Wahini's and Kane's! Hoaloha's! (Ladies and gentlemen! Beloved Friends!)
Let me just say - aloha livin' is like no other and I may never, ever return to the land of my birth. I feel that I've arrived at the spiritual homeland and I haven't even left Honolulu. Friends and family greet guests at the airport with fresh flower lei and kisses; an expression of the "aloha spirit" infusing daily life with a kind of grace I have never before experienced. During my time in Hawaii, everywhere I went (except for Canoe's) and in all the people I met, this feeling seemed to waft over and through me like a fragrant summer breeze ( http://www.geocities.com/~olelo/alohaspiritlaw.html).
I'm in Honolulu on business and am traveling with colleagues; two beautiful, fun, fabulous girls who much like me - love to eat. Both Julie and Barbara have spent quite a bit of time in Hawaii and between them have friends, family, and clients here. Julie starts us off by taking us to her favorite breakfast spot conveniently located just blocks from the Honolulu Convention Center. Eggs & Things is this totally inconspicuous little place that I never would have looked at twice, save for all the people waiting outside. We ate breakfast here almost every day. "Our pancakes are so light, we have to weigh them down with dairy fresh whipped butter and powdered sugar to keep them from floating." It's true. And the syrups - coconut, lemon, and berry - let's just say my eyes rolled back in my head and I made sounds right there at the table (http://www.eggsnthings.com/Menu/menu.htm).
Dinner with the Locals
That night we dined with a local friend at Indigo (http://www.indigo-hawaii.com) on the edge of modern downtown and historic Chinatown. The street was old Hawaii and the room, decorated with hand carved Indonesian wood panels, paper lanterns, rattan and bamboo, signaled the exotic culinary experience to come. I opened with a lychee martini. After the first sip, our host suggested I try the fruit. I lifted the skewer and proceeded to pop the lychee into my mouth whole. From the corner of my eye I see our host start to shake his head and wave his arms, but somehow it's too late. The crazy-sweet, cold fruit burst into my head with luscious, tropical flavor. With eyes squinched closed and head shaking vigorously side-to-side, I hear the entire table burst into laughter. Oh yeah, very funny. It's all a big joke until somebody puts out an eye.
Truly, the entire dinner was magnificent. Highlights include Goat Cheese Won Tons w/Four Fruit Sauce, melt-in-your-mouth Pork Medallions, and Black Mustard & Pepper Crusted Ahi Steak w/pesto, sundried tomato, and olive tapenade. The Ginger Creme Brulee was extraordinary.
I've included the recipe for the Goat Cheese Won Tons w/Four Fruit Sauce (delictable!).
Goat Cheese Won Tons w/Four Fruit Sauce
8 oz Fresh goat cheese
2 1/2 oz Sun dried tomatoes
2 oz Diced Green bell peppers
2 oz Diced Red bell peppers
Pinch Salt & Peppers
25 Won ton skins
4 cups Vegetable Oil
2 oz Diced Red bell peppers
1/2 grated Carrot
1/4 grated Zucchini
Four Fruit Sauce:
1/2 cup Pickled ginger juice
1/2 cup Red currant vinegar
1/2 cup Black currant vinegar
1/2 cup Blueberry vinegar
1 cup Granulated white sugar
1. Place vinegars and sugar into a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Turn heat down and simmer for 1/2 hour or until sauce has reduced by half. Taste sauce and add more sugar or vinegar if needed.
2. Chop the sun-dried tomatoes into small pieces.
3. Finely dice the peppers.
4. Blend cheese with tomatoes, bell peppers, salt and pepper.
5. Take a won-ton wrapper and place point toward you. Place a teaspoon of the goat cheese mixture onto the center of the wrapper. With your finger, moisten the edges of the skins with egg yolk. Take the point in front of you and fold it over to make a triangle. Squeeze the air out from the center and seal the filling, overlap the points and seal with egg yolk.
6. Fry in vegetable oil at 360 until golden. Drain on towels.7. Garnish with grated carrots and zucchini.
Next we have a business meeting; an informal affair that lasts for hours and involves delicacies I could never have imagined. Normally one tries to entertain one's clients. In this case, I'm clearly the one being entertained; although its likely that our clients found me to be a wee bit entertaining too.
Before our presentation we're treated to lychee picked fresh that morning. Only slightly wary after my previous day's adventure, I press my thumbnail into the thick, red skin, with curly-cue spines and start to peel. Surprise! It's a transluscent eye-ball!! This time I only take a little bite. Still sweet, but tart with the same unusual, tropical flavor. I love it! I eat two more before we move to the meeting room.
