Summer 2017: Honolulu

I know it seems as if we go to Honolulu all the time, but all I can say is that we aren’t ever there often enough.

We were the winning bid at a charity auction for a week at a house in Honolulu belonging to Kathy Ireland (note: our kids had no idea who she was) and decided to try out the staying-at-a-house concept over staying at the Halekulani. We cajoled some friends of ours to join us on our trip.

sunrise at Villa Elizabeth

view from Villa Elizabeth

view from Villa Elizabeth

The kids took surfing lessons and hung out at the beach, but we also managed to fit in some semi-educational moments. The Punchbowl (officially known as the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific) contains not only a detailed description of the battles in the Pacific but also some of the most stunning views of the city.

National Memorial of the Pacific

view from the Punchbowl

view from the Punchbowl

And you can see why Hanauma Bay was reserved for the Hawaiian royal family. My personal highlight was seeing a sea turtle for the first time. (My inability to see a sea turtle before this trip might have been related to my reluctance to go into the ocean, which is generally cold by my standards, but I doubt it.) 🙂

Hanauma Bay

But Honolulu isn’t Honolulu if we didn’t spend at least a couple of days at our favorite hotel, the Halekulani. The views from the hotel are just as stunning as ever.

view from the Halekulani

All in all, one of our favorite trips to Hawaii. (But don’t we say that every time we go?)

Spring Break 2017 (aka Being Stalked by Adam Sandler)

The high school senior got to choose where we went for spring break this year, and after some discussion, she decided on Honolulu, so off we went.  (Twist our arms!)
There was the lovely view from our hotel room:

view from the Halekulani

There were the usual fabulously beautiful sunsets,

sunset on Waikiki

and delicious meals (at The Pig and the Lady, Town, and Chef Mavro, among others).

pho french dip from the Pig & the Lady (I’m the Lady)

We even caught part of the Prince Kuhio parade, complete with two men blowing on conch shells (Prince Kuhio was a strong advocate of Hawaiian independence and supporter of native Hawaiians):

Prince Kuhio parade

But this visit is best defined in the family chronicles as the time when Adam Sandler stalked us.

He and his family were staying at our hotel, and we could not spend a day without seeing him at least twice and often several more times.  When the kids were out surfing, there he’d be, on the beach playing with his kids,

we’re being stalked!

he and his family would be at breakfast when we came down or at the pool when we went in or hanging in the lobby as went by or in the streets of Waikiki as we were walking around.  As Jim said, we’ve stayed at the Halekulani with people we know, and we didn’t see them as often as we saw Adam Sandler on this trip.
We opted not to ask him for a photo, because Marcus felt very strongly that he should be off limits since he was with his family.  Our son is a really easygoing person, so when he feels that strongly about something, we generally accommodate him (and, in this case, we were in full agreement).
I will also say this:  I am not, in general, a fan of Adam Sandler’s movies—they have a rather puerile sense of humor, which is not my thing.  But I think much more highly of him after this trip (I am sure he is breathing an immense sigh of relief about this).  He was an absolutely terrific dad—when he was with his kids, he was *present*.  Not on the phone, not hanging with his buddies, but all in with his kids, devoting his full attention to them.  He was also really gracious and accommodating to his fans, always willing to take photos with them, even if his family was around.  All in all, he was a charming, down-to-earth, regular guy.

Besides being stalked by Adam Sandler, we had an enjoyable and relaxing week taking long walks around Diamondhead (Jim & May), taking surfing lessons (the kids),

after surfing lessons

shopping (all of us), spending time in the water (also all of us),

in the pool at the Halekulani

Waikiki beach

and eating (most definitely all of us).

at the farmer’s market at KCC

None of us wanted to come home, although my attempts to persuade Marcus to transfer to Punahou in order to stay in Hawaii were in vain.  All in all, it was a lovely and mellow spring break!

Chef Mavro (Honolulu)

Chef Mavro is the one restaurant through the years that we always ensure we visit when we are in Honolulu.  February is the tail end of black truffle season, and we were fortunate enough to ride the coattails of one of our favorite ingredients.  The restaurant is currently offering a four course chicken dinner option, and we immediately opted to try it, as this option is not always on the menu.

The first course was the meli-melo salad, served with Hamakua maitake mushrooms, seasonal vegetables, pan-fried panisse, and a roasted beet pepper vinaigrette.  There is no one who can make vegetables and raw ones, at that (I know, my Asian heritage is coming through) interesting like Chef Mavro.  The salad was delicious (for a salad).  🙂

The second course is one I have dreams about.  It is the Truffled Egg “Osmose” and is an egg served on a bed of potato mousseline with pickled shallots, prosciutto ribbons, and most importantly, black truffles!  The egg itself has been infused with black truffle flavor, and it is one of the most delectable dishes ever!

