Archive for February, 2013

Doraku + Blue Tree = double happiness at Pacifica

February 27th, 2013

dorakuNadine Kam photos
Doraku Kaka'ako by day.

By Nadine Kam

If not for one small detail, I would not have recognized the kinship between Doraku Kaka'ako and next door neighbor Blue Tree Cafe, in the new Pacifica condominium building at 1009 Kapiolani Boulevard.

The former caters to the happy hour, pau hana and party crowd. The latter offers the fix for the aftermath, with healthful libations and many a vegetarian and vegan food offering.

But I put two and two together when I saw the small photograph of Benihana of Tokyo founder Rocky Aoki and his first wife Chizuru, on a table at Blue Tree while reviewing the two eateries last month. (Aoki also translates as "Blue Tree.") The two are the parents of the restaurants' founder, Kevin Aoki, who hosted a casual media tasting Feb. 25 to introduce the two concepts.

For Aoki, raised with the Benihana tradition, Japan-style specialities with a twist seems to come naturally, so I was more intrigued by his organic and vegetarian direction, which he chalked up to a matter of getting older and recognizing the need to guard his health in light of raising a young family while undergoing the daily stress of overseeing a growing empire that will soon see another teppanyaki concept, Aoki, opening in Miami soon.

Introducing a delicious fruit "life-changing" elixirs, very verde smoothie and kombucha, the probiotic fermented tea, is in line with what he does at home to stay healthy.

I applaud the effort believe that all restaurateurs should consider ways to keep their clientele alive. I would have opened a french fry and aioli shop in downtown Honolulu two decades ago if I didn't care that to do so essentially amounts to killing people.

btkomLilikoi kombucha and a very verde smoothie sit in front of a  portrait of Rocky and Chizuru Aoki at Blue Tree Cafe.

dcoralreefCoral Reef roll with salmon, avocado, crab and won ton chips.

dahiDoraku's Kaka'ako's "New Style" tuna tataki with julienne radish and onions, kaiware sprouts, crisp garlic chips, garlic aioli and ponzu sauce.

ddoubleDoraku's Kaka'ako's Double Happiness roll of crab rolled in nori, thin-sliced cucumber and finished with tobiko, garlic aioli and ponzu sauce. This was so refreshing and a perfect option for the gluten-free crowd.

dhamachiChef Hide Yoshimoto’s panko-crusted hamachi with mango salsa, king oyster mushrooms, asparagus, mango puree, and lemon-butter ponzu sauce.

dredThe Red Dragon Roll is an unagi-topped variation of the Dragon Roll, or California roll.

btbikeLove the upscale-casual vibe at Blue Tree.

btAt Blue Tree Cafe, we sampled delicate zucchini "pasta" topped with pesto and sun-dried tomato ...

btmac... And mac 'n cheese comprising quinoa shells and mashed pea "cheese." I like the quinoa macaroni just fine, but not being vegan, I still prefer milk cheeses.

Best chefs gather at The Cave

February 26th, 2013

vchefsNadine Kam photos
Vintage Cave chef Chris Kajioka, left, welcomed chef Blaine Wetzel, right, of The Willows Inn on Lummi Island, Washington, and pastry chef Baruch Ellsworth of Canlis, Seattle, into his kitchen for a collaboration event Feb. 23 and 24.

By Nadine Kam

The Vintage Cave welcomed Blaine Wetzel of The Willows Inn, Lummi Island, Washington, during a collaboration event also featuring resident chef Chris Kajioka and pastry chef Baruch Ellsworth of Canlis, Seattle.

Wetzel was one of 10 Best New Chefs recognized by Food & Wine magazine last year, and came prepared with his regional sockeye salmon and alder wood, while also making time to go foraging with local chef Mark Noguchi for such ingredients as He'eia seaweeds and yam shoots.

