Sunday, February 28, 2010

Honolulu: Sunday Brunch at Orchids

Orchids at the fabulous Halekulani hotel on the Island of Oahu is known for its legendary Sunday Brunch buffet.

With picturesque views of Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head, this is why Orchids is one of the best brunches on the island.

Orchids is situated in one of five buildings surrounded by lush gardens and open courtyards. We actually had trouble locating the right building but if you head toward the ocean and look for the signs, you'll find it in no time.

Even though I booked reservations 6 months in advanced, yet I still managed to screw up the reservation. I booked it for one diner instead of two. The staff was so friendly and accommodating that they even seated us an hour early.

We were seated in the covered patio overlooking Waikiki Beach with views of Diamond Head. We sat at the table for a few minutes before indulging ourselves at the buffet. This is what I call being on 'vacation'.

The buffet was sectioned off into five table areas: Carving table and main entrees, pastries, soups/salads/sushi/cheeses, desserts and ice cream bar. I tried to take photos of everything that we ate but some items were not 'picture-worthy' so I left those out.

Halekulani Popovers

A popover is a hollow bread-like roll that is crispy on the outside and moist in the hollow inside. This one is an island favorite at the Halekulani since 1917, it was served with orange marmalade.

Chicken Apple & Portuguese Sausage, Crispy Bacon, Eggs Benedict with Scottish Smoked Salmon and White Rice

Toro Poke, Ahi Tuna Poke, and Tako Poke

Fruit Soup

This was a fruit puree with a texture similar to apple sauce. Interesting and sweet with the cubed mangoes. A nice transition from savory to sweet.

Haupia and Panna Cotta with Fresh Berries

Mocha Ice Cream with Candied Macadamia Nuts

Halekulani Coconut Cake

The highlight of the meal was the infamous Halekulani coconut cake. It is a three-layered sponge cake with a coconut-flavored custard filling and coconut flakes. It is frosted with whipped cream and coconut flakes. Mmm! Simply delightful. Want the recipe? Find it here.

Afterthoughts: For $55 per person, the service and food is in line with other buffets in San Diego. The only difference is the service is exceptional and the views are spectacular. I think the dessert table was the clear winner here as the assortment was quite impressive. I should have done a dessert tasting rather than tasting varying items from each table. Total dining time: Two hours (roughly 8 plates). Luckily for us, we walked here so by the time we got back to our hotel, we weren't as stuffed.

Would we come back? Yes, definitely. I need to tackle the entire dessert table :)

Things to know:
  • Serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Brunch buffet served on Sundays. Reservations are recommended. Online at Opentable or call 808-923-2311.
  • Price Range: $$$; $55 per person.
  • Parking: Hotel valet parking available. Ask for validation from the hostess.
  • Request a seat in the covered patio area for views of Diamond Head and Waikiki Beach.
  • Halekulani Coconut Cake: For $145 you can have the hotel ship the cake frozen via Fedex.
The Halekulani Hotel
2199 Kalia Rd

Honolulu, HI 96815
(808) 923-2311

Waipahu, HI: Elena's Restaurant

This is probably our most anticipated post on our heritage and pride, Filipino food. So I have five words for you:

Pork Adobo Fried Rice Omelet

You're probably thinking...what is that? Before I get into that, let me say that no one knows Filipino food other than a Filipino. Seriously, I don't care how many times you've been to the Philippines or if you were backpacking across the country discovering Filipino cuisine, it's irrelevant. Filipinos know their cuisine more than anyone. Period, end of story.

Don't you think Filipino cuisine would have taking off by now like Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Thai? The reason: No one knows what Filipino cuisine is. Non-Filipinos haven't truly embraced or grasped what Filipino cuisine is all about. Filipino comedian Rex Navarette explained it the best.

Here's a clip:


Living in San Diego, we were quite disappointed at the lack of good, authentic Filipino food. During our recent vacation to the island of Oahu, our prayers were answered with Elena's Restaurant, home of the finest Filipino food.

Elena's owners, Theo and Elena Butuyan, immigrated from Dagupan City, Pangasinan, Philippines (Yes, they're Ilocano!) in 1969 to the island of Oahu. It was in 1974 that the Butuyan's founded Elena's Restaurant, back then a small kitchenette and counter with six stools in the old Nabarette Cafe in Waipahu, HI (Source: Elena's Restaurant).

In true Asian fashion, Elena's is located in a strip mall, similar to places like Lotus of Siam and Raku in Las Vegas. Don't let the location fool you. What lays inside is worth savoring for.

