Thursday, November 27, 2008


Last week was the First Annual Restaurant Week to benefit the Culinary Institute of the Pacific. Restaurants across Honolulu teamed up with the Culinary Institute in an effort to raise money and encourage people to eat out. Some offered discounts, others donated a portion of their sales. I took advantage of this opportunity to check out Nobu in Waikiki. This place usually has a pretty high price tag, but for this special event you could get a three-course meal for just $32!

I'd been hearing wonderful things about this restaurant and was delighted to have the opportunity to try it at a discounted rate. Chef Nobu Matsuhisa creates a menu of modern Japanese with a hint of South American influence. Elements of lime juice, jalepeno, and cilantro are just a few subtle accents found in the Japanese dishes. Nobu Matsuhisa has obtained celebrity chef status across the United States, and is known for training the Iron Chef, Masaharu Morimoto.

This restaurant fits in perfectly with the trendy Waikiki Parc Hotel. The hotel itself boasts itself as being "Paradise with an edge" and "More than a hotel, its an attitude." Likewise, Nobu diners have the experience of new age Japanese cuisine set in a sleek and vibrant atmosphere. The dining area is dark with accents of red lighting, juxtaposed against a brightly light, ultra-modern sushi bar. Tables are set with white porcelain dishes and a set of chopsticks resting on a smooth river stone.

Start the experience off with a specialty cocktail or Nobu's private label beer, Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon. I ordered the Sira Ume cocktail; pinky vodka, Takara plum wine, and lime juice. Slightly sweet with a nice tang of ume.

The special set menu consisted a choice of salad, entree, and a dessert. In addition to this, we also ordered an appetizer and sushi.

My salad was Big Island Heats of Palm. Fresh ribbons of hearts of palm, yuzu dressing, micro greens and a jalepeno puree made from jalepeno, garlic and rice vinegar. The bright dressing and pepper flakes gave the hearts of palm a nice kick, while still maintaining the delicate aspects of the hearts of palm.

My mom had the Shiitake Salad, which was fresh seasonal greens with a spicy lemon dressing, garlic chips, marinated shiitake mushrooms, and sesame seeds. This one was a little overpowering and heavy on the salt.

Nobu has an impressive appetizer and sashimi menu. One of the waiter's recommendations was the Tiradito (whitefish, octopus, scallop, or botan-ebi). We chose the Tiradito Scallop ($17, not part of the set menu). Thin slices of scallop sashimi, Peruvian spicy sauce, lemon yuzu sauce, black peppercorns, and cilantro. This was unlike any sashimi I have ever eaten! You immediately taste the spice and tanginess of the sauce, followed by the sweetness of the delicate scallops, and then the flavor finishes up with a bright accent of cilantro. The dish is expertly composed and presented as a work of art.

For my entree, I chose the Black Cod Saikyo Miso (usually $23). The butterfish was marinated in Saikyo miso, a special miso from Kyoto. At the edges of the plate were dots of den miso, slightly stronger in flavor. On top sat Hajikani, a pickled ginger eaten at the end to cleanse the palate. I loved the rich and creamy fish paired with the delicate saikyo miso.

My mom ordered the Sashimi Dinner (usually $38). It consisted of an artfully displayed selection of hamachi (yellowtail tuna), hotate (scallop), maguro (ahi), salmon, tako (octopus) and uhu.

After the entrees came the Salmon and Avocado hand roll ($7). In the Nobu tradition, the sushi is served after the entree, as a simple way to end the meal. Chef Nobu believes that sushi will always be sushi, and should be saved for the end. Well, in my opinion, sushi is a little more than just sushi at Nobu. When the plate came to the table, we could immediately smell the fragrant nori--an indication of its quality.

The meal ended with our dessert, warm roasted pineapple with a brown sugar cinnamon crumble, topped off with Calpico (Japanese yogurt drink) ice cream. It was a nice mixture of tangy and sweet, warm and cold.

We had a wonderful experience at Nobu. The entire wait staff were more than accommodating and the setting offered a sense of glamour for Mom and I to spend time together. The dishes were filled with fresh and clean flavors, allowing us to leave feeling light and satisfied as we drove home for the night. I would surely visit this place again for a special occasion.

