Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Shiro’s Saimin Haven (Aiea) 2

Since we were out that way a few weeks ago, the wife and I stopped by Shiro’s Saimin Haven in Aiea for a local-style lunch.

Most of the time when we go there, we have saimin (from a menu list of dozens and dozens of varieties), but this time I wanted something a little more substantial – more meaty, something that reminded me of my Hilo growing-up days, and my days as a college student in Honolulu.

I saw something on the menu that I hadn’t had in a long time: Pork cutlets with brown gravy. Actually, I did have pork cutlets at Liliha Bakery Nimitz. But that was a little fancier. I wanted the equivalent of a plate lunch.

And that’s exactly what they brought me – two huge pork cutlets deep-fried with a crunchy, crusty breading, then cut in half and smothered in gravy. Plus two scoops of rice and a lot of frozen mixed vegetables straight out of the boiling water. Ahhh, just like my mom used to make (except she made fresh veggies; I’m the one who makes it with the frozen stuff).

Sometimes, brown gravy can have a slightly funky taste to it … kind of old-tasting, if you know what I mean. Not Shiro’s. Theirs was creamy and rich and I kept mixing it in with the rice.

I took notice of the table settings. Fake roses, plus Hawaii’s favorite condiments: Shoyu, Tabasco and Chinese (actually Coleman’s) mustard. Plus the usual salt and pepper, and sugar.

Notice the table promo sign. They have Green River drink, made from Harder’s syrup. Just like we had in Hilo when I was a kid.

No wonder we go back to Shiro’s when we're out that way.

Shiro’s Saimin Haven: 98-020 Kamehameha Hwy. (808) 488-8824.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Manoa Grand Ballroom (Honolulu)

We’ve been to functions at the Manoa Grand Ballroom, situated in the Japanese Cultural Center on Beretania Street in the Moiliili section of town.

The food is catered by Marian’s Catering of Wahiawa. I don’t think they cook the dishes in Wahiawa and truck it over to functions; I think they do final preparations on the Japanese Cultural Center premises, but I could be wrong.

It’s a nice place to have a function – parties, weddings, banquets – and there’s plenty of handy-dandy parking in the attached parking structure.

Their food is pretty typical, pretty local.

At a recent first-birthday party, I took just one plate from the buffet (my appetite seems to be waning with old age, but that’s another story):

Garden salad, potato salad, fruits, mixed baby veggies, pickled and olives, steamed white rice, mahimahi, chicken with gravy, and sliced teriyaki steak. That’s everything that was on the buffet table. Everything was tasty, no mysterious flavors at all.

For dessert, we had birthday cake, of course, but I forgot to take a picture. Sorry ‘bout that.

Japanese Cultural Center, 2454 S. Beretania St., 5th Floor. (808) 946-6758.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Tucker & Bevvy Breakfast (Honolulu)

The wife and I had an interesting Valentine’s Day breakfast.

I’d originally intended to take her to the new Cinnamon’s at the ‘Ilikai in Waikiki, sister restaurant of the one we’d already been to in Kailua.

First of all, it was a rainy, blustery day, which made driving to the ‘Ilikai rather hazardous. Then, when we got there, the line to get in was very, very long. Like an hour-and-a-half long. Guess the tourists didn’t want to go walking in the wind and rain to one of the many other nearby breakfast places.

No way were we going to wait. So we jumped back into the car and headed off to another fairly new restaurant I’d heard a lot about lately – Tucker & Bevvy Breakfast, located where Sam Choy’s Diamond Head Restaurant used to be in Hee Hing Plaza on Kapahulu Avenue.

Ahh, much better. We had a short wait, maybe 10 minutes or so. They don’t have a lot of seats – I counted 54 – and it was petty busy.

A couple went in ahead of us, and before you could say “Jackie Robinson” (now, I betcha you don’t remember that catch phrase), we were seated.

The menu is pretty good. It’s creative, not the dishes one normally finds in Honolulu. They’ve got the regular stuff too, but I was hankering for something different.

Our waitress, Sonda, was very helpful. She’s from Florida, via San Diego, apparently having worked her way west through the southern portion of the United States.

A warm-climate aficionada (female aficionado), for sure.

The wife ordered a Roasted Veggie Omelet (eggplant, peppers, sweet potatoes, zucchini, pesto and mozzarella) that was pretty huge, matched by an accompanying serving of steamed white rice that matched the omelet in size.

It tasted pretty good. Sonda said she loved the pesto, and I can see why. I’m not a big pesto fan, but that there pesto was pretty good.

I started off with a cup of Iliy Coffee (I knew it was Illy because I saw a waitress carrying a huge aluminum can that I wrote about in my Left-Field Wander blog a while back) and a tall glass of freshly pressed to order Sunrise Juice (carrot, orange and ginger).

Now, that juice was great. At first taste, it was a little different, but once I got started, it really caught on with me, shaking hands with my tastebuds. Deeelishush!

