July 23rd, 2016
To give local people a small taste of what they can expect at STRIPSTEAK by Michael Mina at the International Market Place in August, free Maui onion cheeseburger sliders; BBQ pork spare ribs & charred Mexican street corn; chilled shrimp & onaga bowls, and samples of coconut milk horchata and chef-made “Hawaiian Punch” are being handed out at the corner of Alakea and Beretania Streets until 1 p.m. today, or while supplies last. You will have additional opportunities this afternoon and tomorrow -- so keep reading.
A bright orange and white food truck parked in a reserved space in a private parking lot, and inside chef Ben Jenkins and his culinary team endured the heat of the morning without the benefit of cooling tradewinds that were blowing about outside, to prepare ribs, sliders and a chilled shrimp and onaga dish. Mina recruited Jenkins from the Michelin-starred Michael Mina restaurant in Las Vegas, to open STRIPSTEAK in Waikiki. Jenkins has been with Mina Group for 18 years, while the restaurant's General Manager Ron Bonifacio, makes the move to Hawaii after opening more than 10 restaurants for the company on the mainland, Bonifacio said.
The two words "free food" are always a draw, but the words gain a special heft when said food is by a globally known chef and his team.
Anyone who did not make it downtown during lunch hour today can head to Kakaako for the truck's so-called "Happy Hour" from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. this evening at the Honolulu Farmers Market at Blaisdell Center.
Two more opportunities await on Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. downtown at King and Punchbowl Streets, and from 4:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Kewalo Basin at the Makers & Tasters Food Park at 1011 Ala Moana Blvd.
Mina's STRIPSTEAK Hawaii will open at the International Market Place on August 25, alongside dozens of other upscale dining and retail shopping options in the center redeveloped by Michigan-based Taubman Centers. Mina also is spearheading "The Street" at IMP, which the marketing folks are calling a multi-concept gourmet social house. Think Shirokiya Japan Village Walk, only with many varied types of cuisines from around the world. Food halls like these are a growing trend across the mainland.
Mina's plans call for a dozen to 18 vendors in The Street, some of which will be permanent, while others will occupy spaces on a rotating basis, Mina said.
Mina has been a regular visitor to Hawaii for decades, honeymooned with his wife here, and comes at least twice a year. "We tried once to take a vacation somewhere else," Mina said. "We don't try anymore," the family always comes to Hawaii, he said, smiling.
Having arrived last night for this business trip, he and some members of his team ate at MW Restaurant, owned and operated by Alan Wong's alumni Michelle Kerr-Ueoka and Wade Ueoka, and Mina raved about every aspect of the experience from "the hospitality to the quality of the food … it was a great dinner," he said.
With udon made fresh daily, Jimbo's has long been a go-to venue to get a consistently delicious, well-made meal. Its menu of hot and cold udon, donburi, curry, tonkatsu, tempura, gyoza and combo meals offer numerous routes for regulars to sate their hunger and a variety of means to draw in new customers.
Yet this year, owners Jim and Makiko Motojima have introduced new items that take their menu to places it's never before tread, with dishes that will appeal to foodies' love of big flavors and culinary adventure, not to mention top-quality ingredients.
Much of this starts with a versatile sauce they call Jimbo's Ultimate Sauce, which goes with everything from fish and chicken to tempura, gyoza and salad. The sauce is the result of 25 ingredients concocted using a multitude of steps and cooking techniques, said Jim.
The process begins with frying onions, ginger and garlic coated in flour, and boiling a combo of sake, miso and sugar. The fried vegetables are added to the sake mixture, then combined with sesame seeds, togarashi (chili pepper) and sesame oil. Soybean oil heated to its smoking point is combined with the mixture, and fresh green onions, miso, garlic and a ponzu sauce, also made by Jim, are added in.
He isn't kidding when he says it has a complex taste. The sauce is so popular Makiko is looking into bottling it for sale.
While Jim is responsible for recipe development, Makiko flexed her creative culinary muscles to help create the fiery and flavorful Black Goma Tan Tan Udon, a customer favorite. The broth starts with a black sesame sauce Jim created with kuro goma (black sesame seeds), soy sauce, sugar and soy milk. The sauce is punched up with chilies, green onions, garlic, ginger, and garlic and ginger oils, for "lots of Chinese flavor," said Jim.
The bowl of spicy udon is garnished with jidori chicken, snow peas and other vegetables.
Another new dish, inspired by Makiko's favorite Japanese foods, is the Toro Neba Udon, a dish featuring mountain yam, nameko mushroom, mekabu (a sea vegetable) and natto — all slimy in consistency — and served hot or cold. A cold version, delivered with a dollop of wasabi on the side, is both refreshing and satisfying.
Diners who don't or can't partake of noodles have many ono options, thanks to the inclusion of jidori chicken and kurobuta pork on the menu. The jidori chicken adds a boost of flavor to not just udon bowls, but donburi and curry items as well. The kurobuta delivers clean flavor to a plate of ginger pork, donburi and Jimbo's beloved gyoza.
