Friday, December 2, 2011

Good Eats: Rainbow Drive-In

This is one of the best places to get the local special, the plate lunch.  Plate lunch in Hawaii customarily has two scoops of rice, one (or two) scoops of macaroni salad, shredded cabbage, and a meat like teriyaki beef, fried mahi-mahi, or chicken.  A good place to go for plate lunch is Rainbow Drive-In.  Here the servings are healthy, the prices are affordable, and the food is tasty.  

Rainbow is located at 3308 Kanaina Avenue and open Monday thru Sunday from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm.  They are closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve, and New Year's Day.  Call ahead for take-out orders at 808-737-0177.  A word of warning, this place gets busy at lunch time.  Yes, I say that about a lot of restaurants here, but that's because they're good.  

Rainbow has been serving plates for 50 years.  The founder, Seiju Ifuku, learned to cook, surprisingly, in the Army with the 100th Infantry Battalion.  The 100th Battalion served in World War II and saw action with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Europe.  After the war, Seiju opened a couple of drive-ins in and around Waikiki.  He opened Rainbow in 1961 and it's been there ever since.  Check out the clip about Rainbow from Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives with Guy Fieri.  The piece about Rainbow starts at about the 1:00 minute mark.  

Walk up to the counter to order.  There's a lot of goodness to like here.  If you want a big meal, order up the loco moco plate as seen in the video clip.  

I like to get the Mix Plate, this is a little bit of everything.  There's teriyaki beef, fried chicken, fried mahi-mahi, 2 scoops of rice, a scoop of macaroni salad, shredded cabbage, and tartar sauce.    

If you want more vegetables than just the shredded cabbage to go with all that meat, get the side salad.  All in all, this is a good place to stop by for lunch...or breakfast and dinner.  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Good Eats: Giovanni's Shrimp Truck

Think of this as "Part II" of the North Shore Shrimp Truck Review.  We went back and actually managed to order at Giovanni's Shrimp Truck.  Giovanni's is the first, and some say best, shrimp truck on the North Shore.  Several people in our party agreed that Giovanni's is one of the better shrimp trucks.  The lines are long, but the food is worth the wait.  If you're up on the North Shore sightseeing at Shark's Cove, Turtle Bay, the La'ie Sea Arch, or just hanging out, Giovanni's is a great stop for lunch or dinner.  

Giovanni's started in 1993 from a converted bread truck and went from driving around the North Shore to settling in Kahuku in 1996.  Later they expanded with another location in Haleiwa.  One truck is at 66-472 Kamehameha Highway in Haleiwa and the other is located in Kahuku at 56-505 Kamehameha Highway.  Hours are from 10:30 am to 6:30 pm Monday thru Sunday.  And cash only, no credit cards here.

Since we were going to the Polynesian Cultural Center we stopped by the Kahuku location.  A word of warning: the lines are long.  Yes, it seems like several places we reviewed the lines are long, but that tells you how good is the food.  The wait can be from 45 minutes to 1 hour.  There are a lot of tables and benches, but there are also a lot of people.  

Check the menu items on the surfboard.  I'd definitely recommend the shrimp scampi, that is very tasty and the most popular.  If you like spicy foods, then the Hot and Spicy plate is for you.  I would say it's hotter than many creole or cajun shrimp dishes I've tried.  That warning "No Refunds" is no joke, but more on that later.  

You can also try their other sides like the garlic dog or macaroni salad.  This being Hawaii, you have a choice of getting a bun or rice with your hotdog.  If you're getting the Hot and Spicy plate, I would definitely get a side of macaroni salad and a drink to cool you off.  You can get a soda here or if you a coconut or shave ice try the other truck right next to Giovanni's.  Oh yeah, all those signatures are people leaving their mark.  It is has become a tradition of sorts that diners leave their mark on the truck.  

I wasn't sure who these guys were, but they're quick and cool.  A cool smoothie, shave ice, or a coconut goes well on a hot day or with a spicy plate.  

