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Hankering for Hawaii Part IV: Dining at Three James Beard Semi-Finalists on Oahu

Wednesday, 23. April 2014 5:25

A parade of snacks including this sweetbread chip begins the night at Vintage Cave, Honolulu's most unexpected restaurant.

A parade of snacks including this sweetbread chip begins the night at Vintage Cave, Honolulu’s most unexpected restaurant.

HONOLULU, OAHU — A culinary revolution is exploding on this island. A new generation of chefs has stepped to the forefront to shake, rattle and roll new life into Hawaii’s sometimes all too predictable cuisine.

Just consider: Among this year’s semi-finalists for James Beard Awards were five from Hawaii, including one restaurant that was a mere pop-up only months ago.

At the invitation of the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, I had a chance to check out three of those up and coming chefs and restaurants recently. At two, my meal was complimentary, while at the third, I paid the tab but was treated to extra dishes on the house. In each case, I came away thoroughly excited by what I tasted and by the ambitious trajectory island cuisine is taking.

Vintage Cave

I’ve never dined in a restaurant like Vintage Cave before. Chances are you haven’t, either.

Imagine a cross between a billionaire’s medieval castle and a fine art gallery, and you get some idea of this most unusual restaurant that has no windows and is located in a most unlikely place — the bowels of Honolulu’s largest shopping mall.

In fact, my taxi driver looked at me quite puzzled when I told him where I was headed. Yes, you drive into the basement level of the parking lot of the Ala Moana Center. Among the rows of parked cars, you look for a brick doorway where a valet is stationed. You step into the doorway, where an elevator awaits to whisk you up to the next level. You arrive in a small anteroom, where you follow two women who open a double-door for you into the dimly lit restaurant. Its dramatic walls and ceiling are covered in 150,000 bricks imported from the mainland and intricately arranged in a herringbone pattern by three Romanian workers brought over for three months just to complete that task.

The cloistered dining room at Vintage Cave.

The cloistered dining room at Vintage Cave.

Hiroshima paintings that inspired the look of the restaurant.

Hiroshima paintings that inspired the look of the restaurant.

Dining amid Picassos.

Dining amid Picassos.

Immediately to your left is a series of three paintings done by Israeli artist Moredecai Ardon. Depicting Hiroshima — before, during and after the dropping of the atomic bomb — the paintings are said to have inspired the look of the restaurant. Walk a few steps to gaze upon a series of priceless Picassos that show the progression of the master’s art from realism to cubism. Off to the right are lighted display cases filled with luminous Lalique and Baccarat crystal. On the ceilings hang immense Swarovski chandeliers that glint with vivid red and blue.

All of these pieces — and much more found throughout the restaurant — came from the personal art collection of Takeshi Sekiguchi, the Japanese developer of this $20 million restaurant. It’s not by happenstance that Vintage Cave is located in the bowels of the Shirokiya store in the mall. Sekiguchi owns Shirokiya, which used to be an appliance store, with its wares stored in the 15,000-square-foot basement. When the store morphed into more of a department store, then giant Hawaiian food court, there was no more need for the basement. So, Sekiguchi, who also built the Vegas-like Grand Wailea resort on Maui, set out to build his dream restaurant.

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Category:Chefs, General, Great Finds, Restaurants, Travel Adventures | Comments (5) | Author:

Hankering for Hawaii Part III: Marvelous Maui Dining at Migrant and Ka’ana Kitchen

Monday, 21. April 2014 5:26

A visit to Chef Sheldon Simeon's new Maui restaurant, Migrant.

A visit to Chef Sheldon Simeon’s new Maui restaurant, Migrant.

MAUI, HAWAII — This island’s dining scene is heating up with the arrival of two new restaurants last year, including a fun one by “Top Chef Fan Favorite” Sheldon Simeon, late of the ever popular Star Noodle.

A few weeks ago, I had a chance to check out that restaurant plus the splashy new Ka’ana Kitchen — all courtesy of the Hawaii Visitors Bureau.

As anyone who’s been to Hawaii can attest, big-name restaurants here tend to be not only pricey and touristy, but at times all too predictable. Not these two. In fact, I can’t wait to go back again to both.

Migrant

Even before he appeared on Season 10 of “Top Chef,” Sheldon Simeon’s cooking drew lines day and night at Star Noodle. After making it to the final three? The place was bombarded with even more throngs.

And now after being named “The People’s Best New Chef — Northwest & Pacific Region” for 2014 by Food & Wine magazine? Tourists and locals alike are following him over to his new restaurant, Migrant, which opened four months ago, as evidenced by the packed tables on the night I was invited in as a guest.

Dusk at Wailea Beach Marriott.

Twilight at Wailea Beach Marriott.

The entrance to Migrant.

The entrance to Migrant.

The slogan on the menu and servers’ T-shirts says it all: Come to My House. Eat.

Simeon is doing his own style of food here — comforting, Asian-inspired island flavors with little twists here and there. It’s food meant for sharing and enjoying a rollicking time over.

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Category:Chefs, Food TV, General, Restaurants, Travel Adventures | Comments (6) | Author:

Joanne Chang’s Big White Chocolate, Almond and Cherry Cookies

Monday, 14. April 2014 5:25

Imagine these tucked into your Easter basket.

