A Cook and a Wine Guy

•July 23, 2010 • Leave a Comment

A Cook and a Wine Guy

A special dinner provided by the very talented Chef Dan who has since moved to Chicago, wine pairings by equally talented sommelier Sean,  currently working at one of Hawaii’s top fine dining restaurants.  So my thanks to the two of them for putting together a memorable and delicious dining experience that can’t be found anywhere else in Hawaii.

Before I get to the food, I’d like to address the wines.  In a word – Amazing.  I wish I was more knowledgeable when it comes to wines, but at the start of the dinner, I must admit I was woefully unprepared for the quality of wine I would be drinking that night.  Luckily, I was dining with some great wine aficionados and I learned more about wine in one night than my entire trip to SF/Napa.   And as much as I would love to double the length of this post and talk about the wines, even my newfound knowledge wouldn’t stop me from sounding quite foolish.

I was told from the very beginning that the food would be adventurous, and that the use of molecular gastronomy would be present in many dishes.  Molecular gastronomy by itself is a neat trick, but if you can’t use it to produce great flavors and textures I don’t see the point of incorporating it into dishes.

Aubergine, Yougurt, Renkon, Mentaiko

I’ll admit, when I first tasted this dish, I was quite perplexed.  There were hints of familiar flavors, but everything seemed to be completely over-powered by a very strong smoky scent and flavor.  The crispy lotus root was helpful in providing some textural contrast with the eggplant.   The flavor combination was interesting and good enough for me to try a second piece to help me get an understanding of the flavors.  And while I consider this dish good, I still feel as though a little less time in the smoker could have elevated the dish to great.

Tail, Apple

Some people say it’s easiest to get people to try new things if you feed it to them in a familiar form.  This dish is a prime example.  Pig’s tail croquettes, garnished with thinly sliced apples.  This was my first time trying pig’s tail and I can’t imagine anyone who enjoys bacon not loving these little deep fried croquettes.  The apples cut through the wonderful fattiness of the pig’s tail croquette.  It was an interesting way of combining a rather classic combination of pork and apples.  Oh, and it was absolutely delicious.

Popcorn, Apple, Caramel

Recently, more and more chefs are starting to use whimsical items like popcorn, cotton candy, and pop rocks in their cooking.  It’s a trend I hope continues.  This dish contained popcorn mixed with thinly sliced apples, topped with truffle salt and powdered caramel.  Wonderful use of molecular gastronomy here, with the powdered caramel really stealing the show.  I really enjoyed this dish, very eye-opening.

Shrimp, Wasabi, Mango

Shrimp, topped with cucumber, a wasabi gelee, and what I believe was a mango coulis.  I found this to be the most disappointing dish of the night.  The presentation was by far the best up to this point in the night,  the ingredients all sounded delicious, but overall effect just felt flat.  The shrimp was the highlight and the cucumber brought some texture but unfortunately the coulis had little flavor, and the gelee lacked any sort of pop you would expect from something wasabi based.

Confit, Thai Basil, Tomato, Snow

Duck confit, tiny freshly picked tomatoes and basil, all topped with a foie gras snow?  Yes, please.  The dish was brought to us without the snow, then Dan went around shaving frozen foie gras over the top of each plate.  The fresh tomatoes really helped to brighten a very heavy dish, but the foie gras snow… words escape me.  I have no idea if this is anything like what David Chang serves at his Momofuku Ko restaurant, but if I ever dine there, I hope it is.

Scallop, Cauliflower, Lilikoi

Another wonderful dish.  Two pan-seared scallops, split by a piece of cauliflower atop a base of pureed cauliflower, with lilikoi drizzled around the plate.  Dry packed scallops like these are hard to come by outside of restaurants in Hawaii, and I am so glad that these were perfectly cooked.  I love scallops, but most chefs tend to overcook them, leaving them a bit too dry.  I was surprised to find that the lilikoi worked very well with the scallops, enhancing the sweetness.

Foie Gras, Grape, Tarragon

Our next dish was the very classic foie gras au torchon.  Good foie, like good steak tartare, is almost non-existent in Hawaii.  I can’t remember exactly how the grapes were prepared, but they added a very nice sweetness to this dish.  Never being one to turn down foie gras, after devouring my dish, one diner couldn’t finish hers, and I gladly volunteered to make sure it didn’t go to waste. (A decision I would regret latter…)

Duck, Chocolate, Brussel Sprout, Shimeji

Duck, served medium, topped with brussel sprout leaves, shimeji mushrooms and chocolate “dirt.”  I definitely thought this was a very good dish.  However, I didn’t feel as though the chocolate added much.  It was a good dish with it there, but I felt as though I would’ve liked it just as much without it being there.  I had always wondered how well chocolate would work in savory dishes, so I did appreciate a dish incorporating it, and I look forward to trying more savory chocolate applications in the future.

