5 Qs with indoor farmer Kerry Kakazu

By June 3, 2015 Musings

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After ditching a regular 9-to-5 job and armed with degrees in biology and plant physiology, Kerry Kakazu started what’s probably the first urban indoor farm in Hawai‘i last year.

And he’s not growing marijuana.

MetroGrow Hawai‘i produces various greens, microgreens and shoots in space-saving, vertically integrated aeroponic and hydroponics operations in a teeny little warehouse space in Kaka‘ako. He’s in charge of everything here, from planting to harvesting to replenishing the nutrient solution supply the grows his greens.

Right now, he supplies local restaurants including Stage Restaurant, Tango Contemporary Cafe and Yohei Sushi. Ed Kenney’s new venture, Mud Hen Water, in Kaimukī is soon to be a regular customer.

And what’s been crazy-popular is the ice plant (above), or glacier lettuce, which taste a bit like the salty sea asparagus but way cooler.

So we decided to chat with Kakazu and find out what motivated him to start this business and what he think about the future of agriculture in Hawai‘i:

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Here are green onions sprouts. And yes, you can eat the seed, too.

1. How did you get the idea of farming indoors?

I had been interested in hydroponic growing for awhile and read about how enclosed aeroponic farms were being developed in Singapore because of the lack of land and warm climate. I saw the similarities to the situation in Hawai‘i and thought that growing indoors would be a unique niche for the growing different plants from the outdoor farms. The idea of being able to control all the different variables that contribute to plant growth appealed to my plant science background. However, until recently, most of the lighting systems were tremendous energy users so I didn’t think an indoor farm could be economical unless you were growing something like marijuana. A few years ago, LED lighting products for horticulture started to come out and they used a fraction of the electricity. That development made me think that an indoor farm could be feasible.

2. What are you currently growing and what are some interesting crops you plan to go soon? (Or maybe dream about growing.)

I am growing butter lettuce, Chinese cabages, microgreens, pea and corn shoots and ice plant. I’m researching some other cool weather greens like mache and Miner’s lettuce. I’d also like to develop aeroponic growing of strawberries and wasabi.

3. What are your plans for the Kaka‘ako regentrification? Are you staying where you are?

I wasn’t sure how critical being in Kaka‘ako would be when I started out, but now that I’m here, I like the fit. I got into my space partly because Kamehameha Schools saw this venture as compatible with their master plan for Kaka‘ako. Chefs seem interested that I’m nearby, so I think that is a definite marketing advantage. I’ve biked to Vino and Hiroshi to deliver product. Today, Ed Kenney called, stopped by and picked up some pea shoots and scallion microgreens. Later, I walked over to Bevy to bring them samples. I think this community is very receptive to outside the box businesses. However, because of the continuing development, I’m on a month-to-month lease, so the future isn’t certain. I’ve thought about trying to partner with one of the new developments to be an onsite farm/vegetable store. My big dream is a combination indoor farm, organic waste recycling center (anaerobic digestion) and community garden facility that would be a great sustainability demonstration/education project. I’d like to talk to HCDA (Hawai‘i Community Development Authority) about that one.

4. How has this new career changed your life?

It’s been fun to work for myself, definitely fulfilling to be producing a tangible product. Getting hands on with so many different aspects of a business seems to fit my personality, I like to try new things and learn new skills. It’s hard work, yet not stressful. A lot of dichotomies, but I’m guessing that’s how a lot of entrepreneurs feel. It’s tough not to be making money yet, but luckily I have support from family who want to see this succeed.

5. What’s your view on the future of farming in Hawai‘i?

When I started this, I was under the impression that farm land was scarce on O‘ahu. Because of the loss of sugar and pineapple, It does seem that there is still a lot of ag land that is under-utilized because of lack of infrastructure. I believe the governor supports diversified ag and projects like Whitmore Village may help expand the use of the existing ag lands and for more local food production. However, I believe that there will be a need for urban, indoor farming to supplement the traditional growing. If renewable energy sources can be utilized it can be a practical adjunct to more traditional farming. It will also conserve water, reduce pesticide usage, pollute less, and prevent soil degradation. It can only help better Hawai‘i’s food production self-sufficiency. The biggest hurdle (for all kinds of farming) will be price competition. Large Mainland and foreign farms can often still sell for less than local producers because of their economies of scale and efficient distribution chains. It will take education and awareness of the higher quality of the local produce (that’s where the chefs really help) to show that the local product is still a good value at a higher price.

Visit this indoor farm today from 2:30 to 5 p.m. in Kaka‘ako. For more information about MetroGrow Hawai‘i, call (808) 255-3002 or follow @metrogrowhawaii on Instragram.

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#40trails No. 6: Kalāwahine Trail, O‘ahu

By June 2, 2015 #40trails

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HIKE: Kalāwahine Trail, Tantalus, O‘ahu
WHEN: May 2015
LENGTH: 2.5 miles roundtrip
DIFFICULTY: Easy
FEATURES: Native trees and plants, birds, valleys and gulches, tree snails, feral pigs.

We really weren’t planning to hike that day.

It just sort of happened.

That’s why we’re so fortunate to live on O‘ahu, where a hiking trail is literally a short drive away from anywhere on the island. In this case, it took us maybe 15 minutes to get to the trailhead of Kalāwahine Trail on Tantalus.

It’s a trail I’ve often done, the last time years ago with a group of coworkers, one of whom carried a six-pack of beer in his backpack the whole way. Along with ice.

As you can tell, it’s not a difficult trail.

The hardest part is really just finding parking.

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Tantalus Drive, where the trailhead is located

The trailhead is off Tantalus Drive (see above). There’s very limited parking near the start of the trail, located just beyond a narrow bridge and adjacent to a private road that goes uphill. You can also park in an area just before the bridge in a sort of pull-off on the turn. (That’s where we ended up parking.)

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The start of the trail.

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A bandana tied to the post means there’s a hunter around. And we met up with him early into the trail — with six dogs. We were glad we didn’t bring the #ratterpack!

The trailhead (above) is right at the junction between Tantalus Drive and a private road (called Telephone Road on Google Maps). It’s well marked and there’s brush at the start where you can — and should — remove dirt and seeds from the soles of your shoes.

Kalāwahine Trail is part of a larger system of interconnected trails over Makiki known as the Honolulu Mauka Trail System. It starts near the top of Tantalus, a cinder cone called Pu‘u ʻŌhiʻa on the southern Ko‘olau Range. The trail contours along the edge of Pauoa Valley and to a lookout with views of Nu‘uanu Valley.

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The start of the trail. Its name, Kalāwahine, means “the day of women.”

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A rest stop with a recently planted koa tree.

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Another scene from the early parts of the trail.

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Snails ahead!

Near the start, there’s a small gully that’s marked as tree snail habitats (above). There’s a patch of kalo (taro) and white ginger here. And the snails were pretty easy to spot.

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Here’s one. There were many more on nearby plants.

Most of these tiny snails were brown in color, like the one above, and cruising on the ginger leaves.

Just a century ago, snails — like the kahuli — were plentiful here. In fact, students from Punahou School would collect the shells of these land snails and even hunt for duck in this area back in the 1840s. One account says there were more than 2,000 kahuli snails — now all extinct — collected on a single hike. I can’t imagine.

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My favorite twisted tree on this hike.

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Watch for signs like these.

Kalāwahine Trail is part of a large, meandering network of trails; in fact the Makiki-Tantalus Trail, alone, uses 18 different trails in the Honolulu mauka system. So there are lots of junctions everywhere, including on this seemingly easy-to-follow trail.

It’s actually not.

My husband, who’s an avid hiker, has admitted to taking wrong turns on this trail system. You really need to keep a lookout for signs — and they’re not always so obvious.

This trail intersects with the Mānoa Cliff and the Pauoa Flats trails. Take the wrong turn and you might end up at a waterfall in another valley.

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While this trail is mostly flat, there are spots with stairs. But seriously, this is as hard as it gets.

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You’ll hit this open area — which my husband says is perfect for paint balling. (Yes, he grew up in the ’90s.)

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Here’s another junction, though, according to the sign, you can go either way.

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Just a glamour shot of the forest.

At that Pauoa Flats Trail junction, you can either go right or left. If you go right, you’ll end up at a midpoint on Mānoa Cliff Trail. Left takes you to the Nu‘uanu overlook — where we had wanted to end up.

For those of you who are into birds, you won’t find native ones here. But you’ll find the white-rumped shama — originally from Malaysia — with its variety of songs. It often mimics other birds, too. So whistle. You might get a whistle back.

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When you go left, you’ll walk through a thick bamboo grove.

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The end!

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There’s a nice little area where you can sit and gaze out into Nu‘uanu Valley — or drink some champagne, which is what we did.

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The view of Nu‘uanu Reservoir.

