Let's eat!

Hi. My name's Carol, and I love food. No, you don't understand. I love food. If I were on the Titanic, I'd be in the galley (kitchen) eating up the chocolate pudding and the roasted quail. I go to most events, activities and parties just for the food. The company and the conversation are secondary. Here, I'll try to document everything that goes into my mouth. Aren't we excited? Oh, hey, are you gonna eat that?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Crispy Green Beans

It's been about three years since I made it back to P.F. Chang's. Lunch with my friend Sheila (then, Beth, and Eddie) was almost gonna be Macaroni Grill. But two nights before, I glanced at an old menu and found myself craving the lettuce wraps and pan-fried shrimp dumplings.

This place has changed! The menu's different, with new additions including gluten-free versions. I noticed the crispy green beans right off under appetizers and kept going back. It said these were "more addictive than potato chips." That had to be a recommendation, right? Plus, it came with some aioli sauce.

I am so glad I ordered it. It was the best. I almost wished I had only ordered this, the lettuce wraps -- everybody shared -- and my husband's Mongolian Beef with lots of rice. Seemed my stomach was craving good-old-fashioned Chinese food, with a splash of California twist. The aioli sauce for the crispy green beans had Sriracha Thai hot sauce in it. Oh yeah.

In the next three years, when I'm back, I'm for sure gonna go mostly vegetarian. Like, stir-fried eggplant, Ma Po Tofu, lots of white rice, and those green beans.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mushroom and Spinach Lasagna

Nothing smells like a piping hot lasagna coming out of the oven. This one puffed up and down in waves (must be the no-boil lasagna noodles) with a lovely blanket of melted, slightly burnt mozzarella. It's too bad nobody in this house is gonna wanna eat this but me. My husband's at a late-night gig and hates mushrooms, and my son wouldn't eat lasagna anything even if it was made of just mac 'n cheese.

I guess that's what friends are for.

For the Love of Cooking comes to the rescue again. I like doing her recipes. I made her Mushroom and Spinach Lasagna right after I pulled her chocolate zucchini muffins out of the oven.

When I went to buy ingredients at Albertson's, I couldn't find crimini mushrooms, but I did find button and "small Portobello." Uh, isn't Portobello fully grown criminis? Anyway, got those, decided to follow the recipe all the way and get no-boil lasagna for the first time.

I did worry whether I had to lubricate the no-boil lasagna noodles to fully cook them, but the back of the box instructions said it was okay to overlap. I had to overlap since the only baking pan I thought I had was a Pampered Chef one that's rectangular and way larger than 8x8. Turns out I do have 8x8 pans (they're square you dummy!), must've brain-fritzed thinking the size she meant was a smaller version of a rectangular one, but whatever. I made the larger pan work somehow.

The sauce. I didn't have time to make one from scratch, so I grabbed two jars of Ragu original. If I'd been at Food Emporium, I might've gone with arrabbiata from Rao's or Mario Batali's. What I ended up doing--without having to cook anything--was throw a large can of San Marzano plums whole in a bowl, squeezed them into pulp and juice, dumped one jar of Ragu, salt, pepper, powdered garlic, and called it good. I also put a layer of leftover arrabbiata sauce on the bottom of the pan.

Because I had a little extra shredded zucchini from the muffins, I threw those in on one of the layers. I must say, the finished lasagna doesn't look half bad.

I don't have to cook dinner for -- myself -- for two weeks.

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins?

For the longest time, I avoided even the thought of putting sugar on zucchini for muffins. I thought it was the grossest thing. Until I had PCC's vegan zucchini muffins. My favorite. And until I tasted shredded zucchini for these muffins, from For the Love of Cooking.

Zucchini is really sweet for a vegetable. I mean it's really sweet, in a pleasant way, I never imagined. So it stands to reason it would go well with chocolate (to make the zucchini go down easier?) for these muffins.

I could not follow the recipe as printed because she left out ingredients in the instructions. Like the cinnamon and nutmeg in the dry mix. I had to just read the ingredient list to make sure I used everything. Everything came together. I only had to lengthen baking time to about 23-24 minutes total.

Surprisingly, the tops puffed up nice and round like little domes. Nothing flowed over, and the smell... OMG. I may repeat this recipe for others. For myself.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Visconti's in Leavenworth

We're in the middle of German country, Leavenworth, WA, for the entire day today as a family and where do we go for lunch? Leave it to my husband to suggest the only authentic Italian restaurant in town, Visconti's.

