Sunday, September 28, 2008
I've always dreamed of some day taking a culinary and wine tour around Italy. Until I'm able to live that dream, I'm always on the look out for authentic Italian food. Last year, I walked past Mediterraneo and was drawn to the collection of ceramic artwork and bottles of wine that aligned the window. I had driven past this restaurant many times in my life, but never noticed what a neat place this was as its nestled between other businesses I never paid much attention to. My mom had also noticed this restaurant when she got off her bus, and we have had it on our "must try" list ever since. One year later, we were finally able to check it off our list.
Sitting in the restaurant made me feel like I was living part of my Italian dream. I felt like I was in a contryside trattoria on the outskirts of Rome. I imagined that behind the swinging doors was a chubby Italian chef with a mustache singing away as he carefully rolled out his freshly made pasta dough. As I glanced at the menu, I found classic Italian dishes that Nonna (grandma) might prepare for a family meal. It includes assortments of pasta, ravioli, risotto, and gnocchi (hard to find in Hawaii!), and classic entrees like Osso Buco ($22) and Veal Piccata ($18). Classic pasta selections include pesto ($13), puttanesca (a black olive and caper sauce, $14), aio oio (olive oil capers, garlic, and anchovies,$12), and carbonara (a creamy sauce with bacon, sausage and eggs, $14). I later learned that Chef and Owner Fabrizio Favale created this menu of no-fuss, to-the-point dishes to reflect the Sunday family dinners he enjoyed when he grew up in Rome. The menu also includes a selection of Italian wines and beer that can be purchased by the glass or bottle. As owner of Pane and Vino (wine bar in Waikiki), you can trust that Fabrizio will offer up a good selection.
I ordered a glass of Chiani Cecchi, recommended by the waitress.
For our antipasti (appetizer) we ordered the Crostini Ai Porcini, grilled bread topped with fresh mozzarella and porcini mushrooms. The mushrooms are chopped and mixed with a light sauce with hints of parsley. I really enjoyed the warm crusty bread combined with the light flavor of the mushrooms and the warm, delicate slices of cheese.
All pastas (except penne) are made fresh daily, and you can taste the difference in the texture. You can choose fettuccine, Tagliolini (thinner fettuccine), Trenette (like pieces of lasagna noodles), or penne with any pasta dish you order. The Italian sausage found in many of the dishes are also homemade.
I was torn between ordering a seafood risotto, gnocchi, or pasta, and because I wanted to try one of the most popular dishes, I ordered the waitress' recommendation: the Mare Seafood. This dish is made with chopped clams, mussels, shrimp, calamari, fish, garlic, and capers all in a light tomato sauce. I really liked the bursts of capers and parsley that really gave it a light and fresh flavor. On the downside, it was a bit salty for my taste.
My mom ordered the Vongole--chopped clams, capers, garlic, white wine and a light tomato sauce.
For dessert, you can choose from tiramisu, creme brulee, cheese cake, or house made gelai, or sorbetti. That night the sorbetti flaovor was a pear chiani, which sounded so original and refreshing. We decided to try it. Unfortunately, it sounded much more delicious than it really was. It was way too sweet to be refreshing, I kept having to drink water after taking a bite. Luckily, the waiter noticed that we hardly touched it and took it off our bill. I thought that was very nice of him.
I wouldn't say I was entirely impressed with the food on this night. The service wasn't bad, but it wasn't all that great either. In my opinion, they were one person too short on help. I do really like the classic dishes that the menu offers and I think this restaurant has a lot of potential. I'm going to have to visit this place again before I can decided whether I really like it or not. Perhaps I hyped it up too much in my head over this past year as I anticipated what it would be like. I really enjoyed the ambience, fresh pasta, and the fact that the dishes weren't loaded with grease and cheese like most of the "Italian" (or Italian-American) restaurants you find in Hawaii. Its worth a second try...
1279 South King Street
Honolulu, HI 9614
Monday, September 22, 2008
If you up for a unique dining experience, check out The Green Door Cafe. Leave your credit card at home and bring an empty stomach, a bottle of wine, and a little bit of pride. This place is know for affordable and delicious dishes and the restaurant's "rough around the edges" owner Betty Pang. The Greed Door Cafe has its roots in Chinatown, where Betty served customers in a tiny run-down space. Since then, the restaurant has moved to Kahala (next to the Olive Tree) with much more space and newly designed decor.
From the outside, the restaurant doesn't look like much, but inside is a dimly lit room lined with lanterns, asian-inspired decor, glowing with essence of green. The ambience has a feel that is reminiscent of Indigo.
