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

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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

Sunny (yes, really!) Seattle

September 8, 2011

Over the Labor Day weekend, my husband and I headed to Seattle for a 5-day getaway from reality.  I know that Seattle is known for being continuously rainy, but I’ve been lucky in that it’s pretty much been gorgeous and sunny both times I’ve been there.  It sprinkled for about 10 minutes this time, but that was it for precipitation.  In fact, we managed to be there for 5 of only 11 days of 80 degrees or above since July 2nd.  So it was perfect weather for our 5 miles of walking every day to make up for all the eating we do on vacation!  And we certainly did eat.

I always like going to the west coast because of the focus on fresh, locally grown food (and the more relaxed dress codes, which fit quite well with my wardrobe of mostly jeans, shorts, knit tops and the occasional blouse).  My husband and I both love seafood, so any trip to either coast is always good for that.  We have much more freshly flown-in fish than was available in Colorado 20 years ago, but nothing beats fresh fish from the local environs.

Of course as foodies, one of the first activities for us when in Seattle is a trip down to Pike Place Market.  I love visiting Farmers’ Markets in other cities.  I have been completely delighted by my trips to Pike Place Market in Seattle, the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market in San Francisco, as well as foreign visits to the the Vancouver Farmers’ Market in British Colombia, the Viktualienmarkt in Munich, Germany and a wonderful market in Bratislava, Slovakia.

The Entrance to Pike Place Market in Seattle

The Entrance to Pike Place Market

The Pike Place Market has been around for over a century, covers 9 acres, and has somewhere around 100 farmers, as well as hundreds of craftspeople and permanent businesses. The market is open every day of the week (with Sundays being a bit lighter).  There is a dizzying array of gorgeous cut flowers, fresh vegetables, berries, cherries, peaches, nuts, and of course, teeming mounds of seafood.

Cut flowers at Pike Place Market in Seattle

Just a tiny fraction of the cut flowers at the Market

Vegetables at Pike Place Market in Seattle

Vegetables at one of the many stands

Colorful Peppers at Pike Place Market in Seattle

Colorful Peppers (you know me and color)

Lobster Mushrooms at Pike Place Market in Seattle

Lobster Mushrooms (and Chanterelles...but look at the Lobster Mushrooms!)

Fresh Fruit at Pike Place Market in Seattle

Fresh Fruit

Fish at the Pike Place Market in Seattle

Fish, Fish, and More Fish!

All around the main area with the farm and fish stands are nooks and crannies with shops (some just the width of a large counter) selling bread, Chinese, Russian or French pastries, Middle Eastern spices, homemade cheese, seafood chowder, candy, and any number of other culinary delights. And the original Starbucks is there, so on weekends you can stand in a huge line to take a picture and get coffee (or just go down a couple blocks to a less frequented one).

We decided to grab a few items during our stroll of the market and call it lunch.  First we stopped to get a red bean paste-filled sesame ball (my favorite Dim Sum item — I’m pretty sure I could just eat 8 of those and be satisfied with that as an entire meal) at Mee Sum Pastry.  Despite the heat and the extremely long line, we opted to get a small bowl of Manhattan clam chowder at Pike Place Chowder, which was really quite tasty.  We capped off our tour with a lemon curd and honey crumpet at The Crumpet Shop, which involved a complexly low-tech process of placing the crumpet in a toaster, popping it up after a short amount of time to ensure that it wasn’t burning, re-inserting it, and repeating until done.  After some pondering as to whether that was really the most efficient methodology, we dug in and enjoyed a pretty delicious crumpet.

We also made a trip to Uwajimaya, a 20,000 square foot Asian market, which we visited on our previous trip to Seattle.  While still awe-inspiring with the sheer amount of items they have, we actually thought that the Pacific Ocean Market Place in Broomfield (just down the highway from Boulder) didn’t stack up too badly against Uwajimaya.  I was mezmerized by the selection of Pocky they had, but left with my perpetual quest to find true Japanese green tea chocolate once again unfulfilled.  (I had no idea that the gift a coworker from Japan gave me would result in my complete inability to satisfy a new craving for years to come.  And every single American or European variety I have tried has fallen entirely short).

A Whole Lotta Pocky

A Whole Lotta Pocky

So our market visits in Seattle were great. Soon to come – dining out in Seattle!

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