As usual, I was tempted to have some pancakes. The Ricotta Pancakes with Strawberry Compote was calling my name. But in the end, eggs and meat won me over. Not just eggs and meat, but Lentils & Sausages (warm lentil salad and chicken sausage, with two eggs over).

Again, deeelishush. In fact, it kind of reminded me of a breakfast I often make at home – barbecue beans and knockwurst sausage with eggs and rice.

‘Cept I didn’t have to cook this one for myself. I could just napkin-bib myself, pick up my fork and knife, and dig away. Eggs perfectly done with runny yoke, lentils soft yet toothsome, chicken sausage subtly sweet and flavorful.

Sometimes a day that starts off badly morphs into something pretty good. It’s called “serendipity.” 

Tucker & Bevvy: 449 Kapahulu Ave., #203. Phone (808) 732-0050.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Aloha Kitchen (Honolulu)

When I read about Aloha Kitchen in friend Melissa Chang's blog, I just had to try it out the first chance I got. In fact, it was the same day I saw her blog promo on FaceBook. The family had our quarterly doctor's checkup in the morning and breakfast was on the agenda.

Aloha Kitchen is easy to find, if you know your way around Waikiki.

It's on Ena Road, which runs perpendicular to Ala Moana just before it intersects with Kalakaua, the principal entrance into Waikiki proper – about a hundred yards behind Wailana Coffee house.

You'll have to find street parking, or get a $4 (for two hours) space in the pay-parking lot alongside a couple of buildings down.

The outside is unassuming, with a couple of sidewalk tables; the inside is bright and clean. It's a very nice place for a meal.

Aloha Kitchen features an extended breakfast menu with lunch and dinner entrees that start halfway through the menu. The featured breakfast items are Benedicts – regular, salmon, and lobster (not on the menu); soufflé pancakes topped with fruit, or apples and ice cream, or bananas and chocolate; loco moco, standard eggs and meats dishes, and on and on.

They've got omelets and burgers and pasta, but no soup, which disappointed my mother-in-law, who's a "soup-ie."

I ordered a salmon Benedict from our waitress, Misa, but when she told me they also have lobster Benedict and kalua pork Benedict, I changed to the lobster.

The lobster Benedict came with diced potatoes, cooked just right, crispy crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside; and a light leafy salad with a mild vinaigrette dressing. I had a couple of slight problems with my Benedict, and I voiced them politely to the local owner, Chris, when he came to refill my coffee.

The Benedict wasn't hot enough. In fact, it was only mildly warm. And, the wheat English muffin wasn't crispy at all (you may recall I've written often how important that is to me). He was very nice about it and we got to chatting. He's a Hawaii boy through and through, having grown up on a sailboat in the yacht harbor.

It turns out the waitress, Misa (she's from Japan), is his wife, and they've been running the little cafe for about a year now. According to blogger friend, Melissa, Aloha Kitchen is owned by Toshiyuki Yamamoto, who coaches the women's gymnastics team in Japan.

Chris wanted to make it up to me, so he adjusted the bill.

And, he also complimented us with their best-selling dish to sample – the soufflé pancake with fruit.

Jeez, that pancake was like a dream cloud, so light and delicious, topped with lots of fresh fruit, accompanied with whipped cream on the side.

I didn't have the heart to tell him my first cup of coffee was warm, not hot. Frankly, I completely forgot. But I did tell him that aside from the Benedict being cold, it was super-delicious. Indeed it was, perfect hollandaise, wonderful yolks and yummy chunks of lobster meat.

I'm going back there when I get the chance, to try some of their other dishes.

Aloha Kitchen: 432 Ena Road. Phone: (808) 943-6105.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Pantry (Las Vegas)

A 24-hour comfort food cafe, Pantry opened in September 2014 in the Mirage Casino and Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. It's situated where Caribe Cafe used to be, on the back side of Samba Brazilian Barbecue, near the guest elevators.

Breakfast is served all day, lunch and dinner from 11a.m. to 11 p.m.

They bring your juice in half-pint mason jars, and alongside the salt, pepper and hot sauces in their condiment box are small mason jars of freshly homemade preserve spreads of the day – on the day I ate there, they were strawberry (sweet and tasty), and apple spice (yummy).

There's an empty half-pint mason jar glass at each seat. That's so patrons can get glasses of cold cucumber water at their leisure from a fountain near the entrance. Utensils are stacked on-end in a kitchen utensil container.

The breakfast menu is varied, with all the usual suspects served up creatively – e.g., Breakfast Calzone (berries, fruit, and vanilla bean pastry creme), pesto-flavored green eggs and ham, Caprese omelet (buffalo mozzarella cheese, and tomatoes), Valrhona Grand Cru chocolate pancakes.

They also offer a chicken and mushroom omelet, garden vegetable hash, and a "skinny chef" omelet (you can try to figure that one out yourself). And just about any other breakfast item you can think of.

I'm a sucker for short ribs, so I ordered their Short Ribs Hash with root veggies (sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, red and green sweet peppers), and of course, chopped chunks of beef short ribs, all swimming is a rich, dark au jus gravy.

