A Taste of Hawaii

Alan Wong’s – Honolulu, HI

If you’re looking for fine dining and Hawaiian regional cuisine, Alan Wong’s is the place to be. Rated as the #1 restaurant in Honolulu, Chef Alan Wong exhibits new development, creativity, passion and good food. Drawing his inspiration from the various ethnic roots of Hawaii, dishes are created featuring local flavors and locally grown products. From appetizers to desserts, all ingredients are grown in Hawaii, even the drinks at the bar!

Staying true and authentic to the islands culture, I had the opportunity of dining in Alan Wong’s with long-time family friends, the Casamina’s.

Appetizers

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Richard Ha’s Whole Tomato Salad

To start off our dinner, we were presented with Richard Ha’s Whole Tomato Salad. This appetizer was light and refreshing and you can definitely tell that the cucumbers and tomato came fresh off the island. To top the salad off was a li hing mui ume vinaigrette that gave the dish a nice sweet and tart flavor!

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Poki-pines

Porcupine? Cupine? NO! We’re talking about Poki-pines. These crispy won ton wrapped ahi poke balls are tasty. Accompanied with avocado and wasabi sauce, this spiky number is definitely something to try!

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Chopped Ahi Sashimi & Avocado Salsa Stack

If you like guac, chips and salsa, this is a fancy take on the infamous number. Composed of chopped ahi sashimi and avocado, this salsa stack had crispy won ton’s to give it a little extra crunch and spicy aioli and wasabi soy to bring everything together. Probably my second favorite appetizer on the menu!

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‘Da Bag’ (exterior)

Who would’ve thought you could cook a dish in a bag?! Instead of using parchment paper, Alan Wong bakes fresh seafood in one easy foil bag. Now that’s a different technique!

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‘Da Bag’ (interior)

Inside the bag was a wonderful dish full of steamed clams, kalua pig, and shiitake mushrooms. The dish was super flavorful and extremely vibrant with all of the ingredients.

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Lobster Escargot

And for the finale of the appetizers, lobster escargot! This was my favorite. Not being a fan of traditional escargot and constantly passing my turn whenever the dish presents itself, I was extremely excited to try this! Using fresh keyhole lobster, the texture of the produce was nice and chewy and was accompanied with a delicious garlic butter sauce!

Entrees

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Ginger Crusted Onaga, Pacific Long-tail Red Snapper

Yumm, some of my favorite ingredients incorporated into one dish. This ginger crusted onaga was accompanied with a miso sesame vinaigrette, organic hamakua mushroom and corn. The miso brought the whole dish together and the corn added a little nice sweet crunch to the flakey fish!

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Twice Cooked Shortribs Soy Braised & Grilled Kalbi Style

If you love a little kick of sweet in a savory dish, the twice cooked shortrib dish is the way to go! Braised in soy and grilled Kalbi style, this number was accompanied with gingered shrimp, ko choo jang sauce and grilled eggplant. These shortribs were to die for!

Here are two other main courses to watch out for!

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Macadamia Nut-Coconut Crusted Lamb

Accompanied with Asian ratatouille, roasted garlic smashed potatoes, and red wine lamb jus.

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Bouillabaisse

This French classic was composed of fresh prawns, mussels, parsley and fresh fish.

Desserts

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The Coconut

This Haupia sorbet in a chocolate shell with tropical fruits and lilikoi sauce was probably one of the highlights of my meal. The chocolate shell gave the dish a nice crunch and the fresh fruits and lilikoi elevated the creamy  flavor of the coconut. The Coconut definitely embodied Honolulu as a tropical paradise!

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Lilikoi Crème Brûlée

If you love a traditional crème brûlée, this lilikoi version is to die for. With a nice caramelized top, the creamy lilikoi was accompanied with fresh tapioca that added another texture and dimension to the dessert.

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Waialua Chocolate Crunch Bars

 If you’re a chocolate fan just like I am, these Waialua Chocolate Crunch Bars are just for you. These crunch bars are made with layers of milk chocolate macadamia nut crunch and bittersweet chocolate mousse, accompanied with a semi-sweet chocolate truffle and two chocolate crinkles.

Overall, my dining experience at Alan Wong’s was probably one of the best meals that I have had in Honolulu in a really long time. The ambiance, the company, and the service with our waiters explaining every dish so eloquently was exception. But the food! Oh the food was excellent. Staying true authentic Hawaiian flavors and using local produce, I can definitely second Alan Wong’s rating as the #1 restaurant to dine in, in Honolulu.

