Category Archives: Hawaii

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.

Hawaiian Hole in the Wall Meal #5: Ba-Le Kona Restaurant

Vietnamese food with a French accent at informal Kona restaurant

The dining world abounds with trendy, beautifully designed and expensive fusion restaurants, usually a combination of Asian and Western dishes, or of several kinds of Asian cuisine. Ba-Le Kona Restaurant is a fusion of popular Vietnamese dishes trimmed with specialties of France, the country’s once-upon-time colonizer. The Eiffel Tower serves as the symbol of this clean, frill-free eatery in a strip shopping center that puts out good food from both traditions at moderate prices and during non-trendy hours (10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11:00 to 7:00 Sunday with the same menu throughout). I’m told that it started as a bakery and expanded to sandwiches and entrees. We were encouraged by seeing mostly Asian diners as we walked through the door. At this casual eatery, you order from the counter and wait for your food to be brought to you. Then dig in.

In addition to Western soft drinks, juices and assorted bottled waters, one refrigerated beverage case features Asian brands (below). And yes, there’s also Vietnamese coffee — no decaf available.
I had a hard time deciding among the Vietnamese rice plates, the Vietnamese noodle soup called pho, a Vietnamese salad or Vietnamese noodle dishes called saimin. I finally settled on spicy lemongrass chicken on noodles. Soft, crispy, mild and spicy provided taste and textures, with a sweet sauce to pour over.

My husband had a roast beef sandwich loaded into a French roll with decidedly un-French vegetables.

A choice of condiments (soy sauce, fish sauce, pepper sate, Sriracha sauce, Hoisin sauce, salt and pepper) and a choice of chopsticks or plastic forks and spoons enables customers to season and eat as they wish. House-made desserts include a rainbow of popular topiocas displayed in a case.

Price check: Vietnamese rice plates, $9.50-$13.50; Vietnamese salads, $9.50-$9.95; pho, $8.25-$9.75 for regular and $9.25-$10.75 for large; Vietnamese saimin, $8.25-$10.50; hot stir-fry noodle dishes, $9.95-$11.95; sandwiches $3.85-$6.95 on a French roll and $4.40-$7.40 on a croissant; “specialty items” (apps and sides $1,75-$9.50; desserts, $1.50-$2.50.

The restaurant is in the Kona Coast Shopping Center (just west of the KTA supermarket) at 74-5588 Palani Road, Kailua Kona; 808-327-1212.

Hawaiian Hole in the Wall Meal #4: The Coffee Shack

Kona Coast cafe known for its baked goods and excellent views

Every Hawaiian town, whether on the coast or inland, has a cafe. Some rely on locals and passing tourists needing or wanting a cup of local coffee and something to eat. Others have become destinations, “discovered” by guidebook author after guidebook author and passed on, by word of mouth, from visitor to visitor. We read about The Coffee Shack just south of Captain Cook and also heard about it from our friends, Glenn and Margaret, who went there several years ago. It has become so popular that we ended up parking at a pullout a few hundred yards down the road.

The Coffee Shack isn’t a hole in the wall but a perch on a steep mountainside in coffee country. Generically, a “coffee shack” is a utility and storage building on a coffee plantation — often right along a roadway. Some our now abandoned. Others have become dwellings, art galleries or shops. This one is an eating destination.
The most desirable tables are on the covered lanai, which on the mainland would be called a patio (below), but they were all occupied when we arrived during lunchtime.
We took a window table in the small, spare back dining room with its view down to Kealakekua Bay, more than a thousand feet below.

Adorable resident geckos cruised in and out of the open window, dipping into the jelly, molasses, honey or whatever had been set out for them. And no, they weren’t selling insurance.

The Coffee Shack’s house-baked breads are renowned on the Big Island’s Kona Coast. My husband ordered a Reuben on toasted French bread (not a baguette, but The Coffee Shack’s version that is baked in a regular American loaf shape). No snide remarks about the resemblance between the accompanying kosher pickle spear and a gecko, please.

I had the super-fresh vegetarian sandwich with avocado, sliced cheese, tomato, cucumber, lettuce, red onion and Dijon mustard piled high between two thick slices of whole-grain bread. It usually comes with mayo too, but I wasn’t in the mood for anything other than the cheese that contained fat.

