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Dole Plantation

August 26, 2015

There are certain things that come to mind when you mention the Hawaiian Islands.  Most people will think of surfing, Waikiki Beach, Maui, sunrises and sunsets, volcanoes, and turtles among other things.  When you think of the Hawaiian Islands in terms of food and fruits, that generally conjures up images of coconuts, poke, mahi mahi and ono, shave ice, lilikoi, loco moco and pineapples among other things.  One of Hawaii’s most recognizable imports to the Mainland may be Dole pineapples.  Last year when my husband and I were on Oahu, we didn’t get a chance to visit one of Oahu’s most popular attractions, the Dole Plantation, because we ran out of time.  This year, as we were driving around the island with my husband’s parents, we figured that a stop at the Dole Plantation would be a neat little stop on our way from the island’s North Shore back to Waikiki Beach.

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James Drummond Dole moved to Hawaii in 1899 with a degree from Harvard in business in agriculture in hand.  In 1900 he bought a 61-acre tract of land in Wahaiwa and planted pineapples.  At the time, farming was booming across the United States, and Dole figured that he could get in on the action by proving that farming in Hawaii would be a profitable venture.  While Dole wasn’t the first person to have a pineapple plantation in Hawaii, he was the first to make it a commercial venture extending back to the Mainland.  With technological advances in packing and distributing fresh pineapple to the Mainland, Dole’s first pineapple cannery opened up in 1901.  Dole used his success to continue to promote pineapple as a desirable fruit to Mainlanders who weren’t quite sure what to do what a pineapple, he combined with other plantation owners to promote the sweetness and greatness of Hawaiian pineapples.  And Dole moved his cannery to Honolulu to be closer to distribution and shipping facilities.  That cannery, at one time the largest in the world, was in operation until 1991.  Due to the popularity and increasing demand for pineapple, Dole purchased the Hawaiian island of Lana’i in 1922 and turned it into the largest pineapple plantation in the world.  For close to 3/4 of a century, Lana’i supplied more than 75% of the world’s pineapple, and turning Dole into the Pineapple King.  In 1958, Dole passed away, and his company, The Hawaiian Pineapple Company became known the world over as the Dole Food Company.  Today’ the Dole Plantation, adjacent to the site of the original tract of land in Wahaiwa still welcomes visitors today to come and learn about this succulent, tropical fruit.

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The Plantation offers a number of pineapple-themed things to do for visitors.  There’s the world’s largest maze, offering 3-acres of fun with landscaped plants and paths cut to the shape of a pineapple.  There’s the Pineapple Express Train which takes you on a 20 minute narrated journey of the history of the fruit.  And there’s a Plantation Garden where you can view plants native to the Hawaiian islands as well as walk through a growing field of a wide variety of pineapples.  If you thought all pineapples were the same, you are sorely mistaken.  In fact, the pineapples come in so many different varieties that produce pineapples of different colors, shades, shapes and sizes.

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But what we really came to the Dole Plantation for was some dessert, namely a Dole Whip.  Dole Whip is soft-serve, pineapple flavored ice cream.  Extremely popular at the Disney theme parks, this is where I first had a Dole Whip.  That cool, creamy and subtle pineapple flavor is something you’ll never forget if you’re a fan of pineapples.  Why not enjoy the same pleasure at the Dole Plantation.  In fact, my father-in-law got himself a Dole Whip in a cup with a topping of pineapple.  Later on, my mother-in-law actually ordered herself the same dessert.  Although I ordered something different, I was so tempted to go back and order myself a cup of Dole Whip as well because it looked so cool and refreshing and absolutely delicious, subtle pineapple flavored ice cream surrounded by sweet pineapple slices.

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Instead of ordering a cup of Dole Whip for myself, I decided to order a pineapple float.  As you might expect, the float consisted of half a cup of pineapple juice topped with Dole Whip.  It’s a cool, refreshing drink with a bit of tang from the pineapple juice.  The juice soaks into the Dole Whip and the Dole Whip melts a bit and creates this nice, creamy concoction.  I ordered the pineapple float thinking that my husband would enjoy it since pineapple juice is one of his all time favorite drinks.  He could literally sit and drink a gallon of pineapple juice in one sitting.  And I was right, the minute he took a sip of this pineapple float he couldn’t stop drinking from the straw and scooping with the spoon.  I had to pry my pineapple float out of his hand just to get my share of the float or else he would have happily finished off the whole drink without me.  And that’s ironic because originally my husband wasn’t that interested in stopping at the Dole Plantation and when I went to the cafe to buy the pineapple float, my husband was nowhere in sight as he said he didn’t really want anything.  And yet, when I return with the pineapple float, he wants to have the whole thing to himself!  I should have known better.  I can’t blame him though because this pineapple float really hit the spot with its creamy pineapple ice cream, and delicious pineapple juice.  It almost tasted like a melted, pineapple smoothie.  I’ve never thought about making a float at home using pineapple juice, but maybe I should.

While the Dole Plantation was a little bit of a last minute stop, it was one that I was glad to make.  I’ve been wanting to stop here since our visit to Hawaii last year both for the appreciation of what Dole and the pineapple has meant to the economy of the Hawaiian islands, but also because you just can’t pass up a delicious Dole Whip.  If you grew up near Disneyland the way I did, then you understand the special connection with the Dole Whip.  Surprisingly, I think all of us, myself, my husband and his parents, enjoyed our little detour to the Dole Plantation.  We bought a few souvenirs and shared some laughs while enjoying our delicious pineapple treats.  Good times shared among loved ones, what more could you ask for.

Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck

August 20, 2015

When my husband and I returned from our trip to Hawaii last year, there were specifically two meals that we said to each other that if we ever went back to Hawaii, we’d have to go back to have more of the food served at these two specific places.  The first was Rainbow Drive In and their loco moco.  The second was also an iconic stop for anyone heading up to Oahu’s North Shore.  My husband and I were so determined to have lunch at this particular place that we told my husband’s family long in advance that we were going here no matter what, so if they were coming with us on this day, they were going to eat here regardless of whether or not they wanted to.

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Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck was hands down the most memorable meal of our trip to Hawaii last year.  The taste and flavor of the shrimp was something my husband and I just couldn’t forget.  The quality, the freshness, the atmosphere of enjoying this great shrimp plate from a food truck on the North Shore of Hawaii was just quintessentially Hawaiian.  So, one of the days we were on Oahu we set off in our rental car and journeyed up to the North Shore with our destination of Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck on our radar.

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Last year, my husband and I shared a shrimp scampi plate and by the time we had devoured the meal we looked at each other and wondered why we had only bought one plate to share rather than each getting our own.  As we drove away that day, we kicked ourselves for not having each bought our own plate.  You don’t know how many times in the last year we’ve discussed how good this shrimp scampi plate was.  So, when we went this year, we immediately looked at each other and said that there was no way we were going to miss out on this opportunity again, this year, we were each going to get our own plate so we wouldn’t have to share with one another.  Two plates of shrimp scampi it was and by the time my husband came back to the table with a plate in each hand I think I was salivating.  I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the shrimp and a spoonful of the rice with the most amazing garlic, olive oil and lemon sauce I’ve ever tasted in my mouth.  I think the whole meal my husband and I said two words to each other, if that, as we immediately began tearing into our own dishes, peeling the shrimp and scooping the shrimp and spoonfuls of rice right into our mouths.  There’s no time for words when your hungry and you’re presented with some of the best food you’ve ever had in your life.  At that point, it’s all about how quickly you can shovel the food into your mouth.  You think I’m kidding, but I’m dead serious.

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And of course, when in Hawaii, you wash down a dish like shrimp scampi with a can of ice cold passion orange drink.  That sweet passion fruit with a hint of tang from the orange juice makes for a thirst quenching drink on a warm day with a flavor profile that compliments the somewhat sweet and garlicky flavor of the shrimp scampi drenched in lemon juice, butter and oil.  These passion fruit and lilikoi flavored sodas found on the Hawaiian islands have to be one of my favorite drinks, and in the warm, tropical weather of the Hawaiian islands, these drinks are just perfect.

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My husband and I each cleaned off our shrimp scampi plates.  All that was left was a few grains of rice, literally.  My mother-in-law also ordered the shrimp scampi plate for lunch and seemed to enjoy her dish as well.  I believe my brother-in-law got himself the spicy shrimp plate, but I was so busy enjoying my own shrimp I don’t remember asking my brother-in-law what he thought about his hot & spicy shrimp plate.  I think my father-in-law got a garlic hot dog, which he actually enjoyed.

Due to the popularity of Givoanni’s Shrimp Truck and their permanent location just north of Laie, the area has turned into a little bit of a food and arts and crafts area.  Giovanni’s isn’t the only vendor selling local favorites in the area as you can also buy shave ice, fresh coconuts, bbq corn and fresh cut fruit among other items.  I finished off my meal by buying a small bag of fresh cut mango slices and my mother-in-law and brother-in-law both got some shave ice to cool off.

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My husband and I were thoroughly satisfied with our shrimp scampi meal at Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck.  We had been looking forward to returning to Giovanni’s for months in anticipation to our trip to Hawaii and we couldn’t have been more satisfied with our meal.  Still now, after having been to Giovanni’s twice, my husband and I still find ourselves talking about how amazing the food is and trying to recreate the shrimp scampi plate ourselves at home.  It’s a good thing we don’t live on Oahu as I could see us making the trip out to the North Shore every week just enjoy Giovanni’s amazing shrimp.

Rainbow Drive-In

August 17, 2015

Last year, before I went to Hawaii with my husband, we decided that when we were in Honolulu, we’d make our way to the famous Rainbow Drive-In.  I used to hear other people say that they couldn’t go to Oahu without making a stop at Rainbow Drive-In.  And then there were comments made by those who were born in raised in Honolulu and then moved away who say that Rainbow Drive-In is their first stop when they land at the airport.  There must be something to this place for people to make comments like that.  It wasn’t until my husband and I stopped in for breakfast last year that we understood exactly what people were talking about.  It was one of those meals that we would find ourselves reminiscing over months later when we discussed Hawaii.

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So, when it was decided we’d be taking a family trip back to Hawaii this year and we’d have a few days on the island of Oahu, I told my husband that even if no one else was interested in going, he and I were going to have breakfast at Rainbow Drive-In.  He wholeheartedly agreed as he was looking forward to it as much as I was.  As it turns out, we had no idea whether or not anyone else in the family was interested in dining at Rainbow Drive-In, but we decided to drag them down there anyways.  We figured, at the very least, we’d get our breakfast in, and they could just sit there and enjoy if they weren’t interested in breakfast.  Hey, we had to get our fix somehow.  Even when we pulled into the parking lot for breakfast at 9 am, the place was already bustling with a quite a few people in line to order their food at the window.  Ah, Rainbow Drive-In, Hawaiian comfort food at its finest.

