Tag Archives: Food

Coming soon: Fresh Cafe Downtown

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Five years ago Tiffany Tanaka started Fresh Cafe in Kakaako, and it quickly became the hot spot for hipsters, college students, young entrepreneurs, art lovers, and WiFi-seeking cofficers in town.

Now she’s opening a second location, aptly in burgeoning Chinatown, bringing the same kind of unique-gathering-space concept to the downtown area.

“It’s going to be Fresh Cafe 2.0,” Tanaka said at today’s media preview of the restaurant. “We’re trying to bring Fresh Cafe up another notch, to another level.” (Don’t worry, the Kakaako location will still remain open.)

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Fresh Cafe Downtown will open in stages starting in a couple of weeks. It occupies the huge space — more than 5,000 square feet — that was vacated by the beloved Indigo’s, which closed in September 2013.

There will be several components to the new cafe: a pizzeria that will serve pies at lunch and late at night, a coffee bar with pastries (below), and an indoor and outdoor dining area with new and unique menu items.

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Here’s the cafe’s coffee bar, which was also serve pastries and desserts.

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Here’s the main dining hall, which will feature art by local artists — very in line with Fresh Cafe’s philosophy on promoting creativity and local talent.

Because of the largeness of the space, Tanaka said she will be opening the pizzeria first, maybe in a week or two, with service until 3 a.m. (“When you have no place to go at 3 a.m., we’ll be here,” she said, laughing.) Next will be the coffee bar — where the old Green Room was — and the actual restaurant will open in a month or two.

Several dozen media folks in town were invited to a preview of the restaurant today, to sample some of the menu items and browse the space.

Here’s what the event looked like — and what you can expect from Fresh Cafe’s second location:

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Sangria and Bloody Marys got the event started.

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Sarah Honda, editorial director at HILuxury, and Martha Cheng, food editor at HONOLULU who pens the blog, Biting Commentary, were both there, among the dozens of media who turned up for the lunchtime event.

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Tiffany Tanaka, one of the co-owners of this space, addressed the crowd in the main dining hall. She said she was nervous and read her thank-yous from her iPhone.

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Here’s the Lime Jello with haupia and diced mango tossed in an Earl Grey-and-lychee syrup.

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This is a Chinese rice cake with apple mousse, bacon and a black sesame puree.

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Here’s the arugula pizza with an herb cheese spread, chia seeds and coco nibs.

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Finally — a REAL Hawaiian pizza! This was came topped with kalua pork, Portuguese sausage, lup cheong, lomi tomato sauce and spinach.

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This is the spinach artichoke pizza with marinated artichoke hearts, roasted bell peppers, spinach, cream cheese, Parmesan cheese and Prosciutto.

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Of course, everyone got a swag bag, packed with oatmeal cookies and reasons to come back!

Fresh Cafe Downtown, 1121 Nuuanu Ave., Suite 105. Will be open in stages starting in a couple of weeks. Visit the site for updates.

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#FUUD: MW Restaurant near Ala Moana

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The rave reviews were in months ago, but I just never got around to checking it out.

It’s not that I didn’t want to dine at MW Restaurant near Ala Moana Center in the old KGMB building. Oh, I did. It was one of the most highly anticipated openings last year. But for whatever reason, maybe I was saving it for some special occasion, I never went.

Until this month.

The special occasion: to be honest, I didn’t want to cook.

I had just managed to pack away two full bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom and a living room of junk — 38 years of accumulation — and moved to a house in Nuuanu. I was just tired of seeing boxes and eating takeout. It was time to dine in style.

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Here’s inside the restaurant at the bar.

The restaurant is run by the husband-and-wife team of Wade Ueoka and Michelle Karr-Ueoka, both long-time alums of Alan Wong’s Restaurant and Rising Star recipients from StarChefs.com.

Not only that, but both worked at the uber-swank The French Laundry in Yountville, Calif. Those are some major creds.

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Here’s Chef Wade and me!

And add to that that of the 30 contenders for prestigious 2014 James Beard Foundation Awards given to restaurants and chefs, MW was nominated in the Best New Restaurant category and Karr-Ueoka among the 20 candidates for Outstanding Pastry Chef.

“Party of two?”

“Yes, please.”

Here’s what my first meal at MW looked like — and trust me, it won’t be my last:

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Turned out that night was packed and we lucked out with a 7 p.m. reservation because another party had cancelled. It was nice to see a new, locally owned restaurant hopping like this!