Next up was a truffled ballotine of thigh meat on frisee salad.  I am a dark meat person, and having dark meat chicken with black truffles is an absolutely fabulous treat.

The main course is a whole chicken, carved tableside by the chef, served with garlic creamed corn and an au jus sauce with black truffles.  It comes with a side of caper-olive oil mashed potatoes.  Yum, yum, yum.

mashed potatoes

And, finally, dessert was roasted pineapple served over a light yuzu crumble and a scoop of bay leaf ice cream.

Oh, and let’s not forget the after-dinner treats of green matcha chocolate squares and passionfruit pate de fruits (I must learn how to make these).

All in all, another amazing meal from a fabulous restaurant!

Chef Mavro is located at 1959 S. King Street, Honolulu, HI (www.chefmavro.com)

Hawaii (without the kids)

For our annual “ditch the kids” vacation, Jim and I went back to one of our usual haunts—Honolulu.  (My parents were kind enough to come and stay with the kids.)  It was a beautifully relaxing and restful vacation where we took long walks around Diamondhead and ate our way through the city.  Some highlights include:

Seeing a junior high/high school friend that I haven’t seen in over 30 years (he did the math of exactly how many years it has been, but I am officially not acknowledging the actual number);

Visiting the Punchbowl, officially known as the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, which is a terrific place to appreciate the sacrifice that members of our military have made throughout the years and which also has an amazing view of Honolulu.

view from the Punchbowl

Paying a visit to the Bishop Museum, where Jim decided that stuffed tiger sharks were perfectly acceptable.

Bishop Museum

And eating some amazing meals from old favorites (Chef Mavro, the Pig and the Lady, and Town) and new discoveries (Yauatcha).  (More on Chef Mavro and Yauatcha later.)

pho french dip from The Pig and the Lady

There are few places that can rival Hawaii for beauty.  I can never decide which is more beautiful—the days


or the early mornings


or the dawns.


Or we can just keep going back to try and decide…

Mele Kalikimaka (Christmas in Hawaii)

Due to the fortuitous circumstance of Christmas falling on a Sunday this year, the school’s holiday break included the week before Christmas.  This allowed us the rare opportunity to spend Christmas not in Washington, DC (Jim’s business being calendar year-end intensive).  To no one’s surprise, the family voted to spend Christmas in Honolulu.
There is rarely a time when Honolulu weather is inferior to DC weather (possibly the 2 weeks of fall is the only time).  While we had some difficulty getting out of DC due to an ice storm, then mechanical difficulties, then the need for a new crew), we did finally make it to Honolulu on a windy, overcast day.  No matter, Honolulu is still perfect.
The view from our hotel, the Halekulani, is a view of paradise, whether on an overcast day,


or a sunny day,


or at sunrise,


or during the afternoon,


or during sunset.

There are always big smiles when we are there


(with an occasional exception).

We even saw several mongoose (mongooses? mongoose?) on one of our walks.

And there are ALWAYS rainbows to greet us


and to say goodbye.

We will miss Honolulu—at least, until our next trip!

Hope you are having a wonderful holiday season!

What We Did On Our Summer Vacation: Hawaii

We just returned from 10 days in paradise (aka Hawaii and, more specifically, Honolulu).  Among other things, the kids took surfing lessons, we saw rainbows,

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we built sand castles,

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we visited the Punchbowl (officially known as the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific),

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and we went on a Segway tour of Diamondhead with Marcus’s best friend and his family.

Segway tour

Segway tour

near Diamondhead

near Diamondhead

We also ate lovely meals (at Chef Mavro (more about that later), Town, Alan Wong’s, and The Pig and the Lady amongst others), and we had shave ice (at Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha).
Oh, and the daughter worked on her college application essays.
Despite that unimportant detail, we had many days of relaxation and family time.  There is something special about Hawaii for us.  I’m not sure if it’s the beautiful scenery

sunset on Waikiki

sunset on Waikiki

Waikiki

Waikiki

or the friendliness of the people or something else, but we just feel at home there.  (Maybe it’s because having hapa kids there is no big deal—we get taken for locals all the time.)  All of our trips to Hawaii have been wonderful, but this one was amazing!

Restaurant review: The Pig and the Lady (Honolulu)

I’ve already called dibs on being the lady, but it is so very easy to be the pig at this delightful little restaurant, which is currently the hottest restaurant in Honolulu. The restaurant is located in the middle of Chinatown. Chinatown is perfectly safe and vibrant during the day. During the evening, it’s a little sketchier looking, but it is still perfectly safe. And The Pig and the Lady is well worth the effort.

