Archive for the ‘Casual’ Category

Wagyu and Seafood Plazas need to step up their game

By
July 13th, 2016



PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.com

Wagyu striploin, pictured, and ribeye are among the best offerings at Wagyu Plaza, at a cost of $35/$20 for ribeye, and $32/$19 for striploin. This is the $19 portion. You can guestimate the size by the size of the lemon round and pat of butter. (It's smaller than you'd imagine from the photo.) I asked for medium rare but got well done because it continues to cook on the sizzling platter. It doesn't help much if you order rare. A friend ordered that on another occasion and it turned out well-done.

The idea of $45 steak in a food court setting was so audacious, it had to be good, real good to appeal to people more accustomed to paying closer to $10 or max $15 to eat in such an environment.

So, I had some hope that Vintage Cave's Wagyu Plaza and Seafood Plaza at the new Shirokiya Japan Village Walk would be able to bring some of the mystique and extravagance of the original, exclusive Vintage Cave restaurant to this high-concept food court.

Unfortunately, it doesn't. The only thing high-end about the plazas are their prices, starting at about $19 and running up to $45 in the center of a mass feeding frenzy.

Ugh, for what amounts to about $50 to $100 for two, there are a lot more pleasant places I would rather be, with a lot better food.

Food is one thing; untrained staff and lack of customer service is another. They did not consider that people might not finish and want a to-go container. They did not consider people might not be willing to hunt down drinks then bring them back to be rung up, and many other basics better executed by other outlets offering $8 food service.

My full review is in this week's Crave section. This is just a brief sampling.
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Shirokiya Japan Village Walk Wagyu and Seafood Plazas are open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

Wagyu katsu is $19 for 100 grams or 3-1/2 ounces, $32 for 200 grams). Even considering the smaller portion, it doesn't look as delicious as in the menu photo below, and is a big meh, not nearly as marbled and juicy as wagyu at other restaurants in town.

plaza meat

Pork katsu fared better.

Wafu burger was plain and undistinctive.

I was satisfied with a $22 tempura bowl with white rice (there's no other starch option). For the price, it included one piece of shrimp, white fish, a mixed fritter of scallops and chopped shrimp, and eel with the muddy taste of lake fish and catfish.

The saffron rice in a dish of paella from Seafood Plaza was delicious, but the shrimp was bland. Mussels and clams were decent. The dish did draw a lot of stares and comments of , "That looks so good," while I was eating. That's how close everyone passes by while you're dining.

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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 nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Chefs pop up at Avenue's

By
July 12th, 2016



PHOTO BY SEAN MORRIS

Berkley Spivey, left, and Eddie Lopez, were in the kitchen at Avenue's Bar + Eatery for a one-night only Chef's Pop-up.

The restaurant pop-up invigorated the food scene beginning around five years ago, but as some of the more successful young chefpreneurs have moved into permanent spaces, it's been a little quiet on the pop-up scene.

So Avenue's Bar + Eatery shook things up a bit with the reunion of its executive chef Robert Paik, and his fellow Vintage Cave teammates and alum, Berkley Spivey and pastry chef Eddie Lopez.

PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.com

Now in between gigs while waiting for Senia to open, pastry chef Eddie Lopez shared some of the beautiful tarts he's been baking on the side, during a preview event.

Lopez said it takes him only 15 minutes to layer the apples in his caramel apple tart, down from one hour when he started making them. He sells them through social media.

Now in between gigs, Spivey and Lopez said they missed the liveliness and "what will they do next?" excitement that marked the pop-up scene, and wanted to bring back some of that energy.

They were right about bringing the excitement because there were 200 on the wait list for their July 11 Chef's Pop-up event, hoping for a last-minute cancellation.

Spivey and Lopez presented four courses featuring ingredients and recipes that showcase their skill as chefs as well as a bit of personal inspiration, based on their roots.

Spivey grew up in the South, while Lopez grew up in Chicago, mindful of his Mexican heritage, and for guests, it was a treat to discover Lopez's work beyond pastry, as he presented a complex 32-ingredient mole served with grilled tako.

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Avenue's Bar + Eatery is at 3605 Waialae Ave. Call (808) 744-7567. Next up for the eatery is Whiskey Wednesday on the 13th. Visit avenuesbarandeatery.com for more information, or see my prior blog post at: takeabite.staradvertiserblogs.com/2016/07/02/boost-your-whiskey-iq-at-avenues/

Here's what was on the menu during the pop-up:

Snacks included zucchini sable and delicious smoked celery root macaron.

The first course was Spivey's Maui Cattle Co. cured beef ribeye carpaccio with buttery squid ink crumbled brioche, micro greens, horseradish, lime and mustard seeds.

Then Lopez presented octopus with burnt onion, black mole and cilantro like a work of abstract art. I could eat a tub of that mole!

Spivey's second dish was pork with variations of cabbage, including cabbage sauce, with white beans and brown butter.

Lopez's dessert comprised butter popcorn ice cream with dehydrated chocolate mousse and peanuts.

