Archive for the ‘Casual’ Category

One-woman show at Sara's

May 25th, 2016


Chili pepper lovers can test their endurance with Sara's Cafe's spicy fried chicken wings. The bits of red and yellow are Thai chilis and their seeds in a honeyed shell. Don't even try this if you can't drink in something as mild as Sriracha.

Korean women have a reputation for toughness, and some prove it by being masters of their domain in the restaurant biz. It's a difficult enterprise even when many hands are involved, yet these strong women are willing to go it alone.

Those who miss the Angry Korean Lady behind Ah-Lang, who's now on hiatus, might try heading to Sara's Cafe. There, Sara Kim is similarly a one-woman act, doing all the cooking, waitressing and cleanup. (Now that she knows my newspaper column is coming out, she may call on some extra hands and see how it goes.)

But, unlike Angry Korean Lady, Kim is quite the opposite, doing her best to be accommodating. If she seems to ignore you when you walk in, it's just because she's juggling dozens of other details. It's not only in-house customers who need tending. There are also phone and take-out orders to deal with.

Their cooking styles also differ, with Kim providing more casual, simple home-style Korean dishes, along with the comfort of knowing you won't get yelled at. Whew!

Sara's Cafe is at 1551 S Beretania St., on the ground level of the Kualana Hale senior housing building. Call 955-1353. Hours are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, and 5 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Look for these street signs on Beretania Street, on the ground level of the Kualana Hale senior housing building.

Look for these street signs on Beretania Street, on the ground level of the Kualana Hale senior housing building.

The living room ambience has the feel of being at your aunty's house.

The living room ambience has the feel of being at your aunty's house.

Sara Kim rules the kitchen.


Here are my top three dishes. Keep in mind that my personal biases have no bearing on these choices that I think best reflect the restaurant's strengths. For instance, I love Korean spicy pork, but it's not a dish that defines this restaurant:

No. 1
The spicy fried chicken wings at the top of the page. Sorry some of you will not be able to withstand the heat.

No. 2
(Tie) Depending on your preference for seafood or veggies, a soft egg-y texture, or crisp flour-based pancake.

Among Sara's specialties are her pajeon, scallion pancakes, including this seafood version. Killer with accompanying sauce of vinegar, shoyu, Thai chilies and pickled onions.

In contrast to the egg-y seafood pajeon, a kim chee pancake had a beautiful crisp finish.

No. 3

Sara's kalbi looks like typical teriyaki-style shortribs, but the sauce is Korean, with shoyu and plenty of chopped onions lending natural sweetness to the sauce.


Banchan is limited here, but requests for seconds, and thirds of the zucchini jun were accommodated.

Kim prepares Korean home-style cuisine, but how many people make sone pot bi bim bap at home?. A real treat.

Home-style sautéed garlic shrimp is served with lettuce topped with Caesar dressing.

Korean-style hamburger steak is not hamburger as we know it, but a lighter combo of beef, pork and tofu dipped in egg batter.

A comforting pot of soondubu.

Spicy pork with gochujang sauce.

Shrimp fried rice didn't have much shrimp in it, but was still enjoyable, and a great accompaniment to all the meat on the menu.

I ordered half portions of meat jun and spicy squid that turned out to be least favorites. Some might appreciate the generous slices of ribeye, but it was too chewy, and there was little dimension to the squid. It would be fine for non-tasters.

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: Mahina & Sun's

May 18th, 2016


Deep-fried whole snapper, and salads of root vegetables and pohole ferns are part of the Family Feast at Mahina & Sun's.

Following a zombie apocalypse and cut off from the rest of the world, what would we eat?

If you envision such a future, sustainability makes perfect sense. I'm not saying Ed Kenney and Dave Caldiero are thinking in those bleak terms, but with their latest restaurant, Mahina & Sun's, I think they have the opposite in mind—a bright sunny future in which people awaken to caring for the planet and nurturing their bodies in a single move, by choosing foods both healthful and sustainable.

The two have been preaching this concept for about a decade, but takes it even further with Mahina & Sun's, making sustainable seem more palatable than ever.

