Sunday, January 30, 2011

`Ono Oahu

If you're driving through Kalihi and see this mural overhead, pull into the parking lot immediately, because you have found Alicia's Market, quite possibly the home of the best poke I've ever had. Doubling as a liquor store, and sharing the parking lot with a laundromat, this place is in a grittier part of Honolulu, but definitely worth seeking out. The fish is clearly cut fresh (the shiniest, reddest ahi I have seen in a long time), and they have a selection of other pokes as well. The tako (octopus) was awesome.

To me, the the food flavors of Hawaii are best expressed in the fresh fish (especially raw), tropical fruit (local papaya that tastes of flowers and strawberries, unlike any other), and the local foods that are often fatty and fried, and mouth-fillingly delicious.

Discoveries and recommendations from this last trip:

1. Alicia's Market (see above). Conveniently located between the airport and town, or Waikiki.

2. Fiji Market and Curry Kitchen in Kahuku. Wow, we were just driving by on the way from the Eastside to the North Shore on Kamehameha Hwy., and thank goodness, I followed my boyfriend's instincts to stop at this place. Best curry that I've had IN YEARS: the shrimp (local, from a farm down the road) curry.

3. Town: always great, breakfast lunch or dinner. In the morning they have great coffee (not the easiest to find on Oahu if you're used to NW coffee), and seriously delicious, flaky scones that change daily. Most of their menu is shaped by the produce coming from local Ma'o organic farm. DownTown, their other location, is excellent for fresh, creative salads and lunch items.

4. Acai bowls: I can't decide if I like this surfer food or not, it's more of a dessert to me than a meal. But if you want to try one, the best was at Lani Kai Juice in Kailua. This is also a great choice if you're looking for a smoothie made of Hawaiian fruit.*

5. Breakfast at Morimoto: decadent, but amazing and interesting. And the outdoor tables look out over the harbor and ocean. The banana/mac nut pancakes are served with kuromitsu (molasses) syrup, and the Japanese style breakfasts are a true treat, with components such as a sous-vide poached egg, miso cod, seaweed, rich dashi, and rice porridge.

6. The fresh markets of Chinatown: these places will transport you straight to Asia, with exquisitely fresh fish, produce, and many prepared food choices.

*One thing about Lani Kai Juice, and so many other takeout places in Hawaii is that they still use styrofoam containers! With all the compostable stuff out there, and the garbage situation in Hawaii, I feel like there's no excuse for this. I hope it's outlawed soon.

`Ono means "delicious" in Hawaiian.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Satiated in Seattle

Those oysters took me to my happy place. I was made aware of this by my roommate and dining companion, who commented after I finished my third Kushi oyster and glass of muscadet that I had what is apparently my look of delighted satisfaction all over my face. Those oysters were fantastic. My favorite variety, from the dark almost freezing waters of British Columbia, with a sweet succulence that stands apart from all others. I was in oyster heaven. Of course, the atmosphere of the new Walrus and the Carpenter in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood helped to take me there, with a metal bar, marble tabletops, whitewashed walls, and delicate framed line drawings of the namesake Lewis Carroll poem. In the open kitchen, food is cooked in vintage enameled French pots and plated on hand-crafted wooden cutting boards beside wire baskets filled with ice and Northwest oysters. And at 4:00 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon, a golden setting sun bounced off of the boats docked nearby through the walls of windows and onto every shiny surface in the place.

Three friends and I were in Seattle this weekend to eat, drink and view the Picasso exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum. The quick trip to our city north was filled with newness and more than satisfying for such a short one. A few places we visited, which I highly recommend:

The Boat Street Cafe - I had brunch at the original location in college. The new one, a bit less charming, having moved from a boat house under a bridge to a new building on Westlake, is still a top place for brunch. The cornmeal cake with sausage and maple syrup, as well as baked eggs with spinach, bacon and breadcrumbs were my favorites.

Melrose Market - Indoor gourmet market encompassing multiple shops and eateries. We had lunch at Sitka & Spruce, which was beyond lovely. Precious vegetables, open kitchen, perfect bread, sparkling rosé by the glass, music played on a record player.

Spinasse - Intimate Italian (Piemonte) restaurant on Capitol Hill, wonderful housemade pastas were the centerpiece, but the rabbit meatballs stole the show.

Bathtub Gin - A tiny two-story bar down a Belltown alley. Brick walls and well stocked bar (I was happy to find Portland's own Ransom Old Tom Gin on the shelf) - a place to come with a couple of friends, or no one.

Next time I'd like to spend more time in Ballard, eat at Staple and Fancy and bar hop on Ballard Avenue. I am determined to one day have a drink at the bar amongst the surly sailors at the Lock & Keel Tavern. Meanwhile, I have to note that it continues to amaze me how the area around Seattle University, where I spent four years prior to 2001, has become the hottest area in Seattle for bars and restaurants. Lark, Spinasse, Cafe Press, Tavern Law, the list goes on. When I lived there it was surrounded by coffee shops, vacant buildings and a Value Village.

But one of my favorite things, built in Victorian times and thriving today, is the Conservatory at Volunteer Park, which is a warm and tropical cocoon filled with the plants of my island home. I take deep breaths in there of the moist air and warm soil, and think of Hawaii...