Saturday, April 26, 2008

Kyoto Osho

After writing about such a memorable Japanese restaurant (Kunio), Kyoto Osho seems so disappointing. Kyoto Osho originally opened up as a buffet restaurant at Ala Moana's Hookipa Terrace. With the competition from Tsukiji Fishmarket, Kyoto Osho made a change to offer teishoku meals and a regular menu instead of a buffet. My family and I decided to check it out one night, and we were very disappointed. We found that it was mass produced buffet-quality food in a cafeteria type atmosphere.

The decor of Kyoto Osho is somewhat Japanese inspired, accented with aquariums. The waitresses wear Chinese-style dresses and our waiter wore pants so baggy that it was practically falling off (not something you want to see when you're trying to enjoy your meal). The buffet table still remains, and the high ceilings and wide-spaced tables give the feeling that you're dining in a cafeteria. Take a look at the carpet, and you'll see numerous dirty stains from previous spills.

After ordering our meals, we are served tea, miso soup, salad, tsukemono, and chawan mushi. The chawan mushi looked terribly unappetizing, and it was obviously sitting under a hot lamp (or sitting in the steamer) for way too long. It was over-cooked and appeared to be shriveled up in the dish. The other teishoku accompaniments were not very impressive either.

After the initial appetizers, the teishoku main dishes are presented with a bowl of rice.

The tempura was not so great...

...and the butterfish was small and overcooked.

The chirashi sushi (not considered a teishoku meal) was decent; however the rice was a bit too sweet for my taste.

With all the dining options surrounding Kyoto Osho, I would suggest dining elsewhere.

Kyoto Osho
Ala Moana Center, Hookipa Terrace

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I have written about several Japanese restaurants so far, and visited even more in my life. For me, Kunio is one of those tried and true spots that always offers quality Japanese food at a reasonable price. Because its located in Waikele Shopping center, I tend to forget about it and haven't visited it in years; however my recent visit was quite nostalgic and reminded me why I loved this place to begin with.

One wouldn't expect to find such good Japanese food in a shopping center; however from the time you walk into the restaurant, the tantalizing aromas are hints that you're in for something good. The dim lighting, Japanese decor and sophisticated kimono-inspired waitress attire create a unique Japanese experience. You may feel a bit rushed if you go during peak hours (for lunch or dinner), because they get quite busy, and the waitresses are frequently rushing around to serve their tables. Be prepared to wait for a table, because this is a popular place for many. Trust me, its worth the wait. Check out the menu while you wait, and decide what you'll order from a wide selection of Japanese dishes.

I always remember the tempura, when I think of Kunio. The tempura is always prepared light and crispy without being too greasy and heavy. The menu consists of teishoku meals, where you can select from several main dishes to create your own combination. Choices include steak, grilled salmon, butterfish, sashimi, vegetable tempura, shrimp tempura, and so much more. All teishoku come with rice, miso soup, salad, and appetizers.

This time, I ordered the vegetable tempura and misoyaki butterfish.

My boyfriend ordered the shrimp tempura and grilled salmon.

In addition to teishoku, you can order nigiri sushi, chirashi sushi, sushi rolls, soba, udon, and various types of donburi. All are great choices, but I always make sure to order tempura!

Waikele Shopping Center (next to Party City and Paul Brown)
94-799 Lumiaina Street Suite 2F
Waipahu, HI 96797

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Samira's Country Market

Don’t be fooled by the name “country market.” Samira’s is a gourmet secret hideaway. I expected to find a little mom-and-pop market that had simple take-out foods; but I was surprised to find a two small tables and quite a gourmet spread. Here, a man named Norman, and his wife Samira, have an interesting “country market/gourmet restaurant” where they serve you themselves with a smile and extra TLC.

