Thursday, November 22, 2007


When the Honolulu Design Center opened last year, my eyes were always drawn to the tall glass windows with over-sized white lanterns that overlooked Piikoi Street. The building itself is so impressive, and its mysterious interior designs excited my curiosity to find out more. If the design itself doesn't get you, the "couture cuisine" of Jon Matsubara will.

Stepping into the restaurant is like taking part in a theatrical performance with a black-and-white stage. Over-sized, sleek sculptures and gigantic photographs of artistically naked people moving in fluid actions create a somewhat eerie feeling of being reduced down in size, as you might feel if you had stage fright. Each table has its own character, each with a unique table, set of chairs, and an over-sized lamp. Accents of red flow throughout the black-and-white theme, and compliment the sea of lamps to create a playful atmosphere that off-sets the feeling of "stage fright." To add to the playfulness a bookshelf sits in the corner with rows of magazines sitting upside down.

My family and I sat at the "Fendi" designed table. The table itself was a snake-skinned covered table (with a glass top) with Fendi embellishments on the side. Above the table was a black lamp with a rhinestone Fendi emblem. I, myself, was impressed by this "designer" table; my father (manager of Salvatore Ferragamo) was (jokingly) insulted that there wasn't any Ferragamo tables.

The menu continues on with the theatrical theme as appetizers are called "overtures" and entrees are called "denouement."
After ordering appetizers, we were greeted by a server with a tray full of assorted dinner rolls. You are encouraged to try all of them throughout the night, and I highly encourage trying a variety (while still saving room for your meal) because they are very delicious! My favorite was the pumpkin roll, which was a slightly sweet and buttery roll that melts in your mouth, accented by toasty pumpkin seeds.

The appetizers were very inventive and equally satisfying. My family and I ordered the beet salad (the night's special), "STAGE Caesar Salad," Frog Legs "Kara-age," and White Bean Soup.

The beet salad was an elegant presentation of roasted golden beets atop a bed of goat cheese topped off with spiced walnuts and a light pesto. The goat cheese was delicate and creamy, pairing well with the sweet beets and crunchy walnuts. This was my favorite appetizer of the night and it deserves to be a regular on the menu!

The Stage Caesar Salad was the most inventive appetizer, as it was a variation on the "typical" caesar salad, as it was wrapped like a vietnamese summer roll. This salad used Hirabara Farms Baby Romaine Lettuce wrapped in Rice Paper and included heirloom tomatoes, Manchego cheese, garlic croutons, and a white anchovy vinaigrette. As you bite into the "roll" you immediately notice the tender rice paper and lettuce leaves and its pairing with the delicate, yet, flavorful vinaigrette.

The most daring appetizer on the menu was the Frog Legs "Kara-age." As daring as it sounds, the frog legs really did taste like chicken! The legs were covered in a light crispy batter and paired with a Torarashi Aioli and Japanese Citrus. This dish is better with frog legs than it would be with chicken because the frog legs were very tender and mild.

Next, the manager provided my family with a complementary appetizer (because my dad knew him) of a green tea soba salad with lightly seared Hamachi. The presentation looked impressive, as the dish looked like a flying saucer.

For my entree, I ordered the night's special, which as a Potato Scaled Mahi with Kahuku Prawns and a Kona Lobster Ahi Hash, served with an ancho chili tomato coulis. The mahi was covered with a skin of paper-thin potatoes and lightly fried to create a delicately crispy crust. This preparation reminded me of a dish I once saw on Top Chef. Honestly, this dish was not very memorable, and the sauce was over-powering and salty, which did not allow the flavors of the seafood to shine through.

My step-mom ordered the "Duet of Lamb" which she enjoyed. This dish was lamb prepared two ways: one was a Black Cardamom Spiced Lamb Chop with Green Olive and "Minus 8" Ice Wine Verjus, the second was a Tuscan Style Braised Lamb with Herb Salad and Parmesan Polenta.

The rest of my family ordered the Whole Crispy Moi. This moi was presented whole with the center removed, and filled with the fish, lightly battered tofu, watercress salad and bonito flakes, topped off with a spicy ponzu sauce. Although this dish was good, in retrospect, it did not seem to compare to the excitement of the appetizers and desserts.

The most exciting part of the evening was the dessert. Here, the playful characteristics of the restaurant and menu really have a chance to shine. Pastry Chef Mark Okumura offers a wide array of unique and decadent desserts.

