Oahu Sunday: Rainbow Inn, Diamond Head Market and Bishop Museum

Sunday was our last day on Oahu. We finally hit the Rainbow Drive In for breakfast. I ordered the Loco Moco and Oliver got pork chops and eggs. I ordered the macadamia nut pancakes that they are known for, but they were out of the topping and just gave me plain ole pancakes. It was good, but I have to say, Gardena Bowl is better. There was a huge line of locals, many of whom were in hotel uniforms, so I suspect a large part of its popularity lies in the fact that it opens so damn early.

We stopped in at Diamond Head Market and Grill to grab snacks for the plane. I wish I had gone there the very first day and loaded up. Everything would have been much easier and cheaper. They had fresh salads and meals to go, plus so many delicious-looking cakes and baked goods. Next time, I guess.

OT dropped me off at the Bishop Museum, as his friend had a bunch of stuff to do before taking us to the airport. Total bonus day, and one of my favorite places I visited in Honolulu.

“Bishop Museum was founded in 1889 by Charles Reed Bishop in honor of his late wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the last descendant of the royal Kamehameha family. The Museum was established to house the extensive collection of Hawaiian objects and royal family heirlooms of the Princess, and has expanded to include millions of objects, documents and photographs about Hawai‘i and other Pacific island cultures.”

There was a temporary photo exhibit of traditional tattoos. The tattoos and the photography were both gorgeous.

The Bishop Museum Café by Highway Inn offers a limited menu of Hawaiian plates, poke bowls, sandwiches, and snacks from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., so I had a nice stew for lunch before continuing on,,,

Posted in Bakeries, Hawaii, museums | Leave a comment

Oahu Saturday: Island Tour

Saturday morning I went and checked out the local farmer’s market at the community college. The most interesting thing was the machine splitting the sugar cane.

Then OT and his friend Mike, who OT came to visit, picked me up and we got a local’s tour of the island. Mike’s girlfriend recommended that we start at Kona’s Brewing Co. It was right on the Koko marina, and exactly the kind of place I would have taken one of my aunts. OT got a lovely ahi tuna salad (which one of my aunts totally would have ordered), Mike got a burger and I got some forgettable shrimp tacos. For some reason OT kept ordering beers for Mike and pressuring him to drink even though OT and I weren’t really drinking.

A bird wandered into the restaurant to hang out.

Next stop was the Halona Blowhole, where the ocean has worn away an area beneath the lava and drilled a hole right through to the top, so water crashes in and comes up out of the blowhole. (photo from Hawaii.com)

It wasn’t blowing when we were there, due to low tide or global warming. Some daring (aka stupid) people were posing for pics next to the blowhole. It was kind of foolhardy, because you just never know with the Pacific. The Hawaiians say, “Don’t turn your back on the sea.

There was a gorgeous inlet where people were swimming. This is the beach made famous by the iconic love scene between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr, who shared their epic kiss and rolled around in the surf and sand in 1953’s ”From Here to Eternity.” Recent moviegoers may be more familiar with the site as “Whitecap Bay,” from the fourth installment of the “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

This sign gave me pause.

As we started down the rocks, my legs were wobbly from two straight says of snorkeling. OT said, “Nope. We aren’t going down there.” I tried to insist. I didn’t want to be a wet blanket. But he said, “I’m not taking you to the hospital today.” So, if I insisted on hopping down the rocks and fell, I’d really spoil the fun and he would be telling me, “I told you so,” all the way to the ER. So we drove along the coast looking for a good swimming beach. Almost all of them were full of surfers.

We ended up at a cool little locals’ beach called Waimanolo.

We stopped at a strip mall and I hit the flagship location for Dave’s ice cream, which was opened by David Leong in 1982. There were so many flavors, it was hard to choose. A few of the more interesting ones were Azuki Bean, Caramel Macadamia, Haupia, Lychee sherbert, Poha Berry (Gooseberry), Kona Coffee, and Kulolo–a Hawaiian taro, coconut and brown sugar pudding. My go-to is and always will be mango.

The boys went into a bar, and when I joined them, I discovered that the only other patrons were a large party wearing leis, celebrating while a very old man sang karaoke. He was the only one who sang, song after song after song. In Hawaiian. We stayed there longer than we expected.

Our next stop was a famous lookout known as Pali. So much for the view…it started pouring down rain.

Pali is also the site of one of the most horrible battles fought on the islands. We have always heard Kamehameha was a hero who united the islands against foreign colonizing powers. What they don’t tell you is that those islands didn’t necessarily want to be unified. There was a lot of bloodshed involved. In 1795, Kamehameha assembled an army of 12,000 men. Then he invaded Oʻahu. It is known in the Hawaiian language as Kalelekaʻanae, which means “the leaping mullet,” and refers to a number of Oʻahu warriors driven off the cliff in the final phase of the battle.  The local forces were slowly driven towards to the cliffs at Nuʻuanu Pali. “Caught between the Hawaiian Army and a 1000-foot drop, over 700 Oʻahu warriors either jumped or were pushed over the edge of the Pali (cliff). In 1898 construction workers working on the Pali road discovered 800 skulls which were believed to be the remains of the warriors that fell to their deaths from the cliff above.”

