Sunday, August 27, 2006

Yohei Sushi

Yohei Sushi
1111 Dillingham Blvd

Yohei Sushi is located in a tiny strip mall near Kalihi but looks like it could be found in Tokyo. It was packed on a Thursday night at 6:30 pm when we arrived (get reservations, otherwise you’ll never get a table) and the majority of the staff (sushi chefs and waitresses) appeared to be from Japan.

Yohei is known for its ‘Yohei Sets’: beautiful, elaborate set meals. There are 3 choices ($19-26): unagi, sushi or the ‘sokudo set’ (not sure what that one is).

Here is the Yohei Sushi Zen set:

They also serve dinner sets (tempura, sashimi, grilled fish), donburi, or individual sushi/noodle combinations.

Overall, I’d say that Yohei Sushi has the most beautiful presentation of any meals I’ve had in Hawaii and is also a good value for such an elegant meal.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Review: Saigon Vietnamese Cuisine

Saigon Vietnamese Cuisine
164 N King St.

Had lunch today at Saigon Vietnamese Cuisine in Chinatown. It’s right around the corner from Cuu Long (the ridiculously popular pho restaurant on River St.) but luckily doesn’t have the same long lines.

We got the last empty table. A good sign of an authentic restaurant: almost every table had Vietnamese speakers. A good mix of crowd: families, old men, some young army soldiers, and even some ‘gangstas’ with the sunglasses on indoors and the gelled back hair.

I ordered the tofu & veggie (in beef broth) pho ($6.25), and my dad ordered the beef pho with everything in it ($4.95). Mine came packed with won bok, bok choi, carrots, onions, green onions and sliced tofu. It was awesome. The broth was stellar: not too salty but very flavorful. SVC also offers 3 different hot sauces + plum sauce + shoyu & vinegar to flavor your soup with.

*tofu veggie pho*

*beef pho*

Although I haven’t been to Cuu Long yet to compare, Saigon Vietnamese Cuisine is now my favorite pho in Honolulu. This place is a keeper!

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Review: Bac Nam (Kaimuki)

Bac Nam
1117 King St (by Pensacola)

Yummy Yummy Yummy

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThere’s really nothing else to say about Bac Nam (rated one of Honolulu Magazine’s (or some Hawaii publication…I can’t remember where I saw it) best meals under $20). It’s a no-frills Vietnamese restaurant on King St (near Pensacola).

We arrived around 7 pm on a Friday evening and had to wait about 20 minutes for a table. Unlike Saigon Vietnamese Cuisine (which was packed with Vietnamese) Bac Nam is packed with locals.

The menu is much more extensive than other Vietnamese restaurants I’ve been to. In addition to pho (only one or two varieties here), stir fries and summer rolls, they have soups, hot pot, several grilled lamb dishes, make your own wraps, steamed rice flour meat rolls, and a bunch of other stuff I can’t remember.

We ordered family style (for 4 people) and had the spicy beef soup (I read about it on and had to have it, steamed rice flour meat rolls, bbq chicken bun, and the French beef stew.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThe spicy beef soup, while not very spicy at all, was wonderful. A rich fragrant beef broth with bits of red floating in it, spaghetti like noodles, random beef parts, and lots of cilantro and green onions floating in it. It also comes with a plate of basil & bean sprouts to put in the soup. I highly recommend this dish.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThe steamed rice flour meat rolls were interesting as well. It was ground beef seasoned with lots of ginger, garlic, and cooked onions, steamed in mochi-like batter. It arrived as long rolls (similar to look fun) and sprinkled with pickled vegetables and tiny dried shrimps. It’s served with sliced lettuce, cucumber, parboiled bean sprouts, and a vinegary sweet chile sauce. Yum!

BBQ chicken bun is cold vermicelli noodles topped with bbq chicken, lettuce, cucumber and served with the same sauce as the rice flour rolls. This dish was just average.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingThe French beef stew, while a little similar to the spicy beef soup, is a dish I’ve been meaning to try in the past so I figured I’d get it here. It was watery in comparison to American beef stews but the broth was very tasty. It’s normally served with a baguette but they were all out so we had it with rice instead. It was pretty good but a little dull (literally just falling apart stewed beef in an oily soup) so it’s not something I’d order by itself.

