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Honu Seafood & Pizza

April 4, 2017

After a rather perilous and sometimes harrowing drive on Maui’s “Death Highway” we found ourselves back in Lahaina again.  By now, we’d essentially made a 360 degree traverse of West Maui or Maui’s “head.”  Since we’d been up since 3 am, we were in need of some serious sustenance and since it was just about 1 pm, it was a good time to go and find ourselves some lunch.  Prior to traveling to Maui, my husband and I had already come up with a short list of restaurants and eateries that we were interested in trying if the situation arose and we were in the neighborhood.  This late lunch meal was one of those situations where we were hungry and found ourselves not too far away from one of those restaurants we had on our list.

Honu Seafood & Pizza is located at the end of Front St. in Lahaina.  In fact, it’s the main drag that runs through town and the restaurant sits on the end of Front St. that leads out towards our hotel at Ka’anapali.  Honu Seafood & Pizza is one of the latest in a long string of restaurants that Mark & Judy Ellman have opened together throughout the Hawaiian Islands.  Originally from the Los Angeles area of California, and both having a background in restaurant service and cuisine, the Ellman’s arrived in Maui in the late 1980s and made the island their home.  They, along with many other acclaimed local chefs in the area started a food movement of creating Hawaiian regional cuisine and were featured in a book which concentrated on this food movement along with chefs the likes of Roy Yamaguchi and Sam Choy.  Honu Seafood & Pizza opened its doors in 2010 and considers itself a quintessential seafood eatery featuring fresh, local fare and often organic produce grown on a farm owned by the Ellmans in Lahaina.

From the outside, Honu Seafood & Pizza just looks like another roadside eatery, but once you step inside, you know you’re dining in a tropical paradise.  You could never imagine the view you get from inside the restaurant just by looking at it from the outside.  As you walk inside, you first notice the brightness and lightness of the space.  It it is an incredibly open and airy space that is filled with natural light.  There’s a big bar right beyond the hostess stand with lots of local beer on tap.  But it’s what lies beyond the bar and past the main dining room that really draws your attention.  There is a wide covered patio that opens up completely right onto the beautiful Pacific Ocean.  The waves lap right up against the tiny beachfront that the restaurant occupies.  There was a brief rain shower that had passed by right before we arrived at the restaurant causing the tables and chairs right up against the oceanfront to be a little wet, so the hostess sat us at an outdoor table back one row from the water.  But as no one would be sitting at the waterfront tables, we essentially had a beautiful, unobstructed oceanfront view while we enjoyed our lunch.  You just couldn’t ask for anything better than that.

While we had just enjoyed a cup of homemade passion fruit lemonade during our drive from Julia’s Banana Bread, my husband couldn’t resist ordering a cup of Honu Seafood & Pizza’s lilikoi lemonade.  Again, it was a warm late summer day, and a rain shower had just passed leaving behind some humidity, so what could be more thirst quenching than a cup of lemonade.  Flavor that lemonade with some lilikoi, and my husband is sold.  Like POG, lilikoi, or passion fruit, is just one of those flavors that my husband and I both love and can’t get enough of whenever we visit Hawaii.  It’s the tropical tang and taste of passion fruit that you just can’t find anywhere else.  However, my husband felt that this passion fruit lemonade had more lemon flavor than passion fruit flavor, and while he could taste the passion fruit, it was so subtle.  He would have much preferred a stronger, deeper passion fruit flavor that was stronger than the acidic lemon flavor.

For my drink, I opted to sample the lilikoi no-jito.  That’s right, you guessed it, a no-jito is just a fancy way of calling a virgin mojito., this one flavored again with lilikoi.  I told you, my husband and I really do like the passion fruit flavor.  Like any good mojito, my no-jito certain was filled with muddled mint who’s flavor really did infuse into the drink.  The drink was very fruity and definitely had the passion fruit flavor but also had that mint flavor infused throughout.  The drink was really quite refreshing and satisfying, especially now that the day has gotten quite humid due to the short rain storm.

As we really hadn’t had anything to eat all day, and it had felt like we had been up and at ’em for almost 12 hours already today, we decided that we could order a little more food during lunch to help fuel us through the rest of the day.  For an appetizer, we decided to order the fresh burrata mozzarella.  It’s definitely not a traditional Hawaiian dish, but having fresh burrata just sounded cool, refreshing and delicious.  Served with tomatoes, hazelnut cherry bread, olive oil, 20 year balsamic and sea salt, this was a terrific appetizer.  While hazelnut cherry bread wouldn’t have been my first choice in bread for the burrata, it actually worked really well with this dish.  The tang of the cherry bread actually accentuated the sweetness of the burrata and the acidity of the tomatoes and the balsamic and sea salt.  The bread was still nice and warm and toasty and crunchy, and that was fantastic.  The burrata itself was creamy and smooth.  The whole dish just tasted so fresh.  The combination of the tomatoes with the balsamic vinegar and the sea salt and the olive oil was just so perfect, and it really highlighted the flavors of the burrata.

For lunch, I ordered the grilled fish sandwich served with coleslaw, fries, homemade tartar sauce and Korean aioli sauce for a bit of heat.  The fish for the grilled fish sandwich was munching, which is a terrific flaky, mild white fish.  The fish was grilled to perfection with nice grill marks which added flavor to the sandwich.  The homemade tartar sauce was just terrific and really added flavor to the fish sandwich.  I was pleasantly surprised at the nice size of the fish filet they gave me with the sandwich, so it was perfectly filling and exactly what I was looking for.  These are the flavors that remind me of Hawaii.  The fries were a nice mix of shoestring cut regular potato and sweet potato fries.  They actually went well dipping them into the tartar sauce as well.

My husband ordered the bikini blonde battered fresh ono fish & chips served with coleslaw, tartar sauce and Korean aioli for his lunch meal.  My husband really enjoyed that they served the fish in large battered filets rather than strips as you sometimes see fish & chips served.  The ono was a nice flaky white fish that has some body and held up well to being battered and fried, and yet the flavor of the fish still came through.  The batter was really nice and perfectly fried.  The batter wasn’t too thick and some of the sweetness from the beer came through.  There was a nice even coating of batter, and the batter held up well and didn’t start to fall apart and come off the fish or get too soggy and sop up too much of the oil.  The fried fish had a nice crunch to it and there was so much of it, it was quite filling.  Again, my husband also enjoyed the mix of potato fries and sweet potato fries, and homemade tartar sauce just brought everything together nicely.  This meal really hit the spot.

At the end of our meal, the one thing my husband and I both commented on was how this meal really hit the spot.  Honu Seafood & Pizza was exactly what we were looking for at this exact moment.  The view from our outdoor patio seat watching and listening to the waves lap up against the beach, with the breeze blowing and just some humidity in the air was just so comforting and peaceful – classic Hawaii.  The food was fresh and the flavors were vibrant and delicious.  The drinks were cool and refreshing.  And this was just exactly the meal we needed after the long day we had already had visiting Haleakala National Park and then driving Death Highway.  With this kind of food, this setting and environment, what is there not to love?