This was awesome.  They served a chilled coconut and give you a straw and cup to enjoy it.  It is a bit touristy, but this is Hawaii, so why not?

You can drink your coconut under the roof or under a plumeria tree.

Also while you wait for your food, you can check out  the stands around Giovanni's for souvenirs.  

And here is the Hot and Spicy shrimp.  I was surprised.  While I scoff at spicy dishes, this dish is HOT!  It almost overpowers the taste of the shrimp.  Despite the flaming sauce, the shrimp is well cooked and tender, not tough.  Just need to reduce that heat with a squeeze the lemon or a sip of coconut juice.  

Don't forget the sides.  The macaroni salad cools down your palate after taking a bite of spicy shrimp.  This and the coconut were essential to cooling you down if you're going to eat the spicy shrimp.  

The other side to try is the Garlic Dog.  This was okay, I expected more garlic, but it helped to break up the burning sensation between bites of the Hot and Spicy Shrimp.  

And finally, the Shrimp Scampi!  Look at the loads of garlic!  The shrimp was cooked well, tender and not tough.  The garlic was cooked well also.  Garlic will get bitter if overcooked, but it was a nice mellow flavor of garlic and butter.  Unlike some other shrimp places, the dish wasn't too greasy despite the generous serving of butter and garlic sauce.  A worthwhile stop during your trip to the North Shore.  

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Good Eats: Morimoto Waikiki

You might have seen Chef Masaharu Morimoto on Iron Chef or Iron Chef America, now is your chance to try his restaurant.  Chef Morimoto is known for his unique style of presentation which is influenced by his training in kaiseki (traditional Japanese multi-course meals similar to haute cuisine) and his travels in the United States.  He was the executive chef at the Sony Club and the head chef at Nobu in New York.  Here in Waikiki it's an open kitchen, so you might be lucky enough to see the Iron Chef himself (when he's in town).  We didn't see the Iron Chef, but I was impressed by the appetizers, desserts, and "traditional" Japanese/oriental dishes with a twist.  You could see his flair and imagination in those dishes.  

Morimoto Waikiki is located in the trendy Edition Hotel, I mean, The Modern Honolulu at 1775 Ala Moana Boulevard.  The Edition Hotel recently changed management and is now the Modern Honolulu Hotel.  I would recommend valet parking with the hotel.  Morimoto's will validate, street parking is non-existent on Hobron Lane, and the parking structure across the street gets full.  Morimoto is open for dinner from 5:00 pm to 10:00 pm Sunday to Thursday, 5:00 pm to 11:00 pm on Friday and Saturday.  They are open for lunch 11:00 am to 2:30 pm and breakfast from 6:30 am to 10:00 am.  You can call ahead for reservations at 808-943-5900.  I'd recommend making dinner reservations around 6:00 pm so you can see the sunset while you dine.

To start, we decided to try a flight of sakes.  This is the special sake selection that changes with the season.  The flight is meant to tasted from left to right, which is sweet to dry.  I think it's (left to right) Morimoto's junmai, ginjo, daiginjo, and I forgot the one on the end.  One person in our party (who shall not be named) really liked the ginjo sake the best.  

First the appetizers.  Here is the chef's sashimi, I think.  I can't remember what we ordered exactly, but it is layered sashimi, sauces in squeeze tubes, wasabi, and a mountain peach.  Each sauce is suppose to go with a layer of fish.  Squeeze the sauce on to your plate and use that to flavor a layer of sashimi.  The sushi was really good:  fresh and flavorful.  This dish was very inventive and very delicious.  

Moving on to the hot appetizers, the crispy rock shrimp tempura.  It comes with spicy kochujan (Korean spicy red pepper paste) sauce, wasabi aioli, and ranch dressing.  The hot and cruncy, red shrimp with ranch dressing reminds me of a playful version of buffalo wings.  

