Saturday, September 29, 2007

So Gong Dong Korean Restaurant

I've visited So Gong Dong in the past, and the memory of the "Soondubu," or tofu soup lingered with me. When my mom was craving to eat Kalbi, I suggested that we go to So Gong Dong so that I could have more of that soup!

When you enter the restaurant, you have a choice of sitting on the Yakiniku side (where you cook your own meat on the grill) or on the opposite side where the food comes already prepared. The ambience is nothing special. Walls are decorated with advertisments for Korean beer and generic landscape photographs. I found it funny to see two LCD monitors displaying an assortment of photos that included menu items, celebrity visitors, and random Hawaii tourist attractions. It kept us occupied as we waited for the food. :)

The meal starts off with the traditional Korean side dishes. This my favorite part about eating at a Korean restaurant! The Choi Sum was my favorite.

Because this restaurant is known for their tofu soup (and because I loved it so much the first time) I ordered the mushroom soondubu which included enoki mushrooms as well as white mushrooms. It was a great variation of the seafood tofu soup that I usually order in Korean restaurants. The great part about this place is that they bring you the raw egg at the table so that you can crack it in by yourself. This way the egg doesn't get over cooked.

The Kalbi and BBQ Chicken combination was pretty good compared to most Korean restaurants.

My boyfriend who is a "Meat-Jun Connoisseur" described the meat jun as "ordinary" and "not memorable." In my opinion, it was okay, but I would stick to the soondubu.

So, for some great soondubu, check out So Gong Dong!

So Gong Dong
McCully Shopping Center
1960 Kapiolani Blvd.
Honolulu, HI 96826

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


I stumbled upon this restaurant while flipping through this Japanese restaurant guide that I picked up while at Kyoto Ramen. Embedded in a sea of Japanese characters sat a photo of a man making what looked like noodles. With the little Japanese that I was able to read, I figured out that he was making soba. Fresh, handmade soba??!! After doing a little research, I was excited to surprise my soba-loving boyfriend with a trip to Matsugen! I loved this place so much that I've already gone there twice in the last three weeks! During the second visit, I took my Japan-born grandma and she gave it her stamp of approval! "Oishii!!"

Matsugen was filled with Japanese nationals slurpping freshly made soba noodles. When you first enter the restaurant, there is a mill grinding the imported buckwheat into flour. Inside the tiny restaurant, there is a glass display area. If you're there at the right time, you can watch the soba maker making noodles, just minutes before it is presented to you in your meal! Its amazing to see the skill involved with making the noodles!

The menu is handwritten with kanji and english writing. Inside you'll find an assortment of unique appetizers, tempura, kobe beef, udon, and of course, soba!

My favorite appetizer was the "age-soba" or deep fried soba. Small pieces of soba noodles are deep fried and topped with seaweed. These light, crispy snacks were a perfect complement to a glass of beer or the "frozen sake."

The organic tofu was both silky and creamy. Served with katsuo (bonito flakes) and green onions and a special sauce, this appetizer melts in your mouth! Also delicious was the grilled miso with vegetables. I wasn't sure what to expect, but it was a wooden rice paddle covered with miso and placed under a grill. Sticks of carrotts and yama-imo are used to scrape off the yummy miso goodness!! The miso was definitely high quality!

The light and crispy tempura was prepared with precision. Unlike the heavy, greasy tempura that you would find at an okazu-ya, this tempura was perfection! The assortment included two shrimps, a piece of fish, squid, shiitake mushroom, okra, onion, sweet potato, kabocha, and parsley. Delicious!

Now for the SOBA! :) Let me tell you, these noodles exceeded my expectations! I would suggest trying the basic "mori" soba first. The noodles are served on the traditional bamboo mat. I carefully dipped the noodles into the sauce and slurpped them into my mouth. The noodles were both firm and chewey with a slightly nutty flavor. Mmmm!! If you want to try something a little different, but still basic, you could try the cold "inaka" soba. This soba is slightly darker in color and includes the " outer shell" of the buckwheat. These noodles have a grittier texture and is a little more nutty in flavor. Both are great choices.

