Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Maru Sushi presents preview of omakase meals to come

October 7th, 2016

This will be my last restaurant blog post on this site. Aloha and thank you for your support over the past seven years, keeping up through several URL changes. My weekly restaurant review column will continue to appear in Wednesday's Crave section in the Star-Advertiser.


Michelin Award-winning chef Takeshi Kawasaki is building a Hawaii branch of his Maru Sushi on Kalakaua Avenue, and offered a preview of his omakase dinners last week.

There’s no shortage of great sushi in Hawaii, and the omakase-only trend will continue with the opening of Michelin chef Takeshi Kawasaki’s Maru Sushi, tentatively set for late fall to early 2017 on Kalakaua Avenue, near Kapiolani Boulevard.

The Hokkaido-born chef worked at the renowned Sushi Zen in Susukino, Sapporo, for a decade before launching his own restaurant, Maru Sushi in 1987. His combination of premium ingredients and technique led him to earn a Michelin star in 2011. Recently retired, his son now helms Maru Sushi, but not content to stay idle, Kawasaki’s starting over in Hawaii.

Prior to the dinner, the chef was grating fresh wasabi for the meal, which doesn't burn the nostrils like the fake stuff.

A popup at the Waikiki Shopping Plaza last week gave a hint at what diners can expect when he opens his restaurant. Delicacies from the waters of Hokkaido included sweet urchin, baby abalone in eel sauce, and two of the earliest types of sushi seafood eaten in Japan, nakazumi (small kohada) and hamaguri (cherrystone clam).

Diners also got a history lesson with a selection of aji (horse mackerel) wrapped with nori and cut in half. Through a translator, Kawasaki explained that in ancient Edo, sushi was topped with a half side of fish, which made it longer than today’s made-for-the-mouth counterparts. To make the sushi bite size, chefs cut the sushi in half, which evolved into today’s practice of serving two pieces per order.

Here's the 18-course Maru Sushi pop-up omakase dinner presented last week. They estimate that the approximate cost once the restaurant opens will be about $150 to $160, but don't hold them to that.

1. Shirasu, or whitebait, in bonito dashi.

2. Baby abalone in eel sauce.

3. Chutoro with a splash of awamori.

4. Hyogo Awajishima aji was prepared in ancient Edo style, when a half side of fish topped sushi that was then cut in half to make it more manageable to eat. The practice of presenting sushi in two halves resulted in today's "tradition" of serving two pieces of sushi per order.

5. We were told vinegared shishamo must be eaten with sake to make it more palatable, but I thought it was delicious even without alcohol. I could eat a bucket of these.

6. Suzuki, or sea bass, nigiri.

7. Snapper in ponzu sauce with cucumber, lime and myoga, or Japanese ginger.

8. Nigiri of sayori flavored with konbu.

9. Garlic is typically not used in sushi bars because it has a smell that would linger on chefs' hands. To mimic the bouquet of garlic, ginger and green onion are minced and mixed together to bring out a fleeting hint of garlicky aroma. The mixture tops a piece of saba that is also blanketed with thin-sliced konbu. This was amazing.

10. Maguro akami of bluefin tuna typically offered in Japan, vs. bigeye tuna served in Hawaii.

11. According to Kawasaki, nigiri nakazumi (small kohada) was the earliest type of sushi eaten in Japan. In ancient times, he said fish was not eaten raw, but braised first.

12. Next up was hamaguri, also known as Orient or cherrystone clams, which Kawasaki said is the second oldest known sushi seafood eaten in Japan. After creating the sushi, he distributed the pieces to fit the mouth sizes of the eight diners assembled at the popup.

13. The deep red of the back of maguro was a little frightening, but like every other piece we had, delicious.

14. We are so accustomed to eating Santa Barbara uni at upscale sushi restaurants here, but it just can't beat the candy-like sweetness of Hokkaido uni.

15. I was eyeing the ikura all night, and it came up near meal's end, marinated in dashi and soy sauce.

16. Nigiri of aka ika, or red ika.

17. Maguro tekka maki.

18. The dinner ended with the chef's signature tamago.

Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her food coverage in print in Wednesday's Crave section. Contact her via email at and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Top of Waikiki marks 50th year

October 6th, 2016


Foie gras brioche is among the appetizers on the new 50th anniversary menu selections at Top of Waikiki.