 

 

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Julia’s Banana Bread

March 27, 2017

Early the next morning, on our first full day in Maui, we woke up at the crack of dawn… actually, strike that, we were up by 3 am and out of the hotel and on the road for close to 2 hours to get to the top of Haleakala at Haleakala National Park to catch the sunrise.  Once at the summit of Haleakala National Park, we watched what there was of the sunrise (it was foggy!) and spent some time driving through the park and exploring.  By the time we made it back to Kahului, it was still fairly early in the morning and we decided to take a drive around West Maui via Kalehiki Highway.  One of the stops we wanted to make was for a little stand at the “head” of Maui that many proclaimed to have the best banana bread in the world.

When my husband mentioned banana bread to me, I knew we had to go.  Of course, mention banana anything to me and I’m always going to want to be there.  Julia’s Banana Bread is a small little road side stand that you access via Kalehiki Highway, otherwise known as the “Death Highway.”  As we started out the drive, it was gorgeous, until we got past Nakelele Blowhole and then all of a sudden the highway narrowed and started to get a bit treacherous.  When I had read reviews of Julia’s Banana Bread, a few people had suggested that to get to Julia’s it was best to go from Ka’anapali around the head and over to Kahului.  I had planned to drive in this direction anyway, so I never really looked into the reasons for this suggestion any further.  Once I made the drive, I knew exactly why driving in this direction was preferred.  Kalehiki Highway is known as “Death Highway” because there’s a short 6-mile stretch of the highway that essentially is a narrow, one-lane road that switches back and forth around the face of a rock cliff on one side and sheer drop-offs to the ocean on the other side without any guard rails whatsoever.  The edge of the road, if you can even call it a road, was eroded at points and uneven.  But the kicker is that while the road is barely wide enough for one vehicle, this road is a 2-way highway.  So, as you come around blind curves around mountains and then all of a sudden run head-on into oncoming traffic, it’s both disconcerting and scary.  At times, you’re forced to reverse the car until you can find a natural inward curvature to the mountainside and then tuck your vehicle right up against the mountainside while the opposite car squeezes by you with no room to spare whatsoever.  After many switchbacks and a few run ins with other cars, I couldn’t be happier when we finally made it to the little village where Julia’s Banana Bread is located.  I was so grateful to just get out of the car and stretch my legs.  Julia’s Banana Bread is literally a tiny roadside stand in a small farming village.  Julia’s is known for her famous banana bread, but also makes other homemade Hawaiian’ goodies as well.

After parking around the corner we wandered into Julia’s stand where we were greeted and presented with a tray full of samples to taste.  Among the offerings were island dried mangos with Chinese plum seasoning, macadamia shortbread cookies, macadamia nuts with cashews, coconut candy, and of course small chunks of the famous banana bread.  There was also some homemade lilikoi butter to sample as well, which goes great spread on top of slices of banana bread.  We came here for the banana bread, so of course we had to try some of the banana bread so that we knew what we were buying before we walked off with some.

While the banana bread may be the most popular item served up at Julia’s, she does make a few other items as well which are also quite poplar.  Her homemade lilikoi butter is a little tangy and a little sweet and pairs so well with the delicious banana bread.  Julia’s coconut candy is also another popular offering.  While coconut candy can also be found on the Road to Hana is quite popular on the island of Maui, many people say that Julia’s coconut candy is the best there is.

The day was turning out to be a nice, sunny day with very few clouds, warm temperatures and just slightly humid.  As we’d been out and about all day we were thrilled to see Julia’s cooler full of homemade flavored lemonades.  Julia was offering strawberry, POG, passion fruit and pineapple lemonade.  When we saw POG lemonade, my husband and I both wanted to have some, but unfortunately, POG must have been really popular because sadly, Julia was all out of POG lemonade for the day.  For those not familiar with this extremely popular Hawaiian drink, POG stands for passion orange guava, and its a drink that my husband and I are completely in love with and one of the things we most look forward to when traveling to Hawaii.  Since POG wasn’t available, we went with the next best option, which was passion fruit lemonade.  Another classic Hawaiian flavor, and wow, this passion fruit lemonade was stunning.  The flavor was a little tart and tangy and subtly sweet.  You could definitely taste the passion fruit, which was fresh and amazing and you could definitely taste the lemon which was made more tart than sweet, which is exactly how we like lemonade.  This lemonade was refreshing and terrific and absolutely hit the spot!

Finally, the banana bread.  After having tasted the sample bites of banana bread, my husband and I decided to purchase two loaves of banana bread to take with us.  Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Julia’s only sells banana bread in pre-made loaves, you can’t buy slices or small loaves.  But our sample just tasted so amazing that I wanted to have extra banana bread to bring back home to the Mainland with us that we agreed to buy two.  As soon as the loaves were bagged and handed over to us, the first thing my husband noticed was that both loaves were still warm, almost hot, to the touch.  That’s how fresh and hot-out-of-the-oven the banana bread was, and it was amazing to know that we were walking away with a couple of loaves that literally had just been baked fresh.  You couldn’t ask for anything more.  As for the banana bread itself, it was heaven on earth.  The flavor of the banana was the real star of the banana bread.  With every bite of the banana bread, you could taste the natural sweetness of the banana and when it bakes and caramelizes, it releases its sugars and makes the most perfect banana bread.  The one thing you really notice about this banana bread is just how moist it is.  I don’t know what the secret to Julia’s banana bread is, but it is so ultra moist it’s almost like biting into a moist sponge cake rather than a loaf of bread which sometimes can turn dense in a heartbeat.  And just knowing how fresh the banana bread was when we received our loaves, it was almost like you could taste the love baked into each loaf of bread that Julia makes.  Even many days later when I was enjoying slices of banana bread back at home, it was still moist and delicious, just like it tasted that very first day we bought the banana bread.

After having finally returned to our hotel room that afternoon, after traversing the entire length of Kalehiki Highway, I couldn’t quite believe what we had experienced, really, all in the name of trying to find Julia’s Banana Bread.  The passion fruit lemonade was fantastic, and honestly, I wish we had bought another cup of it, and the banana bread was probably the freshest, most flavorful and moistest banana bread I’ve ever had.  However, the experience of getting to Julia’s is one that I’ll never forget, and now that I’ve done it, as good as Julia’s banana bread was, it’s an experience I don’t think I’d ever want to try again.  I can say now that I’ve driven the Death Highway and survived, but really, there’s no reason to push my luck again next time I find myself on Maui.

