Tag Archives: Hawaii

#CatEats: Sampling Alan Wong’s Shanghai menu

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I never turn down any opportunity to eat anything created by Chef Alan Wong.

To be honest, I haven’t had a bad dish at his Honolulu restaurant, still considered one of the best eating establishments in Hawai‘i. Even his tilapia — incidentally, on the menu for Valentine’s Day this year — is top-notch. (So good, in fact, it beat out the highly palatable mahi mahi and opakapaka at a dinner event back in 2009, the majority of guests picked tilapia as their favorite. Yeah, he’s that good.)

So when I got invited to sample the menu for his new restaurant last week, I jumped at the chance.

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Wong, a James Beard award-winning chef and pioneer in the regional cuisine movement, has two Honolulu restaurants — his flagship location on King Street and the more casual The Pineapple Rom at Ala Moana Center. He’s opening his third location in Shanghai this summer — and we were able to sample some of the items slated to be served there.

The new restaurant, aptly called Alan Wong’s Shanghai, will open in the posh, five-star Portman Ritz-Carlton located along the renowned Nan Jing Road in the heart of the historic Puxi neighborhood.

The restaurant is a joint venture by Wong and Tama Food International, a Tokyo-based company that manages restaurants and fast food businesses, sport and resort facilities, and hotels. The sous chef who will be training the kitchen staff — Ryuta Sakuri — spent three months in Honolulu, working alongside Wong to craft the perfect menu for this Shanghai restaurant.

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The staff — including Wong — worked for three months in the test kitchen of Y. Hata & Co., whittling down the menu from about 200 recipes that Wong came up with himself. Every single recipe was videotaped and translated into Mandarin. That’s how serious Wong is about making sure this concept is executed correctly.

“It was more than just working with Chef and his whole team,” said Kevin Zhao, the assistant general manager for the restaurant who also spent three months here working with Wong. “He changed the way we live our lives.”

The dinner last Thursday, called “A Taste of Shanghai,” was sold out in 24 hours.

And since I’m not going to Shanghai anytime soon, I figured this might be my only shot to try the menu.

Here’s a glimpse:

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This was one of my favorite dishes: a fun take on a burger, this dish featured pork-shrimp hash as the “bun,” sandwiching smoked gouda cheese with a clever lup cheong jam, lettuce and a slice of tomato. Hard to eat but worth the effort.

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This “Duck Duck” was a crowd favorite. This well-seasoned duck meatball with a subtle serving of foie gras was steamed in rice paper and served with a tangy yuzu ponzu sauce in a saimin spoon. You gotta eat it all at once — and then you’ll want another. At least I did.

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A gorgeous plate, this panna cotta of sorts featured chilled shrimp, uni, ikura and cauliflower with edible flowers. The heat was provided by a kochi jang Asian pear and served with Tsing Tao beer.

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This beauty was actually an experiment. This is what happens when you deep-fry a lumpia wrapper — it puffs up like a pillow. It’s filled with Scottish smoked salmon and a smoked salmon mousse with capers, red onions and ikura.

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Everyone raved about this dish: Alaskan king crab in rice paper and deep-fried, topped with caviar and a truffle sauce.

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The sauce on this dish was addicting: Keahole lobster in its own yellow curry bisque with foie gras butter, spinach and mushrooms. All it needed was a bowl of white rice.

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I enjoyed this all-natural New York strip steak from Niman Ranch with a black bean sambal shrimp that was unusual and exciting.

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We got this dessert delivered by Wong’s new pastry chef, a young energetic Korean-American from California. This was a lilikoi tart with an Earl Grey kanten, caramel meringue and a brown sugar crisp. It was scrumptious — but you had to eat it quickly. It didn’t hold its shape for very long.

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The final sweet offering: a mint macaroon, an almond butter biscuit, a salted chocolate truffle, and strawberries and cream. No better way to end a perfect dinner. And yes, I got that bowl of rice, too.

So if you’re ever in the Puxi neighborhood in Shanghai — and you’re missing Hawai‘i — hit up Alan Wong’s Shanghai. While the menu will be vastly different from the one in Honolulu, the flavors are still unique Wong.

And it may likely be the best meal you have on vacation.

Alan Wong’s Shanghai, 2nd floor of Shanghai Centre, Portman Ritz Carlton, 1376 Nanjing Road West, Shanghai, China.

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The story of Snickers the Goat

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My life isn’t what it used to be.

I’m no longer living alone with two dogs in a rental in ‘Aina Haina, only worrying about keeping my basil plant alive.

Now, I’m married, caring for three dogs and two chickens, about to re-start my husband’s aquaponics system — blog on that coming soon — and figuring how to work from home without getting distracted by the laundry and digital cable TV.

And add to that raising a newborn goat.

Yes, I said goat.

IMG_5083Here’s what happened: my husband works on a farm that has goats. And one of the female goats had given birth last week but refused to nurse it.

And then it started to rain.

Now, I’m no livestock expert. But this combination — a baby goat not feeding and now getting rained on — didn’t sound good. We had to do something — and fast.