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My husband and I didn’t even have to look at the menu, we already knew what we wanted to order.  First off, I just had to get my hands on a slush.  I don’t know what’s in them, but honestly, they are delicious, refreshing and addictive.  Last year, I made the mistake of being a regular-sized slush and splitting it with my husband.  I knew I should have gotten my own before we left.  And I regretted it the rest of the day because it was so good, especially since that was such a warm day.  This time, I told my husband we were getting our own because I didn’t want to share.  Ok, so in the end I didn’t get my own, but my husband said that we could get the large slush and split that instead since I’d be drinking most of it anyway.  Ok, that works for me.  Who needs coffee at 9 am when you can have a slush instead!  If I could have bought a gallon of that slush to take with me to drink all day long, I would have.  It’s seriously that good.  I think my husband thinks I’m crazy, but I found the slush to be amazing.

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For breakfast, there was no question as to what my husband and I would be ordering, the loco moco.  However, we got two different versions of the same thing.  I ordered the loco moco bowl, which is one scoop of rice, one hamburger patty with gravy and one egg any way you like it.  Of course, what other way to order the egg than sunny side up?  Crack open the egg and watch the creamy egg yolk ooze all into the gravy and over the rice makes it just that much richer and more delicious.  This smaller bowl was perfect for me and hit the spot perfectly for a nice, filling breakfast.

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My husband wanted the loco moco plate which is two scoops of rice, two hamburger patties with gravy, two eggs any way you want them and then a scoop of macaroni salad.  Now this, right here, is the ultimate Hawaiian comfort food, especially with the macaroni salad.  And since my husband is a huge lover of macaroni salad, this meal is absolutely perfect for him.  Sunny side up eggs is also how my husband chose to have his eggs cooked.  He and I think alike.

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My brother-in-law decided to give the loco moco, which he’d never tried before, a go as well.  He got the loco moco plate, but asked for his eggs scrambled.  He’s definitely not a fan of the runny yolk.  I’m not sure my brother-in-law liked the combination of the eggs and the hamburger patty and the gravy and the rice.  Instead of kind of mixing everything together, he ate it in a more compartmentalized fashion by eating each item separately on its own.

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You can see the evidence of how much my husband and I liked our loco moco bowl and loco moco plate respectively.  There was hardly even a grain of rice left over to be had.  This was good enough to fuel us up for our day of exploring the island of Oahu.  I don’t think my husband and I could ever visit Honolulu again without making a stop at Rainbow Drive In.  Everyone should put this Hawaiian institution on their “must eat” list when visiting for great, authentic Hawaiian plate lunches.

House Without a Key

August 13, 2015

Before my husband and I visited Oahu on our trip to Hawaii last year, we had made a list in advance of the different restaurants in the area that we were interested in trying out.  There was one particular restaurant we had both looked at, but never ended up visiting.  When we made plans to go back to Hawaii this year, my husband and I both agreed that we definitely needed to find the time to visit this particular restaurant.  No excuses this year for not dining at this particular restaurant, especially considering the fact that the restaurant was located right next to our hotel.  In fact, from the balcony of our hotel room, we could actually look down and see the restaurant!  So, one of the nights we were in Waikiki, we decided to ditch the rest of the family and just go and have a romantic dinner for two at this incredibly beautiful restaurant.

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House Without a Key is an indoor/outdoor dining spot inside the luxurious, 5-star Halekulani Hotel right along Waikiki Beach.  House Without a Key is immortalized by novelist Earl Derr Biggers in his series of mystery stories surrounding the character Charlie Chan.  In one of Biggers’ novels, titled House Without a Key, Detective Chan solves a murder which takes place in a home on the precise spot in the late 1800s where the restaurant of the same name currently stands today within the grounds of the resort hotel.  Under the shade of an enormous kiawe tree, on land once owned by a sea captain, Halekulani resort rebuilt this restaurant which pays homage to the famous Detective Chan and his House Without a Key when it opened its doors in 1983.

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House Without a Key restaurant has indoor and outdoor seating with tables that face out towards the gorgeous waters of the Pacific Ocean.  The restaurant features nightly entertainment provided from by a traditional Hawaiian band and a hula dancer who perform under this beautiful kiawe tree as the sun sets over the water to one side and Leahi (Diamond Head crater) looms over the land on the other side.  On a gorgeous Waikiki evening, the atmosphere for dinner couldn’t be any more romantic or gorgeous if you’re lucky enough to snag a seat right before the sun sets.  And as a bonus on Thursday nights, for dinner service, the restaurant serves what is called their Kiawe Sunset Grill.  A large outdoor grill is set up outside and you can literally watch the chefs prepare and freshly grill-to-order all of their various dinner entrees.  Luckily, we happened to be there for dinner on Thursday night and snagged a table shortly before sunset.

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With such a pretty view of Diamond Head to one side and the beautiful blue waters of the Pacific Ocean lapping up against the sea wall in front of us, the setting called for some tropical drinks.  My husband ordered the E.D.B made with Chivas Regal, maraschino liqueur, grapefruit juice and lemon sour.  Served in a martini glass, the drink looked sophisticated and just fit the atmosphere.  My husband said he really liked the drink, it was tangy from the lemon sour and the grapefruit juice, but strong.  He could definitely taste the alcohol and the bar didn’t skimp on that when making the drink.  All in all, the drink went down smooth and easy and was plenty tasty.

