Saturday, November 20, 2010

Things to Do: Doris Duke's Shangri-La

The mere mention of Shangri-La conjures up images of an isolated, mountain utopia hidden in the Himalayas made famous by the book Lost Horizon by James Hilton.  This isn't a mythical valley hidden in the mountains, but a mansion below Diamond Head Crater.  It's tucked away behind gates and hedges of this sleepy Kahala community, occupying 5 acres of beach front property that was the primary residence of the late Doris Duke.

Like the Himalayas, you need a guide if you want to tour Shangri-La or the only thing you'll see is the door.  Notice the intricate metal work on the door.  This is just one example of the Middle Eastern art collected by Mrs. Duke throughout the years.

It is the collection of Middle Eastern art and architecture that put this place on the map.  Small guided tours are only arranged through the Honolulu Academy of Arts, but no sherpas accompany you and reservations (see link) are a must.  Tours are given from Wednesday through Saturday at 8:30 am, 11:30 am, and 1:30 pm and take about 1-1/2 hours.  You meet at the Honolulu Academy of Arts and take a shuttle to the house.

Typically, you need to call or email anywhere from one week to one month in advance.  The price of the tour are $25 and also includes admission to the Academy of Arts and you could make lunch reservations at the Pavilion Cafe.

If you don't want to wait, you can also take the virtual tour, but you miss out on the sights like the small harbor built for Doris Duke's yacht.  

Doris Duke was the wealthy heiress of the late tobacco and hydro-electric energy magnate, James Buchanan Duke.  Duke and his colleagues started the Duke Power Company, which eventually became part of Duke Energy.  She inherited her fortune upon the early death of her father at the age of 12, but was not involved in any of her father's businesses.  As a socialite, she later met and married James Cromwell.  They traveled the world on their honeymoon, stopping by the Middle East, India, and Hawaii.  They enjoyed their stay in Hawaii so much they extended their honeymoon by 4 months.  During that time, Doris Duke and James Cromwell purchased 5 acres of beach front property and commissioned construction of what is now Shangri-La. 

Despite the modest entrance, it leads to a foyer of an incredible collection of Middle Eastern tiles, lamps, and rugs.  The foyer leads down to a ornate courtyard with a central garden and fountain.  Unfortunately, picture taking is not permitted in the rooms, so you just have to take the tour to see it.

Shangri-La cannot match the sheer size of the Hearst Castle (Hearst had a master floor instead of a master room) or pieces of art (over 25,000 works).  They do however, share a fireplace.  In the living room is a decorative fireplace.  Doris Duke was known for giving to charities and bought that fireplace from the William Randolph Hearst Bankruptcy Auction.  

There's nothing like this view....
...from this couch.

And there is the garden.  There were citrus trees at the end of the fountain, but a plague decimated the citrus plants several years ago.  The estate has been trying to grow flowering plants in their place and maybe when you visit they'll be blooming.  That's all for today.

Good Eats: The MAC-DADDY Challenge at Mac 24-7

One restaurant that caught my attention was Mac 24-7.  It was featured on Travel Channel's show "Man vs. Food" with Adam Richman for the Mac-Daddy Challenge.  The cuisine here is modern American, which the restaurant likes to say is a collection of several different tastes and flavors.  You can get anything from a cheeseburger, to saimin, or fried snickers bar.  

Located in the Prince Kuhio Hotel at 2500 Kuhio Avenue, it is the only restaurant in Waikiki open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  The menu is tasty and the servings are big, which brings us to the challenge.

The challenge is to eat 3 fourteen-inch pancakes with all the topping (up to 1 pound of blueberries, macadamia nuts, pineapples, chocolate chips, pecans, or coconut) by yourself in 90 minutes.  These aren't just pancakes, these are MAN-cakes.  Those things are huge!  If you finish this Herculean task, then you too will have your picture on the Hall of Fame, a T-shirt, and the title of Mac-Daddy.  One of the winners finished the challenge TWICE!

If you really want to try the Mac-Daddy Challenge, be warned.  Even though more people won this challenge since the episode first aired, this massive mountain of MAN-cakes will fill even the most famished diner.  Check out the You-Tube video of Adam Richman's attempt.  If you get on the Hall of Fame, I will throw in a bottle of Jack Daniels I got at the Jack Daniels' Distillery.  Any takers?

As you walk into the restaurant, its simple furnishings belie its large plates.  There is a larger dining room in the back, but that is for the evening crowd.  