Lahaina Grill

March 23, 2017

After lunch in Lahaina, we drove on to Ka’anapali where our hotel was located.  After checking in, we decided to explore the nearby area that we could walk to, with a quick jaunt to the beach at Ka’anapali.  A brief afternoon shower had us heading back to our hotel room for a quick afternoon nap and the afternoon spent admiring the gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean and a glimpse of the island of Lanai from our lanai (balcony).  As the sun was getting ready to set for the day, we got back in our rental car to drive back to Lahaina where we enjoyed a beautiful sunset view right along the waterfront at Front St.  With the sun down, it was time to fill our bellies at a restaurant often called Maui’s best, and sometimes referred to as one of Hawaii’s best restaurants.

Just off of Front St. about a half a block is the famous Lahaina Grill.  Well known by locals and visitors alike, Lahaina Grill has been voted as Maui’s best restaurant for a quarter of a century.  What I love is that even though this is considered more of an upscale, high class eatery, this is Hawaii and everything is relaxed and laid back, so there were people dining in a full range of nice dresses and suits to more casual and relaxed jeans, shorts and flip flops.  The main dining room of the restaurant revolves around a large bar that sits near the front of the restaurant with tables situated all around the remaining space in the dining room.  We were seated at a nice window table at the front of the restaurant right near the bar, but with a beautiful view to admire both the restaurant interior as well as doing a little people watching right out the front windows of the restaurant.  Serving local and fresh Maui fare with an emphasis on seafood, the Lahaina Grill was a total gem and standout restaurant selection.

To start off our meal, my husband decided to order the Maui Mule, it’s Lahaina Grill’s version of the famous Moscow Mule.  Made with local Pau vodka, fresh lime, ginger liqueur, ginger beer and crystalized ginger all served in the traditional copper cup.  My husband said that the drink was very refreshing, especially considering how warm and muggy Hawaii can be at times, this was a great refreshing drink.  However, he did say that he wished there was just a bit more ginger flavor and a little less lime, but my husband is a fine of the bite of ginger, so it isn’t surprising that he’d say that.

As a starter, I decided to order a cup of Maui onion soup.  As a big fan of French onion soup, Maui onions are well known for their distinctive sweet taste, so I couldn’t resist ordering a cup of soup made with Maui onions.  The soup was described as sweet Maui onions simmered in a rich beef and chicken stock, sherry and baked with a gruyere and provolone cheese crouton.  The soup was very good, the broth was rich and full of flavor, but not heavy, which was fantastic.  I think it was the combination of using beef stock and chicken stock.  The beef stock is the hearty, beefy full flavor of the broth and the chicken stock keeps it lighter so it’s not so heavy.  The Maui onions are sweet, subtly, so, making the flavor of the soup fantastic.  The tender onion was a perfect pairing for this soup.  And boy, oh boy, the cheesy crouton was amazing.  The crouton was still tender and had soaked up all of the flavors of the broth, and the cheese was perfectly melted and ooey and gooey all over.

My husband decided to order the seared ahi and Hudson Valley foie gras dish for his starter.  Our waitress said that was one of her favorite dishes and promised that my husband would not be disappointed.  The seared ahi and foie gras was served with a fig compote, sautéed spinach, drizzled in truffle oil and poured over with a maui onion demi-glace.  When the dish was brought out to the table, it smelled amazing and looked mouth watering.  And this plate was bigger than any appetizer I’d ever seen.  This easily could have been, and probably should have been an entree dish. I’d never seen an appetizer dish like this before.  Even the seared ahi alone could have been an entree, but add in the Hudson Valley foie gras and it was beyond over-the-top.  One forkful and my husband was in heaven.  The flavors of the seared ahi were unbelievably good and fresh.  The tuna was just seared on the outside and perfectly fresh and raw on the inside.  The foie gras was amazing and was like butter, it just melted in your mouth.  It was such a good combination of foie gras and seared ahi that my husband told me that I needed to try a bite, even though he knows that foie gras isn’t my favorite thing.  I must admit that all of the flavors of the dish just melded together so perfectly it was a combination made in food heaven.  And even the size of the cut of ahi tuna wasn’t a complete surprise, the Lahaina Grill served up the 3 slices of foie gras over the tuna, it was so ultra generous and luxurious.  The Maui onion demi-glace and the sautéed spinach were just amazing.  It was the flavor of the demi-glace that broke up the richness of the combination of the fatty tuna and the ultra fatty foie gras.  And as I mentioned, the aroma of the dish was just beyond amazing.  My husband says this is the best foie gras dish he’s ever had tasted.

How could dinner get any better when we started off with some amazing appetizers?  For my dinner, I ordered the seared lion paw scallops served with celery-potato root mash , roasted sweet corn relish, sweet pancetta chips, truffle oil and lobster champagne beurre blanc.  This was seriously the best scallop dish I’ve ever tasted.  The scallops were huge, and perfectly cooked.  Tender and sweet, they were just perfect.  The roasted corn relish with the crisp pancetta was perfect.  Roasting the corn gave it another level of flavor and that slight bit of char just added to the dish.  The pancetta added the right amount of saltiness to the dish, and the celery root puree was smooth and creamy and just soaked up all of the flavor of the relish and the rich beurre blanc.  The roasted asparagus was icing on the cake, so to speak and added a brightness to the dish.  But the real star was the scallops and how incredible their flavor was, and how tender.  Who would have thought that three scallops could make an entree, but these had to be the biggest scallops I’ve ever seen.  What a perfect dish.

After a recommendation from the valet at our hotel, as well as the recommendation from our waitress that this was the dish that the Lahaina Grill was most well known for, my husband ordered the Opakapaka.  Opakapaka is Hawaiian pink snapper that is locally caught and served fresh daily.  In fact, as the signature fish served at the Lahaina Grill, the opakapaka is served each day as the house special with different sauces and accompaniments based on what’s fresh and local in the market and seasonal for the island.  The night we dined, the opakapaka was served with an Asiago-panko crust over creamy truffle risotto, alongside grilled shrimp and a wild mushroom champagne beurre blanc.  My husband loved the opakapaka, it was really light and mixed in flavor which allowed it to soak up all of the flavor of the wild mushroom beurre blanc and the truffle from the risotto.  The pank0-Asiago crust was perfectly cooked with a light crunch and stayed on the fish really well.  The creamy truffle risotto was rich and ultra luxurious.  First my husband has ahi tuna and foie gras and then finishes it with truffle, how much more top shelf can he get?  Between the size of his appetizer dish and the heartiness of the large file of fish and creamy truffle risotto, my husband was stuffed to the gills.