Marrow, Himalaya, Parsley

By this point in the night, we were about 10 wine bottles in, so I apologize for missing some of the components to the following dishes….  Veal marrow bones, topped with a foam (of what?  I really don’t remember.)   Served with toast, parsley, onions and two different types of finishing salts – a Jurassic salt, and a pink Himalayan salt.  Marrow has become one of my favorite foods in the world, but this was my first time trying veal marrow.

Kalamansi, Seed

This was a great little palate cleanser, very fresh.  It consisted of a kalamansi lime granite, with basil seeds.  Yup, basil seeds.  Who knew?  Intriguing and refreshing.  The bright flavor helped me get through at least an extra dish.

Steak, Mushroom, Sunchoke

By this point, I was absolutely stuffed to the point of not wanting to eat another bite.  But with the palate cleasner before, plus the heavenly smell coming from this dish, I pressed on.  The steak was great, perfectly cooked.  The shaved asparagus, garlic chips and sunchoke were all wonderful.  But that little mushroom was unbelievable.  How good was it?  We had all my favorite foods – foie gras, marrow, steak, scallops – all wonderfully prepared.  And I would have given then all up for a plateful of those mushrooms.  Well… maybe not.  Everything else was too good.  But I would have considered it.

Lots of really, really good wine….

Chocolate, Vanilla

Honestly, at this point, the food and wine just became too much.  Heh, more so the wine, because I know I can eat more than this….  I did have a small taste, and i did like the flavor of the chocolate with the citrus rinds.  The texture was unique and I wanted to try it again, but I just couldn’t take another bite.

Chef Dan making the final dish of the night.  I had seen this done before on television, but it was still interesting to see it being made in front of me.

Coffee

Using one of the more well known molecular gastronomy techniques, this coffee “caviar” is made by releasing drops of a liquid containing the essence of coffee into a bath of calcium cholride and water.  Also commonly known as spherification, this is a technique that chefs like Ferran Adria, Jose Andres, and many others use in some of their signature dishes.  The presentation was nice, and the size of the spheres here resembled actual caviar.  The idea and presentation were great, but the dish fell well short on flavor.  The predominate taste that was present was salt.  There was a little hint of coffee in there, but not enough.  I love the idea,  and I think with a little tinkering, this dish could become a winner.

Overall, I would call this meal a resounding success.  There were a couple misses, but I think that’s a part of coming up with new, creative types of dishes using new, inventive cooking techniques. If this was a meal I was served in a restaurant, I would look forward to going back every single week.  And for me, that’s the true measure of how good the food was.  This was truly an outstanding meal.

I’m going to get on my soapbox here for a bit… Even though there are a few great places in Hawaii, I feel as though most of Hawaii’s culinary scene is so fixated on making decent dishes using proven techniques while making as few mistakes as possible that there really isn’t any room for GREAT cuisine.  I would gladly pay more for a meal like I had here, than for one with 3-4 dishes of well prepared standard Hawaii regional cuisine.  I know I’m probably in the minority when it comes to trying new food, and I’m not sure if the culture here can support such innovative cuisine.  But what I do know is that it really stinks that I have to go to places like Chicago, New York and Los Angeles to find new great food.

That’s enough time on the soapbox for today…

Keep in mind, most of the dishes were cooked by one guy, in a home kitchen.  I’m not sure what I expected coming in, but I’m glad I was there for it.  So thanks again to the guys who made this happen.

Good luck to Dan who’s heading to Chicago to help open a new restaurant there, Chizakaya.  Hopefully they’re open by the time I head there, and if anyone else will be in Chicago, be sure to check them out.

12th Avenue Grill

•May 20, 2010 • Leave a Comment

12th Avenue Grill

1145 12th Ave
Ste C
Honolulu, HI 96816

(808) 732-9469

www.12thavegrill.com

12th Avenue Grill is located in the heart of Kaimuki, just off Waialae avenue.  Ample parking can be found in the lot behind the restaurant.  The parking is metered, so bring some change when you go.

I had eaten at 12th Ave Grill before, but just to try their signature mac and cheese, and to have some dessert.  This was my first time that I really had a chance to sample their menu.

The restaurant itself is quite cozy on the inside, and the service was very good.  The only thing I wish was better was the timing of the dishes.  We order a good number of them, and they showed up all at once.  Maybe this was due to the fact that we said we would be eating family style, but a little space between a few dishes would have been excellent.

Now on to the food itself – Personally, I tend to drift more towards the idea of ordering a number of small plates/appetizers rather than doing the more traditional app/entrée/dessert route.  If you find that you too prefer this route, I highly recommend 12th Avenue Grill to you.