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I ordered a drink called jungle mania made with a blend of coconut, banana, and lilikoi with a splash of club soda.  The drink was definitely fruity and tropical with the coconut and the lilikoi.  The banana added a hint of sweetness to the drink, but also some volume and body so that the drink was almost like a smoothy.  And the splash of club soda just a hint of carbonation and fizziness to the drink which actually made it just seem a bit more tropical.  The drink was cool and refreshing and quite tasty.

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My husband and I opted to go with 2 different appetizers to start our meal.  After all, with a view such as the one we had and the band playing and the sun setting, we planned to be at the restaurant for a while, so we might as well order some food.  First up we ordered smoked salmon.  Served along side capers, fennel and crostini, the salmon was amazing.  The salmon was incredibly fresh and the fennel fronds add just the hint of licorice flavor to help enhance the freshness of the salmon.  The crunch from the crostini and the tang from the homemade tartar sauce combined with the slight salty and briny flavor of the caper came together to form a well rounded and tasty appetizer.

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The second appetizer was the coconut crusted shrimp served with an orange mango sauce.  The shrimp were of a good size, perfect cooked so that it was flavorful and tender inside, but golden brown and crispy with coconut flakes on the outside.  The crunch and slight sweet taste of the coconut flakes complimented the sweetness of the jumbo shrimp perfectly.  The tangy orange mango sauce really helped to balance out the sweet flavor of the coconut crusted shrimp.  Individually, the shrimp was terrific and the orange mango sauce was tasty, but combined together in one bite, it was tangy, sweet, crunchy and tender and made for a flavorful and fruity mouthful.  A truly tropical appetizer.

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My husband and I both wanted to take advantage of the fact that we were dining at House Without a Key on kiawe sunset grill evening by ordering grilled entrees.  We were told that each grilled entrée came served with a salad and some macaroni salad, Hawaiian comfort food at its finest.  My husband ordered today’s fish, which happened to be sea bass, grilled with sumac, olive oil and lemon dressing.  The first word out of my husband’s out was that the sea bass was awesome.  The flavor of the char and the charcoal of the grilled fish really shined through with just that hint of citrus flavor and tartness from the sumac, which is a herb that’s not often used but goes wonderfully with fish.  Generally speaking, my husband is already a huge fan of sea bass, but in this setting, with the outdoor grill, and the outdoor, ocean-front dining, it was just perfect.

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I went with a New York striploin for my grilled entrée.  Rubbed with black lava salt, and served with a soy-lemon dressing, much like my husband, the first thing I noticed was the wonderful char, charcoal grill flavor of the striploin.  The black lava salt was the perfect seasoning for the tender steak which was cooked to a perfect medium rare as I had ordered it.  This is the type of char flavor that you can only get with a great outdoor grill that just adds that added touch of flavor to the beef.  For me, the accompaniments of the salad and the macaroni salad weren’t even needed, I just savored the flavors of this terrific grilled hunk of beef.

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Not wanting our evening to come to an end to quickly, as we were enjoying the soft sounds of the band and the tranquility and beauty of watching the hula dancer as we listed to the waves lap against the sea wall and the light disappeared out of the sky, my husband and I each decided to order our own dessert.  We clearly have problems when it comes to sharing.  For my dessert, I went with the milk chocolate & apple banana torte with cocoa syrup.  I was slightly hesitant about this dessert to begin with as I’m not the world’s biggest apple fan, and unless you’re talking about bananas, any other fresh fruit in a dessert is something I generally try to avoid ordering.  Surprisingly though, what was delivered to the table was gorgeous, lovely and was much more like a cake than a torte, or at least what I’d think of as a torte, which suited me even better as I’m definitely more of a cake person. In fact, the cake was nice and light and incredibly moist.  I could taste the subtle flavor of both the banana and the apple, and I assume that adding the apple helped to keep the cake incredibly moist and light.  It was actually a terrific mix of both of the fruits so that not one flavor dominate the other.  There was a wonderful light chocolate flavor to the whole dessert which was just delightful.

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Halekulani’s coconut cake with vanilla creme anglaise was my husband’s dessert of choice.  Not one who generally is a fan of cake, especially since he pretty always feels like every cake is dry and crumbly, my husband’s first reach after his first bite of this cake was, “wow.”  Much like I felt about my torte, my husband thought that his cake was incredibly moist and was not the least bit dry. I had to take a bite of his cake because it just looked too good, and my husband was right, each layer of the cake was incredibly moist, almost like the cake layers were soaked int some sort of sauce to keep it as moist as it was.  The flavor of the coconut was perfect and not at all over the top, a very subtle and light flavor with the coconut flakes added on the outside edges of the cake giving it just that little bit of added oomph of coconut flavor.  Again, this was a perfectly tropical and delicious ending to our meal, especially considering our outdoor dining environment.

Why did my husband and I not dine at House Without a Key last year?  We missed out on an incredibly memorable meal.  We were lucky enough to come back this year and rectify our mistake and you could bet we wouldn’t be denied two years in a row.  Everything about our dining experience at House Without a Key was perfect.  The restaurant’s setting inside the beautiful Halekulani resort, with outdoor dining which provided perfect, unobstructed views of Diamond Head and the soothing sounds of the Pacific Ocean just on the other side of the sea wall, not to mention the live nightly Hawaiian band and hula dancer, were just stunning.  This is all of the cliché’s you think of when you imagine the perfect outdoor setting for a meal in Hawaii, light breezes, gorgeous sunset, tropical drinks, amazing food, palm trees, and a hula dancer.  What more could you ask for?  House Without a Key was everything and more that my husband and I could have asked for, a terrific dining experience with a romantic atmosphere in a perfectly comfortable and casual setting.  It was the aloha spirit at its finest.

