Archive for the 'Restaurant Reviews' Category

23
Feb
11

Sushi ii: a place for a really “good” time

Sushi ii

655 Keeaumoku St, Ste 109
Honolulu, HI 96814
(808) 942-5350

The man that made our stomachs sing, Garrett Wong.

For starters let’s clear up something. This place is Sushi ii (pronounced “ee” as in the Japanese word for “good”), and NOT Sushi 2 or whatever it is called in Waikiki. This happy little eatery is located in the Samsung Plaza and lives up to its name as “good” if not super. Garrett Wong, who has had the fortune of being written about in Honolulu Magazine, and serving the HGC at Natsunoya a year ago, has created a great sushi spot that I would rather keep hidden for my friends and I, then share with the rest of you. However, that would not do him any credit. Anyway, let’s get to the review.

The Good: the Fresh Selection

So much to choose from, where to begin?

At Sushi ii there is an awesome selection of sushi. You want it? Garrett probably can make it or has it. He puts in orders for Japanese fish (as in they are from Japan!) and he really puts care in selecting the freshest and tastiest fish possible.. The Grub Club supplied over fifteen eaters at this establishment and I think we ate almost every kind of fish or crustacean supplied on the menu. Everyone in general seemed please, with the people at the counter getting a nice selection of fish. I will say that the kitchen also makes some great deep-fried moi and flounder. You can tell that Garrett cares when he makes his sushi as well, as generally, you never need to add shoyu and wasabi. It is just right, as sushi should be consumed.

One moi time!

Finally, dessert never disappoints. You would think that you wouldn’t feel heavy and full after eating a bunch of fish, but oh no you definitely can. So I appreciate the lightness of the panna cotta. It is a nice finisher.

The Bad: Wait and Size

I am kind of torn, as this was probably my fault and lack of planning. However, I definitely felt that the kitchen orders for the table group could have come a little faster, but then again when you try to pack in over 15 people at the same time I think that is totally my bad. So it wasn’t Sushi ii’s fault that we had to wait so long, but the wait was bearable due to the BYOB and great company. The size of the restaurant and parking lot definitely will make it a wait some nights. So come prepared, by buying a lot of sake from the Sake Shop.  In terms of the food though, nothing I ate was bad. I would order it again, and would probably like to try more from the regular and special menu.

Wait for this? Absolutely, would do it again!

Bottom Line: 4 out of 5

I would go back and indeed I am trying to plan another dinner for some other friends. I have a bottle of Dai Ginjo and some ideas of what fish I want in my belly. I highly recommend going to the Sake Shop before hand and selecting a bottle of sake or two. The owners of the Sake Shop are friends with Garrett and they definitely know what he is making and help you select a good bottle to go with your meal. For our own part, it was kind of neat I met the owner who made the sake bottle I bought for dinner, which was Mizbasho and it was the Ginjo, which was perfect because it was subtler and matched all the variety of sushi that we ate.

I highly recommend for sushi lovers to check this fun little place out. I also wish Garrett and his crew the best, and hope to see them soon.

See you again real soon!

One More Word

As always please check out my fellow Grub Clubber, Kyle H., who is a better foodie and reviewer than I at this link. Moreover, if you just peruse the other Yelp reviews most people have given it a four or five stars. Also please check out the HGC Flickr photostream for all that we ate that night!

16
Jun
10

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.

Rating:

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.

07
Jun
10

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.

Rating:

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.

02
Mar
10

Restaurant Review: GoShiGo

GoShiGo: Udon and Dining Bar

903 Keeaumoku St.

Honolulu, HI 96814

(808) 942-0545

11 a.m.–1:30 p.m. and 6 p.m.-9:30 p.m. Mon. – Sat.

Style: Udon

The Stamina Vol. II - I guess it gives more stamina than Vol. I?

Getting the Good: The udon is fresh.  They are a good consistency, chewy, but not tough. The noodles are made by a master, and sometimes you get the chance to see him make it. The dishes are inexpensive and filling. The atmosphere matches that of a local, cozy noodle place in a Japanese neighborhood.

Battling the Bad: As with anything else in Honolulu there is limited parking. While there are some simple dishes, I think that the main emphasis of GoShiGo are styles that are not typical of udon noodles. Some of the dishes may be fun, but too cluttered and interferes with the freshness and great texture of the noodles themselves. The menu itself is odd. It has some items that do not necessarily work well with udon.

Bottom line: I love good noodles, and I definitely think GoShiGo has good noodles. However, some of the dishes are hit or miss. I think if the parking is too crowded I would be inclined to go somewhere else and try again later in the week. I would probably give the place (if I had a rating system) a 2 1/2 out 5.

Go when Craving Udon, Don’t Go When Crowded

GoShiGo: Udon and Dining Bar replaced the prior noodle house, Taishoken Ramen. For the most part the eatery layout remains the same, but the noodles are different. The noodles here are udon noodles. Udon is a thick Japanese wheat-flour noodle. Typically, served with a mild broth or sauce the noodles go great with a variety of ingredients. In addition, the noodles lend themselves to be serving hot or cold depending on the season or your mood.

I had the “Stamina Vol. II” noodles, which is a cold udon. It comes with egg, tempura vegetable hash, cooked cold beef, and yamaimo (mountain yam). On the first bite, I definitely could tell the noodles were fresh and they had a good consistency. I tend to like my udon noodles slightly chewy, but not tough. They should also be coated with a good sauce or broth, but the noodle should be able to stand out.

