Archive for the ‘Casual’ Category

State Bird Provisions: Inside nation's best restaurant

March 26th, 2014
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statebirdlegsSquab leg on pancake at State Bird Provisions, named the James Beard Awards Best New Restaurant 2013.Nadine Kam photos

SAN FRANCISCO — Travel is a great barometer as to where Hawaii stands in the culinary scene, and while the food in our state has improved greatly over the past two decades, there's no such thing as resting on laurels because excellence is a moving target.

I was in the San Francisco area, meeting up with relatives in Fremont for a wedding, so only had one night in the city for dinner and my options were Nopa or State Bird Provisions. Being a bit of a weirdo, I couldn't resist the audacity of the latter, which began life with the premise of serving up the state bird, the California quail, symbolic of hardiness and adaptability.

Now that's something you wouldn't see in Hawaii with the endangered nene!

I'm not that keen about eating small birds that are more bones than meat, so thankfully, the restaurant's chef-proprietors Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski moved on to other local, organic and well-crafted ingredients.

And yet ... the restaurant is known for its savory pancakes, so I ordered the confit squab short stack with maple vinegar and candy cap powder, and it was more than enough to change my mind about the appeal of small birds. It was only after polishing off the thigh that I looked down and realized they were still attached to the bird's gnarled claws!

That's the other thing about this place. I had to inhale my meal. As the nation's Best New Restaurant 2013, as deemed by the James Beard Awards committee, it's one of the Holy Grails of restaurants and therefore, I was told, impossible to get into. People must log onto the restaurant's website precisely at midnight 60 days before their desired reservation date to get a seat.statecartOrder off the menu or dim sum style, off carts and trays bearing many tempting delicacies, from single oysters and up. I really wanted the halibut and avocado atop a nori cracker, but I had to eat and run.

But, parsing the words on the restaurant's website, I learned that they do save room for walk-ins on a first-come basis, and I've never had trouble getting into popular restaurants. It helps to show up early as a single or couple, and be willing to dine at the bar.

The trouble came when a 15-minute rest turned into a three-hour snooze and I missed the 5:30 p.m. opening time. I got there at 6:30 and spotted a single opening at the bar, but they said that was spoken for. They did have a two-top available, but that meant eating and running in 45 minutes when the reserved party was due to arrive. Done!

Having got in, I thought that was easy enough, but later I was told walk-ins regularly wait in line two hours to get in.

If you're curious as to what goes into a restaurant worthy of being called the nation's best, great food is a given. Here, it's casual, and I would say not much different from dozens of great restaurants across the nation. But, restaurateurs also have to get the attention of jaded food writers who have "seen it all."

State Bird Provisions wins points with memorable service, delivering contemporary American cuisine dim sum style. Order off the menu to start, but don't pick up enough for your entire meal. It's worth waiting for waiters to appear with trays or pushing carts provisioned with amazing appetizers and ingredients starting at $2. The small plates command attention and there's nothing froufrou or "arranged" about them. The hearty ingredients are filling and I still marvel about the simple, delicious elegance of a salad of hearts of palm, avocado, yuba and tahini.

I started with three dishes, and it was hard to pass up smoked trout and avocado  dip served with chips. Unfortunately, with time flying by, I didn't have time to try the nori cracker topped with halibut and avocado, king salmon tartare with fermented turnips, or pork belly-blood orange salad. Maybe next time I'll make a real reservation.
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State Bird Provisions is in the Western Addition at 1529 Fillmore St., San Francisco. Open
5:30 to 10 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays, and 5:30 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Call 415.795.1272.

statebirdroomIn addition to table seating, a bar on the right side of the restaurant overlooks the food prep.

 

statecrabSpicy Dungeness crab kimchi with yuba and smoked egg. Unfortunately, I think the kimchi flavors overwhelmed the sweet crab.

statebirdHearts of palm salad with avocado, pomelo and tahini-chili oil, $13. I rarely take food to go when I'm traveling, because there's always an abundance of restaurants to try, but this was worth doggie-bagging and it was just as delicious the morning after.

statechipsChips with smoked trout and avocado dip, $9.

stateplateOn my way out of the restaurant, I passed this artichoke, quinoa and chickpea tabouleh on a tray awaiting delivery.