Imagine these tucked into your Easter basket.

 

Easter may be all about chocolate eggs and marshmallow Peeps. But I think it should be about cookies.

But then again, I think every day should be a cookie day.

And this cookie has it all: A twinkle of color in keeping with that festive holiday. Chocolate for tradition’s sake. And almonds for their symbolic promise of hope.

“Big White Chocolate, Almond and Cherry Cookies” is a recipe by Pastry Chef Joanne Chang that was originally published in the December 2013 issue of Food & Wine magazine. The recipe by the chef-proprietor of Flour Bakery in Boston was originally called “Big White Chocolate, Almond and Cranberry Cookies,” but I substituted dried cherries for the dried cranberries to make it more appropriate for this time of year.

The recipe uses three different flours — all-purpose, bread and almond. They give the cookie great texture. They are thin and crisp on the edges,, but stay thick, soft and chewy in the centers. The white chocolate gives the cookies a good measure of sweetness, the cherries add a subtle fruity tang and the almonds a lovely crunch. It’s a cookie that hits all the notes.

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Category:Chefs, Favorite Cookie Recipes, General | Comments (6) | Author:

Lure + Till Takes Root in Downtown Palo Alto

Friday, 11. April 2014 5:25

First of the season Alaskan halibut at Palo Alto's Lure + Till.

First of the season Alaskan halibut at Palo Alto’s Lure + Till.

 

What was once a senior care facility in downtown Palo Alto has morphed into a splashy new boutique hotel and restaurant.

The eight-story Epiphany Hotel, a Joie de Vivre property, opened at the end of March after a  year of demolition that took the structure down to the studs, followed by nearly two years of construction.

The six-story mosaic of El  Palo Alto, the 1,000-year-old coastal redwood for which the city is named, was kept on the outside of the building. Moreover, throughout the structure there are nods to both that tree and to the city’s prominent place in Silicon Valley history. For instance, binary code is used as lighted artwork in the lobby. Historic maps of Palo Alto adorn hallways. Room rugs are woven with tree images. Cocoon-like “hoodie” chairs on the mezzanine not only have built-in outlets but were designed to be noise-cancelling. And perhaps in the ultimate oxymoron, the desks for all those hustle-bustle guests who never met an electronic device they didn’t like were made by the Amish.

Only in Silicon Valley: binary code as art.

Only in Silicon Valley: binary code as art.

The chic lobby.

The chic lobby.

Now, I’m not in the habit of snapping pictures of urinals in the men’s room. But this one was too good not to memorialize after being escorted in by the general manager. Yes, in the men’s room of a hotel just a stone’s throw from Stanford University, you will find this unique urinal, a deprecating symbol of the Big Game rivalry between the two institutions.

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Category:Chefs, General, Restaurants | Comments (4) | Author:

The Comfort of Curry

Wednesday, 9. April 2014 5:26

A spice mix not to be without.

A spice mix not to be without.

 

My spice drawer collapseth over.

Try as I might to keep the jars and tins in neat alphabetical order, there are just far too many for all the cuisines dabbled in to do so.

In my parents’ kitchen that I grew up in, though, that never was a problem. Their spice collection snuggled neatly in one metal pan in the cupboard that held barely a dozen in total. Cloves to stud the Easter ham. Cinnamon for baking oatmeal cookies. White pepper to sprinkle into rice porridge. And that all-important jar of curry powder that my Dad would reach for whenever he made lamb curry.

Nowadays, I keep a jar of curry in my pantry for many uses. But when spring hits, I can’t help but think of lamb curry first and foremost as my Dad so often did.

His lamb curry was made in a pressure cooker, the kind that sat on the stovetop with a metal knob screwed into its lid that hissed and whistled like mad. He’d cut up potatoes, carrots and onions and throw them into the pot with chunks of lamb with plenty of chicken stock, some spiky star anise, and a few generous shakes from that curry jar — and let it all bubble away under that locked lid.

Sometimes I’d have no idea what he was making for dinner. But the moment he lifted the lid off that pot, that unmistakable aroma would fill the house, letting me know it was curry lamb night. The fragrance is so recognizable — pungently earthy, musky, even a tad sweet, and with the promise of something a little exotic.

My Dad’s version was golden and brothy — meant to be eaten with mounds of fluffy rice. All it took was one mouthful to warm you deliciously from within.

Tadashi Ono's lamb curry.

Tadashi Ono’s lamb curry.

My husband who is Japanese-American also grew up with curry and rice. But the type he is accustomed to is far more gravy-like. It’s a deep, dark pool of sauce, so thick you can barely discern what’s below until you really dig a fork into it. It’s also delicious. And like the version my Dad used to make, quite tame on the heat spectrum, compared to Indian curries.

In New York Chef Tadashi Ono’s newest cookbook, “Japanese Soul Cooking” (Ten Speed Press), of which I received a review copy, is full of home-style dishes, including ramen, tonkatsu, tempura, and donburi. It also includes a curry dish that marries both of the styles my husband and I grew up on. The sauce is a little thinner than what my husband is used to and with a scant more weight than the type I favored as a child.

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Category:Asian Recipes, Chefs, General, Recipes (Savory) | Comments (8) | Author: