Archive for March, 2012

Day 1 at The Whole Ox Deli

March 28th, 2012

ox1Nadine Kam photos
The Whole Ox Deli's BBK smoked pork sandwich.

The Whole Ox Deli officially opened this morning at 327 Keawe St. and the foodies were out in droves to see, and taste, firsthand, what Robert McGee has in store for us.

Most of us have been waiting for this since November, when McGee finished the last of his Plancha pop-up dinners to prepare for this endeavor.

And, he didn't disappoint. The BBK smoked pork sandwich I had was delicious, and there are beet, caprese and tossed green salads for lesser cavemen.

Of course, because it was packed with foodies, sandwiches were slow to materialize. For whatever reason, restaurants that are overnight successes never anticipate being among the overnight successes, so they're never prepared to be swamped, when, from my side, it's always seems to be a no-brainer. Especially when The Whole Ox rates a whole 10 on a scale of how much I want to eat there.

ox3People ate at picnic tables in the dining room.

oxlineNot only guys like smoked meat. There were plenty of women there too.

oxboardOpening day lunch menu.

oxbeetsBeet salad, at $7 per pound.

oxcapreseCaprese salad.


'Eden Eats' Burmese at Lemongrass Cafe

March 16th, 2012

pgcNadine Kam photos
Pacific Gateway Center executive director Dr. Tin Myaing Thein, left, and chef Aye Aye Maw, right, welcomed Eden Grinshpan, host of the Cooking Channel program “Eden Eats” to PGC's Lemongrass Cafe March 15 for a taping of a Honolulu episode of the show.

I admit to selective hearing sometimes. Invited to a popup dinner at Pacific Gateway Center's Lemongrass Café on March 15, I heard mainly "Burmese food," and maybe something to do with the Cooking Channel.

Dinner will start at 6, I was told. Two-and-a-half hours later ...

Beyond simply enjoying a cuisine I'd never tried before, the event was made-for-television, meaning a lot of delays and waiting. I felt like an actress, prepared to smile, perk up, animate and be excited on cue. Not one to emote, that's not easy for me. Put it this way: When my Kailua house was robbed of jewelry, all the contents of my dressers strewn throughout the bedroom, I overheard the police officers talking outside, saying they didn't believe me because I was too calm and rational. What was I supposed to do, cry, be hysterical? That's not me.

Le Cordon Bleu-schooled Eden prepares to dig into the mohinga, a breakfast staple in Myanmar.

The crew of "Eden Eats," hosted by Eden Grinshpan, was delayed getting to the restaurant after filming malassada action at Agnes' Portuguese Bake Shop in Kailua. By about 7:30 p.m., other diners were allowed to start eating, but not the head table, where I was sitting and most of the filming would take place. Sitting next to me, Makana Shook said she was prepared to eat my arm. I was actually grateful for the delay because I had eaten lunch at Chun Wah Kam, and was still sated eight-and-a-half hours later.

The other diners paid for their earlier start, though, when at 10 p.m., those who wanted to leave were asked to stay for the sake of keeping the restaurant filled from beginning to end. We were released at about 10:30 p.m., easily a 12- to 14-hour day for most of the guests. People may have been tired or nervous because there were at least three incidents of tipped glasses over the course of the evening, though none while cameras were rolling.

The premise of the show is to peek into the sometimes strange world and kitchens of immigrants across the nation rebuilding their lives in the United States, recreating their cultures through food. It's a great concept, and you can get a taste of it at director Samantha Schutz's projects site. That is, if you don't mind a few bloody bits. True foodies wouldn't flinch.

The Honolulu show will air sometime in August.

The TV crew had the option of Ethiopian fare or Burmese, but Aye Aye Maw's Burmese cooking won the day. Her menu of ginger salad, shrimp fritters, cucumber salad, mohinga—a fish sauce and rice noodle soup that is the national dish of Burma—and tapioca dessert did not disappoint. (Read more in my column coming up March 21.) After a month of popups, she'll begin offering Burmese meals every Sunday from 6 p.m., at a very reasonable $20 per person.

"It's not for profit at all," she said. "I just want people to know what is Burmese food."

pgcmohingaMohinga, a thick rice noodle soup that is the national dish of Myanmar, is brought before the camera.

pgccucCucumber salad.

pgcshrimpShrimp fritters accompanied by an herb-filled tamarind-fish sauce and Burmese black tea, for sipping, not dipping. Unbelievably yummy!

pgccamerasCameras roll as Eden speaks with Dr. Thein, who also hails from Burma, and the chef.

pgcchipsPotato chips and shrimp chips kept hungry diners fueled before dinner started. Diners who said they never eat potato chips, finished off every bowl offered.