I couldn't stomach the 14 inch pancakes, so I decided to go with the eggs benedict royal.  It's hard to get an idea of the serving size because of the big plate, but the meal is filling.  As an added bonus, the coffee mug is huge!  The waitresses constantly refills it and I'm in coffee heaven.  The hollandaise sauce on the benedict was great, smooth and you can taste the butter used to make it.

If you want something crunchy for breakfast, try the waffles.  The plate is normal size, the waffle is warm and crunchy and you get a big serving of strawberries and whipped cream.  Look at the size of those bowls!

If you're up for a complete breakfast, get the Mac Attack.  It's two (regular sized) pancakes, bacon, sausage links, two eggs, and breakfast potatoes.  This is a big plate and a big breakfast.  The pancakes are the same pancakes as the Mac-Daddy Challenge and are delicious.  Nothing beats fresh blueberries in your pancakes and as a topping.

Very filling, though not as filling as the Mac-Daddy Challenge.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Things to Do: Hawaiian Fire Surfing Lessons

Some people asked about surfing lessons.  I can't recommend one place over another, since I learned to surf in San Diego.  Having been through surf lessons, I'll say they are helpful but not all lessons are created equal.  Usually an instructor will take the a big group of students out on long, foam boards for several minutes because it's easy (for the instructor).  However, learning to stand up on a 12 ft long foam boat takes a few minutes, while learning to surf on a real surfboard can take about 3 months.  So while entertaining delusions of grandeur (see above picture), the reality is pictured below.

That being said, one surf school that my sister found is Hawaiian Fire surf school (click on link in name).  Basically, it is a bunch of Fire Fighters (yes, the instructors are Open Water rescue, EMT, and CPR certified who run into burning buildings for a living) that also teach surfing.  They teach at a beach away from the Waikiki crowds with small waves in small groups.  So the lessons are generally safer and you get more out of it.  Now expectations are more realistic, like the picture below.

So check out their website, location, times, prices, and reviews.  They do individual and group lessons depending on how much time you have, how many people in the group, and how much you want to spend.  And by the way, they have experience teaching tourists from Japan and their website is in English and Japanese.

For the experienced surfers, August isn't the best time of year to go surfing.  Even the good spots will be flat to a foot, maybe two.  December is usually the best time the big waves break and that's when they hold surf competitions.  Check back from time to time and I'll post some of the surf spots that should be breaking in winter.

Good Eats: Yama's Fish Market

This is the place my sister always stops by when she comes home, Yama's Fish Market.  This place is known for it's delicious ahi poke (pronounced poh-kay) which is like a Hawaiian tuna tartare.  Unlike steak tartare that is finely chopped and served with egg, poke is cubed sashimi-grade ahi marinated with sea salt, soy sauce, sesame oil, limu seaweed, and chili peppers giving it an unique Hawaiian flavor.

I'm going to start by saying those that don't like raw fish you probably won't like this place, but if you want local Hawaiian food, you need to check this out.  For those that are faint of heart (or stomach) fear not! Yama's also serves hot plate lunches local style.  Yama's serves other local favorites like lomi-lomi salmon, shoyu chicken, and kalua pork, but the poke is what put this place on the map.

Yama's isn't too far from Waikiki.  It's located at 2332 Young Street in McCully.  They are open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm Monday to Saturday and 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Sunday.  They are closed most holidays, but open Superbowl Sunday though with shortened hours.
And here is the main event, ahi poke.  Even though this place is called a fish market, it's more like a fish deli.  Instead of being able to buy the whole fish, Yama's prepares the poke and sets it in a refrigerated display case  like a deli.  Only in this deli, instead of different cold cuts you get different poke.   Poke is made fresh daily and it is tasty.  They serve it regular, spicy, spicy wasabi, and much more. I can say that having tried the spicy wasabi ahi poke it is SPICY!  The "regular" spicy poke has heat to it, but it's not on the same level as wasabi.  Both are very tasty.

Not only do they make ahi poke, but they make tako poke.  Tako is japanese for octopus, so think of this as a calamari ceviche.  Yama's adds their own flair to tako poke with a variety of flavors and spices.  Notice the "korean-style" and shoyu (soy sauce) poke.

 If you want variety, Yama's also makes chuka hotate (scallop seasoned with seasame seed oil) and topshell kim chee.  I won't go into what is topshell, I'll just say it's a seafood that's like scallops or abalone and can be found in Chinese cuisine.  I think it's also found in Japanese and Korean cuisine, but I don't think I've eaten it.