The night before, my son and I tried Visconti's gelato downstairs (mango!), and earlier before lunch today, we plus my husband checked the Cured salumeria next door (jalapeno-stuffed olives! Italian bread!) before finally going upstairs into the brightly painted yellow-orange room that is the dining room. Seated by one of several large windows overlooking the main street going through Leavenworth proper, we settled in and gladly drank of the iced water, Coca Cola and iced tea while deciding on our orders.

James wound up eating three huge bowls of salted and buttered Mostaccioli (looks like penne without the lines), while I shared the calamari fritto (fried calamari with marinara and aioli sauces) and the house Italian bread slices dipped in a garlicky-peppery olive oil dip with Eddie. The calamari and bread were the best dishes.

I was so tempted to order just appetizers: Bruschetta, wood-oven steamed clams (with lime and butter), the Panzanella salad, some minestrone (theirs is without the beans), a Margherita pizza, a Prosciutto panini... But I gave in to my husband's suggestion for Linguine alle Arrabiata (with pancetta chunks). I threw in a Tuscan bean soup for laughs (so that's where the beans went to).

I think I fell in love more with the ambience (this place has plenty of it and great vantage points for people-watching) and the way the sun cast a glow amidst shadow on my cup of bean soup than anything else. My arrabiata was decent, but nothing close to the jarred sauces from Rao's and Mario Batali. Eddie had some beef ravioli with cheese and mini-meatballs. He said the meatballs had a weird flavor, maybe too much fennel. But his dish looked ravishing.

Whatever you do, go for the dessert, if nothing else. I had Affogato (espresso poured over vanilla gelato), which I'd seen a million times on TV. I'd always longed to try it. It seemed right up my alley, like an adult version of an ice cream float, a fancy, strong, exotic cafe latte. And, it was everything I'd imagined it would be. I would've taken a picture, but by then my cell phone camera's battery was out. Your loss.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

mango bread

"I was watching Paula Deen on her Food Network cooking show when she tried to make laulau. I laughed when she said you can get laulau leaves from your nearest ... florist." -Mari-jo

"What? Just go to your neighbor's backyard!" -Gary

I've always thought of mango bread as quintessentially a Hawaii staple. You give mango bread to a new neighbor to welcome them, or to a sick friend, or a group of Mainlander friends visiting on vacation. Mango bread symbolizes welcome in the island way just as Mainlanders think of a basket of fruit that way.

I never attempted mango bread because I'm allergic to the sap and I could never marry my mind to accept mango in bread. It just never went together as well as banana bread did, IMHO. But locals swear by it. So I tried out a hybrid recipe last night, a combination of a little of this, a little of that, some Sam Choy, some Honolulu Advertiser readers, a friend who makes mango bread in Kailua.

All Recipes contains the perfect conglomeration for me in SACKPAC's version, Magic Mango Bread, which she borrowed from a Hawaii friend. I like that it has butter and oil, not just oil, in it. Three cups of chopped mango is a lot more than other recipes that call for two cups. And, I wasn't sure to go ahead and go with the walnuts, coconut and raisins. But I did. Hopefully, the coconut didn't put a lot of people off.

I ran into a minor snafu while skinning and slicing mango though. None of mine were Hawaii mangoes. They were from Mexico, and the first four were yellow with weird white strips throughout. They tasted ripe but I'm used to orange mangoes with the soft texture of very ripe peaches from a can. There was even one I couldn't even use, because it was hard as a rock inside. Luckily, the first two I first grabbed from the pile at PCC (the cheapest at a dollar each), also from Mexico, were better. I only had to use the one, and its soft orange flesh made me excited for the bread's outcome.

Other than the mango issue, I was good. I added my own touch by splitting the sugar into 1 cup white and 1/2 cup brown.

Everything came out well, although both loaves sank a little on the inside. I kept checking with toothpicks in the center and couldn't tell if the slick oily wet meant they were done or what.

They smelled incredible coming out of the oven, at midnight. Not quite like being back in Hawaii (I'd probably be picking the mango from a friend's backyard tree), but I'll take what I can get.

Plus, I didn't break out touching the sap!