A "snack" of Sweet Land Farms goat cheese beignets with beet ketchup and arugula.

It all starts with teaching us to love such basics as 'ulu and ugly root vegetables, hairy roots, green tops and all. There was a time I would have lopped off these unsightly ends, but here, they're a joy to pop whole into the mouth, and I was surprised to see my meat-loving friends reaching continuously for the bowls of vegetables and 'ulu.

Kenney would be the first to tell you he could do more, noting that it is still difficult to go without imported oils, beans, grains, Japanese products, pastas and spices, as well as most bar content.

Satisfying kahala (amberjack) crudo with preserved lemon, toasted inamona, purslane and brown butter vinaigrette.

But moreso than most outlets, I see a commitment, not only to the locally grown, but foods basic to the earliest Hawaii settlers. Most chefs, and diners, would find that limiting, but Mahina & Sun's is doing its best to win over a 21st century audience accustomed to getting any foodstuff they want, sourced from all parts of the planet.

It won't be an easy feat bringing diners back to the homestead, but they're committed to trying.

The setting, poolside at the equally new Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club.

Mahina & Sun's is in the new Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club at 412 Lewers St. Call 924-5810.

Mild, clean-tasting Kualoa Ranch oysters are simply graced with chili pepper water, succulents and slices of kalamansi.

It doesn't get much more local than pa'i 'ai topped with akule. Not for those who don't like fishy fish.

Usually, I would love the Shinsato pork paté, but having so many other good things to eat made it seem less interesting than the alternatives.

The grilled he'e is my favorite dish.

Rigatoni with local wild boar ragu. I don't know how they are able to secure a steady supply of local boar for making this dish.

A pour of smoky bacon broth over swordfish and savoy cabbage. The restaurant is committed to using sustainable seafood based on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program, but swordfish has a tendency to be dry and is still not one of my favorites. A dish of monchong, however, was perfection.

A pan-roasted half chicken is tasty, but has been inconsistent, moist one day, dry the next. But I love the coriander chutney on top.

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

'Ai Love Nalo feeds body & soul

May 11th, 2016


The Medi Bowl, a Mediterranean combo comprising kalo falafel, roasted baba ganoush, beet hummus, millet tabouleh and greens with an herb tahini sauce, is one of my favorite dishes on the menu at 'Ai Love Nalo. The colors are a feast for the eyes.

Because my foodie diet is so rich in protein and fat, I'm happy for those occasions when I can escape to such basics as fresh veggies and hummus, staples in every food writer's/blogger's kitchen for those detoxing down times when we're not at a restaurant.

I once suggested we feed hummus to the hungry instead of stocking up on salt-, sugar- and preservative-laden canned goods during food drives, only to be told the hungry wouldn't eat it. Critics of my plan had a point. As much as I love hummus and a good salad, I don't crave them the way I crave fried chicken, pork ribs, or lately, Fat Boy ice cream sandwiches.

Humans have a natural affinity for fats, sweets and carbs. You can read up on some of the science here:

Yet, immediately after visiting 'Ai Love Nalo, I found myself craving the casual vegan restaurant's tofu poke bowl, with limu providing all the ocean essence I needed, and avocado providing body and richness, so I didn't miss the fattiness and texture of fish at all.

I also crave the Medi Bowl ($11), a Mediterranean-inspired combo of kalo falafel served over greens with an herb tahini sauce, millet tabouleh, and small portions of local eggplant baba ganoush and beet hummus with all the flavor of chickpea hummus with a tinge of beet.

It's no wonder the restaurant tends to be packed on the weekends, when people are most likely to have the time to make the drive to Waimanalo. It's well worth the trip.

Dishes here are fresh and delicious, and there will be many a dessert lover who will rejoice over its non-dairy, all-natural dessert of Outta This Swirled soft-serve sundae. Replacing the ice cream is a mixture of coconut milk and bananas, coated with a no-added sugar "Cacao Magic" shell.

A meal here is a treat for the body, soul and senses from beginning to end.
'Ai Love Nalo is at 41-1025 Kalanianaole Highway. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Mondays. Online at There's no phone.

