La Cucina Ristorante Italiano

In June we celebrated Tyler and Alli’s birthdays at La Cucina.  We had not gone in a while, and I am still a big fan.  The restaurant is not perfect.  The restaurant is very tiny and there are only a few 2-seat tables available in the restaurant. They also don’t take reservations for parties under 4 people. Therefore, if you are doing a date night and don’t come early enough to make the first seating, you will likely end up waiting for about an hour.
DSC06845Also, there is only one chef making all the food, so depending on how many orders are in before yours, you could be waiting quite some time for your food. With all that said, I still give this restaurant 5 stars because the food is amazing.  Because we had a party of 8, we made reservations well in advance and preordered our food to speed up the process.  We ordered a few appetizers, two salads, and a number of entrees.  Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of most of the dishes. :/ Here are the pictures that I did remember to take. 
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 We started the meal off with two orders of Bruschetta ($10) and Crostini Al Porcini ($12), shown above.  The Bruschetta came with 4 pieces of grilled buttered bread topped with fresh tomato, basil, garlic and olive oil.  The Crostini Al Porcini also came with 4 pieces of grilled bread topped with mozzarella and porcini mushrooms.
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Next came our two salads – the Insalata di Prosciutto ($18) shown above, and the Insalata di Salmone ($18).  The Insalata Di Prosciutto had slices of proscutto and tomato and parmesan cheese on top of romaine lettuce and the Insalata Di Salmone came with a piece of grilled salmon on top of a head of romaine and mixed greens.  Both came with an olive oil vinaigrette.  If the food came out faster, I would say skip the appetizers and salads and go straight for the entrees.  However, given that there is only one chef, having an appetizer or salad is necessary to pass the time.
DSC06826We also ordered (not shown) the Gnocchi in Butter & Sage Sauce ($20), the Tagliolini Nero ($26) and the Risotto Norcina ($20).  Over the course of various occasions, I’ve tried all the Gnocchi (Butter and Sage, Gorgonzola, and Norcina and Vodka) and Risoto (Risotto Fungi, Risotto Norcina, Risoto Zafferano, and Risotto Nero) dishes and all of them are delicious.  I recommend them all.
DSC06828We also ordered the Agnello Shank and the Osso Buco.  Both dishes require preordering the dishes a few days in advance and the price varies by market rates.  Both were slowly braised and were fall of the bone tender.
DSC06839This is by far my favorite Italian restaurant on the island. The food is outstanding, and I have never had a bad dish yet.  All the dishes are fresh and made from scratch every day.

Good food with good people  There is nothing better.  Happy Birthday Tyler and Alli!!

La Cucina Ristorante Italiano
725 Kapiolani Blvd, Ste C112, Honolulu, HI 96813

Madre Chocolate Company – Make Your Own Chocolate Bar

Last weekend my friend Margot got married and as part of the wedding weekend festivities, a few of us attended a Make Your Own Chocolate Bar class conducted by the Madre Chocolate Company, a bean-to-bar chocolate company on Oahu, Hawaii.  The 90 minute class is held every Friday at the Madre Chocolate Company’s Chinatown location and we paid $25 for the class.
IMG_20170901_154907Walking into the shop, we were immediately hit in the nose with the delicious smell of chocolate.  The class began with a classroom style introduction of the origins of chocolate and a brief description of how the company makes it chocolate from bean to bar.  We got to sample the product at each stage of the process, first with the ripe bean, then the fermented dry bean, next the roasted bean, and finally five of the company’s most popular processed chocolate flavors.
IMG_20170901_150401My favorite chocolate was the company’s triple cacao dark chocolate bar, which is the only chocolate bar to include pieces of raw cacao fruit in it.  I also thought the Café Con Leche bar, which was a white chocolate bar flavored with Hawaiian coffee beans, was very unique.  It also contained 5 espresso shots worth of caffeine in a single bar!
IMG_20170901_160532The make your own chocolate bar portion of the class started with placing a plastic mold onto a scale and zeroing out the weight of the mold.   IMG_20170901_154426Then we poured melted chocolate onto the plastic mold until the scale until the scale read 40 grams and placed the mold onto a vibrating machine which leveled the chocolate and took the air bubbles out.IMG_20170901_154215Next, we added various spices and other flavorings to the chocolate such as sea salt, cacao nibs, pink peppercorns, ground coffee, chipotle powder, ginger, hibiscus powder, coconut, etc.
IMG_20170901_154154I decided to make my chocolate bar with puffed rice, sea salt, hibiscus powder and chipotle powder. After the chocolate bars cooled, we wrapped our bar in foil and attached a paper wrapper around the bar.
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Overall, I thought the class was a fun activity for our girls day out. The class was educational and it was cool that we got to taste the different stages of the chocolate making process. The $25 cost of the class was a little expensive, but it was nice to support a local business and we got to take home our own chocolate bar. I was also pleasantly surprised that the class was so well-attended. There was about a dozen people in the class and it looked like everyone enjoyed themselves. I would highly recommend buying tickets in advance.
IMG_20170901_162852Madre Chocolate Company
8 N. Pauahi Street
Honolulu, HI 96813

