#FUUD: The Winter Truffle Menu at Chef Mavro

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There are some meals that are unforgettable.

And then there’s the winter truffle menu at Chef Mavro in McCully.

It’s not a meal you’d easily forget — but it’s one you wouldn’t want to.

It all started with this menu:

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I browsed the lineup: steamed day-boat onaga (long-tail red snapper) done Chinese style, a decadent wagyu pavé with a pomegranate-teriyaki glaze, a Waialua chocolate crispy rice bar.

And wine, too?

I felt like Christmas came early!

My husband and I were invited by chef/owner George Mavrothalassitis and his lovely wife, Donna Jung, to sample the winter truffle dinner menu, which is available now through the holidays. (Incidentally, today is the 16th anniversary of Mavro’s restaurant!)

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The menu features the exquisite Périgord truffles (above), often referred to as the “Diamonds of Périgord.” These truffles are characterized by a subtle aroma and an earthly flavor somewhat reminiscent of a rich, dark chocolate. Like other varieties of truffles, these grow underground and are hunted by dogs (used to be pigs). They’re rare, too, scarcer and more desirable than others, making this menu at Chef Mavro that much more spectacular.

And if anyone knows how to use Périgord black truffles, it’s Mavro.

Here’s what we ate — and yes, you can eat this, too:

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I love a good amuse bouche. Chill some carrot soup, add some coconut foam and top with cocoa nibs, and I’m sold.

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This is the vegetable course, a méli-mélo (collection) of root vegetables accented with black truffle shavings, some baked, others braised, and a few raw. As Mavro says, if it’s better not to cook them, they don’t.

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One of the best dishes I have all year is this: the restaurant’s classic Peterson Upland Farm egg and truffle “osmose,” whereby the eggs are stored with the black truffles upon arrival in a hermitically sealed box. Yes, they are sealed together. That way, the eggs are naturally infused with the truffle aroma. (Hence, the “osmose” in the name.) The egg is then poached to preserve the truffle flavor and served in a truffle potato mousseline, topped with pickled shallots, prosciutto ribbons, chervil leaves and even more truffles on top. It is ridiculously, almost criminally good.

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Next, this is the steamed day-boat onaga, done Chinatown style, with ginger shiitake mushrooms, sizzled with grape seed and sesame oils, and topped with crispy fried cilantro and green onions that gave the dish a little something extra. Mavro really knows how to cook fish, can I just say.

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Here’s the lamb loin with a deconstructed basil-infused ratatouille and Provencal socca (chickpea flour crepes), inspired from the French Riviera, Côte d’Azur. It was finished with a nice sweet-spiced lamb jus and topped with some black truffle shavings.

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This it the 100 percent wagyu pavé topped with a well-balanced pomegranate-teriyaki glaze. In one corner is sautéed kabocha (pumpkin) topped with a bouquet of watercress from Sumida Farms. And in another corner are potato mochi cakes with a yuzu-kosho accent in the middle. The best bite had all of the components, trust me.

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Next up: the pre-dessert. (Don’t you love pre-desserts?) This is a champagne gelée with honeydew melon. The perfect palette cleanser.

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We were treated to two desserts last night. This was mine — Mavro knows me! — a Waialua chocolate crispy rice bar with cranberry white chocolate namesake, gingerbread cake with a tangy cranberry sauce, topped with candied almonds. Divine!

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My husband had the rosemary roasted pineapple with semifreddo, a guava gelée, coconut (haupia, more like) sorbet, and sansho crumble. Such a delightfully refreshing dish.

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We even got to sample the popular white chocolate and green tea marquise. Such a lovely dessert.

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And if that weren’t enough, we were gifted with rich dark chocolate and lavender pavé (truffle) that melted in our mouths. The perfect ending.

If you’re interested in trying this decadent seasonal menu, make reservations now! It’ll only be available through the holidays! The four-course menu is $95 per person, the six-course menu is $128 per person. More for wine pairings and black truffle add-ons. Call (808) 944-4714.

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It started with an email

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I wouldn’t consider myself a risk-taker.

Sure, I’ve traveled to third-world countries without getting the appropriate shots and moved to Chicago without even visiting the city. (I am an Aries!)

But in general, I tend to live between the lines. I don’t paddle out if the waves are overhead and I wouldn’t walk my dogs in the middle of the night.

And to get me to go out on a date with someone I’ve never met before falls into that category.

Here’s what happened: Back in November 2013, I confessed to a friend that I was divorced. It wasn’t something I liked to broadcast. In fact, only a handful of people knew that my marriage was over.

I didn’t tell anyone for a variety of reasons, one of which was not wanting to get set up.

Which is exactly what happened.

My friend sent me over a link to the Facebook page of a guy he had known for a couple of years.

“Single,” he wrote.

“Who is he?”

“He’s a professor at UH, works with us on the wetland project, he does aquaculture mostly.”

“Nice?” I asked. Because that’s really, really important to me.

“Nice,” my friend responded. “And hunky.”

“I seriously don’t care about hunky.” (True.)