Art of pairing food and wine at Chef Mavro

March 14th, 2012

mavroglassesNadine Kam photos
Down to the last glasses, dessert wine options on the table at Chef Mavro during a marathon session of his food and wine pairing committee, on which I was a guest voter.

Seven courses. Twenty-eight wines. All before 3 p.m. The marathon eat-drink session was preliminary to the debut of Chef Mavro's Spring 2012 tasting menu next week Tuesday, and I was the lone guest at one of the quarterly gatherings of his food and wine pairing committee, comprising 23 staffers.

Coincidentally, I had been thinking about the art of food and wine pairing ever since I returned from the Big Island food fete at Four Seasons Resort Hualalai. Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya was there and always comes up with brilliant pairings, but there are so many other times I'm at pairing events where there's no love between the food and the wine and I think, who the heck would put these two together? I always think I could do better, so this was a good way to find out!

Of course, there are no rules in tasting. As chef George Mavrothalassitis instructed before we started, "If the food tastes good and the wine tastes good, that's it! End of story."

When developing recipes, he said he's already thinking about the pairing. "I imagine the recipe in my head and if I don't feel the wine, I'm in trouble," he said.

To this day, he has no wine menu because he believes in the notion of the perfect union between one dish and one wine.

mavroChef Mavro starts the duck course, with line cook Adam Ross.

It was great that sommelier and dining room manager Doug Johnson and Mavro's new sommelier, Jordan Nova, had already done the preliminary work before we sat down, narrowing our choices to three to five wines per dish.

"Between Doug's experience and the craziness of Jordan, we are always going to find something interesting," Mavro said.

At 22, Nova is already a wine star, the youngest candidate ever, according to Mavro's wife Donna Jung, to earn the right to take the Court of Master Sommeliers Advanced Sommelier Exam, which requires passing the Introductory Sommelier Exam and the Certified Sommelier Exam, and a mandatory five years minimum experience in the wine/service industry.

I asked him how many wines he considers before narrowing his choices, and he matter-of-factly replied, "All of them."

Then he narrows them to about 100, and in addition to considering the food and wine characteristics and availability, he has a macho, competitive nature that also prizes scarcity, exclusivity and novelty. He's roused the envy of his New York mentor by securing five cases of Chateau Musar Gaston Hochar, from Bekeaa Valley, Lebanon, to her two.

One surprise was Manzanilla la Gitana sherry, said to have a light, refreshing almond flavor, but I couldn't get beyond the fact that it smelled like Kikkoman soy sauce. It didn't capture our vote.

"I like giving people something they've never tried before," Jordan said, and his big score of the day was with Barolo Chinato Cocchi that blew us all away with its sweet, deep plummy, raisony flavor that had little to do with its nose, the smell of medicine chest, camphor, peppermint, Ben-Gay and Salonpas. Unforgettable.

mavro5Jordan Nova shows the emptied Barolo Chinato Cocchi bottle that won over the tasting committee.

mavro barolo

With a recipe that hasn't changed since its introduction in 1891, it's infused with quinine bark, rhubarb, ginger and a variety of other aromatic spices. It's said to pair exceptionally well with dark chocolate, and I could taste why that would work. I really liked it, but didn't vote for it for the cheese course because I wasn't sure most people would appreciate the immediate shock it delivers. And the sweetness, I thought, overpowered the dish it was to accompany.

So when it won its place at the table, my thought was, it wasn't the best pairing, palate-wise, but it was certainly the most daring and exciting choice. As Mavro said, "If you do what people understand, you're going to (end up) with hot dogs and hamburgers."

Dishes will continue to be refined through the menu's March 20 start date, but here's what was on the table March 12. For reservations, call 944-4714:

mavro1Scallop Escabeche and crostini with Maine Diver scallop, in a vinegary Provençal-Portuguese style usually employed with sardines. In our first wine pairing, there was a tie between a Leitz 2009 riesling and Sauvignon blanc. Chef Mavro and I both voted for the Leitz, but in a tie, sommelier Jordan Nova makes the final decision, and he chose the Fiddlehead Cellars sauvignon blanc.

mavro2There is some Japanese inspiration in this menu, though the chef teased, "Chef Mavro is not going to be the next kaiseke restaurant." The second course is a maitake mushroom salad with yuzu, a touch of sesame oil, kabocha and bacon, with ribbons of salsifi, a gobo-like root from Belgium. This will be paired with Cristom Viognier Estate 2010. (more…)

Beef tasting just an intro to Wong's aims

March 8th, 2012

wongNadine Kam photos
In advance of his next Farmer Series Dinner March 14, Alan Wong hosted a preview of some of the dishes on the menu, and when I requested to go into the kitchen, he was in the process of preparing glazed carrots and turnips.