The Nook Neighbohood Bistro

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Ev and I are always on the lookout for new breakfast places.  So, when we heard great reviews about The Nook Neighborhood Bistro from Ev’s brother, we decided to check it out for ourselves. Located in Puck’s Alley near UH, the Nook serves an assortement of breakfast and lunch dishes featuring local produce, eggs, and meats.

Ev ordered the Pork Belly Eggs Benedict ($14), which came with two eggs benedict with pork belly bacon, a small salad, potatoes, and toast.  We both agreed that the portion sizes were very good considering the quality of the ingredients and the price.

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I decided to order the Brekkie Stack ($13), which comprised of cheddar and fontina cheeses sandwiched between two thick slices of french toast, topped with two sunny side eggs and two strips of bacon.  I’ve never had cheese on my french toast before, but it was amazing.  The photo does not do this dish justice.
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At the end of the meal, Ev said that he likes this place better than Scratch Kitchen and Bake Shop.  Very high praise indeed!  We will definitely be back soon!

The Nook Neighborhood Bistro, 1035 University Avenue, Honolulu, HI 96826

Happy Birthday Tyler

Last month we went to Rijo Restaurant for Ev’s Brother, Tyler’s birthday. I was a big fan of Rijo Restaurant for lunch (see review here), so I was really excited to try the restaurant’s dinner menu.

We started the meal with one of Rijo’s signature dishes, the Dungeness Crab Cake with Truffle Egg Tofu ($16). Unfortunately, the family devoured the dish before I had a chance to take a picture, so all I have is my 1/5 portion of the dish.  The dish came with two crab cakes on a bed of soft homemade tofu.  The dish was a little pricey but very tasty.
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Next we shared the Crispy Tofu and Quinoa Salad ($10). Ev and I had this previously when we ate lunch here. We liked it so much that we ordered it again for dinner. It was just as good as the first time.
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We also wanted to try one of Rijo’s sushi rolls and decided on the Scallop & “zuwai Kani” Dynamite maki sushi roll ($15), which had thinly sliced scallops, cucumber, avocado, and baked snow crab. There was also a roll with spicy tuna that looked good but Ev’s dad cannot eat spicy food so we decided on the Scallop one instead.
DSC04404For our entrees, Ev’s mom had the Two Way Saikyo Yaki Butterfish ($29), which was served in a fancy metal pot.
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Ev’s dad had the Ribeye steak.

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Ev had the ravioli.

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Tyler and I both ordered the catch of the day, cooked in a steamed, asian-style preparation. The fish was prepared well, and wasn’t overcooked. .

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Tyler got a free dessert because it was his birthday.  He ordered the Choclate Lava Cake with molten matcha Green Tea.

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Ev’s mom ordered the cheesecake.

DSC04425Ev’s dad ordered the creme brulee
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And Ev had a gelato sampler.