We got lost for a long time on the way back, which I might not have known if we hadn’t driven past Pali 40 minutes after leaving it. The boys dropped me off and I wandered into the bar next to the hotel and drank a Lava Flow, which my friend had insisted upon before I left for this trip.

Posted in Hawaii | Leave a comment

Oahu Friday: Eating our Way across the North Shore

After swimming with sharks, we wanted to wander into town and grab a bite. We didn’t get an Uber because it was so close. The historic town of Hale’iwa wasn’t actually that close, and my legs were rubber from two days in a row of snorkeling. But we walked to a little square, where I found one of the places on my must-do list — Matsumoto Shave Ice! The little shop opened in 1951 as M. Matsumoto Grocery Store, and the original couple’s kids still run it today. They brought shave ice from Japan, where it is called kakigōri. In Japan the dessert is often topped with adzuki beans, red beans boiled in sugar. Like New Orleans snowballs, you can also get them topped with sweetened condensed milk.

They had soooo many flavors! You can only order a max of three. I ordered blue pineapple, mango and lychee. Topped with sweetened condensed milk, of course. I was only going to try a little taste, as I often do with desserts, but it was so good I could not stop. I also wanted to try the Lilikoi (Passionfruit), guava, papaya and yuzu. Next time. There are also sone specific, local flavors like li hing mui (pickled plum), Ume (Japanese plum), Mizore, a plain sugar syrup, Ramune, a lemon-lime Japanese soda flavor, and Green River, a local lime soda that actually comes from the midwest.

The classic Matsumoto flavor combination is lemon-pineapple-coconut. Another favorite is the rainbow combination, which tastes like strawberry, lemon, and pineapple. If you want to try Obama’s favorite, try cherry and lemon lime with guava or lilikoi. A competitor makes a guava-passion flavor and along with the cherry and lemon lime calls it the “Snobama.” (Photo from Fanpop)

We wandered down to No. 7, a poke truck that the shark guides had recommended. OT got an assortment that included tuna and salmon. Poke (pronounced poke-eh by Canadians), is a roughly cut raw fish dish. It doesn’t use citrus to “cook” the fish like most other raw fish dishes like ceviche do. I like my fish cut thinly, like sashimi, so I just had some boring old gyoza. There are nice, shaded benches in the sand, and you really feel like a mellow surfer just chilling out instead of the manic tourists we had become.

We crossed the street (to see why all these guys were doing it).

And we found a cool shack selling seashells (by the seashore). Luckily, the guy was too busy to wait on us, as I was prepared to buy a curtain made of shells and some other regrettable purchase. Just down the road I happened upon a cemetery. I always seem to find one. I’m not even looking for them anymore.

We headed further down Kamehameha Highway to Kono’s but it was way too crowded, and we were too burned out to wait. So we walked next door to Breakers. OT got a cold beer and I got some killer Pork Fries with cheddar cheese, green onions and sour cream.

I wandered around and found a little gift shop. Now, I had been seeing these little furry coconut-helmeted tiki-type things and couldn’t figure them out.

 Finally, this shop had a picture that helped me to put it together.

Speaking of being a tourist, after checking out we took an Uber in search of the famous Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck. It is supposed to be THE SHIT. You must eat at Giovanni’s if you are on Oahu. The driver took us to the clearing full of food trucks, and I thought I heard him Mumble, “It’s closed.” But it was so quiet, and I was so excited it didn’t fully register until I spotted the sad, graffitti-ed truck. That was as closed as it gets. There was another shrimp truck there, and the line was sooo long.

I ended up getting a crepe at North Shore Creperie, the friendly guy in the first picture up top. It didn’t come with whipped cream, but when he saw me taking a picture of it he stopped me and added a nice swirl.

Here are a few pictures of other people’s food.

I was tempted to head over to the other Giovanni’s, you know how I am when I’m on a mission. But I couldn’t do that to OT, and we had had to get up really early in the morning to catch the boat so we were totally burnt out and we headed home. Here is a lovely Hawaiian flower for you.