Price check: Breakfast entrees, $8.95-$11.95; breakfast pastries, $3.50-$4.50; sandwiches, $9.95; 8-inch pizzas, $8.95-$12.95; entree-size salads, $10.95-$13.95; soups, $3.95 for a cup and $6.50 for a bowl; house-made desserts, $5.50; coffee drinks, $3.50-$5.00. (Disclaimer: I didn’t grab a take-out menu but took the prices from The Coffee Shack’s website, which is copyrighted 2001, so these might be out of date and low when you go.)

The Coffee Shack is at 83-5799 Mamalahoa Highway (Route 11), Captain Cook; 808-328-9555.

Hawaiian Hole in the Wall Meal #3: Tex Drive-In

Roadside eatery famous for its malasadas — with good reason

The Tex Drive-In just off the northern arc of the “belt road” that circles the Big Island is adjacent to a greenhouse and orchid florist. Floral delicacy and rib-hugging food are oddly compatible neighbors. Tex serves burgers, fish sandwiches, fries and other conventional road-trip staples, but most people go there for the malasadas, hefty sugar-dipped donuts or Portuguese origin and now part of the Hawaiian food pyramid that seems to be built on the base category of fried foods of all sorts. Belly up to the counter (below), place your order and and take it to an indoor or outdoor table.

The whistle-clean donuttery was done for the day by the time we stopped at Tex, but from the size of the kitchen visible through a big glass window, it is easy to see that it can turn significant quantities.
The original malasada was unfilled, but now Tex also offers a (small) choice of fillings. Between us, my husband and I had one with chocolate Bavarian cream and another with strawberry. The fillings were standard issue, but malasadas themselves were substantial. They were breadier, chewier and tastier than their mainland donut cousins — and fresher than packaged donuts too.

Price check: Malasadas are less than a dollar each. Fillings are an additional 35 cents. Who cares what anything else costs at Tex?
Tex Drive-In is just off Highway 19 (aka, Mamalahoa Highway or “the belt road”) between the Kona Coast and Hilo. The address is 45-690 Pakalana Street, Honokaa; 808-775-0598.

Hawaiian Hole in Wall Meal #1: Hawaiian Style Cafe

Classic Hawaiian roadside cafe serves huge portions of Island favorites

The upcountry town of Waimea on the Big Island of Hawaii has become a tourist attraction, thanks to all the activities and retail opportunities offered by the ginormous Parker Ranch. The guidebooks still write about that Hawaiian cowboys called paniolos, but what you mostly see are tourists much like ourselves. Heck,Waimea even has a Starbucks, which buys most of its beans from Latin America and Africa, and therefore seems totally treasonous on the island where Kona coffee is grown!
But here and there, the sense of Hawaii survives, no place more so than the Hawaiian Style Cafe in a tiny strip shopping center just outside of town. Enter through the double swinging doors into the front room dominated by a low-rise counter where customers sit on chairs rather than swiveling stools. A few tight-fitting booths line one wall, and tables in a back room accommodate everyone else.

The cafe serves breakfast and lunch at prices from another era. Unpretentiousness rules. The food can only be described as “un-Boulder” — lots of fried foods, lots of meat, lots of sausage, nothing that fits current ideas about nutritious or healthy. If it’s bad for you by today’s dietary wisdom, chances are that the Hawaiian Style Cafe serves it. Condiments are at the table or booth yellow mustard, hot sauce, Worcester sauce, ketchup, soy sauce and pancake syrup — perhaps house-made and refilled into commercial squeeze bottles, salt, pepper and sweeteners — amazingly including calorie-free artificial ones, though I wonder why they bother.

My husband occasionally indulges in artery-clogging calorie and fat bombs. He did when we are at the Hawaiian Style Cafe a decade or more ago — and he did again this week. He ordered the one of the Loco Moco combos, a heap of Spam-fried rice topped chicken, two grilled sausage patties, a couple of eggs, a sea of brown gravy and lightly grilled onions — and maybe something else too. He was literally and figuratively in hog heaven.