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Take my advice. I'm Korean. But I no longer speak Korean. If you hanker for good Korean food and to be treated like a royalty, take your Korean-speaking authoritarian mom or grandma, and her friend, and have them treat you to their favorite restaurant. Not the one they show off to the tourists, but the one they go to when they're hungry.

We weren't particularly enthused about filling up yet another precious vacation day with stuff other people, however well-meaning, wanted to do for us. We were in Hawaii for only 10 days. Already, eight days were spoken for--either gigs, accepted invitations to friends' gatherings, or the reason we went on a trip in the first place, my husband's high school reunion picnic and luau. By the seventh day, we seriously needed down time as a family, to free up one whole day for ourselves. We never got that, but we did get rewarded for doing our duty and letting my mom and her rich friend Sofia treat us to Korean lunch. By the end of the lunch, we were pleasantly stuffed, having eaten the best meals of the vacation. Plus, our son received a $100 bill from Sofia for being a good boy.

Sorabol features the typical Korean fare: bi bim bap, kal bi, kim chee jigee, tofu jigae, cook your own meats and vegetables, sushi. But I don't even bother with the menu. I let my mom do all the ordering. She knows my taste, she or her mom used to feed me home-cooked Korean food as a child that was 100 times better than any restaurant.

So me, Eddie and James just sat back while my mom did her thing. She took over the cook your own, frying up the different kinds of meats, on the bone, off the bone, kal bi, bul go gi, filet mignon, onions, and laying them slightly charred on our plates, when she wasn't wrapping our son rice in roasted nori and dumping rice in miso soup for him. She also asked for the precious Corvina fish for me and I shared her friend Sofia's tofu jigae (too mild for me) and kim chee pancake with this soy/green onion dipping sauce. The cook your own meats came with our favorite dipping sauce, a salt and sesame oil mixture that is to die for.

There was so much on our table, we didn't know what to eat first. Korean people don't just feast on a main course. They have little bites, appetizers and condiments, to augment the meal. Stuff like namul, kim chee, bean sprouts, dried cuttlefish, mushy potato salad, kim chee daikon. I'm surprised most Koreans who eat this stuff are so skinny.

I wasn't. I was fat, full and satisfied. This should tide me over until the next time I either visit my mom in Hawaii or she visits me.

Even more surprising was my husband willingly putting roasted nori and Corvina fish in his mouth. Normally when my mom makes these for me at home, he's out the door gagging. He isn't a fan of roasted nori on its own, only in sushi. And the fish she fries up is so smelly to him he can't even stomach trying it. After I gaped at him for trying these two dishes, I asked him why. He simply replied, "I'm hungry and it seemed like a good idea. It was. These are real good."

We didn't get our extra day to explore Hawaii alone. But then again, we didn't really need it. We had two caring people take care of lunch, and it turned out to be better than anything we could've cooked up ourselves.

Fairwood Drive Inn

We were having dinner with friends at Macaroni Grill one Monday during our Hawaii summer trip when -- on a lark -- I asked them where they recommend we go for good Minute Chicken Cake Noodle, a Chinese dish found only in Hawaii. We were planning to go to Fook Yuen (yes, there really is a place called that; I've been there before once) with my mom, but then our friends recommended Fairwood Drive Inn immediately. As soon as they said the name, I saw in my mind's eye the familiar yellow sign I'd passed going to and from my mom's apartment on Keeaumoku Street in Honolulu.

Keeaumoku Street is a main street heading directly into one of Hawaii's most popular shopping centers, Ala Moana. Along the way, you'll find nightclubs, a strip bar, and lots of dives, as well as the Walmart clogging up traffic. Well, tucked into a small, ancient bunch of short buildings is Fairwood. I'd overlooked the place, because the name made me think of American drive-ins. Burgers, fries, nothing Chinese in Fairwood.

I was so wrong.

We beat the lunch crowds one of our last days on the island to have one of the best Minute Chicken Cake Noodles, ever. (The best we ever had was at Golden Eagle, where they battered and crisp-fried their chicken before lathering it over a gravied fried cake noodle.) I almost faltered from my original Cake Noodle goal, when I caught a load of the vast menu of other typically Hawaii-Chinese foods.

They had fried noodles (char siu noodles), Mapo Tofu Cake Noodle as a special, Singapore Noodles, Loco Moco, Portuguese Sausage, eggs and rice... They had almost everything.

