Posts Tagged ‘underground dining


Off-Menu’s Off-Premise Underground Dinner, First

Whoever put the Off-Menu sign under the lips picture, very clever.

This past Monday (09/27) the Honolulu Grub Club was graciously invited by Off-Menu to their first “Off-Premise” Underground Dinner. The dinner was hosted at Manifest. The food prepared by Chef Travis “Ala” Sutton of Le Guignol.

As I have written about underground dining before, I would say this experience was slightly different. It felt like a good night out at a club, but had the intimacy and friendship of a private dinner. It gave me a reason to get dressed up for fun on boring, muggy, and hot Monday and to relax with friends, old and new, in a fun locale and eat some good food.

I cannot really comment about the other underground food projects on here on Oahu, as I’ve never been to one, but it seems that Off-Menu is going off the beaten path of being elite. While, the food is important, as they want foodies to come, it is also about the event itself. They are making the event fun, the food approachable, and the guests a friendly, eclectic bunch. Makes sense given that it is a hip catering company that does weddings, charities, etc . . . . It’s food and fun for everyone.

Having a dinner party and a bar is very cool.

Hosting the dinner at Manifest was definitely a cool move. It’s always a nice feeling when the bar is yours and you freely can get a cocktail and chat with person without yelling at them to just say “hi.” Added to that fact the cocktail is not the main event, but a relaxer.

Pooh am I?

Another way to relax, especially amidst strangers, is to play games! It was great on Off-Menu’s part to incorporate some easy icebreaking games for its guests to meet and greet each other. We played the “Who Am I?” game where guests try to determine the name of the famous person taped to their back by asking other patrons a simple yes-no question. I was Cat Kora (I only wish I could cook like her or be as organized). I really enjoyed talking to the other guests as they were all friendly, and the fun of figuring out who you are seemed to overcome any awkwardness of meeting a stranger for the first time.

The table setting was cute with the paper bags serving as menu and a take away treat of cookies.

After the game was concluded we sat down for dinner. We had a five course meal for the evening that was prepped by the Chef right there.

Each bag had the name of the guest, the menu, and all of it hand-written.

The first dish, the salad of prosciutto, raspberries, arugula, etc . . . . was decent. Oh before I get too critical (esp. if Chef Ala’s wonderful wife, who sat next to me, is reading this) I applaud Chef for trying to be creative and presenting new things to people’s palettes. I always admire those who have the confidence to step out and try something new, but what I appreciate is the ability for people to take criticism of their new invention and improve upon it. I’m glad that Chef Sutton made, such a speech before we began.

You know, as Chef was plating the dinner I couldn't help, but think he also looked like a DJ esp. because of the black plates, the table, and the setting. He was our DJ Chef spinning/serving plates of goodness.

But enough of that, let me get back to the first dish. I appreciated the different textures of the salad, my problem was mainly with the strength of taste: the prosciutto overwhelmed everything and things as tart or bitter as raspberries or arugula just did not seemed to sing out. However, I’d say this dish would work if somehow the flavors of each ingredient could be enhanced.

The salad starter.

The next up was lobster tail. I’m allergic to shellfish, but in the name of food (and justice . . . and my stomach!) I gave it a go. I liked it, but I thought that the onion soup sauce didn’t stick to the lobster that well. I think it would be nice to plate it with the sauce dripping over it. But then again what do I know, I bust out in hives and an itchy throat if I eat too much of this stuff.

The third was my favorite. It was veal sweetbreads, the barbecue sauce made it feel American (well as American as barbeque can be, as it came from Caribbean . . . then again immigrating and importing is American, so never mind). Anyway, the veal was good, tender, and very moist. I just wish the chocolate was a little bit more out front. I could only get a hint of it as the barbeque sauce kind of overwhelmed it.  I liked the celery remoulade, but I don’t know if I would pair it with the sweet breads. You know, I think I need another try at it to see how I really feel . . . no, seriously, I want it again to make a determination. Free sweet breads please! Just kidding.

