Spring Break 2018: Honolulu, where else?

If it seems like we go to Honolulu quite a bit, it may be because we have. However, this was our first trip there as a family in 2018. (Note how I carefully defined the parameters just now.) We were fortunate that the kids shared a spring break this year, and they decided to opt for Hawaii as the spring break destination.
This trip was probably the most mellow family trip to Hawaii that we’ve ever had. The kids had surfing lessons every day, and we did visit Shangri-la, the residence of Doris Duke that she decorated throughout with Islamic art. (Jim and I must keep up our reputation as killjoy parents and do something educational on every trip.). But other than that, it was a pretty zen vacation. We shopped a little, we pampered ourselves at the spa some, and we ate a lot (temporarily adopting the Samoan saying “Eat til you’re dizzy.”). And, of course, we enjoyed the warmth and the sunshine and the ocean.
The best part, of course, are the memories of yet another fun family vacation, knowing that each year brings fewer opportunities for us to all be together. To paraphrase Rick from the movie Casablanca, “We’ll always have Hawaii.” (And Disneyworld.).

returning from a visit to Leonard’s Malasadas

orchids from the farmer’s market

Shangri-la (Doris Duke’s residence)

the view from Shangri-la

at the Halekulani

Waikiki

Waikiki at sunset

A Long-Time Favorite: Chef Mavro (Honolulu)

It has been a while since I last posted photos of a dinner at Chef Mavro, one of our favorite restaurants. The restaurant has redone its menu a bit, allowing guests to choose from a selection of small plates or to embark on a 9 course Bataan death march of a tasting menu. We’ve done the tasting menu before—it’s fabulous and not to be missed!—but wanted to focus on our most recent meal, where we selected from the small plates.
We started with a foie gras parfait that included hibiscus, asian pear, yuzu, and malasadas. (Actually, we started with two of them because our party of four included a 16 year old velociraptor.) Our family loves foie gras, and this version was one of the best we’ve ever had. The inclusion of the citrus/sweet flavors set off the richness of the foie gras perfectly.

foie gras parfait

Next up was the ahi poke, served with ogo, chives, Aleppo pepper, and taro crisps. Poke has become the “in” thing these days with poke restaurants popping up everywhere from California to DC, but it is originally a Hawaiian dish (hopefully, the New York Times food writers will not “discover” it the way they discovered bubble tea, as a New York invention). The taro crisps were light and fresh, and the poke with the sauce had a lovely rich taste to it.

ahi poke

The third course was the egg “poutargue” with an egg, Yukon potato, San Danielle prosciutto, and sun-dried fish roe. The saltiness of the prosciutto gave the dish a nice flavor to go with the egg and fish roe. Yum!

egg poutargue

To our shock, our velociraptor asked for the keahole lobster (liking lobster is a recent thing for him). The lobster was served with kale, ginger, okra, and soursop. While excellent (because everything here is excellent), it was probably the weakest of the dishes.

keahole lobster

The next dish was the island free range chicken, served with a tarragon mousse, island cream corn, Swiss chard, and foie gras jus. Chef Mavro used to do a chicken multi-course dinner that Jim and I still talk about. This is a microcosm of that dinner and delectable. I am generally not a fan of white meat because it is more often than not dry and flavorless. This, however, was neither, and if more people could serve chicken like this, I would no longer be a white meat hater. Enough said.

island free range chicken

The final entree dish was a Miyazaki wagyu fricassee with chimichurri, breadfruit, warabi, and mustard seeds. You have to be a ham-handed chef to ruin wagyu, and there are no ham-handed chefs here. On the other hand, you have to be a gifted chef to make the most out of the wagyu and that certainly was the case here. The meat was perfectly cooked, tender and flavorful, and the accompanying ingredients provided additional flavor and texture.

miyazaki wagyu fricassee

Dessert was a citrus dessert—light, flavorful, and a perfect end to the dinner—and a chocolate dessert—rich, bold, and also a perfect end to the dinner.

citrus dessert

chocolate dessert

We have fond memories of Chef Mavro over the years, and each meal has been delicious and memorable. We look forward to many more years of dining there!
www.chefmavro.com