The only thing they didn't have up there was shrimp with black bean sauce. But I bet they would've made it if I asked.

Their cake noodles were good, only faintly did I taste a little burnt around the edges, but that was alright. I wasn't gonna complain. This was my only shot. The Minute Chicken was in parts a little shoyu salty, but in other parts--like the ends--they were perfection. Nobody talked. The food was that good. I thought I saw my husband cry a little.

We spoke to the lady who took our order, who is very familiar with our friends--the ones who recommended the place--Jimmy and Vicki Borges. Jimmy's face is plastered behind the cash register and at the door. He's a famous entertainer in the islands and very well regarded.

We told her that Jimmy said hi and that we couldn't find cake noodles like this anywhere on the Mainland. She smiled and said it was a special Chinese dish influenced by Hawaii people. She also suggested we go to our favorite Mainland Chinese restaurant and ask them to make this dish, which is easy. "Just tell them to fry the chicken on a pan and put it on top of the cake noodle." I wish it were that easy.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Potluck, Hawaiian Style

When they invite you to a Hawaii potluck, go. Don't ask questions, and for heaven's sakes, don't pester them about your food allergies or your diet! A Hawaii potluck is unlike any Mainland potluck you've ever been to, trust me. You haven't lived until you've attended one, especially the one I did by Kailua beach park.

My husband's 30-year high school reunion was held there on July 31st. It was perhaps the greatest day of my life. I spent most of it taking cell-phone pictures of all the food being prepared and presented, then shared it on Facebook to make all my FB friends on the Mainland jealous. It worked, my friends.

How can anyone turn their forks away from kal bi, barbecued chicken, SPAM musubi (shut up, you've never had it, it's fine dining and could make a vegetarian a carnivore), two different kinds of fried noodles, pork hash, mac salad, poi, freshly cut Hawaii pineapple--the sweetest in the land, ahi poke, fried ahi bones from the poke, malasadas, Hawaii style chili with chunks of franks, chow fun noodles, mochi cakes, furukake rice...

I thought I'd go first for the kal bi, fried noodles, mac salads, SPAM musubi. It's been so long since I had truly authentic local food like these food stars. So long. But surprisingly, I found myself taking the first bite of the chili, falling in love, going back for seconds and thirds, and watching Malia Peters -- wife of one of the Kalaheo High School alumni -- prepare a second pot full.

None of her chili ingredients were particularly exotic. Chili pepper. Costco can of tomatoes. Celery, onion, ground beef, kidney beans. Maybe soy sauce. Yet, combined, this chili tasted more like a deep, rich, resonant meat sauce. I literally could've eaten this with or without starch. Like Nigella's meat ragu she topped only with cheddar.

Watching the Kalaheo grads--many of whom had left the islands long ago--put together their special culinary contributions made me achingly homesick for a Hawaii I used to love before I moved away due to economic reasons. I was raised on this food. I crave it when everybody in Seattle's chowing down on holiday staples of turkey and gravy, or going crazy during Copper River Salmon season in the spring. Because in Hawaii on Christmas, for example, I would eat my turkey and gravy with rice, not mashed potatoes, and accompaniments more ethnically diverse than stuffing and cranberry sauce. You haven't lived until you've had sushi, fried noodles, sashimi, pancit and lumpia with your turkey. On New Year's Eve, the stores in Hawaii are run out of order with sashimi and mochi orders.

The one Hawaii potluck staple I miss most on the Mainland is fried noodles. Mostly because nobody here has ever heard of it. I would describe the dish and they still wouldn't get it. Just get Chinese noodles and fry them in a pan with soy sauce, is their usual refrain. Inside, I'd feel like pounding their heads with a frying pan. Maybe it's true that's all I need to do to get my fried noodles. But I can't be sure and I certainly can't trust Mainland standards. I'm almost entirely convinced there are Hawaii-only secret ingredients that make the fried noodles uniquely fried noodles of my childhood. Just as New Yorkers are convinced their water is special for their pizza pies.

Another delight I thoroughly enjoyed was watching the men make ahi poke from scratch. Busting out the huge, machete-like carving knife, thinly slicing freshly caught fish, mixing in the soy and the sesame oil, the seaweed (a friend's husband picked some from the ocean days later for his poke, which was amazing to me)--and I don't even eat poke!