It doesn’t take too long from the bamboo forest to hit the end of the trail — there are signs saying it’s the end — at this overlook. You get a stunning view of Nu‘uanu Valley and the reservoir.

This reservoir — technically, Nu‘uanu Reservoir No. 4 — was a favorite spot for my family to fish. Once a year, the state would open it up to anglers looking to catch the catfish and tilapia that are stocked there. But budget cuts forced the shutdown of the hatchery operations here in December 2009.

Some people actually ignore “No Tresspassing” signs and climb the 50-foot tower and jump into the reservoir. People have died doing this. It’s stupid. I don’t recommend it.

But I do recommend this hike. It’s so much nicer to see the reservoir than be actually in it.

VERDICT: This is an easy trail, something you could squeeze in after work or on a lazy Sunday morning. It’s a nice walk through trees and along gullies, very peaceful and quiet despite being just minutes from a bustling city. And maybe you can glimpse a tree snail, too.

***
Follow my hiking adventures #40trails at Instagram (@catherinetoth), Twitter (@thedailydish) and Facebook (/thecatdish).

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#CatEats: Dinner in a kitchen on Maui

By May 22, 2015 Food

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I didn’t know how I was going to pull this off.

I was going to be flying back home from Okinawa, where I had been for a week, with only a couple of hours before jumping back on a plane to Maui.

But I had a good reason.

It was called Chef’s Table, an exclusive dining experience put on by Maui Executive Catering in Haʻikū, known for thoughtful, hyper-local dishes.

Here’s how it works: For $100, you feast on a prix fixe menu created and executed by executive chef Jeff Scheer, an alum of the Culinary Institute of America and chef instructor at the Maui Culinary Academy, right in his working commercial kitchen. Chef’s Table is held on Fridays and Saturdays and often features other notable chefs who collaborate on the menu and preparation. It seats up to 24 people — split between two rooms — with each course served on classic wood-topped tables with elegant dinner ware.

It’s fancy — but not stuffy.

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Scheer prepping for dinner — right in front of you.

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It’s a working commercial kitchen. I loved the ambiance.

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Here’s the table setting.

I had heard about it through my dear friend, Tanya, a mother of three who returned to culinary school to perfect her already pretty perfect baking skills. (She comes from a family of bakers.) But after a couple of cooking classes — and learning under Scheer — she’s grown to really, really love cooking. She was so excited for us to fly to Maui and meet her mentor — how could we say no?

And after eating this meal, why would we ever?

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On one side, the chefs are prepping dinner. Behind them, the diners sit and watch.

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Scheer plating the charcuterie board course.

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You get an up close look at all of the ingredients used for diner. This is the beef slab used in the sixth course.

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Krista Garcia, formerly of The French Laundry, was the chef collaborator that night. We lucked out!

What I loved about the experience was actually watching these chefs work.

It’s not everyday you can get this behind-the-scenes look at what they do, how they prep and plate, what kinds of local ingredients they’re using. And with this event, you can get all of that — and you can even talk with them, take photos, whatever you want. For someone who’s into all aspects of food like me, this was awesome.

So here’s what we ate:

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It started as all memorable meals often do: with an amuse-bouche. This was a tasty little pumpernickel macaron with sous vide radish and homemade butter. I could have just had this and left. It was that good.

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The first course featured a local farm egg, done sous vide, with mustard ice cream and crispy onions. The egg held up — not runny, not hard — and that mustard ice cream was a game-changer. Talk about creative flavor combinations! This might have been my favorite dish of the night.

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The second course showcased local taro, fried until crisp, with a goat cheese curd — also local — and blue oyster mushrooms.

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Next up, the house chauterie board, so rustic and fun to share, with house-cured meats, goat cheese and tomatoes. But I have to say, I was blown away by terrine, a French forcemeat loaf similar to pâté. This one, though, was made with macadamia nuts and poha (cape gooseberry) berries. It was so good, my husband declared, “Ho, this Spam thing is mean!”

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A close second favorite was this dish: the wild boar agnolotti swimming in tomato water flavored with sage and topped with whey foam. I’m still unsure how anything becomes foam, but this definitely worked.

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The fifth dish was a bowl featuring a carrot puree dotted with a Kauaʻi shrimp — head on, of course — with tarragon and a forbidden rice cracker.

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Next was this perfectly braised beef with alliums — a kind of onion — with zucchini. Tender and oozing with flavor.

