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.

Roy's Melting Hot Chocolate Soufflé

Woefully inadequate picture of Roy's Melting Hot Chocolate Soufflé

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.

The Beet Box Cafe - Haleiwa

The Beet Box Cafe - Haleiwa

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.

Happy Apple Banana

Happy Apple Banana

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.

Dessert Bar with Purple Sweet Potatoes and Haupia on a Macadamia Nut Cookie Crust

Dessert Bar with Purple Sweet Potatoes and Haupia on a Macadamia Nut Cookie Crust


Earlier in the week I posted about our visits to Pike Place Market and Uwajimaya during our Labor Day vacation in Seattle. We also ate at some great restaurants while we were there (dining being our main activity when travelling, it seems). Our first day we fell into the all-too-common vacation circumstance of sleeping too late for breakfast. (Actually we could have gone to a couple of places we discovered later on, but it really was lunch time by then, so lunchward we went). We had our first lunch at Le Pichet in the Pike Place Market neighborhood. Le Pichet offers an array of charcuterie, cheese, olives, bread and salads. For our healthier option, we ordered escarole with green lentils, beets, caramelized grapefruit, pistachios, mint and sherry vinaigrette.  We also ordered les tartines with jambon cru Serrano (an open-faced sandwich on country bread with air cured ham from the Spanish Pyrenees), and an ounce of brie.  The salad was fairly good, but the les tartines was slathered with entirely too much dijon, and unfortunately it completely overpowered the ham.  The brie however, was wonderful.

Escarole, green lentils, beets, caramelized grapefruit, pistachios and mint with a sherry vinaigrette

Escarole, Green Lentils, Beets, Caramelized Grapefruit, Pistachios and Mint with a Sherry Vinaigrette

Open-faced Sandwich with Mustard and Ham at Le Pichet

Open-faced Sandwich with Mustard and Ham

Our second day, we managed to get up in time for breakfast, so we headed to Portage Bay Cafe, at the South Lake Union location.  (To be honest, on the weekend they serve breakfast until 2:30, so we’re not talking about a huge accomplishment here).  Portage Bay Cafe is a wonderful breakfast and lunch place, with a great menu that includes some rather unique omelets, scrambles, hashes, pancakes, and French toast. Unfortunately, one of their locations was closed due to a water main leak, so this location had a much larger crowd than they were used to handling.  We had quite a wait to get in, but the food was awfully good, so it seemed worth it.  We got the house-smoked Cap’n Charlie’s wild salmon hash and the organic apple and whole wheat pancakes.  The restaurant features a ‘topping bar’ with syrup, whipped cream, and an array of fresh berries for their pancake and French toast items, but the apple and whole wheat pancakes were so good I ended up eating my half without even bothering with syrup. The menu indicates these pancakes are filled with candied apples, raisins, pecans, nutmeg and cinnamon, which probably explains why they were so delicious.  We returned for a second meal later in the week, and got the organic pancakes and sauteed organic mushroom hash. These selections didn’t quite live up to what we got the first time, but I would definitely go back, and would try the bananas foster French toast and one of the scrambles.

My husband had read about Top Pot Doughnuts, which has multiple locations around Seattle, and it sounded like they were quite good.  We stopped by the Belltown location too late the first day, but made a point of getting there early enough the second day, post-lunch.  We like to kid ourselves that we have a modicum of control with our daytime pastry intake, so we got one chocolate sandcastle doughnut to split (chocolate with a coating of granulated sugar).  It was so good, my husband went back up a couple minutes later to acquire a thickly maple frosted old-fashioned doughnut. Unfortunately we felt we really had to cut ourselves off after that, so we worked up our resolve, and went out to do some more walking.

My favorite lunch was at the Westlake location of Serious Pie.  Owned by Tom Douglas, a very prolific Seattle chef and restaurateur (Wikipedia indicates he currently owns about 10 well-known restaurants), this is a great little pizza place which features a wood-fired oven.  Serious Pie is co-located with the Dahlia Workshop and Soul Wine, also Douglas establishments.  It’s in a nice loft area upstairs, which features long rustic wooden tables in front of the kitchen area, giving it a homey yet hip feel.  (I don’t know if that even makes sense, but I’m going with it).  We started with a daily special salad with arugula, some great yellow heirloom tomatoes, strips of chili pepper, and shaved cheese, followed by a pizza with Penn Cove clams, house pancetta and lemon thyme.  The salad was incredibly fresh and flavorful, and the pizza was divine.  The crust was just the right combination of warm/soft/chewy/salty (I wish I could do it justice, but can’t), the clams incredibly fresh tasting, and the pancetta and lemon thyme were a nice subtle addition.