“Right…”

After a few back-and-forths — and then a serendipitous assignment on aquaculture — I decided I’d email this guy my friend was raving about.

My attitude was this: “If he’s nice and he’s active and he’s not an idiot or a misogynist or a downer or crazy or an asshole, I’m open.”

So I emailed him about the story. He wrote back the next morning, his message full of useful information. I appreciated his quick and comprehensive response. We became Facebook friends and, a month later, he emailed me this line about that story I was supposed to write: “I’m happy to help, too, and maybe we can meet up sometime in person to discuss.”

We agreed to meet on Dec. 14, 2013 in the early morning to surf at Queen’s — and to talk about aquaculture.

We surfed. And we did talk. But not just about aquaculture.

We wound up talking for six hours at Rainbow Drive-In. And before he got home, he texted me about surfing the next morning, too.

We saw each other every single day from that point on. And six months to the day we met, we were married.

And all it took was an email to a stranger.

I’ve looked back on my exchange with our mutual friend who set us up and I always laugh when I read the message he sent me, begging me not taking on this guy’s last name if we ever got married. (And this was before I had even sent that first email.) “Cat Fox,” he said, was just too much.

And yet, here we are, a year after we met on that fateful morning at the beach, and I’m officially — and legally and happily — a Fox.

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Celebrating our one-year anniversary this weekend at the Moana Surfrider.

It’s still so unbelievable to me that our lives intersected last year, that we were both single at the same time, that we would both instantly like each other so much that in six months we made our relationship legal.

It just seems so surreal.

I barely knew the guy at first. (I won’t lie, I did Google him, but not much showed up.) And I’ve never really been the type to just meet someone like that — at 5 a.m. in Waikīkī, no less.

Yet, that departure from the way I usually operate proved to be the best decision of my life.

I met my husband, my best friend. I’m part of an awesome, supportive family. And my two dogs have another sister. Life couldn’t be better or more complete.

I’m still not going to paddle out in high-advisory surf or move to Syria. (There’s no good reason there.) But maybe, sometimes, every once in awhile, I might shake things up, do something that’s out of my ordinary.

Because you just never know what amazing turn your life might take.

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It’s already December and I’m freaking out

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Cursed Christmas.

How did you get here so fast?

It’s already the second week of December — 15 days to Christmas — and I’m panicking.

I’ve bought exactly one present, mailed out zero cards, and just got a tree on Monday. It’s up, but there’s nothing on it.

I’m actually appalled with myself. By this time last year my entire Christmas list was checked off, gifts were wrapped, cards were long mailed out, and I was sitting in Christmas-themed pajamas, staring at a fully decorated tree with a mug of hot cocoa.

I might have already baked, too.

So what happened?

Good question.

In fact, it was a question I openly discussed with my dental hygienist yesterday. She’s a perfectionist — I can tell — and highly organized. By Thanksgiving she’s done shopping, too, and just coasting to Christmas.

But this year, she said, she hadn’t done a thing.

“I don’t know what happened,” she said through her medical mask, panic shining in her eyes. “I’m so behind!”

A part of me blames the Internet.

Not only have I been spending more time on said technological advancement, but I’m shopping there, too. It’s easy to get caught up in the depth of these shopping sites, browsing at items you didn’t even know existed. I mean, did you know you could buy a modular chicken cook from Williams-Sonoma or glow-in-the-dark Silly Putty from Amazon? I certainly didn’t.

So what happened was this: I wound up buying online a dozen Govino stemless shatterproof wine glasses, a Billabong wetsuit top, and a Fire TV stick — all for me.

The sales were just too good.

I bet the revenue generated from online retailers this holiday season — thanks to an extended Cyber Monday that really lasted two weeks — wasn’t solely for Christmas gifts. I’m sure people, like me, splurged on themselves. I mean, it’s hard to resist a deal — and with free shipping!

But now it’s just a couple of weeks until Christmas and I have nothing to show for it. Not even a batch of decorated sugar cookies or a tree with at least lights on it.

My plan now is to wait for Saturday, when it will be exactly 12 days until Christmas. That seems like a reasonable timeframe to get started.

Anyone else freaking out?

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#GiveBack: Fix the hole in the He‘eia fishpond

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It’s Christmas. Everyone’s strapped for cash. I get it.

But one of the best things you can do with your money is support a charity or project that has an ROI (return on investment) that goes beyond Christmas morning.

Look, I’m budgeting this year for the holidays. It’s the first year that I’m solely, completely working on a freelance budget. (And if you know anything about freelance writing, you’ll know that I’m *thisclose* to eating instant ramen every night.) But I still found a way to give back this year — and I hope you do, too.

B39TevMCUAAUX55The one that really connected with me was this: Paepae o He‘eia, the private nonprofit that cares for the historic He‘eia fishpond on the windward side of O‘ahu, needs to raise $100,000 to fix an 80-foot-wide hole in the fishpond wall.

The significance of this campaign — called “Pani Ka Puka,” or “close the hole” — is that once the hole is filled with rock, the fishpond can finally be used. That means, all the work that’s been done since the nonprofit took over stewardship of the area in 2001 will come to fruition.

