Sunday, August 31, 2008

Comfort Food at the Rodeo

What to eat when I'm back home from a vacation in Hawaii? Thai, Japanese and Korean are all out, since I've been eating them nonstop. But there are many foods they don't do well in Hawaii: pizza, Middle Eastern, Indian, and most of all, Mexican.

So, I head for one of my favorite comfort foods, Mexican breakfast. Rodeo Grill on Sunset in Echo Park may not be the best Mexican Breakfast in town, but it's darned good and convenient to my mid-city location. I love the breakfast burritos, bulging with egg and chorizo (Tacos Delta, just down the street does a comparably good version), but today, I go for chilaquiles. Yes, they are tortilla chips in sauce, red or green (both very good). They aren't quite as tangy and refined as the version you can get at Loteria Grill, but they are tasty nonetheless. And you even get them with a side of chips. That's right, chips in sauce with a side of chips.

Scoop up a bite of Rodeo's excellent refried beans, and I'm definitively back home.

Rodeo Grill
1721 W Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026
(213) 483-8311

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hawaii Journal: Wrap Up

Thanks for following along with Sku's Vacation Eats. I hope you enjoyed reading about it half as much as I enjoyed eating it. Here are a few last thoughts to anyone who is inspired to visit (or revisit) Hawaii with an eye toward food.

First, if you missed anything, here is a handy index to my Hawaii Journal:

Day 1: Eggs 'n Things*, Gina's B-B-Q, Poke at Tamura's

Day 2: Leonard's Malassadas, Keneke's, Waiola Shave Ice, Mekong

Day 3: Diamond Head Market & Grill, Honolulu Coffee Co., Kua 'Aina Sandwich Shop, Island Fruit

Day 4: Ono Hawaiian Food, Chinatown Report

Day 5: Sekiya's Okazuya, Northshore Report (Giovanni's Shrimp Truck & Matsumoto's), Coco Puffs at Liliha Bakery

Day 6: Ode on a Spam Musubi, Gyotaku, Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin

Day 7: Sanoya Ramen, Side Street Inn

Day 8: Brunch at the Prince Court, Tokkuri Tei

Day 9: Dim Sum at Mei Sum, Gulick Deli, Shave Ice at Keneke's, Diamondhead Market and Grill

Day 10: Roadside fruit, Romy's Shrimp Hut, Chantilly Cake at Liliha Bakery and Sam Choy's

Day 11: Fukuya for the Plane

*Shortly after my trip, Eggs 'n Things announced on its website that it would be closing at the end of August and reopening with new ownership and at a new location this fall. I just hope the new owners don't fool with the mac nut pancake recipe.

Hawaii Food Resources

If you are interested in more Hawaiian food tips, there are a few excellent resources out there.

1. Books

Over the years, there have been many, many Hawaii restaurant guides, but two of the best that are currently in print are, in no particular order:

The Food Lover's Guide to Honolulu by Joan Namkoong is one of the best Hawaii food books I've ever seen. More than a restaurant guide, it discusses the various foods of Hawaii and tells you where to shop for and eat them. It is full to the brim with all you need to know to understand and seek out the best that Honolulu has to offer. Namkoong is clearly our type of people as reflected by the excellent recommendations in her book.

The Puka Guide: 100 Hawaiian-Style Hole-in-the-Wall Restaurants by Donovan M. Dela Cruz and Jodi Endo Chai is a massive list of diners, okazuyas and other little joints with excellent local food. The 2007 edition is an expanded update of their first Puka guide and their companion guide to Okazuya. The descriptions are pretty bare bones, but they give you all the information you need to find good cheap eats in Hawaii. Unlike Namkoong's book, this guide covers the entire state, though the emphasis is certainly on Oahu.

2. Blogs

There are a number of Hawaii food blogs, and I can't claim to have fluency with the whole world of them. After all, I'm already reading LA food blogs and whiskey blogs...I do have a day job, you know. But there are a couple of Hawaii blogs that are definitely worth following:

Ono Kine Grindz is the granddaddy of Hawaiian food blogs, one of the first and best on the scene. Unfortunately, a few months ago, the blogger announced that he no longer had time to post there and would discontinue the blog. Since then, the postings have picked up a bit, though they are much more sporadic than they used to be. The fantastic blog archive is still up though and is a great resource. Google nearly any restaurant in Hawaii and you're likely to come up with an Ono Kine Grindz posting.

The Tasty Island is another excellent Hawaii food blog. Along with restaurant reviews, they do fun things like taste tests of the different lunch meat musubis. And you've got to love a blog that, instead of rating with stars, uses little spam musubis.

Island Travel Tips for Good Eats

This is just my two cents based on many years of travelling to Hawaii as a tourist who wants to eat like a local:

  • Locate yourself for maximum eating. There are good eats to be found all over the islands, but there is a greater concentration where the people are concentrated, in the greater Honolulu area. If you are staying in the North Shore or Ko'olina, you will have to do more seeking and more travelling to get a wide variety.

  • Get a car and get out of Waikiki. Waikiki is a beautiful beach and, while there are a few good eateries on the strip, it is dominated by chain restaurants and tourist traps. Hawaii has not only great eats but amazingly beautiful mountains and remote beaches that you can access by car. Ninety-five percent of tourists never leave Waikiki except for quick jaunts to Haunama Bay, the Dole Plantation and Pearl Harbor. Don't be one of those people. Many of the great eats in my journal were just a ten to fifteen minute car ride from Waikiki. Your exploration will be rewarded.

  • Do you keep kosher or halal or are you a vegetarian? If so, you may want to consider another vacation spot.

  • Consider a condo or a hotel room with a refrigerator and microwave. Taste more variety by taking home leftovers

  • Don't pay to go to a luau. Don't! You will see a cheesy show with mediocre food. Instead, get yourself to Ono Hawaiian. For a fraction of the price of some hotel luau, you will get far better food. If you are interested in Hawaiian culture, check out the Bishop Museum which includes displays on Hawaiian history and culture and sponsors hula and other cultural activities for all ages.

  • Mahi Mahi is not dolphin. It is dolphin fish, totally different creature, so don't sweat it; you're not eating Flipper.

  • Lastly, love the pig and do not fear the spam!


To just a few of the places I missed this trip but that are worth a visit:

Young's Fish Market
1286 Kalani Street
Hololulu, HI

Hawaiian food joint, kalua pig, lau lau, Okinawan sweet potato, etc.

2671 S. King Street
Honolulu, HI

Creative pan-Southeast Asian fusion and great ice creams. Mid-level price wise.

Alan Wong's
1857 S. King Street
Honolulu, HI
(808) 949-2526

If you have room to splurge for a meal, you must go to Alan Wong. More than any individual chef, he brought Hawaiian cuisine to a new level by blending classic techniques with local ingredients and traditional dishes. And if you are used to the occasional splurge on a high end restaurant in LA, you will be pleased with the price.

Agnes' Portuguese Bake Shop
46 Ho'olai St.
Kailua, HI
(808) 262-5367

The best malassadas on the island come from this Kailua bakery. Being doughnut shaped, rather than spherical, allows for more surface area to be fried crispy and delicious. I am probably sadder to have missed this place than anyplace else this trip.

What a great vacation! I hope you enjoyed my virtual meals. Thanks to all the Hawaii residents who have made the islands such a food-lovers paradise.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hawaii Journal Day 11: Something Special in the Air

Day 11: Wednesday

Well, this is it, the end of vacation in which we say a fond farewell to the beautiful beaches, mountains and plate lunches of Hawaii, but not without a parting taste.