Being the Natto-lover that I am, I had to try the "Natto Bukkake." This soba is served cold and topped with natto, yama-imo, okra, shiso, green onions, katsuo, wakame, and a soft-poached egg. This was a mouth-full of natto heaven!! :) Each element of this dish had a different texture and flavor to combine into one magnificent masterpiece! I know I must sound crazy, but I LOVED it! To top it all off, this dish comes with "soba-yu" at the end of the meal. The waiter brings a small teapot filled with the water that the soba noodles were boiled in. The soba-yu is poured into the remaining soba tsuyu (sauce) so that you can drink it. The waitress said that its a great way to end the meal and its also very healthy!

The second time that I visited Matsugen, I tried the hot soba. I selected the special for the night, which was "Sansai Yama-imo." The soba noodles were in a hot broth and topped with sansai (mountain vegetables) and yama-imo. The soba served warm takes on a completely different taste and texture! Rather than the firm, chewey texture of the cold noodles, the warm noodles are delicate and tender.

My grandma's selection was the "kamojiru." This was a bowl of steaming hot soba served with tender pieces of duck. The broth was much richer than the "sansai yama-imo" broth, as it had hints of duck in it. She was thoroughly impressed with the dish!

I can honestly say that this was the best soba I have ever tasted. Matsugen is the soba version of my favorite udon restaurant, Jimbo! I will surely be visiting Matsugen again!

255 Beachwalk Ave.
Honolulu, Hawaii

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Pyramids

Every time I drive down Kapahulu Avenue I watch wide-eyed as the plethora of restaurants pass me by. I've always noticed The Pyramids because it offered cuisine that was unique compared to the Japanese, Vietnamese, and Hawaiian eateries that surround it. In my quest to experiment with international cuisine, I asked my friend Brandon to join me to try Mediterranean and Egyptian food at The Pyramids.

Although The Pyramids is nowhere near eye-catching from the outside, you will be surpirsed by the interior which is dressed in Egyptian decor.

In addition to the decor and food, the cultural experience is enhanced by two belly dancer shows a night. The dancer of the night was dressed in a traditional costume made of hand-beaded jewels. As she made her way around the restaurant and stopped a our table I admired the beautiful jewels on her costume.

For our salad, we had the tabouleh, which was a combination of bulgur wheat, chopped tomatoes, onions, mint, lemon and olive oil. I was a little disappointed with this salad, as I expected there to be more of the bulgur wheat than the vegetables.

Being the "health-nut" that I am, I can appreciate the health benefits from the mediterranean diet. I opted for a vegetarian dish called "Bamia" which was fresh okra braised in a thick tomato sauce. This dish came with fragrant batsmati rice, pita bread and an Egyptian Salad which included chopped cucumbers and tomatoes with a light dressing. Because I love okra, I was very pleased with this dish.

Brandon ordered the Shawerma combination plate which included both beef and lamb Shawerma, hummus, pita bread, and a greek salad. Shawerma is marinated meat that is cooked vertically on a spit and sliced thinly into strips. The tender morsels of meat were topped with a tangy yogurt sauce. The hummus was very tasty with a heavy garlic flavor, which complimented the fluffy pita bread.

I grew up eating my Grandma's Baklava, so I could not pass up on the opportunity to try the Pyramid's version. I almost ordered the traditional baklava made with walnuts, but the waitress convinced me to order the pistachio one. Let me tell you, this was such a great variation on the dessert and it was probably the best part of the meal! The buttery, flaky layers of phylo dough were so yummy alongside the fragrant pistachios and sweet syrup!

I was very pleased with the cultural experience that The Pyramids offered. I would definitely go back. On the must-try list is the baba ganoush!

The Pyramids
758 Kapahulu Avenue
Honolulu, HI

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Yotteko-Ya Kyoto Ramen

As I walked around McCully Shopping Center, I noticed the sign outside of Yotteko-Ya that read, "Our homemade soup is simmered for over 10 hours with the coicest pork, the freshest chickens and 10 different vegetables and spices. This meticulous process produces a uniquely thick collagen rich stock that will actually help prevent aging of the skin and joints." How could I not go in and try it?

Hidden in the corner of the second level of McCully Shopping center, this little ramen shop is easy to miss, but don't be fooled by the humble outside decor. The inside of the restaurant is uniquely decorated, with red walls and a celing covered in rows of white lanterns. I found that there was a mixture of both Japanese nationals and locals all slurpping away at their hot bowls of ramen.