 

Wake up to breakfast at Taco Bell

March 26th, 2014
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tacotobyToby Tamaye samples Taco Bell's new Waffle Taco filled with scrambled egg and sausage. There's also a bacon version. Nadine Kam photos

Taco Bell Hawaii stores are opening a lot earlier than usual with the launch of an all-new breakfast menu, the biggest roll-out for the brand, with 13 items geared especially toward commuters who need a quick, portable and affordable meal to start their day.

The national launch is March 27, but Hawaii Taco Bell fans could get a taste one day early at select drive-through Taco Bell locations as follows:

Honolulu: Beretania, Kalihi, McCully, Moanalua, Stadium Mall
East Honolulu: Hawaii Kai
North Oahu: Mililani, Wahiawa, Waipio
Leeward: Pearl City, Ewa Beach, Kapolei, Waipahu, Waianae
Windward: Kaneohe
Kauai: Lihue
Maui: Kahului, Lahaina
Hawaii island: Kona, Puainako

For morning commuters, the cleanest of the new offerings is the Breakfast Burrito, with scrambled egg and meat (your choice of bacon or sausage patty) neatly folded into a large flour tortilla.

More specific to the brand are such original offerings as a Waffle Taco, with scrambled egg and your choice of bacon or sausage, enveloped in a waffle "shell." They recommend pancake syrup to go with the waffle, but you could also get salsa, ketchup or hot sauce to go with the savory filling.

A favorite during a media preview that took place March 25 was the A.M. Crunchwrap filled with scrambled egg, hash browns and one's choice of bacon, sausage patty or steak. When cooked just right, the hash browns deliver a crunch just as statisfying as that of "Candy Crunch."

For transparency, nutrition information is available at www.tacobell.com

Prices are affordable, at roughly $2.29 to $3.29.
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Select Taco Bell Hawaii drive-through locations is offering the breakfast items from 7 to 11 a.m. daily.

tacowaffleThe Waffle Taco is doused with syrup. Depending on your taste, salsa, hot sauce or ketchup will also work.

tacocrunchThe A.M. Crunchwrap was a favorite of tasters with its center of hash browns, scrambled egg and bacon. There are also sausage and steak options, priced from $2.99 to $3.29. You can also order desserts of Cinnabon Delights with soft frosting centers.

tacoburritoThe steak, scrambled egg and cheese-filled breakfast burrito, priced from $2.29 to $2.99.

Trouble with Lent vow? BK to the rescue

March 5th, 2014
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VeggieBurger King's Veggie Burger.

Let's say you got drunk during Mardi Gras festivities and broadcast to the world that you were giving up burgers for Lent. One day later, you're wondering how you're going to survive the month.

Whether you observe Lent or just want to lighten up on your saturated fat and calorie intake, you can go straight to a vegan or vegetarian restaurant. Or, for more familiar territory, Burger King Hawaii is happy to comply with some fish, chicken and vegetarian alternatives to red meat for Lenten and beyond.

Options start with a Veggie Burger of MorningStar Farms Garden Veggie Patty made with vegetables and grains, topped with lettuce, tomatoes, white onions, pickles, ketchup and mayo, on a toasted sesame seed bun.

To introduce the lighter options, Burger King has launched a "mix-and-match" promotion allowing Hawaii diners to purchase two of the sandwiches below for $7, through April 20.

>> New  Big Fish Deluxe sandwich: With 100 percent white Alaskan pollock—deemed sustainable by the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program—breaded with crispy panko and served with a sweet thousand-island style dressing, American cheese, lettuce, onions and pickles.

>>  Classic Premium Alaskan Fish Sandwich: Featuring 100 percent white Alaskan pollock breaded with crispy panko.

>> New Spicy Original Chicken Sandwich: White-meat chicken and a light breading mixed with cayenne and black pepper, served on a toasted sesame seed bun with lettuce and mayonnaise.

>> Original Chicken Sandwich: Breaded white meat chicken fillet topped with shredded lettuce and creamy mayonnaise on a toasted sesame seed bun.

Let's say you gave up deep-fried foods instead of meat. One other option in the "mix-and-match" deal is the Big King Sandwich comprising two fire-grilled beef patties, topped with American cheese, iceberg lettuce, onions, pickles, and thousand-island style dressing on a toasted sesame seed bun.
As for me, I'm not a Christian but I practice being a good person every day and feel no need for penance, so I won't be giving up anything.