The presentation ended with mignardises of a pineapple gummy and strawberry-thyme shortbread cookie. I loved the combination of fruit and herb.

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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 nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Boost your whiskey IQ at Avenue's

By
July 2nd, 2016



PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.com

Avenue's Bar + Eatery bar manager Joseph Arakawa has a lineup of whiskeys, ryes and bourbons he wants you to try.

Whiskey was once man's domain. No more. One more sign women are taking over the world is that whiskey's resurgence is being fueled by females.

It's no coincidence the new face of Jim Beam is Mila Kunis, when over the past few years stars like Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Christina Hendricks have also shared their affection for the spirit.

Since the 1990s, the number of female whiskey drinkers has increased from 15 to 37 percent, due in part to its sweet character, and in part to the allure of crashing the old boys' club, where whiskey has enjoyed a long-standing association with power as the drink of presidents, diplomats, the rich and the mighty.

Full-bodied whiskies are a match for pork.

At Avenue's Bar + Eatery, where chef Robert Paik and bar manager Joseph Arakawa are preparing to host "Whiskey Wednesday" beginning 5:30 p.m. July 13, Arakawa said, "Men love women who love whiskey," and it's no longer unusual to see men at the bar with a fruity drink while women imbibe heavier distilled spirits.

Arakawa will be offering a lineup of 18 American bourbons, whiskeys and ryes, detailing the differences among them while guests enjoy samples with tasting bites Paik created to accentuate the various grain content of the spirits.

Flights will start at $28 for 1/2-ounce pours of bourbon or rye, and $40 for six side-by-side tastings of both. An aged flight, "The Decades," will feature 10-year-old whiskeys.
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Avenue's Bar + Eatery is at 3605 Waialae Ave. Call 744-7567.

Taking his cue from the corn mash-based whiskey, Chef Paik will be baking up some fantastic cakey, griddle cornbread with a light bruléed crust.

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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 nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

First Course: Inside Fish House, at the new Four Seasons Ko Olina

By
June 29th, 2016



PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.com

It took three to bring this three-tiered Fish House Tower to the table. From left, Four Seasons Ko Olina general manager Sanjiv Hulugalle, Fish House chef Ray German and Fish House general manager Thomas Stone.

I've been so busy keeping my eye on soon-to-open restaurants in Waikik that I overlooked what was going on in Ko Olina, where The Four Seasons Resort Oahu has opened to all in need of an escape from their daily routines.

To celebrate, the resort at Ko Olina is offering Hawaii residents (with valid ID) a 50 percent off best available room rate (about $595 per night to date) from June 29 through Dec. 19, 2016, with complimentary amenities including valet parking and Internet access throughout the resort.

Coinciding with the hotel opening is the debut of dining areas on site, including the Hokule'a Coffee Bar, the luxury Italian restaurant Noe, and the casual-luxe, beach-front, line-to-table restaurant, Fish House.

The restaurants opened to hotel guests yesterday before opening to the public today. A visit to Fish House netted an abundance of seafood and other dishes with chef Ray German's signature Latin flair.

In spite of all the luxury the Four Seasons stands for, this place is far from stodgy. Dishes of burgers, steaks and seafood are presented in a room with a rustic, beachy vibe that suits the location mere steps from sand and sea.

Here's a quick peek that doesn't begin to give a complete picture of the number of dishes and sides available. This being the Four Seasons, sandwiches are $22, 8- to 14-oz. steaks are about $48. Budget accordingly.

A fish scale pattern graces the bar at Fish House.

To the side of this lounge area is a pool table.

To the side of this lounge area is a pool table.

An amuse of cubed mango topped with black sea salt, with lardon and uni.

At a restaurant named Fish House, your first thought may be to get the Fish House Tower, configured to suit your party size, and starting at $35 for four seafood selections for one to two. This is essentially a large ($125 for four to five people) with the addition of two whole Keahole lobsters at $55 each.

The large tower also comes with two kinds of poke, here the traditional ahi with ogo and onions, and one of the specials for the summer's day was ceviche with lime, orange slices and avocado.

Kim Shibata wanted an overhead vantage of the feast.

Libations include many a craft cocktail, beer, wine, kombucha, cold-pressed juices and this Pineapple Elyx-ir of local pineapple juice, pomegranate, hibiscus, champagne, bitters and vodka. Share it with friends, or not.

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The Fish House salad is a cross between a wedge salad and old-fashioned shrimp-and-crab Louie, topped with shaved bonito. Mix in the poached egg.

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As good as all the dishes were, no one could get enough of the spiced-up North Shore corn on the cob with lime, smoked paprika, creamy condensed milk aioli and Parmesan cheese. The corn itself was so fresh and sweet, the perfect texture. A definite OMG moment.

Grilled onaga was served with chili water and flavored vinegar.

A healthful starter of chilled avocado drizzled with quinoa and hazelnut crumble, and cider vinegar.

One of the entrances to the restaurant.

Looking down from the lobby level to one of three pools. Fish House restaurant is next to the pool.

