_2059jidori EGG YOLK celery root truffle ham parmesan
(Another of my favorite dishes.)

IMG_2061FOIE GRAS maple syrup corn blueberries celery

IMG_2058japan AMADAI kabocha pickled garlic escabeche

IMG_2366PORK BELLY & NECK berbere jus kale chips

IMG_2367bread from CHRIS SY white soy wakame
(We’ve become big fans of Chris’ Breadshop artisan breads.)

IMG_2064HIRABARA FARMS pineapple vinegar

IMG_2069BEEF from sylvia prizant spinach sunchoke charred scallion sancho pepper
(Quite possibly the best beef I’ve ever tasted!)

IMG_2369onion rice PORRIDGE samoan crab white truffle
(This dish reminded me of grandma’s jook on steroids. Delicious!)

IMG_2072SHIO KOJI ice cream
(This was my first time having a savory ice cream. Oishi!)

IMG_2371blackberry sorbet PEPPERED BEET AIR mascapone sponge
(As one who loves beets, this was an amazing dessert!)

IMG_2077CHOCOLATE GANACHE charred pineapple aged balsamic sesame

IMG_2078CANELE rum glace
(I’m told the only place in Hawaii doing canales.)

IMG_2374BLACK TRUFFLE macaroons

IMG_2373My apologies for forgetting what this one was called, but delicious!

IMG_2375RASPBERRY meringue

IMG_2376GRAPE and finger lime
(An explosion of deliciousness in your mouth!)

Having eaten at the Cave three times now, the question everyones asks me is “Is it worth the money?” My quick answer is “It depends.” While pricey at $295/person, if you’re they type that will travel to the world for a great meal, this is certainly a must experience. And think about it, you don’t have to factor in the air, hotel and ground transportation into the equation. It’s definitely a meal worth saving up for that special occasion.

If you’re idea of a great meal is quantity versus quality and you’re not into art and theater on the plate, I’d take you’re money elsewhere. Buy that iPad instead or go enjoy your favorite restaurant a bunch of times. Just being honest here as you’ll probably think it’s overpriced and not worth the experience.

If Kajioka and his team continue to do what they are doing, I can see this restaurant becoming a destination for many across the globe. Will it become one of the best restaurants in the country never to earn a Michelin star (since Hawaii doesn’t get rated)? Only time will tell. But knowing Kajioka, he’s going to continue pushing himself (only 29 years old) and his young team and that’s a good thing for Hawaii.

In the culinary world of highly coveted Michelin stars, “Three stars reward exceptional cuisine where diners eat extremely well, often superbly. Distinctive dishes are precisely executed, using superlative ingredients. Worth a special journey.” Vintage Cave certainly has the philosophy and the resources to continue striving for this kind of distinction. It has definitely been a treat eating there and I hope I have the chance to do so again in 2013.

Happy New Year to you all and here’s to many more delicious meals with family and friends.

Aloha,
Nathan

Vintage Cave Honolulu
1450 Ala Moana Boulevard, #2250
Honolulu, HI 96814
(located in the basement of Shirokiya at Ala Moana Center)
Phone: 808-441-1744
Hours: Monday – Saturday, 5:30-11 p.m.; Closed Sundays
Note: Vintage Cave gives priority seating in its bar lounge and dining room to members before the general public. Reservations are required and limited.

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One of the things I love about working in downtown Honolulu is the endless choices of restaurants available for lunch. A welcome addition to the neighborhood is Lucky Belly, a ramen joint that opened in June in the old Mini Garden space on N. Hotel Street. I visited a couple weeks after it opened, so yes, this post is loooooong overdue.

The signature Belly Bowl (pictured above) is worth the visit and the calories for $12. Delicious pork belly, smoked bacon, and sausage await you along side a perfectly cooked soft boiled egg and vegetable garnishes. It’s a delicious and satisfying bowl that will have you coming back for more.

The menu also features a veggie only ramen, as well as a spicy Kim Chee version, in addition to appetizers like Pork Belly Bao Buns and the delicious Braised Brisket Sandwich, which I also highly recommend.

Did I mention there also a late night window serving a limited menu till early morning? I hear it’s ideal for the late night pau hana crowd.

If you’re downtown and looking for some good grub in a hip place, this is your restaurant. The restaurant gets busy for lunch and the wait can be long, so come early or take advantage of the communal table by the door or seating at the bar.