Agu expands menu and horizons

February 25th, 2014
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aguOne of Agu Ramen's "originals," a bowl of kotteri tonkotsu.Nadine Kam photos

Expanding the way we think about wine and food, Agu A Ramen Bistro was the setting for a unique pairing of affordable wines with Jidori ramen and yet-to-be-introduced small plates on Feb. 11. Some of the new side dishes only recently hit the menu on Feb. 21, coinciding with my review appearing in print on Feb. 26.

The wine event anticipates securing of a liquor license in the coming months, and the restaurant enlisted master sommelier Patrick Okubo to help with the pairings. Without knowing what the new dishes would be like, Okubo had his work cut out for him, but the selections he brought in meshed well with the restaurant's mix of deep-fried, spiced and savory flavors.

Agu quickly became my favorite ramen spot when it opened last fall, and here was no reason to believe it would ever offer more than top-notch ramen and gyoza. That was all anyone could expect and that was enough.

But co-owner and chef Hisashi Uehara, a stickler for such time-consuming details as boiling down pork bones for 18 hours to break down fat, marrow, calcium, minerals and proteins to arrive at a thick, opaque broth, wasn't done yet. He had busily been working on new dishes to add to Agu's basic menu, and I have a feeling he's not done yet.
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Agu is at 925 Isenberg St., in the Saint Louis Alumni Clubhouse. Call 808.492.1637.

aguramenI thought it couldn't get better than this shio tonkotsu, but updated versions of the ramen now come with butter, silky se-abura (pork fat), or a mound of  freshly grated Parmesan cheese, below.

agparm

agpatrickMaster sommerlier Patrick Okubo served Secateurs, Chenin Blanc, Coastal Region, S. Africa 2012 ($15.27) with the gyoza and  Jidori kawa (crispy chicken skin). He said, "The high acid played off of the gyoza because of the vinegar sauce and the Jidori kawa because of the tart ponzu sauce.  The high acid sensations cancelled out each other so you could taste the sweet flavors in the food and the fruit in the wine." Chenin blanc happens to be a grape with a natural acidity that compliments other high acid foods.

agyozaDelicious pork and vegetable gyoza with light, thin skins delivering a satisfying brittle crackle.

agchefAgu chef Hisashi Uehara delivers a plate of Jidori kawa, crispy chicken skin.

agwineLincourt, "Lindsey's" Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills 2011 ($22.50) and Buglioni, Il Viggliaco, Brut Rose, Veneto 2011  ($27). 

agsoybeansThe Il Viggliaco, comprising 100 percent Molinara grapes paired best with the piri kara menma  (spiced bamboo shoots, background) because of spice was offset by the wine's 1.2 percent sugar content. Its refreshing acid tones also paired well with the kotteri garlic edamame, and the spice of the Volcano sauce accompanying the mimiga, or deep-fried pork ears.

agporkThe lush sweetness of the Lincourt pinot was a good match for the char siu pork because of the richness without the tannin. Pork doesn't require the tannin that you'd find in darker skinned grapes such as cabernet so the pinot will not overpower the pork.

agpateThe Lincourt also was a good companion for the chicken liver paté that looks like a scoop of chocolate ice cream. The paté made by Thomas Jones, president of REI Food Service, parent to Agu and Gyotaku Japanese restaurants.

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Farrell's partners with Girl Scouts for cookie treats

February 7th, 2014
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farrell'sNew at Farrell's, a shake and two sundaes incorporating Girl Scout Thin Mint, Samoa and Tagalong cookies.Photos courtesy Farrell's Hawaii.

Farrell's Hawaii has partnered with Girl Scouts of Hawaii Troop 188 to help them raise funds for an educational trip to Alaska in May.

The restaurant has created a Thin Mint Shake and two sundaes using the Tagalongs and Samoas Girl Scout cookies. All three are $5.95, available on the Farrell's menu Feb. 7 through March 31, 2014. The troop will earn $1 from every Girl Scout cookie shake or sundae sold.

The experience the Girl Scouts will gain will be applied to earning various "Cookie Season" badges. Badges aren't earned for number of cookies sold, but from skill sets they acquire toward becoming leaders. In Alaska, the troop will pan for gold, learn about totem poles and Inuit people, observe bald eagles and migrating whales, and more.
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Farrell's is at Pearlridge Center Uptown. Call 488-9339.