Tuesday, November 16, 2010

2011 Hale Aina Winners

I look at the Hale Aina Winners every year. And always have this feeling that there's a lot of politics that go into creating this list. Winners are decided by voting and unfortunately there's just a lot of people that fall prey to restaurant marketing and people who have a who-you-know that will vote for a restaurant that haven't ate there in ages. I've seen many places that are coasting on reputations.

You also have to think who goes to these places AND know about Hale Aina Awards. Also, volume messes up the counts. If you have a 300 people a night operation you are going to have more votes than the places that only have say only 100 people a night. And how many of those people know about the awards and have time to go vote at Honolulu Magazine?

In any case, just remember that everything skews the results. Always take this list with a grain of salt. I always recommend going out, try it yourself and form your own opinion.

If you need help and are footing the bill I'll be happy to join you.

2011 Hale Aina Awards
hosted by Honolulu Magazine
my opinions in italics

Roy’s Hawaii Kai
Roy has ambition and business savvy. He understands how to run a kitchen for a high volume business. Remember that when you go: it's part factory, part art gallery. Still, I love to bring people here visiting from the Mainland. Go boy!

Chefs Choice Award
Chai’s Island Bistro, Chef Mavro and Hoku’s
Big names, big respect, big politics

Best Oahu Restaurant
Gold – Alan Wong’s Honolulu
Silver – Le Bistro
Bronze – Azure
Top 5 – Ruth’s Chris Steak House
Top 5 – 3660 On The Rise
Nothing against Ruth's Chris, I think the food is fantastic. I love to go there. But in polls like these I really think that nationwide chains should not be on the list.

Best Maui Restaurant
Gold – Pineapple Grill
Silver – Lahaina Grill
Bronze – Mama’s Fish House
Top 5 – Casanova’s Italian Restaurant
Top 5 – Mala Ocean Tavern

Best Kauai Restaurant
Gold – The Beach House Restaurant
Silver – Mediterranean Gourmet
Bronze – Kaua‘i Grill
Top 5 – Red Salt
Top 5 – Bar Acuda

Best Big Island Restaurant
Gold – Merriman’s Waimea
Silver – Kaleo’s Bar and Grill
Bronze – Huggo’s
Top 5 – Brown’s Beach House
Top 5 – Café Pesto Kawaihae
I really thing La Bourgogne and Daniel Thiebaut's gets shafted year after year. Merriman's Waimea is excellent and deserves, with these 2, to be in some Gold, Silver, Bronze mash up.     

Best New Restaurant
Gold – Soul
Silver – BLT Steak
Bronze – Side Street Inn on Da Strip
Totally have been dying to check out Soul. They just added a chickens and waffles dish. So glad to see that space finally have a successful business. Just hearing good things about it. 
Also I don't consider Side Street Inn on Da Strip a 'New Restaurant.' It's a new space but the menu is mostly the same stuff from the original Side Street Inn. Still a great restaurant, just not sure if its in the right category... maybe make a 'restaurant re-dux' category. 

Best Little Neighborhood Restaurant
Gold – Kalapawai Café and Deli
Silver – Good to Grill
Bronze – TOWN
I've been to Good to Grill and am pretty satisfied with it, however I wouldn't call it a neighborhood restaurant. I want to call it a fancy plate lunch place. Don't let that stop you from going. Just byob and cafeteria style ambiance. 

Best Service
Gold – Roy’s Hawaii Kai
Silver – Alan Wong’s Honolulu
Bronze – Lahaina Grill
My feelings are mixed on this, while I feel Roy's and Alan Wong's should have excellent service; I was pretty sure they were going to be beat out by La Mer and Chef Mavro's. I think just the volume of local people that go to one versus the others skewed the results. 

Best Lunch
Gold – Mariposa
Silver – The Pineapple Room by Alan Wong
Bronze – Tango Contemporary Café
Mariposa? I admit, I haven't been here in ages, but when I did go there I only found it m'eh. I really thought one of the Kahala Hotel Restaurants were going to win. Again, overlap who goes there with who will be voting in this thing.

Best Wine Program
Gold – Formaggio Wine Bar
Silver – Vino Italian Tapas
Bronze – Chef Mavro
Slightly surprised with the Formaggio's Wine Bar being on the top. Love the place but I find the wines by the glass standard fare. Wines by the bottle though are definitely one the of best.  

Best Value
Gold – Roy’s Hawaii Kai
Silver – The Pineapple Room by Alan Wong
Bronze – Top of Waikiki
I must of missed this marketing ploy for best value. Was there a coupon or something? 

Best Pupu
Gold – Side Street Inn
Silver – Ryan’s Grill
Bronze – Uncle Bo’s
Ryan's Grill is always in someone's mind when we ask where to go for some reason I've never had anything memorable. 