Unlike Marc, I'm one of those Filipinos that don't like to eat vegetables. I don't know why, that's how I am. I like to save stomach space for the good stuff. So brace yourself when I say we ordered the ultimate heart attack invoking meal, Pork Three Ways (encased, deep fried and pan fried).

Sweet Longanisa

Talk about umami in an encased meat. You will find all elements of umami in this little sausage (sweet, sour, salty, bitter). You know the sausage is authentic if it has that 'red glow'. Longanisa is practically the first encased meat that I liked before the American hot dog. What's inside? Do you know what's inside a hot dog? I think not. It's good, trust me.

Lechón Kawali

Lechón Kawali is essentially pork belly pieces deep fried to perfection. This is one of my favorite versions of lechón because it has that Chicharrón-looking exterior. Yum! No sauce needed.

Pork Adobo Fried Rice Omelet

Yes folks, you heard it right. The above dish of pork adobo mixed with fried rice and wrapped in an egg omelet is trademarked. What other Filipino dish have you seen that is trademarked? None.

This favorite is one of the many dishes that you can find at Elena's. So what are you waiting for. In the words of our mothers and countrymen, let's eat!

Afterthoughts: So in a nutshell, Filipino food is based on the countries who invaded/immigrated to the Philippines. That's why you see Spanish and other Asian cuisine influences in Filipino cuisine. It may not be "TV-ready" but it sure is good. The ultimate pan-asian mixed plate.

Did you know the current Executive Chef at the White House is Cristeta Comerford, she's of Filipino decent. And for the record, Anthony Bourdain hailed Lechon as the best pork ever.

Things to know:
  • Hours: Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner daily from 6AM to 9PM. Take out available 15 minutes prior to closing.
  • Price Range: $. Cash and Visa and Mastercard.
  • Locations: Waipahu, HI and Las Vegas, NV (lunch and dinner only). Both located in strip malls.
  • What to order: Anything pork related. Favorites: Pork Adobo Fried Rice Omelet, Lechón Kawali and longanisa.
  • The food is served family-style. 3-4 dishes is enough for 2 people.
  • Lunchwagons: Look for the Orange trucks. Click here to download the lunchwagon route.
Elena's Restaurant
Tropicana Square
94-866 Moloalo Street #D4A
Waipahu, Hi 96797
(808) 676-8005

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Honolulu: 3660 on the Rise

Our first dinner on the island was at 3660 on the Rise. We took 3660 with a grain of salt based on mixed reviews from Yelp. We wanted to go to place with Euro-Island flair. Something simple but not one of those hole in the wall places.

The name of the restaurant denotes the location of the restaurant on 3660 Waialae Ave, on the corner of Waialae and Wilhelmina Rise.

3660 is one of those places where it doesn't matter if you are celebrating an event or just eating out, the food is consistently good. We were pleasantly surprised at the level of execution of each dish.

Here's what we had.

Passion Fruit Infused Iced Tea (left) and a Riesling (right)
The iced tea was amazing. It was a passion fruit infused tea with pineapple juice. So good.

Taro Rolls

Ahi Katsu - $14.00
Sashimi-Grade Ahi Wrapped in Nori and Deep Fried Medium Rare, Wasabi-Ginger Sauce

Short Rib and Rougie Foie Gras Tortellini - $9.00
Truffled Cremini Mushroom Jus

"3660" Medley - $38.00
Grilled Medallion of Apple Smoked Bacon Wrapped Beef Tenderloin, Brandy Green Peppercorn Sauce; Pan Roasted Breast of Chicken Stuffed with Mozzarella, Serrano Ham and Pesto, Lemon Romano Cream Sauce; Pan roasted Onaga

Soy Sake Glazed Fillet of Butterfish - $25.95
Gingered Choi Sum and Shiitake Mushrooms, Aka Miso Dashi Nage

Sorbets Gone Tipsy - $8.00
Banana, Lilikoi and Coconut sorbet with fresh berries

Afterthoughts: The highlight of the meal was the signature appetizer, Ahi Katsu. The concept of sashimi-grade ahi, wrapped in nori and deep fried was delicious. We kept asking ourselves, "What's in that sauce?" I would have totally ordered that dish as an entree.

The soy sake glazed butterfish was reminiscent of a Roy's butterfish dish I had circa 2003. It was the first time I had butterfish and biting into the one at 3660 reminded me of that time long ago. The portion was large enough for two people but of course I had to devour the entire dish by myself!

Although there were some service lags, it didn't deter us from our meal. The food was solid and we hope to return when we're back on the island.

