Thursday, March 31, 2011

Good Eats: Nobu Waikiki

This is the famed restaurant chain from Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa whose cuisine focuses on Pacific fusion with a Peruvian twist.  I've eaten at the San Diego branch and my personal opinion is that Waikiki branch is better.  The biggest difference: ingredients are fresh and local.  Keep in mind, that each location focuses on the regional ingredients and tastes so this is a matter of personal preference.

View Larger Map Located at 2233 Helumoa Road inside the Parc Hotel 
Nobu is located in the Waikiki Parc Hotel across the street from the Halekulani Hotel.  It's in a cul-de-sac near the beach between some of the bigger hotels.  I'd recommend valet parking, street parking here is difficult, if not impossible to find.  I'd also recommend reservations.  You can call 1-808-237-6999, email, or reserve a table through Open Table on your iPhone/iPad/Droid Phone.  Hours are from 5:30 pm to 10:00 pm Sunday through Thursday and 5:30 to 10:30 pm Friday and Saturday.  The bar is open everyday from 5:00 pm to 12:00 am.

Walking past the bar, you notice the impressive settings.  They say the chandeliers are inspired by sea urchins.  Nobu has a long list of awards and also has a long story behind it.  I won't get into all the details, but Chef Matsuhisa had to overcome several setbacks early in his career.  After one of his restaurants burned down, Chef Matsuhisa came to Los Angeles to work and settle his debts.  After nine years, he managed to pay off his bills and successfully opened his own restaurant, Matsuhisa.  It was through the success of his restaurant that Chef Matsuhisa met actor Robert DeNiro and Hollywood producer Meir Teper.  Together they convinced Chef Matsuhisa to open Nobu.  

Yes, Nobu is famous for their miso butterfish (cod), but we wanted to try something different.  So we tried the omakase (chef's choice).  We had two options for the omakase: regular and deluxe.  The difference between the two?  You get kobe beef (wagyu-style) with the deluxe option.  Being on vacation, we had to try it.  The first course was an otoro ahi tuna tartar, topped with caviar, sitting in a wasabi-soy sauce.  Otoro is higher grade of fatty tuna belly.  This was a excellent start, the richness of the otoro and caviar was balanced, but not overwhelmed, by the wasabi-soy sauce.  To finish, eat the yama momo (mountain peach) to cleanse the palate.  Be careful, it has a pit. So don't swallow the seed by accident.  

The second course is thinly slice red snapper with warm olive and sesame oil, chives, sesame seeds, and a tempura tomato.  I think the snapper is served raw and cooks in the warm oil as it is served.  Very tasty and the texture of the tempura tomato adds a nice touch.  

The third course was Kampachi sushi with an onion and soy sauce.  Kampachi is in the same family as yellowtail.  I liked the sushi and thought the sauce was very good.  Eu-jeania liked the sauce, but didn't prefer this fish.  She thought the Kampachi  was thick and dense, much like tuna, and would've preferred a softer fish.  If you prefer a softer fish, you might want to ask if you can substitute a dish.    

The next course was Alaskan King Crab tempura topped with red onions, resting in ponzu sauce and thinly sliced jalapeno peppers.  Wow.  Alaskan King Crab done tempura style.  That was a treat.  The jalapenos under the tempura was a spicy surprise, but didn't burn my palate.  The only complaint was from someone else (she'll remain unnamed) that said the sauce wasn't sweet enough.  I thought it was good.  

The next course is the Waygu-style beef.  Remember, it's Waygu-style, so not the same thing from Japan.  The steak was tender, but not as soft as kobe beef that I remember.  Regardless, I still that it was a good dish.  I think the that's a red spring onion on the side.  That is meant to be a palate cleanser and only the white part is suppose to be eaten.  The red part of the onion becomes fibrous, but I didn't care and it still tasted good.  

The next course is the assorted sushi and mushroom soup.  I wish the toro (tuna) was otoro instead of chu toro, but it was still good.  On the far right was the King Crab sushi.  That was something different and a nice treat.  The pleasant surprise for this course was the mushroom soup on the left.  The soup was a clear, miso(?) based soup that was very refreshing, tasty, and has a cooked shrimp hidden below the mushrooms.  

