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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 14, 2001

Dining Scene
Specialty foods spice up holidays

By Matthew Gray
Advertiser Restaurant Critic

Illustration by Jon Orque • The Honolulu Advertiser
Gourmet. n. A person devoted to refined sensuous enjoyment, especially of good food and drink.

Are you like me, ceaselessly asking questions about food, its origin, history, aroma, taste and other characteristics? Do you drive waiters insane? Do your friends and loved ones consider you eccentric when it comes to all things food?

It's the gourmet disease. And it's contagious. When it comes to food, I want everything to be the best quality, to hold the highest pedigree and to have received accolades from those in the know, especially at this time of year.

Specialty foods — the ones we don't indulge in very often — add so much to the holidays. Here are some spots where you can find high-quality ingredients, as well as prepared dishes, for your celebrations at home.

This is far from an exhaustive list; many grocery stores, gift shops and ethnic stores are worth a visit. But these four stand out in my mind as leading the gourmet charge on O'ahu.

c & c pasta company: 3605 Wai'alae Ave., 732-5999

c & c's focus is more on dining in than it used to be. The shelves, once lined with foodstuffs, have given way to tables. I used to look forward to buying dried pasta, canned San Marzano tomatoes, porcini mushrooms, truffle oil and other odds and ends there.

Fortunately, the deli case still offers a luscious array of fresh pastas, sauces, olives and many types of cured meats and cheeses. The finochiona is a pork and veal salame flavored with fennel, the prosciutto gran speck is mildly smoked, and the boshetto cheese is not to be missed, made from sheep's milk and flavored with black truffles. Matthew Holmes has done a notable job here, leading the transition as their executive chef.

Haleiwa Smokehouse: Old Waialua Sugar Mill, 637-8850

Steve Shiraishi and his wife, Joni, have a soon-to-be goldmine in the form of Hawai'i's first and only legal smokehouse, making a line of wonderful smoked fish. Once word of mouth begins its work, people will be demanding that shops islandwide carry their products.

Shiraishi has been a commercial fisherman his entire life and always knew that freshly smoked fish would have the masses clamoring. The variety here includes 'ahi, marlin, tako, scallops, ono, opah, swordfish, butterfish, mullet, papio, mussels in their shell, along with a smoked fish pate that is particularly yummy. They marinate the fish in a mildly zingy teriyaki sauce before smoking, so that the surface of the fish is caramelized slightly. I was fortunate to have visited them one Sunday afternoon as the fish came out of the smoker. Wow! Take the drive; it's well worth the time.

Strawberry Connection: 735 Iwilei Road, 521-9777

Becky Choy and John Stoudt have nurtured their baby since 1984, first in humble Kalihi industrial area digs, and now at the Dole Cannery shopping center, since July of this year. The new spot is a bright, huge store.

The secret to their success? "I have an insatiable curiosity, and I love food ... oh, and people, too," said Choy, laughing.

There's a fresh deli where you can get incredible sandwiches and other prepared foods. Celebrity chef Philippe Padovani has begun doing a line of prepared meals for Strawberry Connection recently — just a few, select dishes each day, with the range from roast suckling pig to cioppino, paella to quiches. It's a very high-end potluck.

A large walk-in cooler in the back is where the fresh produce, local and imported, can be found. A selection of 10 different coffees is roasted before your eyes in a new system that's a first here. They also carry game meats, sausages, candies, holiday gift baskets ... the list goes on and on.

R. Field, Foodland Beretania, 596-9463; and new Kailua Foodland, 261-3358

Rex Howell-Smith is the buyer for R. Field. He has run restaurants in the past, and after spending just a few moments speaking with him you are certain this man knows his stuff. R. Field shops have built their reputation primarily on their wines. However, if you're a fan of gourmet fare, you must know R. Field.

Ceilings stacked high in their tiny shops inside two Foodland stores, R. Field carries more than 100 imported and domestic cheeses, real English clotted cream, D'artagnan pates, Serrano ham from Spain, foie gras, smoked chicken, duck breast, Scottish bacon, fresh free-range turkey, geese and more. Try the exceptionally creamy date called the black sphinx, experiment with exotic jams and preserves, invest in a Christmas plum pudding or browse the selection of world-class chocolates from Valrhona, Guittard, Neuhaus, Scharffen Berger and others.

I hope you have the most delicious holiday season imaginable.