You should have been there for the smell as these babies were cooking.

The fourth to me was a lot of fun, even though once again I don’t eat too much seafood. I like salty, and this was it. The steamed mussels were cooked right, and not tough of chewy and have a good salty flavor to them. Added to that the duck fat fries with fleur de sel just sang to me. I was in salty heaven. It was like the Dead Sea visited my mouth with nice rich flavors.

Salty bowls of goodness.

You know, I just can’t seem to get away from cheesecake . . . . After August’s Cheesecake Competition I thought I was done with the dessert. Oh well, at least from my sake it was a mousse rather than an actual cheesecake. It also wasn’t as dense (which is why I tend to dislike cheesecake), nor as creamy. Very fun, and it felt like having an adult pudding cup to end a dinner with big kids you met at a bar.

A sweet ending to a sweet night.

All in all Off-Menu is off to a fun start and I hope to see more. I hear the next event, tentatively scheduled for November may be a “movie-style” night and I can’t wait to have dinner theatre with old and new friends.


Impressions of Off-Menu at Managers’ Dinner

So as I am eternally backlogged with recaps, reviews (which I still have yet to get back to), and other write-ups this post is delayed by a month. Anyway, I was fortunate as a HGC member to be invited to Off-Menu’s annual managers’ dinner in late July. Off-Menu is a new, hip, and edgy catering company located here in Honolulu. More info on them can be found here.

I'll be honest my food pics didn't come out because I was eating when dinner was served and well, kept on eating. I promise food pics at the next event!

As with what I said in an earlier post about Shogunai Tacos, I am always fascinated with new start-ups and people who bring creativity (especially, through food) to the islands. The reason I think Off-Menu will be good is they have a lot of fun and new ideas. The talent they have on hand is quite smart and energetic. These people are professionals that love food!

The staff getting ready for the evening after coming in early to set up the tent.

Managers’ Dinner Means Managers Make Some Mean Food

So at the this launch party all the food was cooked by the management, and not their actual chefs. However, the food in itself was quite tasty; like I said they love food and you can certainly taste it. The appetizers were arranged artfully and  The meats for me were salted and seasoned just enough that your mouth watered for one more nibblet. The meal in the outdoor, relaxed setting was finely ended with a good brew of coffee and a candy bar (like a salad bar, not an actually bar of candy) that made you feel like a kid after a family bbq.

So that same love of food is going into managing the company and they have some big plans on how they are going to serve up their catering and make it “lucky you live Hawaii.”

Service that is Full

The managers’ dinner also serves for them to fine tune their service and how they conduct themselves. Basically, they always are striving to provide a level of service that demonstrates care. I always had a full wine glass by my server’s hand even though they had a beverage bar. It’s a company that strives to do better rather than just be satisfied with the same old thing that a lot of Hawaii companies suffer from.

Elegant, but a casual affair.

The New “Black” Will Be What is Off the Menu

They indicated they really want to run a tight ship that brings you off premise events that are off the hook. Added to that fact that they sign chefs to provide unique menus that are not necessarily found in their restaurants, Off-Menu really wants to live up to their name. In addition, I’m told they themselves want to host special dining parties that will have exclusive and innovative menus designed by their chefs held in unique locales other than your normal brick-and-mortar restaurant. Basically, think outside the box.

The venue's view was gorgeous.

Location, Location

Speaking of locales the spectacular view by the managers’ dinner party is not one of their typical venues, but I am told that they have other really beautiful venues, such as the famous Oasis World Estates for their normal catering, and in fact have held several weddings at these venues. Off-Menu can certainly do the traditional wedding and event coordination, but that is just one part of the whole deal.

So in my opinion even though this was just for the company if Off-Menu goes off the beaten path as they plan, they will certainly be serving some unique ideas and how we experience our food. Looking forward to their first Underground Dining at Manifest later this month. Update you all on that with real food pics.


“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.


Raiding one refrigerator at a time!

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