After our presentation, our gracious hosts take us to their favorite sushi restaurant - Sushi King (http://onokinegrindz.typepad.com/ono_kine_grindz/2004/04/sushi_king.html). On our walk over, we pass a florist and one of our hostesses takes me inside to show me the fresh flower lei. She has me smell several of the beautiful and fragrant lei and I'm amazed by the variety and splendor; plumeria, ginger, tuberose, orchid - I never knew!
Sushi King is known for its incredibly fresh and inexpensive Japanese fare. Our hosts are surprised that I'm such a sushi-lover and encourage me to try something I'd never eaten - Ama Ebi (sweet shrimp sushi w/fried head). Yes. I ate deep fried shrimp head. As a shrimperman's granddaughter, it seemed totally wrong. But as a good guest and adventurous eater I didn't think it wise to pass the opportunity by. Admittedly it was good, but it still seems wrong somehow and I'll probably never have it again . As we were waiting for the Ama Ebi to be prepared, one of our hostesses slips out of the restaurant and comes back with fresh lei; mine is plumeria and it smells absolutely divine.
The green tea at Sushi King was also unanticipated; it had a golden color and nutty taste. It was Genmaicha, a favorite green tea drink in Japan. Genmaicha is made with Bancha, a low grade greet tea mixed with toasted and popped rice. Our hostesses referred to it as Popcorn Tea (http://davidhayden.com/blog/dave/archive/2005/04/26/991.aspx). I found the savory flavor to be the perfect compliment to sushi. Try it the second you get a chance.
As our tea conversation progressed, it came out that one of our hostesses regularly drinks the expensive and exotic Pearl Tea (as it's known in China, not to be confused with Japanese bubble tea). Back at the office after lunch we were treated to a taste. At the bottom of my styrofoam cup I see tiny little brown spheres that when emersed in hot water unfurl like butterflies emerging from a cocoon. I'm filled with child-like delight. I leave the office with an entire bag of fresh lychee clutched in my hand, a cup of pearl tea, and the fragrant plumeria lei. I feel like I've been to the Fair. I practically skip to the rental car. Barbara and Julie laugh and tell me "Deborah, you're a case!".
I'm new to this sector of my industry and don't know a lot of the players yet. To meet new people, I decided to hold 3 dinner party sized dinners (8 to 12) and invite senior executives I'd never met. I also selected restaurants based on internet reviews. Error! Venue changes were required.
Fireworks & Fortunes Dinner Party
The first dinner went pretty well. At the Golden Dragon (http://www.hiltonhawaiianvillage.com/dining/golden-dragon.asp) we ate lobster curry and course after course of cantonese and szechuan delights. We were seated at an outside table overlooking Waikiki Beach and had the best seats in the house for the fireworks show. Unfortunately, my guests had arrived that day and were struggling to stay awake through dinner. Slow service sent my group packing before dessert. Sigh.
Sunset & Sails Dinner Party
I had to change venues for the second dinner because a dry run with Barbara and Julie at Canoe's (http://www.ilikaihotel.com/canoes.html) was a disaster. The parking lot view instead of the promised yacht club was an indicator. PhotoShop, Barbara reminded me, is an amazing thing. Quite obviously. The service was totally un-aloha. Staff were Soup-Nazi rude, completely lacking in knowledge, and slooooow-assed. I thought that perhaps the janitorial staff had taken over the restuarant. When I went to the restroom I checked the closet to see if our real waiter had been tied-up and gagged. No such luck. If I had been with clients, somebody would have been buried in the backyard.
Julie's friend, Mike, who treated us at Indigo recommended Sarento's (http://www.ilikaihotel.com/sorentos.html) as an alternate dinner location. Mike is a friend of the owner and kindly offered to make a reservation on my behalf. We dined in a private room on the 30th floor of the Illikai Hotel with a breathtaking view of Diamond Head. As dusk turned to dark, Diamond Head was replaced by the twinkling lights of Honolulu's skyline. Sweeeet. So was the Opakapaka. And the cashew crusted mussels. Haupia (Hawaiian coconut sorbet) was the perfect close to a lovely party.
Aloha Dinner Party
My final dinner turned out to be for a party of one. All the guests who RSVP'd were no-shows. Adding insult to injury, two ladies identified themselves as my guests (I assumed I'd missed them among the RSVP's), accepted two of my lei, told me they were going to step over to the pool to take a few pictures, and never came back. I stood in the lobby for nearly an hour pouting with my big box of fresh orchid lei.
Finally, I gave away the lei to guests in the open air lobby. The expressions of surprise and delight brightened my mood. I had a long conversation with a couple from Pennsylvania who told me that they would take me to dinner themselves if they hadn't just eaten. They thanked me and pointed out that it really was a gift to have the opportunity to make all those people so happy. I supposed it was true. By the time I left the lobby, I was smiling.