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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 nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Rice Place's fresh take on a basic

By
June 28th, 2016



PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.com

Imperial Rolls are filled with a mix of juicy shrimp and pork in a delicate rice paper wrap at Rice Place. Delicious! They're part of a larger dinner appetizer platter that also includes bulgogi rolls and Bae Bae Cakes of sticky rice topped with char siu and lup cheong.

Rice Place owner Trinh Vo notes that in many cultures, to say "Let's eat," literally means to eat rice.

Indeed, those were among the first words I learned when studying Cantonese in college, and again now that I am studying Mandarin. "Sik faan" translates literally in Cantonese as "eat rice," and to ask, "Sik faan mei ah?" or, "Have you eaten yet?," is the equivalent of saying hello. It's the same when you ask, "Ni chi le ma?" in Mandarin.

And so, Vo's restaurant is a celebration of Asia's rice tradition, with many of the dishes offering her fresh, contemporary take on Vietnamese cuisine, while other dishes take their cues from Chinese, Japanese and Thai cuisine.

Some people who read my columns may remember that I have an aversion to rice that started in infancy, when, as a young food critic, I refused to eat a mixture of rice and chopped steak that my parents were attempting to pass off as food. At 1, I would sit in my high chair for what felt like hours, while my dad tried to coax then force me to swallow that squishy wad of food. I wouldn't do it, so dinner time always proved to be a traumatic experience for both of us.


Rice Place owner Trinh Vo must be good at getting her kids to eat, because I gladly ate two things at her restaurant that I don't usually enjoy, rice and cucumbers. She made cucumbers palatable in this dish of Refresher Deluxe, the cucumber "noodles" tossed with grilled ika and poached shrimp in a light vinaigrette.

As I grew older, all my suspicions about that white, flavorless, flabby material were confirmed, that polished white rice was devoid of nutrition and was simply filler material for lack of better ingredients.

At Rice Place, though, it ain't like that. Instead, Vo explores the world of rice flours, noodles and fine lacy rice papers that she treats with utmost respect.

Although she describes herself as a home cook, that doesn't take into account the fact that she grew up in the business. Her mother ran a catering business and at one point, five food trucks in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Vo—who eventually grew up to work in the fashion industry—always provided an extra hand. Unlike her two other siblings, she found food preparation fun instead of a chore.

This is not street fare, so flavors are more muted than your typical Chinatown Vietnamese restaurant. At times I miss the intensity of in-your-face fish sauce and Asian herbs heaped on unapologetically, but there is a spare elegance at work here that is a breath of fresh air and gives us a glimpse of Asian cuisine of the future.
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The Rice Place is at 725 Kapiolani Boulevard, C119B, where Ah-Lang, or Angry Korean Lady, used to be. Open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5:30 to 9 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, Saturday brunch from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and dinner 6 to 9:30 p.m. Call 799-6959. Visit thericeplace808.com.

TOP 5 DISHES

Usually I narrow my choices to Top 3 dishes, but I couldn't do it here. I liked so many of them, so here's my Top 5:

Báhn xèo, described on the menu as "Lettuce Wrap Rice Flour Crepe" looks like an egg crepe, but the rice batter cooks up extra crispy, a nice counterpoint to soft savory fillings of shrimp, pork belly and bean sprouts. It's served with lettuce and mint for wrapping, plus a mild sweet garlic chili sauce for dipping.

The Imperial Rolls star in a dish of Noodles and Rolls served with steamed rice noodle cakes and lettuce for wrapping. Taste the rolls solo too.

The Imperial Rolls star in a dish of Noodles and Rolls served with steamed rice noodle cakes and lettuce for wrapping. Taste the rolls solo too.

Flat, translucent rice noodles are a joy in this dish of pesto boat noodles. The housemade pesto contains no nuts ito address those with nut allergies.

The Asian Cajun makes my list because I love spicy food. Others will find this tom yum version of a Louisiana seafood boil way too hot to handle. Due to the delicacy of the other dishes, when ordering, eat this last.

Housemade condensed milk gelato is rich and creamy as expected, served with housemade azuki beans with a touch of lemon for preserving texture, and housemade mochi that's soft, not as chewy as the commercial variety. It melts quickly, so work fast.

MORE DISHES

Though we've seen many a rice bun over the past two years, the rice is usually too soft, the texture flabby. Not so the scaled down crispy rice buns of Rice Place's Go! Go! Rice Burger Sliders of beef bulgogi and cucumbers. The perfectly crisped rice was the best part.

The Rice Place offers daily stew specials. I didn't quite get this one with bean sprouts, look funn rolls and baked pork with side of broth. I felt like they were disparate ingredients in need of a binder. Hold out for beef brisket stew. Now that one's a keeper!

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner is a take on Hainanese chicken rice, a dish I find boring. It's perfect for those who can't stomach spices and herbs.

The Carnitarian dish comprises ribeye wrapped asparagus with a thickened teriyaki sauce. I found it less interesting than the Vietnamese- and Thai-style dishes.

Sticky rice and mango for dessert.

A rice cream sandwich dessert with green tea ice cream is tricky to share because the ice cream oozes out when you try to cut it.

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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 nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

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