Lucky Belly
50 N. Hotel Street (corner of Smith Street)
Honolulu, HI 96817
Phone: 808-531-1888
Hours: Monday – Saturday, Lunch: 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.; Dinner: 5 p.m. – midnight; “The Window” open Thursday to Saturday from 10:00 – 2:30 a.m.

One of the things that makes working in downtown Honolulu so great is the variety of restaurants available for lunch. Just about every type of ethnic cuisine can be found within walking distance of Bishop Street as you head to Chinatown or towards Aloha Tower Marketplace. And while I enjoy eating dim sum at Mei Sum, pho at Pho My Lan, a tasty burger at Murphy’s Bar and Grill, or a great piece of fresh fish at Cafe Julia, sometimes all I want to eat is a great salad.

And that’s where Downtown @ the HiSAM comes into the picture. Literally in the photo above. Tucked away on the ground floor of the Hawaii State Art Museum, chef/owner Ed Kenney‘s Downtown is a lunchtime favorite for the movers and shakers of Honolulu and visitors alike. It’s common to see politicians, business executives, and entrepreneurs in the dining room enjoying dishes featuring the freshest, locally sourced food from across the state. The menu here is great and dining in is always a treat. As Kenney’s motto goes: “Local first, organic whenever possible, with Aloha always.”

But if you’re in a rush and don’t have time to sit down for lunch, take advantage of Downtown’s ASAP Counter, which offers a nice selection of paninis (my favorite is the pastrami), quiches, and an antipasti salad bar that even a non-vegetable eater would enjoy.

Each day, the “salad bar” changes depending on the produce available and inspiration from the kitchen has a way of elevating the simplest carrots, tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, and kabocha pumpkin to “broke da mout” status. For $9.50 (plus tax), the salad plate includes a nice bed of fresh MA’O Organic Farms sassy greens, four choices of antipasti (there’s usually 8-10 choices available daily), and a nice slice of bread. With the variety and offerings changing daily, it’s quite possible to enjoy a different salad everyday.

Are there cheaper salad options in downtown? Of course. A few co-workers religiously ate salads from a certain fast food restaurant in the area which run about $7 a pop. However, after introducing them to Downtown, they have come to agree that spending a couple more dollars is worth it for the variety, freshness and deliciousness found there. I’m certain you will too.

Downtown @ the HiSAM
250 Hotel Street, 1st Floor (in the Hawaii State Art Museum)
Honolulu, HI 96813
Phone: 808-536-5900
Hours: Monday ‚Äď Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., First Fridays: 5:30-9:30 p.m.
Reservations recommended.
No parking available at HiSAM. Park in metered street stalls or in garages in the area like Alii Place.
Follow them on Twitter

“Dad, my favorite tonight was the spaghetti…it was so delicious!,” exclaimed Ensen, my 5-year-old son, following our family dinner at PRIMA¬†in Kailua this past Friday. This statement came after he devoured two slices of heavenly prosciutto rucola pizza which I thought for sure was going to be his choice of the night. But I should have anticipated this answer since he ate close to half the bowl himself. And after having this twice now at PRIMA, I don’t blame him. It’s one of my favorite dishes on the menu.

Why? For one, porky¬†guanciale never hurts to be included in any dish as far as I’m concerned. But the perfectly cooked pasta tossed in a rich and flavorful tomato sauce with a little red onions and guanciale (did I already mention this?) is the kind of dish that wraps its arms…err…noodles around you and makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. It’s “broke da mout,” elevated Italian comfort food with a local twist that one can enjoy in a casual setting while wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and slippers. A great neighborhood spot for a quality meal where you can bring the kids (our 2-year-old Avery enjoyed as well) and have a great experience.

Built by chefs/owners Alejandro “Aker” Briceno and Lindsey Ozawa, PRIMA has been getting a lot of well deserved attention since it opened last September. Yes, they source most of their ingredients locally. Yes, they take pride in working with local farmers and ranchers. But the main priority of the team, including Chef de Cuisine Kevin Lee, is putting delicious, creative, and well-executed food on the table for customers to enjoy. And they do that exceptionally well with handmade pastas and ravioli, arguably the best kiawed fire pizzas on on the island, via their treatment of vegetables like Brussels spouts and broccoli, and what I consider “mad-scientist” approach to their flavors of sorbetto and gelato. Here’s a few other dishes from our meal that night.