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I was aparently so preoccupied with taking pictures of everyone else’s dessert, I forgot to take a picture of my own dessert, which was the panna cotta with some fresh fruit.  Once again, it was a nice meal with the family.

Japanese BBQ Yoshi

Ev and I pass Japanese BBQ Restaurant Yoshi on the way to work every morning, and I’ve been wanting to eat there for some time now. So, a few weeks ago when my mom was over and we were trying to figure out what to do for dinner, I suggested Japanese BBQ Yoshi.

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Located in the lot next to Krazy Karaoke on Young Street, Japanese BBQ Yoshi had a pretty extensive menu of different cuts of beef,  as well as some poultry and seafood.  Because we had no idea what we were doing, the server suggested that we order one of the set menus (for two people) which has a little bit of everything the restaurant has to offer.  Since there were three of us, we decided to split the premium set menu ($140) and an additional side dish to start.  We figured that if we needed more food, we could at some point order additional food ala carte. However, the set meal ended up being so much food that we ended up not having to order anything else.

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I normally don’t take pictures of the condiments, but I made an exception here because their sauces were so good. In additional to a teriyaki and a sweet ponzu dipping sauces, they also served grated wasabi. I love real wasabi, and it was a really nice touch.

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The meal started with a nice organic salad, Korean nori, three types of namul (pickled radish, daikon and carrot, choy sum, and bean sprout), and a toro sandwich.  The salad was good and the namul was fine.  The toro sandwich was ok in itself, but a little odd to eat at dinner and the Korean nori appeared to be Korean nori straight from the package.  I didn’t think that the toro sandwich or the nori contributed much to the meal so its inclusion in the set menu was a bit strange to me.

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Shortly thereafter, the server brought out a bowl of kim chee, which was very good.  Ev liked this kim chee a lot.

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Next came the one dish we purchased outside of the set menu.  I think it was called jidori chicken.  I thought the chicken was very moist and the sauce was tasty.

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Next, the server brought out Beef tataki with green papaya, ginger, shiso, and shoyu.  At the same time, we also received 4 shrimp in a cute pan of garlic butter (not shown).  When ordering we had a choice between the shrimp and scallops.  We decided on the shrimp because my mom loves shrimp.  The shrimp were a good size and well seasoned.  Also around this time, we also received a bowl of wakame soup (not pictured) which was ok, but nothing special.

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Beef sampler of four different cuts of beef.  Although the slices of beef were small, all of them were tasty.  I particularly liked the ones on the far right, which had a nice marbling of fat and practically melted in your mouth. Yum!

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The next course was the wagyu steak, which was definitely the highlight of the meal.  Just look at that marbling.   For the price of this set, I thought we got a decent amount of beef here. The meat also came with a small assortment of vegetables (onion, corn, pumpkin, Okinawan potato, and mushroom) which were also cooked on the grill, but obviously, no one was talking about the vegetables when we ate this course.

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Next came the Sukyaki beef which was served with yamaimo and a raw egg. According to our server, you were supposed to lightly cook the beef and then dip it in the yamaimo and raw egg mixture. I tried the method once but didn’t care for it so I ate the rest of my meat with the dipping sauces shown above. I thought the yamaimo egg mixture just made the meat slimy.

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Our final entrée of the night was a bibimbap. We had a choice of either a bibimbap or a noodle of the day, which I think happened to be ramen that day.  Since my mom was with us, we decided to get the bibimbap since it was easier to share between the three of us.  I’m not sure whether it was because we were already full by the time the bibimbap came or if just nothing special, but we didn’t end up finishing this course and no one volunteered to take it home.

I apparently also forgot to take a picture of the meal’s dessert, which was three mochi icecream pieces (strawberry, chocolate, and green tea) and slices of fresh fruit.  I was also glad that my mom was with us because it would have been too much food to eat if it were just the two of us.  By the time we finished dessert, we were all really stuffed.