Alan Wong started a media preview of his next Farmer Series Dinner, taking place March 14, 2012, with the presentation of two equal size beef patties, posing the question, "Which do you like better?"

The beef had been cooked sans salt, pepper or other enhancements for the side-by-side tasting.

Taste comes down to personal preferences, physiology and often, familiarity, so there is no right or wrong answer, but he must have been glad that most of the room preferred the patty on the right, which turned out to be Maui Cattle Co. beef that will be the centerpiece of his Farmer Series dinner, which will also start with side-by-side tastings, followed by appetizers, sous chef Shaun Gaines' "Shrimp and Grits," opakapaka, a tasting of Maui Cattle Co. beef  and Hanaoka Farms Lilikoi "Creameux" for dessert, the latter two dishes pictured below.

The other tasting option at the March 7 preview was generic supermarket beef that tasted like fast-food beef. The Maui beef was much sweeter, with better texture, and more interesting grassy, herbal character. The cattle is raised on a vegetarian diet of grasses, and according to Wong, pineapple and molasses, and no antibiotics, growth stimulants or other chemicals.

Wong's simple question of which beef patty one prefers raises all kinds of sustainable and economic issues.

Beyond raising awareness of the flavor profile of different beef, Wong talked about some of his pet projects, such as Aina in Schools, which addresses childhood health issues, nutrition education, agricultural literacy and garden-based learning.

"Things are disappearing in Hawaii," he said. Where once island farms satisfied 70 percent of our dairy needs, that number is down to 30 percent. Bees are disappearing as well.

Maui Cattle Co. beef will be presented four ways at the dinner. In front, braised shortribs with pomme purée of Twin Bridge Farms Patina Potatoes, with red wine glaze made from Wong's merlot. Moving clockwise, there will also be London broil with glazed Maui onions and port wine sauce, ribeye with roasted Ho Farms tomato cluster, and New York strip with glazed turnips from Otsuji Farms and arugula tapenade. The latter was my favorite.

Oceans are also being depleted and he's pushing to encourage people to do aquaponics "to supplement what get from the ocean."

"It's much more than 'which hamburger you like?' he said. "It's getting down to schools, helping kids learn to eat more healthy."

In turn, the children get to taste and appreciate differences between fresh and processed foods, learn to choose healthful foods over sugary snacks, and with the increased food literacy are helping to drive their parents' decisions in the supermarket.

Proceeds from the Farmers Series dinner will benefit Taste of the Nation, the fundraising arm of the national organization Share Our Strength, whose campaign, "No Kid Hungry" aims to end childhood hunger in America by 2015. To date, one out of every four children in the country does not know where his/her next meal will come from, and studies have shown that undernourished children are unable to focus in school and grow up to suffer emotional and health problems.

Among the local beneficiaries are 'Aina in the Schools, a program of the Kokua Foundation, and Hawaii Foodbank.

Polly Kauahi, director of Hawaii Foodbank, Inc., was there to talk about the Food 4 Keiki Backpack Program which launched in 2008 at Kaiulani Elementary School. The program aims to fight childhood hunger, starting by distributing bags packed with nutritious foods once a month to students from low-income families. Since then, the program is delivering the meals every Friday.

The cost of the Farmers Series dinner is $80 per person/$110 with wine. For reservations, call 949-2526.

Also coming up, Wong and 15 local chefs will partner with local farmers in Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation Hawaii, taking place April 29, 2012, at Bishop Museum, from 6 to 9 p.m., with a VIP hour from 5 p.m. Visit for more details about these and other events.

wongcarrotsCarrots need space in the pan to achieve an even, glossy sheen.

wongsonnyChef de Partie Sonny Acosta Jr., will be the featured chef during Alan Wong's Next Generation Dinner taking place March 28, 2012. Among the highlights of this dinner will be his "Poulet au Vinaigre," which he prepared at the 2012 Bocuse d'Or USA Commis Competition at The Culinary Institute of America on Jan. 28. The chefs were invited to reinterpret Paul Bocuse's classic recipe in their style.