And finally the dessert, Dolce Marscapone.  Think of it as deconstructed cheesecake.  If you didn't catch a previous post, deconstructing a dish means that the same or similar ingredients are used, but presented in a different way.  You get a dish that looks different, but tastes the same.  In this case, it is marscapone cheesecake topped with honey caviar (that's the small globules of honey with gold flakes), liikoi sauce with seeds on the side, and almond and olive oil crumble.  A small portion of each is meant to be eaten with each spoonful.  It tastes just like cheesecake.

Remember, the menu depends on the regional ingredients.  If you want to check out more of the menu, visit their site at Nobu Waikiki.  All in all, a very good meal with good ambiance.  I'd recommend coming here, even if you've eaten at the other Nobu branches.  

Friday, March 11, 2011

Goods Eats In Search of Kobe: Yakiniku Hiroshi

No I'm not talking about Kobe Bryant, the professional basketball player who is the shooting guard for the L.A. Lakers, I'm talking about Kobe beef.  It was Kobe beef that caught Joe and Pamela Bryant's eye on a steakhouse menu and they decided to name their son after it.  Kobe beef is the famed marbled beef achieved by feeding cows beer and massaging them all day.  Only a select few restaurants serve Kobe beef in the United States and this is the search to find them.

First, a little bit about Kobe beef.  Kobe is one of the most well known of the five breeds of Wagyu.  Wagyu literally means Japanese cattle ("wa" meaning Japanese, "gyu" meaning cow) and was introduced to Japan to help with rice cultivation.  The breed of cattle is known for it's tender meat, high fat content, and strong flavor.  Kobe beef refers to the black Tajima-usi breed of Wagyu, raised following strict guidelines of the Hyogo Prefecture in Japan.  There has been some controversy over how the cows are raised.  Legend has it that in addition to the cows being feed beer and massaged, some cows are even played soothing music while being massaged with sake.  American ranchers dismiss those accounts saying high quality feed will yield the same results.

Whatever the case, only a few ranches outside of Japan are able to achieve "Wagyu-style" beef.  Since Japanese beef imports are banned from the US at the time of this writing, only Wagyu-style beef from American ranches are available in restaurants.  One American ranch that specializes in Wagyu-style beef is Snake River Farms.  And one restaurant that serves Snake River Farms beef is Yakiniku Hiroshi in Waikiki.  The portions are small, but it's about quality over quantity.

Yakiniku Hiroshi is located at 339 Royal Hawaiian Ave View Larger Map

The Wagyu-style beef is flown in weekly to Yakiniku Hiroshi.  And the beef is the top 1% of Wagyu-style beef from Snake River Farms.  You haven't had beef, until you're had Kobe beef.  A word of warning: you get what you pay for, this place will definitely put a dent in your wallet.

Yakiniku style is cooking your meat or vegetables over a wood, charcoal, or gas grill.  In China, Taiwan, and America yakiniku is referred to as "Japanese style barbeque".  While in Japan, it is referred to as "Korean barbeque".  Wherever it comes from, you can grill your meat and vegetables to your tastes.

They offer several grades of Kobe beef and even different parts of the cow.  If you like beef tongue or tripe you can get that here.  We decided to skip the tripe and instead try the Kobe beef.  We ordered the US Kobe "Toro" Kalbi and the US Kobe Kalbi.  On the left is the "Toro" Kalbi.  The "Toro" is the fattier grade and so it has "chunks" of fat in the cut.  On the right is the regular Kobe.  It is evenly marbled throughout the cut.  They will ask you if you want your strips seasoned with salt and pepper or marinated in their special sauce.  It's one or the other per order because one is a dry rub and the other is a wet marinade.  We tried both and liked it.

The correct way to cook your strip of Kobe beef.  Place your strip on the edges of the grill, let it sit for 3-5 seconds, then turn.  Remember, the beef is cut in very thin strips, so you don't need a lot of time to cook.  Also, unlike traditional yakiniku where the dipping sauces are already provided in small saucers, you have to ask for them here.  Yes, you pay a little extra, but it is only a little and the sauce is a nice touch.

Kobe beef has a high fat content, so you don't have to leave them on the grill long.  In fact, because of the high fat content of Kobe beef, cooking them in thin strips is the preferred method.  Big cuts are difficult to cook evenly, might cause flare ups, and burn the beef.
No longer than 5 seconds on each side will do, but if you see flames on your steak like in the picture above, it's too long.  Time to flip the strips to keep them from burning.