Perhaps coinciding with the Space Age that began in fall of 1957 with the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik I, the fascination with technology and the open skies led to the development of spaceship-shaped revolving restaurants in the sky.

The first revolving restaurant opened in 1961 atop Egypt's Cairo Tower, the same year Seattle architect John Graham was tapped to design a revolving restaurant, La Ronde, near the newly opened Ala Moana Center. Then in 1966, came The Top of Waikiki, now marking its 50th anniversary with a recent refresh and a new menu that combines old and new to satisfy both newcomers to the restaurants, as well as old-timers and visitors who return for the classic steak and Bearnaise sauce that owes its existence to a maitre d’ at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The dish dominated menus of the 1960s, right after Julia Child debuted her cookbook, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," awakening a fascination with the Gallic table.

It's a chef's dilemma to serve two audiences, but executive chef Lance Kosaka does a great job paying homage to the restaurant's roots while offering up progressive selections at a 21st century pace.

With La Ronde gone, the Top of Waikiki is a treasure that continues to revolve, giving diners a panoramic view from mountain to ocean, east side and west side. Stop by for dinner and enjoy the ride.
Top of Waikiki is on the 21st floor at at 2270 Kalakaua Ave. Open 5 to 9:30 p.m. daily. Call (808) 923-3877.

Here's a look at dishes from the 50th anniversary menu:

I loved these kalbi and kim chee tacos with crunchy summer squash and zucchini, just $10 on the happy hour menu, offered from 5 to 9:30 p.m. daily at the bar.

Ahi lettuce wraps are also on the happy hour menu.

Goat cheese rangoons on the dinner menu.

Fois gras mousse tops housemade brioche, with dots of guava jelly, on the appetizer menu at Top of Waikiki.

Local-style BBQ half Jidori chicken with warm potato salad and veggies is one of the entrées on the 50th anniversary menu.

Filipino cuisine is coming on strong across the nation, and a dish of slow-roasted porchetta was inspired by lechon kawali features a tomato and onion relish, served over mung bean risotto.

Food history lives with an entree of filet Oscar topped with butter-poached king crab legs, asparagus and served with Bearnaise and veal jus, and a side of roasted tomatoes and red bliss potatoes.

I loved pastry chef Heather Bryan's light dessert of pineapple shave ice with coconut sorbet, vanilla bean tapioca, strawberry syrup and sweetened condensed milk.

Housemade doughnuts filled with ilikoi curd and served with strawberry ice cream.

Haupia-filled eclairs served with dark chocolate sauce and candied macadamia nuts.

Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her food coverage in print in Wednesday's Crave section. Contact her via email at and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

First course: Sushi Sho shines

October 4th, 2016


Chef Keiji Nakazawa takes center stage at Sushi Sho on the sixth floor at the Ritz-Carlton Residences, Waikiki.

Blame it on "Jiro Dreams of Sushi." The film captured the imagination of sushi afficionados everywhere, setting off many a dream about what the ultimate omakase might be like.

It might look a lot like that at Sushi Sho, where chef/owner Keiji Nakazawa holds court before 10 diners each evening, presenting course upon course of sushi and seafood selections, masterfully combining ancient Edo technique with today's farm-to-table philosophy, to deliver an exacting and progressive dinner experience.

There will be some who will balk at the $300 cost, who say no food could be worth that much. Sorry, but those who have never opened themselves up to such an experience, really have no basis for comparison.

Nakazawa is considered to be one of Tokyo’s most influential sushi chefs due to his mastery of ancient Edo sushi techniques, including the art of fermenting fish by covering it with layers of red vinegar sushi rice.

Skilled hands at work.

Chef Takuya Sato shows some of the day's selection of fish.

Because this is omakase, meaning "chef's choice" of selections, this experience is not for the finicky, squeamish diner. One must be ready to sample anything from basic maguro and salmon, to ankimo, or monkfish liver, and sweet morsels of raw lobster stirred with its tomalley (liver and pancreas).

