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Big Kahuna’s Pizza n Stuffs

August 27, 2014

Just before we left on our Hawaiian vacation, I received a text from my husband which asked me to look into Big Kahuna’s Pizza n Stuffs.  When I later asked my husband how he had heard about this place, he told me that there was a Zagat list he saw online which named the top pizza joint in each state; 50 states, 50 pizzas.  For Hawaii, the pizza joint named as the best pizza joint in the entire state was Big Kahuna’s Pizza n Stuffs in Honolulu, Hawaii.  This was perfect, as it just so happened that there was a night during our trip that we were still looking for a place to enjoy dinner.  We knew we would have our rental car that day and we essentially had planned to drive all over the island of Oahu.  We weren’t sure what time we’d be done, so trying to make reservations for a restaurant somewhere would be difficult, but using the rental car to drive to a pizza joint to pick up some pizza to bring back and enjoy at the hotel was a perfect idea.

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Opened in 1993 as the neighborhood “hole in the wall” pizza joint, Big Kahuna’s Pizza n Stuffs was a huge hit.  They became known for serving “real pizza with a local flair” using the finest quality ingredients they could source.  In 2006 Big Kahuna’s moved from their original location in Mapunapuna to their current location at the Airport Trade Center adjacent to Honolulu International Airport.  Big Kahuna’s philosophy is to make their pizza dough fresh daily to ensure that customers receive the freshest pizza possible.  They bake all of their breads right on the premises, and your order of pizza, subs, and garlic rolls are never made until you order them.  Locals know that Big Kahuna’s slogan is “da buggers are loaded!” which means that their pizzas are huge!  Everything about Big Kahuna’s sounded just like the type of establishment my husband and I love.  Fresh food, made when you order it, from a business that cares about their customers.

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The pizza joint itself is decorated on the inside like a beach hut with thatched grass roofs and a tropical, beach theme.  There are old surf boards and surf memorabilia that line the walls and serve as décor.  There are a few eat-in tables, which were full when we arrived at Big Kahuna’s.  But no worries, we had planned all along to get our pizza to go to enjoy back at the hotel.  And Big Kahuna’s isn’t kidding when they tell you that nothing is prepped in advance, they prepare everything fresh for you when you order.

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While we waited for our order to be made, we decided to order a milk shake to share.  Big Kahuna’s advertises that they have the “ultimate shake experience!” using the finest and freshest possible ingredients in their handmade shakes such as using Dove’s premium ice cream, Ghiradelli chocolate, pure vanilla, 100% Kona coffee and fresh strawberries and bananas.  They offer flavors such as vanilla bean, chocolate, Kona coffee, caramel, chunky apple pie, peanut butter, strawberry, banana, Oreo, Reeses and Heath Toffee.  And these are all flavors you can mix and match to come up with a combo milk shake flavor to match your personal tastes.  My husband knows that I am much more the picky eater in the family so he let me order whatever milk shake flavor combo I wanted.  I opted for a combination of 2 things I love: Kona coffee and banana.  This was probably the thickest, most luxurious milk shake I’ve ever had.  One sip and you instantly know that Big Kahuna’s truly does only use the finest possible ingredients.  Each milk shake is topped with some whipped cream, and some of the ingredients that went into the milk shake are displayed through the lid so that you know exactly what you’re eating – here you can see a couple of coffee beans and a slice of banana.  The taste of the fresh Kona coffee was so terrific, perfectly balanced and bitter, the way Kona coffee is supposed to be, but yet, not strong enough to completely over power the flavor of the fresh bananas blended into the milk shake.  What I liked was that they didn’t obliterate the bananas in the milk shake, leaving it just slightly chunky so you knew exactly what you were eating, or in this case drinking.  I think I’d go back to Big Kahuna’s just on the shakes alone!  And I haven’t even gotten to the food yet.

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One thing that sold my husband on Big Kahuna’s when we were trying to decide if we should pay them a visit was the fact that they sell what they call “World Famous Garlic Cheese Balls.”  When my husband saw garlic and cheese and balls in the same description, he was automatically sold!  In fact, he didn’t care if they had pizza or milk shakes or anything else, he would have been happy with just an order of garlic cheese balls.  According to the sign in the store, Big Kahuna’s has sold more than 5 million cheese balls!  They must be doing something right!  Of course, my husband made sure that we placed a large order of the garlic cheese balls – that consists of 12 cheese balls.  The menu describes these as “da Big Kahuna’s finest, baked in butter & garlic, topped with our five cheeses, gooey & delicious.”  I see absolutely nothing wrong with that description at all.  Butter, garlic, cheese, gooey?  Yes, please.  I’ll take that 10 times over.  The cheese balls were certainly made to order as the container was piping hot when we received our order.  The cheese was all melty and gooey all over the balls and coated them perfectly.  The balls were still soft and chewy and buttery and delicious.  I would have been happy for the garlic cheese balls to have a little bit more garlic flavor, but I completely understand that that is an entirely personal preference.  I can certainly see why Big Kahuna’s has sold millions of these cheese balls, they are addicting.

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On to the pizzas.  Since my husband and I have different tastes and we obviously have trouble sharing, we each decided to order our very own 7-inch personal pan pizza.  After perusing through the menu, I knew exactly what I wanted, the kanaka (pronounced kah-na0kah).  The pizza came with oven roasted shredded kalua pork atop Big Kahuna’s sweet and tangy Hawaiian bbq sauce.  The whole thing was then topped with green onions.  Kalua pig, sweet and tangy Hawaiian bbq sauce and green onions are all ingredients I love.  It’s so unique (at least to me) to see pork (that isn’t bacon) on a pig, and to have it prepared as kalua pork, a traditional Hawaiian method, while I’m in Hawaii, it was almost a no-brainer for me to order this.  Verdict?  It was so good!  The pizza was jam-packed with kalua pork and the pork was so tasty and super tender.  The Hawaiian bbq sauce was exactly as advertised – sweet and tangy and paired with the cheese and the kalua pork perfectly.  And the green onions were a perfect topping, as it brought just a hint of charred onion flavor to the pizza, but without overpowering the pizza with onions.  I’d go back and order this pizza 20x over.  And the 7-inch personal pan was almost too big of a pizza size after having had the garlic cheese balls and the milk shake – not to mention all the other food we’d stuffed ourselves with that day!

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My husband stuck with an oldie but goodie.  His personal pan pizza order was for the haole (pronounced how-lee).  Big Kahuna’s describes this as a “popular mainland pizza” better known as the Hawaiian pizza.  Although, a “Hawaiian” pizza isn’t actually Hawaiian at all as it wasn’t invented in Hawaii and while pineapples grow on the islands, isn’t a traditional pizza topping that most Hawaiian’s choose.  Big Kahuna’s version of the haole is one topped with ham, sweet pineapple and green peppers.  It’s amazing how much green peppers can add to a pizza.  While we were driving in the car from Big Kahuna’s back to the hotel, you could distinctly pick up the aroma off of the green peppers on this pizza.  Unlike a normal Hawaiian pizza which generally includes Canadian bacon and pineapple, my husband really liked the addition of green peppers to this pizza.  He thought that it added a different dimension and flavor profile to the pizza.  The deep dish pizza was perfectly cooked with a crispy, butter crust on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside with the right amount of sauce and perfectly melted cheese.  This pizza was a real winner.