I got back to my room, stood on the balcony, and let the ocean breeze blow through my hair. I pouted for a while longer and then started to think about dinner. I decided that I didn't feel like leaving the hotel property, but would treat myself to the hotel's highest end restaurant - Bali by the Sea (http://www.hiltonhawaiianvillage.com/dining/bali-by-the-sea.asp). Hoaloha's! It was the right thing to do!
The hostess seated me at this charming little table with a panoramic view.
I was still a bit whiney when I selected the wine. I wanted a red, but was alone and had to drink by the glass. I had the choice of a Cab, a Merlot, or Pinot Noir. No selections within each category. With my lower lip protruding and quivering only slightly - I choose the Pinot. My server, Andrea, delivers the glass; I taste it and am unimpressed. I start to complain about the selection and he mentions the half bottles. Half bottles! You have half bottles! It would have been nice to know that! Do you realize 12, count them 12 (well, actually 14, but who's counting) people have stood me up tonight. I'm thinkin' I might drink a whole half bottle of wine you jerk!
Andrea gives me the dinner menu and retrieves the wine list so that I can consider the half bottles. I decide that I'm just irritated and that the Pinot is really quite lovely. I start to get happier. All around me are dinner parties of friends, family, and colleagues. I don't know any of them, but they are all smiling and happy. It's a white table cloth kind of place with beautiful robin's egg blue china and decorative accents. The room feels good. Two tables to my right are served a dessert that looks like a chocolate mountain with dry ice fog pouring out onto table and spilling to the floor. Pretty.
It's time to order, Andrea describes the special and answers a couple of my questions. One of my standards is - "What is your favorite thing on the menu?". Of the fish, he favors the Opakapaka - but I ate that last night. His very favorite by a long shot is the Rack of Lamb. Here's the description - Oven Roasted Colorado Rack of Lamb: Glazed with Passion Fruit Mustard, served with Molokai Purple Potatoes, Local Young Vegetables & Kona Coffee Scented Naural Jus Lie. I'm in - along with the Caesar Salad "Island Style": Fresh Kula Baby Hearts of Romaine served with a Black Pepper Tuile, Shaved Reggiano Parmesan and Bali Caesar Dressing.
At this point, I have arrived. I'm the happiest girl on the island. I'm sitting in this perfect little Miss Muffett spot, drinking my very fine Pinot Noir (which I neglected to get the name of), eating the breads with delicious butter. Long bread straws (fun!), baguette (French!), and Irish soda bread (I like this the best). The table to my left sings "Happy Birthday" to the guest of honor. The hostess stops by to see how I'm doing. She mentions that she loves the Irish soda bread too.
Refill on the wine, a crisp delicious Caesar salad, and then comes the spectacular Rack-of-Lamb. I take a bite - it's one of those transcendant experiences that defy description within a Cartesian reductionist framework. I renounce Descartes and his linear logic! That bastard of wine connesuierdom- Robert Parker - I renounce you too!! No lamb for you!! I spit at your notions of simple additions as a supposed index of spiritual experience. Pretention takes the mathematical ooenophile to the level of coarse peasant, incapable of putting the calculator down long enough to close his eyes and take a ride on the magic carpet.
The restraunt manager shimmers up to my table invisibly like Jeeves, "Is your lamb cooked to satisfaction, Ma'am?". "That - would - be - a- definitive -yes". I finish the meal, my legs are crossed swinging under the table, a smile on my face, hands behind my head, fingers laced together. One of my servers strolls by with the hostess. He points from across the room - "That girl is having a good time!". I laugh out loud. Indeed I am.
I order an Irish coffee and as I take my first sip it's as Gomer Pyle would say - Surpriiiise! Surpriiiise! Surpriiiise! It's a chocolate replica of Diamond Head erupting with chocolate truffles, chocolate dipped pineapple, kiwi, and strawberry. The cool dry ice fog rolls into my lap and I know that I am a favored daughter of the universe. The entire experience is positively exquisite.
As I leave with a box filled with the chocolate volcano, more truffles, chocolate dipped fruit, and fresh orchid I feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz leaving Emerald City. My servers are waiving their good bye's - "Deboraaaah! Aloha, Deboraaaah! Alohaaaa!"
It has all been so very lovely. But the time has come to click the heels of my ruby slippers and come home. Mahalo Hawaii! Maaahaaaaloooo!
Fish cake! Fish cake!
Rice and Spam.
Make me a plate lunch
As fast as you can!
Tu Tu Ne Ne
The Hawaiian Mother Goose