Archive for October, 2015

Justin Quek's Sky on 57

By
October 26th, 2015



An orange sunset from the 57th floor.

PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.com

An orange sunset from the 57th floor of the luxurious Marina Bay Sands Resort, which covers 1.3 million acres.

PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.com Chef Justin Quek presides over Sky at 57 on the 57th floor of the luxurious Marina Bay Sands Resort, which covers 1.3 million acres.

Chef Justin Quek presides over Sky at 57.

Food festivals are a wonderful place for restaurant fanboys and fangirls to mix and mingle with their favorite culinary superstars, but they are no substitute for heading to their restaurants for a firsthand experience of what they can accomplish in their own kitchens with their own staff and arsenal of regional ingredients.

I'd sampled Singapore chef Justin Quek's offerings at the Hawai'i Food & Wine Festival, but it did not leave me with a sense of his full capabilities.

In Singapore, where he presides over Sky on 57, I got a taste of Singaporean cuisine, elevated to match its surroundings on the rooftop of the luxurious Marina Bay Sands. From the rooftop, Quek reminisced about starting his career in nearly the same spot, though 57 stories lower, in a Marina Bay riverboat galley.

He's come a long way, and proves it via his Sky on 57 "Ultimate Dining Experience," a degustation menu of "seasonal bespoke creations." The cost of the meal was SG$250, but with the current exchange rate, it amounted to about $185 per person, which I felt was totally worth the price.

Here's what Quek's meal at Sky on 57 looked like:

The first course in his degustation menu was a parfait of Oscietra caviar over smoked mackerel. So delicious and extravagant, it set the pace for the meal to come.

The first course in his degustation menu was a parfait of Oscietra caviar over smoked mackerel. So delicious and extravagant, it set the pace for the meal to come.

Next up was an ocean salad of Hokkaido scallop, Kagoshima hamachi, French oyster and Norway langoustine with ginger flower dressing.

Next up was an ocean salad of Hokkaido scallop, Kagoshima hamachi, French oyster and Norway langoustine with ginger flower dressing.

Foie gras xiao long bao with truffle consomme. Yup, the one in front is  topped with gold leaf.

Foie gras xiao long bao with truffle consomme. Yup, the one in front is topped with gold leaf.

Tasmanian cod fillet with sweet sour sauce, is topped with its own crispy scales. For some reason, they don't mind scales in Singapore, so if you get the Chongqing fish in Chinatown, you'll be spitting out scales. This one is supposed to be so crispy you don't mind, but it's still much harder than the deep-fried shrimp shells we might eat at a typical Chinese restaurant.

Tasmanian cod fillet with sweet sour sauce, is topped with its own crispy scales. For some reason, they don't mind scales in Singapore, so if you get the Chongqing fish in Chinatown, you'll be spitting out scales. This one is supposed to be so crispy you don't mind, but it's still much harder than the deep-fried shrimp shells we might eat at a typical Chinese restaurant.

Quek's upscale version of Hokkien prawn mee featured lobster, and set us off to find the street version of this dish. Alas, we only found soup prawn me, which paled in comparison.

Quek's upscale version of Hokkien prawn mee featured lobster, and set us off to find the street version of this dish. Alas, we only found soup prawn me, which paled in comparison.

Wok-fried Kagoshima wagyu with black pepper sauce. By this time we were so full, and the richness of the wagyu made us feel we could only eat one cube, but we perservered. Could not let this go to waste.

Wok-fried Kagoshima wagyu with black pepper sauce. By this time we were so full, and the richness of the wagyu made us feel we could only eat one cube, but we perservered. Could not let this go to waste.

Laksa was not part of the menu, but I had mentioned it in passing, so Quek offered up his version of the classic Peranakan (Chinese-Malay) spicy noodle soup.

Laksa was not part of the menu, but I had mentioned it in passing, so Quek offered up his version of classic Peranakan (Chinese-Malay) spicy noodle soup.

"Crazy About Chocolate" finale with chocolate fondant, brownie, milk chocolate mousse crumble, chocolate tuille and Macallan 15-year-old Scotch ice cream.

"Crazy About Chocolate" finale with chocolate fondant, brownie, milk chocolate mousse crumble, chocolate tuille and Macallan 15-year-old Scotch ice cream.

How to afford such a meal on a restricted budget? Much of Singapore's specialties are available at hawker stalls for cheap. About USD$3 will get you a huge bowl of laksa or prqwn mee, or lunch plate of fried chicken with rice, fried egg and sambal. About USD $4 will get you a plate of shrimp sauce fried chicken. Even with a splurge dinner, over six days, it's easy to get buy on dining for $40 a day or less.

———

Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Janice Wong's sweet life

By
October 22nd, 2015



PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.comAcclaimed pastry artist Janice Wong in her Singapore studio.

PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.com

Acclaimed pastry artist Janice Wong in her Singapore studio.

SINGAPORE - Janice Wong grew up left brained, with a mind for math and economics. Then, like a work of classic narrative fiction, 11 years ago, a bump on the head in a car accident awakened the right side of her brain, triggering a quest to find new outlets for her newfound visions and creativity.

Already a fan of sweets and pastries, her new direction entailed using sugar, candy, chocolate and food as media for art canvases, sculptures and installations that have brought her international renown.

The Singapore-based chef counts fashion brands such as Fendi, Tiffany and Kate Spade among her clients, and her art has won her invitations around the globe to set up exhbitions, more than 45 this year alone.

She's won the World Gourmet Summit Awards title of Pastry Chef of the Year in 2011, 2013 and 2015, and the title of Asia's Best Pastry Chef award from Restaurant magazine in 2013 and 2014. She's also the author of "Perfection in Imperfection."

At 2am:dessertbar, Janice Wong's Cassis Plum, a cassis bombe with elderflower yogurt foam, Choya (ume plum wine) granite, yuzu pears and yuzu rubies.

At 2am:dessertbar, Janice Wong's Cassis Plum, a cassis bombe with elderflower yogurt foam, Choya (ume plum wine) granite, yuzu pears and yuzu rubies.

PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.comWong with a work of sugar flowers she created for Fendi. The peg board held lollipops for guests to enjoy.

PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.com

Wong with a work of sugar flowers she created for Fendi. The peg board held lollipops for guests to enjoy.

A "living" chocolate table at 2am:dessertbar. The chocolate is under glass and the changing tremperature over the course of the day causes it to expand and contract, changing the pattern over time.

A "living" chocolate table at 2am:dessertbar. The chocolate is under glass and the changing tremperature over the course of the day causes it to expand and contract, changing the pattern over time.

Inside 2am:dessertbar.

Inside 2am:dessertbar.

[caption id="attachment_219681" align="aligncenter" width="620"]On the retail front, a few of Wong's hand-painted bon bons in salt caramel (top) and whiskey and orange flavors.

On the retail front, a few of Wong's hand-painted bon bons in salt caramel (top), and whiskey and orange flavors.

At the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, you can mix and match those bon bons to bring home in her beautiful colored boxes.

At the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, you can mix and match those bon bons to bring home in her beautiful colored boxes.

You can also exercise your creativity by bringing home some of her chocolate paints.

You can also exercise your creativity by bringing home some of her chocolate paints.

Another of Wong's works wrapped to travel for an exhibition in Dubai where she was heading the day after our interview.

Another of Wong's works wrapped to travel for an exhibition in Dubai where she was heading the day after our interview.

Wong is the rare cerebral chef and I can't even begin to make sense of her notes in coming up with her dessert creations. Where others take a random, scattershot approach that shows in the nonsensical taste of a final product, her combinations manage to be both multi-dimensional and precise, without a note out of place, and a total joy on the palate. Produce enzymes are her latest passion, as a morning tonic and for the chemical reactions they bring about in the cooking process.

Wong is the rare cerebral chef and I can't even begin to make sense of her notes in coming up with her dessert creations. Where others take a random, scattershot approach that shows in the nonsensical taste of a final product, her combinations manage to be both multi-dimensional and precise, without a note out of place, and a total joy on the palate. Produce enzymes are her latest passion, as a morning tonic and for the chemical reactions they bring about in the cooking process.

p align="left">Andy Warhol in Wong's studio.

Andy Warhol in Wong's studio.

p align="left">Wong created her own stoneware and ceramic ware for presentation of desserts at 2am:dessertbar.