Given that airlines no longer provide any free food, making you shell out money for a collection of sub-par chips and cheese-food products, it pays to bring meals on long flights. And what better meal to bring on a flight than okazu?

Airplane Lunch: Fukuya Delicatessen and Catering

In years past, my favorite okazuya was Ebisu on King Street, but I was sad to learn that it was no more. As a result, as you may have noticed, I spent much of this trip searching for new okazuya, places with reliable musubi, fried foods and other delectables. One of the best I found was Fukuya. In front of our jealous fellow passengers we devoured mochiko and regular fried chicken, buttery shoyu fish, musubis and various fried bits. A fitting end to a lovely trip.

Fukuya Delicatessen and Catering
2710 S. King Street
Honolulu, HI 96826
(808) 946-2073

Tomorrow: A Hawaii Wrap-Up

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Born in the USA Part 4 -- Parker's Heritage

Heaven Hill is the only distillery I know that is comparable in quality to the great Buffalo Trace. The Hill is known for great whiskies like Evan Williams, Elijah Craig and Rittenhouse Rye. One of their newer offerings is one of their first cask strength Bourbons, Parker's Heritage. Parker's is named for the distillery's master distiller, Parker Beam of the legendary Beam family.

Heaven Hill is known for producing huge flavors in their whiskies but, unfortunately, is also known for inconsistency from bottle to bottle. The Parker's I tried was issued in 2007.


Parker's Heritage Collection, Cask Strength, 61.3% alcohol (Heaven Hill), approx. $75.

Aroma: Pow, right in the kisser. Giant oak, anise, mint, quite an herbaceous quality to it; this thing is packed with aroma. The taste does not disappoint, with the same strong notes. A touch of water really brings out the sweetness, which is less apparent in the undiluted state. It's as complex a whiskey as I've had and each time I have a glass, a new flavor reveals itself to my palate.

This is a WOW whiskey. I'd put it up there with Stagg in terms of the great Bourbons. Nice work Heaven Hill!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Hawaii Journal Day 10: Of Shrimp Trucks and Celebrity Chefs

Day 10: Tuesday (The last full day of our vacation)

We enjoyed the North Shore so much that we headed back up to hang out at the beach, hike up to some Hawaiian ruins and eat shrimp.

Breakfast: Roadside Fruit

Before there were farmers' markets in Hawaii, there were unofficial farmers markets. Across the windward (east) side of the island, there were little stands where people would sell the mangoes, guavas, coconuts and bananas from their backyard trees. This network of stands still exists, and they are a great place to get fresh Hawaiian fruit. At the stand pictured, between Kahuku and Haleiwa on the North Shore, we got fresh, young coconut and beautiful, pink fleshed guavas. My favorite part is, after you drink your coconut juice, watching the proprietor bust open the nut with a giant machete, making moves that would surely cost me a limb or too, to get the precious young, gelatinous flesh.

Beware though, that roadside stands that offer pineapple probably picked them up at the supermarket or the Dole plantation. Unlike the rest of these fruit, which grow on backyard trees, it is takes a fair amount of cultivation to grow pineapple (at the stand I stopped at, they were still in the Dole boxes).

Lunch: Romy's Kahuku Prawns and Shrimp Hut

If I had enough time or if I ever move to Hawaii, my first chowish adventure will be to try all of the shrimp trucks on the North Shore. But since I only go for a few weeks and often make only one or two North Shore trips, I always end up at the irresistible Giovanni's (see Day 5).

This time, I swore it would be different, so I stopped at Romy's in Kahuku. Though technically a hut and not a truck, Romy's serves the shrimp scampi and spicy shrimp dishes that are shrimp truck staples. I ordered the scampi so as to better do a direct comparison with the beloved Giovanni's.

The shrimp at Romy's, which is located in a field of shrimp farming ponds, is excellent. They are bigger, more succulent and seem fresher than Giovanni's, and Romy's gets points for leaving the heads attached. I also enjoyed the spicy shoyu sauce accompaniment. In terms of the totality of the dish, however, there is no comparison. Giovanni's takes it away. There is something about the Giovanni's preparation that makes the oil and garlic cling to the shrimp, while Romy's less garlicky sauce spills off onto the rice. At Giovanni's, you want to suck every last morsel of sauce off of the shrimp before peeling it. At Romy's, the flavor just isn't there. It's a nicely cooked shrimp in a nice setting, but it's no Giovanni's.

Romy's Kahuku Prawns and Shrimp Hut
56-781 Kamehameha Highway
Kahuku, HI

Dessert: Liliha Chantilly Cake

For dessert we headed back to the Liliha Bakery on our way back from the North Shore. As I discussed on Day 5, I love the Liliha Coco Puff, and I am intrigued by the mind blowing chantilly topping. Traditionally, chantilly is a vanilla whipped cream, but Liliha's chantilly is so much more than that. It is more gloppy and grainy than a whipped cream. It is at once sweet and salty. I stop, mid-bite, to savor and ponder its flavor.

Given my fascination with this topping, I decided I must try Liliha's chantilly cake. The cake is a chocolate chiffon layer cake, layered with what is probably vanilla pudding and frosted with my beloved chantilly. I was grateful to have all of that chantilly in one place, but I have to say that the combination did not work as well as the coco puff. I missed the sweet, richness of the chocolate pudding that contrasted so well with the saltiness of the chantilly. On top of that, I'm not a huge fan of chiffon cake; I find it light and flavorless. When a cake is brown, I expect it to taste like chocolate, and chiffon cake has only the slightest hint of flavor. But I still scraped off every last bit of chantilly.

Liliha Bakery
515 North Kuakini Street
Honolulu, HI 96817
(808) 531-1651

Dinner: Sam Choy's Brekfast, Lunch and Crab

Sam Choy is sort of the clown prince of Hawaiian cuisine. He was one of the new wave of chefs, with Alan Wong and Roy Yamaguchi, who pioneered the mixture of Hawaiian traditional foods with classical techniques. I was a big fan of his Diamondhead restaurant back in its heyday, with its brie won tons, fried poke and macadamia nut crusted opakapaka. In the process, Choy became sort of the Emeril of Hawaii. He appeared on TV (including on Emeril Live), and he even has a motto: "Never trust a skinny chef."

But it appears that Choy has fallen on hard times. Earlier this year, his more formal Diamondhead restaurant (formal for Hawaii, that is) closed and his original Big Island eatery is also gone. That leaves Choy's brewpub, Breakfast, Lunch and Crab, as his only Hawaii outlet (he has one other restaurant on Guam). In the fall, he will rename Breakfast, Lunch and Crab "Sam Choy's" and renovate it. For now, some of the aforementioned classics have been added to the BLC menu.

We stopped by Breakfast, Lunch and Crab for their regular keiki (kid's) night. The concept is simple and delightful to parents - we get to eat good food, the kids get to play, get balloon animals, etc. Of course, if you don't have kids you should stay away unless you simply love the thought of huge numbers of children running around and yelling. (Though it must be said that Chris da Clown makes the best balloon animals anywhere).

I've been to Choy's many times and it's always enjoyable, but it has lost much of its excitement. The classic dishes have been around a long time and there has not been much effort to expand the menu with new and exciting fare. Fifteen years ago, Choy's food felt fresh, exciting and, perhaps most of all, playful. Now it seems old and worn out. He is in need of inspiration.

Still, the food was good, if not innovative. Choy is a master with island fish and the kalbi cooked butterfish was a nice piece of butterfish, seasoned to taste exactly like Korean kalbi. Fried oysters were thick and meaty and crab stuffed fish with a shitake cream sauce was nicely done.

