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.  🙂

IMG_2716

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).

 

Chef Mavro (Honolulu)

We had one of our favorite meals when we were in Honolulu at Chef Mavro. This is the second excellent meal we’ve had there (Jim and I were there in February and had an amazing meal then as well, which is, of course, documented on the blog).

We chose a modified summer menu, knowing that the full summer menu would be too much food and knowing that the kids were likely not to be enamored with the abalone and cheese courses. (Not having the cheese course didn’t exactly break my heart either.)

We started with an amuse bouche of chilled baby carrot soup, flavored with orange. The 12 year old boy wasn’t thrilled by this, as he’s not a fan of cold soups, but the rest of us slurped his portion down without a problem. The soup was delicately flavored, and the orange added a touch of sweetness and zing to the soup.

Carrot soup

Carrot soup

Foie gras was next on the menu, and it was served three ways: “au naturel” with pickled mango; seared with li hing mui mango tatin; and bavarois, with mango kanten. There was one vote for “au naturel,” two votes for the seared foie gras, and one vote for the bavarois. Even Jim, who doesn’t like mango, loved this dish.

foie gras 3 ways

foie gras 3 ways

The third course was lobster served with a chorizo taro dumpling, upcountry vegetables, and sautéed in tamarind-tapioca jus. The lobster was excellent, without the watery squishy texture you sometimes get, and it was cooked just right, so that it was tender and flavorful.

lobster

lobster

upcountry vegetables

upcountry vegetables

Duck was next on the menu. It was served with fried Bhutanese rice with black garlic, duck leg bacon, baby carrots, string beans, fennel, and star anise duck jus. I love duck and have high expectations about a duck dish, and this was prepared perfectly, so it was tender and flavorful.

duck

duck

fried bhutanese rice with black garlic

fried bhutanese rice with black garlic

The last meat dish was wagyu beef medallions, served with agave crisped Brussels sprouts, prosciutto, celery root mousse, and essence of pinot noir. There is no more flavorful and tender beef than Kobe beef from Japan, but wagyu beef is a close second, and these beef medallions were melt-in-your-mouth tender.

wagyu beef

wagyu beef

Our pre-dessert was watermelon in champagne gelée (and watermelon sorbet for the one allergic to alcohol). It was a lovely palate cleanser and light prelude to the dessert.

watermelon in champagne gelee

watermelon in champagne gelee

watermelon sorbet

watermelon sorbet

And the actual dessert consisted of chocolate: acai and Waialua chocolate cremeux, tuile crisp and buttermilk sorbet.

chocolate dessert

chocolate dessert

All in all, it was a fabulous meal that ensured our returning when we next visit Honolulu.

Chef Mavro is located at 1969 S. King Street in Honolulu (www.chefmavro.com).

 

Pandas…in a Submarine

Our daughter came up with the headline for this post, and it perfectly captures the highlights of our recent trip to China and Hawaii.

We started off in Beijing for a day or so, but, really, the focus of this trip was Chengdu and the Panda Breeding and Research Center. And the focus of the visit to the Panda Breeding and Research Center was to hold a real-live baby panda!

As you can see from the photos, the panda cub was about 10 months old and roughly 50 pounds. (Any bigger and the experience would be problematic, as pandas play rough.) The panda cub is eating bamboo coated with honey, which is in large part responsible for its mellow and beatific behavior. All of us wore booties over our shoes and giant blue smocks. The Center was great about time spent with the panda cub, with plenty of time to pet the panda (although we were instructed not to pet the face or ears) and the ability to take plenty of photos.

the family with a baby panda!

the family with a baby panda!

Jim with a baby panda

Jim with a baby panda

May with a baby panda

May with a baby panda

Marcus with a baby panda

Marcus with a baby panda

Our daughter had the highlight of the visit, as the panda cub put his paw on her in apparent solidarity. The rest of us saw the resemblance between the two (fluffy, likes to eat and sleep, solitary) and understood why there was such a bond between them. 🙂

Jade with a baby panda

Jade with a baby panda

Meeting the panda cub was such a highlight that our stay in the Aman Hotel, with its secret door to the Summer Palace (my favorite place in Beijing) that allows you to visit the Summer Palace before opening hours was a distant second in trip highlights (a distant third if you count the Hawaii portion).