 

Leahi Club Lounge

August 6, 2015

When planning this trip to Hawaii, my husband wanted to try to find hotels that he thought would be suit his family.  He had already warned his family that Oahu wouldn’t necessarily be a location that they would love.  In fact, he figured they  might not like it at all.  It’s too touristy, it’s too crowded, it’s not a place where you really see what the locals do and where they go, there’s not a ton of history and culture, etc.  But, the fact of the matter was that Pearl Harbor was on the list of “must see” items for this trip, and if you want to see Pearl Harbor, then you’ve got to deal with Oahu.  I believe that’s exactly what my husband told his mother.  So, to make it a little bit easier for his family, my husband wanted to make sure that the hotel experience was as pleasant as could be with some amenities that he figured they might enjoy.

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My husband’s parents are big breakfast people.  They need to start their day with breakfast to fuel the rest of their daily activities.  So it was important that wherever we stayed provided with my in-laws with breakfast options.  A couple of years back, my husband and I vacationed in Denver with his sister and her husband, and we stayed at a hotel that had a special lounge on the top floor which provided a place to hang within the hotel, a hot breakfast in the morning, evening hors d’oeuvres with drinks, as well as access to bottled water and sodas for the day.  My sister-in-law mentioned several times that she and her husband really enjoyed having this space.  My husband and I enjoyed the lounge as well, not necessarily as a space to hang out, but the fact that there were meals, and snacks and drinks!  Keeping all that in mind, we were reasonably sure that the hotel we had selected in Waikiki for our stay on Oahu would suit everyone’s needs, as much as we could accommodate what everyone wanted.  This particular hotel had a beautiful lounge on the top floor called the Leahi Club Lounge.  Leahi is the Hawaiian name for Diamond Head, the volcanic crater that looms over Waikiki beach. From the lounge, you get an unobstructed view of Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head.  The lounge offered hot breakfast every morning, which would make my in-laws happy, bottled drinks and sodas for the day, which makes me happy, a hang out space for people to use, and then evening hors d’oeuvres with drinks to tide people over at dusk.

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As we arrived in the afternoon on our first day in Oahu, we were just in time for some afternoon hors d’oeuvres.  Having missed lunch traveling from the Big Island to Oahu, my husband and I weren’t about to miss a chance to grab a couple of snacks before dinner.  One of the things that guests really take advantage of, and enjoy, during evening hors d’oeuvres is the available selection of drinks including white wine, red wine, and assortment of bottled beers and canned sodas for those of us who don’t drink.  My husband discovered a Hawaiian beer, Primo, that he’d never heard of or tried before, so he had to give it a try just to see what it was like.  He wasn’t impressed with it, but it was also a pale light beer which isn’t what my husband favors.

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For me, I wanted some of the passion orange guava juice being served.  POG, as it’s abbreviated has to be one of the greatest drinks ever made and readily found all over the Hawaiian islands.  A little sweet, a little tangy, passion orange guava juice is always refreshing. Ice water and orange juice were also offered as well as a small refrigerator filled with bottled water to enjoy or take away with you for later.

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My husband headed straight for the cheese platter featuring blue cheese, cheddar cheese, brie, mozzarella, Boursin dill, and caper berry to go with a bread selection of fennel lavosh, taro lavosh, and garlic & olive oil crisps.  I’m not a fan of cheese as much as my husband and the rest of his family are, but how can you say no to some cubed cheese and yummy bread as hors d’oeuvres.  It’s the universally loved, the world over, snack food.

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Another cold offering was vegetable crudite with ranch dressing, which is a hit with lots of people and super simple to serve and eat.  It also makes for a nice light snack.

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One of my favorite snacks they put out was the peanut butter and coconut red bean mochi.  I assume this was a snack designed to appease the hotel’s high number of Asian, specifically Japanese, guests.  Mochi is a Japanese rice cake, and in this case with a filling encased inside.  The purple-colored mochi on the left had the coconut red bean paste inside, and the white one on the right had the peanut butter filling.  I ate quite a few of those coconut red bean mochi.  A good, or bad thing, depending on your opinion, is that the snacks offered change on a daily basis, so I was disappointed to show up on the afternoon of Day 2 at this hotel to discover that they weren’t serving mochi that day.  But, not to worry, they did bring it back one more time before we left Oahu, so I got my fix.

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But cold snacks weren’t the only thing they offered.  Each night at least two hot items were offered.  On this particular night, vegetable fried rice was offered, which seemed quite popular.  And shoyu marinated chicken was served alongside the vegetable fried rice.  You could make a nice light meal out of these hors d’oeuvres.

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And for those who want something a little healthier, there’s fresh oranges and apples that you can enjoy, or take with you, if you want.

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The next morning, it was time for breakfast.  This was the perfect way for us to fuel up for our day of sightseeing at the Pearl Harbor memorial.  The lounge offered your standard cold breakfast offerings of a couple of different kinds of cereal with milk, along with fresh fruit and yogurt.  Oatmeal was also offered.