I'm hoping that the renovation will reinspire Choy to create some new and exciting menu options. I know he has it in him, and I look forward to the new Sam Choy's.

Sam Choy's Breakfast, Lunch and Crab
580 N. Nimitz Highway
Honolulu, HI 96817
(808) 545-7979

Tomorrow: Something Special in the Air

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Hawaii Journal Day 9: Dim Sum and More

Day 9: Monday

So, the trip is winding down. Today is the second to last full day. It's time to start winnowing the choices and going back to any places we simply can't resist.

Breakfast: Mei Sum Dim Sum Looks Fun

If you are a regular reader, you know that both my oldest daughter and I are big dim sum fans, so we headed back to Chinatown for a morning of dim sum. Mei Sum is a small restaurant, a far cry from the usual palaces, with a fairly typical dim sum menu; while they do have carts, at least during off hours, you order off the menu. We had all the standards, served in bamboo steamers, which was refreshing as most everywhere you go these days has metal steamers. The dim sum was good, though nothing too different from what we're used to in the San Gabriel Valley. The one thing Mei Sum excelled at was look fun, the wide rice noodles that encase various meats. The look fun at Mei Sum were delightfully greasy and porky with a great, chewy texture. We had two look fun dishes: shrimp and char siu. The char siu was stuffed with julienned pork strips...great stuff. My guess is that these were hand made look fun, either made in-house, or more likely, made by the nearby Ying Leong Look Funn Factory, one of the last factories making handmade fun.

Mei Sum
65 N. Pauahi St.
Honolulu, Hawaii 96817
(808) 531-3268

Lunch: Gulick Deli

With our time here growing short, we really had to start getting to places if we wanted to visit. One of the things we definitely wanted to do was spend a day on the beautiful beaches of Kailua on the windward (east) side of the island. Unfortunately, we chose to do this on a Monday, and my two favorite Kailua eateries, Kuulei Delicatessen and Agnes' Portuguese Bake Shop (for malassadas), are closed on Monday.

Instead, we brought food from yet another Honolulu okazuya. There is really no better beach food than okazu. You pick it up early, it's good luke warm, and you can wipe the grease off your fingers in the ocean.

Gulick Deli is an esteemed okazuya in the Kalihi neighborhood which now has a branch on King Street. We stocked up for the beach trip with all manner of okazu from chow fun to fried shrimp. Unfortunately, most of it was just average. There were a few stand outs, though. The spicy chicken, a fried, sweet glazed chicken was very good, as was the butter fish. Butter fish is an extremely oily fish, related to Chilean sea bass and black cod. The appropriately named fish melts in your mouth like...margarine. My experience has been that it's good almost everywhere; Gulick served its butter fish as broiled steaks.

Gulick Deli
1936 S. King Street
Honolulu, HI 96826

Dessert: Shave Ice at Keneke's

On our way back from Kailua, we had a hankering for shave ice, so we stopped by Keneke's in Waimanaolo (see Day 2 for a review of their excellent plate lunch). I know I've had Keneke's shave ice before, but I had no discernible memory of it, which means it was at least 20 years ago.

Well, it turns out, they do a fantastic shave ice. The flavors were crisp and rich, the ice texture was soft and the quantity of ice cream and beans was good. Instead of whole azukis, Keneke's uses a mashed beans paste, which has the unfortunate quality of looking much like canned, refried beans, but the taste is pure azuki. This shave ice certainly rivals the best on the island. It will become a regular part of my Keneke's visits.

41-857 Kalanianaole Highway
Waimanalo, HI 96795
(808) 259-9804

Dinner & Dessert: Diamondhead Market and Grill

Ever since my first visit to Diamondhead Market and Grill on Day 3, I've been obsessing over it. It's definitely the most exciting new place I've been this trip, and I know that the next time I eat a scone in LA, I will sigh dreamily thinking of the wonder that is the Diamondhead blueberry scone.

Given all of this, I wanted to try their dinner plates. We ordered a teriyaki chicken burger, a teri hamburger and a kalbi plate. All of these were good, but none was excellent. Breakfast is definitely the thing to get at the Grill.

For dessert, we bought a few treats at the adjacent market. These were great. The blueberry cheesecake is lusciously creamy with just a dollop of pureed blueberries. The haupia sweet potato pie is a shortbread crust topped with a layer of Okinawan sweet potato and some very good haupia (coconut pudding) - a dessert with real Polynesian roots. The Diamondhead tort is essentially a banana cream pie with peanut butter; even though I'm not a big banana fan, and it was very strongly banana flavored, the salt of the peanut butter served such a good counterpoint to the bananas that I munched it down.

So got to Diamondhead Market and Grill for breakfast and dessert, but skip the dinner plates.

Diamondhead Market and Grill
3158 Monsarrat Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96815
(808) 732-0077

Tomorrow: North Shore Part II and a Rotund Chef

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hawaii Journal Day 8: Sunday Brunch

Day 8: Sunday

Brunch: Prince Court at the Hawaii Prince Hotel

One of the things I like to do on vacation is go to a Sunday brunch buffet. I'm usually not a buffet-fan, but I like the selection of sweet and savory. On Oahu, the universally acclaimed best brunch is the Orchid Restaurant at the Halekulani Hotel, but Orchid is expensive ($50 per person) and it is hard to get reservations.

My alternative choice for brunch is the Prince Court at the Hawaii Prince Hotel. It serves a diverse selection highlighting both traditional brunch foods and Hawaii's native and Asian influenced cuisine. Surprisingly, for a hotel brunch spot, the crowd is heavily local (mostly there for special occasions), and it has a nice view of the harbor below. In addition, the Prince Court is easier on the wallet ($35 per person) and while you still need reservations, you can usually get them by calling a week in advance.

This year's Prince Court Buffet featured hot and cold buffets as well as stations for sushi, omelettes, prime rib, saimin and dessert. Highlights were two excellent pokes (ahi and tako), a very good Korean barbecued kalbi and sushi rolls made to order. Among the desserts, there was excellent bread pudding and a good coconut haupia cake. My favorite dessert, though, was the macadamia nut cream pie. It had a shortbread crust with a caramel and mac nut center and was topped with chocolate and then whipped cream. Usually, a hotel buffet contains competent versions of a standard repertoire of desserts, but the mac nut cream pie stood on its own.

Prince Court
Hawaii Prince Hotel Waikiki
100 Holomoana St.
Honolulu, HI
Make Reservations: (808) 944-4494

Dinner: Tokkuri Tei

After a huge lunch, we opted for sushi for dinner from Tokkuri Tei, a Kapahulu joint with a menu featuring not just sushi but a variety of hot dishes as well. They also offered a dish intriguingly called the Baked Alaska Roll. Still being fairly stuffed, we opted for a pretty standard sushi dinner. The stand out was definitely the toro. It was a fattier cut of fatty tuna than I'd ever had before, literally melting in your mouth. Unfortunately, the uni was off, and that left a literal bad taste in my mouth.

Tokkuri Tei
611 Kapahulu Ave.
Honolulu, HI 96815
(808) 739-2800

Tomorrow: Dim Sum and More

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hawaii Journal Day 7: The Side Street Inn Fried Pork Chop

Day 7: Saturday

Lunch: Sanoya Ramen

We were feeling like ramen for lunch so we headed to Sanoya, a small joint with a sign touting handmade noodles. Pork ramen came in a rich, ultra-fatty pork stock. The noodles were nice and chewy. Yakisoba was a bit too charred and had a burnt, carbony taste which I didn't like. Gyoza, though, were quite nice.