Nobu Waikiki
2233 Helumoa Road
Honolulu, HI 96815

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Honolulu Magazine's Hale Aina Awards

The Hale Aina Awards are one of Hawaii's most prestigious dining awards. Subscribers of Honolulu Magazine vote for their favorite restaurants in 25 different categories. Last weekend, the 2009 winners were announced, and in celebration of it, guests were invited to "Eat, Drink, Mingle, Repeat." As the theme suggests, there was good food, an abundance of "sophisticated beverages" and a sightings of some of Hawaii's most respected chefs. Ten of last year's restaurant winners each served their own unique dish at stations placed around the Sheraton Waikiki Ballroom while 16 different wine, sake and liquor vendors offered an assortment of drinks.

Alan Wong's Restaurant (The Incumbent Restaurant of the Year) served Portuguese Bean Soup with Kim Chee. A hearty soup with a kick of spice.

Beachhouse at the Moana (Hale Aina Award-Wining Chef, Rodney Uehara) served "Moyer Farm Beef Wellington" with Port Madera Demi with Morels and a Vegetable Brunoise. My favorite part was the Morel, plump and juicy!

Chai's Island Bistro served Sea Bass with a Lobster Reduction and Ribbons of Zucchini. This was one of my favorite dishes of the night. Chef Chai himself was there working hard to cooking up the sea bass. I had a chance to meet him and take a picture with him. He was very warm and welcoming, very friendly!

Formaggio Wine Bar and Grill served a Grilled Lamb Chop with Roasted Garlic Cream Sauce and Couscous with a Vinegar Reduction. My dad liked this one the best!

The Halekulani served Seared Tuna with Corn Chaat and Avocado Lime Dressing. (Sorry, the picture of this one didn't come out)

Mariposa served Texas Wild Boar Ragu with Kabocha Pumpkin Pappardelle, Hamakua Mushrooms, and Citrus Pistachio Gremolata. Warm flavors of fall with comforting ribbons of Pappardelle.

Ruth's Chris Steak house served Sliced Beef Tenderloin with Sweet Potato Casserole. The casserole was rich and buttery, topped of with a sweet cinnamon and pecan crumble.

Tango Contemporary Cafe (Hale Aina Award winning chef Goran Streg) served Hamakua Mushroom Risotto with Garlic Shrimp.

Vino served an Ahi Nicoise-Style Salad with Hamakua Heirloom Tomatoes, Roasted Yellow Fin Potatoes, Marinated Haricot Verts, Boiled Egg, and Aged Sherry Vinaigrette. Served on a spoon to enjoy all the flavors in one bite!

And last, but definitely not least, was Roy's Restaurant, serving Roy's Melting Hot Chocolate Souffle with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. It was miniature versions of the famous dessert, served warm. Crispy on the outside, warm and gooey on the inside! I got 2 servings of this one!!

Two hours of eating and drinking sure went by quickly! I feel so lucky to have been a part of this event!!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

More to come...

In this last week I have been blessed with the opportunity to share some great food with my friends and family. Check back soon for postings on the Hale Aina Awards and Restaurant Week at Nobu!!

For now, I leave you with this...

The product of two talented chefs and a little too much sake. Its a work of art... wouldn't you agree?? ;)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Izakaya Nonbei

On my last visit to Japan I had the opportunity to eat a several izakayas (Japanese pubs). The most memorable experience was the tiny "hole in the wall, mom-and-pop shop" where the husband and wife owners prepared our dishes right in front of our eyes. It was so special because we stepped aside from the busy streets of Kyoto into a little hideaway and were we were treated to the ultimate comfort food! Eating at Izakaya Nonbei took me back to that fond memory.

The decor makes you feel like you've escaped the a wintery storm in the middle of the samurai days. You can sit around a (unlit) fire pit with an iron kettle which makes you feel as though you're defrosting from the snow. Above the pit hang straw shoes and water canisters made from gourds that--according to my grandma--were used as people trecked through the snow.

Above the tatami lined floors hang wooden palates, each with a menu item written in kanji, displayed like artwork. The menu (there is an English version) is filled with authentic Japanese dishes, many of which are just romanized versions of the Japanese words. Luckily my grandma was there to explain what each were. Don't worry if you don't speak Japanese, the wait staff are very helpful.

The dishes are served izakaya style, meaning small dishes to be enjoyed with sake or beer. There are an assortment of Japanese sake, beer and cocktails. I had a shiso chu-hi (sochu) and my mom and grandma shared the frozen sake. The frozen sake pours out liquid, but when it hits the cup its turns in to icy slush!

