Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Good Eats: Chef Mavro

This is one of the best places, if not the best, place for fine dining on O'ahu.  The cuisine here is pacific fusion melded with the classic french cooking that focuses on fresh island ingredients.  Everything here is a tasting menu: you can select three, four, six course or the Grand Degustation (which is everything, but in smaller servings).  Each plate is an artistic creation highlighting the talent of the chef and regional ingredients.

Everything is fresh here, there are no freezers.  If it doesn't come in from the market, it's not on the menu.  Chef Mavro is one of the few five-star restaurants on the island and it receives Eu-jeania's stamp of approval.  Even the wine is specially selected.  The wine is paired with a dish after passing a blind taste test from a panel of five.  Word of warning, this place is not cheap, but is well worth the price.   

The restaurant is located at 1969 South King Street in Honolulu.  Ironically, it's a few blocks away from Alan Wong's restaurant.  Hours are 6:00 pm to 9:30 pm from Tuesday to Saturday.  You can make reservations by calling at (808) 944-4714, going to Open Table, or here (hyperlink in word which takes you to their reservations site), or you can visit their website at Chef Mavro.  If you want to impress your date, this is a great place to take them.  

Chef Mavro, the chef not the restaurant, is short for George Mavrothalassitis.  He was born in the port city of Marseilles, France.  He developed his skills as a chef and owned and operated two restaurants in France.  In 1988, Chef Mavro was recruited to Hawaii as the executive chef at Le Mer in the Halekulani Hotel and worked there for 7 years.  Then he went on to be the executive chef at the Four Seasons in Maui and the chef de cuisine of Seasons Restaurant before opening his own restaurant in 1998.  He earned numerous awards, among them the 2003 James Beard award winner for best chef: Northwest/Hawaii.  

First is the amuse bouche.  Amuse bouche is french for "mouth amuser" or "mouth pleaser".   This is an appetizer that isn't on the menu, is selected entirely by the chef and is generally a bite-sized appetizer to prepare the palate for the first course.  In this case, the amuse bouche here is chilled carrot soup, topped with coconut creme fraiche (or foam, I can't remember) and ginger.  It was delicious and a great way to start the meal.  

The first course is sea urchin "oursinade" broth with poached Kaua'i shrimp.  This first course was amazing.  The shrimp was warm and well cooked, the broth was incredible, and most important the sea urchin was fresh.  In general, I'm not a big fan of sea urchin.  If sea urchin is not fresh, the texture is soft, slimy and the taste can be unpleasant.  I've had sea urchin that tasted like aluminum, which I'm guessing was from the can it was stored.  And that's the key, freshness.  When sea urchin is fresh, it has a pleasant, sweet taste and I can see why it's considered a delicacy in Japan.  Here, the urchin is fresh and the dish amazing.  

The second course is the Dayboat Catch, that's island snapper crusted with yukon potatoes and brussel sprouts with pancetta and raito sauce.  The fish was evenly cooked and warm with a crispy outside.  I was surprised with the brussel sprouts, they were excellent.  I'm not a big fan of brussel sprouts, but they were warm, tender, and topped with crisp bits of pancetta for salt and a light smokey flavor.  

Or you can trade out items on the menu.  Someone else wanted to try the foie gras.  This is hudson valley foie gras au torchon with truffled savoy cabbage cole slaw and dried cranberries spiced coulis.  The sweet tartness of the cabbage perfectly balanced against the rich foie gras.    The foie gras was amazing: rich, smooth, and delicious with no hint of sourness.

The third course is Kurabota Pork two ways, on the left you have the crispy pork belly and on the right you have the tender pork loin.  In the middle are vanilla glazed Molokai sweet potatoes with a watercress salad.  The sweetness of the vanilla glaze works well with the savory flavors of both pork portions.  And you have the contrast of textures with the crispy pork belly and the soft pork loin.  A very pleasing dish.  

And don't forget the palate cleanser.  This is champagne jello with melon (honeydew?).  I'm not sure what surprised me more, that the champagne is in the gelatin or that it was so good.  

Finally, the dessert.  This is a trio of malasadas (Portuguese donuts without the hole) filled with li hing mui apple, azuki bean, lilikoi, and hawaiian vanilla ice cream.  We were surprised the malasadas were still warm, which went well with the cool ice cream.

All in all this was a great meal and a great place to dine when you visit Honolulu.  I highly recommend this restaurant.  Just remember, the ingredients are from the region, so when you dine here the dish might be different depending what's in season.  

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Good Eats: Kua Aina Sandwich Shop

If you drive through the surf town of Haleiwa during your trip to the North Shore, you might stop by Kua Aina Sandwich Shop.  This place has been voted one of the best burger joints on the North Shore.  The burgers are big, the prices are modest, your fellow diners can be competitive surfers, (the service can be slow) but the meal is tasty.  

Located at 66-160 Kamehameha Highway #1A, the Haleiwa location is the original store.  Kua Aina Sandwiches was founded over 30 years ago by Terry Thompson.  He has since expanded to several other locations in Japan and the Ward Warehouse.  Hours at this location are 11:00 am to 8:00 pm.  

The big draw here are the big burgers on a kaiser roll.  How big are these burgers?  You can get a third pound or half-pound burger made from Nebraskan beef.  You can also order your burgers with extra cheese or even pineapple.  

Check the daily specials by the counter.  Besides the big burgers, the mahi-mahi sandwich with house tartar sauce are the big attraction.  However on this day, the mahi-mahi was so popular it sold out.  Fortunately, the other daily special was the ahi.  

I'd ordinarily try the burger, but the fresh ahi caught my eye.  It's a thick slab of fresh fish, grilled to perfection.  Along with that I tried the cole slaw, pickles, grilled onions, and french fries.  The fries are on the thin side, almost like shoe-string potatoes, but tasty.

The sandwich looks bigger in the hand, than on the plate.  The ahi was cooked well and was warm through out the fillet while the lettuce and tomato were fresh and crunchy.  I especially liked the sweet grilled onions to go with the everything.  All in all, a good meal with a tasty sandwich.