One look at the menu and the Chinatown-roots become apparent. The scribbles on the whiteboard don't quite fit into the upscale vibe that the ambience provides. You order at the counter, and then find a seat to wait for your meal. Dishes are family style and you pay at the counter when you're done. Bring your own beer or wine, any pay just $3 a person. The Green Door Cafe provides a nice mixture of casual dining in an upscale ambience.
Owners Betty Pang and Glenn Nitta offer up a menu that is Singaporean and Malasian nonya inspired. When I first heard this, I wasn't quite sure what to expect; but I was delighted by their use of asian spices and techniques that aren't common in the restaurants in Hawaii.
For our appetizer, we ordered the Very Special Fry Shrimp Roll ($7), which was shrimp and pork wrapped up in kataifi, deep fried with a light and crispy coating. On the side was a slightly sweet and vinegary dipping sauce that cut through the oil and gave it a refreshing flavor.
My mom ordered Chicken with Organic Oyster Mushrooms, Black Pepper, Garlic and a White Wine Sauce ($13.75). There was a generous portion of huge (and fresh!) oyster mushrooms, which tasted wonderful in the buttery white wine sauce. This dish actually tasted more European than Asian, but nonetheless it was prepared wonderfully!
I asked Betty which one of the vegetarian dishes were good. She said, "Basil Mix. You order the Basil Mix," with a "don't mess with me attitude" and to-the-point intonation. I wasn't about to argue with her, I just said, "Okay." I'm glad I listened, because not only did it spare me having to defend myself, but I really enjoyed it. I wasn't sure what I was ordering, since "Basil Mix" doesn't really explain what is in it or what kind of sauce, but it was a tomato based dish with baby carrots, cabbage, onions, zucchini, green beans, kabocha, and basil. The sauce was very interesting in that when it first hits your mouth you taste the sweetness of the tomato and then as it travels along your palate you're awakened to a very spicy kick!
This spicy stew was great with the soft sweet sticky rice. Don't expect the sticky rice to be like the ones in the Thai restaurants. Unlike the chewy Thai version, this one is fluffy and soft.
We also tried the Roti, which was like a tortilla or Indian nann bread. It was a soft and chewy flat bread with a light brush of butter.
Don't be afraid to be adventurous when you visit this restaurant! All the dishes sounded very interesting and as I looked at the people eating around me they appeared to be enjoying themselves. And Betty isn't as scary as she seems, she did crack a few smiles here and there.
The Green Door Cafe
4614 Kilauea Ave
Monday, September 1, 2008
Stepping into Jimbo is like entering a Japanese escape in the middle of Honolulu. The air is filled with the aroma of the delicately smoky broth, and the sounds of customers slurpping noodles surround you. Take one mouthful of noodles and discover the tender chewy goodness of homemeade noodles. Both Japanese nationals and locals fill the room (and wait outside for a table) just to fill their tummies with the comforting bowl of Jimbo's udon. No place in Hawaii is quite like this one so its about time I paid tribute to one of my all time favorite restaurants.
My grandma who was born and raised in Japan introduced me to this restaurant back when I was in high school. This soon became my favorite lunch spot as I tried several different dished off the menu. I was never disappointed, not even once. After a long semester away at college, Jimbo was often my first stop (before even going home to drop off my bags)! With one slurp of Jimbo's succulent noodles and warm broth I was sure that I was finally home.
Everything on the menu is exceptionally delicious. I'm not exaggerating when I say everything! In addition to the hot and cold varieties of udon, you can also enjoy yaki udon (like yaki soba), oyako donburi, curry, tenpura, kayaku gohan (mixed rice), agedashi tofu and more. Some of my favorites are the hiyashi natto udon, nabeyaki udon, and the salad udon with shrimp. The curry is very tasty, slightly sweet made with a sauce simmered with apples. The agedashi tofu is lightly fried with a broth that is slightly richer than the udon broth, sharing the same smoky overtones. For dessert, be sure to order the green tea ice cream with azuki beans. My cousin used to waitress at the restaurant and she said that Jimbo imports the green tea ice cream from Japan! Its delicious!
On this particular visit, I ordered the "August Special" which was a mini hot udon topped off with natto, ume, okura, nori, and tempura chips and a mini curry rice. This was my favorite ingredients all wrapped up into one dish! I'm hoping that Jimbo will put this on the real menu because it was quite memorable! Every once in a while, Jimbo has these specials and I usually really enjoy, and then I never see it again! The one dish that I wish they would bring back is the oden! I savored every bite and still wishing for more!