While I liked the “Stamina Vol. II”, I do not think I would necessarily order it again. I felt as the meal went on all the items in my udon bowl became too cluttered and mixed. This began to muddle the flavor of the noodles, and made it harder to eat. I think next time I go I will try something simpler, but that brings me to my next point. I think that if you don’t mind new styles with udon or something not typically Japanese you will like it here. The menu itself has appetizers that I do not think would necessarily go with udon noodles. For example, they had lumpia (a Filipino spring roll). While the lumpia was good I don’t think it is the best. I think there are other things that would go better with the udon.

The lumpia.

I think that is my overall feeling: I would only go to GoShiGo if I was in the mood to go. Do not get me wrong it is good, but I think for me there are other places I would choose to go if I could not find parking immediately. GoShiGo unfortunately inherits a similar problem that many establishments on the island must contend with, the lack of parking. GoShiGo is near several other popular places that use the same parking lot.

I think for a good to decent meal it is worth going, but beyond that I don’t think it is worth driving around the lot or looking for street parking unless you are craving udon noodles.

01
Mar
10

Restaurant Review: Sweet Home Cafe

Sweet Home Café
2334 S King St. Honolulu, HI 96826
(808) 947-3707
Hours: Mon-Sun. 5:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.

Style: Taiwanese Hot Pot

A bubbling pot of goodness.

Getting the Good: 1) It’s inexpensive – for a family of five our bill was about $65, and my family eats a lot; 2) tasty choice of homemade broths and dipping sauces; and 3) fast, “Aunty” Susan definitely has a system down to get the food out in a timely manner, but . . .

Battling the Bad: 1) the wait because Sweet Home is quite popular you will wait, and wait, my family arrived at 5:30 p.m. on a Sunday and was not seated till 6:20 p.m.; 2) overwhelming/crowded, I think for people not used to Asian-style Hot Pot it can be overwhelming as the small restaurant space is cramped and noisy, moreover you have fourteen choices of broths, and then have to get your own dipping sauces and vegetables at the counter and refrigerator while dodging other patrons and tables.  “Aunty” Susan informs me that they are planning on opening another restaurant, so that would definitely alleviate the pressure on their one location because the wait time can seem ridiculous when you are starving.

Bottom line: Save a seat somewhere for me at this crowded hot spot, as I’m coming Home again for tasty broth and delicious dipping sauces.

The Long of It

The Home that Gives you a lot of Simple Tasty Choices

I’ve never been to Taiwan, but I’ve always wanted to go there.  It might be due to my interest in Asian affairs from when I studied politics and history for undergrad, but I now know there is an additional reason: if there are establishments like Sweet Home Café over there I definitely want to eat my way across the island.

Sweet Home Café is a Taiwanese-style hot pot restaurant located in the small complex on King Street, across from Honolulu State Stadium Park. Sweet Home Café is homely. It is not elaborate or complex. It is simple and delicious.  If you know what Asian hot pot or shabu-shabu is, then Sweet Home is just that and do not expect anything more or less. It is everything you expect when you come home to get a home cooked meal. It’s just that this Home gives you a lot of flavorful choices.

What to put in first?

First, you will select the type of broth you will cook your meats and vegetables in. There are fourteen types, guaranteed to suit almost anyone’s palette for Asian-styled broths. Next, you will choose your meats from four types. I suggest getting a little of each unless you do not like lamb or beef tongue. Then you will go to the refrigerator and counter to select your vegetables and dipping sauces. Your bill is tabulated based on color-coded plates of meat and vegetables that you get, similar to kaiten (“revolving”) sushi restaurants.

I ordered the House special, but I discovered it was made from shellfish, which I am allergic to, but the owner and manager, “Aunty” Susan was kind of enough to complement me another one. I enjoyed my broth, it was meaty and tasty, but typically what happens at hot pot places is either the broth is simple chicken stock and the meat and vegetables you cook does not retain any of that flavor or the broth is so laden with salt or MSG and just becomes a salty piece of meat or vegetable. Here the homemade-style broths are enough to coat the meat and vegetables and then mixes nicely with the mostly homemade dipping sauces. The selection of sauces is one of the best parts of this meal: it’s is all about choice.

Sweet Home has about twelve different sauces to dip your broth-soaked meats and vegetables in. They have the typical Asian flavors of sesame and miso, but what is better are the homemade ones. Their homemade Asian-chili sauce had more punch and fire in it than ones find in stores. Nothing beats a sauce mixed to a personal family recipe. Incidentally, I think Sweet Home is appropriately named. Susan informed me that her parents had been doing this for 30 years back in Taiwan. Her father wanted someone to carry on the tradition, and that is what she has done. This place is a nice blend of home and family. My dinner experience was marked by an impromptu singing of “Happy Birthday” not once, but twice for fellow patrons.

To round out this meal the restaurant complements (yes, free!) a bowl of Taiwanese-styled shaved ice. It is almost an analogy of the hot pot you just had, but instead of vegetables and meats, you have a swirling sea of shaved ice, tapioca, condensed milk, and other flavors found in cold Asian treats. It was an enjoyable meal from start to finish, but it doesn’t end there. They will package your leftover broth for you to take with you and enjoy at your own home.

More plates please!




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