But, despite that, here’s the Long Corridor in the Summer Palace with NO people (unheard of in a city of 15 million people).

an empty Summer Palace

an empty Summer Palace

With respect to the Hawaii portion of our trip, thanks to a friend of ours who is a naval officer, we were able to tour the USS Olympia, a Los Angeles-class fast attack nuclear-powered submarine. We weren’t able to take photos due to security concerns, but to be able to tour the sub was awesomely cool. We were obviously not allowed near the nuclear reactor or the engine room, but we toured the control room and the rest of the sub. For those who are wondering, there are five (!) bathrooms for the approximately 120 folks aboard the sub. The torpedoes are 4,000 pounds each and are transported to the torpedo tubes using a hydraulic system. It is an incredible feat of design and engineering. And submariners have to be a bit crazy—you certainly can’t mind small enclosed spaces, and you certainly have to be comfortable always being surrounded by people (introverts need not apply).

Added to that was an admiral boat’s tour of Pearl Harbor, surfing lessons every day for the kids, and shave ice at Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha (and meals at Town, Chef Mavro, and Alan Wong’s). Honolulu was pretty perfect.

All in all, a great addition to the family vacation memory book!

Chef Mavro

In our latest visit to Honolulu, we decided to dine at Chef Mavro, a restaurant we had dined at several years ago but had not revisited since.  The first time we ate there, it was a Valentine’s Day fixed menu, and we thought the dinner was good but not great.  However, we revised our opinion after our most recent dinner there.  It was clear that the Valentine’s Day menu of several years ago did not show off the breadth and skill of the kitchen.  Chef Mavro is indeed a spectacular restaurant.

It is black truffle season, and there was a choice of a 4 course, 6 course, or 11 course menu, with black truffles on certain dishes for an additional surcharge.  We picked the 6 course menu, with the addition of black truffles, of course.  (I have no doubt that our entire family were truffle-hunting pigs in a previous life.)

The amuse-bouche was hamachi (yellow tail) with just a touch of sea salt.  The quality of sushi in Hawaii is indescribable.  The only other time we’ve had sushi of this quality is in Japan.

amuse-bouche (hamachi)

amuse-bouche (hamachi)

The first course was a truffle egg, consisting of a poached egg with truffled “osmose”, potato mousseline and Serrano ham ribbons.  The eggs are stored in the empty truffle box, which infuses them with the wonderfully delicate aroma of black truffles.  And this wasn’t even one of the extra truffle courses!  This is a sublime dish, with the truffle aroma infusing every single bite of the dish.

truffled egg

truffled egg

Next up was the foie gras.  This is sautéed foie gras with a poached black mission fig, and a Portuguese sweet bread crouton.  There is never bad foie gras in my book, and this dish certainly fulfilled all the necessary foie gras requirements.  And, as you can plainly see, the foie gras is completely covered with delectable black truffles.

foie gras (with truffles)

foie gras (with truffles)

The third dish was a lemongrass accented lobster tail, served with island avocado, kahuku sweet corn, chipolata, and purple basil.  The richness of the lobster was offset by the slight acidity of the lemongrass, and the dish was beautifully served (with black truffles).

lobster (with black truffles)

lobster (with black truffles)

accompaniment to the lobster

accompaniment to the lobster

The meat dish was a roasted lamb loin accompanied by watercress with an aioli dip.  The lamb was perfectly prepared.  The watercress wasn’t particularly impressive, but the quality of the lamb was such that it didn’t matter.  (Note the addition of black truffles.)

lamb loin

lamb loin

The palate cleanser was a honeydew sorbet (for Jim) and a honeydew gelee that contained alcohol (for me).

honeydew sorbet

honeydew sorbet

honeydew gelee

honeydew gelee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We substituted the cheese dish for the liliokoi (passionfruit) and vanilla creamsicle, served with an anise coconut froth and macaroon crisp.  It was an excellent palate cleanser, and showed a light touch with dessert, something that isn’t always easily accomplished.

creamsicle

creamsicle

The final dessert was a chocolate cremeux with black sesame seed carmelized rice, orange meringue, hazelnet dragées, and butterscotch sauce.  The black truffles were perhaps unnecessary here, if, in fact, you can ever contemplate a time when black truffles are superfluous.

chocolate cremeux

chocolate cremeux

Overall, Chef Mavro showed a classical French training, high quality (and mostly local) ingredients, and an ability to adapt to local tastes and ingredients.  We were quite impressed and will certainly be back for more!  We highly recommend this restaurant and give the meal a solid A.

You can find out more at their website, www.chefmavro.com.

Hawaii, No Kids

Jim and I had a wedding in the Bay Area last Saturday (congratulations to Anne Craib and Jim Farmer—it was a beautiful wedding!).  Having had to be on the West Coast anyway, we decided that since Hawaii was just a short hop away, we would spend the following week there with NO KIDS.  (Not that we don’t love them dearly or anything.)