Ratings:
Ambiance: 9/10
Food: 10/10
Service: 10/10

Phone Number: (808) 949-2526

Website:  http://www.alanwongs.com

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Kahuku Bites

Romy’s Shrimp Shack –Haleiwa (North Shore), HI 

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If you’re a fan of succulent shrimp and freshly farmed prawns, Romy’s shrimp shack should be your first stop when hitting up Honolulu’s North Shore! Located in Kahuku along the KAM highway, 2 minutes past Turtle Bay, their bright red sign and long line-up is definitely hard to miss. This shrimp shack is always on my list of places to eat whenever my family and I visit Waimea Bay. You can even go prawn fishing in their local hatchery for $35!

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Infamous for their staple red benches and tables, visitors of Kahuku can enjoy their meal out in fresh air under tents. But you may be wondering, what separates Romy’s Shrimp Shack from all the others, like other local favorite, Giovanni’s? Well guess what, it’s this dish right below!

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  Butter & Garlic Sauteed Kahuku Shrimp ($12.75)

From the hatchery to the table, this butter & garlic sauteed Kahuku shrimp is my personal favorite and a top pick of all Romy’s Shrimp Shack fans. Why? It’s because it is the perfect balance of your choice of fresh shrimp or prawns, smothered in sumptuous butter garlic sauce on two scoops of steamed rice. This dish is also accompanied with soyu spicy dipping sauce to bring out the flavor of the sweet shrimp. How can you go wrong with food that’s fresh and tastes great?!

Other savory dishes to try are Romy’s Sun Fish, fried to a crispy golden brown and served with sweet spicy and soyu spicy sauce. Super ono!

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Chilled Pineapple with Li Hing Mui ($3)

You can never go wrong with the combination of pineapple and li hing mui. With their pineapples coming in from the Dole Plantation just down the road, these pineapples are juicy and fresh with a special little kick from the li hing mui. For those of you who do not know what li hing mui is, it is a sour, plum-based powder that adds tartness to any dish! In Hawaii, the ingredient is typically used in snacks and is slowly being introduced into the realm of fine dining by well-known local chef, Alan Wong. Overall, this healthy sweet treat is definitely a great way to end a meal!

TIP: If you don’t want to wait 30-45 minutes for your food to come out after ordering, Romy’s Shrimp Shack takes phone orders before you arrive at the shack. If you’re driving up from Honolulu, give them a call right when you turn into Haleiwa. Depending on how busy they are, your food should be ready to go by the time you arrive!

Ratings:
Ambiance: 7/10
Food: 10/10
Service: 7/10

Phone Number: (808) 232-2202

Website: http://www.romyskahukuprawns.org

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Eating Italy

Taormina – Honolulu, HI

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“Taormina serves the timeless cuisine of Southern Sicily with contemporary style and flair.”

Taormina

Located in the heart of Waikiki, Honolulu, Taormina combines traditional timeless flavors of Taormina, a seaside village in Southern Sicily, with a modern flair. Known for their fresh pastas, rich sauces, and quality seafoods and meats, Executive Chef Hiro Mimura executes each plate with his utmost passion, evident through his foods aesthetics and presentation.

For a lovely Sunday lunch and after raving reviews from family members, my family and I chose to dine in Taormina. Having it been my first time at the restaurant, we were greeted right away and seated in the main dining room. The restaurant has an elegant indoor dining room that seats 85 and a covered outdoor patio.

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For my dining experience at Taormina, to try an array of flavors I chose their 4 course menu consisting of an  Antipasti, Primo piatti which comprised a selection of pastas, Secondo piatto – a main dish, and lastly, a scoop of their gelato of the day for $37. In addition to their 4 course menu, for those with a smaller appetite there is also a 3 course lunch menu available that offers a shot of chilled green pea soup with a small antipasto, a selection of pasta from Primo piatti, followed by a scoop of gelato to finish.

Antipasti

appetizercollageFrom left to right: caprese salad, marinated mushrooms, and squid & octopus salad

To begin the 4 course menu we were presented with a series of antipasti.  One thing I absolutely loved about the dish was its presentation and the portioning of each antipasti, not too little and not too much! The flavors were fresh and each ingredients true state was definitely enhanced by its garnishes.

My personal favorite: squid & octopus salad.