Another thing that requires adjustment is resisting the urge to reach for a shoyu bottle. Luckily, none was near so none of us can embarrass ourselves with our Hawaii custom of dunking each morsel in the typical blend of soy sauce and wasabi. In Japanese culture, the sushi master is always right in creating a balance of flavors so one is assured that each morsel is perfect as presented.

The omakase changes daily, and when I visited, I had no idea what to expect or how many pieces of sushi the meal would entail. I would have been worried to know 30 pieces were coming, because normally I start getting full on local-style big blocks of rice by piece six. But there was a lightness to the Edo-style aged red vinegar rice, and nigiri were really made to be bite size, so it was completely doable.

The arrival of two kinds of omelet signaled the end was near, just as my tightening belt let me know I was just about done.

An experience like this leaves you with an appreciation for the moment and the beautiful memory that lingers long after the meal is over.

Sushi Sho is on the lobby level of the Ritz-Carlton Residences, Waikiki, 383 Kalaimoku St. Seatings at 5 and 8 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays. Omakase only. Priced at $300 per person plus tax and gratuity. Call (808) 729-9717 between 2 and 4 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays. Reservations are secured with a credit card.

The following is the entire omakase when I visited:

1. The meal started with a pair of Miyagi and Kumamoto oysters from Washington, splashed with mild dashi and a hint of yuzu.

2. An arranged three-piece "poke" featuring onaga with essence of macadamia nuts and soy sauce, banana leaf-smoked salmon, and ahi with freshly grated wasabi.

3. Baby squid filled with a mixture of sushi rice and minced hearts of palm.

4. Giant clam with Sumida Farms watercress.

5. Shoyu-marinated opah nigiri.

6. Hapupu nigiri, a grouper known as hata in Japan.

7. Washington Kumamoto (smaller) and Shigoku oysters.

8. "Laulau" with taro leaf, salmon and opah skin, topped with vinegar jelly and served with asparagus sauce.

9. Ono nigiri with konbu

10. Baby red snapper dusted with vinegar-cured egg.

11. I wanted a lot more of this shiro (white) mirugai, the side of a giant clam with sesame oil, salt wasabi and Maui onion. So sweet! I thought the onion detracted from the sweetness, so pushed some of it aside.

12. Nigiri of rare white Alaskan salmon.

13. Lobster with tomalley.

14. Nigiri of fermented moi, aged for one week.

15. Chutoro nigiri.

16. Intermezzo of edamame purée with Molokai salt.

17. Grilled opah with fingerlime.

18. Santa Barbara uni sushi.

19. Roll sushi of sama with cucumber, onion and pickled ginger.

20. Aji, or horse mackerel, with green onion.

21. Botan ebi with calamansi.

22. Yellowtail nigiri.

23. Pickled hearts of palm with Maui onion mustard.

24. Chawanmushi with Kona abalone, American caviar and Santa Barbara uni was one of my favorite dishes of the evening. I could eat this every day. A comfort dish turned luxe.

25. Ohagi, sweet rice, with minced maguro and daikon.

26. Ankimo, or monkfish liver, and slice of hearts of palm over rice.

27. Two kinds of omelet, one with minced shrimp and poi, one made with seafood soup.

28. Two kinds of tekka maki, one of monkfish liver, avocado and dried pineapple, and one of kanpyo and aburage.

29. Ahi soup with grilled Tokyo negi.

30. Dessert of kazuki, arrowroot glass noodles on ice with kuromitsu.

Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her food coverage in print in Wednesday's Crave section. Contact her via email at and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.</em

Cook with See Dai Doo Society

September 19th, 2016


Pork belly and Chinese taro are covered in sauce, then topped with scallion and cilantro before being steamed to make kau yuk.

Kau yuk, ip jai, an East-West stir-fry of beef and bok choy, and vegetarian spaghetti, were on the menu when the See Dai Doo Society presented a cooking demonstration at its social hall on Sept. 18. (The recipe for kau yuk follows.)

I had been hearing about the event for months during Mandarin classes, where everyone was especially enthusiastic about biting into the ip jai, or steamed mochi dumplings, which few people make these days, save for special occasions.

Ip jai filled with black sugar. Below is a more savory version of the steamed mochi dumplings, filled with a mixture of ham, mushrooms, dried shrimp and water chestnuts.


