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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: 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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FUUD: Breakfast at Nico’s Pier 38

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Our gang meets up for breakfast almost every morning.

And it’s almost exclusively at Rainbow Drive-In. (Hence why I post so many photos from there.)

We eat there for three reasons: food is great and cheap, it’s the closest spot to where we surf (Waikiki and Diamond Head), and we know the owner, so we can cruise there for as long as we want.

But the other day, someone suggested that we try a new place every month. She and her husband had just been to Nico’s Pier 38, a restaurant and fish market located just off Nimitz Highway.

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I had been there before for lunch and dinner — it’s been open since 2004, but last year it moved to a nearby location and expanded to 160 seats with a full bar — but I didn’t know it served breakfast.

So I was intrigued.

Breakfast runs from 6:30 to 10 a.m. everyday but Sunday (which I thought was strange). And the menu is big enough, with items like fish and eggs, loco moco, fried rice, pancakes, French toast and sides. Prices range from $3.25 for a bowl of saimin with Spam, kamaboko and green onions to $8.95 for a fish omelette with garlic and green onions. A bit pricey — at least compared to Rainbow’s — but you get a ton of high-quality food. And you really can’t beat the view!

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So here’s what we ate: (All photos taken with a waterproof camera — Pentax WG-3 — by the way.)

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Here’s the omelette ($7.95), which can come with two of the following: Portuguese sausage, bacon, ham, Spam, kamaboko, cheese, mushrooms and green onions. The omelette also comes with white or brown rice and fruits.

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This is the loco moco ($8.75, $5.95 for a mini). It’s a combination of Nico’s hamburger steak — which tastes a lot like meatloaf — and two eggs and rice with a mushroom-onion gravy. This guy opted for fried rice, which is on the peppery side. Talk about overkill — but in a good way!

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The French toast ($5.25) is made with sweet bread from Kaneohe Bakery — plus! It’s got cinnamon, too, which was a nice touch, and the plate comes with fruits.

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Here’s the fish omelette ($8.95) with chunks of grilled ahi, garlic and green onions.

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I got the breakfast croissant ($4.25) with bacon — it actually comes with ham, but you can substitute it out — eggs and lots of cheddar cheese in between a buttery, flaky croissant. Heaven.

So if you’re looking for an uncrowded, relaxed place to eat breakfast, consider Nico’s Pier 38. You order your meals take-out-style and grab any table you want in the dining room. It’s hard to believe more people don’t venture here, but then again, maybe that’s a good thing for us.

Nico’s Pier 38, 1129 North Nimitz Highway. Hours for breakfast: 6:30-10 a.m. Monday through Saturday. Phone: (808) 540-1377.

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#FUUD: Agu Ramen in Moiliili

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I’m obsessed with ramen.

I could literally eat a bowl of hot noodles every week. And if I find a great ramen shop (that’s convenient and has parking) like Kiwami Ramen on Keeaumoku Street, I have going back and ordering the same exact thing.

Ask my friends.

So when I heard yet another ramen shop had opened up, this time in Moiliili, I had to find a way to stop going to Kiwami for once and try the new place.

So I did.

This week my girlfriend and I dine at Agu Ramen, one of the newest ramen shops to open on Oahu in the last few months. It specializes in tonkotsu ramen — the broth is made using simmered pork bones — like the style I had in Fukuoka. The noodles are thinner, too, and the broth is rich and thick — just like it was in Kyushu. It took me back.

So here’s what we ate:

Agu Ramen

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This ramen shop opened recently in the space vacated by Maui's Da Kitchen. Lots of parking in the back. Bonus!

Agu Ramen, 925 Isenberg St. in Moiliili. Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Phone: (808) 492-1637.

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FUUD: Lunch at 53 By The Sea in Kewalo

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I’ve been to 53 By The Sea for dinner and drinks — but never for lunch.

And I actually think lunch is the best time to dine here.

Why?

Mostly because of the view. You don’t see the sprawl of Pacific Ocean — with unobstructed views of the surf breaks that dot the coastline here — at night.

But also because you get the same quality food but at half the price. And you still get the ambiance of a restaurant in a $16 million, two-story Mediterranean-meets-gothic-style building on the water with views of Diamond Head.

So we booked the restaurant — located in the site of the former John Dominis — for a baby shower. And here’s what we ate:

The view

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53 By The Sea is located right on the water — and this is your view from just about any seat in the dining room. But you can only see this during the daytime, which makes this a great spot for lunch.

53 By The Sea, 53 Ahui St. Hours: Lunch, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday through Sunday; dinner, 5-10 p.m. Monday through Sunday. Phone: (808) 536-5353.

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