Tag Archives: Food

#FUUD: Izakaya Torae Torae in McCully

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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.

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

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Let’s get this cookbook funded!

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I’m a big fan of cookbooks.

Oh, a big fan.

While I already foster a very disturbing addiction to books — you should see my collection! — I’ve dedicated a portion of the bookshelves (yes, plural) to cookbooks.

New ones, old ones, the kind you buy as fundraisers for school and churches. I think I have every cookbook published by every hongwanji in the state.

10441092_896400808825_7249436248650005850_n copySo when I heard that my social media pal Nicole LaTorre (@ChefLaTorre), private chef and owner of Hawai‘i Sustainable Chef, was raising funds through the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to publish her first-ever cookbook, I got excited. Like, really excited.

LaTorre, who’s self-taught and super passionate, will share more than 50 of her original recipes, from farm-to-table dishes to quickie appetizers to meals great for kids to things like a Malasada Creme Brûlée and Truffled Kalua Pork Grilled Cheese.

Ah, yeah.

“Whether you want an easy recipe or a more challenging project, the goal is to get people excited about creating food at home, with family or friends,” says LaTorre, who grew up in South Jersey. “Food brings people together and I hope people not only enjoy making these dishes, but enjoy making memories with the special people in their lives.”

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The book, which should be out in December, will include some of her resourceful DIY projects like making your own up-cycled produce bags and “mason meals.” And yes, there will be vegan, paleo and gluten-free options for her recipes, too.

Plus, LaTorre will include a list of locations on O‘ahu — more than 25 farms, farmers’ markets and other small businesses — where you can source your ingredients.

It’s a lot of information packed into one cookbook!

“Whether using one local ingredient or six local ingredients, each recipe counts,” she says. “Each local ingredient utilized helps support the local economy and the farmers who work hard to make these food sources available to us. I hope to showcase some new possibilities by emphasizing what we can create, by bringing multiple farmers together all on one plate.”

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So right after I kicked in some cash to fund her project, I asked LaTorre a few questions about her cooking, her cookbook, and what she means by Italian-Hawaiian fusion.

CT: What influenced you to write your own cookbook? I imagine people kept bugging you for recipes! (I get that, too, and I’m not even a chef!)

NLT: It’s always been a goal of mine to publish a book and after a handful of friends asked for recipes I thought it would be a great way to share all my best recipes with others. I realized as a private chef, I can only cook for so many people on any given day. By sharing my recipes with others, they can recreate my recipes any time they want!

CT: What do you enjoy about sharing your recipes?

NLT: Sharing recipes is something that my family has done for many generations. My mom has a recipe box with recipes from my grandmother and my Great-Aunt Mary, who cooked with me as a young girl. Although they are no longer with us, their memories live on through the gifts they left behind.

CT: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your cooking?

I grew up in South Jersey, right outside of Atlantic City. I like to describe my style as Italian Hawaiian fusion because many of my dishes are inspired by a combination of my Italian upbringing and my time spent in Hawaii.

CT: What’s your culinary/food background?

NLT: I’m a self-taught chef. In high school I had a cookie and brownie business. I made $50 a day selling chocolate chip cookies and homemade brownies to my peers every day for 2 1/2 years until the art teacher sent me to in-school suspension. Apparently, it was illegal to sell anything in school and keep the profits. Many teachers supported the “Underground Bake Sale,” but all good things must come to an end.

At the time, I saw a need in the market because students were hungry and the lunch periods were either super early or super late in the day. With no other outlet to purchase snacks of any kind, my business became successful pretty quickly. It was my motivation for going to school. I lost all interest in reading Shakespeare and focusing on topics that didn’t interest me, but felt excited to go to school each day because people loved the baked goods. As soon as I got home from school each day, I’d start baking for the next day’s supply.

There was a lot of gratification in knowing people loved my baked goods and continued to purchase from me day in and day out. I felt really proud.

CT: What happened after high school?

NLT: After high school I worked in restaurants, waitressing and bartending my way through college.
I always observed the plating techniques of the chefs and tried to make my dishes look as visually appealing. I had a boss who used to say, “We eat with our eyes first.”

CT: And then you moved here and started your company in August 2012. Love it?

NLT: For the last two years I’ve cooked for an amazing family every week, cooked for corporate events, other special events and private dinners.

CT: Any last words for my readers, many of whom, hopefully, will buy your cookbook?

NLT: At the end of the day, no one can do it alone. We all need someone. Many of these recipes represent the importance of working together and also define just how much Hawai‘i really brings to the table. A synergy and an appreciation for all those that make these recipes possible, from the farmer, to the fisherman, to the cutting board shaper and the compost company. We all play a part in helping to sustain Hawaii. I hope this book helps create more sustainable chefs.

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To help Nicole LaTorre publish her first cookbook, click here.

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What makes the best fries

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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!)

