Archive | Food RSS feed for this section

#FUUD: Izakaya Torae Torae in McCully

IMG_7338

Back when people still read newspapers, there was a rule for food critics: wait a couple of months before reviewing a new restaurant.

The reason? You want to give new chefs and owners a chance to work out the kinks, tweak their menus, and get into a steady flow. It’s really only fair.

Well, thanks to something called the Internet — specifically, food bloggers and sites like Yelp — restaurants get reviewed almost before they even open. And it’s not uncommon for a new spot to get a buzz during its first few weeks of opening, then fizzle.

That didn’t happen with Izakaya Torae Torae.

This izakaya (Japanese tavern) in McCully opened in February to a lot of online chatter — and it’s still super popular nine months later.

IMG_2012
Inside the izakaya. The sushi bar peeks into the open kitchen, where you can watch your food being prepared.

IMG_2013
The wooden walls are adorned with hip art by Chanel Tanaka. Very different.

Hide Yoshimoto, the popular chef from Doraku Sushi, opened this neighborhood izakaya to rave reviews early on. (It helps when you organize a soft opening for all the social media foodies and bloggers.)

The menu here is extensive, likely part of the appeal. You can find just about whatever you want here, from salads to donburi (rice bowl dishes) to sushi to desserts. (The website calls it a “kitchen sink menu.” I like that!) And it’s obvious Yoshimoto brought along his Asian-fusion flair.

I went with a friend recently who’s been there before — that helps! — and here’s what we ate:

IMG_7336
The gyūtan (cow tongue), or tanshio, is one of my favorite izakaya staples. The salted meat has to be super thin and fried to an almost crisp, and this didn’t disappoint.

IMG_7337
Our server recommended the snow crab and cream corn croquette, a richer, softer version of what people would think of when they hear the word, “croquette.” The white cream filling was creamy — just a hint of Alaskan snow crab, really — and flavorful.

IMG_7344
The pupu-style jidori chicken plate was a surprise. You can get this seasoned with yukari (salt) or curry. I had heard the curry seasoning was a bit intense, so we went with the yukari and it was nicely done. Simple — and great with yaki onigiri (which isn’t on the menu, but ask anyway).

IMG_7340
My girlfriend loveloveloves the hamachi carpaccio, which comes with ponzu sauce and a hint of truffle oil. The fish was crisp, the onions added some crunch. Really a perfect dish.

IMG_7343
Another signature dish is the pork belly kakuni, a slow-braised pork belly from Sunterra Farm simmered in a shoyu sauce and balanced with an ontama and daikon. The fall-off-your-fork pork is packed with flavor. I think I moaned after each bite.

IMG_7341
One of my surprise favorites was this Angry Buta roll. Get this: pork belly and kim chee stuffed in this sushi hand roll. You can’t get better than that!

Some thoughts: You want to make reservations. We did — and though we were the first people in the izakaya, the place filled up quickly. And it was a weekday! And if you don’t get a stall out front — there are only a few and it’s not the easiest to back up onto McCully Street — you can park at Central Pacific Bank for a $2 flat fee.

Trust me, the walk across the street will be well worth the effort.

(CORRECTION: Now that the izakaya has its liquor license, it’s still BYOB, but you have to pay a $20 corkage fee.)

Izakaya Torae Torae, 1111 McCully St., Honolulu, O‘ahu. Hours: 6 p.m. to midnight Wednesday through Monday, closed Tuesday; happy hour 10 p.m. to last call. Phone: (808) 949-5959.

Comments { 3 }

5 Things I learned about Hawai‘i Beef

IMG_7315

Beef.

It’s (often) what’s for dinner.

But last Friday, when I spent the day on the Big Island courtesy of the Hawai‘i Beef Industry Council, I realized I didn’t know much about the state’s cattle industry.

IMG_7257

As part of a #PastureToPlate tour, a group of us — from ranchers to food safety experts to writers like me (above) — visited two cattle ranches and a slaughter facility. The goal was to familiarize us with cattle ranching in Hawai‘i.

