Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Yagura (Honolulu)

Yagura is a small Japanese restaurant on Middle Street in Honolulu's Liliha neighborhood. If you live in the area, it’s handy. If not, you have to have good timing to snatch one of four parking stalls in front of the place. Otherwise, good luck finding street parking.

I ate there once before, a few decades ago, say sometime in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s. The menu is typically Japanese, the usual popular entrees you can find at many other Japanese establishments.

Seating is limited, but ample for a lunch crowd. The interior is well-lit and … it smells good, with aromas of Japanese cooking in the air. Rather simple décor, with a kind of homey appeal.

In the back is a little nook with Japanese samurai armor on display, with flowers in a vase and a little sign imploring customers not to touch the armor.

We sat directly in front of the display so I could turn around and study the medieval war artifact.

These things fascinate me. The only thing they couldn't stop was bullets. So when firearms were adopted in Japan, that spelled the end of this type of armor.

I had been in the mood for some teriyaki beef – you know, the heavily charred, burnt shoyu kind. So that’s what I ordered. The usual starters came: Miso soup, tossed green salad with creamy French dressing, salted cabbage, and steamed white rice.

The teriyaki beef was served on a sizzling hot platter. Quite impressive, I must say. Hopefully the entrée would live up to its promise.

Unfortunately, the flavor was a little too mild for me. I wanted dark grill marks and got none. Plus, the rib eye was on the tough side. Heck, it WAS tough. But as disappointed as I was, I was hungry, so I ate it all. What did help were the onions under the steak; they added quite a bit of flavor to the dish.

To top off my meal, I had a huge scoop of green tea ice cream. Now … THAT hit the spot, and mitigated some of the disappointment over the teriyaki beef.

The wife had a teishoku combo – her misoyaki butterfish was divine, the sashimi was very good, and she gave me one of her shrimp tempura. So the lunch turned out well anyway.

By the way, lots of people came by to order take-out meals for lunch.

Yagura: 1655 Liliha St. Phone (808) 533-2160.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Cracked Egg Summerlin (Las Vegas)

I've been to the Cracked Egg before, but not at this location, one of five located throughout the Las Vegas area. Having seen last year when I stayed at the Red Rock Resort, I headed of to it straightaway from the airport following an early-morning arrival.

The interior is cozy and bright, a bit on the small side. I would guess that clientele is mostly residents of the developments in the area – all ages seemed represented, save for little kids, who I guess were in school.

Having enjoyed their Carnitas Omelet before, I went for something different. Torn between their Lucie's Scramble (sausage, mushrooms, bell peppers and Muenster cheese) and their Chicken Tenders, Gravy & Scrambled Eggs.

My server, Rhonda, asked if I wanted toast or coffee cake with that. Of course, I chose coffee cake and started munching on it with my coffee. It was very soft, a bit too soft for me, and very sweet, a nit too sweet for me. Okay, but not great.

In retrospect, I should have had the omelet instead of the chicken tenders. It was like having chicken-fried steak, but without the steak. They were nice and crunchy, but the tenders were on the dry side. At first the dish looked like it had a lot of country gravy smothering the fried chicken, but in reality, there wasn't enough.

As for the eggs, I think they cracked them on the griddle before scrambling them with the flat spatula. I prefer my eggs homogenously scrambled in a bowl before they hit the griddle with butter – the more butter, the better. Theirs had no butter.

My verdict? Merely satisfactory for me this time around.

This Cracked Egg is located at the southeast corner of West Charleston Boulevard and South Hualapai Way, a way before you reach the Red Rock Resort when heading north on Charleston. It's at the corner of a shopping center, just north of Terrible Herbst Gas Station, across the street from the Hualapai Animal Hospital.

The Cracked Egg Summerlin: 9921 W. Charleston Blvd., Phone: (702) 476-4204.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Big City Diner Kaimuki (Honolulu) 3

The last time we went back to Big City Diner in Kaimuki, I felt like eating Asian. So I scanned the menu and decided on Korean Kalbi Steak.

I’ve had their Kalbi for breakfast before with eggs, and have always loved the way they prepare it – heavily marinated, then charred slightly over the grill.

That’s what they brought me. But instead of thinly sliced ribs with bone (their breakfast style), they brought boneless steak – two nice pieces, deliciously marinated and garnished with sesame seeds and chopped green onions, and nestled nicely over fresh cabbage slaw.

Accompaniments were a big scoop of white rice topped with furikake, and a nice little pile of spicy kim chee.

That was a very nice lunch!

Big City Diner: 3565 Waialae Ave. Phone (808) 738-8895.

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.