The dessert menu was also beefed up, with zenzai, sorbet and a goma mocha that finds another delicious use for Jim's kuro goma sauce.
Eateries in Kona on the Big Island sure know how to take full advantage of the bounty that fills their land and waters. On a short visit last week to the island, I ate at several restaurants both humble and fancy, and was duly impressed by the absolute freshness of the food served on the plate.
Now, I must admit I don't necessarily gravitate toward fish as my first choice in a meal, but if I had been familiar with fish this fresh, I'd be eating it all the time. Besides breakfast, it was pretty much part of every meal I had in Kona during my stay.
My newfound appreciation began at Akule Supply Co., a casual outdoor eatery at Keauhou Bay run by the Sheraton Kona. Servers told me fishermen come right up from the bay to bring fresh fish to the restaurant. It sure tasted like they do. My 10-year-old niece had a fish and chips plate filled with battered fish and fries that she said she'd share with her mom, who was in the hotel. But instead she gobbled up the whole thing, and I understood why: Not only was the tender, white-fleshed fish so fresh, it was perfectly cooked, moist without a trace of mushiness.
My daughter order a poke bowl, which based on the ingredients didn't seem like anything particularly distinctive. Sea salt, shoyu, sesame oil, lime, green and round onions and chilies, all standard fare for a poke mix, seasoned her dish. But the fish itself took the dish to another level, and served with perfectly cooked rice, it moved my daughter to clean her plate the same way the fish and chips had my niece.
Since there were no more fish and chips, I ordered my sister a Crispy Nori Roll, a sushi of sorts (sans rice) filled with fresh ahi, avocado and lump crab, then wrapped in nori, doused in panko and fried. Chipotle ginger aioli lent a lively touch, and servings of furikake rice and sweet, vinegary namasu balanced out the meal. She devoured the plate before I got to have a taste.
As for myself, I selected the only nonfish dish, Avocado Fries, which the waitress said was the most popular appetizer on the menu. It entailed a perfectly ripened avocado coated in panko and fried golden. While that may seem like a ruinous way to treat a perfectly ripened avocado, the cook executed magic — the morsels of avo were delightfully crisp on the outside while somehow remaining fresh and cool inside. Generous drizzlings of teriyaki and spicy aioli sauces covered the fries, and I feared they would dominate the delicate rich flavor of the fruit. But their tempered flavors were complementary rather than overpowering.
A couple nights later, upon recommendations from family friends, I dined at Umeke's Fishmarket Bar and Grill, where fresh fish was centric to the menu. My friend ordered a pupu item, Umeke's Poke Balls, deep fried and finished with a spicy garlic aioli. The fish, fully cooked and fully flavored, was delicious.
I made a meal of another pupu item, Pulehu Ahi Belly, which I ordered with a couple scoops rice. It's served with garlic, furikake or spicy aioli. I chose spicy, which wasn't at all overbearing, and its creaminess added a nice contrast to the smoky fish.
By the time we left, our opus were thoroughly satisfied.
A media preview this morning offered a glimpse of savory and sweet breakfasts, and savory lunches to come, starting Wednesday morning in Kailua. Those who aren't early risers but still love breakfast fare will appreciate that breakfast is served as long as the restaurant is open.
Over Easy, at 418 Kuulei Road, is the fruition of a longtime dream for Nik and Jen Lobendahn, both alumni of chef and restaurateur Alan Wong's culinary empire.
The Brunch Bowl (above, $11) is served with sourdough toast made from a starter that Jen Lobendahn has been feeding for seven years. It is delicious. Also served with the bowl, the bacon and the toast can be used in place of utensils once the remaining contents in the bowl are mixed together, stone-pot-bi-bim-bap style. Lobendahn makes his own yogurt and tomato jam, and adds avocado, spinach and soft-cooked OK Farm eggs from Waimanalo.
The Potato n’ Eggs ($13) is Chef Nik's playful take on Eggs Benedict, using flavorful potato puree in place of Hollandaise sauce, perfectly poached OK Farm eggs from Waimanalo atop French bread, topped with a bacon crumble and served with greens. Because you may share the writer's interest in egg-yolk porn, the following photo is provided as a bonus.
Custard French Toast (Full order $13, half-order $8). The thick-sliced Punaluu sweet bread from Hawaii island is soaked in custard and coated with crushed Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, and is served with blood orange creme fraiche and berries. The toast takes 15 minutes to bake, and is absolutely worth the wait. It could just be the best French Toast you will ever encounter.
Lunch at Over Easy is served beginning at 11 a.m., though breakfast is available during all hours of operation.
One of the four standard lunch choices is a Fried Chicken Sandwich, comprising buttermilk-brined chicken breast, breaded and fried, and served atop a French roll with Asian aioli. Also on the menu are a Quinoa and Mixed Seed Salad ($10); the Over Easy burger ($10); or the Coconut Shrimp Burger ($13).
Keiki can choose a grilled cheese sandwich ($6) or fried chicken strips ($8) for lunch, offered with a choice of carrot sticks or French fries.
