Tag Archives: restaurant

#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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#FUUD: New menu items at Arancino Kahala

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Confession: the last time I dined at Arancino at The Kahala was when it first opened.

A year ago.

So when I was invited to taste the first anniversary menu, I was a bit embarrassed.

I did love dinner there last year. But at the time, it was a prix fix menu that took a full three hours to partake. I wanted to go back — but I just didn’t have the time!

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Since then, though the restaurant, situated at the posh Kahala Hotel & Resort, has begun offering its menu items a la carte for dinner. (You can even order brick-oven pizzas baked on site.) So you can pick and choose what you want.

And now you can pick and choose from even more dishes.

To celebrate its one-year anniversary, Arancino, which has been serving authentic Italian food in Waikīkī for nearly 20 years, is serving up some brand-new menu items in Kāhala, including casarecce ragu di polpo (octopus and casarecce pasta with spicy garlic tomato sauce), tagliatelle con orechiette di mare (Kona abalone with fresh house-made tagliatelle pasta tossed in an abalone bouillon garlic cream sauce) and spaghetti alla carbonara (a deconstructed version of the classic Italian dish with a poached egg, crispy pancetta and truffle butter).

I was most excited about bistecca alla lavanda, a 5-ounce lavender-infused sous vide A5 Miyazaki premium wagyu beef, served with roasted petite potatoes and onions petals. Miyazaki is a region in Kyushu in Japan that grows high-quality cattle. And I had heard that this particular cut and preparation was mind-blowing.

I like having my mind blown.

So here’s a glimpse into the new menu at Arancino:

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Here’s how I like to start my meals: with a drink. This is called the Arancino ($11), one of the restaurant’s signature cocktails made with Skyy blood orange vodka, Combier Liqueur D’Orange, passionfruit puree and sweet-and-sour.

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This is one of my all-time favorite amuse bouche (though it’s not a traditional single bite): Kahuku corn foam with prosciutto. Great texture and flavors.

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Arancino knows how to serve up a memorable bread plate. Here, rosemary foccacia, a whole wheat square and — my favorite — a parmesan crostini. It was all served with softened butter and Hawaiian sea salt.

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One of the restaurant’s popular dishes, if not just for its stunning presentation, the crostacei di mare ($19) features Kona abalone, Moloka‘i ama ebi and scallops with micro greens and topped with herb oil. It’s arranged by Chef Daisuke Hamamoto to resemble a coral reef.

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Our server recommended the fegato d’oca ($19), sautéed foie gras with a wild raspberry red wine reduction. It was a nice piece of decadent goose liver, seared and topped with the slightly-sweet-but-savory reduction. The small bread squares were great to sop up the sauce at the end.

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One of the menu’s highlights — and a new dish — is the spaghetti alla carbonara ($25), chef’s take on the classic Italian dish. This one, though, features a poached egg, tons of cheese, cream, pancetta and truffle butter. Thanks to the cream, cheese and poached egg, this dish was rich and creamy and delicious.

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I’m surprised to even write this, but this risotto primavera ($23) was one of my favorites of the night. The perfectly prepared risotto was paired with 14 different seasonal vegetables and topped with parmigiano reggiano cheese. Light but filling and incredibly tasty. The crispy kale chip on the side was a nice bonus.

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Another new menu item is the grigliata di mare ($38), a plate of grilled lobster, scallops, shrimp, calamari and the fresh catch of the day, with watercress pesto and a spicy tomato sauce.

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But the star of the dinner was the 5-ounce Miyazaki beef. The bistecca alla lavanda ($70) was infused with lavender and served sous vide style. This beef, rare to find in Hawai‘i, has been the winner of the Prime Minister’s Award in Japan for the past 10 years for its outstanding quality. And it’s obvious why. You literally didn’t have to chew, the marbled meat was so soft and tender. It came with salt, pepper and a house-made mustard, along with a super unique shoyu gelee (that I gobbled up). Trust me, though, the meat could stand alone.

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While I really wanted the torta al cioccolato (a dark chocolate torte with a kumquat compote) or the panna cotta made with a house-made Hamakua tomato sorbet, I let my husband pick dessert. He chose the Monte Bianco ($10), a nugget of custard-filled chestnut puree with chestnut meringue triangles and a yuzu honey sauce. I was surprised I could eat any more, after that meal! But then again, there’s always room for dessert!

Arancino’s current five-course tasting menu is priced at $85 ($110 with wine pairings by Japanese world champion grand master sommelier Shinya Tasaki) and provides great value, with some of the restaurant’s newest and most popular dishes available to order. And there’s often live music, too.

Arancino at The Kahala, The Kahala Hotel & Resort, 5000 Kahala Ave. Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch, 5 to 10:30 p.m. for dinner daily. Phone: 808-380-4400.

To learn more about Arancino at The Kahala, follow @arancinokahala on Instagram or like the restaurant on Facebook.

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Good service goes a long way

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It’s rare that I encounter such bad customer service at a restaurant, I feel like blogging about it.

And while I’ve been tempting to outline everything that happened to me at a particular establishment recently, I decided not to. And here’s why.

It wasn’t the wait staff or food was bad. In fact, I didn’t even sit down at a table. I got poor customer service right at the front door — and that prompted me to never book a reservation there in the several months the restaurant was open.

Oh, I wanted to blog about it. I’m a big believer in sharing accurate information, even bad experiences, because people should know what to expect.

But in this case, I didn’t. I felt it wouldn’t be fair to everyone else who worked there, particularly the chefs and owners, to let this one person influence my view of a restaurant at which I had never dined. It wouldn’t be right.

So I bit my tongue as I browsed photos of crab cakes and short ribs on Instagram, hoping my experience wasn’t shared by others — and cursing the fact that the food looked so ridiculously good.

And then I broke down.

I called one afternoon and booked a table for that evening. When I walked through the door, there was no sign of the worker who had left such a bad taste in my mouth about the place. And the restaurant, as anticipated, lived up to expectations, churning out well-crafted dishes from start to dessert.

It’s interesting how influential bad customer service can be. As someone who writes about food for a living, I’m supposed to try new restaurants, yet this one experience with a front-of-house staffer caused me to put it off for months.

I was reading a blog by New York Post restaurant critic Steve Cuozzo who bemoaned the poor service he received at several new restaurants in the city. And these restaurants knew who he was!

“That I encounter at least as much amateurish, clueless or downright hostile service as I did in my ‘anonymous’ days speaks to the current state of restaurant staffing. It makes it easier to write funny reviews, but it’s nothing to laugh about when regular customers are treated worse.

Exactly.

Service can make or break your business, restaurant or not. I eat at certain restaurants almost exclusively because the people who work there are nice and attentive. The food can hover above mediocre.

And poor service can start from the front door.

But what I’ve come to realize, though, is this: you can’t always judge a restaurant — or any business — by one person who might be having a bad day. Yes, I agree workers shouldn’t bring their personal issues to work. But we’re all human, too, and it happens.

That said, repeated bad service or a business that doesn’t care about the poor treatment you received — well, I’d close that door and never come back.

It may have taken awhile to finally book a table at this restaurant, but I’m glad I did. The food was stellar, the ambiance was perfect and, yeah, the service was up to par, too.

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FUUD: Menchanko Tei in Keeaumoku

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It’s been so cold lately.

In fact, with the exception of last night, I’ve been wearing pajamas to bed every night and sleeping under three layers of blankets.

And it’s almost April!

So lately I’ve had a craving for ramen — that warm bowl of noodles is the perfect cold-weather dish.

My girlfriend suggested we try Menchanko Tei on Keeaumoku Street, which opened this location in May 2012. The original shop was founded in Hakata, Japan in 1980 by Akihide Yonehama, who then opened up shops in Fukuoka, Manhattan and Honolulu.

I hadn’t been since it opened here — there was a location in Waikiki — and I was eager to try something new.

So here’s what our recent lunch looked like:

Inside Menchanko Tei

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This ramen shop — its first location outside of Waikiki — opened here last year in the space vacated by Go Shi Go and Broadway Seafood & Oyster Bar on Keeaumoku Street. But I remember this spot most as the location where my beloved Taishoken Ramen once was. It was hard going back!

Menchanko Tei, 903 Keeaumoku St. Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-11 p.m. daily. Phone: (808) 946-1888

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FUUD: Kissaten Ramen in Waikiki

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I miss Kiwami, that authentic noodle shop on the lower level of the Waikiki Shopping Plaza.

And ever since it closed last year, I still frequent the spot, waiting to see if there’s word it will re-open somewhere else.

But last night, something else was in the spot vacated by one of my favorite ramen shops.

Kissaten Ramen — or Japanese Noodle Shop, as it said on the window — had its soft opening yesterday

This is owned by the same folks who run the popular 24-hour Kissaten Cafe near Ala Moana Center. But it’s strictly a ramen shop; don’t expect to find the cafe’s tomato bisque or turkey pesto melt here.

Here’s what our recent dinner looked like:

Kissaten Ramen

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I'm not sure if this place is called "KIssaten Ramen" or "Kissaten Japanese Noodle Shop," but the sentiment is the same: this is a ramen shop, not a coffee bar.

Kissaten Ramen, 2250 Kalakaua Ave. Suite LL-102, Waikiki.

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