It’s difficult to describe the cuisine accurately. To say that it’s Vietnamese fusion food only scratches the surface of what the kitchen is capable of. We went first for dinner and then tried it for lunch. You can’t go wrong with either meal, but the dinner menu is definitely the more innovative of the two.

We started dinner with a variety of small plates, called Piggy Smalls on the menu. There were savory beignets served with parmesan cream,

savory beignets

savory beignets

parmesan cream

parmesan cream

smoked eggplant served on puffed rice crackers, and

smoked eggplant

smoked eggplant

fried potatoes, along with a side of home-made pickles.

fried potatoes

fried potatoes

house made pickles

house made pickles

Out of the group, the savory beignets were our favorite, although everything was very good.

Entrees included their signature dish, which is pho French dip and Manila clams. This is a French dip banh mi served with a yuzu pho broth containing braised Manila clams and taro. You dip the banh mi in the broth to eat. The banh mi was delicious, although I’m not sure the clam broth wasn’t better. Either way, it was all fabulous!

pho & clam broth

pho & clam broth

We also split a braised lamb served bo kho style, which means a lamb shank cooked with southern Vietnamese spices and lemongrass, butter roasted carrots, pickled shallots, and herbs. I’m not sure which entrée was better—better not to have to choose!

braised lamb

braised lamb

Dessert consisted of kaya beignets, which are beignets dusted with coconut powdered sugar and a bit of espresso powder, and

dessert beignets

dessert beignets

P&L soft serve

P&L soft serve

P&L soft serve

Our waitress recommended that we try lunch, as the menu for lunch is slightly different. While lunch is a little more traditionally Vietnamese, it still offers the kitchen an opportunity to give its own individual twist to traditional dishes.

Jim had the pho French dip, which is a banh mi served with 12 hour roast brisket, thai basil chimmichurri, and a pho au jus. It was melt-in-your-mouth delicious.

pho banh mi

pho banh mi

I had the pho-sta, consisting of hand cut pasta cooked with pho broth, parmesan, mung bean and other traditional pho flavors. Loved it!

pho-sta

pho-sta

The restaurant itself is an interesting mix of families, singles (mostly at the lively bar), and a smattering of food-obsessed tourists. Reservations are recommended if you don’t want to deal with a long wait. (It fills up quickly.) We highly highly recommend this restaurant!

The Pig and the Lady is found at 83 N. King Street in Honolulu (www.thepigandthelady.com).

 

Restaurant review: Chef Mavro, Take 2 (Honolulu)

For our second dinner at Chef Mavro, we went with the 4 course menu and added the parmesan black truffle risotto as a fifth course (yes, we do indeed live to eat).

The amouse bouche was once again the delicious watercress soup with “egg salad sandwich.”

watercress soup with "egg salad sandwich"

watercress soup with “egg salad sandwich”

We started off with the meli-melo, a salad containing hearts of palm, pickled hibiscus, avocado purée, and baby beets. I’m not a huge salad fan (I’m of the same philosophy as Ron Swanson, the character from “Parks and Rec” who says, “Salads are the food my food eats.”), but this was delicious.

meli melo

meli melo

We then had the snapper, served Asian style, with shitake mushrooms and ginger, topped with fried cilantro and green onion on basmati rice. While I liked the opah from the 6 course menu, this was fabulous (and better).

snapper

snapper

Our next course was the parmesan black truffle risotto, which was just as good as the first time we had it.

black truffle risotto

black truffle risotto

The entrée dish was duckling served with fennel and winter citrus and star anise duck jus. It was really wonderful.

duckling

duckling

confit

confit

(Jim substituted his duck for the lamb loin, served with cranberry preserve and sunchokes.) The bite I had was excellent.

lamb

lamb

And, after the palate cleansing melon in champagne gelée, we had the coconut déclinaison, which was a coconut pound cake served with coconut-shiso sorbet and a coconut sauce with basil seeds. This may not sound like it would work, but it most certainly did.

coconut déclinaison

coconut déclinaison

What we like about Chef Mavro is that not only is the food delicious, it is also beautifully presented. The staff is friendly and helpful, and the chef himself will make the rounds in the evening to chat. They were amazingly wonderful meals!

Chef Mavro is at 1969 S. King St, Honolulu (www.chefmavro.com).

Restaurant review: Chef Mavro (Honolulu)

We have been regular diners at Chef Mavro whenever we are in Honolulu (which is more often than I am willing to admit). Last week, when we were there, we took the opportunity to dine at Chef Mavro twice. (I know, I know.)