Oh, and did it!

Here’s what I learned:

1. Ranching is an important part of our economy.

IMG_7283

The gift of cattle to Kamehameha I by Capt. George Vancouver in 1793 made a huge impact on Hawai‘i economy. An entire industry was created, with that rich cowboy (paniolo) and ranch culture still around today.

Ranchers are the stewards of more than 1 million acres of land in Hawai‘i, of 25 percent of the state’s total land mass. The Big Island produces the most of the state’s beef — and boast some of the largest cattle ranches in the U.S.

2. It’s not easy to raise, slaughter and sell Hawai‘i beef directly to the local market — but it happens.

IMG_7272

Most cattle is grown here until about six or seven months old, then sold into the commodity market on the Mainland — the price of cattle right now is at an all-time high. Very few ranches produce beef from cows raised, finished, slaughtered and sold directly to local markets.

Why? Well, it’s more cost-effective for ranchers to sell their calves instead of finishing them here. You need lots of great pasture land for that. And after decades of sending off their calves, the infrastructure here has changed. There are only a few slaughterhouses left.

Ponoholo Ranch in Kohala, for exmpale, sells most of its calves to the Mainland after they’re weaned (about seven months old and about 400 pounds). They are sent via “cowtainers” to California or Seattle or by 747 cargo jets to L.A. The cattle are then trucked to pastures or directly to a feed yard.

There are ranches, though, that are committed to producing beef — start-to-finish in the Islands — like Kuahiwi Ranch in Ka‘ū. One hundred precent of its cattle is finished here. And cull cows, older bulls and a couple hundred grass-finished steers and heifers from Ponoholo Ranch get harvested and processed on the Big Island for the local market.

There’s also a program with Hawai‘i Ranchers that brings Hawai‘i-born cattle sent to the Mainland to finish in feed lots back to the Islands. In the program, Hawai‘i-born calves are shipped to feed lots in Oregon, where they are kept separate from cattle from other states. They receive no hormones or antibiotics, and are fed a vegetarian diet that has no animal by-product feeds and, whenever possible, has no genetically modified grains. The cows are processed on the Mainland and the meat is shipped back here.

3. Ranches are beautiful places.

IMG_7258

I was blown away by the sheer beauty and serenity of these ranches, particularly Ponoholo Ranch (above), which sprawls over 11,000 acres from summit to sea. (This ranch was started by Ronald von Holt and Atherton Richards back in 1928. In 1980 the ranch split into two — Kahua Ranch and Ponoholo Ranch — and were jointly operated until 1989.)

The ranch covers three climate zones — from the rainforest at 4,800 feet elevation to the rugged coastline — and has the second largest herd of cattle on the island at around 6,000 heads.

The view was breathtaking, with a herd of cattle in the distance grazing and the Pacific Ocean below. I mean, people pay good money for views like that!

4. Slaughterhouses are nothing to be afraid of.

IMG_7290

I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous — though super curious — about visiting a slaughterhouse.

Lot of gruesome images come to mind. Bloody carcasses, guts everywhere.

Turns out, Hawai‘i Beef Producers in Pa‘auilo is not like that at all.

We weren’t there on a processing day — thankfully — but we did get to tour the facility, which was so clean I could’ve licked the floor. Seriously. (We couldn’t take photos, though, probably because people — like me — would have preconceived notions — read: fears — about the process.)

The De Luz family, which has been ranching for three generations on the 10,000-acre Kukaiau Ranch nearby, runs this slaughterhouse. The beef that’s processed here is top-notch, meeting the uber-high standards of such retailers at Whole Foods Markets. (Read about the company’s animal welfare standards here.)

The slaughterhouse processes about 450 heads a month, all local cattle. And whatever that translates to in terms of beef on tables or industry revenue, it really means keeping these ranchers and processors in business.