Bac Nam is BYOB, and the cutest new wine store just opened up across the street (People’s Wine or People’s Republic of Wine, something like that) so be sure to pick up a bottle before your meal. They also had an awesome selection of specialty beers (Newcastle, Chimay, Sam Cooke and Mehana are the ones that I remember), sold by the bottle for reasonable prices.

Friday, August 04, 2006

This Is It (Downtown)

This is It Too (Downtown)
1001 Bishop St. #102 (Bishop St Plaza)

Owner Steve Gelson and his wife, Mona, have been making bagels in Hawai‘i for 25 years. My family used to go almost every week to Hawaiian Bagel Company in Kaka’ako every weekend when we were little and pick up a big brown bag (a baker’s dozen) of bagels. It was always a huge debate picking out which 13 to order, because they sold so many interesting flavors. I started out loving cinnamon raisin, graduated onto cranberry or blueberry bagels, and finally discovered their salt bagels. Heaven.

When they opened a store in Manoa Marketplace, I’d go there for blueberry scones and coffee. As the first scone I was introduced to, I still judge all other scones by their ultimate standard: not too sweet, lots off fruit, not too fluffy (a scone should not resemble a muffin), and firm enough that it begs to be sliced, not broken off in pieces, to avoid crumbling.

Both stores closed several years ago, and since I was not an obsessive foodie at the time, I never bothered to find out why (googling them today, I found out Steve & Mona’s fascinating battle with Zippy’s). Anyway, to cut to the chase, Hawaiian Bagel Factory has been reincarnated as This is It, and This is It Too downtown, just blocks from my office!! I walked in and was hit with the same fresh bagel smell as in the old days, just in slightly posher digs downtown.

I ordered a blueberry scone (I’d been waiting years to have one of these again). It was so good I almost went back that day for another one (they also have cinnamon raisin or cranberry scones).

Jennie had an everything bagel with lox cream cheese: also to die for. They also serve bagel sandwiches and salads.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Hawaii’s restaurant scene

There was a fascinating article in the August issue of Honolulu Magazine by food critic John Heckathorn describing the restaurant scene in Hawaii and the lack of new creative kitchen talent. He points out that Alan Wong, Sam Choy and Roy Yamaguchi all came along nearly 20 years ago but no one has stepped up recently. (although he does mention the talent of the owners of Sansei, Bev Gannon from Maui, and a few others)

Heckathorn argues that high real estate prices and the popularity of mainland chain restaurants are holding back the industry’s creative growth. (He claims servers can make a guaranteed $150 a night in tips, so new restaurants have difficulty hiring good staff) When I compare the eating out scene between Honolulu and Shanghai (the two cities I have the most experience eating out in), I am disappointed by Honolulu’s seemingly stagnant restaurant choices.

In Shanghai I was spoiled by new restaurants constantly opening, ridiculously cheap restaurant prices, and an international population who demanded a wide range of cuisines. I realize now that in comparison to Honolulu, restauranteurs did have it much easier in Shanghai with relatively cheap real estate, a large number of available spaces, cheap labor (although training them is another story…) and a wide range of fresh produce and meats.

In Shanghai, it seemed like everyone was opening a restaurant. So many of my friends were involved in the business, or knew someone who was. We delighted in eating out regularly and finding new places to try.

Being home in Hawaii, I noticed a few trends:
- people like to go back to the places they know; there isn’t as much stimulus to try out new restaurants
- you have to seek out small, unknown classic restaurants that have been around forever, because there isn’t an influx of new places to see

What would I like to see in the Hawaii food scene? More restaurants like Green Door: non-chain, ethnic food, low prices, and a charming owner.

The same article mentioned that Cheesecake Factory (Waikiki) has over $20 million dollars revenue a year. Unbelievable. Yes, they’re located in Waikiki and have access to the tourists. Yes, they can afford to rent/purchase a huge amount of square footage because they have the financial backing. But why are so many people eating there?? I guess it’s partly our fault too, for choosing to eat at these mainland chain restaurants and not giving local restaurants a chance.