Archive for June, 2010


Quick Lunch Review: KJ’s Fried Chicken

KJ's definitely some ono kine grindz.

So if you ever find yourself on the windward side, in Kaneohe, definitely check out KJ’ s for some fried chicken. It is really good and makes for an excellent, fast lunch.  The chicken is tender and moist, and definitely has the right crunch. The skin of the chicken has a good spice mix and is perfect for lunch heading to the beach.The fried chicken is one the best that local style has to offer, and is great for munching on yourself or sharing with a friend.

Don't go to KFC, go to KJ's! Well, go to KFC if you want the Double-Down.

KJ’s also offers a variety of other fried chicken, such as furikake and Korean fried. Both are good and very flavorful. So if you are tired of fried chicken, give them a go they are good too. I still like the regular fried chicken the best. Nothing says comfort like deep fried, yeah?

The furikake chicken.


A List of Wines and their Pairings

For those of you oenophiles here is the list of wines consumed at the “a cook and a wine guy” event. They are paired in the order they were brought out. The guest wines were just generally consumed, but matched the dishes they were brought out for. The wines are as follows:

Dish + Wine

  1. Aubergine, Yogurt, Renkon, Mentaiko + Nigl – Hochacker- Kremstal Riesling- 2005
  2. Popcorn, Apple, Caramel + H. Billiot – Rose (from a Guest) + Krug – Grande Cuvee
  3. Shrimp, Wasabi, Mango + Domaine Ott “Chateau Romassan” Bandol Rose – 2008
  4. Confit, Thai Basil, Tomato, Snow + J. Foillard “Cote du Py” Morgon, Beaujolais – 2007
  5. Scallop, Cauliflower, Lilikoi + Kistler “Durell Vineyard” Chardonnay – 2004 + Raveneau “Mont Mains” Chablis – 2003 (from a Guest)
  6. Foie Gras, Grape, Tarragon + Y. Cuilleron “Les Ayguets” (VT) Condrieu – 2004
  7. Duck, Chocolate, Brussel Sprout, Enoki + Domaine de Chavalier- Pessac Leognan – 1995
  8. Marrow, Himalaya, Parsley + N. Potel “Taille Pieds” Volnay- 1999 (Corked)
  9. Kalamansi, Seed + S. Cathiard “Aux Murgers” Nuits St. Georges – 1997
  10. Steak, Mushroom, Sunchoke + R. Rostaing- Cote Rotie – 1997 (from a Guest)
  11. Chocolate, Vanilla + Banfi “Rosa Regale” Brachetto d’Acqui – 2009

“A cook and a wine guy”

Peonies, given to the host's family for sharing a delightful evening.

Why is my title in quotes? Well, because as savvy as I think I am with words, that phrase is elegant in its simplicity, but hints at some playfulness in its humbleness. Huh? Yeah, I’m getting to the point.

I was fortunate to be invited by a good friend to his home for the evening for a meal that will be forever etched in my memory. I was afforded the chance to have an underground dinner. If you are unfamiliar with underground dinners, please refer to “supper clubs.” Specifically, this event was a dinner put on by a gracious host and a talented chef, and it just happens that this HGC member was friends with the host. (Lucky me!) In addition, there was a molecular gastronomy component to the meal (even bigger score!). If you don’t know what that is check it out here. I have been to Chef Alvin Leung’s Bo Innovation in Hong Kong, and while it is obvious that Chef Dan has not reached that level, I think he is on a path there.


Now, I know some of us, even if we are foodie’s tend to poke fun at the words used by sommelier’s to describe wine.

See this was a great starter, couldn't tell you what it was . . .

However, as I sit and write this piece I am struck by the very same problem that they encounter on a nightly basis for their job. How do I convey the sensations, experiences, thoughts, and feelings to another person with words when it would be better for them just to try it on their own? What captures the essence of this wine and tells the diner this is what is going to happen in your mouth? In my position, how do I tell you, the reader, this is what I saw, smelled, tasted, and imbibed when the experience is so unique and singular, that some part of me is sad I only have pictures to show you all . . . (where are you Smell-o-vision!?).

Thus, I have a great respect for my friend/sommelier/host when he had to work, and I do mean work, with his friend the chef (they say “cook,” but I say “chef”) to create pairings for unique plates created by Chef Dan.  I’m going to be honest, I’ll simply say the wine pairings were great, and “sang” together, but because I am NOT a wine expert. I cannot tell you that I would/could think to pair another wine with each plate. Moreover, I cannot recall the exact tastes because I was HAVING FUN! I think that is the biggest thing to take away from this whole write-up. The experience was as good as any fine dining experience, but it had a casualness and fun element that you would feel in any neighbor’s backyard. So let’s just say “wine guy” did his job, and did it extremely well. I would do him injustice (and make an ass out of myself) if I even tried to critique his wine pairing skills. Let’s just say he rocks, and you all should have a sommelier friend because they are like pocket watches, classy to show off, and are also quite handy at parties.