Be careful when you turn the meat over, you don't want it to break apart.  Gentle scrap it off the grill before turning it over.  You should get a nice sear on one side when you flip it.  Oh yeah, this was great steak.  It was juicer than any porterhouse or ribeye I've had before.  A guy I know said this steak was so juicy it tasted like butter.    

To go with your butter, one of the sides you must order is the roasted garlic.  I'm not sure what they do (I think they grill and salt it), but it is delicious.  It pairs well with the Kobe beef and beer.  

Don't forget to order the sides.  Of course, you need some vegetables to go with your steak.  Just need something to wash down all this good food...  

And what else to wash this down with?  A large 21.4 oz bottle of Asahi beer.  They even have an extensive wine list if you want an affordable $30 bottle of wine or if you want a $500 bottle, they have it.  All in all, excellent beef and a great meal.  

Reservations are highly recommended.  They are open from 5:30 pm to 11:00 pm and you can call ahead at (808) 923-0060.  No street parking because it's in the heart of Waikiki, but they validate if you park in the Waikiki Trade Center on Seaside Avenue.  Be sure to ask the parking maid if they validate for Yakiniku Hiroshi.  There are two parking structures close together, but only one accepts validation from Yakiniku Hiroshi.  

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Things to Do: Waikiki Aquarium

The Waikiki Aquarium isn't the biggest aquarium, nor does it have fancy displays, or dolphins, or great white sharks.  However if you have little kids, and many do, and they are driving you crazy, the Waikiki Aquarium will keep them occupied for a few hours so you can regain your sanity.  Best of all, if you're staying in Waikiki, it's a short walk or trolley ride away.  

The Aquarium is conveniently located at the end of Waikiki past the Zoo and before the Natatorium at 2777 Kalakaua Ave.  For those of you staying in Waikiki, it's a short walk by beach towards Diamond Head.  The Aquarium is open from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm, building closes at 5:00 pm every day, except it's not open on Christmas Day and during the Honolulu Marathon.  Admission for adults are $9, teenagers are $4, kids are $2, and babies (1-4 years old) are free but must be accompanied by an adult.

The Waikiki Aquarium opened on March 19th, 1904 and is the third oldest aquarium in the United States.  Considered state of the art at that time, the Aquarium highlighted the fish and sea animals that lived in the coral reefs native to the Hawaiian Islands.  During the early years, the admissions went to the State General Fund and not to the Aquarium.  Subsequently, the Aquarium's facilities deteriorated from neglect.  That changed in the 1990's when the Waikiki Aquarium underwent major renovation, an increased budget, a bigger permanent staff, and additional improvements in the early 2000's.   

Cost of admission includes an audio tour, which I would highly recommend.  Not necessarily for you, but for your kids.  They can run around the Aquarium while being educated and entertained.  Because the Aquarium is small, has one main hall, it's easy to keep track of your kids and hard for them to get lost.  Each exhibit has a number that you enter in the audio wand to start the tour.  

There is a small room that shows a video on the corals and other marine life.  Perfect to keep your little ones occupied.  Not so perfect if they want the DVD sold in the gift shop, but at least you can sit back while the kids are occupied.  

First stop the backbone of the Hawaiian Island reefs, corals.  Despite their rocky appearance, corals are delicate.  Corals are actually colonies made of thousands of small polyps that form calcium carbonate as their skeleton, providing a habitat for themselves and other marine animals.    

In this exhibit, you can use the magnifying glass to see the tiny polyps.  Here's the close up.  You can see the hundreds of little polyps as they move.  Some coral feed by catching plankton, but most feed by photosynthesis.  They need sunlight and is the reason  most coral is only within 30 feet of water.  

Coral colonies provide homes for other sea life.  Sea anemones grow on coral.  The sea anemones themselves provide a home for clown fish.  Here, you can tell your kids you found Nemo.  

Like I said, the audio tour isn't for you, it's for your kids.

One of the things you don't see everyday is the Moon Jelly exhibit.  This is one of the newer exhibits added during renovation to the aquarium.  Moon Jellies are distinguished by the four horseshoe shaped organs in their bell.  Those horseshoe are their gonads.

The also have freshwater jellyfish.  I think this guy is a golden jellyfish.  These little guys are fast.

I was a little surprised that these jellyfish were here.  These are sea nettles, the most poisonous jellyfish in the world.