What's not pictured is the plate lunches and hot kalua pork that is on the menu.  The reason is simple: I ordered a plate of garlic chicken and finished before thinking about taking a picture.  It was delicious.  The plate lunches come with the customary 2 scoops of white rice, side of macaroni salad, and shredded cabbage with your main order of hot garlic chicken, kalua pork, or today's specials.  The menu changes daily, so check it out and you can call ahead to place your order.  There's no dining room, so this is take out only.  


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Things to Do: Honolulu Academy of Arts

One of the more prominent art museums in Honolulu is the Honolulu Academy of Arts.  Originally, the site was the home of its founder and wealthy benefactor, Anna Rice Cooke.  She came from a wealthy missionary family and married Charles Montague Cooke, himself from another wealthy missionary family.  Both settled on O'ahu with their home on the land of the future museum.  Cooke began collecting various pieces for their house, but the size of the collection eventually out grew their rooms.  The land and some funds were donated, their house demolished, and New York architect Bertram Goodhue  was commissioned to construct the new museum.  Unfortunately, he died before completing the project, however his Spanish Colonial Revival style is evident in the museum's design and influenced the design of other buildings in Honolulu.

The museum is located at 900 South Beretania Street in Downtown Honolulu.  Hours are 10:00 am to 4:30 pm Tuesday through Saturday and 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm on Sunday.  Admission for adults is $10, seniors and students are $5, and kids under 12 years old are free.

Due to the restrictions on taking pictures in the galleries, I can only show the courtyards, you have to see the galleries for yourself.  This view is the Central Courtyard when you walk in the museum.  There are 30 galleries of art built around the courtyards in the museum with some visiting exhibits.  The galleries showcase selected pieces from over 60,000 items in the museum's collection.

Walking to the left, you step into the Joanna Lau Sullivan Chinese Courtyard.  In the rooms surrounding the courtyard you will find Japanese, Chinese, and Korean exhibits.  Here is one of the museum's prized collections: a rotating selection from over 10,000 ancient Japanese woodblock prints.  New prints are put on display every 3 months.  Very impressive.

Walking to the right, you step into the Mediterranean Courtyard.  In the rooms surrounding this courtyard, you'll find Mediterranean, Italian Renaissance, European, and American exhibits.  There are works by Monet, Gauguin, and van Gogh.  Some of the rooms have motion-sensitive lighting, so when you first step in the rooms will be dim, just wait a few seconds and the room brightens.  Also located in the back right is Robert Allerton Art Research Library.  This is a non-circulating library with over 40,000 books, periodicals, and auction catalogs.  It's open to the public Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday from 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm.

 Going back to the right of the museum past the J.L. Sullivan Courtyard are the Banyan and Kinau Courtyards.  Around these courtyards are the exhibits from Indonesia, Iran, and India.
There's addition artwork on the second floor.  After looking through these galleries, you might be hungry so it's time to stop by the Pavilion Cafe.

The Pavilion Cafe is open Tuesday thru Saturday and as usual, I was too late to try it out.  The cafe has designated seating times at 11:30, 11:45, 12:00, 12:45, 1:00, 1:15, and 1:30.  Reservations are recommended.  The cafe has an open air section so you can enjoy the sculptures, waterfall, and surrounding gardens.

If I was a little earlier, I could've enjoyed the menu, but that will have to wait for another day.  Also, the Honolulu Academy of Arts runs the tours to Shangri-La, which is a good tour I'd recommend.

Things to Do: The Contemporary Museum

The Contemporary Museum (TCM) in Honolulu is...contemporary (read: weird) so most people won't like this place.  However, it's air conditioned and near Punchbowl Cemetery.  So if you visited Punchbowl and have extra time in the afternoon, want to cool off, have lunch, and pick up a few gifts, then it's worth it.

The hotel is located at 2411 Makiki Heights Drive on the slopes of Tantalus Mountain.  I'd recommend using a GPS, you need to make several twists and turns up several roads to get here.  The Museum is open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm Tuesday thru Saturday, 12:00 pm to 2:30 pm Sunday and closed on Mondays.  The Cafe is open from 11:00 am to 2:30 pm Tuesday thru Saturday, 12:00 pm to 2:30 pm on Sunday.