As the sun sets, the real fun would begin soon enough.

Here begins the journey of the meal:

  1. Aubergine, Yogurt, Renkon, Mentaiko. This was a perfect starter, small crispy bites of lotus, with the chewiness and texture of the aubergine with the hint of mentaiko, floating with the yogurt. Altogether it was earth (aubergine and renkon), sea (mentaiko), and the airiness of the yogurt reminded me of clouds, air. It was put together quite well.

    Earth, Air, and Sea in one delectable bite.

  2. Tail, Apple. It was like an explosion in my mouth. Why? First, you bite into the crunchiness of the deep-fried batter on the outside, but then the pork tail sweet and succulent. The apple played nicely to add some tartness, and because it was cut so thin it was just adding that sour and the crunch coming from the outside. As the second dish, it was good because the portion was small.

    I definitely could use more tail.

  3. Popcorn, Apple, Caramel. Chef Dan if you read this, can I have some more of this 3rd dish? Like sent to my house? Popcorn?! Popcorn isn’t fancy or classy, you say?  Try bathing it in Truffle salt. That’s right that buttery goodness that coats the mouth that is truffle oil with salt was all over the popcorn, just like I was all over it when it was served. So, I’m glad you weren’t invited to this if you are too snobby for popcorn (we also drank Krug with this dish, so suck on that snobs).

    Yes, this goes with popcorn!

    So the popcorn was popped perfectly, light and airy, and there were small slivers of green apple scattered. However, the highlight was the caramel. The caramel thanks to some chemistry came out in a powdered form. So you would sprinkle it on the popcorn and it would be like you were eating caramel popcorn (and apples), but it was like the salt. Very creative, playful, and because its lightness a great start for the first three because from there on out it started to get heavier.

    OMG, I don't know if I can eat regular popcorn after that . . . yes, I can, but it won't be as good.

  4. Shrimp, Wasabi, Mango. I’m allergic to shrimp, yes I know, boohoo to me, let me hear it all you crustacean-lovers. However, next time you bite into a shrimp think about this, shrimp are like the cockroaches of the sea, what do you think they eat? Stick that in your pipe and smoke it! Thanks Glee! However, if you want an opinion from someone who tasted this dish check out Frugal Foodie’s write-up, here.

    Didn't eat them . . . I'm allergic, back off!

  5. Confit, Thai Basil, Tomato, and Snow. I’ve had a lot of bad confit before, and it is too bad because it was one of my favorite dishes. Generally, someone overcooks it or it is too dry and chewy. Good confit should be moist and tender. This one was, and the addition of thai basil and the tomatoes played nicely with the confit. So there was the crispness of the thai basil, the sour and pop of the tomato, all the while flaked with foie gras snow. Yes, you read me right, foie gras snow, and you know what? There was a foie gras dish coming soon too!

    Duck on duck, it's never enough.

  6. Scallop, Cauliflower, Lilikoi. I’m not a scallop eater, so all I can say that this was solid. The scallop was cooked to perfection. Moreover, the balance of bitter and crunch of the cauliflower played nicely with the tenderness of the scallop. All of this was linked through the sweetness of the Lilikoi droppings. It did nicely break up the duck dishes, so it was not like duck overload. So good placement during the meal.

    Dabs of yellow happiness with a perfectly cooked scallop.

  7. Foie Gras, Grape, Tarragon. I love foie gras . . . I would love to be lazy and just tell you that this was awesome and be done with it rather than relive the memory and then crave it again, but I guess that would not be fair to you. So here goes, it was totally AWESOME! How’s that? Look, it was a good-sized (read as, it was huge) of foie gras, the grapes really added some sweetness and nice counterbalance texture . . . and the bread, was good bread. However, I’ll be honest just give me foie gras and I’ll give you an extra shiso leaf rating . . . . The tarragon drops and a sip of wine made all of this go down nicely. For me I think this was one of the many highlights of the meal.

    Bam! Look at the size of that foie gras!

