Food Fun in Honolulu

Congrats to Jen and Andrew, who got married recently in Hawaii. Huzzah!

It’s always great to see friends get married, and doubly so (for us) when they do it in a beautiful place like Hawaii, especially since Elden’s never been there. Maybe he should blog about the various activities and places we went, since it’s his first time there, and I’ll do the food section, again =p

Ono Hawaiian Foods: this is my second time there. It’s a small divey looking place, but the food is not divey at all. The first time I went there, the dishes that stood out were lomi salmon, poi, and haupia. Lomilomi salmon because it was a little bit (just a teeny little bit) like salsa and was my favorite; poi because how could something sooo bland have been the staple of so many people’s diet for so many years; and haupia because it was like a starchy 椰汁糕. That was 5 years ago, when I didn’t eat everything in the traditional order.

This time we went in just as they were opening and they had already done like 200 take outs. We told the waitress we’ve never had hawaiian food before and the waitress gave us an introduction on taro, poi (sort of like mashed taro?), and luau and made recommendations. She was incredibly nice and helpful. So we ordered the luau combo with Kahlua pig, chicken lau lau, all the combo side dishes like lomilomi salmon, raw onion, dried beef (pipikaula), haupia and a separate order of salted beef watercress soup, a local favorite. The waitress brought us the raw onion to “open our taste buds." She told us to sprinkle sea salt onto it liberally, then dip it into poi and eat. I hate raw and half cooked onions because they have that very strong raw flavor that lingers for the whole day, but for some reason the salt and poi cancel out that unpleasant flavor and I could eat this just fine. In fact it was pretty good. Then she brings out the rest of the goodies and made a dish of seasoning with soy sauce and some liquid with just a little pepper in it and proceeded to tell us how to eat the food. Basically we were to dip all the vegetables into poi before eating and dip all the meats into the seasoning first and then poi and then eat. Everything was good, but my favorites were lomilomi salmon, which was just as good as I remembered it, with and without poi; salted beef (short ribs) watercress soup: the watercress was very fresh and probably heaped onto the dish just as the soup was done and sets off the saltiness of the soup and beef perfectly, and the beef comes off the bone effortlessly and gives the soup its salty beefy taste. You see the mountain of beef and watercress in this picture? We actually ate the whole thing. Thank goodness we went most everywhere on foot in Hawaii. My other favorite is the haupia, and the waitress was very very nice to give us an extra one. Yes Ono! And now I can’t remember why I had thought poi was bland and boring.  It actually went very well with the meats.

Waiola Shave Ice: their shave ice is shaved so fine it’s like snow, which lets the syrup seep through the whole cone and you can taste it with every bite. We ordered ours with vanilla and lychee syrups, azuki (red) beans, and condensed milk. We did try other combinations, but this was our favorite and our benchmark order. We tried the same combo at Matsumoto, Oahu’s more famous shave ice place. They don’t shave their ice as fine as Waiola and their lychee syrup just don’t taste as good. Sorry Matsumoto, we just love Waiola more. In fact we went twice during our short stay and were truly sorry we couldn’t go a third time before leaving. We even tried one of those shave ice carts you see around popular tourist spots (Diamond Head, in our case) to see if Waiola is really that different from the other places, and indeed the regular shave ice are the size of small stones. On a fineness scale, the cart was very rough, Waiola was like snow, and Matsumoto was sort of in between. As a final note, I want to say that this shave ice is nothing like the Taiwanese shave ice you see around the Bay Area. And “shave ice" just sounds so ordinary when it’s so unlike other desserts.

Hakone in Hawaii Prince Hotel Waikiki: sushi buffet restaurant from Fridays to Sundays, buffet restaurant on other days.  Their sashimi is not bad for a buffet, but their sushi is better.  They have amaebi, uni, mirugai, and various other sushi that you can ask the sushi chef to make, and they were all pretty fresh.  They also have a bunch of cooked items not found in regular Japanese restaurants.  I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the food served here, but I liked them and they reminded me of the food in Japan.  They also have sakura mochi for dessert, which I loved.  The cherry blossom leaf makes it much more interesting than just a regular blob of sweet dessert.  The pineapple was actually the best of the ones I had in Hawaii.  It had the sweet pineapple taste but none of the tartness.  The papaya was ripe and sweet too, but not as good as the pineapple.  Overall, I’d say I really like the food in Hakone, but I keep wondering if I could have eaten the same quality of food for the same price ($43/person).

Prince Court in Hawaii Prince Hotel Waikiki: hehe, yes, we went to 2 hotel restaurants of our own accord, and in the same hotel too.  Originally we planned to go to Hakone based on Elden’s sister’s friend’s suggestion, so I made a reservation for Thursday night.  We got to the hotel Thursday evening before Hakone opened and started eyeing Prince Court, which was sort of just across from Hakone and serving buffet.  Their menu looked pretty good, and we happen to realize that Hakone’s weekday buffet is not as fabulous as their weekend buffet (no uni and no amaebi).  Oops.  At the same time, the receptionist at Prince Court saw us and invited us to take a look, so Elden went in and found the food pretty appetizing looking.  Hmm… what to do?… So we walked across to Hakone, told the receptionist we had a reservation for right now but can we change it to tomorrow? I felt like a major village idiot at this point because why would anyone show up at the right time only to change the reservation? This hotel was not exactly right on Waikiki beach, despite what it called itself.  Luckily (for us) the receptionist said “of course" right away and made the reservation for us, and we were free to go to Prince Court.

Prince Court served regular American fare with some local dishes like ahi poke (g00d), octopus poke(good), lomilomi Salmon (bad, Ono’s was the best), but most of their food was pretty good.  Their strangest item is steamed minced pork in black bean sauce.  Not that it’s not good… actually, I have no idea if it’s good or not, since eating a Chinese dish at a $40/person buffet seems like a total waste of money… but the Japanese tourists loved it.  Well, they probably thought we’re crap too, so who am I to judge? It wasn’t a bad meal, actually it was pretty good for a buffet (certainly way better than Todai), but $40/person?… We only do this when we’re traveling.  Elden liked Prince Court, and I liked Hakone.

I forgot to mention that we sat by the windows just as the sun was setting and it was beautiful.  I think that was the most scenic dinner I’ve ever had.  It was also pretty romantic =)

Tokkuri-tei: our friends Tony and Tania had dinner with their friends in Hawaii, Tina and Sam, and we tagged along.  Tokkuri-tei is a popular local izakaya with a thick menu offering appetizers, yakitori, sushi and sashimi, and other mysterious goodies.  All of their items have a line to explain what it is, and one of them said “you’ll never know until you try it," and it turned out to be a very tasty (but small) pot of eel soup.  The soup was very very good.  I can’t remember all the things we ate that night, but everything was good and the sushi was fresh.  I wish there are more izakayas of this caliber in the Bay Area.

This is all for now.  I’ll update the post with pics later.

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