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We went with the chef’s tasting menu, which offered a sampling of some of the restaurant’s most popular dishes.

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As part of the appetizer sampler plate, this was a bite of pickled beets grown at Otsuji Farms in Hawaii Kai with local goat cheese. Completely perfect.

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Next, we tried the ahi nachos — just a bite — with an avocado salsa and rice cracker balls on a fried won ton pi. The flavor combination was unexpected but delicious.

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Here’s the restaurant’s “fried chicken,” made with pressed Jidori chicken topped with a garlic shoyu sauce and Hawaiian hearts of palm.

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Next up was the sampler of one of the restaurant’s popular entrees: the mochi-crusted opakapaka (pink snapper) with a yuzu kosho soy vinaigrette. This usually comes on a bed of somen noodles.

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Here’s a tasting of the Kauai shrimp with seafood ravioli. (It’s under there.) This came with a spicy uni (sea urchin) sauce, soy katsuo and shiso.

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Here’s the final entree of the chef’s tasting — and the one I was looking forward to most. This is the oxtail stew and rice; really, a piece of oxtail (it’s a stuffed roulade if you order the entree) on beef stew risotto with peanuts and mushrooms. I love the playfulness of this dish, taking something so “local” and elevating it. Nice job!

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I ordered a REAL entree: the twice-cooked pork tonkatsu with a vegetable panchan from Ho Farms. I’m not sure what it means for this pork cutlet to be cooked twice, but it was juicy on the inside, crispy on the outside, and all-around delish. Then pickled veggies and kim chee were a nice touch.

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One of the desserts here was part of the Localicious Hawaii menu, offered by various restaurants during the month of March with proceeds from these dishes supporting local ag education. This was a Meyer lemon creme brûlée, which was utter perfection. (I’m biased since I love both flavors separately anyway.)

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But what I really came for was Michelle’s signature ice cream sandwiches, carefully crafted (and wrapped) with a housemade chocolate caramel praline crunch ice cream that was spectacular. I think the restaurant should have a chef’s tasting menu of DESSERTS ONLY, too. (I’m so there.)

MW Restaurant, 1538 Kapiolani Blvd #107 near Ala Moana Center. Hours: Lunch, 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; dinner, 4 to 10 p.m., closed Tuesdays. Phone: (808) 955-6505. Reservations highly recommended.

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FUUD: Pig and the Lady in Chinatown

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Yes, it took me awhile.

But I finally made it to The Pig and the Lady‘s brick-and-mortar restaurant in Chinatown last week.

And it was even better than I had anticipated.

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This is outside the new location on North King Street, in the space once occupied by Lemongrass Cafe, the restaurant for the Pacific Gateway Center, a nonprofit group that provides assistance to immigrants, refugees and low-income residents. Though The Pig and the Lady has taken over the space, they’re still partnering with the Pacific Gateway Center and employing participants in their work training program.

The restaurant opened in November, luring its legion of loyal fans from the local farmers’ markets and pop-up shops for its popular banh mi and Vietnamese noodle soups.

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Inside the popular new restaurant, a nice addition to the vibrant dining scene in Chinatown. Love the decor, the communal tables, the red brick walls. Everything worked.

I’m thrilled owners Andrew Le and his mom, Loan Le, now have a permanent kitchen — and I don’t have to fight the Saturday crowds at Kapiolani Community College anymore for their farmer’s pho. (Insert Happy Dance here.)

The new restaurant, though, doesn’t just serve its farmers’ market staples. The menu — the Pig serves brunch, lunch and dinner — boasts new dishes and weekly specials. To me, that’s exciting.

So here’s what we ate on a recent visit to the Chinatown hot spot:

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Lunch is served from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday with a menu that comes with snacks like this bacon and ham hock rillette ($5), with kaya rusk, Parmesan cheese, citrus zest and watercress. I loved that the bread was crispy with a hint of cinnamon.

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One of my favorite items on the lunch menu was this hoi an chicken salad ($5 for a small portion, $10 for the larger size). Everything about this worked — the poached chicken, cabbage, Vietnamese cilantro, fried shallots, the hint of fish sauce, the toasted quinoa on top. I could eat this everyday.

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Here’s something new: the Pho French Dip Banh Mi ($11) with a brisket that’s roasted for 12 hours, Thai basil chimichurri, bean sprouts with a pho au jus.