The collaboration dinners took place Feb. 23 and 24, with 10 courses involving 15 dishes, including three desserts created by Ellsworth, also deemed "one of the best new pastry chefs in the country," by Food & Wine.

It was a great opportunity to sample their fare in such an intimate setting, and always so wonderful to see the creative work being done in the Cave.

As I told Chris later, it takes a lot of hard work and thought to reinvent the way we perceive, prepare and present food, and I appreciate the effort and out-of-the-box thinking.

The hard work starts with top chefs before trickling down to change the way we all eat. That's why we now can enjoy farm-fresh Hawaii regional cuisine plate lunches for about $10 to $12, where 20 years ago it was only available in high-end restaurants.

At our table someone joked that it's just a matter of time before we see truffle fries at McDonald's.

Here are the dishes presented:

vkaleToasted kale leaves with black truffle and grated soy, so light and brittly crisp with satisfying umami effect.

voystersPresentation of the Kona Kumamoto oysters with sake, elderflower and cucumber ice.

voyster2One per diner.

vmacVanilla-bean macaron sandwiching sturgeon caviar. One per person.

vkampachiKona kampachi topped with charred scallion, hearts of palm and cilantro, accented with tapioca pearls.

vbriocheThis dish was not on the menu, but added during the course of dinner, brioche topped with Golden Ossetra caviar and creme fraiche.

vcressOrganic greens and watercress with lightly salted rye and seared Hawaiian abalone. The rye had the snap and fluffiness of wild rice.

vpokeSmoked bigeye tuna with He'eia seaweeds and their broth with crunchy toasted quinoa.

vsalmonLummi Island sockeye salmon smoked over alder wood.

vfoiegrasThis was so amazing. Shaved foie gras over banana, parsnip, macadamia nuts and spiced meringues. The powdery foie gras simply melted on the tongue, bursting with full flavor. Later, Chris explained the "simple" process of making a traditional foie gras torchon, passing the mixture through a fine tamis, or sieve, then deep-freezing it and later shaving it on a micro plane. (more…)

That's Italian! Onda Pasta pops up at Taste Table

February 26th, 2013

amyNadine Kam photos
Artists Amy Davis and Jon Moritsugu found culinary inspiration at the Onda Pasta popup at Taste Table last Wednesday.

By Nadine Kam

In recent years, our experience of Italian cuisine has been through the hands of chefs from Japan. So it was a refreshing change of pace to wander into Taste Table last Wednesday, where Andrea Onetti of Onda Pasta, was cooking up some of the dishes he grew up with in Rome.

He and his wife Jessica had already been offering their hand-made fresh pastas at various farmer's markets, including the Saturday Farmer's Market at Ala Moana Center from 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays and 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays.

Their pastas combine the best of two worlds—high-quality flour imported from Italy paired with Hawaiian eggs and produce.

yummyTaste Table offered them the opportunity to show how those pastas cook up with their sauces, including a fiery puttanesca, Bolognese made with Oahu grass fed beef, and classic pomodoro, with various pasta dishes priced from about $11 to $13.

I had stumbled across their lunch service by accident, when a glitch in the Taste calendar showed Boom Musubi in house. I'd invited the fab illustrator-rock chick-actress Amy Davis and her partner in celluloid-music-life Jon Moritsugu to join me in light of Amy adding a food component to her fashion musings at her new blog, Yummy Dress: One of her illustrations is at left.

Although Boom Musubi seemed like an appropriate fit for her site, we were all thrilled to try Onda Pasta's delicious gnocchi, tagliatelle and risotto.

We were even more thrilled that escaped murder suspect Teddy Munet was on the loose in the vicinity, adding to the excitement of the day. If I had been worried about it, I would have suggested meeting elsewhere, but to me, it was no biggie. I'm sure dozens of murderers or potential murderers walk among us every day.