I was underwhelmed when I visited the museum.  It's small and with few exhibits.  That's understandable considering the few museums in Hawaii were originally someone's home, Hawaii is the youngest state, and the donor base is small.  

Like the Honolulu Academy of Arts, TCM was originally a residence donated after the owners passed away. Hence, the decorated tennis court.

It's more impressive when you think that someone had a pool, tennis court,  large front yard, and spacious garden.  Not quite a mansion, but you could easily throw a party for 150 people.

The exhibits have a zen-like, minimalist quality set among the spacious garden and interior.  Few would appreciate it *Cough! Emily! Cough!* but it is quiet and peaceful.  Okay, maybe J.D. and Chuck would dig this place, too.
This is one of the less weird exhibits inside the museum.  If you want to see weird, oops, I mean contemporary, stop by.

Or you can do what those people are doing and just chill out on the lawn.

This is an exhibit, not a bench.  Please don't sit on the artwork.

The two things that I liked about TCM was the gift shop and the Contemporary Cafe.  The gift shop is small, but is packed with several humorous and local items.  One item that stood out was the T-shirt above.  As for the Contemporary Cafe, the one thing they do that other museums don't is make you a box lunch.  But, you need to call ahead.  The Cafe is lined with various art however, I wasn't able to try the food because the Cafe was closed.  So maybe next time.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Things to Do: Diamond Head Crater Park

Another thing to do while in Waikiki is to see Diamond Head Crater Park.  Diamond Head is that big bowl of a crater you see as you fly in to Honolulu and fills the Waikiki skyline.  The name comes from calcite crystals in the rocks on the slope of the crater.  The old western explorers and trades mistook those for diamonds and nicknamed the place Diamond Head.

It looks big and far away, but it's only about 15 minutes from Waikiki.  We want to go to the highest point on Diamond Head, called Le`ahi Summit, which is only 761 feet (232 meters) in elevation.  On top of Le'ahi Summit is the Fire Control Station.  It was built by the U.S. Army Coastal Artillery defense system.  From that vantage point, you could observe, plot, and adjust artillery from 5 different batteries.  Now, it's a tourist attraction with an awesome view.  The hike up is not kid friendly, so if you have a really young one, they might have to stay on the beach or be carried up the trail.  But once you're at the top, the view is worth it.

You have to drive through a tunnel dug into the side of the crater by Kapiolani Community College.  The park is open from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm.  I recommend go in the early morning or late evening.  Parking is limited and it gets hot.  Make sure to bring your own water and snacks, there's only a food truck in the parking lot.  If you don't want to drive you can catch the tour buses, vans, or sign up for the Waikiki Trolley.  Luckily, there is a bathroom at crater level.

See that little speck on second hilltop from the right?  That's Le'ahi Summit and sitting on top is the old Fire Control Station for coastal cannons.  It's also the best view on Waikiki and where we want to go.

The above is a copy of the free brochure that you pick up at the base of the trail.  The trail is about 1.5 miles round trip and plan on it taking 1-1/2 to 2 hours.  The trail is a series of dirt paths, steep switchbacks, rough-hewn rock, concrete and steel stairs, a tunnel, a spiral staircase, and finally, a breath taking view.

That nice paved path ends soon enough, it's only there to prevent erosion.  After that, the trails are dirt and rock.  Mules made their way up these trails transporting materials for the construction of the lookouts.  If mules can make it, so can we.  

Did I mention rough-hewn rock?  Parts of the trail are definitely not baby/stroller friendly.  
Oh yeah.  I said there were stairs, right?

 And, here's the small tunnel you have to walk through.  It's lighted and only 225 feet long.

 Stairs?  Did I mention stairs?  This is the last leg on the "Stairway to Heaven".  By now, it's time for a water break.

 And here's what it's all about.  A great view of Waikiki and a nice breeze to cool you off.  You can read about Waikiki Beach blogpost here.  But wait, there's more.  You can walk up to the Observation Post and see more.

A better view of Waikiki to the west.

Turn around and it's Diamond Head Crater to the North.  To the northeast, it's Kahala and Koko Head.  You are on the mountain top.  Everywhere you turn, you get a great view.  

And at your feet, to the south, is the Diamond Head Lighthouse and Diamond Head Beach Park.  Diamond Head Beach Park is the next biggest beach past San Souci/Kaimana Beach in Waikiki.
After all that and the hike down, if you really want a burger, there's Magoo's Burgers waiting.  That's all for today.