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There was a bread and pastry area which offered mini pastries (they were so cute!) as well as mini bagels and various kinds of toast.  Of course, there were a couple of toasters as well and all of the usual condiments you’d expect – cream cheese, various flavors of local Hawaiian jam, and butter.

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But what is a real breakfast without some hot breakfast items. Let’s start with pineapple ham.  I loved that and I noticed that others did too as it was extremely popular.

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And of course, you need eggs for breakfast.  Plenty of scrambled eggs here.  Put out some scrambled eggs for breakfast and my husband is a happy camper.

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When in Hawaii, you’ve got to serve some Kona coffee for breakfast.  A couple of fresh brewed pots of it.  And for the pickier coffee drinkers, there was a gourmet coffee machine serving some flavored coffee drinks as well as espresso and cappuccinos.  And they also offered to go cups for the gourmet coffee machine so you could grab and go.

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The next evening when we came back to the lounge for hors d’oevures the cheese and the crackers and bread were the same, but the two hot dishes were completely different.  This second night they had kau orange glazed potatoes and soy and sake braised beef short ribs.  I tried the short ribs and they were quite tasty.

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For snack foods there was an offering of mixed nuts, as well as cookies.  In this case they were oatmeal raisin and chocolate chip cookies.  My husband and I had a few of the chocolate chip cookies and really liked them!  Quite a good snack.  If I didn’t have plans for dinner later, I could easily spoil my dinner by munching away at the chocolate chip cookies.  The last evening we were at the hotel the evening hors d’oeuvres changed again and the hot offerings included beef sliders with buns and all of the fixings and tater tots.  That’s almost not even hors d’oeuvres, but enough to make an actual dinner meal.

I think that ultimately everyone in our party enjoyed having access to the Leahi Club Lounge.  Most of us used the lounge for breakfast each morning, and most of us used the lounge each evening for hors d’oeuvres.  Also, having access to the canned sodas and the bottled water for the day was also beneficial and saved us a couple of bucks from having to go out and load up on drinks.  And it’s hard not to sit up in the lounge and just admire the view of Waikiki surrounding us and Diamond Head in the distance.  It makes for a great, relaxing atmosphere to enjoy the city, the view and each others company.

Duke’s Waikiki

August 4, 2015

For our first night in Waikiki, we thought it’d be fun to have a family dinner together at a restaurant that my husband and I went to last year and really enjoyed.  Luckily, the restaurant is just down the street from our hotel, so getting there wouldn’t be a problem.  I called the restaurant earlier in the week to get reservations for our party of 6 and was actually able to secure the time I wanted, so that was a bonus.  I know that when my husband and I went to this restaurant last year for dinner, our wait for a table, without reservations, was just about 2 hours.  With an oceanfront location and live entertainment, it’s not hard to see why this particular restaurant is quite popular with tourists.  And, the restaurant and setting are pretty fun to boot.  After a day of having to say good bye to the relative calm of the Big Island and hello to the madhouse that is Waikiki, a nice, relaxing setting is just what the doctor ordered.

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Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, along with a separate, fully-stocked bar, Duke’s Waikiki is always a happening place.  With a motto of “On the Sand on Waikiki Beach,” what better setting is there for a casual, relaxed meal.  Named after Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, known as Hawaii’s most famous citizen, Duke’s Waikiki aims to continue the legacy of this great man who is even honored with his own bronze statue on Waikiki Beach.  As the State of Hawaii’s first official Ambassador of Aloha, the restaurant continues on in that Aloha spirit with good, fresh, local seafood and Hawaiian specialties in a convivial atmosphere.  This is a place to kick back, relax, and let your hair out, so to speak.

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To drink, I decided to order a banana split mocktail.  Made with thick chocolate, fresh bananas and vanilla cream, how could you go wrong?  I love bananas and this drink was pretty much like a milk shake, or rather a chocolate banana milk shake with just a bit of vanilla cream to add some richness and sweetness to the drink.  After perusing through the drink menu, the only thing that appealed to my husband was an ice cold pint of Guinness.

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We all decided to order a couple of pupus (appetizers) for the table.  My brother-in-law and sister-in-law wanted the panko crusted calamari served with tropical cocktail sauce.  Strips of calamari are breaded and deep fried to a nice, crispy golden brown.  The dish looked delicious, though I didn’t try any myself.  My husband and I decided that we’d order the crispy coconut crusted black tiger shrimp.  Served with a spicy lilikoi sauce these shrimp were huge!  They were perfectly butterflied, dredged and deep fried and tasted amazing, especially with the lilikoi sauce which I found to be much more tangy than spicy.  The shrimp was definitely way more tasty than I had thought that they would be and was quite glad I had ordered them.

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One of the things that Duke’s has changed up from when my husband and I visited last year was their policy on their terrific salad bar.  Last year, each entrée that you ordered came with access to the unlimited salad bar which served items like Caesar salad, potato salad, macaroni salad, kale salad, taro buns, dinner rolls, macadamia nut muffins, pasta salad, and much, much more.  This year, while you could still access the unlimited salad bar, there was an additional add-on fee to your entrée order.  The salad bar, however, was one of the main reasons we brought my husband’s family here as he figured that there were enough choices that everyone would enjoy it.  And enjoy it they did.  I think I was the only in the group not to order the salad bar in addition to my entrée, though I was able to steal a bite of my husband’s Caesar salad and I maybe snagged a crouton.