By the time we were done with dinner, amazingly, we were both stuffed to the gills.  After the size of his appetizer, followed by the incredible entree, my husband was so full he didn’t think he could eat another bite.  Surprisingly, I was just as stuffed.  However, we’re on vacation, and how could we not order dessert?  Besides, when we told the valet at our hotel that we were dining at the Lahaina Grill, he actually gave us a coupon for a free dessert, so we couldn’t actually say no to dessert.  After perusing through the dessert menu, we decided to split the Kauai pie.  Made with a chocolate shortbread cookie crust stuffed with a Kona coffee ice cream filling, the pie was layered with chocolate fudge and topped with coconut flakes and macadamia nuts.  Ok, so I know I said I was stuffed, but when the Kauai Pie was brought to the table and it looked like this, I suddenly found myself hungry for some dessert.  You just can’t resist an ice cream pie that looks like this and tastes just as amazing.  With this being an ice cream pie, it was actually quite light and therefore, was so much easier for my husband and I to enjoy.  The taste combination of the macadamia nuts and coconuts and the Kona coffee ice cream was really terrific.  The macadamia nuts gave the ice cream terrific texture and crunch, and the coconut flakes added a really tropical flavor.  The Kona coffee ice cream had a terrific coffee flavor that wasn’t too strong in the pie.  The chocolate shortbread cookie crust was fantastic and a classic Hawaiian flavor.  Finally, finishing it off with the chocolate shavings atop the slice of pie provided a perfect sweet ending.

From the first bite of each of our starters, my husband and I knew we had found a winner of a restaurant.  There’s no doubt that the reputation that Lahaina Grill has is well deserved.  It’s not easy to be a top restaurant year after year after year, but if Lahaina Grill continues to churn out the flavors, the freshness and the quality of the products it delivered to our table when we dined there, it will continue to be Maui, and Hawaii’s best restaurant for decades to come.  Our meal at Lahaina Grill was like taking in all of the flavors that make Maui so special and make Hawaiian cuisine so unique and special.  This is one restaurant I would not hesitate to recommend to anyone on a trip to Hawaii, and one that my husband and I will definitely go back to next time we find ourselves in Maui.

Star Noodle

March 14, 2017

On a spur-of-the-moment decision, my husband and I decided to buy plane tickets to spend a long holiday weekend in Maui.  One morning at work, my husband texted me and told me that roundtrip tickets to Hawaii were on sale at a price you just can’t refuse.  Not more than 15 minutes later, we were on the phone and purchasing the tickets.  This trip we never planned to go on, but just couldn’t say no to.  So, next thing I know, we had a 4-day, 3-night trip to Maui booked and paid for.  In a crazy twist of fate, this would be the third consecutive year in which we would be flying to Hawaii for vacation, though our first trip to Maui.  We decided to stay in a hotel along Ka’anapali Beach so after landing at Kahului Airport, we picked up our rental car and were driving down the highway.  Since we departed Los Angeles early on a Saturday morning, with the difference in time zones, we arrived in Maui just before noon.  This was the perfect time for us to stop off in Lahaina on our way to our hotel to grab lunch before we settled in.

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We had made lunch reservations at an extremely popular restaurant just outside of the main area of Lahaina at a restaurant called Star Noodle.  Featuring small shared plates and specializing in homemade Asian noodles and flavors, this popular Maui restaurant has gained so much popularity that there’s always a line forming each morning when the restaurant opens.  Our waiter told us that one of the things that made Star Noodle’s food so amazing is that the owner of the restaurant also runs a large daily luau operation in Lahaina as well as another large restaurant and making fresh noodles daily as a supplier for other restaurants, these are resources that Star Noodle can draw upon to bring in only the best and freshest daily ingredients that are used exclusively for this restaurant, which was opened as an after thought when guests suggested that instead of making noodles for other restaurants, they start serving at their own restaurants.  Located at the top of a hill in an industrial business park, the indoor dining area of Star Noodle is light, bright, airy and decorated in rich wood tones and bamboo accents.  The dining room features an open bar with bar seating and both small and large tables that never seem to be empty.

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After flying in from Los Angeles, and driving from the airport in Kahului to the restaurant in Lahaina, my husband and I were ready for something refreshing to drink.  We both decided to order the watermelon soda made from fresh watermelon combined with fresh pressed lemonade.  The presentation of the drink was gorgeous and looked almost like a pink lemonade with just a hint of the reddish watermelon pulp mixed with tart, tangy fresh lemonade.  The drink was quite refreshing and cool with the flavor of watermelon prominent through the drink.  The drink tasted fresh, like it was just made fresh that day and mixed together by the bartender once ordered.  The flavor of lemonade was light, and though prevalent through the drink, it was second fiddle to the watermelon juice, which created a beautiful combination of sweet watermelon juice combined with just a hint of a tangy lemonade mixer.  Refreshing is definitely the word to describe this drink.

Our waiter had told us that all of the items on the menu were meant to be shared family style, or more like tapas style.  His suggestion was that one bowl of noodles would be good for two people and 3-4 other small shared plates would make a good meal.  So after perusing through the menu and taking into account a couple of the suggestions that he made for us, we were ready to order.

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We started off with the Pohole salad.  We were told that this was a unique salad only found here on Maui and a Maui speciality that was so traditional that you rarely found it on any restaurant menu anymore.  With that kind of a description, we couldn’t resist ordering the Pohole salad, if only to enjoy an authentic Hawaiian dish.  The salad is made with Hana fiddle head fern, Maui onion, Ebi and Kombu.  The salad had a flavor and texture unlike anything I had ever tasted before, it was unique and different, but packed full of flavor and quite delicious.  The fiddle head fern from the Hana region of Maui was delicious.  The ferns were somewhat reminiscent of asparagus with the same crunch and body, which allowed it to take in the flavor of the dressing, but without going limp.  If you’ve never had Maui onions, you’re missing out as these sweet onions are unique and have a flavor all of their own.  The crunch of the Maui onion is fantastic, but with a sweet flavor you wouldn’t expect.  Combine all of that with some acidic cherry tomatoes, Kombu, which is an edible kelp which provides a natural saltiness to the salad without having to add salt to the salad, and the unique flavor of Ebi which is dry roasted small prawns, the salad had a unique flavor all its own.  The ingredients gave the salad a mainly sweet flavor, one I didn’t expect, with just a touch of saltiness and the briny flavor of the ocean that could only come from the Ebi and the Kombu.  This is definitely a salad you need to taste.

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My selection for a small plate was the scallop shot.  Made with grilled scallops attached to a wooden skewer, the scallops are placed into a small tea cup filled with wafu dashi, scallion, lemon and extra virgin olive oil with a little dollop of fresh grated ginger placed right atop the scallop.  The idea is to use the skewered scallop as a stirrer to mix the grated ginger into the warm “broth” in the tea cup and distribute the flavor, then pop the scallop into your mouth and chase it down by drinking the broth in the tea cup.  I loved the uniqueness and creativity of the dish.  The scallops were perfectly grilled with a nice sear on the outside.  The flavor of the broth really soaks up into the scallop giving it a unique taste that combines with the natural sweetness of the scallops.  The broth though is really what makes this dish unique.  The flavor of the broth is rich and strong with a pronounced flavor of ginger.  My husband and I both love ginger, so we loved the bite of it in the broth.  The combination of the dashi and the scallion with just the hint of lemon combined with the extra virgin olive oil created a warm, rich, tangy and acidic broth with a bite of ginger that was warm and unique.  This was a one-bite dish that was so much more than just one bite.