It’s not hard to figure out why Zagat named Big Kahuna’s Pizza n Stuffs the top pizza joint in Hawaii.  And it’s certainly hard to argue this honor.  Big Kahuna’s makes pizza the way it was meant to be made, with their brand of “TLC” as they call it.  While it make take longer to get your pizza, the fact that they make everything to order makes for a better, more delicious pizza and a better experience all around.  In the pizzas, the garlic cheese balls and the milk shakes, you can really taste the fresh, quality ingredients that make Big Kahuna’s different from your normal pizza joint.  And the flavors of their pizza are out of this world.  The combinations of some traditional Hawaiian ingredients with some different out-of-the-box ingredients makes the combinations appealing.  The garlic cheese balls and highly addictive, you could stuff yourselves full on just these little treats.  And their milk shake is one of the best milk shakes I’ve ever had, and believe me, I’ve had a fair amount of milk shakes.  If you ever find yourself in Honolulu and you’re looking for a little something different, don’t hesitate to give Big Kahuna’s Pizza n Stuffs a try.   You won’t be sorry.

Matsumoto Shave Ice

August 22, 2014

After having a filling breakfast, and finger-licking-good lunch, it was time to find a good place on the North Shore of Oahu for dessert.  In Hawaii, dessert usually means shave ice especially for surfers and swimmers who are coming into shore from a long day of lounging out in the sand or swimming in the Pacific Ocean.  Shave ice is the perfect, cooling, refreshing, and rejuvenating pick-me-up-dessert.  Shave ice sounds good to me.  Seriously, can you go wrong?  Especially after our amazing shave ice experience at Scandinavian Shave Ice, I’m ready to try some more!  I’ve heard that when you talk about the North Shore and shave ice in the same sentence, you must be referring to Matsumoto Shave Ice.

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Located in the sleepy North Shore town of Haleiwa, Matsumoto’s started out as a grocery store opened at the beginning of 1951.  The store was the dream and brainchild of Mamoru Matsumoto and his wife Helen.  Mamoru was born in Hawaii before moving back to Japan with his family as a child.  In order to help his family make ends meet, he and his brother returned to Hawaii to work various jobs and from working on sugar plantations to railroads.  Eventually, Mamoru was introduced to his wife Helen, and together they dreamed of opening their own business.  Eventually, their opportunity came and they took over a grocery store and called it M. Matsumoto Store Inc.  In the beginning, to sell his goods, Mamoru would peddle around in a bicycle selling and delivering goods until he could afford a truck while his wife Helen worked at the store.  In the 60s, after the Matsumoto’s had 3 children of their own, they made the decision to open a shave ice stand in the middle of their grocery store.  The shave ice idea was a hit and instantly made Matsumoto’s the place for hungry surfers and hippies visit.  But it wasn’t just locals who came for a taste of these wonderful snow cones topped with homemade syrup, it was tourists from all over the globe.  Years later, the Matsumoto’s youngest child, a son and his wife, would take over the business from his parents and convert the store from a grocery store to one dedicated entirely to shave ice with the addition of some Hawaiian souvenirs.  Today, people from all over the world are drawn to Matsumoto’s for their famous shave ice.  I once read that when you’re trying to find the store, all you have to do is drive into Haleiwa and you’ll recognize Matsumoto’s as the place with the line out the door.  Boy, that was an understatement, as that’s exactly how I recognized the store when I drove through down.  Not only was there a line out the door of people waiting to order their shave ice, but there was a whole other group of folks just hanging around the outside of the building just enjoy their shave ice.  Let’s see what this place is all about.

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Once you make it inside the store, you’ll notice that Mastumoto’s has their shave ice making process down pat.  Instead of Scandinavian Shave Ice where you line up and order directly with the person making your concoction, at Matsumoto’s it’s almost like an assembly line.  First, you take a look at the menu that’s displayed overhead.  The menu tells you the sizes (small, large, small with ice cream or beans, small with ice cream and beans, large with ice cream or beans, and large with ice cream and beans), the various flavored syrups that are offered, a couple of popular combinations, and couple of specials that are offered (green tea special and azuki special), as well as the one topping that’s offered here, condensed milk.  Let’s get to the flavors, there are lots of them, so much so, it makes it hard to choose, especially when you’re like me and you have trouble make decisions!  Your options include standard flavors such as strawberry, lemon, pineapple, banana, coconut, green apple, cotton candy, bubble gum, watermelon, tangerine, cherry and vanilla to more crazy flavors such as white cake, pickled mango, green tea, and creamsicle, to Hawaiian favorites such as papaya, lilikoi, guava, yuzu, sour li hing mui and mago.  Trying to figure out what flavor combinations might go with each other was difficult for me, which is probably why my husband just went with one of their preset combinations.

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The first person you run into in the “assembly line” at Matsumoto is the person who takes your order.  You tell this person exactly what size you want, if you want ice cream and/or beans, and what flavor syrups you want.  Also, if you want a topping, here’s the time to let the order taker know.  And finally, all of Matsumoto’s shave ice comes in paper cones, and since the concoctions are big, and full of syrup, you might want a plastic cup holder to go with your paper cup so that you’re not leaking all over the place.  So, when you order, the order taker marks your order down on a paper cone according to the size you ordered, and the person’s scribbles on your paper cone hold the key to the next steps in the process.  The markings above are for my order for a small shave ice with ice cream topped with lilikoi, mango and watermelon syrups and topped with condensed milk with a cup holder.

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Here is my husband’s order of a small shave ice with the tropical combination of syrups with ice cream topped with condensed milk and served with a cup holder.  The tropical syrup combination consists of guava, lilikoi and papaya syrups.  You then continue in the line and take your paper cone up to the cashier where you pay for your treat.  The cashier then takes your paper cone and your creation is made as part of the assembly line.

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The cones are lined up in paper cone holders and the first person in the line will take a look at the paper cones.  If the cone is destined for ice cream the cones are then taken to the freezer where one scoop of vanilla ice cream is added.  Here, when you say you want ice cream, you just get vanilla ice cream.  There’s not a choice of ice cream flavors to choose from.

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When your paper cup has had its scoop of ice cream added, its returned to the paper cone holder for the next person in the assembly line to add your shave ice to the cone.  There’s one person who is just dedicated to shaving ice.  Pick up the paper cone, shave the ice right into the cone and then use a plastic spoon to shape the ice and smooth it down to a perfect consistency.  Look at all those shave ice cones waiting for their dressing!