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A ‘Top Chef’ and a top chef cook tonight

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Colin Hazama and Louis Maldonado met at the California Culinary Academy, lived as roommates, and went their separate ways — Hazama back to O‘ahu and Maldonado stayed in California.

Hazama, who’s now the senior executive sous chef at the Sheraton Waikīkī, worked at such top restaurants as Alan Wong’s and Roy’s Restaurant and was selected as a semi-finalist in the 2010 James Beard Foundation Awards “Rising Star Chef of the Year. Maldonado earned a name for himself at Spoonbar, elevating it to three-star status from the San Francisco Chronicle. He catapulted into mainstream fame as being among the Top Four finalists on Bravo’s “Top Chef” this year.

Despite their equally busy schedules, the two friends remained in touch — but had never cooked together. Ever.

Until tonight.

The two are collaborating on a six-course dinner called “From the Islands to the Bay” at Cookspace Hawai‘i tonight, showcasing local ingredients and their individual flair in the kitchen.

I got to talk story with the two chefs about their friendship, their cooking styles and this dinner that’s been a long time coming.

CT: So how did you two meet?

CH: It was in 2001, right after 9/11. (Louis) was actually in a different class. I used to see him at the gym a lot. Yes, I used to go to the gym. (Laughs) We met at one of the dorms drinking one night.

LM: Yeah, that’s pretty much what happened. I think we hung out a few times. We literally saw each other around, then started hanging out. I ended up going to Hawai‘i for spring break that year.

CT: So this is the first time you guys have worked together?

CH: Yeah, we’ve never worked together. This is the first time we’re going to cook together for real. We lived together — we were roommates right after culinary school — but we’ve never actually cooked together.

CT: How do you think you’ll be in the kitchen together?

CH: We are very similar culturally. Even though Louis is Mexican and Sicilian and I’m Asian, our core values are similar. I think he and I are very intense people but very laid back. When I’m at work, I’m very intense. But at home, I’m not. And (Louis) is super humble. He’s not very talkative and not outspoken. But when he’s at work, he’s pretty intense. He and I are not the easiest chefs to work with. (Laughs) We are just very passionate about food in general. That’s why we really connected, too.

CT: How did this collaborative dinner come about?

CH: I did a dinner series at Cookspace Hawai‘i with Wade Ueoka and Chris Kajioka, and I really liked the venue. So I talked to Melanie (Kosaka) and doing something else this year.

LM: When Colin asked me to do this, my main thing was to do a seafood focus. Just like the kind of food we serve at the restaurant, which is 75 percent seafood. It’s what I like to work with, what I like to cook, what I like to eat. If we did a dinner, I wanted to make stuff I enjoy, not just base a menu around concepts.

CT: Anything special about the menu tonight?

LM: I’m bringing some things from the restaurant that I make special using ingredients we get from about three miles from the restaurant. Like our own flour, seaweed, geoduck clams from further north that’s rarely seen outside of California. These things are unique and don’t necessarily make their way to the Islands.

CH: I’m using scallops from Hokkaido. I wanted to do something that would pair differently with the lamb. So I’m using a Chinese smoking method, but I’ll use the regular smoking method with wood chips with sugar and rice.

CT: So Colin, did you watch your friend on ‘Top Chef’?

CH: I never watched ‘Top Chef’ before. When he first told me he was going to be on the show, I was, like, ‘Really?’ I can do media and I’m comfortable with all that camera stuff, but I’m not one to go and do a series like that. I thought it was great that he did it. It gave him even more publicity. And knowing his talent, this was just a great exclamation point on his career.

CT: What was that experience like, Louis?

LM: It’s what you make of it … If you’re there for the right reasons, you’ll get what you want out of it. I was in a good position in my life and with the restaurant that I could leave for two months and my staff could run the restaurant for me. The restaurant needed me to push it up nationally and to the next level.

CT: Did it help your career?

LM: I mean, obviously it made the restaurant a lot busier. But I knew who I was before doing the show, so it didn’t make my food better. If anything, it’s allowed more people to eat my food and business-wise it’s been a good thing. That was the biggest benefit.

CT: Wouldn’t it have been interesting if you two were on the show together?

CH: We probably would have tried to not have been on the same team. Every time I watch the show, I see how the ones on the same teams become the worst enemies. Business is business, but I wouldn’t let it ruin our relationship.

LM: Yeah, it’s a contract to your next career move and there’s the money. But if you know how to cook, you’ll always have a job. If you cook from the heart, you’ll always find something great. (Pause) But (us on the show together) would have made for some good drama!