My husband sprung into action. He grabbed a towel, jumped the fence and started to dry off the newborn kid. Then I got on the phone and called our vet, then Waimanālo Feed Supply for help. Turns out, one of the workers there raises goats and was our Internet of information.

“Did the kid nurse yet?”

“No,” I said.

“Are you sure? Because if he didn’t, that’s not good. He won’t survive more than a couple of days.”

He told me baby goats need to get colostrum from their mother. Found in her milk, this contains antibodies that protect the newborn against disease. And the baby needs to get this in the first 24 hours of life.

It had already been close to that.

Luckily, the feed supply store in Waimanālo had colostrum powder that we could mix into a milk replacer formulated for goats. (It sold that, too.) And within the hour, we were handing over $50 for a bag of Land O’Lakes ProNurse, a canister of colostrum replacement, and two long nipples that could fit over a beer bottle.

The situation was somewhat dire. We weren’t sure if the newborn had taken any of his mother’s milk, and he was already starting to look weak. We dried him off as best we could, keeping him in a warm area in a warehouse, and tried to get him to drink some of the milk replacer.

And let me tell you, it wasn’t easy.

I bottle-fed my younger sister when she was a baby, no problem. I figured this would be equally as easy and simple. Just put the bottle in his mouth and make sure he doesn’t drink too much or too quickly, right?

I wish.

This kid was picky. The milk had to be warm. The nipple had to be warm. And he needed a little dab of corn syrup on it to entice him to even take the bottle.

It took a few tries, but we finally found a system that worked.

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I’ll be honest. Before this experience, I knew next to nothing about goats. I knew they ate everything in sight and, by a certain age, they stopped looking cute and started acting ornery. At least the ones I had been in contact with.

Turns out, though, there’s a lot to learn about these livestock animals.

For starters, goats are among the earliest animals domesticated by humans, dating back thousands of years. Neolithic farmers herded wild goats for their milk and meat, even used their poop for fuel and bones and hair for clothing and tools. Goat hide has long been used for water and wine bottle in traveling and transporting them for sale.

This guy — whom we named Snickers after my girlfriend sent me a list of names from her two sons — was a Nubian, a breed of domestic goat developed in Great Britain and bred for its milk, which has a high butterfat content. These Nubians can live in very hot climates and are distinguished by their large, pendulous ears — one of my favorite traits.

They grow to about 135 pounds for does, 175 pounds for bucks. And they live for roughly 12 to 15 years.

That is, if they make it past the first few days of life.

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Snickers was so sweet. He loved when I rubbed his muzzle and scratched his lower back. He loved licking our necks and faces and sucking on our fingers. And his tail wagged. Did you know goats wag their tails? I didn’t. I was completely smitten.

But we couldn’t keep Snickers. I’m unclear about the rules of owning farm animals in residential areas — all I found was that enclosures for farm animals can’t be located within 300 feet from any property line — but we don’t have the space for a goat. We already have a packed house of animals, and there was no way, no matter how cute Snickers was, no matter that we got him to drink milk out of a bowl, we were going to keep him in the house. The dogs would’ve loved it; the humans, not so much.

As it would happen, I was walking the dogs one afternoon — after feeding Snickers and getting goat milk replacement all over my legs — and met a neighbor who has fostered goats before. She agreed — after a martini — to take Snickers, raise him, and find a good home for him. Our only requirements were the new owner didn’t 1) eat the goat or 2) change his name.

“No problem,” she said, with a smile. “And it’s a good thing my husband isn’t home.”

So after a few days of hand-raising the little guy, we packed him up and let him go. Snickers is now living in a spacious grassy area in a nicer neighborhood than ours, playing with other dogs and getting bigger every day. We have full visitation rights, the woman told us, and we will likely take her up on that offer.

I never imagined I’d get up at 4 a.m. to bottle-feed a goat — or to feed two feisty hens every morning and walk a pack of dogs twice a day. I never thought I’d climb to the roof of a house to pick ‘ulu from a flourishing tree or gaze off our deck, past a koa tree my husband planted, and watch the sunset.

I never imagined it — but man, I wouldn’t change it, either.

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‘New year, new me’

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I went to lunch today with two 28-year-olds who had such a youthful view of life, it was actually infectious.

One just broke up with her long-distance boyfriend, the other is in the middle of growing her business. Both stressful — and neither situation sounded appealing to me.

And yet, over pork jowls and bowls of pho, they laughed and joked, declaring, “New year, new me!”

I couldn’t help but smile.

It’s been quite a tumultuous year, it seems, for a lot of people. People have been posting things like, “Can’t wait for this year to end” and “It’s been the darkest year of my life” on social media as the year has been winding down.

It’s made me reflect on my own year.

Turns out, it wasn’t exactly the best year for me, either. I started it off with a kidney infection that kept me in a hospital room for almost a week. I ditched a regular paycheck — and benefits — to freelance full time. I struggled with friendships that started to change and evolve. I had my wallet stolen in Greece and had my credit card comprised three different times. I’ve spent more money fixing my car than it’s worth. I’ve lost photos on my phone, worried about my sister who was diagnosed with breast cancer, and euthanized our pet chicken.