Not expecting to spend as much, I ordered the crab cake appetizer. This was the best crab cake that came out of a syrofoam container--let alone the best crab cake--that I have ever tasted! The crab cake is made up of chunks of real crab meat with some goodies (perhaps bell peppers, onions, nuts) all encrusted with a golden breadcrumb crust. There are no breadcrumb fillers in this one! All of this is topped with a spicy sauce and sits on a bed of arugula tossed with a balsamic dressing. Let me tell you, when you take a bite of it, there are so many layers of flavors and textures, you will not know what hit you! I’m usually pretty good about being able to pick out the flavors, but this one is just plain old yummy… I can’t tell you what I taste! The slightly bitter and crunchy arugula, the sweet crab meat, the spicy and creamy sauce, the light golden crispy crust…mmm! You can imagine it… but you should try it for yourself! It was surely worth the $12.50 that I paid (for the appetizer portion). You could order the entrée that is served with rice, pasta salad and fruit salad for $18. The crab cake is also available in a sandwich for $15.

I’m raving about the crab cake, but I can almost guarantee you that they have other dishes that are just as good. If you want to dine there for lunch or dinner, be sure to make a reservation because the seating is very limited. The tiny restaurant has three tables, making it a warm and home-like atmosphere. The husband and wife team wait, serve and cook for you while you sip on wine. In addition to the usual dine-in/take-out menu (which boasts the “best tabouli,” fresh seafood, bouillabaisse and several other delicacies), there is also a “special menu” which requires 24 hours notice for orders. This menu includes dishes that take a lot of TLC to make, and ingredients flown in from Alaska and New York. This special menu could set you back $100 per person!

In addition to the restaurant and take-out service, Samira displays and sells artwork that she hand-paints. She also bakes up fresh batches of mango and banana bread daily. And last but not least, you can get an awesome shave ice, made with homemade syrup. Norman and his wife make their own syrup using fresh fruits such as lychee, lilikoi, coconut, mango and strawberries. I didn’t have a chance to try it yet, but I watched as a man and his son enjoyed their gigantic strawberry mango shave ice, and it looked delicious!

So whether you’re in the mood for a gourmet meal, take-out lunch, or some homemade baked snacks and shave ice, Samira’s has something wonderful to offer you. Samira's has the charm of a mom-and-pop country market, and the taste of a gourmet restaurant.

Samira’s Country Market
1423 10th Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96816

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

San Francisco

San Francisco is an amazing city, and each time I visit, I find something new. Each trip has been brief (just a few days long) but filled with wonder and excitement, leaving me looking forward to more. I recently went to San Francisco to visit my sister who is in her first year of college at San Francisco State University. This time around, with my sister as my guide, I got to see San Francisco from a “local’s” standpoint. In the past I had only visited the typical tourist spots like downtown, Ghiradelli Square, and Chinatown. I never realized that there was so much more to the city, and thanks to my sister, I developed an even greater appreciation for a city that I already had fond memories of. Although this trip was very short, it turned out to be an exciting and heart warming experience. It was filled with new tastes, sights, and best of all, uninterrupted sister bonding time. After two full days together, I wasn’t ready for it to end. As the doors to the airport shuttle closed, tears came to my eyes as I realized how grown-up my little sister had become as she showed me around the city, and my I felt so touched as I realized that in the last few days, our roles had reversed as my little sister had taken care of me.


After taking my luggage to my sister’s dorm, we snuck onto the Muni (shhh…) and headed to the West Portal area for dinner at an Indian restaurant. Here was my sister, who once lived for hamburgers, pizza, and plain udon, suggesting that we eat Indian food. I was delighted by her suggestions and jumped at the opportunity to see my sister eating “different” food. I was excited about my sister’s newly expanded palate, and the “exotic-ness” of this first meal proved to be a great indication for our meals to come.

Roti, was an Indian Bistro with modern décor and mesmerizing photographs of India and its people. Aside from the photographs, the ambience resembled a modern bistro rather than a typical Indian restaurant. The service was not the greatest, as there were only about four other parties dining, and more than enough staff to serve us. It seemed as though nobody wanted to take full responsibility for our table, as people completed their job only half-way (i.e., the hostess sat us, but did not provide us with menus). When we made a request (i.e. to see a dessert menu), the request was not immediately fulfilled, nor did the person pass the message on to the appropriate person. Despite this minor detail (we weren’t in any hurry), my sister and I had a memorable experience at Roti.

The meal started off with papadum (a lentil wafer) and two sauces, a spicy mint chutney, and a sweet and tangy tamarind chutney. The papadum was a paper-thin crispy cracker with flecks of fennel seeds and hints of curry powder and turmeric. It was a nice way to start off the meal, and unlike bread and butter, it didn’t fill me up so I had plenty of room left for my dinner. My sister ordered a mango lassi smoothie and I had a house-made cup of chai.