You can opt to sit indoors, or, if you don't like being confined by four walls, bring a mat to sit outside in the "Garden of Eatin'," pictured below.

ai garden

The tofu poke is delicious, available in a generous poke bowl that starts with a choice of brown rice, millet or a half/half combination, with limu, onion, avocado, green onion, furikake and greens. Recently, $11.

The Kaukau Lu'au plate is 'Ai Love Nalo's healthier remake of the Hawaiian plate lunch. Local Okinawan potato and an assortment of local veggies are baked in creamy coconut lu’au, and served with your choice of poi, brown rice or millet, with a sampling of tofu poke and a side salad. Recently $11.

Roasted veggies and avocado are piled onto a veggie sandwich, but the whole-wheat vegan bun didn't hold up well to the ingredients and became mushy quickly.

Dessert lovers will rejoice over 'Ai Love Nalo's vegan, guilt-free soft serve, made with bananas and coconut milk, with cocoa powder shell that mimics chocolate. It's presented here with sliced bananas, papaya and housemade granola.

There are several smoothies on the menu. This is the Lime in Da Coconut, made with coconut milk, key limes, avocado, honey and bananas, and topped with coconut flakes.


Before leaving, head next door to visit the Waimanalo Market Co-op. There, you'll find fresh produce, 'Nalo-related merchandise including jewelry, clothing and tote bags, and a couple of food purveyors.

The co-op is at 41-1029 Kalanianaole Highway, open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays to Saturdays, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays. Call 690-7607.

Produce at the Waimanalo Market Co-op is sourced from the area ahupua'a.

If you think you've found the island's best poke, better remake your list if you haven't tried poke from Hale I‘a Hawaii. Lance and Lucie Kaanoi's poke is exceptionally fresh and delicious, making both their Korean-style, and ogo and ahi poke must-trys on your next visit to Waimanalo. They also serve poke hoagies.

Bread & Butter adds brunch

May 3rd, 2016


Prosciutto-wrapped baguette is presented with egg yolk for dipping, one dish on the new weekend brunch menu at Bread & Butter.

I love breakfast, and the latest to make mornings easier to wake up for is Bread & Butter, which is offering weekend brunch from a most civilized 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, because, not everyone is up at dawn.

That's something I found out when, jetlagged, I wasn't responding to messages from friends about our 10:30 a.m. brunch date. They ended up coming to my house and pounding on the door exactly one second after I woke up, looked at the time on my phone, and realized I slept through my alarm. Talk about scrambling to action!

It was all worth the massive confusion and pain of getting ready in 10 minutes.

Here's a look at some of the dishes offered on the menu. Absent is one of my favorite dishes, the taro pancakes, which I didn't photograph because they couldn't really be seen, buried under whipped cream.

My full review is in the May 4 Crave section.

Bread & Butter is sister restaurant to Hide Sakurai's Shokudo, next door at
1585 Kapiolani Blvd., and Buho Cocina Y Cantina. Call 949-3430.

The room is bright and spacious.

The kim chee-fried rice-filled omelette is topped with slices of Portuguese sausage. It's the sausage that provides all the flavor because the rice is light on kim chee flavor.


The non-traditional Caesar salad comes with slices of bacon and avocado, with dressing on the side. For $12, recently, it comes with a slice of housemade garlic, cheese and rosemary-topped focaccia. Add $2 for your choice of a cup of Maui onion soup or clam chowder.

So sad that I have yet to find a lobster roll in this town that's comparable to those on the East Coast. This one is a nice try, but the sweet roll detracts from sweetness of lobster, and pink peppercorns also overpower the lobster. The pickled vegetables do help to brighten the roll. Otherwise, gotta keep it simple.

Egg Slut is fun to eat and the smoked mashed potatoes are addicting.

Pork belly eggs Benedict is one of my favorite dishes here, along with taro and banana pancakes that I did not photograph because they did not look like anything underneath a cloud of whipped cream.