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And for the finale — and if we could get seconds, this is the dish I would have asked for — was Garcia’s masterful liliko‘i posset. A posset is a British hot drink of milk curdled with alcohol or citrus juice. It’s made a comeback recently as a dessert. And Garcia smartly used local passionfruit — love the tang — and adorned it with all things celery. Yes, celery. Like celery candy that my husband, who loathes the vegetable, ate as such. Super creative — and the flavors all worked.

So if you’re on Maui on a Friday or Saturday — and you’re looking for a unique dining experience — this is it. Truly one of my favorite dinners in Hawai‘i, if not for the creative flavors, for the lively atmosphere. And it helps we had great company, too.

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Chef’s Table at Maui Executive Catering, 810 Kokomo Road, #150, Haʻikū, Maui. Cost is $100 per person. BYOB. Phone: (808) 575-9002. Next dinners are May 22 with Chef Krista Garcia, May 23 with Garcia presenting vegetarian courses, May 29 and May 30. Reservations highly recommended, if not required.

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#40trails No. 5: Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail, O‘ahu

By May 18, 2015 #40trails

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HIKE: Wiliwiliniu Ridge Trail, Wai‘alae Iki, O‘ahu
WHEN: May 2015
LENGTH: 5 miles roundtrip
DIFFICULTY: Moderate
FEATURES: Native plants and birds, views of Waimānalo, camping allowed, stairs and section with ropes

I couldn’t remember the last time I had hiked to the summit of the Wiliwilinui Ridge Trail in East Honolulu — but I did remember two things: the stairs and the ropes.

This trail, located at the top of the exclusive Wai‘alae Iki subdivision, is very similar to its neighboring trails, Hawai‘i Loa and Kuli‘ou‘ou, in terrain and views. And they all have those freaking stairs.

But I digress.

Since the trailhead is located in a gated community, you have to declare your intentions to a friendly guard on Laukahi Street. He will hand you a parking pass with instructions on how to get to the start of the trail. There’s a small parking area — you can’t park anywhere else — that limits the number of hikers and hunters that are on the trail. Which is a great thing, actually.

(And please abide by the rules and regulations. The Wiliwilinui Community Association has been really cooperative in allowing the public to access this trail. So let’s not screw that up.)

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Here’s the start of the trail.

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The first part of the trail is paved.

The trail starts on a dirt access road through formosa koa and waiawī (guava) trees up Wiliwilinui Ridge. This was built by the U.S. Army back in 1941, so the road is wide and well graded — and, subsequently, popular with mountain bikers and trail runners.

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Of the three trails along this stretch of the Ko‘olau Mountains, this hike is probably the easiest. Kuli‘ou‘ou is windy and long, with lots of switchbacks; the last section of the Hawai‘i Loa Ridge Trail is a stiff climb to the top. But on this trail, you get to leisurely walk along a paved road for more than a mile before climbing a ridge to a HECO tower.

Albeit, it is uphill.

We spent this part of the hike chatting incessantly about everything from Sunday dinner plans to the woes of trying to get pregnant. (It’s not as easy as it looks.)

Despite the relative ease — and concrete — the trail, itself, is still a walk through a forest of native koa and ʻōhiʻa trees, ironwoods, some Cook pines. You may even glimpse the endangered — but curious and friendly — O‘ahu ‘elepaio (monarch flycatcher) here.

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The sight of power lines does diminish the whole “nature” feel of this hike a bit, but it’s still a beautiful trail.

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We stopped to take in the view of ‘Āina Haina to the east. This residential community was named after local dairyman and owner of the Hind-Clarke Dairy, Robert Hind. Hence, the name, which means, “Hind’s Land.”

After about 40 minutes from the start, you’ll reach an open clearing with a large tree and a swing (below). I’ve sat in the swing. It’s stable. And it’s a great excuse to take a short break before heading up the steepest part of the trail to the summit.

The stairs were placed years ago to stabilize the hillside and make access to the summit easier. I wouldn’t want to hike to the top without them, that’s for sure.

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The swing marks the start of the hardest section of the trail.

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The stairs to the summit.

After a few sections of stairs, you’ll reach a flat section with a clear view of the summit in sight (below).

We didn’t pick the most ideal day to do this trail. It had been raining for days leading up to the hike, making the trail muddier and slipperier than we would have liked. And we could already tell the clouds had rolled in, blocking the view from the summit.

The upside, though? We only encountered three other people — and a dog named Missy — on the trail.

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Here’s where the trail starts to get a bit more difficult.