Over Easy serves Kailua-based Chadlou’s Roast Coffee, made with beans grown on Maui, roasted especially for the restaurant. Other drinks include its signature Bloody Mary made with fresh tomatoes, onion, wasabi, celery salt, house-pickled vegetable and bacon; a lilikoi mimosa, and among other non-alcoholic choices, bright and refreshing Calamansi limeade.
Over Easy will open to the public Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 8 a.m. to noon. It will open for its regular hours, from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Closed Mondays, its regular schedule will be Tuesdays through Sundays, 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
With an eye toward becoming a culinary destination, the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay is dazzling visitors with endless delicious cuisine, made of fresh products sourced from Big Island waters and small South Hawaii farms.
The pulse of the resort's efforts, situated on the history-rich, picturesque bay, takes place at Rays on the Bay restaurant, where chef de cuisine Francis "Junior" Ulep and executive chef George Gomes have turned out lively menu items that are as beautiful as they are ono.
A few dishes from a recent meal:
>> Refreshing Frozen Mo‘o cocktail, a concoction of rum blended with coconut water, lime and Thai basil
>> Fresh fish salad that's a work of art on the plate
>> Local vine tomato stuffed with Big Isle chevre and served with baby arugula, strawberry li hing vinaigrette and red dirt salt
>> Seared fresh-catch entree served with black rice, mango salsa (made with mangoes from a tree on property) and seasoned dark greens, all accented with a lively aioli
>> Yogurt pana cotta that managed to be both light and decadent all at once.
The dish is called Soft Shell Crab Taco, but really it's chef David Lukela's take on shrimp and grits, minus the shrimp, adding crab, minus a taco shell but adding some taco-ness. And mango-ness.
The dish is among mango-centric dishes and drinks on the menu in July — Mango Month — at Beachhouse at the Moana, where Lukela is chef de cuisine. The Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa is also prepping for Mangoes at the Moana, a festival of all things mango on July 16.
As a preview, Lukela built his "taco" dish and explained why all the components work.
At the bottom, cheesy grits, because he loves them so.
Next: Two deep-fried soft-shell crabs, a stand-in for the usual shrimp, with a crunchiness that stands in for a taco shell.
Next: A drizzle of mango fraiche — mango puree stirred into creme fraiche — to add creamy richness.
Next: Pickled fresh mango cubes (he uses a simple mix of vinegar, sugar and water) and avocado. The pickling adds acidity to balance the mango's sweetness, the avocado adds "good fat" to balance the acidity.
Next: Cabbage and green onion, shredded, for a taco touch.
Finally: Cilantro and thin slices of watermelon radish — more "taco elements."
See Crave on Wednesday for more from the Moana and Lukela's ideas on using mangoes in savory dishes.
Brug Bakery Hawaii hosted a preview of its new shop at Ala Moana Center Friday, showcasing a sampling of its distinctive pastries for a carb-hungry crowd of invited guests. The bakery opens to the public Saturday at 8 a.m.
President Miho Choi opened the bakery inside Shirokiya in 2013, but has her own place now (Shirokiya, meanwhile, is opening Japan Village Walk in the Ewa Wing of the shopping center).
The sweet and savory pastries come in intriguing flavor combinations (okra and garlic) and shapes (garlic, cheese and tomato, baked into a cube). They include my new favorite thing, a cheesey-mochi puff inside a pastry dough.
Brug Bakery Hawaii is in a former Pretzelmaker location, near the Lupica tea shop, on mauka side, street level of the center. Hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays.
I must say, folks in the newsroom certainly don't hold back on sweat equity to put out the paper each day. But the hard work sure does afford us wonderful opportunities to experience first-hand what's going on in the community. We're a lucky lot.
On Monday during a media preview, a small crew of us visited the colossal Japan Village Walk, Shirokiya's revamped yataimura (food court), at Ala Moana Center's Ewa wing. It took each of us to tackle the 44,860 square-foot space, nearly the size of a football field, even with only about half the shops presenting their fare. The scope of what Shirokiya is presenting is astounding: 56 shops offering a long, varied list of foods and cuisines.
Yet one dish, just a taste, garnished with a couple arugula leaves and delivered on a humble plastic plate, made my world drop away — perfectly chilled, perfectly marbled, buttery, tender wagyu carpaccio from the Wagyu Plaza.
Now, I've always assumed that it takes special care to make such a dish — carpaccio is a raw preparation — but the skilled treatment of the melt-in-your-mouth beef, perfectly balanced with a touch of rice wine vinegar and adeptly seasoned with a perfect, light touch of salt, turned the dish into something magical.
It was decadent and refreshing all at once, subtle yet flavorful, absolutely delicious. The dish achieved what fine cuisine is designed to do: provide an experience.
Staff from the Vintage Cave, Shirokiya's fine-dining restaurant that uses only the finest ingredients from across the globe, runs the Village Walk's Wagyu Plaza, six stations dedicated to wagyu, and eight-station Seafood Plaza, plus a Vintage Cave bakery.
Vintage Cave will next open a cafe focusing on Italian cuisine, slated for the fall.
Village Walk will be open for a public preview today from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Doors will officially open at 10 a.m. June 25. Hours will be 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.