Ramen is one of those things where I've never found anything in Hawaii better than we can get at the best places in LA, but we keep searching.

1785 S King St, #4
Honolulu, HI 96826
(808) 947-6065

Dinner: Side Street Inn

A few years ago, when I first visited the Side Street Inn, it was sort of a local secret. A typical plate lunch service by day, at night, it turned into a bar with amazing food that attracted some of Hawaii's greatest chefs after hours. It was bar food with a Hawaiian twist. Lilikoi basted spare ribs, fried rice and a marvelous fried, breaded pork chop. Well, the jig is up. Side Street Inn is officially on the map, at least the foodie tourist map. It's in Frommer's, Anthony Bourdain went there on his Travel Channel Show, and so on and so forth. The good news is that none of this has affected the food or atmosphere at Side Street.

Literally housed on a side street, a semi-industrial strip of Hopaka with no parking whatsoever (park at the east side of the Ala Moana Shopping Center), Side Street is a great little place. The fried pork chop is all it's chopped up to be, a well seasoned, breaded chop served sliced on the bone. Compared to yesterday's Japanese tonkatsu, a pounded piece of cutlet, the Side Street pork retains more of its natural pork flavor; it's less about fried and more about pork.

Side Street also dishes out excellent yakisoba, served with pink strips of char siu and fish cake and topped with cilantro.

One of the things I look forward to most at Side Street is the fried rice, probably the best I've ever had. It's cooked with bacon and has big pieces of sausage mixed throughout. All of this, of course, pairs well with cold beer, as it should be. It may no longer be a hip secret, but it's still a great meal.

Side Street Inn
1225 Hopaka
Honolulu, HI
(808) 591-0253

Tomorrow: Sunday Brunch

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Born in the USA Part 3 - Jump on the Pappy Van

Under federal regulations, Bourbon must be made from a mix of grains composed of at least 51% corn. What is in the other 49% is up to the distiller. Usually, the corn content is quite a bit higher than 50% and the remainder is filled in with some mixture of other grains (rye, barley (malted and un), wheat, etc.).

In most Bourbons, rye is the major secondary grain. You can really taste this in a Bourbon like Buffalo Trace, which has a strong rye kick to it. In others, a smaller but distinguished group, the major secondary grain is wheat. Known as wheaters by aficionados, these Bourbons replace the strong spice of rye with the subtle sweetness of wheat.

Makers' Mark is probably the most widely known of the wheaters, but among the most loved is the Van Winkle series, made by Buffalo Trace, including Old Rip Van Winkle and Pappy Van Winkle Bourbons.

Like many Bourbons, Van Winkle has a rich heritage. It is named for Julian Van Winkle, an elder statesman of the now closed Stitzel-Weller distillery which produced WL Weller Bourbon, which is also now produced by Buffalo Trace. The Van Winkle Bourbon is still made in conjunction with the family.

The Van Winkle line includes Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year old and 10 year old 107 proof, Van Winkle 12 year old, Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye Whiskey and Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15, 20 and 23 year olds. I tried the Pappy Van Winkle 20 year old.


Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve, 20 year old (Buffalo Trace), 45.2% alcohol ($70-$80)

The Pappy nose has lots of alcohol for its relatively low abv. Overall, the aroma was not very assertive. Very nice flavor with, indeed, no rye spice in evidence. Still, it's less sweet than I expected. There is an acidic, almost tannin like flavor to it that gives it a bit of a bite and the effect of a well aged Zinfandel, the type of wine that is almost chewy. Sweetness emerges only in quick glimpses. It's more savory than sweet which differentiates it from many other Bourbons in the Buffalo Trace line. This characteristic also flies in the face of the commonly held notion that wheaters are always sweet.

This is a Bourbon that conflicted with my expectations in many ways. The lack of pronounced sweetness, the wine-like qualities and the lack of rye gave it a different flavor profile than most other Bourbons I've had. An interesting whiskey indeed.

So find a bottle and jump on the Van.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Hawaii Journal Day 6: Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam (and Pork)

Day 6: Friday

Breakfast: Ode on a Spam Musubi

Oh, to embrace the salt and the pork,
With a pillow of rice and a casing in nori,
I run from Okazuya with plastic spork,
To bask in your wondrous canned pig glory.

The glistening skin sweating with soy,
beckons me from the glass case at Seven Eleven,
I yearn to embrace your fatty pig-joy,
And ascend into Monosodium Glutamate heaven.

Some turn askance and say they can't love you,
You're just an amalgam of stray hooves and snouts,
But I say there is none that can stand above you,
The island breakfast treat, I cannot live without.

Every vacation, I run around eating Spam musubis. In the past, some of my favorites have been Caryn's Okazuya and those carried by the supermarket in Haleiwa. This year, I tried musubi at the ABC Store (Waikiki), Diamond Head Market (Spam and Egg), Fukuya Deli (2710 S. King St.) and Gulick Deli (1512 Gulick Ave.). Of those four, my favorite was Fukuya, which had well seasoned Spam and a good rice/Spam/nori balance.

Lunch: Gyotaku

We grabbed bento box lunches from the Gotaku Japanese restaurant. Highlights included mochiko (fried) chicken (top left) and a nicely spiced, if a bit dry, salmon (top right). A solid, if not thrilling, take out lunch.

Dinner: Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin

For dinner, we decided to continue our porcine theme with some tonkatsu, Japanese deep fried, breaded pork cutlet. Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin is a new, local branch of a small Japanese chain (three stores in Japan, one on Waikiki). The highlight was the pork tenderloin katsu. A tender, lean cut of pork tenderloin, panko breaded and double fried to crispy perfection. Dab it in Ginza Bairin's home brewed dipping sauce and enjoy. The traditional gin-katsu, pork loin, is a bit more fatty and less tender than the tenderloin. We started with some similarly fried oysters and also got a serving of the enormous fried shrimp which were nearly the size of corn dogs.

Yet another porky sensation in Hawaii, though at a price. The pork entrees, which include miso soup, pickles and rice, run from $15 to $20 and $32 for the special Kurobuta Pork loin, which we did not try.

Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin
255 Beach Walk
Honolulu, HI 96815
(808) 926-8082

Tomorrow: Side Street Inn

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Hawaii Journal Day 5: Shrimp, Shave Ice and Cream Puffs (Hey, Where's the Pork?)

Day 5: Thursday

Breakfast: Okazu at Sekiya's

We're heading to the North Shore today, so we grabbed breakfast on the go from Sekiya's Okazuya. An Okazuya is often described as a Hawaiian deli, but it bears little resemblance to any mainland deli. Okazuyas date back from the early days of Hawaii when families would come out to the fields to sell lunch to laborers. The okazu (food sold at the okazuya) generally include a variety of savories such as dried fish sushi, various musubis (rice balls), fried snacks, teriyaki glazed meats, Spam dishes and hot dogs glazed with a scary, bright red sauce.

Most okazuya have limited seating and variable hours. They tend to open early, for the going to work crowd and close when the food runs out, which can be as early as noon.

At Sekiya's we took out a variety of okazu, but the highlight were the hash balls. Little balls of corn beef hash, battered and deep fried. If only the LA County Fair knew about these.

