Dining on Oahu
December 5, 2011
My husband and I recently returned from vacation on Oahu. We normally go to Kauai, as we prefer the more relaxed, less crowded feel there, but we decided to try Oahu again to take advantage of the larger number of restaurant selections in Honolulu. Our compromise was a few nights there, and then several nights on the quieter North Shore. Unfortunately the North Shore is not only less crowded with people, it’s also less crowded with good dining options. But, let me state up front – mediocre food in Hawaii on vacation still feels more enchanting than good food at home with the knowledge that you have to get up and go to work the next day! And we did experience quite a few winners both in Honolulu and on the North Shore.
Our first dinner in Honolulu was at Hiroshi Eurasian Tapas, which I thought was outstanding. Highlights of the meal included sous vide Kona lobster tail with squid ink pasta, tobiko (flying fish roe), shiso (an Asian herb), long beans and red jalapeño, as well as Big Island baby abalone with roasted garlic aioli, shiso, tobiko, parmesan cheese and white truffle oil. I don’t believe that I had tried abalone prior to this, and really enjoyed the meaty, mushroomy taste. Dessert was a macadamia POG (papaya, orange, and guava) cheesecake, which was wonderful. Service at the restaurant wasn’t the warmest – we’re pretty sure we weren’t asked once how we liked the food, but it was definitely tasty, and I’m glad we went.
For our second dinner we went to Roy’s, which is a destination for us no matter which island we go to. We are both huge seafood fans, and love Asian Fusion, so Roy’s is a no-brainer since the fish is extremely fresh, and the sauces so divine. We are always keen to get entrees with native Hawaiian fish when we visit Roy’s – ahi, opah, opakapaka, or whatever else is featured. And no trip can be made to Roy’s (at least in my mind), without the finishing touch of the Melting Hot Chocolate Soufflé. There are no words to describe it, as they are all inadequate. Let’s just say there is molten chocolate in a soufflé, it’s the best chocolate dessert you will ever eat, and leave it at that.
Our final dinner in Honolulu was at town, which features locally sourced food. The salad with MA’O Organic Farms’ lettuces, pancetta, Manchego, cherry tomatoes, and walnuts was the best salad I had on the entire vacation. The lettuce leaves (which I’m guessing were Mesclun – lots of mizuna-shaped leaves, but red as well as green) were incredibly fresh and tasty. We had a fish dish and a gnocchi with pork ragù that were quite good as well.
I should also mention a terrific breakfast place we went to one morning, Café Kaila. It was a bit difficult to find, but well worth it. We had the Belgian malted waffle, and the Italian omelette with eggplant, zucchini, mushrooms, mozzarella and marinara. Both were great – the waffle had just the right amount of crispiness, and the omelette’s Italian flavors were a nice counterpoint to the sweet waffle.
For the North Shore portion of our vacation, we stayed at a guest cottage in Waialua, and ate most of our meals a few miles away in Haleiwa. After a fairly good dinner at Luibueno’s, where we had the vera cruz catch of the day and a veggie burrito, we had several mediocre dinners the rest of our stay. The pizza at Pizza Bob’s was merely there, not very enticing. The Thai food at Haleiwa Eats Thai tasted fairly good, but was about as spicy as a glass of milk to anyone who is used to some degree of spice. (And this is the ‘fiery’ red curry I’m talking about). The ahi plate and shrimp scampi at the Grass Skirt Grill were alright, but not anything I felt I had to repeat. And the Chinese steamed fish and fresh grilled fish at Haleiwa Joe’s was not bad, but again, not outstanding.
We fared slightly better at lunch. The best single menu item that we had during our stay on the North Shore was the Portabella Stache’wich at The Beet Box Cafe in Haleiwa. Consisting of marinated portabella mushrooms and zucchini on a toasted whole wheat bun with garlic aioli, feta cheese, red onion, red pepper and sunflower sprouts, it was completely divine. (I think the aioli played a key part here). The Beet Box is a tiny five-table area in the back of the Celestial Natural Foods store. (The tables in the picture are the smallest – there are three four-tops on the side of the cafe the picture is taken from). The food is all made to order, so you’ll wait a little bit for your food, but it is definitely worth it.
We went to Banzai Sushi for one lunch, and overall had some great items. The yellowfin and marlin nigiri sushi were nice and fresh, and the ceviche was also very tasty. And, although decidedly non-sushi, I really enjoyed the house salad with fresh greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, won ton strips and papaya seed dressing. The red dragon roll (spicy tuna and cucumber roll topped with avocado, jalepeño and sashimi grade ahi) was a bit of a letdown as the jalepeño’s heat merely overpowered the flavors of the other items, rather than adding to it as wasabi does.
As it turns out, sometimes the simplest things can be the tastiest. Breakfast was consistently pleasing, as it consisted of sitting on the patio listening to the ocean and eating Vanilla Almond Special-K with sliced apple bananas and drinking 100% Kona coffee. (I’m not intentionally doing a Kellogg’s advertisement here – that just happened to be the cereal we bought at the grocery store, and it was great with the bananas). Apple bananas are a tropical variety, which are shorter and fatter than the ubiquitous Cavendish variety that is everywhere in mainland grocery stores. Apple bananas have a hint of both apple and strawberry and my husband and I both prefer them over Cavendish bananas. As for the coffee – we’ve tried many different brands of Kona coffee on our trips to the islands, but the Lion Brand 24-Karat 100% Kona we picked this time seemed particularly smooth. As we were eating one morning, I looked down into my cereal bowl, and there was a happy slice of apple banana with a little Special-K hat perched jauntily atop its head.
Another culinary treasure we discovered was a dessert bar from Coffee Gallery which consistent of a layer of purple sweet potato (wonderfully sweet and creamy), a layer of haupia (a coconut milk-based custardy dessert), on a cookie-like macadamia nut crust. Um, yum. We went back two days later to pick up another one we enjoyed the first so much.