There’s a steep section, deeply rutted from rain and erosion, with ropes at the final push to the top. It’s not overly hard; you just have to be comfortable climbing with ropes and not worried about getting muddy. (Then again, I’m a big fan of ropes and mud.)

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After this section, you’ll approach a communications tower (above) — another strange sight on a ridge hike — and a sign that you’re almost to the top.

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The summit isn’t incredibly spacious, and there’s a small bench at the top. The views at the top — on a clear day, of course — are incredible. You’re at about 2,500 feet elevation, overlooking the windward coast from Kualoa Point to Waimānalo. You can see the three peaks of Olomana and the summit ridge to Kōnāhuanui, the highest peak in the Koʻolau Range. (That’s another hike, for sure.)

But alas, we were socked in — until just when we were going to head down. The winds suddenly changed and we were able to get a very, very quick view of the coastline and Pacific Ocean.

Kismet.

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Then on the way down, we caught this view (above) of Downtown Honolulu and Waikīkī — complete with a rainbow.

It took us less than three hours total to complete the trail, though we weren’t trying to break any records. It was just a nice morning to catch up with great friends – and get in a workout, too.

It never hurts to have lunch plans right after, either.

VERDICT: This is the easiest of the three trails — Hawai‘i Loa and Kuli‘ou‘ou — to the Ko‘olau summit on this side of the island, with the first quarter of it paved. If you can ignore the power lines and asphalt and focus on the native trees and ferns instead, this is a very enjoyable hike that ends in spectacular views of the windward side of O‘ahu. And it won’t take up your entire day, either.

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Follow my hiking adventures #40trails at Instagram (@catherinetoth), Twitter (@thedailydish) and Facebook (/thecatdish).

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Goodbye to two great restaurants

By May 13, 2015 Food

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On May 3 I got an email that simply read, “Changes for DK Restaurants.”

I almost didn’t open it.

But I did — and found out that two of my favorite restaurants — Hiroshi Eurasian Tapas and Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar — were closing this month.

I was shocked. The last time we had been to Hiroshi it was packed. (Granted, it was one of those special kaiseki dinners, but still.) It was hard to believe this restaurant, along with the more casual Vino, would no longer be our go-to dinner spot on a Friday night.

Not even 10 minutes after reading the email, I made reservations to eat there with my husband that night.

It just so happened executive chef John Iha — arguable one of the most underrated chefs on the island — was serving up fish and produce from Mari’s Gardens, an 18-acre aquaponics and hydroponics farm in Mililani where my husband works. So while it was great to see Iha — and everyone’s favorite master sommelier-comedian Chuck Furuya — that night, it was doubly nice to eat greens and tilapia (top) from my husband’s farm, too.

But I can’t say that took away from the shock and sadness I felt that night.

For one, both restaurants serve up some of my favorite dishes, including the Portuguese sausage potstickers (below) with wilted choi sum and an masterfully crafted truffled butter ponzu sauce that I could never replicate at home. (Which is why I love eating out.) And the fish here was always surprisingly good, from the panko-crusted mekajiki (broadbill swordfish) to the pan-roasted onaga on an ogo squid ink pasta to the crispy-skinned Hawaiian kampachi with local tofu and Manila clams.

And let me tell you, my husband and I have never had tilapia done so well — perfectly prepared, mindfully with the skin still on, so moist and flavorful. If you tried it, you’d never think of tilapia as the rubbish fish from the Ala Wai Canal again, trust me. (It helps that Iha is an avid fisherman. He knows what to do with fish.)

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And then there was Vino, with its laid-back atmosphere perfect for dinner with friends, where all you need is a hot loaf of homemade bread, a nice spread of cheeses and a bottle — OK, several — of wine.

I have a lot of great memories at both restaurants, many with my husband, others with friends and a table full of sharable plates and empty wine glasses.

I can’t imagine the food scene in Hawai‘i without these two restaurants — or without Furuya, who’s not just a master of all things wine but has a way of making you laugh and roll your eyes at the same time. He’s an icon that needs to work a room full of hungry patrons, and I’m sure he and chef/restauranteur D.K. Kodama are looking for another venue — if not for their food, for him.

“Change is good — and inevitable,” Kodama said in that press release I read two weeks ago. “And we’re excited about the future as we grow our company in new ways.”

So while two restaurants close, I’m hopeful another one — maybe two! — will open in their place.

And I can only believe their next venture will be even better.

The last day of service at Slurp!, the ramen pop-up, will be May 15. The last evening of service at Hiroshi and Vino will be Thursday, May 21. So make reservations now.

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