Two eggs, nicely poached in a mold, were perched on top. Poke 'em and they ooze honey-colored goodness.

Deeply flavored, very tender short-rib meat with a couple of slightly tough exceptions. The texture of the sweet potatoes varied from slightly crunchy to very soft. But the thick toast was perfect for dunking. The menu called for horseradish on the side, but I retrospect, I didn't get any.

Still, it was a delicious, satisfying breakfast, I'd go there again.

Their menu lists apple pie as a dessert, so I ordered a slice after breakfast. What! I wanted a picture for my "5 Best Desserts" blog, and after all, isn't it just like a breakfast pastry anyway? Well, unfortunately, my waiter, Luis, informed me, it isn't offered until lunch at 11 a.m. I was an hour and a half early. Well, rats. 

Oh, and I left there with a souvenir ... Gravy spots on the front of my clean tan shirt. Well, rats again.

Pantry: In the Mirage Casino and Hotel, 3400 S. Las Vegas Blvd. Phone (702) 696-7050.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Tom Colicchio's Heritage Steak (Las Vegas)

At least once during a trip to Las Vegas, I throw all inhibitions to the wind and patronize an out-of-this-world (I'm talking expensive and la-di-da here) restaurant. This most recent trip, I decided to eat at Tom Colicchio's Heritage Steak, located just inside of the Mirage Casino and Hotel's front entrance.

It's a dark and classy fine-dining steak restaurant, one of several owned by Tom Colicchio. The waiters, assistants and busboys are extremely knowledgeable about the menu, and proved to be highly attentive to each diner.

Since I'm not really a cocktail or wine enthusiast, I usually order Pellegrino sparkling water to go with my meal. It's carbonated and as refreshing as soda pop, but without the sugary flavoring. They made sure my water glass level never dropped to 2/3 full.

For my appetizer, I had their Yellowtail Ceviche with lime vinaigrette, crème fraîche, and caviar. The lemony tang awakened my tastebuds, the creamy cream enriched each bite, and the caviar offered a live, slightly salty pop every now and then.

Their steaks are huge, averaging 18 to 24 ounces, New York, rib-eye, prime rib roast, pork chop ... I needed something a little smaller, like their 10-ounce Natural Prime Filet. Lemme tell you, it was pretty big, looking like a huge, thick, is sizzling hockey puck when it arrived with a few small roasted potatoes.

The steak was so tender and full of flavor, unusual for a filet mignonette (a misnomer, because the steak definitely wasn't "mignon," but more like "grande." I sliced off piece after piece of thin slices to pop into my mouth.

I needed accompanying sides, so I ordered their Potato Purée Sprinkled with Chopped Chives. Think buttery rich mashed potatoes, but real thick, adorned with a sprinkle of chopped chives.

Now all I needed was a vegetable side. That's where the Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Sweet Onions came in. I make something similar to this, but they roasted theirs, while I steam and sauté mine. They add balsamic vinegar, I think; I use lemon juice. I like theirs better.

When one experiences the robust flavor of steak, it becomes necessary to sweeten the mouth with a dessert at the end of the meal.

I did that with Spiced Apple Ricotta Fritters with Twisted Apple Butter and Bourbon Anglaise, and a wonderful cup of Stumptown Coffee Roaster.

What a perfect fine dining experience!

Tom Colicchio's Heritage Steak: In the Mirage Casino and Hotel, 3400 S. Las Vegas Blvd. Phone (702) 791-7111.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Triple 7 Restaurant and Brewery (Las Vegas) 2

The Triple 7 is one of Boyd Gaming’s downtown Las Vegas restaurants that offers complimentary choices from their menu to those who are on the Vacations Hawaii Aloha Charter tour from Hawaii.

Among the coupons is a complimentary prime rib dinner, which I had the night of arrival. I was so hungry when I got to Main Street Casino, Brewery & Hotel just before midnight that I just scarfed down the prime rib meal. 

Anyway, the next night, I felt like having a hamburger, so I eschewed the coffee shop at the California Hotel and went back to Triple 7. I've had their burgers and steaks before, and they re pretty good.

There are certain times in one’s life when nothing hits the spot like a juicy cheeseburger with all the fixings. This was one of those times. Plus, the best thing was that it was one of those complimentary meals that came with the tour package.

Soon, my waitress (a pretty blonde whose name I didn't get) brought me a Western Bacon Cheeseburger (half-pound burger smothered in barbecue sauce, topped with bacon, roasted red pepper, onion rings, jack cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and pickles), and a huge plastic cup of Pepsi.

She knew I'd need plenty of extra paper napkins, which she happily provided without being asked, and a couple of moist wipes for afterwards. Perfect for mopping up my mouth after each bite.

Unfortunately, I forgot that their French fries are not as crispy as I like, so next time, I'll try to remember, and order onion rings instead.

Triple 7 Restaurant and Brewery: In Main Street Casino, Brewery & Hotel, 200 North Main St. Phone (702) 387-1896.