Best Place to Take Visitors
Gold – Roy’s Hawaii Kai
Silver – Top of Waikiki
Bronze – Chai’s Island Bistro

Best Hotel Restaurant
Gold – Orchids at the Halekūlani
Silver – Hoku’s at the Kahala Hotel and Resort
Bronze – Prince Court at the Hawaii Prince Hotel

Restaurant That is Worth the Trip
Gold – Ola at Turtle Bay
Silver – Mama’s Fish House
Bronze – Haleiwa Joe’s at Haiku Gardens

Best Restaurant for Date Night
Gold – Michel’s at the Colony Surf
Silver – Top of Waikiki
Bronze – La Mer
La Mer? for a date? I've never had anyone even come close to a regular ol' date there. It's a special occasion place for events like: 'I'm going to propose', 'you are turning 50!.' Either that or I'm dating the wrong people. I can only name 1 friend that ever went on 1 date here (I've got to date more lawyers).   

Best Restaurant For a Big Group
Gold – Buca di Beppo
Silver – Tiki’s Grill and Bar
Bronze – Just Taco’s Mexican Grill and Cantina
Buca and Tiki's food just makes me go m'eh. My top 3 choices: Side Street Inn (original and new), California Pizza Kitchen (yes, its a chain but space and parking are good), Little Village Noodle House (those Chinese know how to feed a crowd). I have no opinion yet on Just Taco's but I look forward to checking them out soon. 

Best Breakfast
Gold – Café Kailua
Silver – Cinnamon’s
Bronze – Boots and Kimo’s
Everything is in Kailua? Guess Honolulu needs to step up breakfast service.

Best Restaurant for a Healthy Meal
Gold – TOWN
Silver – Hale Macrobiotic
Bronze – ‘Umeke Market

Best Gourmet Comfort Food
Gold – 12th Ave Grill
Silver – TOWN
Bronze – Kalapawai Café Deli
Now 12th Ave Grill is one I highly agree with, I would drop everything to go there at anytime, but does anyone else think this is the weirdest category name ever?  

Best Steak
Gold – Ruth’s Chris Steak House
Silver – Hy’s Steakhouse
Bronze – Morton’s the Steakhouse

Best Seafood
Gold – Nico’s at Pier 38
Silver – Mama’s Fish House
Bronze – Uncle’s Fish Market and Grill

Best Dessert
Gold – Roy’s Hawaii Kai
Silver – Cheesecake Factory
Bronze – JJ Bistro andFrench Pastry
It really bothers me that a chain restaurant beat out a classically trained, hand-made everything Chef. Cheesecake Factory is good, but look at the name, it makes me picture third world child laborers mixing bowls of batter by hand, slap a "made by momma" sticker on it and shipping to Hawaii. I know I'm at least half right on that story.

Best Chinese

Gold – Little Village Noodle House
Silver – Fook Yuen Seafood Restaurant
Bronze – Happy Days
I do agree with Little Village Noodle House, they know how to trend the fine line between authentic and trying to please non-Chinese palates. 

Best Hawaiian
Gold – Ono Hawaiian Food
Silver – Highway Inn
Bronze – Helena’s Hawaiian Food
This is one of the examples where I think Ono is floating on reputation. Personally I really like Highway Inn, they did some catering for an office function and we were  impressed. Also like Yama's Fishmarket and Young's Fishmarket. 

Best Italian
Gold – Assaggio
Silver – Auntie Pasto’s
Bronze – Café Sistina
Auntie Pasto's? Really? A basic pasta and sauce place is second place? Really? Your reputation really precedes here.

Best Japanese
Gold – Tanaka of Tokyo
Silver – Gyotaku Japanese Restaurant
Bronze – Yanagi Sushi
Tanaka of Tokyo? The place at Ala Moana? I'm confused, I thought Nobu would be on the list. 

Best Thai
Gold – Phuket Thai
Silver – Bangkok Chef
Bronze – Chiang Mai
Eh, I really think Phuket Thai is in the wrong category. They should be in the Best Chinese. Bangkok Chef should be in the Best Value Section. Supposedly there's another Thai restaurant someone told me is the best but no one wants to spill so they can go there and everyone else can stick to these places.

What is your opinion?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Unwinding with Margaritas

I have no air conditioning in my teeny apartment, during the summer months I tend to avoid the apartment during daylight hours. That means filling my days with tons of stuff to do, so when I finally decide to hightail it home I'm exhausted. All I want to do is shower and relax.

Relaxation = couch + TV + a fabulous cocktail.

What's a fabulous cocktail? Lately, it's been a margarita.

It might seem easier to go out and buy a ready made margarita mix, but really, this tastes better.


When you buy a mix it's like McDonald's. It's the same basic ingredients but the cheaper version. So while a real margarita will have lemon, lime and sugar; those pre-mixes are filled with cheap sugar (HFCS), fake lime and fake lemon (citric acid, from concentrate something) then add a preservatives and stabilizers to kind of taste like a margarita. It's like scratching around the itch instead of scratching the actual itch. You don't realize how wrong it is until you get it right. Really, really right. 

You could have a bartender make it, but most places also uses those pre-made mixes (except high end places like House without a Key or Ruth Chris, but for $12 a cocktail, it better be real stuff!)

A cocktail is a cocktail, but a fabulous cocktail is guaranteed to make you forget that long day.  

Sugar Syrup
1 cup water
1 cup sugar

Place ingredients in a cooking vessel of your choice, heat on the stove, stir occasionally until all the sugar is dissolved. Let cool.