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From here, another team member picks up the paper cone filled with shave ice and then starts pouring over the different flavored syrups based upon what each person ordered.  You can choose up to 3 different flavors for your shave ice.  Once the syrup has been poured over the shave ice, if you ordered condensed milk over the top then your shave ice is covered with condensed milk.

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Here was my delicious concoction.  Though, it’s completely covered in condensed milk so it’s really hard to see the colors of the different flavored syrups.  The yellow ice you see in the picture is presumably mango flavored syrup.  With each shave ice you’re provided with a wooden spoon to scoop your shave ice and a straw to drink up any of the melted ice and syrup.  Also, if you ordered a cup holder, you’ll see that the paper cone is now enclosed in a large plastic container that picks up any of the drippings from your shave ice.

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This was my husband’s tropical shave ice concoction.  Again, with the covering of condensed milk, it’s really hard to see the rainbow of colors underneath the condensed milk.  And in the heat and humidity of the North Shore sun, you’ve really got to start eating this right away or else it starts melting.

Shave ice really is a terrific afternoon pick-me-up.  It’s sweet, cooling and refreshing.  The ice is more like little snow flakes that just melt in your mouth and are so rich and creamy.  Ultimately, I don’t think you could ever have bad shave ice.  There’s too many yummy components, the ice cream, the flavored syrups, the snowflake ice and the sugary syrups for shave ice to be bad.  However, my husband and I did agree that we both enjoyed Scandinavian Shave Ice a little more than we liked Matsumoto.  At Scandinavian, the condensed milk was drizzled over the top in neat designs and patterns vs. Matsumoto where it looks like a huge clump is just thrown on top of the shave ice.  Also, at Scandinavian, you can choose from different flavors of ice cream, so that personalizes your shave ice that much more instead of just being given vanilla ice cream.  Also, producing the shave ice in a plastic cup that can hold a good amount of shave ice vs. using a paper cone is just much more conducive to enjoying your shave ice.  However, these are nit-picky little things.  Shave ice is shave ice, and if I find myself on the North Shore and am in search of shave ice, I certainly wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to go to Mastumoto Shave Ice again.

Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck

August 19, 2014

A few months ago when I went to a workplace event with my husband, one of his co-workers and I were chatting about our upcoming trip to Hawaii.  When I told her that we would be spending a few days on Oahu, she told me that we had to find the famous North Shore shrimp truck and try some of their food because we would just love it.  I knew exactly what she was talking about as Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck is one of the North Shore’s most famous food offerings.  After I mentioned to my husband that his co-worker said we should go there, he dismissed the idea as he just wasn’t that interested.   Fast forward to a week before we left on vacation, I happened to be watching a TV show where the first episode of the season was set in Oahu.  During their time driving around the island and heading up to the North Shore, where should they happen to stop for lunch but Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck.  That night, as I was about to tell my husband about seeing it on this TV show, he told me that he was talking to his co-worker that very day and she told him that he needed to go to this shrimp truck as he wouldn’t regret it.  At that point, I think he was finally convinced that we should give Giovanni’s a try.

For our last full day in O’ahu we had planned to rent a car and drive around the island.  Unlike the Big Island, O’ahu is small enough that you can cover most of the island in one day and its so much easier and more convenient to rent a car than try to take public transportation.  As my husband and I planned our vacation to the Hawaiian islands one of the things that my husband told me we had to do was visit the North Shore.  So, with our rental car, our main goal for the day was to make it to the north side of the island to see the North Shore communities and beaches.  This meant that trying to fit Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck into our day would be really easy as we’d naturally drive past it on the main road that goes through the North Shore.

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Giovanni’s shrimp truck began operating in 1993 out of a converted 1953 bread truck.  The business began with a few simple shrimp recipes which were sold out of the truck as it stopped for a few hours at a time at various locations around the North Shore.  At the time, Giovanni’s was the only shrimp truck out there and soon their food and delicious shrimp recipes became well-known with the locals.  In fact, Giovanni’s scampi marinade and hot & spicy sauce has actually won culinary awards.  In 1997, rather than driving the truck around everywhere, Giovanni’s decided to park their truck and have people come to them.  Their first permanent location was in historic Kahuka town.  In 1997, they opened a second truck which they parked in the North Shore community of Haleiwa.  The popularity of Giovanni’s grew such that in 2006, Giovanni’s purchased the land at Kahuka where the truck parked in 1996 and in 2010 a pavilion was built on that land so that guests could come and enjoy Giovanni’s famous shrimp.  That pavilion has drawn other local artisans and food vendors to set up shop and sell their wares to guests who visit Giovanni’s as well.

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As you drive along the Kamehameha Highway, it’s hard to miss the large white, painted sign that advertises Giovanni’s Original White Shrimp.  Actually, what’s harder to miss are the cars parked in the lot by the pavilion where the truck is permanently parked.  Or maybe it’s the truck itself that’s hard to miss as the truck might be as famous as the food it sells.  According to various accounts, in 1993 a gentleman visiting the Giovanni’s from El Paso, Texas had a marker in hand and wanted to permanently leave his mark on the truck.  It wasn’t until after the truck was closed that the employees noticed the gentleman’s signature.  At the time, they decided to just leave it rather than try to scrub it off.  On the following day, a few more signatures and pictures appeared on the side of the truck.  Since then, it’s just grown, with thousands upon thousands of signatures, sayings and pictures inked on every available inch of the truck.

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After having had such a filling breakfast at Rainbow Drive In in the morning, my husband knew that we wouldn’t be able to each finish a plate of food, so we decided to share a plate lunch.  The menu at Giovanni’s is pretty basic with almost everything revolving around shrimp.  They offer 3 different full plate lunches with shrimp (although everything also comes in half plates) as well as 3 different sides and then various bottled and canned drinks.  All of Giovanni’s plate lunches are served with one dozen shrimp and 2 scoops of rice.  Your options are the shrimp scampi which is shrimp marinated in olive oil, fresh chopped garlic, lemon/butter and sautéed in a pan; hot & spicy which states that it’s very hot and no refunds are offered for shrimp cooked and covered in Giovanni’s very own special blend of hot sauce; and finally the lemon/butter which is shrimp boiled/steamed in a lemon and butter sauce and served with dipping sauce on the side.  The sides are a garlic hot dog which is cooked in the scampi sauce so basically flavored with lots of garlic and lemon and butter, extra rice with or without garlic and homemade mac salad, very popular throughout the islands.