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Our next small bite was the yakitori.  Made by grilling cubed chicken that has been skewered, it is then served with teriyaki glaze, and topped by diced scallions and sesame seeds, yakitori is a very common Japanese dish.  The chicken was tender and moist and the teriyaki glaze was quite flavorful.  This yakitori dish was the epitome of a small plate, a two-bit chicken skewer that was perfect to share with my husband.  There was nothing particularly spectacular and earth shattering about the dish, other than it was very well done.  But when you order yakitori, you know exactly what you’re getting, and that’s exactly what we got.

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For our one noodle dish, we decided to order the garlic noodles made with fresh and fried garlic, garlic oil, dashi and scallion.  Simple with very few ingredients, we thought that this would really show off the flavors of the noodles and the garlic.  Besides, my husband and I are both a love of garlic, and our motto is, the more garlic the better.  I see why they tell you to just order one noodle dish between two people because the noodle dishes are bigger than the small plates, and like any other starchy dish, the noodles are quite filling.  And as described, this noodle dish was quite simple with so few ingredients that it really showed off the noodles themselves as they were the star.  First off, we could definitely taste the garlic flavor and it was fantastic.  Using a combination of fresh and fried garlic was perfect, the fried garlic was crispy and gave some varying texture to the noodles themselves.  But it was really the garlic oil which permeated and clung over all of the noodles that really added the garlic flavor to the dish.  The diced scallions added the subtle tang of onion to cut through the rich garlic flavor.  The noodles themselves were fantastic, they tasted fresh and homemade.  They were perfectly boiled and weren’t limp so they really soaked up the garlic oil.  This was just a fresh and delicious dish.

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Our final dish at lunch was chosen by my husband.  Originally, I wasn’t keen to order the dish at all and my husband was really interested in it.  What made the decision for us was when our waiter said that this dish was Star Noodle’s best and most popular dish.  It is a dish they make once a day using the supplies that they have, and once it’s gone, it’s gone, so if you don’t get your hands on it, you may not get a chance.  The ahi avo is made using fresh sushi-grade ahi tuna mixed with lemon pressed olive oil, sambal and usukuchi.  Our waiter told us that since Star Noodle’s parent company owns so many different restaurants and catering services throughout the island they can fly in fresh fish each morning from Honolulu at the tuna auctions.  For this ahi avocado dish, they take the best cut of ahi tuna possible with absolutely no fat striations whatsoever and they use that cut for the ahi avo dish.  He assured us that we’d never taste a more perfect piece of ahi tuna in our lives.  With that kind of description, how could we not order this dish?  Originally, for me, the reason I wasn’t interested in order the ahi avo was because it was made with sambal, which I find to just be too spicy for me, but the waiter said that the dish wasn’t really that spicy at all.  In fact, when the dish was delivered to the table, they also gave us extra bottles of sambal and usukuchi in case we wanted to add more of either to flavor the dish to our liking.  The cubed pieces of ahi tuna in the dish were amazing, just as the waiter had told us it would be.  The fish was so incredibly fresh and I’d never tasted a better piece of fish in my life.  Just as promised, the fish had absolutely no striations in it whatsoever, and these were nice meaty chunks of fish, not small cubes.  The combination of the fatty, delicious fish with the tender, creamy avocado was perfect.  The “sauce” created from the sambal and the usukuchi was terrific and wasn’t spicy at all.  The usukuchi added the nice bit of saltiness the dish needed to cut through the fatty fish and the creamy, cool avocado.  This was an absolutely fantastic dish and my husband and I couldn’t help rave over this dish.  This dish is a must order.

Star Noodle was a star restaurant choice for our first meal in Maui.  The vibe and atmosphere of the restaurant was open, airy, bright and comfortable and laid back and relaxed, reflecting perfectly the temperament of the island itself.  But the real star of the restaurant is the food.  The small plates are perfect for sharing and allow you to order a wider variety of foods.  Many of the dishes offered feature ingredients that are local and fresh and you can taste the freshness in the food itself.  Highlight ingredients such as fresh ahi tuna, Hana fiddle head ferns, Maui onions and many other ingredients, many of the dishes at Star Noodle are a reflection of this beautiful island of Maui.  And the ahi avo, the star of our lunch at Star Noodle was just beyond amazing.  Anyone would be silly to turn down the quality of the ahi tuna and the freshness of it, you’ll never have fresher, more higher quality fish.  If you like Asian fusion cuisine, fresh noodles and small shareable plates, then Star Noodle should find its way onto your must eat list when visiting Maui.

 

Sushi Noguchi

March 8, 2017

Last fall, when it was time for my quarterly get together with my high school girlfriends, one of my friends made a suggestion for a sushi restaurant located in our neighborhood.  Apparently, this restaurant was named in our local county newspaper as the best sushi restaurant in Orange County by the resident restaurant critic.  That’s high praise for Yorba Linda where eateries are few and far between, and those that do exist are generally chain restaurants.  After hearing the news that we may have this amazing sushi restaurant, Japanese food restaurant in our own backyard, we all agreed to meet there for dinner and give the restaurant our own stamp of approval.

Sushi Noguchi, located in an unassuming strip mall in Yorba Linda, is the life’s dream of Hiro and June Noguchi who opened up the restaurant and sushi bar in this location more than 6 years ago.  Serving high-end, high quality fresh fish, and an eclectic Japanese menu that reaches beyond sushi, the restaurant’s reputation has continued to grow.  Beautifully decorated in a minimalistic style with bright lights and clean lines, the open and airy dining area is anchored by a large and inviting sushi bar situated right in the middle of the restaurant.  Most known for their omakase menu, they actually offer two different omakase menus, one designed and chosen by Hiro Noguchi, the head sushi chef, and the other is a smaller fusion style omakase chosen by Hiro’s wife June.

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After looking over the menu, one of my friends decided to order June’s omakase menu option, while my other friend and I each decided to order a la carte items off the menu.  While I originally had planned to sample some of the sushi, I found so many amazing and varied options on the menu that I didn’t want to pass up that ultimately, I skipped the sushi for some more traditional Japanese food instead.  My starter was the agedashi tofu.  Agedashi tofu is cubes of tofu that are deep fried and served in a tempura sauce topped with green onions and nori.  Light and crispy, the tofu cubes are delicious.  Tofu itself generally doesn’t have much flavor of its own, so serving it with the tempura sauce allows the tempura sauce to soak into the tofu and infuse it with its light soy flavor.  The green onions and nori add flavor as well, the slight bite of the green onion and the saltiness of the nori balance out the sweetness of the tempura sauce as well as adding texture to the dish.  It’s amazing how filling these small tofu cubes can be.  This was a light, and vibrant starter dish and one that I enjoyed very much.