Arugula with Heirloom Tomatoes, Chili Peppers and Shaved Cheese

Arugula with Heirloom Tomatoes, Chili Peppers and Shaved Cheese

Penn Cove Clam, House Pancetta and Lemon Thyme Pizza

Penn Cove Clam, House Pancetta and Lemon Thyme Pizza (it comes with all 8 pieces, but hunger beat out the camera)

On our final full day in Seattle, we took the ferry out to Bainbridge Island, and spent a few hours walking around the Winslow area.  We ate lunch at Cafe Nola, and had a very pleasant meal on the patio.  The food was solid, but not wholly astounding.  We got the halibut tacos, and a dungeness crab cobb salad.  I don’t have a lot of comments on the meal, but I’ve included our stop here, because the food was actually quite pretty, and I wanted to share the pictures.

Halibut Tacos at Cafe Nola

Halibut Tacos

Dungeness Crab Cobb Salad on Bainbridge Island

Dungeness Crab Cobb Salad

Friday night we finally went to The Pinyon on Pearl Street in Boulder.  Opened by Theo Adley, veteran of Boulder restaurants The Flagstaff House, Frasca, Radda Trattoria, and Pizzeria Basta among others, the Pinyon’s style of food invokes what Adley refers to as ‘artisanal mountain man food’.  To be honest, I didn’t quite get the hype after we got through the salad course.  But then we got to the entrées, and…oh, my!  They were phenomenal.  And dessert did nothing to disappoint, either.

The Pinyon

We started with a mixed green salad, and an heirloom tomato salad with watermelon.  The mixed green salad was largely just mixed greens with an herb dressing.  The watermelon on the second salad was very tasty, and the pieces with part of the rind on them were an interesting twist, but I felt that the tomatoes were a bit too firm.

Heirloom Tomato and Watermelon Salad

At this point I was a bit worried, but then once the entrées arrived, they had me completely. The first dish we got was hand-torn pasta with mushrooms, tomatoes, yellow squash, walnuts, and parsley puree.  After digging into the pasta, I was very hesitant to trade with my husband (as we do with all meals out), because I didn’t really want to give this one up.  The pasta itself was perfectly cooked, and quite flavorful, but the taste of everything on it was spectacular.  It had a flavor that I can only describe as bright, rich, and warm, all at the same time.  Not words that I would normally use together, but that’s all I can come up with.  Sadly, all too soon, I was at the halfway point and had to trade for the fish special.

Hand Torn Pasta

But once I tasted the fish, I kind of forgot the pasta (well, not entirely – I still watched every bite my husband took, fantasizing that maybe he’d be too full to finish).  I’m not even entirely sure what was in the sauce on the fish, but it was perfect.  I’m just guessing here, because I always do an unbelievably bad job of listening to the exact preparation of specials (which is how I ended up ordering a dish with foie gras, back when I wasn’t eating it at all).  I believe had it had lemon in addition to olive oil, but the magic was was some kind of herb or spice combination that made me wish I had a spoon to scoop up the remaining sauce when I was done.  And there are few things that beat fresh sweet corn.

Trout with Sweet Corn and Summer Squash

I actually thanked the waitress for taking away our empty plates before I picked them up and licked them clean.  (Not to worry, I really only considered it for about 5 seconds). We narrowed dessert down to two choices, bourbon glazed donuts, and chocolate bread pudding, but couldn’t make a decision.  So we did what we normally do in that case, and asked the waitress what she would recommend.  She quickly recommended the bread pudding, and I am oh so glad that she did. It was entirely different from other bread puddings I’ve had, and completely wonderful. The bread was firmer in this one than most, and had clusters of chocolate kind of nestled in the bread, topped with a scoop of chocolate ice cream.  I’m not doing it justice at all with this description. You just have to trust me – it rocked.

Chocolate Bread Pudding

We headed up to Summit County for the holiday weekend, and along with some dazzling views, fresh mountain air, biking, walking, and fireworks, we had some wonderful, and some not quite so wonderful food experiences.


We found ourselves eating most of our dinners in Breckenridge, based on the results of our online survey of the resataurant offerings. Our first dinner of the weekend was at Modis in Breckenridge. This was one of those places where we didn’t seem to win whatever lottery entitles you to bread, although the tables around us were lucky enough to be winners. (Truth be told, unless I’m really hungry, I usually pass on bread in restaurants if it’s not a speciality, so as not to waste calories on a filler, and when we asked, they were happy to supply us with some).  We started with an heirloom tomato and mozzarella salad, which arrived with tomatoes of questionable heirloom heritage (and without a full, ripe summery taste), and could have used a bit more oil and basil.  The half-size Modis salad, however, was a wonderful combination of mixed greens and romaine, cucumber, red onion, avocado, sweet corn, grape tomatoes, watermelon radishes, croutons, quinoa sprouts, buttermilk bleu cheese and honey mustard vinaigrette. It seemed on the edge of having too many components, but I didn’t find it to be too overwhelming, just very fresh and enjoyable. For entrees we had the salt and vinegar potato chip encrusted halibut, with six grain and pea shoot salad, bella cerignola olives, and caper aioli, as well as the seared jumbo scallops with miso broth, rice noodles, jalapeños, sugar snap peas, carrots, baby bok choy, daikon sprouts, mint, cilantro, and hoisin. The halibut was excellent, and the other components on the dish (especially the six grain and pea shoot salad) worked very well to add flavor dimensions. The scallop dish was a tad too umami for me, I think due to the miso, but my husband really enjoyed it.   After having just spent two and a half hours in heavy traffic ascending 5000 miles in altitude, I didn’t have the presence of mind to take photographs of any of our dishes at Modis.