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Giovanni’s says that their most popular dish is the shrimp scampi, which I must think is true as almost everyone in line in front of me ordered plate after plate of the shrimp scampi.  Who are my husband and I to argue with the dish that’s made Giovanni’s famous throughout the island?  So, of course, we order one plate of the shrimp scampi to share.  When we arrived at Giovanni’s there was a line of about 7-10 people ahead of us, and a group of people waiting off to the side who had ordered and were just waiting for their plate.  Plus, most of the tables inside of the pavilion were full.  However, it’s obvious that Giovanni’s has their operation down pat.  One person who takes the orders and deals with the payment, and then a couple of people who cook and prepare the food and one person distributing the orders as soon as they are made.  Even with the people in line ahead of me and those already waiting for their food, it didn’t take me more than 10 minutes to get our lunch.  Just standing there waiting for your food and smelling the garlic and the lemon and the butter is enough to make your mouth salivate.  It smells heavenly, especially if you love garlic, as my husband and I clearly do.   Finally, when your number is called, you’re handed this paper plate full of huge shrimp, 2 scoops of price covered in their olive oil and garlic sauce and a wedge of lemon.  Additionally, you’re given a second paper plate and a healthy portion of napkins.  The second paper plate is for your discards as the shrimp are fileted and cooked but with their shells on, so you have to peel and discard the shrimp shells.  And of course, the napkins to wipe your fingers afterwards, that is, if you don’t lick your fingers first!  You can’t even imagine how unbelievably yummy this dish smelled.  It took all of our willpower to peel the shrimp first before just digging into the dish.

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To go with our plate lunch, we decided to each get a can of the passion orange juice by Aloha Maid.  I can’t say that before I visited Hawaii on this trip that I’d ever had passion orange or passion orange guava juice before, but wow, it’s fantastic.  Why can’t we find this on the Mainland?  I’d be all over that!  On a hot and humid Hawaiian afternoon, while enjoying a plate of garlic shrimp, this drink was absolutely delicious.  A little fruity, a little tangy, and full of all of the flavors of the Hawaiian islands, it’s definitely thirst quenching.

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About 5 minutes after we dug into our shrimp scampi plate, this was the remains of it.  The rice with the drizzle of the garlic oil over it was so full of amazing flavor that we pretty much had to scoop up every last grain of rice.  And the shrimp was out of this world.  It was cooked beautifully.  Super tender and fresh and flavorful.  Cooking it with the shell on allowed the flavor of the lemon butter and garlic and oil to infuse and permeate throughout the shrimp, and while it’s a bit of a hassle to have to peel the shrimp, it’s all worth it.  I’ve never in my life tasted shrimp as good as the shrimp at Giovanni’s.  When my husband and I finished our plate we kind of looked at each other and realized that perhaps we should have each gotten our own plate rather than sharing.  We easily could have finished our own plates if we had known just how delicious the shrimp scampi was.

Prior to our trip to Hawaii, I was very skeptical as to how good shrimp from a food truck could be.  Really, I live in LA where food trucks are such a fad, this is Hawaii, how great could Hawaiian food truck food be?  Now, after having tried Giovanni’s I’m a true believer.  Hands down, without having to think twice about it, the shrimp scampi plate that we hate at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck was the best food we had during our week in Hawaii.  There is no comparison to how flavorful and delicious this shrimp scampi was.  The atmosphere, the surroundings, the food, the life, it’s Hawaii all rolled up into one neat little package.  I will forever dream about Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck until I can get myself back to Hawaii to have more of it.  In fact, you wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve talked about Giovanni’s with my husband since we’ve been back.  If you go to Hawaii and only ever have one meal, make it the shrimp scampi plate at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck.

Rainbow Drive In

August 14, 2014

A month or so before our Hawaiian vacation, I was watching The Food Network with my husband one evening, as I often do.  There was an episode of “Diners, Drive Ins & Dives” airing, but the TV was just kind of going in the background as neither one of us was really paying attention since we were busy with other things.  At some point, I realized that was airing was an episode I had seen a few years back.  At the time it first aired, I thought it was interesting, but I didn’t pay too much attention to it because one of the places featured on the show was on the island of Oahu and I didn’t have any plans to visit Hawaii at the time.  That particular evening, when the show was on TV again, and I finally realized that they were about to visit a place in Waikiki, it immediately piqued my interest as I knew that we would be in Waikiki in a few short weeks.  Truth be told, as I re-watched this episode, it immediately brought to mind the fact that I had seen this particular eatery highly rated on Trip Advisor, and in fact, a good friend of mine who was passing through Honolulu on an 8-hour layover even made it a point to stop at this place.  At that moment, I was determined to try to find a way to fit this place into our itinerary.

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Rainbow Drive In is a Waikiki institution.  Having opened it’s doors in 1961, this Hawaiian hot spot has been serving hordes of locals and tourists alike morning, noon and night.  Founded by Seiju Ifuku and his wife Ayako, the food philosophy of Rainbow Drive In is to provide delicious, hearty and simple Hawaiian plate lunches with generous portions to Waikiki’s working class population as well as the beach crowd who arrive to fuel up after a day surfing in the Pacific Ocean.  Many locals say that when they return home, this is the first and last place they go to eat real Hawaiian food.  Known for their delicious gravy sauce and unique chili, you can find a crowd here from the time the drive in opens until it closes.

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On the one day we had a rental car during our stay at the Sheraton Waikiki, we hoped in the car and traveled less than 2 miles, just outside of the main drag of Waikiki, to make our first stop of the day at Rainbow Drive In.  Even though it was just past 8:30 am on a Friday morning, there was already a lineup at the window to order food.  Almost all of the tables at the outdoor seating area were full.  If it’s this busy this early in the morning, I can’t imagine how busy this place must get at lunch time, or better yet in the early evening hours.

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My husband and I came to Rainbow Drive In with one item on our minds that we wanted to order, the Loco Moco, a traditional Hawaiian staple food, traditionally eaten in the morning for a filling, hearty breakfast, but really can be eaten any time of the day.  This is what my husband described as quintessential Hawaiian comfort food.  What better place to order a Loco Moco than at an institution such as Rainbow Drive In.  All plate lunches, as their called, at Rainbow Drive in are served with 2 scoops of white rice and 1 scoop of macaroni salad.  The Loco Moco here is 2 hamburger patties grilled and served atop the scoops of rice and then covered in Rainbow’s signature gravy sauce and then topped with 2 eggs any way you choose to have the eggs cooked.  My husband and I both opted for eggs over easy so that we could crack the yolk of the egg and have all that creamy goodness blend together with the savory gravy and rice and hamburger patties.  Within minutes of ordering, our order was up and boy did it look heavenly.  The combination of the rich and flavorful gravy with the creamy eggs really brought the whole dish together.  2 hamburger patties over rice doesn’t seem that filling, but believe me, it was.  Much to my surprise, my husband absolutely loved his Loco Moco dish.  He pretty much shoveled the whole plate in his mouth and within minutes every single grain of rice, macaroni noodle, shred of egg, and all that delicious gravy was gone off his plate.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him more completely devour a plate than I did that morning at Rainbow Drive In.  He said he could see why this was comfort food and it was definitely something he could eat over and over again every day.