The chai was delightfully spicy with a hint of sweetness. It was delicious on its own without the need for additional sugar.

We decided to order one curry dish, one rice dish, and one roti (flat bread).

The Mattar Paneer ($11) consisted of peas, homemade farmers cheese (paneer), tomatoes, spices, and a hint of coconut milk.

For roti, we chose Keema Naan ($6) which was filled with a paste made up of cherries, golden raisins, and nuts. On its own, it was a bit too sweet for dinner; but eaten together with the Mattar Paneer, it added a whole another layer of flavor and the sweetness balanced out the spiciness of the curry.

The rice was called Basmati Pulao ($3), which was Basmati rice cooked with saffron, cumin, cardamom and bay leaves. There were more exciting rice dishes that included things like seafood, fruits, lamb, or chicken, but we decided to stick with the simple one. We enjoyed our dinner choices very much! The Keema Naan also tasted great the next day at breakfast!

The dessert was the most exciting part of the meal. The Kulfi, or homemade ice cream, appeared unlike any ice cream we had ever seen. The shape reminded me of cranberry sauce out of the can on Thanksgiving and the texture reminded me of Maui’s “guri guri.” The flavors were not comparable to anything I had ever eaten. I watched as my sister took her first bite. She put the spoon into her mouth, closed her mouth, and her face displayed an expression of thought followed by delight. “Wow, that was really interesting, I like it!” As I tasted it for myself, I was pleasantly surprised by the different flavors that awakened my mouth. At first, I tasted the sweetness of the cream and pistachio. Then the flavor evolved to highlight the saffron, rose water, and cinnamon. Then finally, the flavor finished off with notes of the cardamom. I had to take another bite to make sure I had gotten all of the flavors, and then I had another one, and another one, and… you get the point.

This unique bistro was a great way to begin our time together in San Francisco. As we made our way back to the dorms on the Muni, we were left with full stomachs and newly enlightened palates!

Roti Indian Bistro
53 West Portal Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94127


As we walked from Castro to Mission, we accidentally stumbled upon Tartine. I had read about Tartine in several books and magazines, and delighted that we found it. I was initially drawn to the crowd of people and the warm aroma that filled the air, and as I searched for the name of the bakery, there was none. I wouldn’t have known what it was if it wasn’t for the small sign in the window. Although I knew that we would soon be consuming a big fat greasy burrito in Mission, I had to try it. Pastry chef Elisabeth Prueitt and her husband, baker Chad Robertson, has been recognized by several magazines and appreciated by culinary geniouses around the world. This bakery has also been recognized by the James Beard Foundation with nominations for two consecutive years.

Their pastries are prepared with expert French techniques, using organic flour and local eggs. Customers wait outside the door for cookies, tarts, cakes, and Chad's naturally fermented, organic, hearth-baked loaves of bread.

I looked around to see what every one was eating, and because it was lunch hour on a Saturday afternoon, most people were enjoying quiche, pressed sandwiches, Croque Monsieur (open faced sandwiches topped with cheese, herbs, ham and/or seasonal vegetables) while sipping on coffee and reading the newspaper. People were seated at very rustic tables and chairs made from wood. Customers ranged from families with small children, to individuals enjoying the Sunday paper, couples, and girlfriends chatting over lunch. The savory Croque Monsieur and sandwiches looked very rustic and delicious; but my eyes were drawn to the pastires and cakes! It was obvious that the pastries were hand crafted with thoughfulness and care. I asked the lady behind the counter what was popular and she suggested the crossant, brioche bread pudding topped with mixed berries, and the lemon tart. I ordered one Lemon Cream Tart ($6) and one crossant ($3). My sister and I settled in on a stand-up counter near the window.