Posted in Hawaii | Leave a comment

Oahu Friday: Swimming with Sharks

On Friday, we took an Uber to Haleiwa Harbor on the North Shore for a shark dive. Really, it’s snorkeling, but I guess that doesn’t sound as cool. I had never thought of swimming with sharks; it’s not even on my bucket list. But when I had rattled off possible activities, that’s the one that got OT excited. I wasn’t worried because they were mostly Galapagos and Sandbar sharks, and everything I read online said they rarely attack humans. I never wanted to do a shark cage, chumming and artificially riling the sharks up like they do with broncos in the rodeo. This would just be swimming around with them. I forgot to get a nice establishing shot of the boat or the harbor, but I did take a picture of the beach on the other side of the parking lot

We were on a small boat with a captain, three guides and a family of four. There was a long rope floating off the back of the boat so you could hold on and feel secure. This time I held my go pro in my hand. They told me that the camera emits the exact same electrical charge as a crab, and if I had it strapped to my chest, it could make a shark mistakenly bite me. I wonder how they discovered that. Also, what a dumb shark to think that crabs are swimming around on the surface of the ocean. I mean, sharks are known to be smarter than other fish, but is that really saying a lot? Since I don’t use my arms when I’m wearing fins, holding the GoPro wasn’t a bother at all. Here is POV video of me going in the water. I took so long to go in because I was waiting for the waves to be even with the boat so I could just slide in and wouldn’t make a big splash. OT is the one in the black rashguard swimming by like a dolphin in the beginning. I love sharks, even if they are stupid. It was magical.

I wasn’t afraid at all. I love being in the water. I tend to follow whatever creature is passing by, so I kept swimming after the sharks. The guides would tap me, and I would have to surface and remove my snorkel to talk, so I swallowed more sea water than I would have liked. They kept instructing me to get back to the boat, and the third time they told me to just hold onto the rope, dammit! I went back in the boat earlier than I normally would have due to all the water I was taking in.

When I talked to OT later, he said he was terrified the entire time. He pointed out the aggressive way they were coming at us, and the way the guides were bonking them and turning them away. I had actually wanted more action from the sharks. I told OT that it’s not as if we were chumming. He told me that with all the fishing boats around the island throwing scraps into the water, the sharks probably connect all boats to food, regardless. He said, “If it hadn’t been for those girls, we would be shark chow.” There was a ball hanging off a winch on the side of the boat emitting electrical currents to attract the sharks. One shark bit it right off and swam away with it. OK, that was kind of intense.

And there was one time when a shark swam straight across the rope, perpendicularly, that was probably scary for the people at the front of the rope. When we were all back in the boat, I had accidentally left my GoPro on in my bag, so I could hear us talking on the recording later. On the recording, the tourist mom said, “When that shark swam across the rope, I was OUT!”

I said, “Really? That’s when I was IN!” Maybe adrenaline makes me stupid.

Later, when I watched these videos, I think perhaps I was too cavalier. You can see the women turning the sharks away with paddles, and at the end a shark comes swimming at us quickly on the right, and one of the free divers jumps across my shot to turn it away. Next time I will stay with the boat.

One of the guides was stung by a man o’ war. Here is the transcript from my gopro:

Me: Someone got stung by a man o’ war??

Cute dive guide: It was going for my butt, so I put my hand out to protect it and got stung on the hand.

Tourist mom: It’s nice

Me: It’s nice that she got stung?

Tourist Mom: No, Her butt–it’s nice

OT: Yeahhhhh [high fives tourist mom]

I looked up the sharks again later. From the Encyclopedia Brittanica:

Galapagos sharks and other members of the family Carcharhinidae are commonly referred to as “requiem” sharks, the group of sharks often considered to be responsible for most attacks on humans [Sandbars are also Requiem sharks]. The potentially large sizes of Galapagos sharks and their tendency to be present in large numbers warrants special attention by divers and swimmers. Caution is recommended when swimming with this species, especially when fishing or spearfishing may excite and provoke the animals.

Then I searched shark attacks in the area and this was on the exact same kind of tour we were on–maybe the same tour operators. Swimming with sharks is considered to be “provoking” them, so it’s not like they were booping them on the nose or anything. That must have been crazy!

So, I have questions. Was it one shark or three sharks? Was it a feeding frenzy? Was it one shark but R. Russell just unwilling to commit to a size and genus? Like, “I don’t know. It was trying to chew my arm off! I wasn’t checking for identifying marks! Length? Big! It was a big-ass scary shark! I didn’t stop to measure the damn thing!”

I need to hear this story. Were they wearing a GoPro and that’s how they found out sharks think they are crabs? Maybe the Russells were tourists, and “confodential saved them by paddling, punching and bonking the shark only to get the worst of it. Or maybe the one who got bit on the hand was like, “It was going for my butt, so I put my hand behind me.”

Posted in Hawaii, whales and sharks | Leave a comment

Oahu Thursday: Turtles!

On Thursday we went snorkeling. We started the day off with Pineapple whip in pineapples. It was too sweet to drink much, but we really just wanted the picture. That’s probably half their sales. We went to a reef where turtles go to get cleaned by fish, like an underwater carwash. It was so great being back in the water.