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To wash this all down, we also ordered another famous Rainbow Drive In item, their slush!  This sweet, cherry slush, half drink-half icee concoction was brilliant.  The sweetness helped cut through the savory, heavy Loco Moco dish.  On a hot morning in Honolulu, though maybe a bit early for a slush, this was quite the refreshing drink.  I actually wish I had ordered another one before I left Rainbow Drive In that morning, just so I could continue drinking this highly addictive slush drink throughout the day.

Believe me, if we had more time in Oahu, and had a car, my husband and I definitely would have been back to Rainbow Drive In, probably at least another 2 or 3 times.  I really wanted to try some of their other plate lunches, and my husband wanted more of the Loco Moco.  It’s easy to see why Rainbow Drive In has been a Hawaiian institution for years.  This is the place that most natives returning to the island make as their first stop after they land at the airport.  Heck, if I grew up around this area, it’d probably be the first place I stop at as well.  You can bet that the next time I find myself in Oahu I’ll be making a stop at Rainbow Drive in, and I suggest that if you find yourself in Honolulu, you do as well!

Duke’s Waikiki

August 11, 2014

Prior to traveling to Hawaii on vacation I was speaking with my mom on the phone telling her of all of the amazing food places I had planned to try out on the Big Island and Oahu.  I told her about the shrimp truck on the North Shore, the shave ice store in Kona, the pizza place in Honolulu when she interrupted me and asked me if I was going to go get some Hula Pie.  I was dumbstruck for a moment as I had no clue what Hula Pie was, as I’d never heard of it before.  My  mom told me to look up Hula Pie as it was incredibly popular and something that a lot of tourist visiting the islands say you’ve got to try.  How is it possible that I’d missed such a thing?  My mom told me that the 2 prior years during her research for her trips to the Hawaiian Islands all she had read about was people going to Hawaii to have Hula Pie, and though she’d never had it herself, she couldn’t believe how many people had raved over it.  After doing some of my own research, I was sold.  Now, I just needed to sell the idea to my husband.  During our first full day in Oahu, after a long day spent touring around the Valor in the Pacific National Monument and things such as the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, the USS Missouri, the USS Bowfin submarine and the Pacific Aviation Museum, we were in need of a place to relax and unwind for dinner.  This was the perfect opportunity to dine at Duke’s Waikiki, home to the original Hula Pie!

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Duke’s Waikiki is located on the beach inside the Outrigger Waikiki hotel.  What more could you want on a perfect Hawaiian evening than to dine on good food in an indoor-outdoor setting that fronts the white sand beach of Waikiki Beach as you listen to the waves crash against the shore?

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Duke’s is one of the mainstay restaurants in the T S Restaurants Hawaii and California Group.  Named after the one and only Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, also known, as the “Father of International Surfing,” the restaurant located not that far down the beach from the bronze statue of the Duke which immortalized him and his legacy in 1990.  Born and raised in Waikiki, the Duke, as he’s affectionately called went on to win 6 Olympic medals for the United States at the Summer Olympics in sports ranging from swimming to water polo.  The Duke also had parts in 28 Hollywood movies, introduced the sport of surfing to the Atlantic coast and Australia, served as Hawaii’s first Official Ambassador of Aloha and became the first person ever inducted into both the US Swimming and Surfing Hall of Fame.  The Duke embodied the spirit of Aloha, the spirit of the Hawaiian people and culture, and ultimately now, the spirit of this restaurant chain, whose mission statement is to, “Have Fun.  Make Money.  With Aloha.”

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Dining in Hawaii, under the stars, on the beach, means accompanying your meal with some sort of fruity, tropical drink.  I chose the tropical smoothie, which is a blend of mango, fresh bananas and vanilla cream.  You can’t go wrong with these tropical flavors with a hint of vanilla blended into it.  And banana and vanilla always make a nice pairing together.  Such a creamy, rich and delicious drink that was perfect for this tropical night.

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My husband decided to order a drink called the South Swell.  The drink was a combination of Karma silver tequila, triple sec, Monin hibiscus syrup, pineapple, lime and club soda.  My husband’s first reaction to this drink was that out of all the drinks he had during our time in Hawaii, this was the most fruit, tropical drink he’d had.  When you think of fruity drinks, the kind you’d want to have in your hand as you lounge on the beach, those drinks you’d imagine come with those paper umbrellas stuck in them, my husband said this South Swell is exactly the kind of drink you’d think of.  It had the sweetness and flavor of the tropics with the hibiscus syrup and the pineapple.  Refreshing and cool.

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To start our meal, my husband wanted to try the crab and mac nut wontons.  Served in a traditional Chinese bamboo basket, the golden brown, deep-fried  wontons were stuffed with crab meat, cream cheese and macadamia nuts and served alongside a mustard plum sauce.  My husband loved the wontons and could have easily finished off the whole order on his own.  The wontons were perfectly crispy with just the perfect amount of stuffing.  The combination of the creamy and sweet crab meat with the crunchy macadamia nuts was a match made in heaven.  It was the addition of the macadamia nuts which elevated these wontons from a traditional crab Rangoon.  What a way to start the meal.

 

With every entrée you purchase at Duke’s you get access to the plentiful salad and bread bar.  You could probably gorge yourself on the salad bar alone as there’s literally 20+ different kinds of salads to choose from, and it’s buffet-style, so you could go back as many times as you want.  That is, until you realize you have your actual entrée still to come and there’s no way you can stuff yourself with that much salad without filling yourself and becoming unable to eat your actual meal.  But when you see all of your options, trying to exercise self-control becomes difficult.  You’ve got your standard bread rolls as well as taro bread rolls.  I don’t know about you, but only in Hawaii would you see taro bread rolls.  And what about mini macadamia nut muffins?

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Oh right, we were looking at salads, not breads.  There’s the couscous salad with veggies, or how about the cold pasta salad with pine nuts and pesto?

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How about the spicy broccoli salad with raisins, slivered onions and sunflower seeds?  Personally, I liked the Chinese chicken salad with sesame dressing.  Or there’s the traditional macaroni salad with mayonnaise-based dressing.

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There’s also the fava bean salad, or the garbanzo bean salad with radishes.  Or the Israeli couscous and cranberry salad.  Maybe the kale salad with candied walnuts and red onions is more to your liking.

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Of course, what’s a salad bar without being able to make your own salad?  Choose your greens – spring greens, romaine lettuce, iceberg lettuce – and add your toppings.  Sliced cucumbers, sliced mushrooms, broccoli florets, cherry tomatoes, diced red onions, black olives, even pineapple wedges are all there for your taking.  Finally, top it off with your choice of salad dressing: Caesar, sesame, Italian, French, Thousand Island, oil & vinegar, it’s all there.