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For my next course, I couldn’t pass up ordering the grilled yellowtail collar.  I’ve had grilled yellowtail cheeks at other Japanese restaurants and have always enjoyed the very delicate, and sweet flavor of the meet in the collar of the fish.  Yellowtail is quite a delicate fish to begin with, grilling the collar brings out some of the sweetness of the meat and adds a beautiful char flavor.  It’s also amazing just how much meat is in the cheeks of the fish.  This is like an entree in and of itself rather than a small appetizer dish.  The beautiful grill marks bring out the wonderful natural flavors of the fish, it’s delicate flaky white meat carrying with it a sweet and tender flavor that’s easy to enjoy – or rather devour.  These grilled yellowtail collars were considerably larger than any other yellowtail collars I’ve ever seen before and I was pleasantly surprised.  Even with all this meat on the collar, it was still just as delicious and flavorful as I remember yellowtail collars being.  There’s a reason I can’t say no when yellowtail collars are on the menu.

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Finally, my other friend who didn’t order the omakase meal and I both opted to order the USDA prime beef tataki.  Made with USDA prime skirt steak which is seared, it’s served thinly sliced and topped with thin sliced red onion, finely diced tomatoes and finely julienned green onions with a special house ponzu sauce.  There’s also a small baby spinach salad served on the side also dressed with this special house ponzu sauce.  The beef tataki was perfectly cooked, seared on the outside, and a nice medium rare on the inside.  The grill flavor of the beef was prominent, but the inside was tender, flavorful and juicy.  The special house ponzu sauce was the perfect complement with a little bit of a citrus tang and bite, but also mixed in with some sweetness, so it was both tangy and sweet and cut through the richness of the beef.  The bite of the thin sliced red onions and the acidity of the tomatoes also combined to create a great combination of tangy, acidic, sweet and sour in one bite.  The nice side spinach salad was a terrific addition for something vibrant and bright, but with that same wonderful special house ponzu sauce that added the tanginess needed to cut through the spinach.  This was quite a filling meal, and since I didn’t realize that the grilled yellowtail collar would be as filling as it was, I was having a tough time finishing off my beef tataki entree.

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While we were all quite full from our individual meals, my friends and I decided we couldn’t pass up taking a peek at the dessert menu.  Ultimately, we decided to split a dessert between the three of us.  Our choice was the mille crepe, which June, the owner, who was also our waitress that night, explained to us was made daily by two chefs working together, one makes 25 crepes and layers one on top of the other, while the other chef spreads a thin layer of sweet cream on to of each layer of crepe before the next freshly made crepe is layered on top.  What you end up with is essentially a round, 25-layered cake that you cut out cake slices when a guest places an order.  The serving plate is prepared with a drizzle of homemade reduction of balsamic vinegar, honey and red wine.  The mille crepe is slotted atop this balsamic reduction and then the crepe cake is topped with some whipped cream.  The end result is a gorgeous slice of what looks exactly like an airy sponge cake, but is actually a very delicately constructed crepe cake made with 25 layers.  It’s like a work of art that you’re about to destroy by devouring it.  And it tastes just as delicate and fantastic as it looks.  When you take a forkful, you can taste each individual layer of crepe and sweet creme.  The cake is so delicate and delicious and surprisingly, not too sweet at all.  It’s amazing to think about how it was created.  But that homemade reduction of balsamic, honey and red wine is amazing, it was part sweet, part tangy all completely delicious.  The combination of the mille crepe and the balsamic reduction was heavenly, and though all three of us were full, we couldn’t get enough of this delicious dessert.  It’s almost worth coming to Sushi Noguchi just for a taste of this mille crepe.

My friends and I all enjoyed our meal at Sushi Noguchi.  Although one of my friends and I never tried any of the fresh sushi, it was clearly the most popular items on the menu amongst all the other diners in the restaurant.  My one friend who ordered June’s omakase really liked the selection of various sushi dishes brought to the table – there was a wide variety of different types of sushi and various kinds of fish being served.  Regardless, we all enjoyed our meals, whether traditional sushi or other types of Japanese cuisine.  The service we received from June herself was fantastic and everyone else at the restaurant was friendly and attentive.  The atmosphere was warm and inviting and was a perfect location for my friends and I to sit down and catch each other up on our lives after having not seen each other for a few months.  It was clear to see, all the way through our dessert course, why Sushi Noguchi has received such a terrific reputation for food, as they put care and thought and creativity into each and every dish that they present.  I came home and raved to my husband immediately about Sushi Noguchi.  You can bet that one day soon, I’m going to take him to dine here.

Poke Me

February 28, 2017

During the spring of 2014, my husband and I took our first trip to Hawaii together.  During that trip, we heard of poke for the first time.  On the Big Island, there was a restaurant, really a little storefront, located within the confines of a small hotel in Kailua-Kona that specialized in serving all different types of poke and was consistently ranked as the #1 restaurant on the island.  While we never had a chance to try out this restaurant ourselves, we certainly noticed that poke was on the menu of so many different restaurants we did dine at.  So of course, during that same trip, we got our first taste of poke and we both fell in love.  Fast forward a year, we started to notice that poke had made its way from Hawaii as an island specialty all the way to the Mainland.  Poke started showing up on more and more restaurant menus in Southern California, especially restaurants along the coastline.  Then, poke shops starting popping up all over the place and the poke craze had really hit all over Southern California.  Locally in our neighborhood near Westwood, a very popular poke shop arrived on to the scene and my husband and I decided to head over to try it out for ourselves.

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Poke Me is a small storefront located on Westwood Blvd. that is set up much like you’d see at Chipotle where guests have the ability to choose the ingredients and sauces that make up their individual poke bowls every step up the way.  As one of two locations, with a second store being in Los Angeles’ Miracle Mile, Poke Me is quite popular as a quick, delicious and easy grab-and-go lunch and dinner store.  For those who aren’t sure what poke, pronounced “po-kay”, is, it’s quite simply a raw fish salad.  Created in Hawaii, it originally started out as an appetizer dish, but can often be found these days in bigger portions and served as an entrée.  Quite literally meaning “section” or “to slice or cut” the word poke is actually a Hawaiian verb.  As the popularity of poke has grown, more and more tourists visiting the Hawaiian islands have had an opportunity to enjoy poke and have come home to the Mainland singing its praises.  Therefore, it’s no surprise that this so-called poke craze has finally reached Southern California as well.