They are serious about protecting their wildlife, and there is a serious fine if you get within 10 feet of a turtle. Oliver called to me over to come see this turtle, so I started swimming over. Suddenly this little turtle surfaced right under me! If you have the sound on you can hear me say, “Oh sh*t!” into my snorkel.

My nephew yelled, “Hey! Stop molesting that turtle!” The GoPro was strapped to me and pointing downwards, I wasn’t holding it, so you can’t see the turtle except for the end of my evasive action when i flopped onto my back to swim away faster.

Later they told me, “Ohhh, turtles are curious and it’s not a big deal if they come at you. Just don’t touch them.”

We went to Oahu so that Oliver could hang out with his friend who is attending college there. In the evenings Oliver leaves me to relax in the room and goes to party with his friend. We met up with him after snorkeling and hit up Marugame Udon. “Founded in Kakogawa City, Japan, in 2000, Marugame Udon is the world’s No. 1 udon concept with more than 1,000 locations in 13 countries and three U.S. states, serving up authentic, handmade-to-order Japanese Sanuki-style udon noodles, plus tempura, robata skewers and katsu sandwiches.” The udon was excellent, and the tempura was good. Best of all, three of us had a nice and filling lunch and it was under $30! It turns out there is a Marugame Udon near me in Glendale, so you won’t have to fly to Hawaii if you are tempted.

Posted in Hawaii, whales and sharks | Leave a comment

Oahu Wednesday: Trippin Around Sweet E’s and Aloha Bowl

On Wednesdays, there is a big swap meet across town at the Aloha Bowl, so we rented a moped. We got a big one with a raised back seat so I wouldn’t have to cuddle my nephew. We stopped for breakfast at Sweet E’s Cafe, which not only lived up to its reputation, it surpassed it. Named for its founder, Ethel Mathews, the cafe opened in October of 2011.

I am a sucker for a benedict, so I ordered the Kalua Pork Benedict. Oh my God!!! It was amazing! Tender, flavorful pork and a bright lemony Hollandaise. Perfection! Oliver ordered the Hawaiian Omelette with Spam, Portuguese sausage, scallions, onion and cheddar cheese. It was fantastic too. This was one of my favorite restaurants of the week.

I was tripping out at the way this server juggled the cups.

Oliver picked up our cups and noticed a little slot at the top, solving the mystery.

It was a pretty cool place.

It was a really long ride to the Aloha Bowl. I didn’t realize it was 10 miles away. There are a lot of homeless people around Waikiki so it was sad; it sure wasn’t the scenic route. When we got there it was super hot. Most stalls had Hawaiian shirts or wood carvings. One woman told us how her family made these carvings and we bought a few. Then we saw stall after stall with the same carvings. We couldn’t find the food trucks, although we did get to drink coconut milk. I didn’t check my map, so I didn’t remember I had planned to go to Aiea Bowl, a reputedly awesome diner in a bowling alley nearby.

We decided to go to the second location of The Side Street Inn on the way back and get another peanut butter crunch. We kept circling the block and couldn’t find it. Finally we drove up the driveway of a mixed-use building called the Ioloni Center. Then we had to go to the back of the parking lot and walk down stairs, and when we found it, it didn’t open for two more hours. I guess it’s not called “Main Street Inn” for a reason.

The Ioloni Center did have a cool donut shop though. Thank goodness the Purvé Donut Stop has that accent on the final E. Founded in 2018 by Nicholas Cornford and Brion Zablan, the shop is all about speed, quality and service. All donuts are made fresh as you watch. The donut flavors are crazy and fun.

Tossed like a Salad in Cinnamon and Sugar

Mixed Berry Glazed Teased with Captain Crunch & Cream Drizzle

Lemon Glaze Butt Sneezed with Fruity Pebbles

Lemon Glaze, Graham Cracker with a Cream Cheese Climax

Haupia Glaze Lei’d with Macadamia Nuts & Chocolate Banana drizzle

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at ili ili Cash & Carry. The name is short for the neighborhood, “Moiliili.” Alejandro “Aker” Briceno and Lindsey Ozawa are known for their thin New York-style crust and thick Detroit-style. I should have ordered a pizza or sandwich for later, but I wasn’t hungry at all. I got garlic knots. They weren’t the usual baked pizza dough. They were deep-fried, like garlic donut holes. Why doesn’t everyone make these?

Since I hadn’t ordered anything but garlic donuts, I eventually got hungry and wandered off into the night. Amongst the many tourist spots, I happened upon Tiki’s Grill and Bar.