And what would a Hawaiian aquarium be without a moray eel?  Moray eels are native to Hawaii.  Here is a dragon moray eel.  The eels look fierce, but are shy.  They open and close their mouth to pass water over their gills to breathe.  Morays get aggressive when it comes to eating or if someone sticks their hand in their face.  Their jaws have a hinge which lock when they bite down on something.  

The Aquarium even has the rare nautilus on display.  Nautilus are deep sea animals, normally living at depths of 980 feet (300 meters), rising to 330 feet (100 meters) at night to feed.  These animals are extremely sensitive to light, so NO FLASH when taking pictures.

The Aquarium also has tiny creatures on display.  Here is a small and colorful reef shrimp.  

And they also have seahorses.  That's not something you see everyday.  These guys are fast and constantly swimming around the tank.  

The shark tank here is smaller than I remember, only extending back about 15 feet.  The old shark tank extended back about 50 feet, was more open, and you could watch feeding time.  I think parts of the Aquarium are still undergoing renovation.

There still are sharks in this tank.  Hopefully, the shark tank will get expanded.  

I heard they should be finished in a few months and maybe they'll get more sharks. 

After you're done with the indoor exhibits, there are a few outdoor exhibits.  One of them is the Edge of the Reef tank.  This has six different reef habitats and assorted sea animals that live there.  

While the Edge of the Reef exhibit isn't large, it does have a petting zoo, the Edge of the Reef tank has a small exhibit that allows kids to pick up small reef animals.  Here, this kid has a small hermit crab in his hand.  

The Edge of the Reef tank can be a lot of fun for kids.  Just make sure yours doesn't fall in.  

One of the last exhibits outside is the harbor seal pool.  They have one harbor seal.  He spent most of his time laying out or swimming lazy laps around his pool.  

There's a lot more to see, I just didn't want to bore people with more pictures.  I'll leave that to your kids to find when you visit.  

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Good Eats: Hiroshi's Eurasian Tapas

This is one of the best restaurants in Honolulu.  This restaurant ranks among the elite and is in the same class as Chef Mavro's and Alan Wong's.  You might say at this level, the difference between elite and excellent is your personal preference.  If you prefer delicious food using local ingredients with a playful fusion/tapas twist, Hiroshi's Eurasian Tapas is the place to go.  The food here combines flavors from Italy, France, and, of course, Hawaii.  The menu is seasonal, so everything is fresh and changes from month to month.  Even the wine list changes from week-to-week to match the dishes.

Also, the tapas-style portions allow you to sample a little bit of everything.  Local politicians and business people eat here regularly and you might recognize some of the local movers and shakers when you dine.  Service here is very good and the wait staff is attentive without being intrusive.

An avid fisherman, Chef Fukui grew up in Japan and moved to Maui with his father at age 12.  Cooking ran in the family, as his father was a cook at the Royal Hawaiian and Sheraton Hotels.  Chef Fukui eventually started in the cooking industry, though as a humble dishwasher.  While dishwashing, he watched the chef create dishes and became inspired to create dishes himself.  He worked in several distinguished restaurants, earning awards along the way for his inventiveness, taste, and style.  You can see his inspirations in the dishes he creates.  

The restaurant's sommelier, Chuck Furuya, is the first of two master sommeliers in Hawaii.  Also, he is only the tenth person in the United States to pass the Master Sommeliers Exam.  The Exam is an arduous course consisting of a blind taste testing, a written exam, and a practical service exam.  Very few are chosen by the Selection Committee to take the exam.  Selection is rigorous and based on the applicant's preparedness, merit, and letters of recommendation.  Pairing wine with Asian food is challenging due to the light and subtle flavors, but Sommelier Furuya has done an excellent job.   

View Larger Map of Hiroshi's located at 500 Ala Moana Blvd
Hiroshi's is located in Restaurant Row at 500 Ala Moana Boulevard which is past Ala Moana and Ward Center.  There is street and underground parking.  Hiroshi's is only open for dinner.  Hours are every night from 5:30 pm to 9:30 pm.  Reservations are recommended (phone: 808-533-4476) or you can take a chance, just walk in and sit at the bar.  Check their website for specials events, they do Kona Crab nights or Local Special nights using only regional ingredients.  Also, Happy is from 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm.  This is very important, because all food items on the menu are half off!  I don't know how long this will last because you can't get food this good for that price for long.