I took a bite of the crossant while my sister started on the lemon tart. This crossant was unlike any that I have ever tasted. The appearance alone was enough for me to know that I was in for something good. The pastry was the same size of the typical American crossant , but tasted like what I imagine I would find in Paris. The outer layer was a deep dark brown with hints of golden yellow. As you bite into it, you find a crispy, flaky layer filled with a soft buttery center. I saved the majority of it for later (thinking of the burrito that was ahead of me) and put it aside. Later on in the day, I took the crossant back out thinking I would eat just half of what was left; however I ate the remaining piece without a single bit of guilt. It had been hours since I bought it, and it tasted just as good. The buttery goodness was worth every bit of the calories!

The Lemon Cream Tart was elegant and dainty. A creamy lemony filling sat atop of a buttery pastry shell. The dollop of whipped cream was adorned with candied kumkwats. My sister and I shared it and savored every bite of it. I expected to take some of it home with me (grabbing a take-out box from the counter); but to my surprise the tart was so delicious, that we ate it all up.

The two of us truly enjoyed this serendipitous occasion. I was thrilled that we found this bakery in such a diverse neighborhood. I will surely be back for more the next time I visit!

600 Guerrero St. (@18th Street)
San Francisco, CA 94110

La Corneta Taqueria

After leaving Tartine, we continued on our way to the Mission district. This area is known for its Mexican-American community. Living in Hawaii, we are deprived of good Mexican food, and I was longing to find out what it was that people on the mainland were raving about. Being a vegetarian, I decided to break from this in order to have the true experience. My sister had gone to … before, and we walked the streets looking for the same restaurant. We walked for quite a while, although I didn’t even notice how far we were going, because I was taking in all the new sights and attractions. The streets of Mission are filled with vendors selling bags, clothing, and souvineers. There are also surprisingly an number of Chinese vendors and restaurants—something that sticks out like a sore thumb.

I imagined that we were looking for a run-down mom-and-pop taqueria however when we got to our destination La Corneta Taqueria turned out to be a chain-type restaurant with clean tables and murals painted on the walls.

We looked over the menu on the wall, ordered from the lady behind the counter (who initially spoke to us in Spanish) and proceeded to watch our burrito get made behind the glass barrier. On one end there were people cooking up smoking batches of meat that filled the restaurant with a smoky aroma. Further down the line were people filling burittos, nachos, and tacos with fillings. Finally, at another counter after the register a man stood making freshly squeezed orange juice.

Burritos are filled with your choice of meat (various types of steak, chicken, pork, sausage, and tofu), beans (black, whole, or refried), salsa (mild, hot, verde, roja), and tortilla (corn, flour, whole wheat, and spinach).

We ordered the “Super Buririto” with carne asada. This one included, meat, rice, beans, cheese, sour cream, salsa, lettuce, and guacamole. It was a gigantic burrito and the fillings were overflowing! After eating it, I understood why Californianas moving to Hawaii were always in search of good Mexican food. The meat was tender and smoky, lending an amazing flavor throughout the burrito. The best part was that the tortilla was tender and chewy, and as you bit into it, it stuck to your teeth and the roof of your mouth. I enjoyed the texture of the tortilla in combination with the fillings. My only criticism was that we should have ordered the verde or roja salsa, because with the "hot" salsa, I could barely taste the spiciness. This wasn’t so bad though, because it allowed me to appreciate the other flavors of the burrito.

All orders also come with freshly made tortilla chips. We barely ate these, however, because we were so stuffed from sharing just one buritto!!

Although this was unlike any burrito I would find in Hawaii, I think I would try going somewhere else if I ever go back there. The ambience felt too much like a chain restaurant. I think I want to visit somewhere a bit more Mexican and less American.

La Corneta Taqueria
2731 Misson Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

The Ferry Building Marketplace and Farmer's Market

The Ferry Building Marketplace is an epicurean paradise filled with restaurants owned by highly esteemed chefs, patisseries, bakeries, specialty food shops, and florists. On Saturdays and Tuesdays, there is a Farmer’s Market that lines the walkway in front of the plaza. Here you will find vendors from all around San Francisco, with fresh produce, specialty items, and prepared foods from famous restaurants. The words “organic,” “vegetarian,” and “raw” are no stranger here, yet it isn’t unusual to find specialty meat and hamburger vendors as well. My sister and I sampled our way down the isles before actually purchasing anything. After seeing what there was to offer, we stocked up on dried fruits and cooking sauces.