Things to know:
  • No valet parking. Validated parking garage located on-site (underground).
  • Price Range: $$$. Entrees range from $22 to $59.
  • Must order dishes: Ahi Katsu, Soy Sake Glazed Fillet Butterfish, Symphony of Desserts.
  • Drinks: Passion Fruit Iced Tea (unlimited refills) and the Lychee Martini.
  • Decor: Uninspiring. Think Denny's with IKEA spotlighting.
3660 on the Rise
3660 Waialae Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96816
(808) 737-1177

Honolulu: Hank's Haute Dogs

We continue our encased meats tour with a stop at Hank's Haute Dogs in Honolulu, HI. Hank's owner, Henry Adaniya, is a prominent restauranteur with a history of launching careers of prominent chefs. One of them being my fav Chef Grant Achatz, owner of Alinea.

In 2006, Henry closed his world-renowned restaurant, Trio, in Evanston, IL to start a consulting business and pursue his life dream of opening a hot dog stand in Hawaii. The concept: An authentic Chicago hot dog, followed by regionally and specialty sausages with exceptional quality.

Sounds good me!

Hank's has two stands on the island. One near the Ala Moana Mall off of Coral St. (named Kaka 'Ako) and another in the International Market Place (IMP) near Waikiki Beach. We decided to drop by both stands since the IMP stand had specialty dogs served at that location (shown above).

By the time we got to the second stand (the following weekend), I got camera lazy and didn't take a photo of the stand (oops!). This post will feature both stands and I will indicate which items were served at what stand.

The first thing I noticed was each location had different menus. The Kaka'Ako location served the Foie Gras dog & duck fries on the weekends and had more specialty drinks. The IMP stand had limited selections but served the Hawaiian dog and Chili Dog. Both stands were CASH ONLY.

I started off with their Lilikoi-Lime Soda (Kaka'Ako stand only). The drink was nice and refreshing. The lime soda was prominent with a hint of lilikoi. I don't drink soda but I made the sacrifice since I LOVE the flavor of Lilikoi (part of the passion fruit family).

Hawaiian Hot Dog (IMP stand)
with pineapple relish, passion fruit mustard and grilled sweet Maui onions

Here's a close up. Ok, I know pineapple in a hot dog doesn't seem appealing but it really worked well here. The pineapple relish with passion fruit mustard gave this Chicago hot dog that extra "umph" of sweetness. The sausage was nice and juicy and the bun was large enough to hold in that Hawaiian goodness. I liked it.

Chicago Hot Dog (IMP & Kaka'Ako)
Genuine Chicago Vienna all-beef hot dog with all the fixings (tomatoes, mustard, relish, onions and pickles)

Regular French Fries (IMP & Kaka'Ako)

I admit the main reason I had to come here was for a Chicago Hot Dog Throwdown. This wasn't about tasting different hot dogs. It was to determine who's Foie Gras Sausage Dog and Duck Fries reign supreme. Let the battle begin!

First off, Hank's Haute Dog:

Duck & Foie Gras Sausage
with honey mustard and dried fruit confiture

Duck French Fries
Castle Rock potatoes, cooked in rendered duck fat

Comments: Tasty but where's the foie? I didn't like the shredded lettuce. The duck fries were addicting. They were gone in 60 seconds. Wish we had a larger portion.

Next, Hot Doug's from Chicago, IL:

Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage
with Truffle Aioli, Foie Gras Mousse and Sel Gris
Duck Fat Fries
Pommes frites deep fried in duck fat

Comments: Loved the truffle aioli. I thought the foie would be overpowering but it was simply perfection. It's like savoring a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon, Opus One preferably. The Sel Gris gave the sausage an extra touch. A little bit goes a long way. Duck fries, a large portion but was not as crispy as I hoped. Still a solid presentation.

The Verdict: Hot Doug's. Both were excellent sausages but I give the edge to Hot Doug's with the Sel Gris.

Afterthoughts: Although Hot Doug's is the clear winner here, Hank's Haute Dogs is worth pursuing. Some of the selections were surprisingly good (e.g Hawaiian hot dog) and the duck fries were on point. I don't recall seeing a large line at both stands but in due time, you might have to wait an hour for this dog.

