Restaurant-hopping Bloggers’ food maps
Hawaii eats section
By Kawehi Haug
Advertiser Staff Writer
Food trends, like fashion, come and go. And then come again. We've seen fondue make a comeback in recent years, and now, progressive dining is getting a new millennium boost with food lovers looking for new (or in this case, recycled) ways to eat out.
A social trend in the 1970s and '80s, progressive dinners were essentially mobile potlucks. A group of eaters would go from home to home, with homeowners preparing and hosting different courses of a meal.
The progressive dinner has since gotten an upgrade, and groups of diners are doing their mobile dining in restaurants rather than at homes (though the old-fashioned way is fun, too).
We at TGIF, along with a few contributing food writers and notable local food bloggers, have put our heads together to come up with great progressive dining routes on Oahu that fit every appetite and budget.
Each of these routes provides locations and dishes for three-course meals, but there are no rules for progressive dining. If you have the time and appetite to go crazy with a four-, five- or nine-course dinner, we say: Bon appetit!
Most progressive dinners are sit-down affairs, with proper table settings and real flatware. But, since we've established that there are no rules in this game, forget the restaurants and hit the streets.
Appetizers: Start at Olive Tree Cafe (737-0303) in Kahala. Granted, the beloved Mediterranean standby isn't totally street, but its counter service makes it more street than restaurant. My favorite appetizer: the baba ghanoush with pita ($5.74). The creamy eggplant spread and toasty pita wedges make a great start to any meal. Grab a bottle of rioja ($10), Spanish red table wine, next door at the eatery's sister deli, Oliver.
Entree: This main dish has some serious street food cred. Puka Dog's (924-7887) signature item, the Puka Dog ($6.75), is a Polish sausage encased in sweet, soft white bread, with a choice of six relishes that take the dog to a more refined place. And best of all, it's perfect for walking and eating.
Dessert: When it comes to street food, there's nothing like Parisian crepes. At Le Crepe Café (988-8400) in Manoa, the crepes are as cute as they are sweet. The Oh My Sugar! crepe ($4.50) is perfection, filled simply with butter and brown sugar.
I love the culture clash that happens when dives serve gourmet-ish food or the other way around — when good restaurants go trashy.
Appetizers: Escargot from a dive bar could be a bad idea, but at Side Street Inn (591-0253), the food is always a gazillion notches above the atmosphere, and that's what makes it great. The escargot ($13) is tender, cheesy and super satisfying. The hard part is stopping at appetizers.
Entree: Apartment3 (955-9300) specializes in ramped-up comfort food, making it a perfect stop on this route. Get the Italian Dog ($11), an Italian sausage hot dog topped with chunks of fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and a bright and tangy balsamic vinaigrette. It's one of the best hot dogs I've ever had. Not a hot dog eater? Try the Ultimate Mac and Cheese ($15), with aged cheddar, snow crab and house-made chorizo sausage.
Dessert: You can't really go wrong with a milkshake for dessert, and at Teddy's Bigger Burgers in Waikíkí, they make a serious shake in many flavors, but the extra-thick pineapple shake ($4.95) is like a milkshake gone girly. The addition of pineapple makes it feel like you're drinking something more sophisticated than ice cream and milk.
Two things I hate: shopping and gluttony. Or rather, I can live with occasional gluttony; it's the guilt I hate. So mall-crawling needs its rewards, and a progressive dinner that draws me from shop to shop while walking between yummy courses is the perfect solution.
Appetizers: Nordstrom Marketplace Cafe's (953-6100) pear gorgonzola salad ($10.50) is perfect before or after shopping for shoes. The pears aren't sliced, but are cubes of the green Anjou variety, sweet and slightly firm against the stinky-ripe cheese, both enlivened by the tart vinaigrette on the greens. Not a salad eater? Go for Nordstrom's 'ahi poke with lavosh chips. Each dish will satisfy one big eater or two moderate ones.
Entree: New shoes are happily broken in with a stroll through the mall to Alan Wong's Pineapple Room (945-6573). The signature burger ($11) is piled high with fixins, which usually means muddled flavors and zero beef taste, but all of it complements the meat without overpowering it. You can taste the earthy, tangy grass-fed beef, the crisp, sweet onion rings, the creamy, fruity hoisin mayo, the bite of the cheddar and the buttery coolness of the avocado salsa. And it all works.
Dessert: After a burger, all I want is one sweet bite or a jolt of caffeine. The fix: mochi creams ($2) at Shirokiya (973-9111). They're at their creamy-melty prime half-thawed, so buy one or two, finish your shopping, then indulge.
I love this course through Chinatown, one of my favorite stomping grounds for good eats. It takes you through a bright-spicy-sweet flavor progression in a series of atmospheric old stone-and-brick buildings. Total walking distance between starting and ending points is four blocks. Parking, which can be hellish at lunchtime, opens up after work crowds go home, so leave your car on the street somewhere and head to Nu'uanu Avenue between Pauahi and Hotel streets.