5. You can’t beat a beef burger.

IMG_7306

IMG_7302

When we were touring the slaughterhouse, Jill Andrade-Mattos, the general manager, told us that Hawai‘i beef may not be the tenderest, but it’s the healthiest — and more importantly, it’s local.

She should have added, “tasty,” to that list.

Our tour ended at Āhualoa Ranch in Pa‘auilo, where chef Edwin Goto of Village Burger in Waimea prepared us lunch using Kuahiwi Ranch beef.

The patties were flavorful and juicy and grilled perfectly. Goto paired it with brioche baked at Holy’s Bakery in Kapa‘au — it’s Goto’s recipe — and locally grown tomatoes, lettuce, cheese and condiments. (I mean, you can’t eat a burger without mayonnaise!) Talk about a winner.

I mean, eating a perfect burger made from beef grown and harvested on this island, while gazing at the open pastureland of Āhualoa Ranch — how can it get any better?

Special thanks to Michelle Galimba of Kuahiwi Ranch for inviting me! For more information about Hawai‘i’s cattle industry, visit the Hawai‘i Beef Industry Council. And when you shop, look for local beef. #supportlocal

Comments { 7 }

#FUUD: Salted Lemon in Liliha

IMG_1478

I’m always on the lookout for a good acai bowl.

And when Salted Lemon opened up near my (new) ‘hood this summer — and I heard it sold sizable acai bowls filled to the brim with fresh fruits — I had put it on my list of places to try.

IMG_1470
Outside the shop on Liliha Street.

IMG_1473
Inside — decorated for Halloween!

It’s not the easiest place to find — unless you’re familiar with the Liliha area.

The shop is in an old shoe store on Liliha Street next to the iconic Jane’s Fountain. (I love that place.) It really brightens up the neighborhood, giving this aging community a boost of cool.

IMG_1472

Salted Lemon was opened by Patrick Nguyen, whose parents ran Bob’s Market for 26 years. He started making juices for his mother when she was battling cancer — and that became the basis for the menu here.

Taking up an entire wall behind the counter, the blackboard menu has three basic categories: juices ($7 for 16 ounces), acai bowls and smoothies (between $4 to $5 each). Nguyen prefers to use the natural sugars from fruits and veggies, with simple syrup, to sweeten the drinks.

I’ll be honest, I’m not much of a juice person, despite my attempts at juicing in the past. I came for an acai bowl — and that’s exactly what I ordered.

IMG_1483
The acai bowl — with soy milk.

IMG_1474
The acai bowl — with apple juice.

Salted Lemon’s acai bowl ($9) looks like this (above, both). The acai made with soy milk is nice and thick, perfectly chilled with the consistency of sorbet (my preference). It’s got apple banana slices, strawberries, blueberries, bee pollen, lehua blossom honey and granola.

We ordered acai sweetened with apple juice instead of soy milk — and it took about 10 minutes longer to make. (The acai is pre-made.) That made the acai not as thick and it melted a lot faster. (I’d opt for the soy milk version next time.)

And at $9 a bowl, it’s a bit pricey.

IMG_1482

The couple next to us ordered the papaya bowl ($7), a half Kahuku papaya filled with Greek yogurt and topped with blueberries, bananas, granola, honey and chia seeds. This looked pretty refreshing and tasty.

IMG_1481

I had to order the shop’s signature drink, the Salted Lemon ($4), and I was surprised at how much it grew on me.

At first, it was a bit unusual. It’s made from lemons that are brined and fermented in the sun for months, then combined with bits of lemon peel. I feel like if I were sick, this would be the surefire cure. It was salted and sour and sweet and perfect. I could have had six of them.

It’s nice to know there’s a shop so nearby that serves the kind of refreshing drinks perfect for these humid days.

And yes, there’s WiFi, too.

Coffice, anyone?