They had standard upscale restaurant fare in a 1980s Gourmet Magazine style. The beets and goat cheese were stacked into a Napoleon

Tuna tartare was in an old school timbale

It was all delicious, and they had crepe cake! I relaxed on the lanai with my cocktail and listened to live music from a local with a ukelele. It’s a cliche for a reason.

Posted in Hawaii | Leave a comment

Oahu Tuesday: Highway Inn

We ended the afternoon with dinner at the Highway Inn, a very traditional Hawaiian restaurant. Seiichi Toguchi was born in Hawai‘i, but was raised in Ginoza-son, Okinawa. He returned to Hawai‘i and worked as a dishwasher at the old City Café, where he met his wife. He was was quickly promoted to cook’s apprentice. During WWII the couple were tragically removed and put in internment camps on the mainland. At the end of 1946, the Toguchi family returned to Hawai‘i and opened the original Highway Inn in 1947.

Their son, Bobby, took over the restaurant and moved it to its current location on Leoku Street in 1984. In 2013 a second location opened in Kaka‘ako, in downtown Honolulu. Now with two locations, a fish market and catering, the Highway in is being helmed by a third generation of he Toguchi ‘Ohana.

We started with their Kahlua Pork in fluffy Chinese buns. I am obsessed with those buns!

The Highway Inn is famous for its lau lau–shredded  kālua pork and butterfish wrapped in lu’au leaves and ti leaves. The package is steamed, and when you open up the aroma escapes with the steam. I ordered a lau lau combo, which also included rice, steamed uala (purple potato), potato-mac and haupia, a coconut dessert.

OT went with flame-grilled short ribs in an Asian soy marinade. Maybe it was the familiarity, but the charred meatiness made it our favorite dish.

We watched the sunset on the beach before heading back to the hotel.

I just liked these plants and OT good-naturedly posed with it.

Posted in Hawaii | Leave a comment

Oahu Tuesday: A Whale of a Tale

It was about time to catch our 3 pm whale watch tour. It was much bigger boat. I was a little disappointed because big boats can’t get as close to the whales. There were also lots of people. But it turned out to be an open bar, so rescheduling upgraded us from a small sailboat with bottled water to a booze cruise on a big catamaran.

The water was gorgeous, and there was a beautiful rainbow over the city. There were some really active spouts. At first we thought it was a mother and her baby. But it turned out to be two male humpbacks fighting over a female. I think it’s more showing off for her than actually attacking each other. They didn’t breach or anything spectacular, but there was some hardcore fin slapping, which I had never seen before.

The small boats can get much closer.

Posted in aquarium, Hawaii, whales and sharks | Leave a comment

Oahu Tuesday: Aquarium and Pho

We had SO MUCH time before our 8 am whale watching, that we kind of dilly dallied. I wanted to hurry OT along, but I didn’t want to ruin the easygoing nature of the holiday by nagging. Our Uber got stuck behind a van loading a million pieces of luggage (I later learned military stationed there are moving their whole world there, hence the insane amounts of luggage). I got a call from the whale watch captain telling us we were running late and they had to set sail. He kindly rescheduled us for the 3 pm whale watch.

We didn’t really know what to do, so we headed for the beach conveniently located just one block away. The sky suddenly opened up and it was pouring. So we took another Uber a few city blocks to the aquarium. I always go to aquariums when I travel, and I’m sorry to say that Waikiki has a crappy aquarium. The octopus and seal exhibits were closed, so maybe that’s part of it, but I am becoming more and more against keeping sea mammals in captivity, so it’s probably for the best. After seeing “My Octopus Teacher” I’m not sure I even want to see octopi in captivity. Still, there were some nice saltwater fish and cool jellies. This fish has arms!

A Georgia O’Keefe coral

We got into an Uber, and the young woman driving decided that the thrift store we wanted to go to was inferior to one she knew of in the opposite direction, so she drove around for a while before deciding that it must have closed down. Then she drove us up into the hills, pointing out a house, “That’s where my dad lived.” It was bizarre and I was relieved when we were dropped off at the correct shop. Oliver said, “She was like a space alien who just got here and is still trying to figure out how things work.”

We went to a thrift store to pick up discount Hawaiian shirts and I was hoping for some tiki stuff, but didn’t find much, then we hit up a nearby mom and pop hole in the wall I had scoped out for Pho. Oliver ordered an interesting roll-your-own summer roll platter. I warned him that the wrappers fall apart easily, and he told me that he makes them for every party they have. The things you learn about people on vacation…

Apparently, we made a mistake by not ordering the crab curry, but sometimes you just have to go with your faithful standbys. Now I have a reason to go back!

Posted in aquarium, Hawaii | Leave a comment

Oahu Tuesday: Leonard’s Malasadas

Malasadas are Portuguese doughnuts that have taken over the island of Oahu. Leonard DoRego, the grandson of Portuguese immigrants who came to Hawaii to work the sugar cane fields, opened Leonard’s bakery in 1952. He then started making malasadas, a Portuguese tradition for Shrove Tuesday, back in 1953. They were such a hit, the bakery started making them year-round, and now the bakery has become synonymous with the fried treat.