Wong created her own stoneware and ceramic ware for presentation of desserts at 2am:dessertbar.

p align="left">I love green tea so loved her dessert of a Kyoto Tsujirihei matcha tart with jasmine rice sherbet and yuzu drops, $20 or about $15USD.

I love green tea so loved her dessert of a Kyoto Tsujirihei matcha tart with jasmine rice sherbet and yuzu drops, $20 or about $15USD.

p align="left">But my favorite of her desserts was Hoijicha Sesame, a tofu parfait with Hojicha  green tea custard, pear vodka sorbet, sesame sauce and that black spot of ginger.

But my favorite of her desserts was Hoijicha Sesame, a tofu parfait with Hojicha green tea custard, pear vodka sorbet, sesame sauce and that black spot of ginger.

At home in Singapore, her truffles and edible paints can be found at The Shoppes in Marina Bay Sands to bring home as omiyage, while her dessert confections can be enjoyed at her 2am:dessertbar at 21a Lorong Liput in Holland Village. The dessert bar is open from 3 p.m. Tuesdays to Fridays, closing at 2 a.m., and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

———

Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

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Singapore a foodie heaven

By
October 20th, 2015



PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.comIn Singapore, a love of food is proudly on display.

PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.com

In Singapore, a love of food is proudly on display.

SINGAPORE — I knew Singapore was a foodie destination, but I didn't realize the extent of pride they have in their food heritage.

As soon as I got out of the plane, I came across two food sculptures lauding two of the dishes any visitor must try when they are here.

Here's a look at Day 1 of eating Singapore style:

Getting off the plane at Singapore's Changi Airport, I was greeted by this sculpture of Hainanese chicken and rice, one of the specialties here.  Another sculpture paid tribute to roti prata.

Getting off the plane at Singapore's Changi Airport, I was greeted by this sculpture of Hainanese chicken and rice, one of the specialties here. Another sculpture paid tribute to roti prata.

This mural reflecting multi-cultural Singapore's universal love of food marked the site of Holland Village Market & Food Centre.

This mural reflecting multi-cultural Singapore's universal love of food marked the site of Holland Village Market & Food Centre.

At Holland Market & Food Center, there are dozens of hawker food stalls and food is very inexpensive. These $3 plates are the USD equivalent of about $2.25.

At Holland Market & Food Center, there are dozens of hawker food stalls and food is very inexpensive. These $3 plates are the USD equivalent of about $2.25.

At New Lucky Claypot Rice at Holland Market & Food Center, rice is layered with meat, vegetables and seafood of your choice, and cooked over a charcoal flame.

At New Lucky Claypot Rice at Holland Market & Food Center, rice is layered with meat, vegetables and seafood of your choice, and cooked over a charcoal flame.

I had their specialty, the Wu Wei Clay Pot filled with lup cheong and shrimp paste, or harm ha, chicken. So delicious! Feeds two or three for $10 Singapore, about $7.50 in USD.

I had their specialty, the Wu Wei Clay Pot filled with lup cheong and shrimp paste, or harm ha, chicken. So delicious! Feeds two or three for $10 Singapore, about $7.50 in USD.

On Day 1, also had laksa at Katong Laksa in another area of Holland Village. Very close to what's served at Panya, except more shrimp paste flavor and the noodles are cut up into bite-size pieces so they don't slosh and spatter as much as noodles in the U.S. I kind of like it this way. This was $4 Singapore, or about $3 USD.

On Day 1, also had laksa at Katong Laksa in another area of Holland Village. Very close to what's served at Panya Bistro, except more shrimp paste flavor and the noodles are cut up into bite-size pieces so they don't slosh and spatter as much as noodles in the U.S. I kind of like it this way. This was $4 Singapore, or about $3 USD.

Also at Katong Laksa, a fried chicken plate with rice, egg, dried fish and spicy sambal. At lunch, more people ordered rice plates than laksa.

Also at Katong Laksa, a fried chicken plate with rice, egg, dried fish and spicy sambal. At lunch, more people ordered rice plates than laksa.


Coca-Cola celebrated in a mural at Katong Laksa.

Coca-Cola celebrated in a mural at Katong Laksa.

Spent the morning with pastry chef extraordinaire Janice Wong. More on her and her art work later. What a story she has!