Not being of the greasy-food persuasion, I ordered French toast. Regular or Hawaiian sweet bread?, the waitress asked. Hawaiian sweet bread, I decided, to stab my fork into something local. Did I want meat?, she asked, and seemed hurt, surprised or both when a passed on the choice of bacon, ham, Spam or one of the three kinds of sausage (Portuguese, Vienna or link). A trio of inch-thick French toast sprinkled with powdered sugar and accompanied by an ice cream scoop-size portion of softened salted butter proved more than enough. I managed to eat 2/3 of the portion, washed down with hefty mugs of hot coffee — from the Kona coast, no doubt.

Price check: At breakfast, $5.95-$9.50 (the latter for steak and eggs). Many items come with rice or hash browns and toast OR pancakes.

The cafe is at 64-1290 Mamalahoa Highway, Kamuela/Waimea; 808-885-4295.

A Couple of Meals on Maui

Sea House Restaurant serves three meals a day and a perpetual ocean view

We stayed at the Napili Kai Beach Resort for just a couple of nights because my brother-in-law was getting married on the adjacent beach. Because it is at a resort, the Sea House Restaurant’s menu (right) lists breakfast and lunch and some of the dinner offerings too.

We ate a couple of breakfasts and the lovely wedding dinner at which guests were generously invited to select from the menu. Caring service and unobtrusive music (recorded by day, live in the evening) make this a pleasant place to enjoy a meal. The ocean-view restaurant overlooks a gentle arc of a white sand beach (below) bracketed by black lava rocks, with Molokai visible across the strait. Windows open wide to make the dining experience feel like a roofed-over dining venue, combining the best of indoor and outdoor eating. The main flaw is that the kitchen seems unable to turn out meals where every dish is as warm as it should be when it is brought to the table.

During a big breakfast for 10 with different people arriving at different times and during the wedding dinner itself, I took pictures when I could, but I was unable to catch any dishes other than my own and those ordered by people right next to or across from me. So consider these a sampling of the Sea House’s offerings.

Breakfast Sampler

The Sea House’s Ali’i Breakfast combines eggs, ham, Portuguese sausage, potatoes, Maui onion jam, a mild cheese, tomatoes, a blanket of thinnish country gravy and some sweet potatoes fries on top.

Eggs Napili Kai are a variation of eggs Benedict. An English muffin topped with something, poached eggs and Hollandaise. I asked for my “something” to be crab cakes, and I also requested tomato and spinach instead of home fries or rice, which are the “something” offered on this dish’s vegetarian version.

It’s something of a challenge to find the waffles beneath the mantle of guava whipped cream, pineapple, banana, mandarin oranges and coconut. This topping, called the Kahuna, is available for pancakes and waffles — and probably any other breakfast entree a guest might want.

Molokai Sweet Potato Egg Frittata layers eggs, with spinach, tomatoes, cheese and Molokai sweet potatoes, served with Hollandaise on top, caramelized Maui onions on top of that and vegetable ragout on the side. The frittata is as big as a brick!

Dinner Sampler

Seared jumbo sea scallops each crowned with mango and lobster relish, surrounding a heap of Maui onion mashed potatoes, topped with crisp-fried onions and served in a soup bowl to hold the rich lobster curry broth.

Sweet Peppercorn Crusted Filet Mignon is a seared center-cut filet with pink peppercorns and served with Burgundy demi-glace and mixed vegetables.

Cioppino of lobster, crab, prawns, scallops, clams and fresh fish in a vegetable

tomato stew over capellini pasta with Asiago toast comes in an unusual, rectangular wooden bowl.

Macadamia Crusted MahiMahi (their spelling) on top of a rice pilaf, topped by a bit of tropical fruit salsa and served with pineapple/rum buerre blanc.

Price Check: Compared with most Mainland prices, restaurant meals in Hawaii are pricey. The Sea House Restaurant is not out of line, with breakfast entrees at $5-$12, plus juices, optional side dishes and beverages; lunch specialties and sandwiches, $11-$16; dinner entrees, $24-$36 (the lower end being for “lite portions” of select items).

The Sea House Restaurant overlooks the beach at the Napili Kai Beach Resort, 5900 Lower Honopi’ilani Road, north of Lahaina; 808-669-1500

Sea House on Urbanspoon