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Here’s the pho ga ($12), a pho with poached chicken, a marinated soft egg, chicken crackling and a chicken fat vinaigrette, oh yeah. All of its pho dishes come with fresh noodles that are hand-cut daily. That hasn’t changed.

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This was one of the specials that day: Called “Mana Ai Moco,” this dish came with crispy kalo (taro), burnt brisket ends gravy, fried eggs from Petersons’ Upland Farms, pickled chili and garlic, and green onions. Talk about inventive.

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I’m a sucker for tsukemen (dipping noodle) dishes, so when I saw this on the menu, I didn’t hesitate to order it. Now I will say this, it can be a bit confusing if you don’t know how to eat tsukemen, which is most often seen with ramen. So I did this: I dumped the pho broth right into this bowl ($12), which came with that same 12-hour brisket, salt-cured egg yolk, fried shallots, roasted peanuts and garlic chives. Awesome. Might be my favorite pho yet.

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And you can’t forget about dessert. The restaurant serves a pie of the day ($5 per slice) — and we had two! One was a Vietnamese coffee cheesecake that had a nice balance of bitter and sweet; the other was a banana cream cheesecake that has actual slices of banana in it. Great day to end an awesome meal.

The Pig and the Lady, 83 N. King St. in Chinatown. Hours: Lunch, 10:30 to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; brunch, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday; dinner, 5:30-9:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 5:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with late night from 10 p.m. to midnight. Phone: (808) 585-8255. Web: thepigandthelady.com

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What a $295 dinner looks like

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There are very few things I’ll splurge on.

Computers, cameras, surfboards — those are all worth the hefty price tags.

But food?

If you asked me before Jan. 4, I’d tell you no way. I can get a great meal for less than $10 — and I’m not just talking about a plate lunch from Rainbow Drive-In, either.

But when a friend of mine asked me to join him and a couple of others for dinner at Vintage Cave, the uber-fancy fine dining restaurant in the bowels of Ala Moana Center that showcases unique flavor combinations and techniques you don’t see in Honolulu.

Here’s the catch: the tasting menu is $295. And that’s without tax or tip.

There are a lot of things $295 can buy you. A Coach handbag. A decent underwater camera. And about 37 plate lunches.

But blowing it all on one meal? That didn’t compute.

Still, I decided to go. For one, it would great to hang out with this group of people I hadn’t seen in awhile. And secondly, how many opportunities do you get to eat food prepared by the Cave’s Chris Kajioka and a few heavy-hitting chefs from the Mainland?

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Here are my gal pals, all sporting credit cards and big appetites!

On Jan. 4, Vintage Cave held its first collaboration dinner of 2014, with Blaine Wetzel (Willows Inn on Lummi Island, Wash.), Mourad Lahlou (Aziza in San Francisco), Viet Pham (Forage in Salt Lake City) and James Syhabout (Commis in Oakland, Calif.)

It was a 12-course dinner, including dessert by Vintage Cave executive pastry chef Rachel Murai. And it was going to take 4.5 hours from start to finish.

Good thing I had skipped lunch!

So here’s what a $295 meal looks like:

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The first course — it actually came out a little later during dinner — was this foie gras ganache covered in crispy fried leeks. As one of my friends said, “It looks like hairy coconut balls.” True. But it didn’t taste like them. Silky smooth inside, super soft and delicate. Nice way to start the meal. Created by Pham.

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Next up was the oysters from Kumamoto, Japan topped with cucumber and a delicate elderflower. I don’t eat oysters, so I passed on this. But it got rave reviews from my fellow diners, who were happy to take mine off the plate. Created by Kajioka.

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This was called Kurt’s Carrots, another Kajioka dish. It was a one-bite carrot topped with toasted quinoa roe that added a nice texture to the appetizer. One of my favorites.

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The fourth course was a king crab topped with caviar and lime bouillon, created by Syhabout. This was perfectly done, a magical combination in your mouth.

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Here’s the roasted local abalone with bits of crispy chicken skins and native limu (seaweed) in a brown butter sauce. It was so good, one of my friends literally licked the bowl. Created by Pham.

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Easily my favorite dish of the night. Here’s Lahlou’s slow-cooked egg with charmoula, smoked potato and harissa-spiced crispy rice. It almost tasted cheesy, this dish. Perfection on a plate.

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That egg dish was immediately followed by one of my least favorite of the night: Wetzel’s soup of fresh herbs with confit tuna head that tasted exactly how it looked, at least to me.