Overall, I’m glad we finally got to try Japanese BBQ Restaurant Yoshi.  My one criticism with this restaurant is that they need to do better job branding the restaurant.  From the signage, I have no idea what the real name of this restaurant is and the only reason why I am calling it Japanese BBQ Restaurant Yoshi is because that is the name they use on Yelp.  Also, for a restaurant that has the words Japanese BBQ in its name, I found the fact that they served Korean nori, namul, and bibimbap very odd.

Japanese BBQ Restaurant Yoshi looks very modest from the outside. Passing this restaurant all these months, I would have never guessed that this restaurant would be serving such premium cuts of A5 Miyazaki wagyu beef. For the three of us we ended up spending about $200 after tax and tip. While the meal wasn’t cheap, the quality of the meat was much better than the cheaper yakiniku places such as Gyu-Kaku or 678. A number of people compare this restaurant to Yakiniku Hiroshi, but unfortunately I have never been there so I am unable to compare the two. Obviously, unless you are rolling in money, this is not a restaurant that you can go to every day. But, still it’s an enjoyable place to go once in a while when you want to splurge on something nice.

Slurp at Vino

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Last month I had the pleasure of eating at Slurp with two of my friends from law school. Slurp is a lunch pop-up restaurant in Vino Restaurant in Restaurant Row. I was first introduced to this restaurant by a coworker a few months ago when we were looking for someplace to eat in the Restaurant Row area.  I was surprised that Slurp has been in business for about six months because I hadn’t heard about it prior to my coworker recommending it.
DSC03983My friend Doris and I ordered the Tonkotsu Ramen ($8.95), which came with a thick pork broth, bean sprouts, charsiu, choi sum, and green onions.  I thought the ramen was very tasty and the portion size was pretty good, especially for the price.
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My friend Na ordered the Tan Tan Ramen ($8.95), which had a sesame garlic miso broth.  I haven’t tried it yet, but it looked really good.  I also liked that her ramen came with an egg.  I think i’m going to  order this one the next time I visit.

** Further Update **

Of course, the day I post this review is the day that the Honolulu Advertiser reports that Hiroshi Eurasian Tapas, Vino Wine Bar and Slurp! will be closing this month.  Slurp’s last day is May 15, 2015.  It looks like I might not get to try the Tan Tan Ramen after all.

Rijo Restaurant

Ev and I have a small tradition that whenever one of us is off while the other is working, we have lunch together.  So, when Everett had to take off from work because we couldn’t find a babysitter for Connor, we decided to try Rijo Restaurant, which is the new restuarant that recently opened in the old Palamino’s space in Harbor Court.

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At first we couldn’t remember exactly where the entrance was, but we eventually figured out that this staircase was the entrance to the restaurant.  Inspired by the Penicillin cocktail that he ordered previously at Livestock Tavern, Ev decided to press his luck and ordered another whiskey based drink.  This one was called the Kintaro ($10) which contained nikka 12 yr. whiskey with sweet vermouth and a dash of peach bitters.  Unfortunately, this drink wasn’t that great.  I’d take the Penicillin coctail from Livestock over this one any day.

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For lunch, we decided to order two appetizers and split an entree.  Our first appetizer was the Smoked Duck Inaniwa Udon Tsukemen ($11).  This was my favorite dish of the lunch and it contained slices of lightly smoked duck breast on top of cold  udon noodles and served with a side of spicy tsukemen dipping sauce.  I thought it was really tasty and would definitely get this again.

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Our second appetizer was the Crispy Tofu with Quinoa ($10).  This was Ev’s favorite dish of the lunch and we both thought it was really creative use of quinoa using nontraditional, Japanese flavors.  The quinoa salad contained hijiki seaweed, kinpira, asparagus, cucumber, tomato, and had a sweet onion sesame vinaigrette.

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Finally, Ev and I split the Misoyaki Kobe Beef Philly cheese Sandwich ($14), which also came with a small micro green salad and a healthy helping of french fries.   I thought this was really good too.  It had a nice crusty bread and the steak was nicely seasoned a the misoyaki glaze.