  8. Duck, Chocolate, Brussel Sprout, Shimeji. I would say this was a very fine dish. A lot of flavors and textures going on all at the same time. Might have been a tad too complex, but since I love duck and I like the use of bitter chocolate as support it all worked for me. The brussel sprout leaves were good, but I found my tongue being drawn more to the duck, chocolate, and shimeji mushrooms. I wouldn’t take out the brussel sprouts though because the leaves added good crunch to the duck when consumed together. Definitely would have gotten seconds of this . . . actually, come to think of it, I would have a seconds of a lot of dishes.

    I'm pretty sure the ducks think I am their enemy, given how much I consume them.

  9. Marrow, Himalaya, and Parsley. The marrow was cooked to perfection. In fact, if it had just been the marrow with Himalayan salt I would have sang, and not the mountains . . . . I thought in terms of portions the bread and parsley were too much. If it had been one slice of bread with a few leaves of parsley it would have been fine. I’m just being nitpicky.  The marrow (the main event of this dish) was definitely a star.

    Oh marrow! Why are you so good?

    Might I just add that I loved the salt, and as a “supertaster” I kind of wanted to steal it . . . just being honest.

    If I wasn't good friends with the host I would have stolen the salt . . . and I was too buzzed to.

  10. Kalamansi, Seed. This was a palate cleanser. So I it did its job effectively. I’ll be honest this wasn’t one of the most memorable cleansers I have had, but that’s not always the point. I will say the basil seeds added a very unique flavor, which did the job very well.

    Basil seeds, such a floral and herbal taste, very good palate cleanser.

  11. Steak, Mushroom, Sunchoke. It was steak . . . like foie gras and marrow, all I can say is I like it. The steak was cooked perfectly, it soaked up its spices. It was juicy and tender, and the mushrooms and sunchoke played a nice support to it all. I will also add I’ve never had sunchoke before, so I did like the taste as a new experience. I’m glad the palate cleanser came before this because I had the parade of confit, scallop, duck, and then marrow. If I had the steak after the marrow, I suspect I would have been overwhelmed.

    Steak cooked to tender perfection.

  12. Chocolate, Vanilla. I don’t know how I feel about his dish. On the one hand I like chocolate, and I’d say it was decent. I’m not sure if I liked the texture and the zest. I think I would definitely have to have another try, and I’d say I would like to eat it at a meal that wasn’t as many courses. I think the heaviness of the steak beforehand might have been lingering in my mouth.

    Chocolate is definitely a good dessert.

  13. Coffee. I found the coffee tapioca balls, well kind of muted in flavor, given all the previous dishes. It didn’t taste like coffee, more like coffee after taste, if you know what I mean? I think it would have been more successful if it had placed in something or the balls were infused a little bit more with coffee. However, I still appreciate the playful concoction and its placement during the meal. And that was it.

    Like caviar, but little balls of coffee popping in your mouth instead of fish.

Dinner started when there was still dim light in the sky, so it was slightly after seven. We did not finish until well after midnight. You know what? It didn’t feel that long. Why? Because it was fun all the way through and there was enough time to enjoy the dishes, get the complexity, drink your wine, and talk about it with your fellow diners. I enjoyed it all, and in fact as I am writing this I am getting hungry again thinking about it. In terms of the meal it was good and definitely memorable, I’d say not all the dishes were strong, but the overall complexity of the meal was good. Moreover, you have to consider that these thirteen menu items were each paired with a wine, and that this was all done in a 2-man show. So it was just unfortunate that these two do not have an establishment.

3 Wines? That's it?!

However, the bigger misfortune for Hawaii and my hungry stomach is Chef Dan is leaving the islands; he is heading off for a new culinary experience on the mainland. I am hoping while he is there he refines his craft even more, and my stomach shall wait for his return home. Also I hope Chicago loses some games or something because they are gaining some great food talent. I expect another meal like this, but better in the future if you are reading this Dan. In the mean time, I still have “wine guy,” so at least it’s not a complete lost.

Heck NO! This is how it ended, and it was a mighty fine ending.

To my readers, enjoy the pictures, but know that they do not fully capture how enjoyable the dinner truly was. I highly recommend if you know a friend in the restaurant business, and think they are good, sit down and plan a dinner like this for a perfect weather evening because you will have something better than the food and the wine, you will have a good memory.

The Tail, I mean . . . THE END.


Restaurant Review: Duc’s Bistro

Duc’s Bistro

  • 1188 Maunakea Street
    Honolulu, HI 96817-5134
  • (808) 531-6325
  • Monday- Friday, Lunch:  11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.; Dinner:  5:00 p.m – 10:00 p.m
  • Saturday and Sunday – Dinner only, 5:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.
  • Style: Traditional Vietnamese and Classic French

Getting the Good: Duc’s Bistro definitely captures a nice atmosphere for a French and Vietnamese bistro. The food is simple and good. The word “light” comes to mind.  There are some good standout dishes off the menu and the service is very good, “personable” I’d say.

Battling the Bad: The portions feel a little small when shared beyond three people. While the food is good some of the flavors are not spectacular and do not stand out It is located in Chinatown, therefore parking can be a problem, but the restaurant does validate for the lot across the street to help accommodate.

Bottom line: I recommend this restaurant for a small group of two to three people due to the portion sizes. It is a nice solid experience for those who want to try French and Vietnamese cuisine, as the food is good and the ambiance matches. Beyond that I’d say lunch returns are a better bet for me than dinner just because the food is solid, and nothing that really stands out.


3 Shiso Leaves

Duc’s Bistro feels like a bistro. Redundant, I know, but Duc’s is this quaint, little restaurant at the end of Honolulu Chinatown. It adds a little class and atmosphere to the end of its street. The red-neon sign screams at you from a wet, dark street (it rained the night we went) to come on in and warm up. When you go in there are red-papered lights and an extensive beverage bar welcoming you and you feel like it’s a restaurant from a different era; due to its cuisine it definitely wants to play up that traditional and classical vibe. However, there is a nice NYC edge to the bistro as well.

Spring rolls were springy and rolly the way they were meant to be.

The service was great. It was nice to have the owner talking us through the menu and asking us questions. He also had suggestions based on our likes and dislikes. The staff was friendly and overall speedy.

It tastes like tartar, no not the stuff on your teeth, like the way raw beef should taste.

Anyway, I know you want to hear about the main thing a food blog should be talking about, the food. So as a group of seven people we ordered an assortment of appetizers and entrees, which we proceeded to share family-style. For appetizers we ordered Vietnamese Crispy Spring Rolls, Escargots Chablisienne, and Beef Tartar. I’ve had various incarnations of all the appetizers, and I would say the ones at Duc’s are decent. Nothing struck me as different or new, but just solid. In fact, I think I liked the Beef Tartar the best, but can safely say I’ve had better.

For entrees we selected the Lamb Curry, Lemongrass Chicken, Breast of Duck Saigon, and something else I can’t remember. That feeling of I can’t remember should already tell you something. I felt the same way about the entrees as I did with the appetizers. Except for one thing, I do recommend the Lamb Curry. I’ll use someone else’s taste buds to demonstrate. I love lamb, and my best friend does not. However, he liked this dish. Basically, the gaminess of the lamb mixes well with the mildness of the curry. It is essence builds on that flavor. Also it is cooked right and not chewy.

This is someone's plate of stuff, which I can't remember what is on it, which says something about the meal or my memory, I'd like to think it's the meal.

We also had selected the Jasmine Rice as our starch, which was fine. It was a good consistency and supported all the dishes. For drinks, they have an awesome assortment of fruit drinks. I really like the Pineapple because it’s like drinking a candied pineapple. It was very light and refreshing. I think that someone’s experience might be different at Duc’s, if they also went with some of the wines they have on hand. It might add to the dishes, as we did not order any wine that night. I will say in terms of drinks and great staff, the owner makes a neat espresso. He can layer it nicely, and with a swish the espresso layers stay in place. It is really quite neat.

I imagine the Pecan Tart saying in the background, "Back off! Or the Ginger gets it!" because it is a tart . . .

To wrap-up we basically each chose one dessert. All-in-all the desserts were good. None of the tastes really stood out, but they were all nice enders to a good meal. In particular, the group seemed to like the Ginger Fantasy and the Bitter Sweet Pecan Tart. I stuck with a Chocolate Ganache Cake, which I would say at this point see to my above comments.

Overall, I’d say the experience was enjoyable. Would I go back? That’s the thing, I usually go back to a place because I am craving a dish or a particular set of dishes. I’m not sure if Duc’s Bistro would be my first choice. If I did go back, I would recommend the Lamb Curry and I would probably go there for lunch, as I would not order much and have a nice pineapple drink to go with that. For some reason, I think that Duc’s Bistro is a good lazy afternoon place to get something tasty with a friend or two. It feels like a bistro.

As you can see I have no pictures of the lamb, I’d like to explain through a “thank you.” Our HGC-photographer, Jon,  made these pictures stand out given the lighting. While the red-papered lights do set up a nice glow to the restaurant, they also wreaks havoc with cameras. So thanks Jon! Check out his photostream on Flickr for the HGC.


Restaurant Review: 12th Ave Grill

12th Ave Grill

  • 1145 12th Avenue
    Honolulu, HI 96816-3754
  • (808) 732-9469
  • Mon-Thurs: 5:30-9:00 Fri-Sat: 5:30-10:00 Sun: Closed
  • Style: Contemporary American Cooking

Getting the Good: 12th Ave Grill has a wide variety of foods prepared in novel and interesting ways sure to please people who want to eat something not so standard or classical. There are some standout dishes that should keep people coming back time after time.

Battling the Bad: Some of the dishes are kind of bland and are not as tasty as some of the other dishes. In a word it is: uneven. In addition, if you go with a small party and order several small and large dishes the kitchen seems to bring them all out at the same time.

Bottom line: 12th Ave Grill does certainly try to do an extensive survey of American cuisine, and by “American” I mean a nation of immigrants. There is a variety of combinations and flavors that will be familiar, but combined in new and refreshing mixes. However, some of the dishes stand far out ahead of others, while others having unique combination the flavors themselves are muddled. However, 12th Ave Grill does succeed in being a place you want to stop by for old favorites, but see what’s new. It’s like visiting your neighbor.


3 and a Half Shiso Leaves

12th Ave Grill Full Length Review

When HGC ate at 12th Ave Grill I had not been there in several years. I remember going with my family and enjoying my meal, but the restaurant did not leave an indelible impression on me. 12th Ave Grill was a fond a memory, but not a vivid one. However, one HGC member introduced me to 12th Ave Grill’s Smoked Ahi, a wonderful spread, which the restaurant sells for you to take back to your fridge and spread on crudités in the middle of the night.

Baked Mac & Cheese, this was good . . .

Therefore, I was expecting a meal of various flavors in nice tasty bites. The thing is that evening 12th Ave Grill offered a set of some tasty bites and some bites that were average. For example, we ordered the Smoked Ahi Ravioli and the Baked Mac & Cheese (both under the “Small Plates” section of the menu). Now, I found myself loving the Mac & Cheese, as it was fluffy, but gooey at the same time. However, their famous Smoked Ahi did not go well with the Ravioli. The Ravioli felt more like a burnt potsticker and did not compliment the Smoked Ahi.

The Smoked Ahi Ravioli, was not so good, but get the Smoked Ahi on its own!

We also ordered a salad, the fish of the day, and the roasted leg of lamb. While there were flavors there that were good, they weren’t above average. They weren’t the combination of non-traditional flavors I was expecting.

The lamb should be in the background, and the cheese in the foreground.

In addition, what also hurt the dishes was when they were served. Even though we decided to share all the “Small Plates” and “Large Plates” we all expected some breathing room between each dish. Instead for some reason the kitchen decided to produce all of these dishes at the same time. So by the time we cleared the salad, Smoked Ahi Ravioli, and Baked Mac & Cheese our fish and lamb were cold, thus subduing their flavors.

It was not all bad. The cheese selection (albeit a little messy and crowded on the platter) was robust and varied. There was bound to be a cheese you would like on the plate, plus a variety of fruits and nuts that complimented the cheeses. Lastly, dessert was great. I selected the Afogado and the mix of gelato, cookie crumbles, and espresso in a fountain glass, sundae-style, was a good closer.

The Afogado, a perfect ender. Gelato, espresso, and cookie crumbles in a deep glass. Stick your spoon in and enjoy!

Overall, I would say try out 12th Ave Grill, but stick to the basics. I admire the restaurant’s choice in continually experimenting with flavors because you never get to new awesome creations without trying.

However, if you want a memory that won’t fade like with the lamb and fish of the day, then go with things that will leave a tasty impression like the Baked Mac & Cheese, the Smoked Ahi (if it is NOT in ravioli form, as of this writing they have changed the Smoked Ahi dish), and the Afogado. If you do, then you will have a warm memory of a local grill that should be checked on from time to time.


Coming Attractions!

Ugh, life has been so busy!  Actually, I’ve been probably one part lazy one part busy, thus my blog gets neglected. Rest assured I have been eating, and been eating a lot!

I have plenty of new reviews coming so be on the look out. In addition, I have a lot more quick lunch reviews, midnight munchies, and hopefully book reports coming soon.

So whet your appetites as I finally put up my 12th Ave Grill and Duc’s Bistro Reviews from the HGC Dinner Events. I will also review Yohei, Gazen Izakaya, Mediterraneo, Taormina, and much more!

Be back in a flash or may be a flash dance? . . . ok, I promise reviews and pictures in a few days!


Raiding one refrigerator at a time!

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