The first time, we picked the 6 course menu. In addition, it was BLACK TRUFFLE season (calloo, callay!). So, this is what we had:

The amouse bouche was watercress soup with an “egg salad sandwich” on the side. It’s difficult to get watercress flavoring in a soup strong enough to taste like watercress, but this was the exception. It was delicious!

watercress soup with an "egg salad sandwich"

watercress soup with an “egg salad sandwich”

We started off with the foie gras, which was served as a parfait, accompanied by pineapple relish, toasted pine nuts, and a huge side of toasted brioche. Yummy!

foie gras terrine

foie gras terrine

Next up was the opah (snapper), which was served with red beets, pickled Japanese cucumber and topped with a coffee flour rye bread crumble. Highly delectable.

snapper

snapper

The lobster was next. This was accompanied by a house-made kabocha confit and served with kabocha and a crustacean essence purée. It’s one of Jim’s favorite dishes here.

lobster

lobster

We substituted out the cheese course in favor of the parmesan black truffle risotto. It was everything a black truffle risotto dish should be (which is to say heavenly).

black truffle risotto

black truffle risotto

We also upgraded to the Australian Tajima wagyu medallions, served with an eggplant purée, charred leeks, and an island green pepper corn sauce. Yum, yum, yum.

wagyu

wagyu

The palate cleanser was melon served in a champagne gelée.

melon in champagne gelee

melon in champagne gelee

And the final course, dessert, was chocolate. This time, it was a chocolate bar, served with a burgundy poached pear and sorbet. Even for not being a huge chocolate fan, this was delicious.

chocolate dessert

chocolate dessert

Restaurant review: Nobu (Waikiki)

I am always amused by our Japanese friends who completely disclaim any relationship between Japanese cuisine and the restaurant (“Nobu isn’t a real Japanese restaurant”). Whatever the truth of the statement, it is an excellent restaurant, whether truly Japanese or not.

We went with some friends and three out of the four of us picked the omakase menu (chef’s choice). (As an aside, I absolutely love restaurants who don’t require the entire table to choose a tasting menu. It does lead to some bizarre timing issues for the kitchen and waitstaff and diners, but as long as you can live with that, it’s wonderful.)

Our first course was raw oysters and tuna tartare in a soy sauce-based marinade. Both were incredibly high quality and delicious.

oysters & tuna tartare

oysters & tuna tartare

Next was nigiri, consisting of (from left to right) toro, clam, white fish, and fried tofu with spicy tuna. The sushi was melt-in-your-mouth quality, which we have found only in Hawaii and Japan.

assorted nigiri

assorted nigiri

Next up, again from left to right, is red snapper (with a bit of chili powder), Hawaiian poke, and king salmon. My ranking from least to best is right to left, but all three were excellent.

assorted small dishes

assorted small dishes

The next dish was kampachi with onion sesame dressing. Kampachi is a Hawaiian white fish also known as almaco jack. The fish was incredibly fresh and delicate and matched perfectly with the dressing.

kampachi

kampachi

To clear our palates, we were then served a pineapple shiso sorbet. The sweetness of the pineapple was cut by the shiso, and the two flavors melded perfectly together.

pineapple-shiso sorbet

pineapple-shiso sorbet

Onto the cooked dishes: first up was lobster served with wasabi pepper sauce. The lobster had been removed from its shell, cooked, and returned to its shell with vegetables and the sauce. It was arguably the best dish of the night.

lobster with wasabi pepper sauce

lobster with wasabi pepper sauce

We then were served wagyu beef with foie gras and soy reduction marinade. Wagyu beef is the U.S. version of Kobe beef from Japan and while it is not quite as melt-in-your-mouth tender as Kobe beef (where the cows are given daily massages), it was still amazingly tender and flavorful. The foie gras added additional richness while the soy marinade gave the dish a bit of astringent balance.

wagyu beef

wagyu beef

The final non-dessert dish was a bowl of dashi cold noodles. I am not a cold noodle fan myself, but the dashi flavoring was excellent (and the only place I’ve ever found it as good has been Tokyo), and the noodles were surprisingly delicious.

cold noodles

cold noodles

Clearly, Nobu isn’t Japanese because it does a beautiful latte.  🙂

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And dessert (also very un-Japanese) was a maple crème brûlée. I was so stuffed by then that I only took a couple of bites, but it was very well done.

maple creme brulee

maple creme brulee

I will leave the argument as to whether Nobu is truly Japanese or not to those who care about such things. Whatever it is (or isn’t), Nobu is a truly excellent restaurant with delicious and beautifully presented food.

Nobu is located at Waikiki Parc Hotel, 2233 Helumoa Road, Honolulu, HI 96815 (www.noburestaurants.com/waikiki).