Since OT and I were on EST and PST, we were waking up before 5 am. OT was able to stop at Leonard’s Bakery for malasadas when they opened at 5:30 am Tuesday morning and showed up with a box of the outstanding fried dough. they are crisper and a little denser than the jelly donuts they resemble. You can get them rolled in white sugar, cinnamon sugar, or Li Hing, which is a “thing” in Hawaii. Have you ever had those Asian preserved plum snacks? They are sweet and sour and salty, and a bit much for me. You can have your malasadas rolled in that stuff! I had asked for them to be rolled in plain sugar and filled with guava, macadamia nut, and custard. The custard and macadamia nut filled ones were almost identical.

We returned on Wednesday, and also happened upon their truck on Saturday, such luck!

Posted in Bakeries, Hawaii | Leave a comment

Oahu Monday: OT and Side Street

Yay!!! OT is here! My husband was so upset that I had accidentally sent the donuts he was craving to Hawaii, that we immediately sent him the above picture.

It was Valentine’s Day, so I wasn’t sure we would be able to get a table anywhere. Luckily, we were told we could get a seat at the bar at Side Street Inn, a heavily recommended Hawaiian place. It’s a family-friendly neighborhood hangout, which has also been visited by the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Jonathan Gold. The ambiance is a little 1980s Dennys mixed with a nice Chinese restaurant. The Uber driver dropped us off in an underground parking lot, where we encountered other groups of diners also searching for the restaurant. Finally, we found some stairs and made our way to the bar area.

I started out with a lychee martini, because it was vacation and I’m a sucker for anything lychee. It wasn’t a sweet drink, but the ice-cold top-shelf liquor made it smooth in spite of its strength. The server/bartender was cool and friendly. We loved her and immediately felt at home.

We were warned that the food was served family-style because the helpings were so large. We scoffed, because my nephew has an insatiable appetite, and can eat four times a normal serving. We ordered pork chops, which was their specialty, chicken, and fried rice. The platters that arrived could easily feed a family of five. We would scoff no more.

The dishes were so huge that I even forgot to take a picture of the chicken. I’m losing my edge. They’re going to revoke my Instagramembership. The crispy pork chops were good, and the fried rice, studded with bacon, char siu, and Portuguese sausage, was perfect and filling, but the chicken was awesome. Deep fried and drizzled with a slightly sweet shoyu garlic sauce, it was our favorite dish. Our order was so common, it was called the “Ohana Pack” and was priced at $70. Considering how many people it could feed, it was a great bargain. I was kind of suffering from high expectations, which made a lot of the restaurants on this trip seem not as impressive as I was led to believe.

But…BUT! We were about to have the best thing we ate the entire week. Peanut Butter Crunch! How did I live so long without this in my life? Milk chocolate and peanut butter was combined with crumbled cookie wafers to make a cake, almost a cookie bar, which was topped with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. We started battling over it with our forks, until finally OT whined loudly and hilariously, “You’re RUINING Valentine’s Day!!!

I tried to get the recipe, but the server told me, “She won’t tell anyone!” They had better protect this lady.

As we let our food settle, my nephew mused, “If I came back, I’d order the dessert FIRST, then I’d order the chicken, and then just bring the leftover rice from last time.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Oahu Monday: HOMA and Ioloni Palace

I walked over to the Honolulu Museum of Art HOMA. It was closed down to prepare for an art festival, but I was invited to wander the small sculpture garden and check out the single interactive installation that was open.


Fred Roster “Jax Bench.” The sculptor explains that the dogs are a metaphor for human change. I don’t get it either.

There was an indoor installation created with painted umbrellas forming a sort of yurt, with the artist in residence. There were several people sitting around inside, and a variety of objects. He said that it was his mind. We discussed the possible and intended meanings of objects as the little group left. I was focused on some suitcases that may have represented his baggage when he said, “That’s my family.” I looked for the objects representing them, then I realized he literally meant the people who had just left.

The Iolani Palace was just around the corner, Unfortunately, it is still closed due to Covid. But I was able to admire the huge gates and beautiful exterior. The Palace, which is the only official royal palace in the United States, is a registered National Historic Landmark. And for one unfortunate Queen, it was once a prison.

The story of the colonization and theft of Hawaii began as most of these stories do–money. And white men. Always white men. The Committee of Safety, comprised of men with interests in the plantations of Hawaii, were not happy with Queen Liliuokalani’s attempts to strengthen the Hawaiian monarchy. Their goal was annexation by the United States.  They took over the government, and when an attempt was made to reinstate the queen, she was imprisoned in an upstairs bedroom of the palace for almost eight months. I guess it’s better than the five years of hard labor in prison, which was the original sentence.