After a so-so attempt at making gnocchi a few months ago, I tried to ask Andrea for his secret, but he said that if he told me, I'd have to come work for him. No kitchens for me. After so many years writing about restaurants, it's still hard to fathom why anyone would want to work that hard, though I'm glad for the many that do! Jessica did offer that I should try less flour. I might try again.

The Onda Pasta popup returns to Taste Table, 667 Auahi St.,  from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Feb. 27.

gnocchiOnda Pasta's Roman-style gnocchi with a puttanesca sauce that's actually spicy.

risottoMushroom risotto.

papardelleVegetarian tagliatelle with Waimanalo cremini.

Added Feb. 27:

beefManzo scallopine ($13) of beef eye round in wine and lemon sauce, served with roast potatoes is one of the new menu additions today.

First Course: Kaiseki at Restaurant and Bar Ko

February 20th, 2013

kointeriorNadine Kam photos
Restaurant and Bar Ko has replaced Ninniku-ya in Kaimuki.

Ninniku-ya had a long run as Oahu's most famous garlic restaurant, but now it's gone, and in its place is Restaurant and Bar Ko, run by the mother-daughter team of Ritsuko Asahi and Keiko Inai.

It's a very feminine place, with an interior that looks very homey with its plush sofa and shelving that forms a partition for a semi-private room that seats up to eight. Outside on the patio, frilly pillows line tables with a mix of bench seating and chairs, and one table wraps around a tree the deck was built around.

They want to be good neighbors and a hangout for night owls, open until 2 a.m. daily. The menu is Japan Japanese, and to get the full impact, they're encouraging newbies to start with their prix fixe Asahi ($40 per person) and Ko ($55 per person) menus. There's a minimum two-person order for menu, but having been an early visitor, I was able to substitute one dish from the Asahi menu when ordering the Ko menu. Here's a look at what was on the table:



koappetizersAppetizers, clockwise from top left, dashimaki tamago with ikura, simmered pumpkin with gobo, nikujaga, ika daikon, simmered spinach with shrimp, and fish nanbanzuke.

kosashimiSashimi of hamachi, salmon, ahi and scallops with amaebi. After eating the bottom half of the shrimp, the head is taken away and brought back on a platter, deep-fried. Super crisp, super light, full shrimp flavor. Yum!

ko amaebi

koroastbeefRoast beef salad.

koeelBox-pressed eel hakosushi was the sushi course.

kolotusLoved this lotus root manju, a satisfying glutinous bundle filled with thin-sliced hasu, edamame and sliced shrimp, and served in a silky crab broth. You could add the mild wasabi to the broth.

koseafoodChanged up the menu a bit with the entree courses. We had ordered the Ko dinners ($55 prix fixe), but chose the sauteed shrimp and scallop off the Asahi menu ($40 prix fixe), and was totally happy with this dish, that also included two pieces of octopus and broccoli.

kobeefFrom the Ko menu, our other entree was the tender wagyu, grilled and topped with grated daikon, green onions and ikura.

ko tempuraThe tempura course featured snapper and mountain potato wrapped in yuba.

kovinegarThe vinegared course was namasu of thin-sliced carrot and cucumber wrapped around surimi.

kosalmonAlthough you usually get a choice of either salmon and ikura, or simmered pork belly kamameshi, staffers offered a small portion of both to sample. Even so, the small wasn't very small, and after sampling a few bites, I took the rest home to enjoy the next day. They were both delicious as leftovers.


ko ice creamAs full as I was, I forgot all about it when dessert of vanilla ice cream and azuki beans on a floral clamshell-style wafer arrived. It was a lovely finale.

The $600 strawberry

February 19th, 2013

strawberry2Joel Muraoka photo

A friend in Japan sent me a photo of a strawberry selling for $600 in Japan.

It's packed in a box, cushioned by Easter basket material, and he says it's just a publicity stunt. People go to look at the $600 strawberry, "gasp,  then buy the reasonable premium strawberries."

I think the max I'd pay for this berry is $10.

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