I think that all qualifies for a status update along the lines of, “2014 pretty much sucked.”

But I kept thinking about the positive attitude of my two young friends, who looked at this new year with such expectant optimism.

And in order to look forward with such a sunny outlook, you have to reflect in that way, too.

Sure, this year was crazy. I can honestly say I’ve never been more stressed, more anguished, or more frustrated than in 2014.

But look at what else has happened: I traveled to Europe twice, I’ve met some pretty inspiring people, I’ve written more than I ever thought possible. I attended my first writers’ conference, landed a gig on a morning show, and delved into aquaponics and sustainable farming. I’ve seen friends get engaged, get married, buy homes, start businesses, get pregnant, give birth, send their children off to college. I’ve surfed and hiked and even rode a horse. And above all, I met — and married — a guy who inspires me to be a better person.

That’s really not too bad.

So my New Year’s resolution? It’s pretty easy. I’m going to just be happy. I’m not going to dwell on the negatives — easier said than done, of course — and try to focus on all the wonderfulness in this world.

It’s a new year, but the same me — just with a new attitude.

Happy 2015, everyone! And I hope you all find your happiness this year, too!

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5 reasons why I love Christmas

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Look, I get it. Christmas isn’t for everyone.

We’re stressed, we’re cranky, we’re broke — and we’re driving like maniacs.

Who in their right mind would want to stand in line at uncomfortably crowded department stores, then hand over entire paychecks to gifts for people you only see once a year? Why spend your only free time, slaving in a hot kitchen, churning out dozens of meticulously decorated sugar cookies and loaves of fruitcake that will likely be used as a doorstop?

Are we crazy?

Well, yes, we are.

See, I love Christmas. I always have. And it has nothing to do with opening presents on Christmas Day, either.

In fact, my favorite day is today, Christmas Eve. The anticipation of Christmas is still lurking behind midnight, and you can just feel the feverish energy. (Or is that panic…?) The tree is decked, the gifts are wrapped, the stockings are hung on fireplaces made out of cardboard — hey, this is Hawai‘i! — and all the baking and cleaning and Christmas card-writing are finally done.

It’s the only day, really, when you can sit back, take a deep breath, and inhale it all in.

So what, exactly, is it about Christmas that makes me so cheerful, despite the awful traffic, the dwindling checking account, and the dozens of Aleve I’ve popped in the past week and a half?

I’ll tell you.

IMG_40475. Gives me a reason to bake: For a long time, I’ve lived alone — with no one to bake for. So I love any excuse to convert my home kitchen into a commercial facility, pumping out dozens of cookies and bars and cakes for friends, parties, neighbors, ‘opala workers. There’s something so satisfying when you bake, watching the slew of ingredients you’ve combined culminate into something (hopefully) delicious. And it’s equally gratifying to hand these baked goods to people who are really, really happy to receive them. You can’t beat it!

4. Yes, I do love Christmas music: I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but I am a self-professed lover of Christmas music. All of it. Pop versions, classic renditions, horrific duets — I will listen and love. Seriously. Put on Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” or Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and I’m all good. But here’s the catch: I can only — ONLY — listen to Christmas music during the holidays, starting in December, no earlier. It doesn’t make sense otherwise.

3. Buying gifts for kids: I’ll admit, shopping for gifts can be stressful, especially when you’re trying to find that perfect present (the one they won’t return or regift). But I love buying gifts for kids. I feel like no matter what you get them — aside from boring clothes and encyclopedia collections — they’re always thrilled to get something, anything, even gift cards. (I got my friend’s pre-teen son a gift card once and he loved it. It was like a fake credit card or something.) For the past few years, I’ve bought the kids on my list books. Yeah, I know, that could be the least exciting present under the tree for them, but I feel like I’m 1) supporting an industry that I never want to see go away, 2) promoting a lifelong love of reading, and 3) reliving my own youth through these books. This year, I got some of my favorites — like the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series and “Calvin & Hobbes” collections. Great reads. I even bought a book for myself! Win-win!

2. Seeing familiar faces all month long: No matter how busy we all get — with careers or kids or three needy dogs — everyone seems to carve out time to get together for the holidays. I mean, there are friends I never see or even talk to all year long — yet, here we are, having drinks with dinner or swapping cookies over afternoon tea. It really makes all the sitting-in-traffic-on-a-weekday-WTF and feeling-sick-because-we-ate-way-too-much-again so worth it.

1. It’s that old Christmas spirit: Maybe it’s cliche — although so is Christmas, I suppose — but there’s just something magical in the air during the holiday. It’s why we open doors for others and drop dollar bills into red kettles hanging outside of grocery stores. It’s why we leave lilikoi fruit on the sidewalk for people to take for free — and include plastic bags, too (top photo). We donate to causes, we buy responsible gifts that don’t hurt our environment, we look for a larger meaning to life, we hope for the best in each other and the world, we hold hands, we sing together, we pray together, we climb mountains to watch the sunrise and paddle out in the surf for sunset. Christmas just inspires us to live, to love, to hope. I just wish this feeling would last past Dec. 25.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

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#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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