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For his entrée, my husband ordered the seven spice ahi.  Seared to a perfect medium rare, just the way my husband likes it, it was served with a papaya mustard sauce and served with a side of white steamed rice.  The ahi was tender and fresh and perfectly cooked.  The papaya mustard sauce added a nice hint of acidity, citrus and tanginess to pair with the fresh ahi tuna.  And, the Asian influences on Hawaiian food is evident in the side of steamed white rice rather than serving vegetables or mashed potatoes or rice pilaf.  My husband gobbled up the ahi tuna in about 5 seconds, so I’d say he liked it.

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I chose the fresh fish, which was opa that night, prepared with sautéed mac nut and herb crusted.  The opa filet was lightly dusted in parmesan cheese and bread crumbs to create a nice crispy, crunchy breading.  The finished fish was then served over a lemon and caper butter sauce.  The acidity of the lemon butter is exactly what this salty and crunchy opa file needed to compliment the herbs.  The whole capers, for me, I could have done without, but again, I’m not a fan of whole capers, so that’s a bit of a biased opinion.  The fish itself was perfectly cooked and flaky and light with a buttery texture and taste.  The breading added a perfect amount of flavoring and created the perfect texture to the dish.  All in all, a filling, and again, tropical, Hawaiian meal.

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Now, time for the Hula Pie.  After a very filling dinner, my husband and I decided that we’d order one Hula Pie to split.  In the end that was the right decision as this thing was a monstrosity of a dessert.  Officially known as Kimo’s Original Hula Pie, the dessert was invented at Kimo’s restaurant in Lahaina on the island of Maui.  As a member of the T S Restaurants Hawaii and California chain, the Hula Pie is now served at most of the groups restaurants, including Duke’s Waikiki.  Hula Pie is essentially macadamia nut ice cream piled high atop at chocolate cookie crust and topped with chocolate fudge, whipped cream and even more macadamia nuts.  It’s essentially a play of the Southern favorite Mississippi Mud Pie.  This dessert is advertised in the islands as, “this is what sailors swam ashore for in Lahaina.”  Luckily, as we were dining, we had seen a few other tables order the Hula Pie, and when it came time for us to order, we knew that after the drinks, the appetizer, the salad bar and the entrée, we’d only need one slice of Hula Pie to share between the two of us.  What I loved was that the dessert comes served on its own special Hula Pie plate.  When have you ever seen anything like that before?  A dessert with its own special plate!  As for the Hula Pie, it was delicious.  You couldn’t tell from the pictures above?!?!  The macadamia nut ice cream was smooth, and sweet, and loaded with chopped macadamia nuts.  And this is coming from a girl who doesn’t even like nuts!  The cookie crust was perfect, it wasn’t sweet so it didn’t overpower the pie, but it was nice and thick and created a nice texture balance from the creamy, rich ice cream.  And of course, chocolate sauce and ice cream are the perfect combination.  As you can see, my husband and I devoured the Hula Pie.  And we were stuffed!

Duke’s Waikiki, right on the beach, was a nice setting for a relaxing dinner.  With the restaurant facing the ocean, and the indoor-outdoor feel of the set up of the restaurant so that you could watch as the waves crashed onshore, you couldn’t ask for a more laid back atmosphere.  The drinks were tropical and fruity.  The appetizer was perfectly Hawaiian.  And the entrees, with their selection of fresh, locally caught, in-season fish, was tasty.  But the Hula Pie, that was the star of the show.  Even if you only come to Duke’s Waikiki for the Hula Pie, you should do it.  It’s worth every single last sinful bite!

Bubbies Mochi Ice Cream

August 5, 2014

On a lunch date with my husband to Buddha’s Belly early last year, I was instantly reminded why I love mochi ice cream.  The soft, chewy outside of the mochi and the creamy, tropical flavors of the ice cream inside are just the perfect combination.  When I was doing some research on popular eateries in Honolulu, I came across a store called Bubbies Homemade Ice Cream & Desserts.  Bubbies started in the mid 1980s as a homemade ice cream and sorbet store serving small batch, homemade desserts using local fresh fruits and tropical flavors of Hawaii.  Over the years it’s reputation for amazing ice cream and sorbets has grown along with it’s operations.  Today, Bubbies is known as the industry leader in mochi ice cream with at least 20 different flavors which are shipped all over the Mainland and all over the world with the “Made-In-Hawaii” brand it’s become known for.  Of course, seeing an ice cream parlour famous for it’s mochi ice cream piqued my curiosity and interest immediately.  Unfortunately, based upon it’s location, I knew that the likelihood that we’d have an opportunity to visit the store would be difficult as it was located in the heart of Honolulu and without a rental car, we’d pretty much be confined to Waikiki Beach.

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Imagine my surprise when we checked into our hotel on Waikiki Beach and I discovered a place that was serving up Bubbies Mochi Ice cream!  Inside the Sheraton Waikiki there’s a large sundries store called Lawson Station selling everything from packages of macadamia nuts and plastic leis and grass skirts for souvenirs to more practical items which guests could use every day such as cold bottled water and sodas to grab-and-go snacks and cookies.  But, Lawson Station also sells a lot of local grab-and-go food popular to local Hawaiians.  For example, Lawson Station was the only place I actually saw the very popular Hawaiian snack of musubi being sold – essentially a spam sushi.  What really excited me though was that Lawson Station advertised that they also had Bubbies mochi ice cream for sale!  I knew then and there that I’d be making a visit to Lawson Station to get my mochi ice cream fix before the end of the trip.

Mochi is essentially pounded sticky rice.  Created in Japan, mochi is now popular worldwide.  You can buy mochi balls on their own and add them as toppings for ice cream or frozen yogurt, or combine the two ingredients together and get mochi ice cream.  You start with the pounded sticky rice flattened out like a disc, scoop in a small spoonful of flavorful ice cream, wrap the ice cream entirely within the mochi and then roll the entire one and a quarter ounce ball of goodness in cornstarch to keep them from sticking to one another.  And you’ve got yourself mochi ice cream.  I know it sounds kind of weird if you’ve never had it before, but it’s actually an amazing little ball of soft doughy ice cream.

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At Lawson Station they had quite a selection of several flavors of mochi, including: vanilla, strawberry, green tea, lychee, choco mint, choco espresso, passion fruit, guava, mango and lihi mui mango.  So you’ve got your standard vanilla and strawberry flavors and your more tropical mango, guava and passion fruit flavors as well.  I wanted to try a little bit of each, so I opted for 3 mochi ice cream balls: chocolate espresso, lychee and mango.

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Mochi ice cream, once made needs to be kept frozen so that the ice cream inside the doughy sticky rice doesn’t melt.  The individual mochi’s are then packed together and either sold at the Bubbies shop or shipped to various distributors.  When you first get your mochi it’s pretty much a frozen, icy hockey puck.  While you could eat it this way, it probably wouldn’t be that tasty as you have a frozen ball of pounded sticky rice covering a hard-as-rock frozen spoonful of ice cream.  It’s best to let the mochi sit for 5-10 minutes at room temperature so that the ice cream melts a bit and the sticky rice returns to normal room temperature.  Remember that the mochi balls were dusted in corn starch prior to being frozen, so once they come back to room temperature, it’s this corn starch that will help to prevent the balls of dough to sticking to one another.