Primo piatti 

 arrabiatta

Arrabbiata alla Pancetta

Wow! The Arrabbiata alla Pancetta was probably one of the best pasta dishes I have had in a really long time. The fresh homemade arrabbiata was al-dente, the pancetta was the right amount so that its meaty and salty flavor would not overwhelm the plate and the lightly spicy tomato cream sauce with a touch of arugula brought the whole plate together. Kudos to Chef Mimura for this dish!

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Granchio

Close to par with the Arrabbiata alla Pancetta, this fresh tagliatelle pasta with crab meat in a lightly spiced tomato cream sauce topped with a crab’s claw was phenomenal. With a generous amount of crab meat accompanied with the tomato cream sauce, this dish definitely did justice to Sicilian cuisine.

Secondo piatto

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Grilled Hawaiian Tuna 

Accompanied with herb dressing and topped off with beets, tomatoes, greens and feta cheese, cooked with a touch of pink this grilled Hawaiian bigeye tuna was so fresh and tender.

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Grilled Prime Tenderloin

Holy steak! This grilled prime tenderloin was one of the highlights of my meal. Cooked to medium, and accompanied by local vegetables and an orange balsamic reduction, the plate was portioned just right and all  of its components balanced each other beautifully. I would definitely order this dish as a main course again!

Dolci della casa

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Tiramisu

You can never go wrong with lady fingers, mascarpone, chocolate and a touch of coffee! Garnished with chocolate, strawberry jelly and an array of berries, the tiramisu definitely satisfied my sweet tooth!

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Cannoli Siciliano

For the grand finale of desserts and one of my favorite Italian sweet treats, Cannoli Siciliano! Homemade in the kitchen with mascarpone, chocolate, and pistachios these two cannoli’s were served with vanilla bean ice cream and strawberry jelly.

Overall, my experience in Taormina, Honolulu was amazing! With the restaurants elegant interiors, friendly staff and exceptional food and service (especially for its pricing), I would definitely visit Taormina again for its authentic Southern Sicilian cuisine!

Ratings:
Ambiance: 9/10
Food: 9/10
Service: 9/10

Phone Number: (808) 926-5050

Website: http://www.taorminarestaurant.com

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Taste of Yucatán

Playa Cabana + La Libre – Toronto, ON

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Located slightly north of downtown Toronto, along Dupont and Avenue, I had the opportunity of trying Yucatecan cuisine from the recently opened, La Libre by Dave Sidhu, who owns all three Playa locations—Cabana, Hacienda and Cantina

With it’s opening last month (June 13), this festive patio is a fully outdoor venue and is located behind another restaurant Playa Hacienda. Dining on Thursday there was a little bit of a wait getting a table as a walk-in and a party of four. I would recommend making a reservation, especially if your party is larger than two. While waiting, we settled down at the bar and had Mexico’s infamous beer, Sol, and tried El Conquistador – Jose Cuervo Tradicionale, Cointreau, citrus horchata & lime, one of the tequila-based drinks the restaurant was famous for. For its size the drink was quite small but strong for a cocktail.

Inspired by Yucatán cuisine, which is known for its spicy, smoky and slightly tropical flavours, almost everything is cooked over charcoal.

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Tacos de huachinango tikinxic (2/$10)

Recommended by our server, the Huachinango tikinxic is a traditional red-snapper dish that is smoked in banana leaves. The tacos were accompanied with sour orange, garlic sauce, mild tomato salsa (red), salsa verde (green), and an extremely spicy habanero salsa (orange).

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Tacos de Pollo (2/$10)

The tacos de pollo, La Libre’s version of a chicken taco were garnished with lime, avocados, onions, and parsley. Overall I found that this taco was well balanced with all its components, leaving my taste buds satisfied!

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Alfajores de Maizena (2/$6)

Originating from Argentina, this “postre”, Mexican for dessert are two cookies that form a sandwich with dulce de leche as the filling. To top the alfajores off, they were rolled in coconut. Truly a sweet ending to a wonderful dinner!

Overall, the food, ambiance and friendly (but slow) service was amazing. Having it been my last night in the city (Thursday) before taking off for a two-month long vacation, dining in La Libre with good company and discovering a new branch of authentic Mexican cuisine was exactly what I needed. I would definitely eat in La Libre again!

SALUD!

Ratings:
Ambiance: 8/10
Food: 7/10
Service: 7/10

Phone Number: (647) 352-6030

Website: http://www.playacabana.ca

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