Then, I got to watch the men flip the Hawaii-marinated meats on the grill, another favorite pastime, similar to watching the best outdoor grilling show with the best views of the ocean and the palm trees in a tropical balmy breeze. There must've been tons and tons of raw marinated meat waiting for grilling that could've fed the entire state of Washington. I wondered what my Mainland friends would've said and done if they were with me at that very moment. I imagined the looks on their faces as they took their first bite of real kal bi and poke, and chowed down on the delightfully Hawaii combination of rice and mac salad with everything.

This was the big event I looked forward to for months. I'd hoped I had enough of an appetite to eat my fill, plus fourths. But by then, a week into our vacation, I was so full I could barely finish all my chili. It made me sick not being able to try every single dish each guest brought.

Most of the guests, I'd say about 90 percent, brought home-made dishes. Of the dishes that were store-bought, 90 percent of that was properly store-bought because they represented the uniqueness of Hawaii, like the Leonard's malasadas.

I suffered from severe culture shock years ago when I attended my first "potluck" on the Mainland, a church affair. Lots of lovely homemade pies, breakfast casseroles, fancy Gruyere, goat cheese and brie Frenchie appetizers. But mostly grocery-store bought wraps, crudites, sushi!, fruit platters (which were rarely sweet-ripe), and cakes. As my husband and I searched in vain for any signs of Hawaii potluck (it's hard to shake off childhood traditions), our hearts sank. We stupidly wished someone Asian had brought gyoza, spring rolls, manapua, something! Even when one of them did, it wasn't Hawaii style.

After two or three of these parties, we started bringing some local food. Of course, the local food was very popular and widely embraced. I made lumpia several times and they went crazy. My mom made gyoza several times and those went in seconds.

I need to get cracking on amassing Hawaii recipes for future Mainland potlucks to tide us over until we go back.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Giovanni Shrimp Truck

"Okay, we'll all meet at the shrimp truck." -Mari-jo
"Which one?!" -Gary

Because I watch the Food Network and Travel Channel, I heard about Giovanni's Shrimp Truck on the North Shore of Oahu. Funny, I lived on Oahu for a good chunk of my childhood and into my 20s, and I never heard about it. I knew about Kua'Aina for their burgers (they've since conglomerated operations to their newest spot at Ward Centre in Honolulu) -- I always went with their teri chicken burger -- and Matsumoto's Shave Ice, and a whole bunch of nothing up there. But shrimp trucks? Only those selling freshly caught Kahuku shrimp, along with Kahuku corn. Never had those either.

But then a lot of local people don't know how to swim. (You live on an island surrounded by beaches, and it never occurred to you that swimming might come in handy?!)

Giovanni's sprung up in 1993, and soon thereafter, a bunch of other copycat shrimp trucks sprung up. Fumi's, Macky's, Romy's, Famous Kahuku Shrimp, Blue Water Shrimp...

Some church friends were lucky enough to score a Hawaii trip about four years ago, staying with some family who were on vacation in Kailua. Even they made it to Giovanni's shrimp truck, and they mostly stayed in their vacation home rental eating in to save money.

During our recent trip to Hawaii (we stayed on Oahu for 10 days and got back last Thurs. night), my high school friends Mari-jo, Gary, Elaine and Gina took us to Giovanni's by way of Haleiwa's Matsumoto's (for shave ice and some stinky cat manure out back). We were in different cars and caravanned over, with us meeting up with them about 10 minutes after because I wanted to pick up Huli Huli Chicken at a parking lot further down the street.

We expected a crowd. Sure enough, there it was, with our friends patiently waiting at the picnic tables. The line wasn't too long by the time we ordered. My husband briefly toyed with going against the grain until I reminded him how stupid that would be to travel all this way for their world-famous garlicky shrimp scampi (they do have other things, like spicy sausage and spicy shrimp...with all plates accompanied by scoops of rice, with mac salad available too) -- and then not have it.

Everything I'd ever heard about this shrimp was right on the money. I was instantly in love with the garlic topping all over the shrimp and on top of the rice. You may think this is disgusting or odd, garlic on rice and rice with shrimp (it is Hawaii, get with the program), but you'd be wrong. The fried garlic condiment is what makes this dish. The shrimp, funny enough, was like any other shrimp you get from Costco. But the garlic bits?