Our second dinner was at a divine discovery called Ember, also in Breckenridge.  The food  was visually stunning, and although all of the items we ordered had elements that might seem disparate, they worked together well to create some wonderful, harmonious dishes. For the ‘kindle’ course (leading up to the ‘blaze’ course — get it?), we had the calamari with sriracha pea crunch, green curry coconut tapioca, and peanut soil and the fava bean salad with roasted cauliflower, pickled mushrooms and lemon cocoa-nib sorbet. The salad definitely sounded like an odd combination of things, but the sorbet provided a cool, citrusy counterpoint to the cauliflower and fava beans as it melted over the salad, and it all worked really well together.

Calamari appetizer at Ember

Salad at Ember

For the ‘blaze’ course we selected the creole rubbed venion (medium rare) with cornbread pudding, rainbow chard, and jambalaya, as well as the escolar with green tea rub, yuzu marmalade risotto, spaghetti squash, and pear-wasabi coulis.  The first dish was outstanding, especially the venison and cornbread pudding. Everything on the second dish was also quite good – our only qualm was that we felt the pear on the escolar was a bit too discontinuous from the rest of the dish.

Venison at Ember

Escolar at Ember

Our third dinner was at Hearthstone in Breckenridge. We started with the trio of berry gazpacho, which unfortunately just didn’t work well for me. Consisting of three small dishes of berries (strawberries, blackberries, and rapberries) with cucumber, tomato, serrano peppers, and cilantro and lime juice the only discernable spicing, it just didn’t seem to be a harmonious dish. The attractive and tasty roasted beet salad had both yellow and red beets, wonderfully house-pickled onions, basil, and buena vista goat cheese. The spinach salad had some very flavorful mesquite-smoked Hazel Dell mushrooms, as well as grape tomatoes, roasted nuts, vidalia onion, and an aged basalmic vinaigrette.

Trio of berry gazpacho at Hearthstone

Beet salad at Hearthstone

For entrees, we had the cornmeal crusted, pan seared walleye with sherry tomato sauce, vegetable quinoa, tomato basil ‘accompaniment’ and roasted asparagus. The quinoa was rather disappointingly bland, but the walleye was nicely complimented by the sauce. Our other entree was the garlic granola crusted elk with orange butter sauce, scallions, coconut basmati, and fresh snap peas. Everything worked very well together on this dish.

Walleye at Hearthstone

Elk at Hearthstone

Strangely, breakfast seemed to be challenging – we like to do pancakes or waffles a couple of mornings on vacation, but we had a tough time finding a completely satisfying breakfast place.  One of our breakfasts was at Sunshine Cafe in Silverthorne, which got favorable reviews on yelp and other sites.  We ordered huevos rancheros and wheat cakes.  The waitress warned us that the cakes were very thick and baked in the oven, and she held her fingers an inch and a half to two inches apart to demonstrate, but we thought, hey, we might as well splurge.  I was taken aback and actually speechless at the sheer mass when our food arrived.  The huevos rancheros was so large that it hung over the dinner-sized plate all around the rim. The wheat cakes were two giant three-inch tall pieces of breakfasty cake with accompanying syrup.  A quarter of each dish was more than filling enough.  Neither selection was particularly memorable, and I definitely like my huevos rancheros spicier, but neither of them was bad by any means.

Our other breakfast out was at the Log Cabin Cafe in Frisco. This was a very popular spot, and we had a wait of 25 minutes to get in, even on a Tuesday at 10:45.  The food took nearly half an hour to arrive, and wasn’t very remarkable once we got it.  We had a short stack of wheat pancakes, with disappointing blueberries mixed in the batter, and a fruit, yogurt, and granola bowl which required an extra trip to the kitchen for the granola.  The biscuit on the side was okay, but not up to the standards of our favorite biscuit in Boulder, at Turley’s.

Lunches were a lot less formal – we did stop at Carlos Miguel’s in Frisco for one lunch after a hot, thirsty walk that was longer than we intended, and although it wasn’t ground-breaking by any means, I found it to deliver just what I expected, and to be pretty satisfying.

For dessert one night we decided to try one of Mimi’s fried pies (Breckenridge) after reading glowing reviews, so we took home a peach variety of the Hostess pie-shaped dessert, and gave it a minute in the microwave about an hour later. It was good, and granted, may have been better had we eaten it immediately, but it wasn’t quite the exquisite treat we were hoping for.

One highlight for dessert and pastry was La Francaise French Bakery in Breckenridge.  The slice of opera cake we took home for dessert was a gorgeous and delicious cake with multiple thin layers. The flattened almond and chocolate croissant we saved for breakfast the next day was a wonderfully flaky, richly almond-flavored piece of pastry.

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