Izakaya Nonbei brings in the freshest and highest quality sashimi. Chuu-Toro is the fattiest, most prized part of Ahi and this one was melt-in-your-mouth goodness!

The hamachi sashimi was also heavenly. Artfully displayed and generously portioned.

The agedashi tofu was slightly crispy, with the right amount of chewyness floating in a delicate broth.

One of their signature dishes is the Karei Karaage. Lightly battered and deep fried flounder. So crispy that every part of the fish (skin, bones, head, and all) can be put into your mouth. Oishii!!

We also had some enoki mushrooms and eggplant sauteed in a shoyu butter sauce.

Lastly, to end our meal (as in traditional Japanese style), we enjoyed rice and assorted tsukemono (pickled vegetables). My mom and grandma had plain white rice, but I had the miso yaki-onigiri, grilled musubi brushed with a sweet miso, with a toasty, caramelized crust.

The homemade tsukemono was displayed so beautifully and tasted like it was made with loving hands and long hours of devotion.

This place got my grandma's stamp of approval, and it sure got mine! Although it can be pretty pricey, the quality is well worth it. This place was recognized nationally by Gourmet magazine, and Chef Mavro has been known to dine here as well. If you're feeling like you miss Japan (or want to one day visit there) treat yourself to this tiny Japanese treasure trove.

Izakaya Nonbei
3108 Olu Street (off Kapahulu Ave, across from Safeway)
Honolulu, HI

Monday, November 10, 2008

Uncle Bo's Restaurant

Uncle Bo's is quite an eclectic mix of casual dining, bar, and lounge with a menu inspired by Local, Asian, Italian, and Cajun cuisines. I was pretty confused from the minute I stepped into the restaurant, and still don't quite know how to describe it. First of all, the name "Uncle Bo's" makes it sound like a local "shorts and slippers" take out place. The sign on the outside also gives that impression, with the red and yellow painted surf board. The interior, however, is quite trendy and modern, with plush cushions and a bar with hot pink back lighting. It appears to be sophisticated lounge, yet the televisions suggest a sports bar. To add to the confusion, the owner, Bo Pathammavong, looks nothing like you would imagine an "uncle Bo" to look like (he looks nothing like my uncle Bo, anyway). The menu offers a variety of cocktails, pupus, soups, salads, seafood, pizza, pasta, steaks, and desserts, with everything from Thai Street Style Garlic Chicken Wings ($9), to Baked Opah with a Garlic Chili Aioli and Fried Garlic Shrimp ($19), to Prime Rib with Au Jus and Horseradish ($22), and Chicken Piccatta ($15). At first, I was a little bothered trying to make sense of everything but by the end of the night after hanging out with the girls and eating the food, I realized that perhaps the randomness is what makes this place so fun, and so unique.

We started out the night with some cocktails. The trendy vibe and glamourously lit bar suggest that this would be the perfect place. Unfortunately, we didn't have the best of luck ordering cocktails here (they just didn't taste right). Its a good thing the food was enough to keep us happy! Next time I'll order some wine or beer.

My favorite dish of the night was the Thai Style Steamer Clams ($11) served in a sweet chili garlic oyster sauce. One pound of clams, with chunks of tomato and bok choy swimming in a delicious sauce. I loved the sauce so much I used it as a dipping sauce for my bread and had to hold back from slurping it like soup!

We also had the Warm Spinach Salad ($13) with a strawberry vinegarette, walnuts, onions, bacon and feta cheese. This one was okay, a little heavy on the garlic though.

The Pele Shrimp Pasta ($17) was a Cajun butter sauce with shrimp, bell peppers, onions, and tomato, and white wine. It was slightly spicy and oh so yummy!

The Grilled Chicken and Spinach Pizza ($15) was also yummy, with a thin, yet chewy crust.

So once I stopped trying to figure out what this place was supposed to be, it turned out to be a really fun hangout. It offers a relaxed atmosphere for mingling over good food. The service is pretty good, and they don't mind if you stay a while after the meal. It offered a nice atmosphere for the girls to be girls... but boys can also be boys there too (there was a bunch of guys celebrating a birthday just as we were leaving). Speaking of birthdays, this place also does a great job at embarrassing the birthday girl with a loud birthday song. I only know this because my girlfriends thought it would be so funny to tell the waiter that it was my birthday, even though it wasn't!

One note on this place, try to find street parking if you can. The parking lot across the street that was once free now charges $4.

Uncle Bo's Restaurant
559 Kapahulu Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96815