Sekiya's Restaurant & Delicatessen
2746 Kaimuki Ave.
Honolulu, HI 96816
(808) 732-1656

Aperitif: Matsumoto Shave Ice

After okazu, it was on to Haleiwa town in the North Shore and Matsumoto's Shave Ice. Matsumoto's is probably the most prominent shave ice in the island and by 11:00am, there is a line out the door, so we go early and treat it as a palate cleanser. The beauty of Matsumoto's is the plentiful quantities of ice cream and sweet, black azuki beans that blend together with the ice flavoring to form a little milkshake in the cone. Good stuff. If you don't feel like eating early morning shave ice but don't want to wait in line, Aoki's Shave Ice, just down the street is almost as good without any wait.

Matsumoto Shave Ice
66-087 Kamehameha Hwy
Haleiwa, Hawaii 96712

Lunch: Giovanni's Shrimp Truck

Giovanni's Shrimp Truck is a North Shore institution. Founded by a couple from Mozambique who opened their first truck in the midst of the shrimp farms of Kahuku, they have been cooking up fresh shrimp for years. The cult of Giovanni's is so intense that it has spawned a multitude of imitators. From one side of tiny Haleiwa to the other, I counted at least six shrimp trucks other than the original, and several now share space with Giovanni's spot under the bridge on the west side of town. There are many more in nearby Kahuku.

Giovanni's has built up its loyal following through a very simple recipe. Fresh shrimp (at one time, caught that morning - I don't know if that is still the case), doused in oil and tons of sauteed garlic and accompanied by two scoops of rice. You will find yourself sucking every last bit of sauce and garlic bits off of each plump shrimp before shelling it and licking the oil off of your about finger lickin' good.

At $12 a pop, the Giovanni's scampi is a bit pricey for lunch truck food, but not for big luscious shrimp. Eat it at one of the picnic tables or take it to go and have lunch at beautiful Haleiwa Ali'i Beach Park. It's one of the best meals you will have on any trip.

Dessert: Coco Puffs at Liliha Bakery

Conveniently on the way back from Haleiwa is one of our favorite spots. Liliha Bakery is a little diner with counter space seating in the Liliha neighborhood of Honolulu. They serve good breakfasts, including nice fluffy pancakes, but the real draw at Liliha is the Coco Puff.

The Coco Puff is a cream puff, but so much more. Stuffed with a pudding like chocolate cream and topped with a miraculous substance they call chantilly. What makes the puff is the chantilly topping, a rich, buttery, somewhat salty cream with a grainy texture. The combination of the chantilly and the chocolate filling makes these puffs immensely craveable.

Liliha Bakery
515 North Kuakini Street
Honolulu, HI 96817
(808) 531-1651

Tomorrow: Spam, a lot.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Hawaii Journal Day 4: Hawaiian Pork and Chinese Pork

Day 4: Wednesday

Lunch: Ono Hawaiian Foods

Ono Hawaiian Foods is perhaps the most venerable Hawaiian Food restaurant in the Islands. For as long as I can remember, Ono ("good" in Hawaiian) has been dishing out traditional Hawaiian food. It is probably one of the most recommended and highly praised lunch stops for visiting foodies and locals alike. I hadn't been to Ono in probably ten years (on my last visit the food had been uneven) and was interested to see if they were still on top of their game.

Ono is a small cafe open only from 11:00am to 7:00pm. It features a long wait and a booming take out business. What separates Ono from a plate lunch stand is that it emphasizes Hawaiian cuisine: pork and poi and lomi salmon and none of that mayo strewn macaroni salad.

Kalua pig is really the centerpiece of the Ono experience, and it did not disappoint. The key is that it is not just salty, but deeply smoky. This is the luau pig that was traditionally cooked in the underground oven known as an imu, buried under hot rocks and banana leaves; it should be smoky. The Ono combination plate includes the kalua pig as well as lau lau, though I thought the lau lau was a bit bland and not as good as the version I had on Day 2 at Keneke's. It also included Lomi salmon, a sort of salmon pico de gallo and pipikaula, a delectable aged, spiced beef.

For the starch, you can choose rice or poi, which comes fresh or day old. I go for the day old poi. Poi is, of course, the long ridiculed taro root paste that was the predominant starch in the Native Hawaiian diet before rice was introduced by Europeans and Asians. The fresh poi is fairly bland, but after a day of continued fermentation, it picks up a tangy quality that perfectly offsets the saltiness and smokyness of the pig. A bite of pig, a schmear of poi, a chomp of raw Maui onion and a dip into the spicy salsa known locally as chili water makes the meal.

For the first time at Ono, I also ordered the chicken long rice, a Hawaiian okazuya (deli) staple consisting of cellophane noodles in chicken broth. It was fabulous. The broth had the amazing ultra-chicken taste of something that had been meticulously tended as it simmered for hours on the stove; something a good Jewish grandmother would make.

So, yes, Ono is still ono, and that makes me happy.

Ono Hawaiian Foods
726 Kapahulu Ave.
Honolulu, HI
(808) 737-2275

Dinner: Chinatown

Two years ago, I delved into Honolulu's Chinatown with both feet by taking Anthony Chang's food tour. Chang is a food obsessed lawyer (hmm, sounds familiar) who gives walking tours of Chinatown food shops and restaurants. Chang is well versed in both the cuisine and history of Chinatown, and he provides food information with all manner of background color. At the time, I reviewed the tour and some of the stops here.

I have been surprised to find that the Chinese roast meats in Honolulu's Chinatown, tiny in comparison to the massive LA Chinese communities, was better than any I'd had in Los Angeles or the San Gabriel Valley. On reflection, I think it comes down to the fact that the Hawaiian health regulations are a bit more lax, allowing, or at least tolerating the storage of roasted meats at room temperature in shop windows. This allows crispy skins to stay crispy and viscous, liquidy fat to stay viscous and liquidy. Sure, you probably are that much more likely to pick up a food borne illness, but any food lover will tell you that is well worth it.

The intersection of Maunakea and King is the culinary center of Chinatown. Wing Loy Market (1036 Maunakea) is best for pork. Both char siu and roasted pork are very good. The roast pig has a nice cracklin' skin and bursts with flavor. The char siu is red, glistening with fat and has an almost candy-like sweetness.

My favorite Chinatown meat shop is directly across the street from Wing Loy. Nam Fong Market (1020 Maunakea) does Chinese roast duck like none other. The duck is crisp skinned, slightly smoky and spiked with anise. With each bite, the concentrated duck juice pours out into your mouth. It is so good, that when we finished and were left with a puddle of rich, duck jus, my partner and I looked at each other in that way that long-term couples who understand each other's every thought sometimes look at each other. Would we violate every rule of etiquette, nutrition and who knows what else and drink that plain, rich jus. We would. We did. It was worth it.

Unfortunately, the proprietor of the wonderful Shung Chong Yuein bakery, purveyor of all manner of sweet and savory Chinese pastries, retired and the shop is closed. Instead, for sweets, we headed to Lee's Bakery and Kitchen (126 N. King) for their famous custard pie. The custard pie is almost like a flan on a pie crust. The texture is well balanced between the creamy and eggy and it is not overwhelmingly sweet, but just enough to give the right touch to the custard.

Tomorrow: North Shore Eats in Haleiwa Town

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Hawaii Journal Day 3: Pork and Coffee

Day 3: Tuesday

Breakfast: Diamond Head Market and Grill

Diamond Head Market & Grill has been around for a while, but I never got around to it on previous visits. It came highly recommended and lived up to they hype.

The Market and Grill are two adjacent but distinct establishments. The Market sells pastries, sandwiches and other such items, while the Grill cooks up hot food.

Still on our California schedule, we arrived at 6:30am, when the Market had just opened but a half hour before the Grill was up and running, all the better to try a bit of everything.

