Category Archives: Hawaii

Hawaiian Food on my Mind

One “Top Chef finalist, Hawaiian cuisine class in Denver and a new near-Waikiki restaurant revs up

Hawaii is all over my culinary consciousness these days. Here are three reasons:

Hawaiian Chef Rising on “Top Chef”

Co-host Tom Colicchio and Sheldon Simeon in his signature red hat on "Top Chef."
Co-host Tom Colicchio and Sheldon Simeon in his signature red hat on “Top Chef.”

Sheldon Simeon, the congenial “cheftestant” who grew up in Hilo and is now the honored executive chef at Star Noodle in Lahaina on Maui, is a finalist on Season 10 of “Top Chef.” Or at least I think he is anyway  –unless the second-chance curves the producers are now throwing at the two finalists by inserting some who had been told to “pack your knives” appear appear to compete again. There’s also an online second-chance competetion that I’ve never watched and some kind of people’s choice contest too in the increasingly convoluted “Top Chef” format. On camera, Sheldon says he started out as a dishwasher, but the show’s website identifies him as having attended the Culinary Institute of the Pacific and Maui Culinary Academy. He’s a two-time James Bear Award semi-finalist.

Hawaii-Born Troy Guard’s Island Influenced Cooking Class

Chef Troy Guard who is schedule to teach a Hawaii-heavy class at The Seasoned Chef.
Chef Troy Guard who is schedule to teach a Hawaii-heavy class at The Seasoned Chef.

Troy Guard, chef/owner of Denver’s TAG Restaurant, TAG Raw Bar and most recently TAG Burger Bar, is returning to his Hawaiian roots with a tropically inspired class called “Continental Social Food” (which is TAG’s slogan, having little to do with the class) at The Seasoned Chef cooking school on Saturday, February 23 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. It is part of the Denver’s Best Chefs series — and indeed he is. He’ll demonstrate Hawaiian Butterfish; Smashed Shrimp Shui Mai; Braised Veal Cheek; Thai Chicken; Maui Sunrise Shortcake and TAG’s signature “Palisade Peach Fizz” cocktail. Register online or call 303-377-3222.

Pre-Pèppoli Pop-Ups Near Waikiki

Pèppoli at Pebble Beach, California, a forerunnner of the new Hawaiian location.
Pèppoli at Pebble Beach, California, a forerunnner of the new Hawaiian location.

There are a lot of restaurants in Honolulu and the most touristy ones are on Waikiki. In truth, the vast majority are, to put it kindly, uninspired. Coming this summer, a new Italian restaurant is poised to join the gourmet parade. Pèppoli, a Tuscan restaurant from the renowned Antinori family of Italy, opens in the Lotus Honolulu, occupying space that was previously home to such notable restaurants as David Paul’s Diamond Head Grill and Bobby Magees. Prior to the Pèppoli launch, Lotus Honolulu is hosting a series of “pop-up” restaurants from two of today’s most renowned chefs during limited engagements in February and March. The series features the cuisines of chef Greg Profeta, former chef at Restaurant Marc Forgione, and Chef Koji Tanaka, executive chef of Hiroyuki Sakai’s highly anticipated Sakai of Hawaii. If Sakai’s name sounds familiar, you probably watched some of the original, made in Japan “Iron Chef.” Allez cuisine!

Seafood Bites at Bite Me

Waterfront restaurant specializes in fresh seafood

Bite Me Sportfishing Charters’ five boats tie up at Honokohau Harbor a few miles north of Kailua Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii, and right there is the Bite Me Fish Market Bar and Grill, a casual waterfront restaurant. Fresh fish –mostly caught in local Hawaiian waters or from a local aquaculture facility — is served right next to the sea. As a native New Englander, I have the fondest memories of lobster ponds and clam shacks within sniffing distance of the sea, so I was happy when I saw Bite Me with its harborside seating option.

Just inside the entrance door is a counter where customers can buy fresh-caught, fresh-cut  fish like ahi (yellowfin tuna), mahi mahi (dorado), ono (wahoo), hebi (short-nosed spearfish), a’u (marlin) and aku (skipjack tuna). Just behind is the dark, pub-like indoor dining room. Keep going to the decent-size, umbrella-shaded deck with a small lunch-counter-look bar and bright red picnic tables.

Lunch counter-style stools, not bar stools, outdoors at Bite Me. Customers have their backs to the water, but they don't seem to mind.

Beyond that is the charter boat dock where the Bite Me fleet is tied up and clients’ catch is weighed and photographed.

Proud young fisherman and his catch just off one of the Bite Me boats.

Boat people comprise a significant part of the clients, of course, but a group of us headed there following a two-mile or so shoreline hike at the nearby Kaloko-Honokoholau National Historical Park and a snorkeling stop. We found an umbrella-shaded table on the deck and ordered an appetizer combo to share and then pretty similar lunches — fish tacos and the daily special of scampi on rice.

On each table is a basket with hot sauce, salt, pepper, a roll of paper towels, chopsticks and plastic utensils.


PuPu Sampler features Tahitian-style poke made with coconut milk and lime, ceviche-style poke with sesame oil and smoked fish spread (they call it a dip but it's too thick for dipping) served with tortilla chips and crackers.


A side order of two fish tacos available with marlin, ahi or other fish.


Fish taco combo with rice and beans.


Scampi surrounding a heap of fluffy rice.

Price Check: At lunch, shareable appetizers (pupus), $8.50-$14.50; shellfish by the piece, and crab legs and peel-and-eat shrimp by the pound;  soup, $6 cup and $9 bowl; sandwiches, $9-$13; entrees, $9-$13; dinner entrees, $14-$27; dessert, $5-$8. Breakfast is also available, $9.95-$11.95.

Bite Me Fish Market Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

Multi-Cultural Hilo Farmers Market

Asian and Anglo vendors sell fresh food to Asian and Anglo customers

Anyone who follows this blog knows that I am drawn to farmers’ markets. Yesterday’s market du jour was in Hilo on the east coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. Held every Saturday and Wednesday, and according to my friend Jessica who lives in nearby Mountain View, the Hilo Farmers Market is roughly the same size on both days. It welcomes visitors, of course, but essentially seems to be a local market.

Located at Kaewe Street and Kamehameha Avenue, with a street-corner evangelist yelling about salvation from across the street, it assigns most of the food vendors to one side and the apparel/gift/souvenir vendors to the other. I found stands selling fresh flowers, fresh produce, preserves, Kona coffee from across the island and just  enough of a selection of prepared foods — Asian items, Anglo baked goods, smoothies and goat cheese one artisanal cheesery — for a satisfying picnic lunch.  There were both Asian and Anglo (hoale in Hawaiian) vendors and customers as well. If you plan to go, be sure to check the market’s coupon page — currently including a $2 off a market T-shirt and a free flavor shot with any coffee.

Troll the Hilo Farmers’ Market with me via the images below:

Great greens from the well-watered fertile soil on this part of the island.
Heaps of root vegetables, bananas and other produce from an area with an enviable 12-month growing season.
Musabi (nicknamed "mu") is sushi-style rice topped with grilled Spam or other protein item and held together with a strip of nori (seaweed).
One vendor lops the tops, silk and all, from earsof corn. Quite artisitic.
Young boy -- I think a customer's son -- holds up the fresh-caught fish, brought to the market in an ice-filled cooler.
Prepared Asian-style breakfasts laid out in neat rows.
Bags of "Chinese pretzels" that resmeble Penn Dutch or Scandinavian sweets but taste like fried, sugared wonton skins. Maybe that's what they are.
O Hia Cottage, a B&B, sells its preserves and fruit butters at the market. A jar of lilihoi (passionfruit) butter is coming home with me.


Lava Rock Cafe & Its American Faves

Comfy eatery at gateway to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The Big Island of Hawaii provides more national park with less gateway community than you find at most major mainland national parks. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a compelling natural wonder — most dramatically two active volcanoes that are reshaping the land, not in geologic time but before our eyes. The park draws more than 1.3 million visitors. With the current closure of the Volcano House, hotel and food service, in the park itself places to eat are limited. That means visitors spending a day in the park to hike on their own or following a naturalist, or just gaze at the volcanic wonders have to leave the park for supper and return it they wish to return after dark to see the volcanic glow in the dark.