For starters, you get crispy rice crackers with a tasty sesame, nori aoili.  This is simple, but surprisingly addictive.  Don't eat too much, you'll get full before trying the other dishes.

Good to start off with a salad.  Try the Hau'ula Tomato Salad.  It's a Hau'ula tomato, peeled and cut into segments on an ume shiso vinaigrette.  The tomato is meant to be pressed or dusted with Hawaiian salt (the red crystals in the middle saucer), and on the left Nalo Farms greens with creamy Nalo honey herb dressing.  I wasn't sure that the tomato would go well with the salt, but it does.  The greens and dressing are light and refreshing.  Below that is the Panko-Crusted Ahi wrapped in nori (seaweed) with braised celery, konbu and shiso resting on a kimchee lemongrass sauce.  It's hard to describe the panko-crusted ahi, but I think it is upscale version of ahi sushi.  Oh, and the sauce is excellent.  

Moving on to something heavier.  Definitely recommend the contemporary sushi.   On the left is the salmon.  On the right is the hamachi.  Traditionally, sushi is served raw, but here the fish was cooked and served warm.  The salmon was very tasty and the sauce was great.  

One thing you must try is the Seared Sea Scallops.  The Seared Sea Scallops are on top of a bacon-tomato takana ragout with kabayaki butter sauce and tobiko.  The sauce under the sea scallops is excellent and you'll be spooning it up after eating the scallops.  

One dish I really enjoyed was the Sous vide of Opakapaka.  Opakapaka is a local snapper highly regarded for it's smooth texture and clean, sweet flavor.  The meat of the fish is on the softer side, so if you like tender fish, this dish is for you.  Sous vide (french for under vacuum) is a method of cooking food in air-tight plastic bags in a hot water bath.  You won't get a sear or char as with an open flame, but you will get food that is moist and flavorful.  The fish rests on a cauliflower puree, with wilted tatsoi, bacon tomato vinaigrette, crispy bacon, fresh basil, and Hawaii salt.  

We also tried the pan roasted Opah or moonfish.  Opah is a more of a steak fish, so the meat is firmer, almost like tuna.  That dish came with Hau'ula tomato concasse, baby bok choi, ume musubi and ogo-miso ginger brown butter.  That ginger brown butter sauce was amazing.  So amazing, I forgot to take a picture.  Maybe next time.  

Another menu item that caught my eye was the Bacon Wrapped Jumbo Shrimp.  Not sure if it was apple wood smoked bacon or the ginger-scallion and sweet miso that gave the dish its sweet and tangy flavor, but it was tasty.  I must say that I was very impressed by the sauces throughout the meal.

Now on to the heartier dishes, the meat dishes.  Here is the New York Strip steak.  The steak had a good sear and went well with the light soy sauce, but the one thing that stood out was the potatoes au gratin.  It was excellent.  The potatoes were very smooth, creamy, warm, cooked evenly and cooked well.  I could eat a whole bowl of that.

One of the specialties is the Red Wine steamed Veal Cheek.  Think of deconstructed pot roast.  Deconstructed dishes are taking the same (or similar) ingredients, change their look or form, and put them together in a different way.  The look is different, but the taste is the same.  On top of the veal is a cilantro-pesto crust that adds a nice flavor.  The cheek rests on a bed of mashed potatoes in a pool of Asian succotash.  A very warm and hearty dish, this is comfort food taken to the next level.  

And a real crowd pleaser, the Braised Short Ribs Milanese.  There is a sunny side quail egg on top with shaved parmesan cheese, truffle oil, Waialua asparagus, mashed potatoes, and seasonal vegetables.  The meat was tender and juicy, the truffle oil added a nice flavor to the sauce and the dish.  Be careful of the tomato, it is dusted with crushed red peppers so it might be a spicy surprise.  In Eu-jeania's opinion, this is one of the best dishes on the menu.  

As for dessert, try the vanilla bean panna cotta with mango sorbet.  After a big meal, a light and refreshing dessert is just what you need.  I'd also recommend the Symphony of Sorbets which has a small scoop of all the sorbets on the menu.  There was more I wanted to try both on the dinner and dessert menu, but I was too full.  I'd definitely recommend going to Hiroshi's at least once when you visit.