Spent the morning with pastry chef extraordinaire Janice Wong. More on her and her art work later. What a story she has!

In other food courts, some like People's Park in Chinatown with hundreds of small hawker stalls, you might spot top 10 lists of must-try dishes, and murals around town also pay homage to the country's culinary delights.

———

Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

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'Ilima winners create dining magic

By
October 14th, 2015



PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.com

PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.com

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser's 'Ilima Awards partnership with Diamond Head Theatre means guests at the event can enjoy an evening of song and dance, as well as a fabulous dinner of dishes prepared by the award-winning restaurants. On stage from left are Megan Mount, Laurence Paxton, Loretta Ables Sayre and Tony Young.

The months leading up to October are a busy time for us at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. That's when we're putting together the annual 'Ilima Awards book, our guide to Oahu's top restaurants.

Because there are now so many such guides in Hawaii, people often write them off, telling me, "It's just advertising."

As a journalist, I find that insulting and feel I have to correct that impression that honors and titles can be bought. While some media outlets may indeed choose their top restaurants only from a pool of their own advertisers, that is not the case with the 'Ilima book, which is a newsroom project reflecting months of serious discussion among our food reviewers and writers to arrive at our choices.

The winner of our top Publisher's Award was Arancino at the Kahala, whose executive chef Daisuke Hamamoto prepared a wonderful Hokkaido uni pasta, below. I had to have two portions. The funny thing is, before last year, I didn't like uni. It just took finding the best ones from Japan. Now I get it.

The winner of our top Publisher's Award was Arancino at the Kahala, whose executive chef Daisuke Hamamoto prepared a wonderful Hokkaido uni pasta, below. I had to have two helpings. The funny thing is, before last year, I didn't like uni. It just took finding the best ones from Japan. Now I get it.

ilima uni

Taste is all subjective and sure, sometimes we miss a few good restaurants because the listing would be diluted if we were to include 1,000 restaurants instead of 200, but we do our best to present a snapshot of what's current up until our cut-off point around late August when writing begins.

Adding democracy to the process, we also feature a People's Choice Award.

Sometimes, a restaurant will drop off our critics' top lists from one year to the next. It's not because we don't love them anymore, but our jobs take us to many more places than the average diner, and given the many new restaurants that open year after, we must look forward and acknowledge the new, rather than be repetitive.

It all comes together at the annual awards ceremony that takes place at Diamond Head Theatre, where guests are able to enjoy a food-centric song-and-dance show by DHT performers, guest stars and the DHT Shooting Stars, followed by a dinner presented by the award-winning restaurants.

To me, the dinner—marking the combined choices of people and critics—is always reassurance that we got it right.

I just regret that with the 20 or so food stations, many offering two dishes, there is no way I could sample everything. As much as I would like to taste each dish, the reality is, rather than suffer a sore stomach from overeating, at this point I know my limit and that was about eight dishes out of about 30.

What I wanted to check out most were some of the 'Ilima newbies that happen to be concentrated in Downtown Honolulu, like Grondin French-Latin Kitchen, Scratch Kitchen and Bake Shop and Square Barrels.

At the Scratch Kitchen booth, diners got a taste of savory chicken chilaquiles and the sweet with chef/restaurateur Brian Chan's compost cookies, an "everything-but-the-kitchen-sink" sort of recipe into which go potato chips, chocolate chips, butterscotch, coffee, bacon, oats and pretzels. Had to try those, one of the few occasions where I started dining with dessert!

Another of my favorite dishes was Highway Inn's lychee-wood smoked pork with paiai.

Another of my favorite dishes was Highway Inn's lychee-wood smoked pork with paiai.

This being Hawaii Seafood Month, Grondin French-Latin Kitchen served up a ceviche of uku with Meyer lemon, lilikoi, red onion, red jalapeño and cilantro. So fresh, light and wonderful.

This being Hawaii Seafood Month, Grondin French-Latin Kitchen served up a ceviche of uku with Meyer lemon, lilikoi, red onion, red jalapeño and cilantro. So fresh, light and wonderful.

The crew at Golden Pork Ton-kotsu Ramen cooked up their rich tonkotsu broth, with shrimp dumplings exclusive to the occasion.