Alhtough I love trying something different each time, my boyfriend always orders the same thing. Tempura udon with the tempura on the side. The tempura includes two pieces of shrimp, green beans (the best part!), eggplant, and sweet potato. the tempura are always prepared just right, never too heavy or soggy. I do agree that this is an awesome choice; however I prefer to order something different each time so that I can experience everything Jimbo has to offer!
I was always hesitant to write about Jimbo in my blog because I felt that my writing couldn't do it justice. Words alone cannot explain just how happy and satisfied I feel when I leave the restaurant. I never order udon at other restaurants, simply because I'm always disappointed. On my recent trip to Japan, one of my favorite meals was the bowl of udon that resembled Jimbo's. As I end this entry, I don't feel that I did it justice. Just take my word for it, you'll love it. Try the hot udon first, then go again and try everything else!
1936 S King Street
Honolulu, HI 96826
At last! The frozen yogurt craze has finally hit Hawaii! Two years ago during spring break, my friends and I ventured from Washington to California on a one week road trip. In L.A., we were introduced to the Pinkberry craze, where people would line up for what seemed like miles just to have some frozen yogurt. When we finally got our hands on some, my senses were uplifted in the hot L.A. sun by the tart and refreshing Pinkberry treat! One of my favorite foods (literally) is plain yogurt with granola and fresh fruit, so eating a slightly sweeter frozen version of this is a delightful experience for me. Everything from the brightly lit interior with fresh and clean decor to the burst of crispy sweet fruit in your mouth filled me with excitement and joy. I loved it so much and was sad that this craze had not yet even hit Washington.
Why are people going so crazy over frozen yogurt? I'll tell you why I love it. The first reason that Iove it is because I eat plain yogurt for breakfast on a regular basis and love the tartness combined with sweet fresh fruit, so to eat in in a dessert is a whole other experience! I also love frozen yogurt because its low in calories (usually less than 100 calories in a small serving) and sometimes made with natural ingredients. A health nut like me can really appreciate this yummy and fresh dessert! And if you're not a health nut, go for the chocolate chip and candy toppings!
Two years later, I am delighted to announce that we can now enjoy this frozen treat at several places in Hawaii! The one place that everyone is talking about is Yogurtland. Located in the old "Volcano Joe's" location on University Ave, people of all ages (although mostly college-aged kids) line up at all hours of the day for indulgence in a self-serve yogurt bar.
For just 39 cents an ounce, you can fill your cup with choices from 13 self serve yogurt flavors and an array of toppings.
Flavors rotate on a regular basis and may include green tea, strawberry, coffee, taro, mint, peanut butter, blueberry, heath bar, cookies and cream, and of course plain. Toppings include fruit, a variety of cereal, mochi balls, cheeesecake crumbles, granola, and much more. Its interesting to watch as people fill their cups with combinations of yogurts and pile on the toppings. The second time that I visited this place, they ran out of the plain flavor, which was very disappointing. I guess they couldn't keep up with the demand.
Yogurtland is quite a craze and the self-serve factor does have its perks, but my personal favorite for frozen yogurt is Milano Freezer over in Pearlridge. Its all in the taste and quality for me! If you want to choose from variety and eat as much as you can handle, go to Yogurtland. If you want high-quality fresh fruit and all-natural yogurt that has unbeatable taste, go to Milano. I can't count the number of times I visited this place, and each time I get to the end of my yogurt cup, I feel sad that there isn't more for me to eat. Its always so tempting to order another cup, but I know that one serving is just enough to satisfy me, anymore and I would be stuffed, rather than refreshed. This is the plus about not having self-serve...portions are controlled and you savor what you have. I just can help but feel so happy when I eat here! Aside from the plain yogurt, you can choose from 3 other "flavors of the day" which rotate on a regular basis. I always order plain, but I also like yuzu and blueberry flavors. You can also order freshly made gelato and take out portions of both frozen yogurt and gelato. They also make gelato cakes for special celebrations! And samples of gelato or frozen yogurt are also free (and highly encouraged)!
I've also tried Fro-Yo Bar on King street and wasn't very impressed. It was more of a dessert than a refreshing treat, and although the long list of flavors rotate on a regular basis, the plain flavor isn't always available. The location was very small and parking was a challenge.
Buzz word is that there is also another place called "Red Mango" opening up in Waikiki sometime soon.
Okay, enough about me raving about yogurt. Go out and try some for yourself!
1810 University Avenue
Located near 7-11 in Westridge
98-150 Kaonohi Street
Aiea, HI 96701