Salted Lemon, 1723 Liliha St. in Honolulu. Hours: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday. Phone: (808) 538-1291

Comments { 3 }

#CatChat: Visiting the new Choco le‘a Boutique

IMG_7042

Yeah, yeah, I keep saying I’m going to restart the #CatChat segments on my blog.

And hey, this might be my first one in 2014, but at least I did it!

I decided to save my first #CatChat of the year for the opening of Choco le‘a‘s first boutique in Mānoa Square (2909 Lowrey Avenue in Mānoa).

IMG_7024
Outside the shop on Lowrey Avenue.

IMG_7039
Owner Erin Kanno Uehara preparing a box of chocolate truffles.

The charming storefront opened in late September — the grand opening isn’t slated until November — for fans of the artisan chocolates made with premium chocolates and the freshest ingredients possible.

I visited Erin Kanno Uehara last year — last year! — and have been a huge fan ever since. (See my blog post on that visit here.) I appreciate the rich, bold flavors and unique ingredients — like Guinness beer, locally made cheesecakes, pink chichi dango mochi, lychee liqueur — that set these chocolates apart from others.

The shop features about 18 different truffle flavors that will rotate monthly; dark, milk and white chocolate macadamia nut clusters; almond cups; dipped pineapple and mango slices; chocolate-dipped strawberries; and prepackaged gift boxes and bags. Soon, she’ll be serving chocolate drinks. (Can’t wait!)

IMG_7029
White chocolate-covered macadamia nuts

For the holidays, Choco le‘a will be selling special orange chocolate-covered Oreos, caramel apple Oreos and pumpkin spice Oreos. And yes, you can come here on Halloween to trick-or-treat. (Or treat-or-treat, as I like to do.)

Here’s what the Mānoa shop looks like — and why you should plan your next weekend around visiting it:

#CatChat with Erin Kanno Uehara

And here’s the outtake where I fired my mother. LOL.

Visit Choco le‘a at 2909 Lowrey Avenue in Mānoa on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Fridays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Or follow them on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @chocoleahawaii.

Subscribe to my YouTube channel to watch more #CatChats.

Comments { 5 }

What makes the best fries

IMG_1341

There are some foods you can’t separate.

Peanut butter and jelly. Waffles and fried chicken. And burgers and fries.

I don’t care how full I am, I will order a bag of fries with every burger, period.

The saltiness, the crispiness, the oiliness — fries are the perfect complement to a greasy burger topped with melted cheese and smoky bacon, leafy lettuce and a fresh slice of tomato. You really can’t beat it.

So when Frolic Hawai‘i asked me to blog about my Top 5 favorite fries, I actually had a hard time narrowing it down.

Because it really all depends.

While the basic criteria are simple — texture, temperature, crispiness, taste — the subjectiveness is what muddles the list.

Like nostalgia. Or price. Or when I’m eating these fries. (I’m far less picky about my fried choices when I’ve just come from the beach.)

And then picking just five was heart-wrenchingly difficult.

Truly, there are others that didn’t make my Top 5 list.

Like the crinkle-cut fries topped with Parmesan cheese and truffle oil at Home Bar & Grill. Or the unsalted skinny fries at Kua ‘Aina. Or the Jamaican jerk fries at Ryan’s Grill.

And don’t get me started on fries outside the island. (The fries at In-N-Out Burger [top] — individually cut at the restaurant, cooking in 100 percent vegetable oil, never frozen — are among my all-time favorites.)

So what should we be looking for in the fries?

Here are my criteria: they’ve got to be golden brown, slightly crispy and hot. I like the crunch, though I can deal with a soggy fry if it doesn’t taste like a wad of cooking oil. I’m not a huge fan of steak fries or ones breaded before they’re tossed into a deep fryer. (Remember when Burger King changed their fries? Terrible.) I like them on the skinnier side, fresh is always best, and double-fried makes ‘em better.

And hey, I’m never above a bag from McDonald’s, either!

Got a favorite frites? (I have lots of room on my Favorite Fries list!)

Comments { 8 }