The crew at Golden Pork Ton-kotsu Ramen cooked up their rich tonkotsu broth, with shrimp dumplings exclusive to the occasion.

Downtown Honolulu's Scratch Kitchen & Bake Shop served up chicken chilaquiles along with "Compost Cookies" with a kitchen sink roster of ingredients.

Downtown Honolulu's Scratch Kitchen & Bake Shop served up chicken chilaquiles along with "Compost Cookies" with a kitchen sink roster of ingredients.

The Nook offered up samples of its popular mochi waffles.

The Nook offered up samples of its popular mochi waffles.

Square Barrels served up a grass-fed Molokai beef slider and highlighted the venison burger on its menu with a display of Axis deer antlers.

Square Barrels served up a grass-fed Molokai beef slider and highlighted the venison burger on its menu with a display of Axis deer antlers.

MW Restaurant presented beer-braised pork with red cabbage and mustard vinaigrette.

MW Restaurant presented beer-braised pork with red cabbage and mustard vinaigrette.

View a complete list of all the winners here.

———

Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Moco Monday at Highway Inn

By
October 13th, 2015



An ahi tartare and avocado sushi-style loco moco was recently introduced during Highway Inn's Moco Monday.

PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.com

An ahi tartare and avocado sushi-style loco moco was recently introduced during Highway Inn's Moco Monday.

There was a time when the smoked meat Smokin’ Moco was the be-all-end-all of loco mocos at Highway Inn. Well, now that the restaurant has launched weekly Moco Mondays at Kaka'ako, chef Mike Kealoha has a lot of work trying to top himself each week in testing the possibilities for transforming the beloved island combo of rice, hamburger patty and gravy topped with eggs over easy.

The basic hamburger patty loco moco ($11.25 regular or $7.85 mini), and the Smokin’ Moco ($12.50, or $8.75 mini) have been staples for years, but man cannot live on the same loco moco day in and day out, so Moco Monday was born, and you never know what you'll get from week to week. To stay up to date, follow the restaurant's Facebook page.

PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.comThe Highway Inn Hawaiian loco moco is a high-rise plate lunch, the rice topped with full size laulau, egg and lomi salmon, surrounded by a pool of beef stew.

The Highway Inn Hawaiian loco moco is a high-rise plate lunch, the rice topped with full size laulau, egg and lomi salmon, surrounded by a pool of beef stew.

Recent experiments included a truffled ahi tartar sushi-style moco ($16.25); “I Wanna Wana Moco” ($17.95), topped with sea urchin and thin strips of nori to mimic the wana’s spines; and “Highway Inn Hawaiian Plate” loco moco ($15.95) that I hope will find a permanent spot on the menu. It has all the weightiness of a Hawaiian plate, the rice surrounded with beef stew, topped with a full size pork laulau and over-easy egg garnished with lomi salmon. The presentation may be different, but it all adds up to happiness in your opu.

While in Kakaako, you’re welcome to check out the lau lau-making process that takes place 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. See the video below.

The Highway Inn Smokin' Moco with a centerpiece of lychee-wood smoked meat.

The Highway Inn Smokin' Moco with a centerpiece of lychee-wood smoked meat.

The "I Wanna Wana" moco, with nori strips to mimic the sea urchin's spines.

The "I Wanna Wana" moco, with nori strips to mimic the sea urchin's spines.

I put a Moco Monday visit with Real Jobs' Steve Yeti on Periscope, which had visitors tuning in from all over the world, and one commenting, "Hawaii is so random." Yes, we can be very different from the rest of the nation but I think that's a good thing. All I can say is yetis have to eat too. And they like loco mocos! A memorable experience!

I put a Moco Monday visit with Real Jobs' Steve Yeti on Periscope, which had visitors tuning in from all over the world, and one commenting, "Hawaii is so random." Yes, we can be very different from the rest of the nation but I think that's a good thing. All I can say is yetis have to eat too. And they like loco mocos!

Highway Inn Kakaako is at 680 Ala Moana Blvd. Call (808) 954-4955.

Also, if you’re in Kalihi, check out the new Bishop Museum Cafe by Highway Inn, open to museum visitors and the public from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. The museum is at 1525 Bernice St. You can check out the menu ahead of time at myhighwayinn.com.

———

Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

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