DSC02993Overall, the food was really good here so I hope this restaurant does well.  I’m always looking for new lunch options that can accomodate larger groups of people and this restaurant would be a good choice for future events.   Also, the fact that they take reservations via Open Table is a definite plus.  I thought the prices were comparable to Livestock Tavern but I preferred all three of the dishes I had here over any of the dishes we ate at Livestock.  I will be back.  Hopefully sooner than later.

Pig and the Lady

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About a week ago, Ev and I decided to take the family out to eat at one of our favorite restaurants, the Pig and the Lady.  We wanted to do something nice for Ev’s mom since she was getting knee replacement surgery the next day.

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We started our meal with three appetizers – the Fried Potato Skins with ikura, horseradish creme fraiche (not shown because we all finished it before I could take a picture) ($7), the Wild Ho’io with meyer lemons, shaved almonds, and parmesean shavings, shown above ($9), and the Dried porchini beignets with parmesan cheese and fish sauce ($8).

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I normally dont’ care for fish sauce, but these beignets were by far my favorite dish of the night. The horseradish creme fraiche balanced nicely with the savory, salty beignets.  I could have eaten two orders of these myself for dinner.

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Ev’s brother had a cold so he ordered the Braised Veal Shank Soup, cooked in a central Vietnam style with banana blossom, rau ram, smashed chili, calamansi, spiced lemongrass beef broth and vermicelli noodles ($17) for himself. The rest of the family split three entrees.

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Handcut Octopus Bolognese with saffron, potato skins, pomegranate, and fennel ($19).  Ev enjoyed this dish a lot.
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Shinsato Farm Pork with chorizo pierrada, olive oil potatoes, hazelnuts, leeks braised in espelette & apple cider, and mizuna ($29).   Overall, I cannot think of anything bad to say about this dish.  Nice crispy pork on top of a nice bed of mashed potatoes and dressed with a nice meaty gravy/sauce.  What more can you ask for?
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Crab Fat Curry with dungeness crab, clam jus, betel leaves, apple & banana sofrito, market vegetables, and a puff pastry crust ($32).  This dish was the most impressive looking dish of the night with its huge pastry puff top.  While the curry had a good flavor, I couldn’t really taste any the crab.  I also thought the use of kabocha pumpkin in the curry was an unusual, but complemented the complexity of the curry really well.

Overall, another great dinner with the family.  The meal was a little on the pricey side (about $35 – 40 per person after drinks), but the complexity of the food makes it so worth it.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!  I hope you all spent it with that special someone.  Valentine’s Day 2015 was extra special because it was Connor’s first.  Valentines also fell on a Saturday this year which was really nice.  Connor, Ev and I were pretty busy all day.

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The day started with our weekly trip to the Kakaako Farmer’s Market outside of Ward Warehouse.  It wasn’t a great day for a farmer’s market because it was raining and super windy, so we didn’t end up staying very long.  Nevertheless, we ate a brick oven pizza and a few baked goods for breakfast, sat and listened to music, and bought some Yukon gold potatoes for dinner tonight and an avocado for Connor’s food this week.

After the farmer’s market, we decided to run a few errands.  Ev is planning to make bacon on Monday (I’ll definitely be posting pictures of that later) and so we went to a few places looking to buy a new smoker and went to City Mill to buy supplies wood chips, charcoal, etc).  In the end, we didn’t end up buying a smoker, but we did get to visit a new restaurant supply store called Chef Zone located in the Mapunapuna area (more on that in another post).  By the time we finished with our errands, it was midafternoon so we decided to have a late lunch at Siam Garden Café, which is Everett’s favorite Thai restaurant.

To finish off the day, Everett made a me a home cooked stead dinner.  We originally wanted to have steak and lobster.  But due to our procrastination, there were no lobsters left at Foodland.  So, we just opted for steak and potatoes with a nice bottle of wine instead.

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Hope everyone had a great Valentine’s too!