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Hankering for Hawaii Part V: The Posh and The Pig

Friday, 25. April 2014 5:25

Broken surfboard art in the lobby of The Modern in Honolulu.

Broken surfboard art in the lobby of The Modern in Honolulu.

 

Morimoto Waikiki

OAHU, HAWAII — Most trips to Honolulu, I’ve stayed on Waikiki Beach. Close to the action, for sure. But touristy to the max.

For an alternative on this latest trip, the Hawaii Visitors Bureau offered to put me up a little farther out — but still within walking distance to that hotspot — in The Modern, which opened in 2011 on Ala Moana Boulevard not far from the mega shopping center there.

The Modern lives up to its name. Unlike so many other Hawaiian hotels done up in plenty of loud floral prints, this hotel is all soothing white and warm wood. It’s much more South Beach than Polynesia.

Behind the check–in desk, you’ll spy a catchy art piece of broken surfboards, many of them signed by the surfer sto whom the boards once belonged to.

The lobby also boasts a little subterfuge — a bookcase spanning one wall that pushes aside to reveal a secret space where guests can enjoy coffee in the morning or cocktails at night.

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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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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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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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Join the Food Gal and Half Moon Bay Brewing Company at Macy’s Valley Fair

Friday, 4. April 2014 5:27

MacysHalfMoonBay

Who wants to try some beeramisu?

I thought that would get your attention. Yup, it’s the classic Italian dessert, only made with beer.

You can learn how to make it and sample some at Macy’s Valley Fair in Santa Clara at 6 p.m. April 10 when I host a cooking demo with Chef Gaston Alfaro of Half Moon Bay Brewing Company.

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