The next appetizer was foie gras chawan mushi with a dash of wasabi.  This is very rich and very good.  Chawan mushi (which literally means steamed in a tea bowl) is a traditional Japanese dish which savory egg-custard is steamed.  The custard is usually flavored with dashi, shoyu (soy-sauce), and mirin and topped with mushrooms, or in this case, foie gras.

Someone (who shall not be named) said that it wasn't like her mother's oxtail soup.  Of course not, mom isn't working in the kitchen so the soup will be different.  I'm not a big fan of oxtail soup, but I think the broth is suppose to be clear and it allows the flavor of the oxtail to come out.  The way to eat this dish is to pour the garlic rice in the soup and dip the oxtail into the soy sauce.  Someone else said this soup was a little heavier and had more shoyu (soy sauce) added for flavor.  

Speaking of flavor, I like extra flavor and spice.  So I ordered the seafood toban yaki.  Think of this as a spicy seafood stew or bouillabaisse.  I liked it because of the fresh seafood, the spicy sauce, and the broth.  Plus, you get crispy slices of bread to soak up the soup.  

The next dish was the crispy, whole steamed fish.  I was really impressed by this dish.  Traditionally a simple Chinese dish (I think), Chef Morimoto elevates this to an elegant meal.  The fish is steamed, deboned, and fried.  Deboned!  So you have a crispy outside with a warm, tender inside, and no bones to worry about.  Wow!  It's served on a spicy tofu sauce with a pickled papaya salad.  The dish is meant to be enjoyed by taking a bit of everything in one bite.  I really enjoyed this dish because I've tried to debone fish before steaming or (giving up on deboning) had to be careful of bones while eating.  This dish is like having your cake and eating it, too.  

And speaking of cake, or rather dessert, we have the chocolate peanut bombe.  It's milk chocolate cremeux and salted peanut ice cream with edible gold flakes.  Cremeux is french for creamy and usually chocolate cremeux is a rich pudding that has a texture between mousse and sauce.  In this case, the chocolate is inside a peanut (butter?) ingot topped with gold flakes and peanuts.  The chocolate goes well with the scoop of salted peanut ice cream on the right.

Being a coffee lover, I had to try the french-pressed kona coffee.  Ahhh, coffee heaven.  It's a nice finish to the sweet dessert.

And by this time, the sun is going down.  So you can enjoy the view, your french-pressed coffee, or a drink from the bar.  A good finish to our second meal here.  The first time we ordered the heavier, meat dishes.  

I was surprised that they were simple and unexpectedly plain (okay, I was impressed by the baked salt -crusted fingerling potatoes that looked like river pebbles).  Maybe that was to highlight the kobe beef or short ribs, but in my opinion it seemed to cater too much to stereotypical American tastes. The sauce on the short ribs was a little heavy for what I expected.  It depends on your preference.  So, I would recommend trying the Japanese/oriental fusion dishes if you really want to see something great; but if you want to get stuffed try the pork or kobe beef.  

Monday, September 12, 2011

Beaches: Ko'Olina Beach

There's a hidden beach at the far west end of O'ahu that is relatively unknown and uncrowded, it's the four lagoons at Ko'Olina Beach.  Part of the reason it's unknown is the beach is on a ritzy hotel and the Nanakuli/Farrington area acquired a bad reputation.  Unattended cars have a habit of getting broken into, but don't let that stop you from visiting this beach.  Though the lagoons are public, Ko'Olina is a private resort and since parking is on the property of the Ko'Olina resort, the parking lot is patrolled for added security.  Good thing about this beach is the parking is free, the waters are calm, and the beaches are relatively uncrowded.  

Ko'Olina Beach is located at the far south-west end of the island.  If you're in Waikiki expect to drive for about 1 hour to get here.  It's not the distance, but the traffic that slows you down.  The beaches have showers, bathrooms, and nearby restaurants, but there are no lifeguards on duty.  However, the beaches are sheltered by man-made lagoons, making this ideal for kids or new swimmers.  As a precaution, don't leave your valuables in the car despite the parking lots being patrolled.

Ulua (fish) Lagoon #4.  This is the busiest beach, being closest to the parking lot.  It's easy to spend the entire day here, just remember the parking lots close at sunset.  

Ulua Lagoon #4.  This was the busiest beach of the four, being closest to the parking lot.  However, this beach is not as crowded as Waikiki Beach.    There's a path that runs behind all the lagoons and goes all the way up to the Ko'Olina Resort.  

Walking down the path you come to Na'ia (dolphin) Lagoon #3.  I believe the beach chairs are reserved for the hotel guests, but it's still a great beach...

..and a great view.  Just watch out for the sharp coral and rocks.  As you can see, the waves are not ideal for surfing.  And be careful if you go past the lagoon, the current can pick up here.  

While you're by Lagoon #3, you can stop by Longboards for a bite to eat or drink.    

Continuing on the concrete path to the resort, you reach Honu (sea turtle) Lagoon #2.  This is the stereotypical Hawaiian beach: soft sand, gentle waters, and grass umbrellas.  Honu Lagoon was the most quiet and least crowded of all the beaches.  

Continuing on the path, you reach Kohala (whale) Lagoon #1.  In the background you see the J.W. Marriott Ihilani Ko'Olina Resort and Spa and the Aulani Disney Resort and Spa.  The Disney resort is new, I think they finished construction just last year.  The Ko'Olina Marriott has been here for awhile and is one of the top hotels on the island. It's louder here, I think the music came from the Disney hotel, maybe they were doing a show.  

But wait, there's more.  Keep walking to the end of edge of the resort property and you'll see a sign that directs you to a public beach

Follow this path around the bend to the shore.

And here is Lanikuhonua Beach.  This is a hidden beach, off the beaten path and away from the crowds.  I wouldn't call it a "hidden gem", it's not like Lanikai Beach, but it's quiet and less crowded than the Lagoons.  The waves picks up a bit at this beach, since it's not sheltered and the rocks are sharp.  

Despite the soft sand, this beach is rocky.  Not the best beach for swimming or wading.  However, the rocks make great tidepools and you can see fish, crabs, or even moray eels.  All in all, this is a great beach to check out and spend the day.  

Friday, September 2, 2011

Things to Do: Star of Honolulu Sunset Cruise

Since I surf, I didn't think too much of doing a sunset cruise.  I've seen sunsets while riding waves in the evening and best of all, it was free.  However, I forgot that not everyone has seen the same thing.  Some of my relatives haven't seen a sunset on the ocean.  Since we couldn't go on a fishing trip at the last minute (they love fishing), the next best way to get a boat was to book a cruise.  I was worried not catching fish would not go over well, but (surprisingly) everyone enjoyed the cruise.  I would definitely recommend this to anyone.

The disembarkation point and ticket office is located at Aloha Tower Marketplace.  You can park at Pier 7, 6, or 5.  If you park after 4:00 pm, then it's a flat rate of $4.  Or, if you're with a hotel, they have charter buses to the dock so you don't have to drive.  Boarding starts at 4:45 pm, latest boarding is at 5:15 pm, and the ship gets underway at 5:30 pm.  Don't be late, or you'll miss the boat.  The cruise returns for disembarkation at 7:30 pm.  

The reservation office is located right behind the Hooters bar near Pier 8.  Ticket pickup is at the reservation office, which is conveniently located right by the disembarkation point.  There are several packages to chose from:  the 5-Star Cruise, 3-Star Cruise, Star Sunset Cruise, and Pacific Star Cruise.  The difference in the packages were price, seating, food, and drinks.  The more stars, the more you pay and the more elegant the cruise.  If you want an elegant, formal cruise go for the 5-Star Cruise.  It has the best view with seats on the top deck, a good 7-course meal with 3 drinks included, but not recommended for children and men must wear slacks...and it's expensive.  

I'm looking to impress the relatives, but I don't have time to change into slacks.  Also, for the number in our party, the price of a 5-Star cruise is prohibitive.  But we're on vacation and it's okay to splurge.  The problem is slacks.  We're at Pearl Harbor and I don't have time to stop by the hotel and change.  My other option is going casual with the Pacific Star Cruise which includes a buffet, a drink, and it only costs $79.

Unfortunately, there were no seats available.  And besides, I'm looking to impress.  So I look into the next level up, which is the Pacific Star Cruise.  This includes a 3-course meal with crab and sirloin steak, plus one drink included for $89.50.  As an added bonus, there's an all-you-can-eat crab special going until December 2011.  Not bad.  This cruise is a decent, middle-of-the-road package.  Unfortunately, there were no seats available.  

So the only seats available were on the 3-Star Cruise.  For the 3-Star Cruise you get a table on the 3rd deck (with a great view), a 5-course meal, and two drinks.  Oh yeah, and there's the complimentary champagne to start the meal.  Also, you can go to the top deck for a great view of the water.  For all the packages, there is live entertainment during the cruise.

That's one of the things that makes the trip go well, were the drinks.  We tried a bunch, but remembered the lava flow because of the name and looks.  It tasted pretty good, but I forgot what was in it.  

The other thing that makes a cruise memorable is the food, or the availability of it.  There are tables with fruit, crackers, and cheeses set on the outer aisles.  While getting a small plate of appetizers, I walked around the deck to check out the view.

And what a view.  That's Sand Island State Park to the right, or starboard, side with the sun starting to go dow.  

Looking back, you see the other cruise liner, the Atlantis Navatek Cruises.  The catamaran design of the hull makes it more stable.  More stable means less rocking and less sea-sickness.  Though our ship has a traditional hull, the ocean is calm.  If you do get sea-sick, take dramamine or bonine.  Personally, I'd recommend bonine since it doesn't make you drowsy, but it's harder to find.  

On this trip, we didn't need to take anything.  Looking to starboard (right) side of the ship, you see the calm ocean and clear skies.  

Looking to port (left) you get a panoramic view of Waikiki.  

After pulling out of the harbor, the first course comes out.  It's a salad with Hawaiian greens and passion-fruit tarragon vinaigrette dressing.  Not too bad, the salad was fresh and the dressing tasty.  

And wow!  A 1-pound whole Maine lobster with butter and citrus ponzu sauce.  While I might complain about lobsters not being fresh (I've caught spiny lobsters at night and cooked them the next afternoon), I won't complain about the size of this lobster.  Spiny lobsters don't have the front claws, so with a Maine lobster you get more meat.  I thought this was cool, even though eating was messy.  Fortunately, the wait staff came around with extra napkins and wet wipes.  

After this course, a bell chimes to let people know they can go up to the top deck to see Waikiki at sunset.  The top deck got really crowded from everyone wanting to see the view, but it was still a great view.

There's not too many other places where you can see a sailboat and outrigger canoes at sunset.  

There's also binoculars on the top deck for sightseeing.

Good for checking out the sunset.  Okay, the sunset is not that great now, but give it a little while.  

The cruise will take you along Waikiki, then turns around at Diamond Head.  

On the way back, you see more sailboats and outrigger canoes.  Those guys in the canoe can paddle a long way out.

On the way back is when you really get to see the sunset over the ocean.  Now this is what made it worthwhile for the in-laws.  You could spend all evening up here, but there is dinner to think about.

When you come back, you get the main course, tenderloin steak with sweet madeira wine sauce, yukon and purple okinawan mashed potatoes, and steamed vegetables.  The steak wasn't kobe beef, but it was tender and tasty.  Myself and the relatives are full now, but there is one more course to think about.  

And the dessert.  Hawaiian mango mousse cake with white chocolate garnish.  It's soft and sweet, but without being too sweet.

There's also the onboard entertainment.  Our show lasted a little longer to let the lower decks leave first to prevent a traffic jam of people.  Many last minute ideas don't turn out well, but this one was a great idea.  If you want more information on sunset cruises, check out Star of Honolulu.