A Meat Cure for the Common Bar

SALT Kitchen and Tasting Bar is not Kevin Hanney’s dream restaurant. It is, as he calls it, his “second plan B,” with 12th Ave Grill being the first. Twenty-two years ago, he was in Santa Cruz putting together an upscale deli and charcuterie shop when the 1989 earthquake hit. The project never happened; and since then, his search for a suitable deli space has been interrupted. He still hasn’t found his perfect spot, but in the meantime, he did find a nook in Kaimuki for 12th Ave Grill, serving up higher-end American comfort food for the past seven years.

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The Art of Kaiseki at Nanzan Giro Giro

Kaiseki is a formal, almost ceremonial, Japanese cuisine devoted to a series of small courses. It’s as much about taste as it is the textures, the colors of the food, the vessel it’s served in and the seasons reflected in each menu. If you talk to chef Yoshihiro Matsumoto of Nanzan Giro Giro, the new kaiseki-only restaurant in Honolulu, you’ll realize that for him, kaiseki is a deeply personal affair. “Kaiseki is relationship of restaurant and customers,” he says in broken English. “Customers trust a restaurant, no need menu…And I must take to them Japanese kaiseki restaurant’s soul.”

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Red beans and ice

Honolulu is not an ice cream town. San Francisco, despite summer days being a full 30 degrees cooler than our average day, seems to open a new ice cream parlor every season, exploring flavors from salted caramel to secret breakfast (cornflakes and bourbon). Honolulu, on the other hand, has been losing ice cream shops: Dave’s Hawaiian Ice Cream on Kapahulu, Ben and Jerry’s near Ward. Gelato, ice cream’s Italian cousin, hasn’t fared any better–both Mondo Gelato and A Latta Gelata closed in the last year. Bubbies appears to be the exception, filled daily with people having mochi ice cream and the occasional Multiple Orgasm (ice cream pie).

I have a few theories on why we can’t seem to sustain an ice cream parlor–maybe it’s the lactose-intolerant Asian population, maybe it’s the high costs of starting an ice cream business. But the epiphany came recently on a particularly hot day when my car’s steering wheel melted my fingerprints off and I ducked into City Café for shave ice relief. The effect of a mouthful of frozen shaved water was instantaneous; a trip to Alaska or a walk-in freezer was no longer necessary. And I realized: ice cream is like a swimming pool in Hawaii, a luxury item where there are cheaper and more effective options (shave ice and the beach, for example). We’ll probably always want ice cream with our dessert at a fancy restaurant, just like we want a hotel with a pool. But for everyday refreshment, shave ice is perfection. And so while San Franciscans debate the merits of ice cream shops like Bi-Rite, Humphry Slocombe and Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous, we will argue over who has the softest, finest ice–Matsumoto or Waiola and who has the most interesting flavors–Shimazu, the clear winner with red velvet, crème brulee and durian.

Matsumoto, Waiola, and Shimazu are the classics, the Hawaii guidebook musts, the ones every local knows about. But lately, I’ve turned to the Asian takes on the frozen water theme–Taiwanese, Korean, Filipino, Japanese–which offer more than just syrup and ice.

Read more about City Cafe, Ireh, Max’s of Manila, Ailana, Your Kitchen shave ice here: http://honoluluweekly.com/restaurants/2011/07/red-beans-and-ice/

Inspiration in another city

This is an article about San Francisco and its current dining scene. This isn’t to say that I couldn’t find anything to write about in Honolulu–quite the opposite, really. It’s an exciting time for me to write about food here, but this piece is prompted by a recent extended trip to San Francisco. We can’t ignore San Francisco’s influence on our own scene, from the number of California Culinary Academy grads in our workforce to SF’s farm-to-table mantra, imparted to many of our chefs due to our similarity in ethnic makeup (a large percentage of Asians). So it seems reasonable to me that we can continue to draw inspiration from San Francisco and apply it to our own unique landscape.