Hawaii (without the kids)

Somehow, we always gravitate to Hawaii when deciding where to go on our annual without-the-kids vacation. As a reminder, the goal of this vacation is a yearly exercise as to remember who the other person across the breakfast table is as planning for the day that we become empty nesters. Our joint requirement is that it be somewhere warm. Jim’s requirement is that there be things to do and good restaurants to eat in.
This stay was our most mellow visit to date. Most of the week was completely unplanned (including dinners!). We went for long walks around Diamondhead, spent time at the pool, watched the sun set over Waikiki, and saw the fireworks that happen every Friday evening. We didn’t even do any house/condo-hunting!! (You, too, are free to join in the great family debate and choose to be either part of Team House or Team Condo.)
The only downside of the trip was that Marcus went down with the flu while we were there. We offered to come back early, but he was insistent that all he really needed was Advil and Sprite—both of which were in plentiful supply at our house.
This photo of us makes me look like an alien, which only confirms Jim’s theory…

In the meantime, enjoy the scenery of one of the most beautiful places on earth!

Christmas in Hawaii (oh, and a wedding too!)

Once again, both children’s school calendars cooperated, and we were able to get away the week before Christmas to Hawaii for just over a week. The daughter’s finals schedule ended the same day as the son’s school break started, and we all met up in San Francisco before flying out to Honolulu.
In addition, Jim’s brother and fiancee got married while we were there, and her children also flew out to join them for their happy day. It was a beautiful ceremony at a beautiful place, on the beach at Sherwood Forest, with waves crashing in the background. We wish them a long and happy life together!
In a case of miraculous timing, we also got to meet up and have lunch with close friends the day we were departing back home, and they were taking a cruise through the islands.
As has become typical for us, we ate our way through Honolulu. Highlights include Chef Mavro, The Pig & the Lady (for pho French dip), Yauatcha (for dim sum), and Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha (for shave ice).

with “Uncle Clay”

It was cold there (for Hawaii), sometimes dipping down into the mid-60s(!). We did not complain.
There is something about Hawaii that rejuvenates our souls and makes us feel like we belong. It is also a place of transcendent beauty. Photos do not do it justice, but I still had to try.

Honolulu Christmas lights

at Orchids (in the Halekulani) for Christmas Eve brunch

Waikiki

Waikiki at sundown

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!

Restaurant review: Chef Mavro (Honolulu)

Chef Mavro is one of our favorite restaurants in Honolulu. While some of our other favorites have gifted chefs who serve excellent food, Chef Mavro has both those requirements, and the dishes are always beautifully presented. We try and go twice on every trip and alternate between the 6 course menu and the 4 course menu.
This is the four course menu, where the serving portions are a bit larger than the 6 course menu, and it is every bit as delicious.

We started with the amuse-bouche: white bean mousse with duck confit rillettes. We could have cheerfully made a meal out of the rillettes.

IMG_3467

amuse-bouche

All of us opted out of the squid course and substituted it with black truffle risotto. Black truffles. Risotto. In the hand of a master. Need I say more?

IMG_3468

black truffle risotto

The next course was onaga in fisherman’s bouillabaisse marseilles-style, with rouille & croutons. The “crouton,” served with a spicy garlic aioli, was completely scrumptions.

onaga bouillabaisse style

onaga bouillabaisse style

The meat course was herb crusted niman rack of lamb, served with tomato, zucchini, eggplant & bell pepper à la monégasque.

lamb

lamb

It was accompanied by a side dish of extra virgin olive oil caper mashed potato. I don’t particularly like mashed potato (it’s a texture thing), but this was scrumptious.

mashed potatoes

mashed potatoes

The palate cleanser was a watermelon-champagne gelée.

IMG_3472

And, finally, the dessert course. A peach flambé, with peach, lemon chiboust brulée & sablé, and a blueberry compote accompanied by crème fraiche with a pernod accent and fennel pollen. It was a perfect finish to a lovely dinner!

peach flambe

peach flambe