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Next was another Wetzel dish that didn’t work for me. This is grilled tuna bloodline — the darkest part of the tuna — with black trumpet mushrooms. To its credit, the mushrooms were tasty. But the bloodline wasn’t my favorite.

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I was really excited for this dish by Syhabout: salted walnut ice cream with sprouted grains, truffle shavings and chestnuts, topped with brown sugar. It tasted like an earthy chestnut soup, which was warm, interestingly paired with the cold ice cream. It worked.

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Kajioka, to me, gets it. And he nailed this one, too. This is a piece of fatty and flavorful beef with celery huckleberry, caramelized bone marrow, shaved white truffle in a black garlic sauce. As one of my friends said, “I feel like Chris cooks just for me.” I’d have to agree.

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Lahou’s couscous was another show-stopper with a cauliflower-harissa emulsion and candied and fried black sesame seeds. Packed with flavor, perfectly cooked, a complete winner.

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Time for dessert. Here’s Murai’s cranberry ginger sorbet — super small scoop — with an orange-charred meringue. I could have eaten several of these. The sorbet was so tangy and delicious, though it did overpower the meringue a bit. Nice palette cleanser.

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That was followed up by a heavier dessert: this is the shio (salt) koji glace with kuro coma (black sesame) aleppo pepper and chocolate feuillantine praline. Lots of flavors all at once. A very complex dessert.

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We ended the night with this tray of petit fours, a nice surprise after 12 courses of food. At least each dish was small, many of them just bites, so downing 12 plates wasn’t difficult. Still, I ate my petit four. Hey, it was free!

So the million-dollar question: would I spend $295 again? It depends. That was a special night, with food prepared by chefs from around the country. But it’s a lot to fork over, especially for one meal. But hey, sometimes you have to splurge.

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#FUUD: Ate too much? Try Food-Centric

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Let’s face it: we never plan to eat healthy during the holidays.

I mean, the only reason I would pry myself out of bed on these chilly mornings is to get in a workout before the inevitable gorge-fest that would commence that night.

It’s kinda what Christmas is all about, right?

But if you’re like me — and most people I know — you’ve probably eaten too much, drank too much, and feeling the slow death from it.

So here’s a solution: join the super healthy, super tasty meal program offered by Food-Centric, a locally owned business that creates conscious meals that are pre-packed and easy to reheat.

You can choose from three different food plans: paleo (a diet based on eating wholesome, contemporary foods from the food groups that our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have thrived on during the Paleolithic era), vegetarian and transform nutrition (specially designed for the people who work out at Crossfit East Oahu.)

The cost is $192 for a three-meal plan (12 meals total) and $320 for the five-meal plan (20 meals total). You sign up month-to-month like a gym membership.

But enough about that.

Let’s talk about the food!

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So on Dec. 21, I attend one of Food-Centric’s pop-up dinners at Island Brew Coffeehouse in Hawaii Kai. The owners, Kyle Shimoda and Lori Kohara (above), are dear friends and I wanted to support their business.

But to be honest — and if you follow me on Instagram, you’d already know this — I’m not the biggest fan of uber-healthy foods. I mean, I eat donuts about once a week and I should have a frequent eater card at Rainbow Drive-In.

So the thought of eating quinoa tabbouleh and brown rice doesn’t get me all that excited.

Still, I wanted to support my friends and what they’re doing, bringing healthy options to the table for folks too busy to make it themselves.

And let me say, I was duly impressed.

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First off, this quinoa tabbouleh was so outstanding, I went back for seconds. The dressing, with lemon juice and garlic, really rounded out the flavors of the quinoa — perfectly cooked, by the way — and red onions and tomatoes. I didn’t think quinoa could taste this good!

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And the pork chili verde was another standout. Bold flavors, tender meat — you can’t get much better than that.

I just might like healthy food after all!

While this may not have been strictly paleo or vegetarian, it was a taste of what Food-Centric offers.

So I checked out the January menu for the paleo centric meal plan and check this out: thai curry braised chicken, beef-stuffed green peppers with sun-dried tomato pesto, slow-roasted lamb with roasted garlic sauce, Spanish fish stew with broccoli, and garlic shrimp.

Really?

Really.

So if you’ve been thinking about the pounds you’ve just gained in the last three days — or overnight, like me — or want to try the paleo diet without having to figure out how to prepare healthy food in a tasty way, this may be the best route for you.

Yes, it’s a bit pricey, but your body will thank you for it.

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