My parents were kind enough to fly out and watch the ragamuffins while we took long walks on the beach and ate our way through Honolulu.  (Reviews of Chef Mavro and Town to follow.)  The weather in Washington, DC was cold and snowy, but we had scenic vistas like this:

Waikiki

Waikiki – view from our hotel

view from our hotel

view from our hotel

 

And this:

Waikiki

Waikiki

We returned to DC yesterday, and this is what it looks like today (which, by the way, is March 3 for those who are calendar-challenged):

snowday20140303

I am ready to go back to Hawaii!

 

Town (restaurant in Honolulu)

We discovered Town (located at 3435 Waialae Ave) on a recommendation by some friends the last time we were in Honolulu and returned on this past trip to see if it was as good as we remembered.  It is as good and possibly better.  Here are some photos of Town’s magnificence:

Appetizers include a baby arugula salad with beets, orange, fennel, mint, chickpeas and ricotta.  The salad eater among us thought it was excellent.

Baby arugula salad

Baby arugula salad

The ahi tartare on top of risotto cake and sprinkled with balsamic vinegar was amazing.  The portions were also quite generous.

ahi tartare

ahi tartare

The most picky eater had the New York strip steak served with French fries.

New York strip steak

New York strip steak

There was also gnocchi with guanciale.

gnocchi with guanciale

gnocchi with guanciale

And risotto with Waimea roma tomato and baby fennel.

risotto

risotto

For the carnivores, a Shinsato pork belly served on a bed of polenta and local vegetables.

pork belly with local vegetables

pork belly with local vegetables

For dessert, orange sorbet and panna cotta served with local honey.

orange sorbet

orange sorbet

panna cotta

panna cotta

We highly recommend Town the next time you’re in Honolulu.  The food is fabulous, and it’s clear that the chef cares about his ingredients and cooking.  The service is friendly and excellent.  We will definitely be back!

Town’s motto is “Local first, organic whenever possible, with Aloha always.”

IMG_2107

Asia-Lite Summer Vacation

What we did on our summer vacation:  we visited Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Honolulu—what I laughingly call our Asia-lite trip (anytime you go to Asia and you can drink the tap water, it’s not a true Asia trip).

The weather was hot and humid in both Hong Kong and Tokyo, but they were really fun trips.  Here’s a view from our hotel in Hotel Kong:

view from the Island Shangri-la Hotel

view from the Island Shangri-la Hotel

Hong Kong Disney was a blast, and we were fortunate the day we went because there was some cloud cover and a slight breeze.  Then, in true Hong Kong fashion, it poured during one of the parades where the characters spray you with water guns.  As the kids said, “We didn’t get wet from the water guns at all!”

Hong Kong Disney parade

Hong Kong Disney parade

We also discovered the Museum of Coastal Defence in Hong Kong.  (I know, the British spelling can be most disconcerting.)  They used one of the actual bunkers to create the museum, which is very well done.  Once again, the only quibble I have is the commentary about modern times.  (“Reunification has brought about a new solidarity and brotherhood of common defence.”  Or something along those lines.)

Tokyo was just a brief stop in order to participate in the US-Japan Leadership Program’s weekend activities.  It was lovely to see a lot of people whom we hadn’t seen in a while and catch up.  It was also nice to meet the new delegates and discover what an impressive group they are.  We had a tour of the Diet (the Japanese Parliament building), walked around the fish market, and toured the Nezo Museum, which has a small but excellent collection of Chinese antique bronzes.  (They have several other items of interest, but we love Chinese bronzes.)

Our final stop was Honolulu where we stayed at the Halekulani, our favorite hotel there.

Waikiki

Waikiki

The kids took surfing lessons every day; we visited the Bishop Museum, the Honolulu Art Museum, and the Plantation Life Museum.  For a bit of kitsch, we went to the Dole Plantation, where we went through the maze and, most importantly, ate some Dole Whip.  (I mean, yes, you can get fresh pineapple there, too, but what would be the fun in that?)  We had some fabulous dinners at Alan Wong’s, Morimoto, Town, and Sushi Sasabune.  More about the meals later.  Their magnificence deserves their own blog entries.  We also weathered Tropical Storm Flossie, which fortunately for us, only lightly touched Oahu.  I’ve included some photos showing the imminent arrival of the storm (and the view from our hotel room).

view upon arrival

view upon arrival

Tropical Storm Flossie approaching

Tropical Storm Flossie approaching

Tropical Storm Flossie

Tropical Storm Flossie

after Tropical Storm Flossie

after Tropical Storm Flossie

It was a relaxing and fun break, and we look forward to our next trip there!