Fans of avocado toast will find comfort in a dish of "Smashed Avocado and Bacon," the avocado topped with sunflower seeds, crushed pistachios and walnuts, over baguette.

There are seven pizza options on the menu, including this one with prosciutto and figs If you've never tried their four cheese and honey pizza before, add it to your list. The savory-sweet combo is killer.

A baked egg and sausage stew is more ratatouille than either of the top-mentioned ingredients. The dominant flavor is tomato.

Fête draws a crowd downtown

April 14th, 2016


Bacalao fritters served with a mild harissa aioli are among the highlights on the evening menu at Fête, the newest addition to the ever-growing Downtown food scene. Chicken liver mousse was another favorite.

I have eaten at so many poorly managed restaurants in the past year that I feel a little gun-shy when visiting an eatery for the first time. If I walked into a new establishment with no expectations in years past, I now walk in with skepticism.

A restaurant run by professionals has become a rarity as barriers to entry have been broken down by food trucks and popups, and so many who graduate to bricks and mortar appear to be winging it.

But, sitting down to dinner at downtown Honolulu’s newest restaurant, Fête, and speedily plied with greetings, menus, ordered drinks and pupu in spite of the full house, I breathed a sigh of relief. Yes! Obviously, professionals at work, and diners are responding. Barely a month old, it's packed, making reservations a must.

Even though Fête is a first-time effort from the husband-and-wife team of Chuck Bussler, who serves as general manager, and Robynne Maii, executive chef, the two have lengthy backgrounds in food service.

Maii’s extensive culinary métier starts with such local restaurants as 3660 on the Rise and Padovani’s Grill, leading to New York’s Waldorf Astoria. She’s also been an educator and worked for Gourmet magazine as a research assistant and "Truth in Labeling" columnist. The couple met in New York, where Bussler worked at several restaurants over time, including Savoy, Blue Hill and Prune.


I’m already a sucker for Chinatown’s brick walls and picture window storefronts, but the additions bring warmth and a modern sophisticated grace to the early 20th century space. It’s a restaurant that could fit in easily in San Francisco’s or Brooklyn’s food scene, but we’re the lucky ones.

Bussler, who also worked with “Top Chef’s” Hugh Acheson to open 5&10 in Athens, Ga., designed Féte’s interior, which included tasking local artists to create glass lighting fixtures, a living wall and other unique details.

Fête’s artisanal menu is short and sweet to keep service manageable for the kitchen. In spite of its brevity, there’s no shortage of good ideas, so you’ll probably be hungering for all 11 lunch dishes and 16 dinner items, plus a handful of sides and desserts. This is a place where it’s just as pleasant ordering a few small grazing bites before a night at Hawaii Theatre, as it is sitting down for a full meal.

The bar is similarly curated with a handful of old-fashioned cocktails, predominantly local craft beers, and an eclectic roster of small production wines from around the globe.

At the bar, Mari Maffioli created a Clover Club cockktail, that includes Brooklyn Gin, a shout-out to the city the owners' once called home.

Owner Chuck Bussler takes a hands-on approach in running the restaurant, and to date, the staff has been equally capable. This should be a given, but alas, so rare in this town.


Marinated olives accented with orange zest was a delicious amuse bouche. I could have eaten these all night.

There wasn't enough foie gras to be satisfying in a foie gras gyoza appetizer.

Kabocha squash risotto (recently, $23) isn't very sexy, but delivers a healthier take on the rice dish, with curly kale and shiitake, shimeji and maitake mushrooms that also give the dish texture.

Maii shows her Korean heritage with a dish of grilled kalbi-marinated bavette ($28), the steak flavored with a mild touch of kochujang sauce and layered over flavorful fernbraken and mungbean sprout fried rice. The dish is topped by an overeasy egg and cucumber namul.

If you can get past an unusually hard shell, you might enjoy the juiciness of Fetê's fried chicken. I think a lot of people would appreciate a change in the batter.

Fête is at 2 N. Hotel St. (corner of Nuuanu Avenue). Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays, and 5 to 11 p.m. Saturdays. Call (808) 369-1390.