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When you take your first bite of your mochi ice cream ball, it’s like heaven in your mouth.  Sweet, flavorful, and slightly melted ice cream surrounded by a luscious, chewy, gelatinous, doughy sticky rice.  The combination of soft, and smooth, and chewy is just perfect.  In this case, I tried the chocolate espresso first and I think I was in love.  The espresso-flavored ice cream inside was just perfect.  Slightly melted, it had the perfect rush of strong coffee/espresso flavor, but yet with a hint of sweetness so that it wasn’t so bitter as sometimes coffee can be.  The chocolate-flavored sticky rice was just mildly flavored enough that you could taste the chocolate, but it too wasn’t so in-your-face overpowering with chocolate flavor.  The combination of the sweet, but strong espresso ice cream and the subtle chocolate sticky rice was perfect.  These mochi balls were just the perfect size, about a 3-bite delight.  The mango and the lychee didn’t disappoint either.  The lychee was filled with a sweet lychee ice cream made from the sweet nectar of the lychee fruit.  The sticky rice again had a very subtle flavor of lychee added to it so that the combination was perfect, but not overly sweet.  And the mango mochi ball was outstanding.  Sweet mango ice cream and subtle mango-flavored sticky rice.  I probably could have bought one of each flavor of mochi ice cream they had and finished them all.  In fact, I kind of wished I did buy all of them!

Bubbies mochi ice cream is highly addicting, and now I see why it’s one of the top dessert shops on the island of Oahu, and probably in the whole Hawaiian island chain.  The quality of the mochi and the creaminess of the ice cream inside the mochi ball is just fantastic.  Everything literally melts away like butter in your mouth.  Every flavor I tried was full of rich, indulgent flavor.  If I had more time, I probably would have tired every single flavor that was sold at Lawson Station…. twice!  It’s the perfect afternoon pick-me-up treat to enjoy as you soak up the rays and the atmosphere of Waikiki Beach.

 

Top of Waikiki

July 31, 2014

The day we arrived in Waikiki after a 4 night stay in Kona on the Big Island was a gorgeous, clear, sunny Hawaiian day.  There had been the threat of an afternoon storm bringing some showers, and while rain did fall on the North Shore of the island of Oahu, it never materialized over Waikiki.  We were in for a beautiful sunset that night and my husband and I decided we wanted to be able to enjoy the pretty view over dinner.  So, we chose a restaurant about 2 blocks away from the hotel called the Top of Waikiki.

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Located on the 21st floor of the Waikiki Business Park, is a 360 degree revolving restaurant and bar called the Top of Waikiki.  Making a full 360 degree rotation with a full view of Waikiki beach and the hills over Honolulu in one hour, this is a terrific spot for people to come and enjoy the sunset and the lights come on over the city.  From the main drag in Waikiki, take the elevator up to the 18th floor, and then follow the signs for the escalators up to the restaurant.

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When you reach the restaurant itself, you’re rewarded with a gorgeous view of Waikiki Beach.  Directly in front of us, the shorter pink building is the historic Royal Hawaiian hotel, and to the right of that, the tallest building is the Sheraton Waikiki, our hotel.  And beyond that is nothing but famous Waikiki Beach and the gorgeous, blue Pacific Ocean.  We had our reservations for dinner about 45 minutes before sunset so that we could have a view of Waikiki during the day, and also at night.  We came here expecting the view, and that’s what we got.  We weren’t sure what we should expect for the food, but it’s the view we were after so the food would just be icing on the cake.

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We’re in Hawaii, right?  Let’s start the night off with some drinks!  I found myself a nice, fruity, tropical, non-alcoholic drink to enjoy.  Lilikoi Orange Bang, made with passion fruit puree, orange juice, lemon wedge, vanilla syrup and soda water.  There’s that vanilla syrup!  After having been to the Hawaiian Vanilla Company, I could automatically taste the vanilla syrup in the drink and I loved it.  It really helped to round out the flavor of the passion fruit puree and the tang of the lemon wedge.  This is exactly the type of tropical drink that I think off when I think of Hawaii.  It was cool, refreshing, tropical and fruity and perfectly hit the spot!

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My husband decided to order the restaurant’s most popular drink, the Naughty or Nice?  Made with Cruzan strawberry rum, strawberry puree, sweet & sour, fresh mint, Serrano pepper slice and coconut water, my husband was in love with the first sip.  And then 10 seconds later, he was even more in love with it.  Ultimately, my husband said that this is his most favorite drink ever, and he’s had some drinks in his day.  Generally, my husband isn’t a fan of the sweet mixed drinks, and normally doesn’t drink rum at all because it’s too sweet.  However, it’s the mix of sweet and spicy in this drink that completely won him over.  On first taste, the sweet and fruity of the fresh strawberries and the strawberry puree really gets you.  But after that, it’s the sting of spice with the Serrano peppers in the end that seals the deal.  And my husband loved the bite of the Serrano peppers.  They were not, enough to burn a bit on the tongue, but not too hot.  This was an out-of-this world drink in his book.

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To start dinner, my husband wanted to order the garlic fries appetizer.  This restaurant, like much of the food in Hawaii, has a little bit of an Asian-inspired, Asian-fusion style.  So the French fries were tossed in a soy and garlic butter sauce.  That mixture of the soy and the garlic butter was a terrific combination.  The sauce was “sticky” enough that it didn’t seep through the crunch French fries to make them all soggy.  The fries retained their crunch, but were coated in sweet and savory garlic sauce.  I would never have thought to combine soy with garlic butter, but this works.  It was great bar food to munch on before we got to our food.

After looking through the menu, my husband and I each agreed to order from restaurant’s prix fixe menu.  Luckily, they actually had 2 different menus to choose from and after looking at what you get with each menu, we discovered that one menu was definitely more to my liking and the 2nd menu was definitely more to my husband’s liking.  We figured this way, we would get the best of the best without actually having to make any decisions on what to order and we’d also get enough food along the way that we could try a variety of different dishes.  It seemed like the best of both worlds.

The prix fixe menu I chose came with 1 appetizer, 2 entrees and 1 dessert.  The prix fixe menu my husband chose came with 2 different appetizers, 1 salad, 2 entrees and 1 dessert.  I know it sounds like a lot of food, but the portions for each course were small, so it wasn’t that overwhelming.