I could put that on anything. I'd kill to get the recipe.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sushi Masa

I had to read the many Yelp reviews about this Ward Centre institution run by a sushi master and a bit of a scary enigma. They mostly talked about Masa like he was some unpredictable, formidable god of doom (think Soup Nazi), with some -- those humble, persistent, open and brave enough to break his silent, stern walls -- loving him, others (used to the ginormous haole-ized Mainland sushi) hating him.

When Ed and I lived in Hawaii (we left 12 years ago), we used to frequent Sushi Masa at Ward Centre, 1200 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu, Hawaii, when there was an Andrew's upstairs and Yum Yum Tree downstairs, and none of the new complexes across the street. Back then, Masa had a waitress and you could go inside the main dining room for a full menu lunch, or dinner. He pretty much stayed at the sushi bar up front or in the kitchen to the side, making the food, and nodding at customers amiably. Even then, we were wowed by the freshness of the seafood in his unrivaled California rolls. You blew a lot of dough for his sushi but it was always worth it.

Fast-forward to last week, when we stopped there again for a quick lunch. I'd looked up the hours beforehand and knew the place should've been open (Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-9 p.m.), but it looked closed. The main dining room had some rope barring entrance. The sushi bar fronting the main interior thoroughfare of Ward Centre (across from Genki Sushi... that probably didn't bode too well for Masa) was empty. Ed thought the place was closed and was about to recommend Genki as a substitute when I spied Masa himself hunched over eating and reading the newspaper inside the main dining room. I asked him, twice, the first time he didn't hear me, if they were open, and he finally motioned to the seat yes, but not in the main dining room. He also said there was no full menu, just sushi, which I took to mean no miso soup and rice for our son James, 8.

But it turned out I was wrong. Masa indicated, when Ed asked timidly, that yes, James could have miso soup and rice. We were too afraid to ask him to take out the seaweed and green onion, he was so gruff at first. When James wanted seconds, I drummed up the courage to ask, but only that he remove as much as he could, which he did, with what I thought was a barely detectable smile.

But his sushi wins customers over more than his personality. I started with an order of sake, raw salmon. At first, I didn't recognize it, it was such a deep different color, cut thicker than usual. The flavor, however, blew my mind. So rich and fatty, so perfect. I immediately followed up with two orders of California roll while Ed bravely requested no sesame seeds and tobiko eggs rolled onto the exterior.

OMG. The California rolls were exactly as we remembered from before. So fresh. The rice was fresh too, not stale and not too sweet or vinegary, and just the right amount, not too much like they tend to pile-drive on the Mainland. A lot of Mainlanders complained in their Yelp reviews that their sushi were too small for the price, but I disagree. They have never had authentic sushi, which is smaller, with the perfect ratio of rice to fish. You're not supposed to take two to three bites to finish a piece of sushi. You're supposed to pop it in your mouth. With Masa's, you can.

We were rewarded at the end of our meal with a smile from this master sushi chef and a joke about how he can tell I rule the roost. He was particularly gentle with our son. When we received the bill -- it's true, he doesn't itemize a thing -- it was for $45.

That was our splurge for the vacation.

If you're a chicken, don't even bother. Sushi Masa is for warriors who can face their fear.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Boston's North End Pizza

Bet you wanna dive headfirst into some of this (above photo), don't you? I did when we ran into some luck and extra time driving back to our Waikiki condo from Waimanalo two Tuesdays ago. We were headed for Leonard's Bakery for some malasadas to tide us over until my mom treated us to Tanaka of Tokyo teppanyaki (Ala Moana Center) dinner when my husband suddenly got the bright idea of grabbing some slices from an old favorite (back when we lived in Hawaii in the '90s), Boston's North End Pizza Bakery in Kaimuki on Waialae Ave.


Back in those golden '90s, we were just about to give up on finding any decent East Coast-style pizza anywhere on Oahu, much less the other islands. Pizza to Hawaii at the time was Pizza Hut and frozen pizza. Then, I can't remember who discovered this place first, but Boston's popped up in Kailua. We tried it, fell in love and made it almost a weekend tradition. Because I began to suffer from a worsening case of IBS-D, every time I ate the pizza there I would have to pray I'd make it back home or make my husband wait 20 minutes for the sudden wheat and pizza grease urge, then run for the one restroom stall in either Kailua or Kaneohe.