The mac and cheese is wonderful, and even though it may be tempting to add mushrooms or ham… or both, there is absolutely no need to add anything to this dish.  The smoked ahi ravioli was also excellent.  It came with two different sauces, and I preferred the cream based one over the pesto sauce.  The apple cider cured bacon wrapped roasted Asian pear salad (longest dish name EVER) was also a highlight for me.  The cheese plate was a highlight for almost everyone, and while all three cheeses provided were excellent, I had tried them before so I knew what to expect.  The entrees we ordered were the biggest let downs of the night.  The leg of lamb was good, and the stuffing had an interesting flavor (not a bad thing in this case).  But there wasn’t anything very special about it.  The fish of the day was the most lacking – cooked well, decent flavors… but nothing you couldn’t get at a hundred other restaurants across town.  Desserts were mostly hits,  the afogado and lilikoi cheesecake were excellent.  Since I had (and loved) the fruit crisp in my previous venture there, I would recommend either that or the cheesecake.  The pecan pie sandwich sounds excellent, and the flavors were good, but the stickiness and richness made it very difficult to eat, and almost impossible to eat by yourself.

Dishes I’d recommend:

Mac and Cheese

Smoked Ahi Ravioli

Apple Cider Cured Bacon Wrapped Roasted Asian Pear Salad

Cheese Plate

Fruit Crisp

Lilikoi Cheesecake

Overall, the hits definitely outweighed the misses.  The prices were very reasonable when you take the quality of the meal into consideration.  Our bill totaled around $190 for four of us, and that includes one bottle of wine, one beer, tax and tip.  12th Avenue Grill is a wonderful restaurant, and one I would not hesitate to go back to in the future.

FOOD: ****

SERVICE: ****1/2

VALUE: ****

Mac and Cheese

Smoked Ahi Ravioli

Fish of the Day

Roast Leg of Lamb w/ our Cheese Plate in the background

Lilikoi Cheesecake

Afogado

Pecan Pie Sandwich

Natsunoya Tea House

•February 28, 2010 • 1 Comment

Natsunoya Tea House Furoba

1935 Makanani Drive
Honolulu, HI 96817

Thurs – Sun:  5 pm – 10 pm
(808) 595-4488

http://www.natsunoya.net/furoba

Natsunoya Tea House is familiar to many people in Hawaii as a gathering place for large groups of friends and family.  I personally had only been there for graduation parties.

That night we weren’t there for a party, but to check out the fairly new sushi bar.  The bar is cozy, maybe seating 10-12 at the bar and a couple 2-seat table squished in.

I had mixed expectations going in, but from the very first bite, the food was delicious.  The fish was very fresh, and I felt the quality was comparable to some of the best sushi bars in Hawaii.  Garrett (the guy running the bar) was entertaining and very informative as we ate our way through a decent portion of the menu posted.  Everyone had some of their standard sushi (Toro, maguro, salmon, etc), but also some new food we hadn’t come across before (hotaru ika, onaga carpaccio, etc).  Later we found out our waitress Sabrina was also the dessert/pastry chef, so we couldn’t leave without sampling what she made.  I’ll just say you shouldn’t miss Sabrina’s desserts.

As I said before, everything was great, but some of the highlights were:

~ Abalone Bata Yaki – Votes for dish of the night were split between this and the next two dishes… but $18 for a bowl of butter grilled abalone?  You can’t go wrong.

~ Wagyu Tataki – I was a skeptic when Garrett told us he believed he served the best steak on the island.  Until I ate this dish.  The quality of beef is outstanding.  It may not be the best steak you’ll eat in Hawaii, but it has to be close.

~ Onaga Carpaccio – Fresh onaga + Truffle Oil = Mmmmmmmmmm

~ Uni & Ama Ebi topped with uni – Easily the best uni I’ve had in Hawaii.  The shrimp topped with uni was an incredible piece of sushi, with the shrimp adding texture as well as sweetness to the uni.

~ Sabrina’s Desserts – A perfect way to end the meal, the truffles were extremely rich, and the panna cotta was bursting with vanilla flavor which happened to complement the matcha sauce very nicely

FOOD: ****1/2

SERVICE: ****

VALUE:*****

A couple quick notes – Parking is valet, but the $3 fee is waived with validation from the sushi bar.  It’s B.Y.O.B. so if you’d like sake with your sushi, you’ll have to bring it yourself.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Natsunoya Furoba.  Great food, wonderful service, and prices you won’t find at other high-end sushi bars make this a sushi bar I will definitely recommend to friends, and one I will surely find myself back at again.

Maguro (tuna) – $8

Toro (Fatty tuna) – $12

Hotaru Ika – $7

What they look like in the ocean…

Onaga Carpaccio w/ Truffle oil – $18

Wagyu Tataki – $16

Abalone Bata Yaki – $18

Uni (Sea Urchin) – $10

Sorry… no picture of the salmon.

King Salmon – $6.50

Ama Ebi (Sweet Shrimp) topped with Uni

Shima Aji – $8

Fried Shrimp Heads – Bonus with the ama ebi

Moi Karaage – $20

Sabrina’s Dark Chocolate Ganache Truffles – $5

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta w/ Matcha – $6

A little taste of the Wagyu Strip Steak