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When you walk into Poke Me you’re met by a glass-fronted display case where all of the various raw fish cuts, toppings and sauces are displayed for you to pick and choose from.  On the wall behind the counter are several chalkboards that walk you through the process of how creating your own customized poke bowl works.  Follow the instructions on the board, choose the ingredients laid out before you, and boom, you have your very own individualized poke bowl.  The first step in the process is to choose whether or not you want a small, medium or large bowl.  And believe me, the sizes are quite generous.  The next decisions to make are to choose the base, choose a side, make a choice on protein, select the mix-in, select the sauce and then choose the toppings.  After these simple steps, your poke bowl is done and ready to be enjoyed.

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When my husband and I visited Poke Me, we both decided to choose a medium bowl to start with.  The next step is to choose a base.  The options are: white rice, brown rice, half & half, mixed salad and organic baby kale.  For my bowl, I chose the half and half, with half being steamed white rice and the other half being mixed salad.  Surprisingly, my husband actually chose the same base for his poke bowl as well.  It seemed the best of both worlds, half a salad and half a rice bowl.  After the base, the next decision is on the side.  The side options include:  seaweed salad, edamame, avocado, crab meat and spicy crab meat.  We each get two choices for sides.  I chose avocado and crab meat for my sides, my husband chose crab meat and seaweed salad.  It’s time to make a choice on protein.  For a small bowl, you get 2 scoops of the protein of your choice, for a medium bowl it’s 3 scoops and for a large bowl, it’s 4 scoops.  For my 3 scoops, I chose 2 scoops of yellowtail and 1 scoop of tuna.  My husband took two scoops of albacore and 1 scoop of yellowtail.  It’s nice that you can mix and match the protein choices to vary the flavors.  The protein options were: tuna, salmon, yellowtail, albacore, shrimp, scallop, octopus, spicy tuna, spicy albacore and tofu.  Lots of different options and lots of different flavors.

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Time to add the mix-ins.  Mix-in options include white onion, cucumber, cilantro, pineapple and masago.  The mix-ins, sauces and toppings are unlimited, so you can get as much or as little as you want.  For my mix-in, I chose white onion, cilantro and cucumber.  My husband’s mix-in choices included white onion, cilantro and pineapple.  Next up were sauces.  For sauce options, we could add sesame shoyu (spicy or mild), ponzu (spicy or mild), sweet ponzu, yuzu ponzu, yuzu wasabi, spicy chili, spicy mayo, truffle ponzu, and gochujang.  That’s a wide variety of sauce selections from salty to sweet, to tangy to spicy.  For my bowl, I chose the yuzu ponzu sauce.  For my husband he chose the sesame shoyu.  The last decision to make was to choose toppings for our bowls.  The topping choices included:  masago, green onion, jalapeño, ginger, crispy onion, bonito flake, corn, wasabi, roasted garlic, tamago, kizami nori, sea salt and tobiko.  For my bowl, I chose toppings of bonito, green onion, roasted garlic and sesame seeds.  For my husband’s bowl, he chose the toppings of green onion, sesame seeds, and roasted garlic.

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After everything is put together, a medium poke bowl is actually quite large.  Here is my bowl of half steamed white rice, half mixed green salad with a side of crab meat and avocado, topped with yellowtail and tuna mixed with white onion, cilantro and cucumber and yuzu ponzu sauce and finally topped with green ions, roasted garlic, sesame seeds and bonito flakes.  The fish for the poke was really tender and fresh and the ability to make a poke bowl using all of the ingredients of your own choices was really appealing.  Having a bowl made up of half salad and half white rice was like having the best of both worlds with the salad seemingly a healthier and lighter option than the rice.  But, honestly, I actually liked the white rice better.  I loved how all of the flavors blended together with the rice and mixed in adding their fresh and bright flavors to the rice.  The creamy avocado that I chose as a side was a perfect complement to the rich fish of the poke bowl.  The avocado really cuts through the fat and its creamy flavor helps to bring together all of the toppings.  The yuzu ponzu sauce was a little tangy and a little sour, which again was a good complement to the rich, fatty fish.  And of course, all of the flavors of the entire poke bowl were just perfect, of course, that is because I chose all of the flavors.  What I love is that the combinations are limitless.

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When I first learned about Poke Me and invited my husband to go and check it out, he was a bit more skeptical about how good a local poke shop could be.  He’s loved the poke we’ve enjoyed on our various trips to Hawaii, and he was concerned that getting local poke would ruin the experience of the memories of our Hawaiian poke.  But again, the idea of being able to make your own concoction with the flavors and ingredients of your choice convinced my husband to give Poke Me a try.  My husband’s medium poke bowl consisted of half white rice, half mixed salad with a side seaweed salad and crabmeat .  His fish choices were albacore and yellowtail mixed in with white onion, pineapple and cilantro, a sauce of sesame shoyu and topped with green onion, sesame seeds and roasted garlic.  After a few bites into his poke bowl, my husband was sold.  He enjoyed the freshness and tastiness of the fish.  He really thought that the pineapple that he added as a mix in really brought out the vibrant flavors of the fish and brought all of the toppings in and complemented everything really well.  It was a little sweet, a little sour and just the right touch for his taste.  He was really happy with the sesame shoyu sauce that he chose as it added a bit of nuttiness and sweetness to the poke.  He said he could have done without the crabmeat side, but he did like the seaweed salad side.  The white onions in the poke bowl added a bit of crunch and bite, and the sesame seeds reinforced the great nutty flavor of the sesame shoyu.  My husband was a fan of the make-your-own-poke-bowl idea and immediately suggested that we put this on our list of places we go back to in the future, especially since it’s literally in our own backyard.

After our first experience enjoying poke in Hawaii, my husband and I were hooked.  When good quality, delicious poke arrived in Southern California, we knew we were in for a treat.  No longer did we have to travel all the way to Hawaii just to get a fresh, and delicious bowl of this raw fish salad.  Add to the mix an operation such as Poke Me which essentially allows you to make-your-own-poke-bowl and it’s a win-win.  Choose your base, choose a side, choose your protein, mix-ins, sauces and toppings and you have the most amazing poke bowl, all made with flavors and sauces of your own choosing so you control what goes into your poke bowl and you control the flavor.  The fish was fresh and delicious and tasted amazing, add in the toppings and the sauces and the flavor profile was just fantastic.  While poke in Southern California isn’t quite like having poke in Hawaii, it’s certainly the next best thing without having to take a 5 hour plane ride.  This will certainly do for now until I can get back to Hawaii again.

Milo & Olive – Lunch

February 23, 2017

Not too long ago, we dined at Milo & Olive in Santa Monica for breakfast prior to heading to the airport for a quick weekend trip out of town.  We loved the food and the atmosphere and knew we needed to go back again in the future.  While breakfast was fantastic, they are also known for their lunch and dinner service, especially dishes made using their wood burning oven.  If we thought that the breakfast pizza was fantastic, their savory lunch and dinner pizzas are supposed to be just as good, if not better.  So, one Saturday morning, we opted to head out to Santa Monica in the late morning hour to see if we could grab a seat at the restaurant right at the beginning of lunch service.