My mom and I shared an order of pan fried gyoza. These gyoza were generously packed with a pork and vegetable filling. I could immediately tell that there was a lot of garlic in the filling. Although it was very tasty, I found the strong garlic flavor a bit too over-powering.

Customers are able to choose amongst two different styles of noodles; the traditional (chewier) Japanese style or the (softer) Local style. There were three different types of broths as well. The "Yataji" was the traditional shoyu based broth, "Tonshio" was the hawaiian salt based broth, and the "Paitan" was the new broth that was richer and creamier.

I had the Paitan ramen with the Japanese style noodles. The broth was unlike anything I had tasted before! It was obvious that it was simmered for a long time because the the flavors were so rich and complex. The slice of chashu on the top was so tasty and tender that I wish I ordered the char sui version of the ramen, rather than the vegetable. Next time I will make sure to try the Chashu Gohan, which is a fried rice made with the homemade charshu.

My mom had the Yataji ramen, which was also very delicious. This was more like the traditional shoyu broth that I'm used to having, but it was definitely much better!

Yotteko-Ya Kyoto Ramen
1960 Kapiolani Blvd. #214
Honolulu, HI 96826

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Chai's Island Bistro

I have always heard about Chai's Island Bistro and also watched Chef Chai Chaowasaree on television but never ventured out to try his restaurant. My family and I decided to visited the restaruant in celebration of my step-mom's birthday. We went on a Wednesday night to hear the Brothers Cazimero perform. Although my family was dissapointed by not being able to order the moi (which had run out by the time we got there) I had a chance to taste some memorable dishes.

Our dinner began with a sampler of Chef Chai's signature appetizers. This included the Alaskan King Crab Cake with Garlic Aioli, the Fresh Ahi Katsu with Wasabi Yellow Curry Sauce, and Fresh Mango Tomato Salsa, and the Kataifi & Macadamia Nut Crausted Black Tiger Prawns with Fresh Pineapple and Pineapple Vinaigrette. I had seen the Tiger Prawn appetizer in pictures several times in the past and made it a priority to try it. I must say, however, that I was not entirely impressed with it. The presentation was a lot more memorable than the taste. My favorite was the crab cake, which included generous portions of crab meat without any heavy, unnecessary fillers like breadcrumbs. As for the ahi katsu, I didn't really care for the combination of the curry flavor with the ahi katsu. In addition to the appetizer sampler, we were served a basket of warm pita bread and taro bread along with a spicy peanut sauce. The peanut sauce was delicious with the pita bread!! I chose to skip the taro bread (which didn't look like anything speical) to save room for dinner.

I ate the Wok Seared Jumbo Black TIger Prawns, which was served with a spicy chili ginger sauce, asian stir-fried vegetables and steamed rice. The prawns were crispy with the shells still on, just the way I like them! Although this dish was tasty on its own, I have to say that the wine I chose made this dish ten times better! It was Chuck Furuya's private label Pinot Noir.

Another memorable dish was the Steamed Chinese Style Fresh Chilean Sea Bass with Ginger and Green Onions. The fish was delicately tender and the crispy bacon and chives added a twist to the traditional "chinese style" preparation as well as another layer of texture and flavor.

Of mention was the Crispy Whole Snapper with sun-drited tomato citrus buerre blanc and asian stir-fried vegetables. It was quite impressive to look at and quite tasty.

For dessert, I had the Fresh Baked Macadamia Nut Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream. The warm tart tasted so yummy with the cold vanilla ice cream! For those who love macadamia nuts, this dessert is quite a treat!

Chai's Island Bistro
Aloha Tower Marketplace
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Alan Wong's Recipe

I was so inspired by the Hamakua Springs Tomato, Beet, and Avocado Salad from Alan Wong's that I had to try to make it for myself! I ventured out to the farmer's market to gather the produce and found the recipe online for the li hing mui vinaigrette. I wasn't able to get ALL the ingredients (hearts of palm, yellow tomatoes and yellow beets) but I came close! I also wasn't able to present it the way they do at the restaurant... but it tasted pretty close to the real thing!


Red and yellow baby tomatoes
Roasted red and yellow beets
Hearts of Palm
Li Hing Mui Vinaigrette
Micro Basil
Micro Shiso

1 Whole egg
2 T Ume Paste
2 T Li Hing Mui powder
1/4 c Mitsukan Rice Vinegar
1 c Salad oil
1 t fresh lemon juice