Posted in Hawaii, museums | Leave a comment

Oahu Monday: Fete and Chinatown

The first reservation I made was at Fete in Chinatown, on my brother’s recommendation. I had to ask for a spot inside because there was an unhoused man yelling at us on the patio, and as a result, the table next to mine was saying uncharitable things, which actually bothered me more. The restaurant kindly squeezed me in at the bar, which is fine, because I was alone anyways. There was a couple on the corner of the bar who were super friendly and recommended more great restaurants for me to try. I just found their list on a napkin after returning home. Oops. This is someone else’s drink; it just looked so good.

Everything on the menu looked awesome, but I went with the beef cheek pot pie in spite of the warm day, because I LOVE cheeks. It was rich and delicious, with bits of potato and carrot nestled under a cozy blanket of pate brisee.

As you would expect, this was not your usual pot pie. The grass-fed Kua-aina ranch meat was more intensely flavored than your usual beef, or as Alina joked on her season of Top Chef, “Why is the beef…so…beefy?” The bill was also very reasonable for such an upscale experience.

Anyone from California will find this menu item amusing…if a little blurry

I wandered around Chinatown, which has some cool old buildings with dim sum shops and delis selling lacquered ducks out of tiny shops, like the little Hurricane booths in the French Quarter. The dim sum was tempting, but I was stuffed from that beefy pie!

Posted in Hawaii | Leave a comment

Oahu: Prix Fixe Dinner at XO

My nephew wasn’t scheduled to arrive until the next day, so I went out to an indulgent, chef-driven 7-course tasting menu at XO that I thought would be too fussy for him. The ambiance wasn’t fussy at all, with your standard cafeteria chairs and walls that looked like each one had been decorated by a different person altogether. The service was very friendly and personalized.

I ended up here because it had occurred to me that there might be such a thing as a foie gras Loco Moco in Waikiki. Maybe there is and I couldn’t find it, because, seriously. Foie Gras Loco Moco. I did keep seeing Crispy Rice with Foie Gras popping up online, and it was on the tasting menu at XO. It was a $75 tasting menu, with some courses having either an upgrade or addition available for not that much more money. Like $3 to $8. The server discussed their cocktail menu with me, and although it was tempting, we decided that the Ube Lemonade would be way too sweet for me. I believe this is a Lilokai (Passionfruit) Margarita, but I can’t remember exactly. Nonetheless, A+

The first course was deliciously crispy fried chicken skin, an underutilized ingredient in my opinion. It was lacquered with an intense sticky sweet and sour coating that was a bit much for me. It seemed like it belonged on little pork ribs on a pupu platter. But points for a creative fusion of cuisines. B

I added on a second app for $8. They started my meal out strong with an Oxtail Xiang Long Bao, or soup dumpling. There wasn’t any soup (which is made by putting a gelatinized cube of broth in the dumpling), but that didn’t matter, because it was fantastic. As I told my server, you can’t really go wrong with oxtail. A+

The second course was titled “Veg.” Everything in this course was vegan and gluten free. The heavily Instagrammed Beet Lotus with Emulsified Chimichurri was gorgeous. Unfortunately, the timbale of beets beneath the halo of radish was bland and mushy, with more of the texture of sweet potatoes. I was disappointed. C+

The third course, “Starch” offered a dish that didn’t appeal to me–Seaweed Potatoes Gratin. For $5 I subbed it out with the dish I had come for–Crispy Rice and Foie Gras. Although the foie was small, I was able to get three nice, fatty bites, and it paired perfectly with the crispy rice. If I could have ordered this as a full appetizer course size, I would have been ecstatic. It occurs to me now that I might have been able to add on more plates at $8 a pop. I think I missed an opportunity. A+

I was interested in adding the Herb Gnocchi with Arbequina (fancy olives) and a whiskey carrot puree. My server guided me instead toward the Mushroom Tofu Lasagne with Ma po Tomato and Crispy Tempeh. I expected the tofu to be crumbled between the sheets of pasta. I did not expect the tofu to replace the pasta. It looked so dull and gray I didn’t even take a picture, which you know is not like me. And it tasted dull and gray; it was nearly flavorless. The waiter forlornly took away 3/4 of this dish, and I felt our relationship start to crumble. D-

Things started looking up again with the three protein courses. The Scallops were perfectly cooked. I wasn’t fond of the Mussel Sinigang (A Filipino sweet-sour tamarind soup). But that is not their fault, because I am quite unfond of mussels. The Crispy Kale was purely decorative to me, like a parsley sprig. B.