Store in jars in the fridge or make a giant pitcher of margaritas
Also good for mojitos. (post pending)
Can be made beforehand and stored in the fridge for a really long time.

Margarita, on the rocks with salt

2-3 oz tequila, I use Patron because I'm tequila snotty like that
1 oz of Grand Marnier
2 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
1 oz cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (Myer Lemons if you can get it, but regular lemon is fine too)
1 oz freshly squeezed orange juice
1 oz sugar syrup, to taste
1 Tbsp kosher salt, on a plate

Get a glass and using a cut lime wet the drinking edge. Touch the edge to the plate of salt if you would like a salty rim. Once you get the salt on the rim give the glass a good slap or shake to get off excess.

Fill glass with ice, pour in all the liquids, stir. Taste, add more sugar syrup if the citrus is very tart (which depends on the season).

Sit back on the lanai at sunset and enjoy. Or in my case, on the couch with mindless reality TV. Oh, Chelsea Lately you make my night.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Fruits and Vegetables, and eating them

According to my nutrition tracker, do you know the recommend amount of fruit I should be eating each day?

It's 2 cups

Did you know the recommend amount of vegetables I should be eating each day?

It's 3 cups

I thought I was close but when I actually had to enter in my normal daily diet to the nutrition counter ...I was a little short...

Maybe a lot short.

Nutritionally speaking I'm missing quite a few cups of fruits and veggies each day. I have spent the last few years working on my health, weight and good-looking-ness (hence the nutrition tracker). My biggest challenge is adjusting the diet, as a child I loved bread and french fries, then I grew into a teenager that loved carbs and deep-frying, then an adult that loves the term "carbo-loading." Until my clothes stopped fitting. Ugh! Adulthood - now I don't have the growing child excuse for eating a whole loaf of bread. Straight... Okay, maybe there was some butter... And honey.

The online nutritional guide is a tool and much cheaper than hiring a personal chef or nutritionist. So far it hasn't suggested anything new but is helping me examine everything I eat and makes suggestions. Step 1 - healthy habits stick if they aren't drastic. Meaning, I've got to start small. Surprisingly, it wasn't as hard as I thought it was going to be. I added a portion of fruit to breakfast instead of my regular bacon or ham. I added a small salad to my lunch. Instead of chips, bread or chocolate I try to have a piece of fruit in the afternoon (Occasionally chocolate will call my name- loud. Nutritional Tracker (or Nancy True as I like to call her) says that's okay.). Dinner has a lean protein and little less grain, and instead of my standard 1 vegetable I shoot for 2. It's actually getting to be an effort to eat all my food because the calorie count really hasn't gone up but the volume is almost a 1/2 cup more of food at each meal. This is also a good tip for people cutting weight through diet, more food doesn't have to mean more calories. 

Adding a salad to lunch was so easy - mix greens, carrot, tomato and cucumber. If I feel really generous I'll add some avocado and/or an egg. I really love salads, it's fresh and palate cleansing.

But do you ever feel the need to change it up?

I mean, lettuce is great, but it starts to feel old after 3 weeks.
I needed something new.
Something delicious.
Something that still fulfilled my vegetable quota.
Then I also wanted it to be easy to make and easy to transport for work.

Cue Vietnamese Pineapple, Cucumber and Tomato Salad and grand entrance music

Easy- check
Transportable- check
Veggies- check
Delicious- check
Fruit - bonus!
Low-fat- bonus!
No-cook- bonus!

Give it a try, it's completely addicting. I had to portion for my lunch and hide it in the back of the fridge to keep from picking at it and having no lunch. When I finally was able to eat it co-workers wanted to know what that delicious looking salad was, and stared in amazement as I inhaled it all then drank the pineapple/dressing pooled at the bottom afterwards.

Luckily my co-workers find me amusing and not at all socially weird.

Back to the salad, I love it after a few hours in the fridge, the pineapple starts shedding juices and perfumes the whole salad. 

Vietnamese Pineapple, Cucumber and Tomato Salad
1 clove garlic
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp neutral oil, such as canola (but I only ever have Olive Oil)
1 fresh chili, seeded and minced (I went with 1 Thai chili, but go as hot or as mild as you want)
1 tsp fish sauce (to taste- all brands are varying strength, test if you've never used it before)

1/2 large, fresh pineapple; peeled, cored and cubed
1 medium cucumber, sliced into bite size pieces
2 tomatoes, wedged
1/2 cilantro, roughly chopped
1/4 cup mint, roughly chopped

Start with making your dressing in the bottom of a large salad bowl. Place the garlic on the center of a large cutting board. Sprinkle the salt on top. Using the side of a large knife smash the salt into the garlic until you get a paste. (If you are having a hard time try chopping it into small pieces first). Throw into the large bowl. Add in lime juice and sugar and whisk until sugar is dissolved. Whisk in oil and then fish sauce to taste (optional, but I love the stuff).

As you finish chopping everything else up, throw in the bowl. Toss thoroughly. Taste. Try to control yourself from gorging on the whole bowl. Chill until ready to eat.