Tandoori Pear – yogurt, grapefruit, cilantro, mint

Spicy Poke Bowl Soup – congee, spicy ahi and tako

Monchong Рlocal vegetables

Roasted Brocolli Рprosciutto, bordelaise

So, the next time you’re in Kailua town, consider stopping at PRIMA Kailua for dinner. They’re located in the strip mall off Hekili Street that’s also home to Big City Diner, Foodland, and Baskin-Robbins. As their website suggests, it is quite “A Dining Experience!”

PRIMA
108 Hekili Street, #108 (next to Baskin-Robbins)
Kailua, HI 96734
Phone: 808-888-8933
Hours: Monday РSunday, 5-10 p.m.
Follow them on Twitter and Facebook
Make reservations on OpenTable 

If you’re a sucker for boiled peanuts like I am, then you’ll love the giant, juicy, and flavorful ones from Patty’s Peanuts. I discovered them by chance after we moved to Pearl City and visited the Momilani Farmers Market (at Momilani Community Center on Fridays from 3-7 p.m.). I bought a couple of bags of the giant sized boiled peanuts (she also sells the regular size, dried and soy beans in various flavors) for $5 each. As soon as she handed them to me, I could smell a strong aroma of star anise permeating the bag and it was evident these things were gonna be juicy.

We dove into a bag as soon as we got home. As I cracked open a shell, the cooking juice came running out and in front of me were three perfectly cooked, succulent, and incredibly delicious peanuts ready to be devoured. It was a pretty memorable first bite. The peanut as a slight crunch and a salty, anise flavor just as I had anticipated. It paired perfectly with my cold beer.

If you have a chance to get some of Patty’s Nuts and Beans, I highly recommend it. A quick search on Google revealed no other information about the business or other locations which she sells these delicious legumes. Best bet is to call the number in the photo below or come on down to the Momilani Farmers Market held every Friday.

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Always a good time and now held at one of the most beautiful locations on Oahu. Just going to Kualoa Ranch itself is a treat. Have a great time!

Update 7/29/12:
Got confirmation from former He’eia Kea Pier General Store and Deli Chef Mark Noguchi ¬†that the pier will be featured on the Monday, August 6¬†episode of DDD.

Update 7/30/12:
Saw¬†Camille Komine, chef/owner of Camille’s on Wheels, post to Facebook that she’ll be featured on the Monday, July 30 episode of DDD titled “Coast to Coast Chow. There’s also a viewing party at The Grove in Kailua at 7 p.m. Get out and support!!

I was excited to read in Erika Engle’s column¬†(Honolulu Star-Advertiser)¬†today¬†that Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives¬†with Guy Fieri will be featuring Oahu’s Jawaiian Irie Jerk Restaurant in tonight’s episode “Dynamic Dishes.” Not because of the food since I’ve never been there. But because I’m a fan of the show with a soft spot for seeing anything Hawaii featured on national television. What can I say, it’s the destination marketing/PR guy in me.

The article mentions the other Oahu restaurant locations are top secret, but those following The Match Cut Crew production company on Twitter during their time here know exactly where they filmed. The crew would tweet the location after wrapping. I won’t spoil the surprise entirely, so go back to their April tweets if your curious. They did manage to get to one of my favorites,¬†Heeia Kea Pier General Store and Deli.¬†I was fortunate enough to be invited by my pal chef/owner¬†Mark “Gooch” Noguchi¬†to be one of the “fake customers” and got to meet Guy. Cool stuff.

Hats off to the Oahu Visitors Bureau and my PR colleagues at Stryker Weiner and Yokota Public Relations for getting Guy back to the islands to explore more of the diverse culinary offerings Hawaii has to offer. It’s great inspiration for travelers heading this way. It’s great for the destination. And it’s really great for the small businesses that reap the benefits of the priceless exposure. I’ve heard from others who have been on the show that business goes through the roof once they are seen on Triple D. The brand is strong!

Okay, and I saw them pull into¬†Fresh Catch¬†in Kaneohe right after they finished up at Heeia Pier. But that’s all I’m telling you.

Check your local listings and enjoy the show!