Things to know:
  • CASH ONLY at both stands. No ATM on-site.
  • The International Market Place stand is small. Only a few chairs and tables. No specialty drinks except for the pineapple slush.
  • Must do both stands to try specialty sausages.
  • Price range: $$ (in terms of Costco standards). Definitely not a $1.50 hot dog. Sausages alone range from $5-$8. Bring lots of cash.
Hank's Haute Dogs
Kaka'Ako: 324 Coral Street, Honolulu, HI 96813
IMP: 2330 Kalakaua Ave, Honolulu, HI 96815

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Honolulu: La Mer at the Halekulani

One of our anticipated dinners on the island was La Mer, located at the Halekulani. Usually hotel restaurants have a bad rap but this restaurant is Hawaii's longest consecutively ranked AAA Five Diamond restaurant and the hotel itself was fabulously beautiful. We learned about this restaurant while watching the Travel Channel some years back. It's been five years since our last trip to Honolulu and we vowed that we would try this restaurant once we got back to the island.

The Halekulani is located on Waikiki Beach and a few steps from the ocean. The restaurant itself is located in one of five buildings on the property above the Orchids restaurant.

When we arrived for our reservation, we were immediately greeted by the hostess by our first and last names. I can already tell by their hospitality that La Mer takes pride in their unparallel service. This is one of the few restaurants I've been to where I did not feel any sense of pretentiousness. Everyone was so friendly, from the bartender to the servers. All greeting us as we were escorted to our table.

I was so surprised that we were seated at one of the best seats in the house, an oceanfront table. You can't get any better than that aside from a Chef's Table. Even my purse and camera were given a stool right beside me (very nice touch).

My only concern was lighting. It was so dark, we could barely read our menus. Luckily, the staff noticed my camera and brought another larger lamp to our table.

As soon as we were seated, we were given complimentary champagne. Don't ask me what it was because I forgot (oops!). I also ordered a cocktail called a Ruby Slipper.

Since this is a French restaurant, we were served a popover canape. A popover is a hollow bread-like roll that is crispy on the outside and moist in the hollow inside. The Halekulani is known for their popovers which is usually served with a sweet jam or marmalade. The photo I took of it was pretty bad so I decided not to post it (bad lighting).

We decided to go with the two-course meal with dessert for $90 each. Both of us got different selections so that we can have a variety of dishes to share rather than doing the full menu degustation at $150 per person.

Amuse Bouche: Salmon-filled tart with a spring salad and citrus vinaigrette

Breads: French Baguette, Olive and a Dinner Roll

Sautéed Foie Gras presented with Green and White Asparagus

Monaco Style Fish Soup

Gratinée with Rouille and Parmesan

Chilean Sea Bass and “Kurobuta” Pork Belly on Alsatian Choucroute

with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and...

Parsley Potatoes

Roasted Goose Breast Accented with Sea Salt and Lavender Honey on Butternut Squash

Prior to dessert, we were offered complimentary selections from their French cheese cart but we declined. We were already stuffed and wanted to finish our dessert.

“Heirloom” Tomato Granité with Basil Essence

Chocolate Souffle with fresh berries

Symphonie "La Mer"

(from left to right)
Strawberry Dream: Flourless Strawberry Crêpes Filled with Vanilla Bean Crème Fraîche
Painter's Palatte: Almond Florentine with Mango Sorbet, fresh mango slices and Puréed Coulis
Passion for Chocolate: Valrhona Chocolate Ganache Tart

Fruits of Hawaii: Kula Strawberry Mirin Nage with Lychee

(from left to right) Apricot macaron, Strawberry gelee, Macadamia nut cookie, Blueberry pyramid, Chocolate caramel, Dark Chocolate with ganache-filled wafer

Afterthoughts: I think we had a solid meal at La Mer. It's probably the fanciest restaurant in Oahu since the others we've been to on the island were not quite at the level of traditional fine dining. The staff was exceptional and attentive; pretty much in line with experiences we had at Robuchon and Gagnaire. I like the fact that the Menu Degustation was completely different from the regular menu although I'm not sure its worth the $150 price tag. I noticed a mixed bag of reviews on Yelp. I probably wouldn't drop $500 on a dinner here but its worthwhile at the $200 price range (dinner for two).

Things to know:
  • Reservations can be made online at Opentable:
  • Hours: Mon-Sun from 6PM to 10PM.
  • Dress code: Dressy. Long-sleeved collared shirt or jacket required for gentlemen.
  • Restrictions: Adults and children 8 years and older.
  • Request to be seated at one of the oceanfront tables.
  • You will be asked to provide full names of all diners.
  • Menus: 2 to 4 courses with dessert or Menu Degustation (entire table, served until 9PM).
La Mer
2199 Kalia Rd
Honolulu, HI 96815
(808) 923-2311