Hawaii Forest & Trail, an outfitter specializing in excellent eco-oriented, naturalist-led backcountry tours, includes  an evening meal in Volcano. Lava Rock Cafe is one of the places they take their clients. This retro spot has ’50s-style knotty-pine paneling, simple painted walls and otherwise  minimal adornment — but not a modern minimalist look. A group of us sat down at a long table and ordered from a menu heavy on dishes popular throughout the US and some particular to Hawaii. You won’t find culinary magic in this familiar-feeling spot, whether or not we have ever been there before. It serves decent affordable food in a family-friendly and senior-friendly environment — just what people en route to or from a natural park are often looking for. The wine and beer selection, and the dessert choices too, are limited. I got the impression that it built its menu to appeal primarily to people in a hurry to eat both on the front end when they  arrive hungry and when they are ready to leave and get back to nature’s show in the park.

Lava Rock Cafe is a no-frills eatery serving no-frills fare.

I’m not captioning every one of the images below. They are pretty self-explanatory: salads, sandwiches, entrees including ribs and ribs-plus combos with a choice of rice, various kinfs of potatoes. Cole slaw comes with some items, mixed veggies with others.

Price check: Appeterizers, soups and salads, $4.25-$9.95; “mini meals,” $4.25-%10.50; burgers, $8.95-$10.50; entrees, $11.95-$16.95; desserts, $4.95-$5.50.

Volcano's Lava Rock Cafe on Urbanspoon

Coffee Production 101 in Hawaii

Everything from growing to bagging at farm & roastery near Hilo

For years, I lived a few blocks from the (since demolished) Maxwell House Coffee plant in Hoboken, New Jersey. I had no clear image of what went on behind the gatehouse and the formidable plant walls. Factory tours were not in vogue then, and I had only the faintest idea — gleaned mostly from TV commercials — of what was involved in bringing coffee from tree to cup. All I knew is that when it rained, the aroma of roasting coffee permeated the air. You felt as if just breathing it provided a caffeine hit. Its enormous illuminated sign was a landmark when viewed from Manhattan.

Hilo Coffee Mill co-owner Jeanette provided a crash course today, and in half an hour of trailing her around the farm and roastery, I learned more about coffee roasting that I did in years of living a few blocks from the behmonth Maxwell House plant.  I will never again wonder why coffee costs what it does — either by bag or at a coffee shop. Here are the steps (and I hope I’ve got them all inthe right order): Plant trees. Care for trees for five years begfore they begin producing usable fruit. Hand-pick fruit when it is red, which does not occur simultaneously on one tree, let alone an entire farm. Pulp. Ferment to remove mucilage from each bean. Dry to ceate a shell. Roast. Pack.

Jeanette Baysa on the farm, where sugar can once grew.
Trees planted last year ae still four years from produciing their first crop.
Mature trees planted eight years ago.
Red fruit is ripe and ready to be picked — here, handpicked.
The roasters themselves cost about $60,000 each for a simple machine and $100,00 with an afterburner. Another reason that coffee seems expensive.


The Coffee Mill has a small cafe and retail store. Here, the chalkboard of Latte da Ba.

Their cafe serves a small menu of specialty and regular coffees and other drinks, sandwiches, bagels and salads, made with local and organic foods — even the tortillas for their wraps. Their retail inventory includes their own and other growers coffees (they roast for other eastern Hawaii growers as well as some Kona Cost growers’  and even one from Costa Rica), other local food products andd of coure, T-shirts, of course. Some chefs right now are enamored of nose-to-tail meat cooking. The Hilo Coffee Mill does something  similar in the coffee realm, handling the process from sapling to sale.

Hilo Coffee Mill on Urbanspoon


New Year’s Eve: Red Beans & Rice Plus

Casual supper as 2009’s last meal

When making recent company dishes, I seem to following three threads: Gourmet magazine tribute recipes, Julia Child tribute recipes and recipes from Louisiana, perhaps also a tribute of sorts to New Orelans’ gritty survival four-plus years after Katrina. A few friends came over yesterday evening to usher in 2010 with a simple supper. I didn’t take pictures either during the preparation or when I set the food out (the photo of red beans and rice is from We started with drinks and simple cheese and crackers.