By the time we moved to Seattle in 1996, Boston's North End Pizza Bakery was popping up everywhere else, Waikiki, Wahiawa, Aiea. We were pleasantly surprised there was a demand for it. And sad to leave.

The only basis of livable comparison I have to this pizza is the one I go to when I'm at home in Seattle--Pagliacci Pizza. No question, BNEP's is superior in every way, from the textured, chewy meal in itself crust to the tangy and naturally sweet tomato sauce, to the cheese blisters and those artery-clogging, butt-blowing orange grease spots.

Too bad they haven't figured out how to deliver at warp speed over oceans and many states separating us from that pizza goodness.

Huli Huli Chicken

It was on the road to Haleiwa, not Waianae side, where I found my Huli Huli (Hawaiian for turn) chicken. Huli Huli chicken is Hawaii's version of roast chicken spinning slowly in a spit over kiawe wood. You don't find it on menus and local people never call it roast chicken or kiawe-broiled chicken (even though that's how it's listed on roadside signs for a variety of fundraisers). But it's a most singularly delectable treat that far surpasses traditional roast chickens Martha Stewart subscribes to or found in Costco. The secret must be the kiawe wood, because I can't figure out what else makes Huli Huli chicken stand out.

When I was in high school, our Class of 1982 would hold Huli Huli chicken fundraisers, like every other class would. I'd buy up pre-sale tickets for several plates worth plus found-only-in Hawaii musubi chicken. Once, after a long, hot sunny day cleaning up our backyard in Halawa Heights (I must've been in 11th grade), every exposed part of my body punctured by the sticker-laden bougainvillea branches, I sat down to a much-welcome lunch of this chicken with the musubi rice and pitchers of cold lemonade, homemade by my dad. That's a fond memory the passing years on the Mainland can never erase.

It's one that led me on a search ever since. Nowadays, nobody knows where you can find the once-ubiquitous Huli Huli chicken fundraisers. If you're lucky, your church, business or school is doing a fundraiser and you're manning a spit of them. Or, I hear that the road to Waianae (if you dare, this isn't a tourist-friendly town) usually has a spit going roadside.

When we headed toward Ko Olina, for my husband's 30-year high school reunion luau at Paradise Cove, we saw no Huli Huli chicken, just pickled mango, lychee and smoked ahi.

But when we drove caravan-style to Matsumoto's Shave Ice in Haleiwa toward the North Shore to meet up with some of my friends, we passed one in a parking lot. After some shave ice -- which tastes better with sweetened condensed milk, I discovered -- we backtracked to pick up a whole Huli Huli chicken and rice before heading to the famous Giovanni's Kahuku shrimp truck.

I had the luxury (and the wherewithal) to sit close to the shore at Malaekahana Beach, crack open my plate lunch and dine al fresco, island style. I'll never forget how the chicken and the rice really hit the spot. I may have been blind from the salty sea spray on my glasses, but I could still enjoy the Pacific ocean's waves with my lunch. Even more than any five-star restaurant would, or Giovanni's, which was great, but not very local to me.

I could've had lobster, caviar and champagne served to me by Roy Yamaguchi himself. It wouldn't have held a candle to my childhood memory, the beloved Huli Huli chicken.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Leonard's Malasadas

I have always loved malasadas. Malasadas are Portuguese donuts (think fried dough shaken in a paper bag full of sugar) that are a staple in Hawaii. Growing up in Hawaii, I was able to enjoy them whenever and wherever. To tell you the truth, the only reason I went to the state fair and Punahou carnival every year was to have the malasadas.

In Hawaii, Leonard's is the #1 place to go. There are Leonard's trucks everywhere, most notably for me growing up, in the Pearl City shopping plaza where Shiro's Saimin stayed. The original Leonard's is on Kapahulu and it's always crowded with people waiting in line or sitting on the two benches out front, as piles of cars wind their way around and around waiting for the small parking lot to open.

We were lucky Friday morning (that would be July 30). We scored the last spot, ordered two dozen regular malasadas and took the boxes to Kapiolani Park to eat for breakfast.

Our son, who is skinny, only had one and was satisfied. My husband, who is not skinny, wolfed down five in a row. And I had three before I had to run to the restroom. They're so good, but they're only good fresh out of the fryer. Maybe the rest of the day if you leave them out in a zipped-up plastic bag (cockroaches and ants are the norm in the islands). Any time later than that, you lose all the sugary goodness and even a quick zap in the microwave does little to freshen it up, or change the pastey, gooey, stale texture.