To start, the restaurant presented me with a special birthday cake made from a delicate white cake with a strawberry filling. This was so perfect for me because I just love strawberries!

I ordered the "Fantasy of Chocolate" which is a fancy array of nine different chocolate desserts made from the finest chocolates. The presentation alone was enough to get me excited, but when I tasted each one of the chocolates I experienced bliss!

The other really great dessert was the "pop tart." This was a dressed-up version of the famous breakfast pastry. Although it even looked like a pop-tart, this dessert was much more special. The flaky outer shell was filled with Hawaiian vanilla, poached fuji apple and almonds. The dessert also included a wafer bowl filled with balsamic-cinnamon black currant ice cream. A very creative (and delicious) twist on an two old favorites! My apologies for the blurry picture!

Two other desserts that were fun, but not as exciting were the "milk and cookies" (two freshly baked oatmeal cookies with a warm chai milk) and the orange creamscicle dessert (orange sorbet floating in a vanilla syrup with sparkling voss water poured over).

The night ended with a plate of petite fours. I had absolutely no room for more, but after loving everything I had just tasted, I couldn't leave without just tasting each of them. They did not disappoint me. If I wasn't so full, it would have been a really nice way to end the meal!

Overall, the entire experience was overwhelmingly exciting. The service was excellent, as the servers, bussers, and sommelier all provided a comfortable dining experience. The least exciting part of the meal was the entree; but the appetizers and desserts made up for it ten-fold!

Honolulu Design Center
1250 Kapiolani Blvd.
Honolulu, HI

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Wedding Cafe

Every girl dreams of what her wedding day would be like...the guy, the flowers, the music, everything! Manoa Marketplace has a little cafe that provides a wealth of information when it comes to that big day! The Wedding Cafe is an ingenious combination of a wedding resource center and a cafe. Future bride and grooms can make plans for their perfect wedding while enjoying a bite to eat.

My girlfriends and I are not anywhere close to that big day, but we like to dream. For my birthday, we decided to have lunch at the Wedding Cafe and then head over to Manoa Nails to get pedicures! Talk about a girls-day-out! :) The wedding cafe has a girly and stylish ambience that inspires romance. To top it all off, there was an extra bit of special-ness that day because my boyfriend's sister and brother-in-law (Shandis and Adam) had flowers waiting for me when I got there!! :)

The menu consists of salads, soups, sandwiches, desserts, coffee, and tea. All are fresh, yummy, and very reasonably priced!

The beef barely soup was tasty, and best of all, it was elegantly served in a mug.

The chicken walnut garden salad is a mixture of shredded chicken, mayonnaise, and walnuts on top of a bed of romaine lettuce. Unlike many other places that load their chicken salad with mayonnaise so that it tastes like I'm eating chicken with my mayonnaise, this one had just the right amount!

Each sandwich comes with two pretzels and a pickle. Perfect complements to a sandwich! :)

The best part of the lunch was my complimentary birthday cake! It was a chocolate spooncake... a warm gooey chocolate cake topped with whipped cream! It was soooo good that there wasn't a single bite left after my girlfriends and I devoured it!

The wedding cafe is a great place for lunch even if you're not planning a wedding! It provides a cozy atmosphere and offers great food at reasonable prices! The owners just recently opened up a new cafe in Ward Center that focuses more on the cafe than the wedding resources. The menu is the same; however the food is served on styrofoam plates rather than ceramic.

The Wedding Cafe
Second Floor of Manoa Marketplace
2752 Woodlawn Drive Suite 5-209
Honolulu, HI 96822

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Special Birthday Dinner

For my birthday, my boyfriend, Scott, prepared me a special meal! :) He knows how much I love cooking and eating healthy, so he took these two important bits of information into consideration when planning my birthday. He also took into consideration one of the important aspects of a dining experience: ambience! He had flowers on the table, with candles, dim lighting, and soft music. Very romantic! :)

He tossed whole wheat fettuccine with olive oil, garlic, capers, and a bit of lemon and topped it off with a nicely seasoned salmon.

He even opened up a bottle of wine that he had been keeping for a few years! :)

Thank You, Scott for such a special dinner! This was worth more than any restaurant reservation!!
Its because of Scott that many of these blog entries exist, because he pays for me to eat so well even when its not my birthday.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Panya Bistro

Panya Bistro was a fun place for my girlfriends and I to hang out because it provided a fun and modern atmosphere. The decor can be described as "chic" and the first thing you notice when you walk in, is the liquor lined up on the back-lit glass shelf. Although the restaurant was small, we felt that we could hang out and chat for some time. The food was not the greatest; but the dessert was well worth it! :)

My salad included a bed of romaine lettuce, strawberries, green apples, red onions, tomatoes, and salmon sashimi. This was an interesting combination of flavors and I'm not sure I enjoyed the strawberries with the salmon.