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For my first starter, I was served day boat scallops which were pan roasted and set atop sautéed local corn with applewood smoked bacon and topped with a balsamic and curry oil sauce.  I was a bit worried about the curry oil sauce as I’m not the biggest fan of curry oil, and while I could ultimately taste the curry oil, it actually wasn’t that bad and really did help to balance out the sweetness of the scallops and corn and the saltiness of the applewood smoked bacon.  I thought that the combination of the perfectly pan roasted scallop with the sautéed corn and bacon was perfect.  The corn was perfectly cooked so that it was still a bit crunchy rather than being soft and mushy and the bacon and the scallop worked well together.  The balsamic sauce also helped to add tang and a bit of spice to the dish.  This first course was much better than I expected the food at this restaurant to be.

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The starter for my husband was a Korean inspired poke.  After our experience with poke at Rays on the Bay, my husband was really excited about this poke.  I admit that it also caught my eye, but I knew I would not really enjoy it because it was served with a really spicy Korean sauce.  According to the menu, the dish consists of fresh ahi (yellowfin tuna) with onions and jalapenos in a soy ko chu jang sauce and served in a Kula baby romaine lettuce leaf.  One bite in my husband told me I definitely wouldn’t want to try this as it was rather spicy.  However, for him, he loves spicy food so he didn’t have a problem with it at all.  My husband enjoyed the different flavors of this poke and thought that the tuna was really fresh and the soy ko chu jang sauce just enhanced the flavor of the fish.

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My husband’s 2nd starter was a lump crab cake served with housemade tartar sauce.  As I’m a big fan of crab cake as well, my husband actually let me have half of his crab cake.  I thought the crab cake was just ok.  Certainly not the best crab cake I’ve ever had as I felt like the inside of the crab cake was a bit undercooked therefore causing it to feel a bit mushy whereas I prefer that my crab cake is more dry with bread crumbs and crunchy both inside and outside.  This crab cake seemed to be golden brown and crunchy on the outside but that was lacking on the inside, though the cake was packed full of crab flavor.  But this is probably more personal preference rather than anything wrong with their crab cake.  That, of course, didn’t prevent my husband and I from finishing off the crab cake though.

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The salad that came with my husband’s prix fixe meal was a pear salad with port poached d’anjou pears and fresh Asian pears with Ma’o Farms organic sassy mix, candied walnuts, cambazola lumpia, and a port raspberry vinaigrette and balsamic reduction.  I really liked the fresh Asian pears with this salad as it gave it a crisp texture and fresh taste.  The port raspberry vinaigrette and balsamic reduction worked well with the greens, the pears and the candied walnuts.  My husband loved the idea of the cambazola lumpia.  Serving the cheese for the salad in that form was unique and creative.

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By the time our appetizers and salads had been served, the sun had set over Waikiki Beach and the lights of Waikiki and Honolulu started to twinkle.  The view was gorgeous and romantic and exactly the atmosphere we were looking for when we decided to dine at Top of Waikiki.

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On to the entrees.  My husband’s first entrée was called yukari and bubu arare crusted onaga (long tail red snapper).  The fish was served with Kombucha and shrimp risotto and picked Japanese vegetables.  The presentation gorgeous with a very colorful plate.  The picked vegetables surrounded the fish and the snapper sat atop a bed of shrimp risotto.  I’m not sure my husband really touched the picked vegetables, or if he did, he ate little of it, but he certainly loved the flavors of the flaky white long tail red snapper and he thought that the Kombucha and shrimp risotto matched nicely with the fish and complimented it well.  I certainly heard no complains from him on his first entrée.

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My first entrée was pan roasted ahi (yellow fin tuna) seared with Hanakua Eryngi mushroom relish and served atop kai choy sauce.  Although I’m not a big fan of mushrooms, the mushroom relish actually wasn’t that bad.  The kai choy sauce added great flavor to the dish but also made it visually appealing.  Kai choy is green mustard cabbage, often used picked to make soups in Asian dishes, this time it was pureed into a colorful and vibrant green sauce that actually married well with the seared ahi tuna.  The tuna was cooked perfectly and pretty much melted in my mouth.

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The second entrée brought out for my meal was the soy miso short ribs.  I was really looking forward to this dish.  Soy miso braised short ribs were served with wasabi mashed potatoes and a shrimp and corn relish.  The wasabi mashed potatoes were outstanding.  The wasabi added enough flavor and interest to the mashed potatoes without being extremely overpowering.  There was only a hint of spiciness in the aftertaste.  The shrimp and corn relish was a great contrast in flavors and textures to the creamy mashed potatoes and the melt-in-your-mouth short ribs.  But the soy short ribs were definitely the star.  The meat was so tender and luscious and the braising liquid that was served over the dish was just the right amount of sweetness and saltiness for the dish.  This dish, for me, was a real winner.

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My husband’s second entrée was surf in turf.  The dish was beautifully presented as three small helpings of pan roasted beef tenderloin topped with Hamakua Eryngi mushrooms atop Twin Bridge Farms with Waialua asparagus and bacon and truffle jus, Kona cold lobster half tail and fingerling potatoes covered in a soubise cheese sauce.  My husband gave me half of the Kona cold lobster tail and I fell in love with it.  The lobster was so sweet and succulent and perfectly cooked.  I think once my husband had his half of the lobster tail he probably regretted giving me half of it because that meant there was less for him.  The beef tenderloin was tasty and tender and the portions of all 3 components of the surf and turf were just the right size.  Of course, the fingerling potatoes covered in cheese sauce, how could my cheese-loving husband not enjoy those?

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Finally, we make it to dessert.  The dessert that was served with my meal was chocolate macadamia nut art with vanilla gelato and salted caramel sauce.  Personally, I wasn’t expecting much out of this dessert because a chocolate macadamia nut tart would be something I just wouldn’t order for dessert.  To me, it’s kind of like pecan pie, I just don’t like nuts that much that I’d order something with nuts for dessert.  The vanilla gelato was delicious, and combined with the tart it made the tart palatable.  But let me tell you, this tart was jam packed with macadamia nuts, to the point that the chocolate was really second fiddle.  I imagine if you liked macadamia nuts, you’d probably love this tart.  But, I was good with the gelato, and only ultimately finished about half of the tart.  Luckily, my husband wasn’t about to let a good tart go to waste, so he swooped in to the rescue and finished off the rest of the tart for me.

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My husband’s dessert was mango crème brulee made with a creamy mango puree topped with a caramelized vanilla bean sugar topping.  The entire dish was then topped with some sort of fresh mango relish.  Like my dessert, my husband thoroughly enjoyed his creamy mango dessert and devoured the whole thing.  He liked the flavor of the mango crème brulee and felt that they made it with fresh pureed mangos, which is a good thing.

All in all, our dinner at Top of Waikiki was terrific, much better than either of us had ever expected.  We went for the atmosphere and the views, and ended up loving the food and the drinks as well.  This was a terrific setting for a nice, romantic dinner in Waikiki while we watched the sun set over the gorgeous beach and the lights of the city come to life.  The food was delicious and well prepared and cooked.  The drinks were over the top fantastic.  What a way to spend the evening with my husband during our Hawaiian vacation.