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Tonight’s Menu
Presented by Chef Colin Hazama and Chef Louis Maldonado

Light Pupus or Snacks
Local Sourdough toast with avocado, radish, urfa pepper, kampachi
Chicharonnes3 with shichimi, malt vinegar, yogurt poppyseed foam

6-Course Degustation
Shaved geoduck clam, fermented chili, picked herbs

“Ho Farms Salad” with pearl onions, golden kahuku & currant tomato gelee, butternut squash, Gerkin cucumber pickles, crisp purple long beans

Kona Abalone roasted in Sonoma Coast seaweed with porcini bouillon, Kahuku sea asparagus, beech mushrooms

Guinea hen roulade, sweet Kaua‘i shrimp, corn, cabbage, shellfish emulsion

Prickly Ash Sonoma lamb saddle with Hawaiian Vanilla HOP fondue, tea-smoked scallop, peach, cilantro essence

“Pina Colada” — coconut truffle pacojet gelato, kaffir lime, compressed sugarloaf pineapple, ‘ulu chips, mango ice

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Interested in attending tonight’s dinner? Click here for more info.

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5Qs with SF’s Anthony Yang

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Brunch and pop-ups.

Talk about the two culinary buzz words of this century.

Add “San Francisco-based chef” to the entire phrase and you’ve got the morning event of the year, happening this weekend.

San Francisco-based chef Anthony Yang, formerly of Per Se and Michael Mina, will headline “Ante Meridian” on Oahu this weekend, presenting a four-course prixe fixe brunch menu highlighting a mix of seasonal local ingredients and San Francisco flair.

Here’s a peek at the menu: Kona coffee-flavored granola on local organic yogurt with taro-date jam, macadamia nut brioche bread pudding with brown butter roasted pineapple and vanilla creme fraiche, and black truffle waffles.

Yes, I said black truffle waffles.

Yang started hosting pop-up brunch events for his coworkers and friends more than a year ago. Since then, they’ve become so popular, they take place twice a month and often sells out within hours of releasing the menu. (He’s even started a dinner pop-up called, of course, “Post Meridian.”)

I got a chance to chat with Yang to find out more about this weekend’s events — which are, by the way, not sold out. Yet.

1. So you’ve worked for a couple of big names — and now you’re doing these pop-ups. What’s the appeal?

The appeal is my approach to brunch. Brunch is never really the focus for a restaurant, especially ones that are open for dinner. If it is the main focus of a restaurant, I feel like most people are doing the same things. Pancakes that are too sweet, Belgian waffles that are dense and chewy, twelve different types of omelettes etc. I try to refine my take on brunch a little more. Also, for the pop-ups, the fact that you buy a ticket before hand has a lot of appeal to people. After you buy the ticket online, you don’t have to wait in line like every other person waiting for a table for brunch on a weekend. The convenience of just showing up, not having to bring cash and split the bill with your group of friends, and letting us do all the work is what appeals to most people, I would say. And the Black Truffle Waffles!

2. Are you surprised with how popular your pop-up events have gotten?

It’s taken a lot of time and work to build this “brand” that people are beginning to familiarize themselves with. There were some really slow days at first like any business, but I’ve tried to create something that is a little different and approachable to everybody. So not really.

3. Why did you want to become a chef? Who inspired you along the way?

Working in the industry runs in the family, I guess. My parents worked in Chinese restaurants all my life as a kid and eventually bought a small, fast food Chinese place that I worked in growing up. After high school I applied to culinary school at the local community college and went from there. Ive been inspired by so many people along the way. David Breeden, the chef de cuisine of The French Laundry is a huge inspiration. Chris Kajioka from Vintage Cave really inspired me to just go for it. Ron Siegel showed me that you can be a great chef and a nice guy at the same time.

4. How did you come to do a pop-up in Hawaii and what are you most excited about?

Chris Kajioka, Mark Noguchi and Hank Adaniya came to San Francisco a few months back to do a pop-up to represent Hawaii and I helped them with the event. I started thinking how cool it would be to do my pop-up in Hawaii. The goal was to just make enough money to cover my trip. Thanks to Chris, Mark, Hank, and Amanda from UMU, we made it happen after a few brain storming sessions. I’m most excited about eating at all the great restaurants that I keep hearing about and hanging out with good friends.

5.What are you planning to do — and where you planning to eat — while you’re in town?

Nick Erker, who is coming with me to help cook used to live and work on Oahu at Chef Mavro and with Andrew (Le) at The Pig and the Lady. And I’m leaving the planning up to him. He says were going straight to Ethel’s Grill from the airport for lunch. I’ve heard only great things about The Pig and the Lady and I know Andrew from culinary school. I hear Chris Kajioka is doing a pop-up and hopefully we’ll be able to go to that. Eastern Paradise is like my kind of soul food, so were definitely going to get some dumplings and jia jiang mien.

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ANTE MERIDIAN 808 BRUNCH POP-UP
When: Saturday, July 12 (10 a.m. and 1 p.m.) and Sunday, July 13 (10 a.m.)
Where: 2970 E. Manoa Road Honolulu, HI 96822
Cost: $45/person, tickets can be purchased on Eventbrite.

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