The vegetable sandwich was very disappointing. Without much of a description on the menu, we assumed that it would be a hot, grilled vegetable sandwich. Instead it is wheat bread filled with mustard, lettuce, mushrooms, and avocados. Not much of a sandwich...

If you're in the mood for dessert, Panya is the place to go! The green tea azuki roll was so delicious. The outer layer is a moist cake made with a strong green tea flavor and it is rolled with a sweet azuki cream filling! A very excellent flavor combination!

I'm already a fan of Panya's Hokkaido Bread (which is a light, fluffy sweet bread), so I had to try their Hokkaido Bread Pudding. The sweet creamy pudding sauce was heavenly when paired with the famous Hokkaido Bread!!

Also delicious was the Japanese Cheesecake! This version of the rich American Classic was fluffy with a delicate flavor. This was my kind of cheesecake because I don't usually care for the rich, dense dessert that most people think of when they hear "cheesecake."

Panya also offers a number of fun cocktails that can be great in combination with dessert. Next time, I think my girlfriends and I will just stick to dessert and drinks!

Panya Bistro
Mall Level of Ala Moana Center (Near Gap)

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Goma Tei

To me, nothing says "comfort food" more than a nice, steaming hot bowl of noodles. When I discovered Goma Tei at Ward Center, I was hooked. After my first visit, it wasn't long until I craved Goma Tei's ramen again and I was fortunate enough to visit this place twice in one month! :)

Goma Tei is known for their "Tan Tan Ramen" which is ramen made with a spicy, nutty broth. Tan Tan Ramen has its roots in China's Sichuan Prefecture and it consists of a pork and chicken broth with a rich sesame sauce. This ramen has gained popularity in Japan and we now have two restaurants (that I know of) in Hawaii. I first tried Tan Tan Ramen at Goma Ichi, and I wasn't entirely impressed. Goma Tei, however, was worth a second visit (and more)!

At Goma Tei, you can choose from several appetizers including gyoza, chicken tatsutaage (fried chicken) or ban ban ji chicken. The ban ban ji chicken was slices of cold, poached chicken sitting atop a bed of sliced cucumbers, topped with a soy-sesame type sauce. If I had to choose another side dish, it probably wouldn't be this one again. Although the sauce was tasty, with hints of the delicious broth, the chicken was a bit dry. After leaving the restaurant, I read the article on the window and found out that the chicken tatsutaage might have been a better choice. This chicken is marinated with apples, ginger, garlic, sake, and the secret soy sauce and then dredged in starch to fry up in a crispy outer coating.

Even though the chicken was just "okay" the ramen made up for it ten-fold! :) At Goma Tei, you can choose from shoyu ramen and tan tan ramen. I haven't tried the shoyu ramen because once trying the tan tan ramen, its hard to order ordinary shoyu ramen. The tan tan broth is so rich with flavor that I can't imagine a shoyu broth would have as much character! Each bowl of ramen is prepared using Sun Noodles, and they are cooked with a slightly chewy texture..just the way I like it! The Vegetable TanTan Ramen is topped with choi sum, carrots, green onions, and three varieties of mushrooms: shiitake, button, and straw.

The Char-Siu Tan Tan Ramen included slices of Char-Siu and choi sum. This one was also a good choice; however the Char-Siu at Yotteko-Ya was much more tender and flavorful.

The cold vegetable ramen was also very very tasty! It included the same vegetables as the Tan Tan Ramen but it was served with a sesame-soy sauce. This sauce was so rich in flavor, I almost thought it was made from miso; however upon tasting it further I was pretty sure that it was sesame. The sauce had the same nutty characteristics as the broth and also had a kick of spicy-ness. If you're in the mood for something more refreshing, this is an excellent choice!

As I was observing the other customers order, I noticed that the curry was also very popular. The curry is next on my list! Oh! And I almost forgot... when visiting Goma Tei, don't forget to order a glass of Kirin because its half price! :) You can enjoy a nice cold glass of beer for a little less than two dollars!

Goma Tei
Ward Center (Near Borders)
1200 Ala Moana Blvd. Suite 42
Honolulu, HI 96814