The 800-year-old ancient Hawaiian fishpond will finally be useable.

Watch and learn here.

“It empowers the Hawaiian to practice in a modern-day setting, being able to restore something that our kūpuna built 800 years ago and provide opportunities for others to do the same,” says executive director Hi‘ilei Kawelo. “There are less than a dozen useable fishponds left on O‘ahu, and this is an important cultural tradition that we have the opportunity to preserve and pass onto our children.”

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On Wednesday the nonprofit officially launched the campaign with a blessing and rock-passing ceremony (above) at the fishpond. The goal is to raise $100,000 in the next 12 months to pay for materials, labor and other support.

The first time I went to the fishpond was back in 2008, when I had joined the marine conservation staff at The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i. We helped cut down invasive mangrove, stacked rocks to build the wall, and removed invasive algae from the water. It was inspiring to see an entire community of people, all of whom felt a certain responsibility to preserving this treasure, come together and work on this project. That feeling never left me, and I’ve since written dozens of stories about the nonprofit, the fishpond and its significance in Hawai‘i.

So here’s a real, tangible chance to help.

I’ve done the physical labor — and would do it again — but now it’s time to give.

So I went to the website and donated.

I’m not saying that everyone should donate to Pani Ka Puka (though that would be nice and I’m sure the nonprofit would love that!) I’m saying find something that speaks to you, that inspires you, that makes you believe in a better world — and support it.

Trust me, it will make your — and someone else’s — holidays that much merrier.

To learn more about Paepae o He‘eia’s Pani Ka Puka campaign, visit here.

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#DidThis: Riding horses at Kualoa Ranch, O‘ahu

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I was one of those little girls with posters of horses on her walls and a very well-worn copy of “Black Beauty” by her bedside.

Yes, I had a fascination with horses, even back then.

And while I had always wanted to ride on, the chance never really came up.

Until this weekend, when my sweet husband surprised me with a horseback tour at Kualoa Ranch.

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Maybe this will come as a surprise to many of you, but I hadn’t even been to Kualoa Ranch, either. So this was going to be quite an adventure!

Established in 1850 on the northeastern side of O‘ahu, Kualoa is a 4,000-acre working cattle ranch, stretching from the Ko‘olau Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. The terrain varies from dense rainforest to lush gaping valleys to white sandy beaches.

There’s a ton of activities here, from ATV tours through its scenic valleys to catamaran rides of picturesque Kāneʻohe Bay with views of Mokoli‘i Island (Chinaman’s Hat) to a glass-bottom boat ride to the secluded Secret Island.

But one of the most popular ways to explore the ranch is by horseback — and that’s what we had come to do.

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We checked in at the Ticket Office, where you can, for $3, rent a locker for your belongings. (You can’t bring along anything that can’t fit in your pocket, so bags and large cameras had to be stowed.)

Then you waited by a horse pen for the tour to start.

I won’t lie, I was a bit nervous. I had climbed onto a horse before — back in Vegas a few years ago — and the height was a bit daunting. You can definitely feel the strength of these animals, and you know, at any given moment, they can decide whether they want you on their backs or not. So it was a bit intimidating.

We met our guide (above photo), Kyle, a 2011 graduate of Kahuku High School, who grew up on her family’s ranch on the North Shore. Knowing — and seeing — how comfortable she was with these horses put my fears at ease.

She handed me a 10-year-old horse named Ace. He was once a guide horse, so he was really familiar with the trails on the ranch. “He’s super mellow,” she told me. “And he totally knows what to do.”

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My husband opted for the two-hour tour ($99 per person), which took us deep into Ka‘a‘awa Valley, where films such as “Godzilla,” “Jurassic Park” and “50 First Dates” were filmed. We started off along the highway, through groves of kiawe trees with stunning ocean views (above).

There were just a few of us — maybe 10 — on the tour, led by a guide. We rode single file and never went faster than a quick walk. That’s it. In fact, trotting or galloping would result in you — and I’m assuming your horse — getting kicked off the tour with no refund. They were THAT serious about safety.

I got used to being on a horse pretty quickly. (Maybe it’s my Portuguese heritage coming out.) At first, I was a bit nervous, gripping onto the reigns a little too much. But after a few minutes, I started to relax into the gait, using the reigns only when I needed to and truly enjoying the scenery. (It helped that my horse, Ace, lived up to his name.)

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We made our way toward Ka‘a‘awa, past freshwater ponds and grazing cattle. The verdant cliffs, the depth of the valley itself — it was all so breathtaking. I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much had I been walking or biking.

There’s something rustic and exhilarating about riding a horse through this terrain. Like it’s the way you were supposed to experience it. On horseback. And with an iPhone. (smile)

Two-hour rides cost $99 per person, one-hour rides (to the southern half of Kualoa and the ranch’s 800-year-old Hawaiian fishpond) are $69 per person. To book a horseback tour, call 1-800-231-7321 or 808-237-7321 or visit here.

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