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For my dinner, I ordered the pulehu style filet of beef tenderloin.  I know, I’m in Hawaii, I should be enjoying the fresh seafood.  But honestly, I’m a meat and potatoes kind of girl and I’ll generally choose meat over seafood any day.  And this meal was definitely a meat and potatoes meal.  Beef tenderloin grilled with Hawaiian sea salt, brown sugar, cracked pepper, ginger and garlic and topped with roasted garlic butter was so good.  All these amazing flavors that I love, ginger, garlic, pepper, sugar, how could you go wrong?  The tenderloin was actually much larger than I had anticipated, but the meat was tender and silky and cooked to a nice medium rare with a little char on the outside.  The potatoes were a good and filling accompaniment.  Before I knew it, I had actually cleaned my plate.  I’d say that was a good meal.

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My husband did choose a fish dish, a sautéed macadamia nut and & herb crusted ono which was lightly dusted in parmesan cheese and bread crumbs.  The fish was topped with lemon and capper butter and served with rice pilaf.  I’ll admit that though I like my meat, my husband’s ono looked really good so I stuck my fork in there and stole a bite of his fish.  The macadamia nut with cheese and herb crusting was perfectly.  The breading wasn’t too thick, and the fish was nice and flaky and meaty.  There was a great crunch to the way the breading was sautéed and pan-fried onto the fish.  So each bite was alternately sweet, flaky, hot and a little crunchy and salty from the cheese, it was perfect.  It almost had me wishing that I had ordered the fish instead of the meat, almost.  My husband must have liked his meal as well because by the time I finished my meal, he had finished off his plate as well and he said it was excellent.

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No way we’re leaving Duke’s without dessert.  My husband and I already knew we’d be splitting a slice of Kimo’s original hula pie. In fact, that’s the sole reason, in our opinion, to dine at Duke’s.  The hula pie is really that phenomenal.  A Hawaiian version of what most people would call a mud pie, the hula pie is a chocolate wafer cookie crust with vanilla macadamia nut ice cream topped by a ton of chocolate sauce and more chopped macadamia nuts and whipped cream.  Of course, with a dessert as legendary as the hula pie, the dessert itself is served on its own special hula pie plate!  And the taste is phenomenal.  Personally, I love pies with chocolate cookie crusts.  The vanilla macadamia nut ice cream is simple, but creamy and filled with macadamia nuts.  That doesn’t even count the huge handful of chopped macadamia nuts that is sprinkled over the huge helping of chocolate sauce that’s poured all over the top of this gigantic slice of hula pie.  This dessert is definitely large enough for 2 people to share, if not 4 people.  Bring your appetite, that’s for sure.  But it’s well worth every single calorie.

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Duke’s Waikiki is a laid-back, hang ten kind of restaurant that has a little bit of something to offer for everyone.  With a gorgeous setting right on Waikiki Beach, this is the perfect place to wind down and relax with family.  I think my husband and I made the right decision to bring the rest of his family here to enjoy a quiet and enjoyable family dinner.  I think everyone was ultimately happy with what they ordered to eat, which is not always the easiest thing with a group of people who all enjoy different things.  And of course, my husband and I both got what we wanted, hula pie.  I guess you can kind of tell that the two of us certainly enjoyed the slice we shared.  There’s nothing left of it!

Kona Brewing Company

July 30, 2015

After a day of sightseeing on the northern and eastern side of the Big Island, my husband, myself and my in-laws were finally in need of some sustenance.  Having forgone lunch in lieu of a scoop of ice cream and a couple of smoothies on the scenic highway leading into Hilo, and having driven many miles over Saddle Road to get back to Kona, we needed a nice, relaxing setting where we could just kick back, relax and grub on some good food.  My husband and I knew just the place to take his parents.  It was a restaurant that we visited last year when we were on the Big Island and we had both enjoyed.  And it was food that was sure to be just up my in-law’s alley.

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The Kona Brewing Company with their amazing pizzas and of course, their signature beers, is the perfect ending to a long day of sightseeing.  I knew that my husband and my father-in-law would appreciate the beer, and what goes better with beer than pizza? It’s a winning combination and a little reminder of home, while traveling to a far off place.  As the life long dream of a local father and son team who wanted to bring the spirit of Hawaii and bottle it up in craft brewed beer, they produced their first bottles and kegs in 1995.  After finding success with their creations, they opened their flagship brewery and pub in Kailua-Kona.  The success of Kona Brewing Company beer has gained the company worldwide recognition for the quality and taste of their brews.  When you visit the Kailua-Kona location, you can take a brewery tour to see how their famous beer is brewed and take home some growlers with you.  Or you can come to the pub, enjoy a pint with friends along with the wonderful, complimentary selections of pizza, sandwiches and other favorites.

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My husband wasn’t about to dine at the Kona Brewing Company without having a pint of one of local brews.  Black Sand Porter was his beer of choice.  He had tried the Black Sand Porter last year when we visited the Kona Brewing Company and had really enjoyed its flavor then, so he figured, why mess with a good thing.  We can find some KBC’s other favorites here locally, such as the Big Wave Golden Ale, and the Fire Rock Pale Ale, but the Black Sand Porter is something we’ve not seen locally.  Therefore, you might as well enjoy it while your on the islands..  Described as smooth and dark with strong roasted and chocolate malt flavor and aroma, the full malt flavor of the Black Sand Porter is complemented by Kona Brewing Company’s distinctive blend of hops.  My husband definitely said that he could taste the subtle flavor of the chocolate in the beer and it actually added such a nice rich quality to the beer.