Charlene Chang led the demos for the ip jai and kau yuk (pot roast pork), before the men took over the burners to round out the feast to come. Bixby Ho showed how to make easy vegetarian pasta, while See Dai Doo president Wesley Fong, with the help of daughter Cecilia, showed how to make a simple stir-fry of flank steak and bok choy.

He offered up one of the Chinese secrets for tenderizing meat, which is to soak it in water with a little baking soda and massage it for 5 minutes.

He said, "The reason I cook is because I was told all good Chinese husbands cook."

See Dai Doo Society president Wesley Fong, with daughter Cecilia, takes a hands-on approach to leadership. He prepared an East-West stir-fry of flank steak and bok choy. People kidded him later, "What was West?" because beef and bok choy are both eaten by Chinese.

Fong's finished dish.

My father cooked, even if his idea of cooking meant getting an assist from Hamburger Helper.

That we were all there to enjoy the event is the result of the foresight of forebears more than a century ago. The society was founded by 18 men, immigrants from the See Doo (Sidu) and Dai Doo (Dadu) districts of Zhongshan county in Guangdong, on May 10, 1905.

As a matter of survival and mutual support in overseas communities that did not always welcome them, clan groups formed to provide banking and loan services, secure housing, host social events and invest for the future.

In 1910, See Dai Doo members contributed what was then a fortune, $5,000, for the purchase of the Wong Siu Kin School building at 285 N. Vineyard St. to serve as the group's headquarters. Today, rentals provide income that allows the society to function, and public events such as the cooking demo are their way of preserving their heritage and giving back to the community.

When the demos were pau, it was time to eat. The demos represent a two-day commitment, because food prep to feed the crowd took place a day ahead.

Someone brought sliced sugar cane for dessert and for the taking. It was so good and sweet. Not like the dried out canes often inserted into tourist cocktails. I grew up in Waipahu, so we were very familiar with sugar cane.

It all starts with pork belly.

Recipe courtesy Charlene Chang

1-1/2 pounds pork belly, cut into approximately 2-inch-by-3/4-inch slices
1 half Chinese taro, cut into 2-inch-by-1/2-inch slices
1/2 bottle red nam yi (red fermented bean curd
1/2 bottle white nam yi
Oyster sauce, to taste
Brown sugar, to taste
1/4 cup whiskey or cooking wine
Scallion and cilantro (Chinese parsley) stems

In a bowl, mix red and white nam yi, brown sugar, oyster sauce and cooking wine. Set aside. Sprinkle a little sugar on the pot belly. In a skillet, brown the pork belly on all sides on medium heat.

Arrange alternating slices of pork belly (skin side down) and taro in a large bowl. Pour the wet ingredients on top of the pork belly and taro. Layer scallion and cilantro stems on top of arrangement.

Place in hot steamer; steam at least 1-1/2 hours. Allow kau yuk to sit in the pot for another 1/2 hour.

Lift the bowl out of the steamer and pour the sauce out. Place a platter or plate on top of the bowl. Turn the bowl over so the skin side up is facing up and ready to serve.

Pork belly and taro are arranged in alternating slices before sauce is added and it all goes into a steamer.

Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her food coverage in print in Wednesday's Crave section. Contact her via email at and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Short video: Inside Sun Noodle

August 31st, 2016

Here's a small peek inside the Sun Noodle factory in Honolulu, where the humble process of mixing flour, water, eggs and other ingredients to make noodles and dumpling wrappers feeds people hungry for ramen, saimin, gyoza, won tons, and more.

It coincides with my story in the paper today, about how a tiny one-man operation that started in 1981 has grown to become a kama'aina operation at the forefront of a global ramen revolution due to its philosophy of providing artisinal noodles to restaurants' specifications and push for creativity.

Some of that creativity starts with Sun Noodle's New Jersey-based Ramen Lab, that welcomes both consumers and restaurant professionals to learn more about ramen, and helps chefs develop recipes for their shops.

Moving beyond traditional Japanese ramen, they've supported regional incarnations ranging from New York-style Italian ramen, Texas brisket tsukemen in Austin, Texas, and gator ramen in Gainesville, Fla.

Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her food coverage in print in Wednesday's Crave section. Contact her via email at and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

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