Their signature dish, a 4-hour braised Adobo Fried Chicken, was a boneless chicken breast of good quality, like Mary’s in LA. It was probably Jidori. It was crispy and had a nice seasoning, plus a sauce made with a peppercorn Togarashi (a Japanese pepper, often used to refer to a spice mix containing the pepper). It was a hearty dish, and I was starting to get full, so I didn’t finish it. This caused the waiter some concern, and he wanted to pack it up for me, but I was going back to a hotel. A-

The final protein was a Kalbi Pork Belly Ssam, with a Gochujang Aioli (Korean chile paste). A Ssam is usually something vegetable wrapped, but again we had the timbale. It was dense and hearty. Although it was meant to taste like Korean Kalbi, it still reminded me of Kahlua pork. It was just too much for me to eat, but this time I let the waiter pack it up in order to avoid an incident. A-

In spite of my full belly, their signature dessert, Fluffle of Brown Butter Bunny Butter Mochi, seemed small and not too filling (Wafer thin!). There was a cute little chocolate poop behind the bum. Rabbits actually poop pellets, but why get all pedantic about a rabbit-shaped confection? It was absolute perfection. Brown Butter is such a classic American flavor. Combining it with mochi was the pinnacle of fusion genius. I can see why it is so popular. Again, it occurs to me, I probably could have ordered a second one to take home. I’m just so used to eating whatever the chef gives me on a tasting menu and not making a fuss. A+++

It was definitely a mixed bag. There were a few dishes that would have made for a better meal had they been left off the menu completely. But the highs were very high. The restaurant is relatively new, so maybe they just need to find their legs. Vegans rave about the place, so maybe there was less seasoning on the night I was there. Or maybe vegans prefer less seasoning?

The mission of the restaurant group is to provide opportunities for chefs and restaurant workers to be able to collaborate and experiment more, feel supported, have opportunities for training, and better working conditions. Chef/owner Kenny Lee has hopes for “a massive variety of different concepts that are new and unproven.” XO wants to take risks and move Hawaiian food into the future. XO seems to be a step in the right direction.

Posted in Hawaii | Leave a comment

Welcome to Oahu!

I promised my nephew that I would use some of my inheritance to take him on a trip. I invited him to Cancun, but he wanted to go to New Orleans. Then he called me out of the blue two weeks ago and invited me to Hawaii! The RT airfare was only $199, so Honolulu it is! The hotel I got was only about $1100 for a week, but then I had to upgrade to get two beds (for obvious reasons), and the add-on “resort fees” are highway robbery, but standard, so the room ended up being 2 grand. But when I got here yesterday–what a room! Worth every penny! The view of Diamond Head is breathtaking, and I even got upgraded to a “partial ocean view,” which is a very flexible term here, but the bit of blue when you look to the right off the balcony is nonetheless wonderful.

It’s a bit like a Holiday Inn that has been hipsterized. The hallways are sprayed with an overly sweet air freshener that smells like the ones they use in ladies’ bathrooms. Otherwise, it’s super clean. No bugs. The workers are incredibly nice. Our room overlooks the bar and pool so it can be a little noisy. but by 10 pm it’s so quiet you could hear a pin drop.

Here’s a little story…I use a shopping service called Shipt. I was using them this week to send stuff to my brother’s care home, and to a friend, and I also checked to see if they deliver in Hawaii so I can save money there. In other words, I was changing the address a lot. So, the other day I placed an order at Target. Bob said get ALL the drinks so I ordered enough for weeks. Then I ordered sooo many snacks for on the plane.

The shopper and Bob were texting back and forth because the guy couldn’t find our house.

Bob says, “You’re on Mariposa Street?”

The guy says, “No, man. I’m on Kapahulu Avenue.”

Bob shouted to me, “You sent our groceries to Hawaii!”

I convinced the front desk at the hotel to hold the SIX 12 packs of diet coke and EIGHT cases of La Croix, along with a big bag of snacks until I arrived, and I told the delivery guy to just take the perishables home.

So we have plenty of drinks. Maybe I will wander the streets handing out Diet Cokes. There will be legends about me.

“…and on a very quiet, moonless night, you can still hear the clanking of her cans…”

I often ask taxi drivers on the way home from the airport to stop at their favorite spot, and I will buy them lunch. My cabbie wanted garlic shrimp, a specialty of the island.

Everyone here is so fuckin’ friendly! They get really excited to learn you just arrived, or that it is your first visit, in spite of the fact they must hear that a million times a day.

I tried an island specialty–shell-on shrimp with a creamy garlic sauce.

I was disappointed to see the “tempura shrimp” looked like fish sticks. I was so wrong. It was so hot you had to hold your mouth open after a bite, and the shrimp was so tender as if barely cooked.

…and the first thing you have to do in Oahu, is get a Dole Whip!

Posted in Hawaii | Leave a comment