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I chose gingerade for my drink.  The menu described it as Big Island ginger mixed with organic lemon juice to make a powerful and delicious beverage.  The waitress told me that while she loved the drink, it was quite strong and potent.  So she said that she would bring me a small sample of the gingerade so that I could taste it first and if it was ok, then she’d bring me the whole drink.  One little sip of the small sample the waitress brought me and I could see right away why some people might not enjoy this drink. The gingerade is definitely powerful and strong.  Heavily flavored with pungent and potent fresh ginger, the drink clears your sinuses and really hits your tastebuds.  If you are not a fan of ginger, this drink isn’t for you.  Luckily, I love ginger and I really enjoyed the power this drink packed.  I definitely wanted a full glass of it.  The lemon juice tames the potency of the ginger somewhat and adds an acidic tang to the drink, but realistically, this drink is almost like drinking straight up ginger juice.  It was incredibly refreshing and palate cleansing and a completely unique combination of flavors I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced.

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While we waited for our pizzas to bake in the pizza oven, we started our meal with an order of garlic twists.  The twists are actually made from spent-grain, baked and then seasoned with herbs, garlic and parmesan.  They are served hot to the table with a side of marinara.  The twists are light and airy with a great crunch to them.  Depth in a little marinara sauce and they are a great appetizer.  Even though we ordered these twists as well last time my husband and I were at the Kona Brewing Company, what I didn’t realize is that theses twists were made from spent-grain.  Since this is a craft brewing company, and since one of the ideals behind the creation of the company is to “protect the pristine environment,” the restaurant tries to use what it already has available at its disposal, spent-grain.  Spent-grain is the left over malt and adjuncts produced at a brewery after creating their brews.  This spent-grain can account for as much as 85% of the total byproduct of a brewery and since it’s full of nutrients and flavor through the brewing process, it would seem a shame to waste all of it by throwing it out.  Through a process of drying out the grain and running it through a grain mill you can create spent-grain flour which works wonderfully well in bread products and gives second life to the waste from your brewing process.

With 4 of us dining, and some of us with different taste than others, we decided to order three different pizzas.  Like all of the bread products on the pupus (appetizer) menu, all of the pizzas at Kona Brewing Company are also made using their spent-grain flour in their pizza dough recipe.  It’s just another way to make try to limit the amount of waste product created at the brewery by repurposing it to create amazing food at the restaurant.

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My mother-in-law decided to order the Captain Cook pizza made with tomato sauce, mozzarella, parmesan sausage, Canadian bacon, pepperoni, tomatoes, mushrooms and black olives.  Seeing as no one else in the family likes black olives, my mother-in-law was on her own in chowing down on this particular pizza.  My husband thought everything on the pizza sounded great until he got to the black olives, and since there were so many more than he wanted to bother trying to pick off, he decided not to help his mom with any of her pizza.  However, she did a pretty good job on her own with the pizza and almost finished the whole thing off.  She said she really enjoyed the pizza and thought it tasted wonderfully.  I guess I’ll take her word on that.

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We ordered a large Kulana bacon cheeseburger pizza for myself, my husband and my father-in-law to share.  My father-in-law, who’s a bit more of a traditionalist when it comes to pizza, at first wasn’t sure about the idea of bacon cheeseburger toppings on his pizza.  Made with bbq sauce, whole milk mozzarella, Big Island ground beef, Maui onions, chopped bacon and cheddar cheese, the pizza is then topped with shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes and KBC “special sauce.”  I think my father-in-law was quite surprised by how much he actually enjoyed the pizza.  It was really good and tasted just like a bacon cheeseburger.  The ground beef with the sweet Maui onions was terrific, and the special KBC sauce really brought the whole pizza and hamburger concept together.  The only item on the pizza that wasn’t locally grown was the big slices of beefsteak tomato as our waitress told us that the Big Island has trouble keeping up with the demand for large tomatoes and can’t grow enough on the island, so they need to import the beefsteaks from the Mainland.  Otherwise, everything else on the pizza is locally grown and sourced from the islands.  The pizza is fantastic, and incredibly tasty, and was completely finished by the three of us in no time.

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The final pizza we ordered was the Kohala.  We ordered a medium pizza for just myself and my husband to share since neither of his parents were interested in this pizza.  Made with a garlic infused olive oil base, topped mozzarella, gorgonzola, roasted red peppers, fresh spinach, fresh garlic, parmesan sausage and macadamia nuts, this pizza was really tasty.  What I loved was the sharp bite and tang of gorgonzola that was sprinkled throughout the pizza, and yet it wasn’t overpowering at all.  The crunch of the macadamia nuts and the freshness of the spinach all made for a very flavorful and well rounded pizza.  My husband really loved this pizza with all of the different flavors and textures combined into one tasty pizza.  Even though I agreed to order the pizza to split with my husband, I was a bit skeptical about it, especially containing the roasted red peppers.  But, like my husband, I really did enjoy all of the different flavors that all came together so beautifully in this pizza from the macadamia nuts to the fresh spinach and the tangy gorgonzola.

My in-laws and my husband and I all walked out of Kona Brewing Company after dinner that night full and happy.  We all agreed that the pizza was terrific and filling.  My father-in-law liked the bacon cheeseburger pizza much more than he thought that he would.  A good comfort food meal of pizza and beer, what more could you ask for?  Dining outside on the patio, feeling the ocean breeze.  It’s like being in paradise.  Oh wait, we are in paradise.