Milo & Olive is always busy, no matter what time of morning, day or night you go.  As the seating is first come, first serve, it’s important to time your visit just right, or else you may be waiting for a while to get a seat.  Luckily, my husband and I arrived at Milo & Olive right at the end of breakfast service and the beginning of breakfast service.  The breakfast crowd was just leaving and the lunch crowd hadn’t yet arrived, so there were a few empty seats.  At the end of the counter separating the dining area from the open kitchen there were a couple of open seats, and the host asked if we would want to take counter seats.  We later discovered that these counter seats were, for us, the only seats we’d ever want when we come to Milo & Olive.  The seats are comfortable and provide you enough room and privacy, but you also get a front row seat to all the action in the kitchen.  You can watch all the different cooks at all the different stations preparing all the of the dishes as the orders come in.  Sitting right at the end of the counter, we were situated right in front of where the head chef for the day was stationed, so we were able to watch as she put the finishing touches on each and every single dish that was sent out to guests and as she controlled the ebb and flow of all the other sous chefs in the kitchen.  It was fascinating and entertaining.

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If you read this blog, then you know that I’m a huge fan of lattes.  Since we arrived in the late morning, I decided to order an iced vanilla latte to drink.  It was warm enough outside to justify an iced coffee drink, and late enough in the day that I didn’t want a hot vanilla latte.  This gorgeous drink was as tasty as it was pretty.  A shot of espresso over milk with some vanilla syrup in a glass full of ice, the perfect iced vanilla latte.  On a warm summer day, this drink was the perfect drink for a brunch or early lunch meal.

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We decided to start our meal with a bowl of soup to share.  Really, it was me who wanted the soup and my husband who said to order it as he’d share some with me.  However, in the end, I think he had one spoonful and I actually ate the whole bowl of soup on my own, but that was fine by me as it was absolutely delicious.  The soup was a Dwelley Farms sweet corn bisque finished off with basil oil and rustic croutons.  The sweet corn was so smooth and creamy with a brilliant corn flavor.  It just tasted fresh, like the corn just came from the farm.  The basil oil as a finisher was a terrific combination, the bright herbaceous flavor of the basil combined with the corn bisque.  At first I wasn’t quite sure about the basil as basil and corn don’t seem to be a winning combination, but it just worked in this case.  The flavors were complimentary and the basil helped to enhance the sweetness of the corn.  The rustic croutons were fabulous and added the crunch and crispiness that the soup needed with its smooth, creamy texture.  This corn soup has to rank as one of the best corn soups I’ve ever tasted.

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One of Milo & Olive’s specialties is the garlic knot.  This is the one item I really wanted to try the first time we came to Milo & Olive but wasn’t able to because we were there for breakfast, and the garlic knot isn’t served until after 11 am when the lunch menu becomes available.  The garlic knot is made in the wood burning oven and it’s cooked to order.  The fresh dough is stuffed with a handful of whole garlic cloves marinated in olive oil.  The dough is tied with some twine to form a bag of sorts and then baked in the wood burning oven.  When the dough is fully baked, it is transferred into a bowl with a little bit of extra virgin olive oil and topped with sea salt and then presented at the table.  When you crack open the knot, the hot aroma of roasted garlic cloves hits your nose.  The bread itself is amazing and tastes fabulous.  Golden brown and crunchy on the outside and yeasty on the inside, take a pinch of bread with a clove of garlic and this dish is magic.  For anyone who loves garlic, and my husband and I count in that crowd, this garlic knot is a “must”.img_6920

Again, since this is Milo & Olive, we had to take advantage of the wood burning oven to order a pizza.  This time, we opted for the roasted potato pizza topped with rosemary cream, caramelized onions and parmesan cheese.  We then had the pizza topped with prosciutto, which was just heavenly.  First off, you don’t even need to top the pizza off with any sort of meat or protein as the roasted potato pizza on its own would have been decadent and filling enough.  But, by adding the prosciutto, we added that slight hint of saltiness from the dry cured meat that just took the pizza to a whole new level of perfection.  The rosemary cream sauce for the pizza was delicious, it kept the pizza from tasting dry, and the woodsy flavor of the rosemary really shined through.  The caramelized onions and the roasted potatoes were plentiful, and also evenly spread out throughout the pizza so that with every bite you got a little taste of the onions and the potatoes.  I loved that the potatoes were tender and full of starchy flavor of their own, that combined well with the sweetness that caramelizing the onions brings out.  Top that with the salty prosciutto and you’ve got sweet, salty, savory and creamy all in one perfect pizza.  And you can’t discount the amazing dough and what the wood burning oven does to the dish.  The dough came out perfectly baked with golden brown and crispy edges that just spelled pizza perfection.

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Finally, also from the wood burning oven, we ordered the whole branzino.  And when they say whole, they really do mean whole.  Gutted and seasoned, the whole branding goes into the wood burning oven to roast until the meat is cooked and fork tender, but the outside skin is nice and crispy and a warm oven roasted brown.  The fish is served over a sautéed mixture of grains, caramelized fennel and then topped with fresh herbs and served with a couple of lemon wedges.  Squeeze the lemon wedges all over the branzino and dig in.  The first thing I notice is how crispy the skin is and how tasty and sweet the meat of the branzino was.  And as advertised this was a whole branzino, and we’re not talking about a small little fish, this was an extremely large fish that was just slightly bigger than this huge 10″ round dinner plate it was served on.  It was so large that when we couldn’t finish the fish for lunch, it was packed up in a pizza box for us to take home.  The meat was so incredibly fork tender and so amazingly delicious.  You could definitely taste the smoky flavor that only comes from the wood burning oven.  The contrast of the sweet and tender white fish and the crisp and crunchy skin was just magical.  And while the grains and caramelized fennel salad that it sat atop was a terrific complement to the fish, it was also completely unnecessary because all I cared about was the fish.  This may be my favorite branzino dish ever.  What we couldn’t finish while dining in at Milo & Olive, I completely devoured later that afternoon when we brought it home.

Lunch at Milo & Olive didn’t disappoint at all.  We already knew that the food would be fresh, and delicious and seasonal since we had dined there before for breakfast, but now after having had lunch at Milo & Olive, I think that perhaps my lunch is my favorite meal there.  Starting with the amazing sweet corn bisque to the ridiculously tasty garlic knot, the perfectly done roasted potato pizza and finishing it all off with the most amazing branzino ever, Milo & Olive is just spectacular.  I think our enjoyment was also heightened by our front row seats right at the counter watching the amazing work of the chefs as they prepared every single dish to order.  It was such a fun atmosphere for a Saturday morning, not to mention the delicious food that filled our bellies.  I can’t wait to go back to Milo & Olive again and try whatever new seasonal items might be on their menu.