wongchickenDrawing on his Filipino heritage, and growing up with the food of Thelma's in Waipahu, Acosta presented adobo style chicken three ways, including lumpia with ground chicken. It was delicious, could that be because I grew up in Waipahu, too?

wongdessertAfter all the meat selections, pastry chef Michelle Karr-Ueoka's dessert was a light, refreshing delight. Her Hanaoka Farms Lilikoi "Creameux" comprised lilikoi curd,  foam guava granite and foam coconut granite aerated in a canister to create a soft sponge effect, topped with white candied ginger meringue. That square toward far left comprises mango lassi, muddled mango, mango gelee and fresh mango. Amazing! The meal ended with amazake, a traditional unfiltered sake reinterpreted with Hanaoka Farms lilikoi juice, presented by wine director Mark Shishido.

wongchefsWong with new sous chef Shaun Gaines.

Celebrating 'Made in America' Hawaii-style

March 6th, 2012

hhchefsNadine Kam photos
Among chefs participating in the "Made in America 2" chef's dinner March 3 were, from left, Nancy Silverton, Josiah Citrin, Ludo Lefebvre and The Four Seasons Resort chef de cuisine Nick Mastrascusa.

Some of Los Angeles' top chefs were in the house at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai for "Made in America 2," five days of cooking classes, a farm tour, a fishing trip and sumptuous meals that took place March 1 through 5.

I was able to fly over to the Big Island for the chef's dinner March 3 at the Beach Tree restaurant, bringing together the talents of Nancy Silverton (Osteria Mozza, Pizzeria Mozza, La Brea Bakery), Matt Molina (executive chef of Osteria Mozza and Pizzeria Mozza), Ludo and Krissy Lefebvre (LudoBites) and Josiah Citrin (Mélisse, Lemon Moon Café).

Each of the chefs is featured in Lucy Lean's cookbook, "Made in America: Our Best Chefs Reinvent Comfort Food," published last fall, which showcases America's classic comfort food dishes as reinvented by 100 of today's top chefs from across the nation. Recipes by the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai executive chef James Babian and pastry chef Linda Rodriguez appeared in the cookbook, so the resort invited Lean back for "Made in America" celebration once the book was published. "MIA2" revisited the work, this time with more of Lean's chef friends to keep her company.

Considering the star power, I thought the various dinners were very reasonably priced at $69 to $99 per person with wine pairings by Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya.

Josiah Citrin had another reason to be in Hawaii, checking in on his new burger shack, Sure Thing Burger, in Lahaina. He's trying to get me to go over and try it, which is tempting, given that it's getting mostly 5-star ratings on Yelp, mostly from out-of-towners who have no clue as to the star power behind it.

He says he'll be on Oahu in September, for Roy Yamaguchi and Alan Wong's Hawaii Food and Wine Festival, an event that is more than doubling its size in its second year, to 50 chefs! Can't wait for that!

hhlucyLucy Lean's "Made in America: Our Best Chefs Reinvent Comfort Food" cookbook inspired the culinary gathering.

leanbookLean's book, rendered in white chocolate.

As nice as it would be to have such a gathering on Oahu, the setting was fabulous and the intimacy allowed for great exchange between chefs and foodie fans.

The resort strives to be a culinary destination, and one fan, Greg Hartman of San Francisco, shared his love of the resort, saying that just a few years ago, it was "hollow."

Things changed, he said, with the opening of the Beach Tree on manager Chuck Wilson's birthday in August of 2009. "It transformed the whole resort," Hartman said.

Chef de cuisine Nick Mastrascusa describes the Beach Tree as the piko of the property, the gathering place where people congregate to relax and enjoy the beautiful sunsets.

Formerly with the Four Seasons New York, Mastrascusa arrived at the same time as Wilson, and when he left New York, his peers teased, "What are you going to be doing there? Opening coconuts and serving food in them? Serving them with pineapple?

Far from it. The food certainly gives area farmers and ranchers their due, utilizing 75 percent local ingredients, but without a ticky-tacky tourist dish in sight.

hhnickNick Mastrascusa grates cheese over the Garganelli with Ragu Bolognese cooked up on the spot by Nancy Silverton and Matt Molina.

hhtastingCitrin offers Lefebvre a taste of one of his creations.

hhnancySilverton and Matt Molina set up before the dinner rush.

sunset3The setting, just beyond the Beach Tree restaurant, were beach and sunset. (more…)

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