When we attended my husband's 30-year high school reunion picnic at Kailua Beach Park-Lanikai side on Saturday, I saw more Leonard's boxes, the familiar pink ones with more malasadas. Unfortunately, I was so full from all that local food at the potluck -- kal bi, fried rice and noodles, teri chicken, SPAM musubi -- I couldn't eat a bite of dessert. How sick is that?

I hear other malasada shops have opened. Zippy's offers them now. Champion on S. Beretania.

So much for my plan to eat nothing but malasadas one day. I just didn't have enough time.

Ezogiku Ramen

Our go-to place in Hawaii for ramen is Ezogiku (ever since Banzai shut down many years ago). There are several Ezogikus on Oahu, one in Waikiki's Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, another where Daiei used to be (now Don Quijote) on Kaheka St., and the one we went to for dinner our first day of summer vacation.

After spending as much time on Waikiki beach and the Ilikai swimming pool as we could, we showered, stopped at Longs Drugstore at Ala Moana Center for sunscreen and shampoo, then hauled okole to the corner of University Ave. for some ramen and gyoza. By the time we got there -- parking in the tiny lot is touch-and-go but the gods were smiling down upon us that night -- I was starving to the point of fainting.

Our son was hoping to have his usual Japanese fare, the one my mom got him hooked on as a toddler, his miso soup-hold the green onions and seaweed, with rice. We asked if they had any, as it wasn't listed on the menu, and the waiter said they had but it was strong. I suspect it was a slightly watered-down version of miso ramen, which I had, and which is, yes, strong. James didn't dig it.

But I dug my miso ramen and the gyoza deal that came with it. So hit the spot. Still hungry, I piled on six more, melt-in-your-mouth pork gyoza. For some funny reason, I never think I'm going to fill up with just one bowl of ramen. But by the time I slurp up the last of the broth, I always do. My mom and Eddie never finish their broth--they're nuts to waste it in my opinion.

It would be the only chance we'd get there. But once is better than never, right?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Byron Drive-in

The first place we hit when our Hawaiian Airlines plane touched down on Oahu (July 26th) was Byron Drive-in. Located near the airport, this plate lunch mainstay is the last remaining restaurant in a family chain of them (Andrew's, Fishmonger's Wife, Byron II, Orson's). It offers the cheapest plate lunches on the island. Their specialty is teri beef, which my husband -- a huge fan -- ordered. He liked it well enough, but thought they revised the recipe's marinade slightly, as it lacked a certain flavor he remembered.

Me, I went with the beef stew, which I never had there before. I usually go for the teri chicken. I'm glad I tried something new. This was the best, heartiest island-style beef stew ever--it puts L&L Drive-in's to shame. Compared to the others, Bryon Drive-in's is spicier, tomatoey, rich, yet light, filled with thick carrots, celery and onions. I'm only sad I didn't order the regular instead of the mini.

Really goes well with the rice and mac salad, mixed in, like I like it.

The only downside to this plate lunch establishment is it's really a dive. Meaning, no indoor, air-conditioned luxury, no enforcement of smokers in the non-smoking areas, too many friggin' pigeons milling about, and no public restrooms.

They almost proudly proclaim this when asked by customers. The nearest restroom is across a crowded, busy, car-jammed four-way--that is, if you know you must ask for the code from a vendor (it's a small business plaza with Starbucks, L&L and other anchor stores).

Next to the ordering window of Byron Drive-in is a newspaper clipping excusing this no-public-restroom practice. In it, you read that the state law allows for restaurants like Byron's to get away with not providing restrooms for its customers, as long as it provides for its staff. Perhaps part of this backward reasoning is to protect the restaurant owners from liability when vandals trash the place instead of using bathrooms properly. Still, in my view, it's wrong and stupid, and terribly unprofessional. Why not, for example, simply install the same lock and key of the business plaza, where customers had to ask for a code to use the restroom stalls?

My husband would go to any lengths to eat at Byron's, even suffer the inconvenience and indignity of trotting over to that business plaza if he had to all of a sudden go after his teri beef. Me, not so much. I would rather avoid Byron Drive-in because of fear I would have an accident, than risk it for their beef stew. Even if it is the best beef stew on the planet.