We started at the Market with a fluffy buttermilk biscuit and a blueberry cream cheese scone. The biscuit was great, fluffy and flaky with a nice buttery/salty flavor, but the scone was TO-DIE-FOR. Crisp on the outside, smooth, creamy and slightly tangy on the inside (courtesy, no doubt, of the cream cheese), it was almost a muffin/scone hybrid: muffin moistness (though not muffin denseness) with scone flavor. Had I not been waiting for the Grill, I would have ordered five or six of these and called it a morning.

At the Grill, I ordered that venerable island specialty, loco moco. Loco moco is a breakfast grease-fat bomb if there ever was one: a large serving of rice (the Grill offers white or brown) topped with a hamburger patty, a fried egg and oceans of the traditional, viscous brown sauce. The Grill's version, pictured above, was perfect. The home-ground hamburger had a nice char, the sauce was nicely salty and not too viscous and the whole thing came together perfectly.

The highlight of the Grill though was another dish: the pork hash patty. Made from slow roasted pork, the hash, mixed with potato, garlic and other spices, is formed into a patty and fried. It's served, a la loco moco, on rice with brown sauce. The combination of pork, salt, garlic and sauce put me into greasy breakfast heaven.

This place is definitely a keeper and will go on the permanent list.

Diamond Head Market and Grill
3158 Monsarrat Ave.
Honolulu, HI

Coffee Break: Honolulu Coffee Co.

Despite the fact that Hawaii is the only state in the US that actually grows coffee, for many years, the coffee culture of Hawaii consisted of little more than trying to fleece tourists into buying "Kona Coffee" for $30 per pound. Maybe it was Kona, maybe it wasn't, but even if it was, the Kona coffee reputation was always better than the actual coffee.

That changed in the '90s with the advent of the Honolulu Coffee Company, a real coffee bar for Hawaii. Yes, HCC will charge you $50 for a pound of their Kona Peaberry, but they will also brew up an exquisite espresso, dark and smoky, lacking acidity and thick with crema, just the way I like 'em.

They have various locations, including Ala Moana shopping center and a number of Waikiki hotels.

Lunch: Kua 'Aina Sandwich Shop

The Kua 'Aina Sandwich Shop is a North Shore institution which has been serving up burgers and fries to hungry big wave surfers for over 20 years. I've always been a fan of the North Shore branch, but it's near impossible to get in for lunch without a long wait, so I was thrilled when they opened a South Shore branch at the Ward Centre shopping district in the Kaka'ako neighborhood.

I've had good burgers at this branch, but today, my burger was lackluster, an overdone and limp patty. Perhaps it just paled in comparison to my breakfast patty at Diamond Head Grill, (Ah, Hawaii, a place where you can eat hamburger three meals a day), but I was disappointed. The skinny, crisp little fries, however, were as good as ever.

Kua 'Aina Sandwich Shop
Ward Village Shops
1116 Auahi Street
Honolulu, HI
(808) 591-9133

Dinner: Assorted Island Fruit

Okay, after two and one half days of gorging on pork and gravy, I'm feeling a bit bloated, so we're going to chill out this evening, warm up some left overs, and enjoy some of the Island's great produce.

I stopped by one of Honolulu's great farmers' markets and picked up mangoes, papayas, pineapple and Okinawan sweet potatoes, which have a beautiful and sweet dark blue flesh.

We also picked up some great fruit at the farmers' market-like stand, Island Fresh Produce, on 9th Street at Waialae (look for the sign for 9th Street Flowers). There we found amazing mangoes, apple-bananas (cute, little bananas with a bit more acid and flavor than the one's we are used to), papayas, pineapples and wide assortment of Asian vegetables.

Lastly, I picked up some Waimanalo grown Nalo Greens for a nice salad. Nalo Greens are available at many area natural and gourmet stores.

Tomorrow: Ono Hawaiian and Chinatown

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Born in the USA Part 2 - I Don't Dig You Jack

Jack Daniels, the powerhouse of American whiskey, has not fared well in my tastings. In the Tennessee Smackdown I was unimpressed with both Old Number 7 and the too sweet Gentleman Jack. Well, if at first you don't succeed, try, try again, so I ended up with the final version of Jack's regular expressions: Jack Daniel's Single Barrel.

A single barrel expression, as you will recall, means the contents come from a single cask of whiskey. However, in a non-cask strength version, such as this, the contents are diluted with water prior to bottling.

Will a single barrel Jack taste better? Let's find out.


Jack Daniel's Single Barrel, 47% alcohol, (owned by Brown-Forman), $40-50.

The nose is somewhat understated with some corn sweetness and alcohol.
On sipping, there is that explosion of traditional Jack syrupy sweetness. It's a light, sweet whiskey, very much in the JD tradition.

In sum: It tastes like alcoholic corn syrup.

Sorry, but, in the words of the old blues song, "I don't dig you, Jack."

Monday, August 11, 2008

Hawaii Journal Day 2: Pork and Doughnuts

Day 2: Monday

Breakfast: Leonard's Bakery of Quality

Among the earliest European settlers of the Hawaiian Islands were the Portuguese, who came in the mid to late nineteenth century. Their culinary legacy survives primarily in two forms. One is the ubiquitous breakfast sausage linguica, which you can even find on the breakfast menu at local McDonalds. The other is the malassada (alt. spelling malasada), a puffy, spherical doughnut served warm and dusted with sugar. Leonard's is probably the most popular malassada bakery. A few years ago I did a side by side comparison with their nearby rival Champion Malasadas. Leonard's have a nice chewy texture where the Champion are more cake-like; I prefer Leonard's, but it's a different style. (Later in the trip, I'll try to make it to Agnes' Portuguese Bake Shop in Kailua, which makes my very favorite of all malassadas). So, grab a dozen of these and munch them down while warm. Would you expect anything less than greatness from a "Bakery of Quality"?

Leonard's Bakery of Quality
933 Kapahulu Ave.
Honolulu, HI 96816

Lunch: Keneke's

Waimanalo is an economically depressed little town set against one of the world's most gorgeous backdrops. It is sandwiched between some of Hawaii's most beautiful beaches and the sheer, majestic, ridged mountains which rise up behind it. Since the mid-1980s, Keneke's Waimanalo lunch stand has been doling out some of the best plate lunch in the Island. Plate lunch, of course, is the fast food staple of Hawaii, the combination of one to three greasy or fried meats or sides with an ice cream scooper full of rice and another of macaroni salad.

Keneke's is aggressively Christian, complete with bible verses scribbled on the wall, Jesus fish, psalms on the cups and posters touting their very successful Fear God Powerlifting Team sharing wall-space with anti-meth slogans. They clearly have a sense of humor about it with their slogan, "Divine Grinds."

I've been going to Keneke's for many years. I've had Kalua pig there, the salty luau style shredded pork similar to a non-fried version of carnitas, that is among the best I've had anywhere. Today, though, the Kalua pig wasn't as good as the pork adobo, the garlicky Filipino pork dish. The adobo has the feel of one of those age-old, passed down recipes, perfectly spiced, succulent and juicy. Also excellent was the lau lau, the traditional Hawaiian dish of pork wrapped in taro leaves, bundled inside of ti leaves like a Hawaiian tamale. The pork emerges tender and juicy and flavors the Taro leaves which come out with the texture and taste of a slightly bitter version of spinach. Lest you think they are a pork-only type of establishment, they make an excellent shoyu chicken and a good fried mahi mahi.

Take your plate lunch and continue a mile or so up the coast to Waimanalo Bay Beach Park (not to be confused with the more residential Waimanalo Beach Park) to enjoy your pork products on one of Oahu's most amazing beaches.