Then I put out individual mushroom-shallot quiches, based on a Dorie Greenspan recipe from the October 2006 issue of Bon Appetit. I tweaked it somewhat, mainly by using half shiitake and half white mushrooms rather than all white, and giving it a flavor boost by using truffle salt in place of unflavored salt. I also made red beans and rice, which I think of as a New Year’s tradition in the Big Easy (though I read somewhere that it’s really a Monday tradition).

Our friends lavished us with wine and sweets — assorted holiday cookes that Vivan brought over a few days earlier, chocolate bark from Jody and Doak, and a dense, rich chocolate cake from Andrea and Dana, who also brought a terrific dessert wine from Hawaii. The Volanco Winery located in the town of Volcano on the Big Island makes a sweet, but not cloying, Macadamia Nut Honey Wine that is light in color and subtle in taste. The busy bees work the island’s macadamia nut trees, and the result is delicious.

Finally, we went downstairs to the television room, opened some Piper-Heidsick champagne and watched the replay of Times Square at midnight, with the broadcast of the drop of the big crystal that had actually occurred two hours earlier but was held for those of us the Mountain Time Zone.

Happy, healthy and delicious New Year to all.

Most "Favorite" Hawaiian Restaurants Aren’t Really Hawaiian’s recent online poll reveals nothing but chains, which is owned by Gannett (USA Today and others), asked its million-plus members to vote for their favorite restaurants in the Hawaiian Islands. I’m not sure what constitutes a “member” of — a site visitor perhaps. The poll is obviously skewed to favor Honolulu, specifically Waikiki, which has the most visitors, the most hotels and the most concentrated tourist-oriented dining options. Beyond that, the leader of every single category is part of a chain, usually with more locations off the Hawaiian Islands than on. Also note that not one of these chains is even headquartered in Hawaii. This makes me incredibly sad, because Hawaii has such rich and varied food offerings and unique local restaurants. I have to wonder: Is this an indictment of Hawaii or a function of the “members” of With that caveat, below is the list:

  • Favorite Steakhouse in Honolulu  – Ruth’s Chris Steak House Waikiki, 226 Lewers St., Honolulu; 808-440-7910. One of 100 locations around the world and one of five in the Hawaiian Islands, two on Oahu. It is headquartered in Florida.
  •  Favorite Hamburger in Honolulu – Cheeseburger in Paradise, 2500 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu; 808-923-3731.  One of eight locations in Hawaii. Others are such mainland sites as Reno, Las Vegas, Key West and assorted locations in the Midwest and Northeast. It is headquartered in Illinois.
  • Favorite Breakfast Spot in Waikiki – Duke’s at the Outrigger Waikiki, 2335 Kalakaua Ave., Honolulu; 808-922-2268. Named after Duke Paoa Kahanamoku, a renowned surfer who competed in the Olympics for 20 years and also appeared in over 28 Hollywood movies, this is one of half a dozen Duke’s. It is part of the TS Restaurant Group that also owns and/or operates Hula Grills, Cliffhouse, Jake’s Del Mar, Keoki’s Paradise, Kimo’s, Lelani’s and Sunnyside Lodge. It is headquartered in California.
  • Favorite Restaurant with a View on Oahu  – Duke’s at the Outrigger Waikiki, see above.
  • Favorite Maui Restaurant with a View – Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., 889 Front St., Lahaina; 808-661-3111.California-based chain with 22 restaruarants in the US (including two in Colorado and one in the Mall of America in Minnesota), two in Mexico, two in Japan, two in the Philippines, one on Bali and one in Singapore. The chain is headquarted in California.
  •  Favorite Maui Restaurant – Cheesburger in Paradise, 811 Front Street, Lahaina; 808-661-4855. See above. 
  • Favorite Kauai Restaurant – Duke’s Canoe Club at the Kauai Marriott, 3610 Rice St., Lihue; 808-246-9599. See above.
  •  Favorite Big Island Restaurant – Roy’s Waikoloa Bar & Grill, 250 Waikoloa Beach Dr., Waikoloa; 808- 886-4321. First introduced in Honolulu by James Beard award winner Chef Roy Yamaguchi, two dozen of Roy’s Hawaiian fusion  are on the mainland. The chain is headquartered in California.