Appetizers: Indigo's (521-2900) free happy hour pupu spread (4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday) is a riot of fresh vegetarian colors and flavors. Best picks are the redder-than-blood pickled beets and the hot-pink red cabbage slaw, both dancing with vinegary tartness. Sitting in the open air under the brick walls of the Hawaii Theatre, gazing out at the lush greenery of Chinatown Gateway Park, it's an easy escape from workday stress — especially with a $4 martini in hand.
Entree: Across the street is Green Door Cafe (533-0606), a four-table hole-in-the-wall marked by — what else? — a green door. It's edgy inside and out, with an urban grittiness that's reminiscent of hawker stalls in owner Betty Pang's Southeast Asia. The tiny menu changes daily, but usually includes Pang's Malaysian chicken curry ($8.75), rich with a gingery heat. The a la carte portion is good for two big or three moderate eaters. And don't dare eat the curry without a side of sweet, steaming-hot roti ($1.50).
Dessert: Head two blocks mauka and two blocks 'ewa to Duc's Bistro (531-6325), a white-tablecloth joint with four-star service and personable owners. Duc Nguyen is sometimes intense, sometimes hilarious, always welcoming. Wife Vinh is more quiet; it's her restrained hand behind the desserts. Her pear-walnut tart ($6.95) is fresh, light and just sweet enough, with big chunks of fresh nuts adding crunch to soft fruit and crust. Paired with strong coffee or tea, it's a comforting, civilized finish to a night in Chinatown.
FOOD ON A STICK
Sometimes you just want food to be fun. You want your courses to be all red, or you want every dish to start with your initial. This dinner needs a designated driver. It's whimsical and totally indulgent.
Appetizer: Halekulani's House Without a Key (923-2311): on the beach, mellow Hawaiian band, gorgeous sunsets and free validated parking. "Manuela Boy," people! Remember that? And "Pearly Shells"! Fruity blended drinks with orchid garnishes, the sweet buzz of tropical well-being — and sticks of tender, flavorful beef satay with pickled cucumbers and a rich peanut sauce. Each order ($12) includes three sticks (but no utensils; ask for a spoon to help with the sauce). You'll want to linger.
Entree: Kohnotori (941-7255) in the University area is fun because one, it's not as crowded as next-door Imanas-Tei; and two, you order by the stick, marking off exactly what you want on a paper chart. Grill masters cook and baste the skewers ($9-$15) in front of you, making the wait aromatic and mouth-watering — grilled chicken, beef, shrimp, mushrooms, bacon-wrapped quail eggs, bacon-wrapped mochi, heck, even chicken tail, hearts and other organs if you like.
Dessert: End this stickfest with the ultimate chocolate lover's indulgence: truffle lollipops ($7.75) at Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas (533-4476). For accuracy's sake, I need to mention that two of these lollipops are really add-ons to the bananas foster cream puff. Back to the lollipops: The obvious way to eat them is to swish them through the raspberry drizzle, dip into the vanilla cream, bite and chew. The better way is to just let them melt on your tongue. See what the chocolate does to you then.
— Mari Taketa, Special to The Advertiser
FOOD ON THE STRIP: WAIKÍKÍ BEACH WALK
I always lament that current fashion trends have left overalls by the wayside. With their forgiving waistbands, they're particularly useful for progressive meals.
Sometimes when I travel, the entire trip is one gluttonous roving feast. But even at home, there are many particularly edible stretches of neighborhoods. One of my favorite is around Waikíkí Beach Walk. Free parking (at Nobu Waikiki for four hours with validation) and each destination within walking distance: It's a progressive dinner that's as endlessly expandable as the elastic on your favorite sweatpants (which unfortunately may not be proper attire for these restaurants).
Appetizers: Start with the simple, no-frills mori soba ($8.80) at Matsugen (926-0255) to prepare the palate for the journey ahead. Fresh ground buckwheat goes into these toothsome soba noodles; an adornment of green onions and wasabi are all it needs.
Entree: Like the afterschool snack you've always wanted, the pork tenderloin katsu sandwich ($10) at Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin (926-8082) comes on soft, white bread with the crusts cut off. "It's addictive," our server says. Indeed. It comes with a delicate chiffonade of cabbage; choose the shisoume dressing to elevate this homely vegetable.
Dessert (and then some): Yes, desserts at Nobu Waikiki (237-6999) may cost more than the entree of my moveable feast ($8-$13), but they're exquisite. Either the tart and creamy liliko'i mascarpone or the smooth, smooth Gianduja cremosa would be a perfect end to dinner or not. Time your visit right, at 10 p.m. on a Sunday, and you can follow up dessert with half-off sushi and cocktails at the bar.
— Martha Cheng, Special to The Advertiser