41-857 Kalanianaole Highway
Waimanalo, HI 96795
(808) 259-9804

Dessert: Waiola Bakery & Shave Ice

There are few desserts I enjoy more than Hawaiian style shave ice. Served in a cup or paper cone, it misleads people into thinking it's a snow cone, but it is so much more. Instead of the unpleasant icy crunch, it has the melt in your mouth quality of fresh snow, doused in sweet syrup foisted on a scoop of ice cream and sweet, black azuki beans. I'll take it any day over any snow cone, and enjoy the Hawaiian style more than the Korean bingsu I can get at home.

There is a strong disagreement in our family about the best shave ice on the islands. I give the edge to Matsumoto's or one of the other excellent North Shore purveyors, whereas my significant other holds that Waiola is the best.

Waiola, located on Kapahulu, just up from the zoo, makes a very fine ice, smoother than Northshore ice, and it has some of the best syrups around. The lilikoi (passionfruit) is tart, the lychee is specked with fruit pulp and the strawberries with cream is divine. But my favorite part of a shave ice is after you've eaten the top layer, and the bottom combines with the melted ice cream and beans to make a flavored sweet bean milkshake. This is where the North Shore excels. The chewy, not sufficiently sweet beans are Waiola's downfall, making the shake less than it should be. Still, the ice and the flavors are the best, and it's a whole lot closer to us than Matsumoto's.

Waiola Bakery & Shave Ice II
525 Kapahulu Avenue
Honolulu, HI

Dinner: Mekong II

The first place I ever had Thai food, in the early 1980s, was Keo's in Honolulu. The same Lao family that owns the now several Keo's had first opened the more modest but similar Mekong and Mekong II. The Thai offerings, largely unchanged since the '80s, are pretty tame by today's standards. Overall, I felt that Mekong had dropped a notch on this trip. Someone who eats regularly in LA's Thai Town will be unimpressed by the noodle dishes and the papaya salad which used to be quite good but seemed lackluster. The crispy, rice paper spring rolls, once a favorite, seemed a bit over fried and came with a much smaller medley of vegetable condiments than previously. Still excellent, however, are the curries made with island fresh coconut. It is something you simply can't replicate in LA or any other place that doesn't grow fresh coconut. The thick, creamy mouthfeel, the ability to temper spicier ingredients and that pure, rich coconut flavor makes you understand what Thai curry is all about. I'm hoping my experience at Mekong this year represents only an unfortunate blip and not a more serious decline, but if nothing else, we'll always have coconut curry.

1295 S. Beretania Street
Honolulu, HI 96814
(808) 591-8841

Mekong II
1726 S. King Street
Honolulu, HI
(818) 941-6184

Tomorrow: Loco Moco, Burgers, Scones-To-Die-For, and Tropical Fruit

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Vacation Time: Hawaii Journal Day 1

Sku is on vacation in Hawaii!!

This year marks the 30th anniversary of my first visit to the islands, and since then, it's been a regular vacation spot for me. I've learned to love the beauty of the place and of course, its spectacular food. Hawaii, and Oahu (my most common vacation spot) in particular, has all the makings of a great food destination. There is a dedicated Hawaiian food culture, with a growing haute cuisine scene and a veritable ocean of cheap hole-in-the-wall places offering excellent food, from the many neighborhood okazuyas (Hawaiian style delis) to Japanese ramen joints, to that island staple of starch and grease, the plate lunch. Part of the genesis of the local food is the uniquely Hawaiian mix of cultures and ethnicities. The sheer number of different ethnic groups that have influenced Hawaiian cuisine and more importantly, the mixing of those groups, is unparalleled anywhere in the US. (The state has no ethnic majority). Add to all of that a bounty of fresh tropical ingredients and you have the makings of not just a paradise, but a food lover's paradise.

Hawaii is crawling with food lovers, people who make it their business to know every hole in the wall ramen shop and have an opinion about every sushi bar or plate lunch shop. Indeed, none other than Hawaiian born and raised Barack Obama, whose visit overlapped with my own, reinforced this in his comments to the home town crowd:

I'm going to get a plate lunch. I might go to Zippy's. I might go to Rainbow Drive-In. I haven't decided yet. Get some Zip Min. I'm going to go get some shave ice.

Like many of my food loving brethren, and apparently the next President of the United States as well, my vacations consist of a detailed itinerary of meals and snacks with other activities designed to wile away the hours between those meals. (Did you know they have nice beaches here?) As I said, I've been coming here for a long time, so I have a long list of favorites I like to revisit (though there is no way to hit all the favorites in a single trip), but I am always interested in finding anything new and exciting. This trip, I have a one year old in tow, so you won't see any fancy schmancy Alan Wong or Chef Mavro. This year we will exclusively focus on the wonderful casual eateries that make up the bulk of island food culture and some of the best food anywhere.

My home base is a condo on the east end of Waikiki next to the zoo, and from there, I will journey outward to the diners of Kalihi, to the shrimp trucks of Haleiwa and beyond.

Since this is my first trip to Hawaii as a blogger, I decided that the best way to relay the full culinary experience will be through a simple food journal that will track my daily eats (Sku's Very Recent Eats? Sku's Nearly Contemporaneous Eats?). So, for the next couple of weeks, we will change format a bit, and I will post my latest Hawaii daily journal each week day through the end of my trip (except on Wednesday which will continue to be our regular Whiskey Wednesday).

Join me, won't you?

Day 1: Sunday

Breakfast: Eggs 'n Things

This is one of the only Waikiki joints I eat at, but it's worth it. In a town which takes its pancakes seriously and has numerous neighborhood joints flipping up great flapjacks, Eggs 'n Things is my favorite. Open from 11:00 pm until 2:00 pm, Eggs 'n Things has a nearly impenetrable crowd during the regular breakfast rush, but it's a perfect place for a mainlander like me to go on the first morning of my vacation, when I'm jet-lagged and up looking for breakfast at 5:30 Hawaiian daylight time (8:30 PDT). Joining a mix of Japanese partiers winding down, night shift workers just coming off and...jet lagged Americans and Europeans, I sit down to gobble up the greatest macadamia nut pancakes ever. Big, fluffy disks with mac nuts both baked in and sprinkled on top, along with a big scoop of butter, and powdered sugar, these are the pancakes I dream about. Adding coconut syrup, which is one of six syrups on the table, turns these from just great to transcendent, from the stuff of dreams to the stuff of revelations. I start my meal off with a fresh pineapple juice (which is harder to find than you might think in Hawaii). Eggs 'n Things has other good dishes as well. The French toast made from Portuguese pao doce (sweet bread) is lovely with their homemade, zesty orange syrup. But I only know that from tasting dining companions' dishes, every time I visit, I must have those pancakes.

Eggs 'n Things
1911- B Kalakaua Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96815

Lunch: Gina's B-B-Q

What would cause someone who lives amongst the largest population of Koreans outside of Korea to go for Korean on the first day of vacation? The answer is Gina's awesome barbecued ika (squid). Gina's is a little take-out joint in a strip mall anchored by a Foodland grocery store at the top end of Kapahulu. It's really an adaptation of traditional Korean food to the traditional Hawaiian plate lunch which features several meat dishes with two ice cream scooper servings of rice and and one of macaroni salad (more on plate lunch in my later posts). Gina's cooks up all the Korean favorites: kalbi, bulgogi and lots of panchan which you order as sides, but my favorite is the barbecued ika. It's a whole squid, about 6 to 8 inches long, head on and all, coated with the traditional Korean chili paste and barbecued to perfection. The texture is both tender and chewy, the head is slick, the body hearty, the tentacles trap the sauce between their lovely little suction cups. If you love squid, you must visit.