I was delighted at the sight of all the fresh produce, but sad that all I could do was take pictures. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to carry the fresh items around with me all day, and because I was leaving the next day, I wouldn’t have had time to enjoy it.

We also ordered food from a vendor called “Alive.” Alive is a restaurant in San Francisco that serves 100% raw and vegan foods. My boyfriend had given me a raw foods “cook” book for my birthday, and I was trilled to try it at the farmer’s market.

We ordered a dish that included ribbons of pumpkin and butternut squash that resembled noodles. This was topped with a sunflower seed pate and shiitake mushrooms ($6). My sister found it surprisingly delicious and I too was pleasantly satisfied!

I also tried the raspberry chrysanthemum spritzer ($3) which had bits of flowers and fruit floating in it, It tasted as I expected, tart and “flower-y.”

Inside the Marketplace my eyes widened and I felt like a 6-year old in a candy store. From one end to the other, I saw so many things that excited me!

Specialty cheese shops where you can sample cheese, a mushroom shop, Michael Ricchuitee’s (James Beard Foundation Award Winner) chocolate shop (with HEAVENLY chocolates!), wine stores, florists, and a plethora of excuisite restaurants (Boulettes Larder, Slanted Door, Taylors Automatic Refresher, Delica rf1).

We stopped at a specialty shop called I Perferiti di Boriana that imported all of its items from Tuscany. There was a mini dispay case at the front of the store and they were filled with Bomboloni, delicately fried puffs of dough filled with your choice of fillings (nutella, raspberry, custard, chocolate). My sister ordered an Nutella one while I snapped photographs. The guy behind the counter asked, “You guys are only getting one?” I replied by letting him know that we were going to share it and he said, “oh, you never share these” and before we left, he said, “see you soon” hinting that we would be back for more. These sugar-coated doughnut dumplings were delicious! In the words of my sister, they were like “heaven in my mouth!” Soft pillows of dough topped with the crunchy bits of sugar crystals filled with ooey-gooey chocolate hazelnut! It would have been the perfect compliment to a hot cup of tea!

It was tough to decide where to eat lunch, but we decided on Delica rf1, a Japanese delicatessen, because when my sister and I stepped foot into the deli, the aroma that filled the air was reminiscent of our childhood memories of eating Japanese food. Unlike the delicatessens that you find in Hawaii, this one used a combination of Japanese and European cooking techniques while utilizing local and organic ingredients.

The display cases were filled with salads, main dishes, fried items, and bentos. We decided to get two bentos (the regular and the vegetarian, $9.50 each) so that we could try an assortment of dishes.

The regular bento consisted of a chicken dumpling (made with ground chicken, organic tofu, water chestnuts, and shiitake mushrooms topped off with a sweet chili sauce), a Fried Shrimp Cake (white shrimp made into a dumpling and deep fried), Wasabi Garlic Potato Salad (Garlic potato salad with wasabi mayonnaise, edamame, snap peas, and romaine hearts), a barley salad (barley, cheese, and chopped vegetables), and a Spicy Burdock and Lotus Root Salad (a spicy mix of braised burdock, lotus roots, and konnyaku with thin slices of white onion, celery, carrots, and mizuna).

The vegetarian bento consisted of the Wasabi Garlic Potato Salad, the Spicy Burdock, and Lotus Root Salad, Organic Tofu Steak with Miso Sauce (Pan-fried organic tofu topped with a dark miso sauce made with bamboo shoots, minced shallots, and pine nuts), Wakame Namasu (Wakame and Cucumbers in vinegar), and Zuckerman Farm’s Asparagus Salad (green bean, asparagus, and organic carrots with a sesame dressing). We also tried the Salmon and Sesame Genmai Rice Ball, which was cured and roasted wild salmon and sesame seeds mixed with steamed brown rice. Everything was delicious and we ate every bite of our lunch! I thoroughly enjoyed this unique Japanese experience and it is worth visiting again!!

The Ferry Building Marketplace was by far my most favorite part of the trip! For any food-lover visiting San Francisco, this place is a must! Even if you can't make it on a day when there's a Farmer's Market, the Marketplace is worth visiting!

The Ferry Building Marketplace and Farmer's Market
1 Ferry Building
San Francisco, CA 94111