Gina's BBQ
2919 Kapiolani Boulevard
Honolulu, HI

Dinner: Poke from Tamura's Fine Wine & Liquors

Poke [PO-kay] is a Hawaiian snack food staple. The traditional dish consists of raw pieces of ahi with onion soaked in a simple marinade of soy sauce, sesame oil and other spices, but there are all manner of variations. It's traditionally eaten as an appetizer or snack with beer, and is appropriate for any backyard picnic or big game. Tamura's is a great little wine shop and gourmet store which carries all manner of island products, a decent selection of single malts and even a gourmet cheese selection (it's one of the only places in Hawaii I've seen Epoisse), but the central attraction for me is poke, and have they got poke. Tamura's offers mussel, salmon, shrimp, mackeral and approximately 8 million varieties of ahi poke. I love the garlic shrimp poke, but my favorite remains the traditional shoyu (soy sauce) poke. Raw fish, onions, sesame oil, soy sauce, what could be simpler? Add a mediocre Hawaiian microbrew and you've got a fitting end to a great first day.

Tamura's Fine Wine & Liquors
1216 10TH Ave
Honolulu, HI 96816
(808) 735-7100

Tomorrow: Malasadas, Plate Lunch in a Beautiful Setting, Thai Curries and Shave Ice

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Guilty Friday: Guilty Pleasures

We all have them, things we know, as a rational matter, we should detest but that we secretly love. Things we sneak away to eat where no one will see us. Food and drink that would compromise our very credibility as a foodie/chowhound type. Maybe for you it's the Shamrock Shake or Moon Pies or Girl Scout cookies. Here are a few of mine:

Starbucks Strawberry & Cream Frappuccino

An airport staple for me, this artificially flavored strawberry and whipped cream monstrosity is the perfect not-quite-as-indulgent-as-a-milkshake treat for me when waiting for the next leg of my flight to wherever.

In truth, I'm a sucker for artificially-flavored strawberry drinks. I love Monin strawberry syrup as well as Strawberry Crush.

Coldstone Creamery

High butterfat ice cream mixed with stuff...what's not to like? I go for sweet cream with Oreos and fudge sauce. It's not Scoops or Fossleman's or Helados Pops, but it beats Baskin Robbin's by a mile.

And note to Coldstone, making your servers sing everytime they get a tip is not only annoying, it actually discourages tipping as a result of its annoyingness. Give your servers a break and some dignity and let them receive their tips in peace.

Lipton Onion Dip

I don't watch football at all, but I have a Super Bowl party every year just so I can pour a packet of Lipton onion soup powder into a carton of sour cream and dip the heck out of it with some Ruffles. MMmmm...salty.

Movie Theater Popcorn with Artificial Butter

Is there anything that tastes as good as a giant bucket of yellow popcorn topped with nearly a cup of golden liquid butter-stuff? It's the perfect amalgam of salt and grease, and the only rule is that it must be finished before the movie starts.

Phew, I'm glad to get that off my chest. What are your guilty pleasures?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Whiskey Wednesday: Born in the USA Part 1- Stagg Party

For August, and maybe even into September, we move back to the USA for a series on American whiskies. As team USA battles for Olympic gold, we will review a slew of Bourbons as well as a few other American offerings.

The first whiskey post I ever did on Recent Eats was about Bourbon and, more specifically, the great Bourbons available from Buffalo Trace, one of the most innovative and high quality whiskey distilleries in the world.

The piece de resistance of the Buffalo Trace line is the renowned George T. Stagg, a Bourbon that whiskey lovers throughout the world covet. The only thing higher than Stagg's ratings is its alcohol content. The bottle I reviewed last year was the 2005 version which weighed in at a hefty 65.9% alcohol. I thought that version was overly alcoholic, but the 2007 bottling, nicknamed the hazmat, is a startling 72.4%.

The 2005 was a bit much for me back then, and I complained about the lack of integration of flavors with the high alcohol content. Interestingly, I like this even higher alcohol version better, but it may be because I am adding more water to it (you just can't drink it straight at 72.4%) than I proportionally added to the earlier Stagg.

I'm out of the earlier Stagg so I can't do a side by side, so it's hard to tell whether the difference is in me or the liquor. This illustrates one of the inherent flaws in whiskey ratings (and is one of the reasons I don't "score" whiskies). If you aren't tasting samples side by side, the only thing you have to go on in determining whether any given whiskey is better than the next is your memory. While you may have a good memory, or even use written notes to remind you, comparing a live sample to a remembered one from months or years back is iffy at best. So, notwithstanding my statement above, I'll try to avoid direct comparisons and just review this whiskey for what it is. Let's call this the post-structuralist theory of tasting...we will analyze only within the text of the whiskey itself. (I believe it was Roland Barthes who said, "The death of the distiller is the birth of the drinker" or something like that).


George T. Stagg, Limited Edition Barrel Proof (Buffalo Trace) 72.4% abv, approx. $55.

Nose is beautiful and Bourbony with smoke and Cognac and wood paneling from an old library; adding water leads to the detection of anise notes deep down. Flavor starts sweet, then you get the oak and corn and faint rye, some smoke and back to sweet on the finish.

Stagg is, as almost everyone agrees, a great whiskey and one I keep coming back to. It has a complexity that is beyond most of its peers and a flavor that just keeps giving. It only comes out once per year and gets snatched up pretty quickly, so you've got to be on your toes to get some. Locally, it's appeared at K&L in Hollywood and Wine House in West LA.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Lebanese Head to Head: Marouch vs. Carnival

When it comes to Middle Eastern food, LA does pretty well between the Persian food of Westwood and the wide variety of Armenian from Hollywood to Glendale, but I'm a particular fan of our two Lebanese giants: LA's Marouchon Santa Monica Boulevard and the Valley's Carnival. I took them head to head, and we'll see who comes out on top.

Hummous: Tie. Both do excellent hummous. Carnival's is thicker and has more chick pea flavor. Marouch's is thinner with more spice flavor.

Fried Kebbeh: Marouch. Both have versions of the little, football shaped, fried sausage balls. Carnival's kebbeh is a bit bland. Marouch's is stand-out with good spice and nice texture.

Falafel: Carnival by a mile. Carnival has what may be the best falafel in LA. Crisp on the outside, moist on the inside, tasting of garlic, parsley and sesame...they are as perfect as falafel can be. Marouch's leaden balls pale in comparison.

Fool Mudamas: Tie. Both serve a good dish of pureed fava beans. As with most dishes, Marouch's version has more spice (heavy garlic, in this case) but both are tasty.

Mezze: Marouch. Carnival doesn't really have much in the way of mezze, just a little appetizer combination, whereas this is a huge strength of Marouch, which offers varying sizes. Two of my favorite mezze dishes at Marouch aren't even available at Carnival: the crispy cheese turnovers, crispy fried dough stuffed with a white cheese and Marouch's delectable mouhamara (a puree of peppers and walnuts), possibly my favorite dish at either establishment.

Baklava: None. Sorry, neither of these giants excel in the dessert range. Both offer a competent but unexciting baklava.

Overall, both restaurants have their strengths. The big mezzes at Marouch are superb, while Carnival rules the roost with its falafel. Just go somewhere else for dessert.

4905 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90029
(323) 662-9325

4356 Woodman Ave
Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
(818) 784-3469