Hawaii Trip Report (Honolulu), September 2017

Just returned from another trip to Honolulu. We continue to enjoy the local comfort food and expanding number of solid Japanese spots (and I’m going to argue a unique and seminal experience at Sushi Sho, Waikiki). We missed a few others this time around but we’ll be back soon.

Day 1:

Alicia’s Market part plate lunch and part Chinese deli. This is a casual neighborhood take-out spot for plate lunch in the back of a market right off the Nimitz highway - it’s on the way to Waikiki from the airport, and we stopped by to grab some quick chow. They have Chinese roast pork, turkey legs, Hawaiian food, and dozens of types of poke. Since we’d be eating sushi 3 nights in a row, we skipped the poke in favor of roast pork and kalua pig.
It’s comfort food and portions are big. Kimchi was a bit sweet, but kalua pig and Chinese roast pork were fine. I prefer Helena’s for Hawaiian food, but Helena’s doesn’t do plate lunch.

Pierre Marcolini in Ala Moana Center for chocolates. Chocolates for gifts - I raided some and they are pretty good. Macarons were not bad, but not quite what you get in Paris - maybe a 7 out of 10. I think I could buy a better selection.
Aloha Gelato a few stores down. Everything I’ve had here is very good - their fresh waffle cone smells and tastes very much like Hong Kong eggettes.

Yakitori Hachibei for dinner in Chinatown. This is a relatively new branch of a Tokyo and Fukuoka-based yakitoriya. Here, they use chickens from North Shore, Oahu. Fried items were pretty nice and not oily, but their “Butabara kushiyaki” (pork belly skewer with tare sauce), kampachi carpaccio with yuzu sauce, and their chicken ramen were excellent. The yakitori is well-executed, often grilled slightly indirectly by binchotan. It’s a lighter touch, but all the skewers (gizzard, heart, thigh, bacon-wrapped enokis with quail egg, wing, liver) were cooked nicely. The liver with onions was especially good. If you need a comparison, I slightly prefer the yakitori here more than Ippuku or Hina Yakitori in Berkeley.
Their ramen was really nice to finish with - tasting of ultra clean and pure chicken, nourishing, refreshing even. The neck and knee bones contribute a great amount of depth.


Day 2:

The Rice Factory for fresh rice from Japan, milled on the spot. We got the fluffy Yumepirika from Hokkaido, and I had some two nights ago - it’s very good, indeed. It has a very nice “nebari” that I’ve yet to find in other brands of rice I’ve cooked at home. They had run out of musubi, and I couldn’t make it back the next day…

Lemona for shave ice. Big Island papaya with condensed milk and kiwi, Maui mango with pineapple. Both were excellent, and the perfect pick-me-up. Every fruit-based shave ice there has a touch of meyer lemon, of course. The shave ice here veers more kakigori than the rainbow snowcones you see elsewhere. A go-to, just off the beaten path of Waikiki.
Maui mango with pineapple
Big island papaya with condensed milk and kiwi

Sushi Ginza Onodera for dinner. This was a long, loud, and very lively meal. I’ve been to Onodera several times and I think the timing threw a few bites off in temperature and therefore texture. The otsumami was not bad, but the kitchen elements were not quite up to the last few visits. The beginning dishes were a touch dull and slightly off this time. The nigiri was good overall - hand pressing was quite nice. The unseasonable “tokishirazu” salmon was very good, but the best piece was Oma akamizuke. Akami, especially from Oma, tends to be my favorite piece, but this one had a great slickness and thickness to it that highlighted the rice. The meal faltered here and there, a bit more than I’d like for $250pp, but I know from previous visits that they can be pretty much top-tier in the country.

Hirame no konbujime sashimi (kelp-cured flounder)
Ni-dako with yuzukosho gelee and negi (simmered octopus with yuzu-pepper gelee and onion)
Kegani chawamushi (hairy crab egg custard served inside a teacup)
Grilled mirugai (geoduck clam)
Katsuo (bonito) with garlic chips and shiso
Sawara no yuan yaki (grilled sierra, “yuan” style)
Kona abalone, with yuzu zest
Akamizuke, from Oma (soy-marinated lean tuna, from Oma)
Shimaaji (striped jack)
Zuwaigani (snow crab, from Hokkaido)
Chutoro (medium fatty tuna)
Yaki nodoguro (grilled “blackthroat” rosy sea perch)
“Tokishirazu” salmon (unseasonable, “ignorant” fatty salmon)
“Jabara” toro (this is slang for the underside of the tuna belly, here sinews removed)
Negitoro (onion and minced fatty tuna belly)
Yaki otoro from Oma (Grilled fatty tuna belly, from Oma)
Kohada (gizzard shad)
Tamago “kasutera” style (egg omelette in the style of castella cake)
Kurozato (black sugar) sorbet


Day 3:
Sushi Sho I’m starting with dinner because it was the most memorable meal of the trip, again. Of this trip’s 3 consecutive sushi dinners (Sushi Ginza Onodera, Sushi Sho, and Maru Sushi), Sushi Sho stood out as my clear favorite, and I will post a bit of a review in its own thread.

The meal here is a study in contrasts, especially in textures. Otsumami would range from a dish like the slightly sweet and sticky “ika no inrouzume” (squid wrapped rice) to crunchy mirugai sashimi (geoduck clam) and watercress. The “Lau Lau” (loosely based off of a Hawaiian dish) was as good as I remember it last time - it’s a true 3* Michelin dish, in my opinion. That cold, piquant tosazu gelee against the luscious salmon and meaty Opah cheek and Ti leaf, against the hot and creamy asparagus veloute. The crunchy “iburigakko” (smoked daikon pickle, specialty of Akita) with a smear of “rice cheese” was a great pairing not only in texture, but also in how it augmented the pickle as a natural sake complement (the “rice cheese” being reminiscent of a nascent form of sake).

Nigiri was great - the rice was very Edomae. Oma akamizuke was one of my favorites, with excellent “nebari” texture. Shiroebi, cherrystone clam, and hotategai were excellent - the nitsume sauce on the latter two is just sweet enough.

Also truly great - the grilled, banana leaf-smoked “Aku” (katsuo) with mustard and daikon oroshi, a gorgeously meaty and strong bite. Grilled opah belly with finger lime and wasabi. When you get a rush of finger lime and a bite of the caramelized opah belly edges…

A few pictures:

Ika no inrouzume, this time with white shari
Banana-leaf smoked Aku (katsuo)
Moi, aged for 2 weeks in red shari. Moi is like konoshiro (large gizzard shad). Last time, it was aged kojizuke then shoyuzuke, which resulted in it being slightly drier and more concentrated.
Mirugai (geoduck) with watercress in yuzu dashi. Great palette cleanser, snappy crunch and slightly sweet and fresh salinity.
Isaki (“chicken grunt”) cut like a flower.
Ankimo (monkfish liver) with pickled Hawaiian hearts of peach palm, instead of baby watermelon which is usually done Narazuke style. THIS was the best bite of the entire trip - such beautiful contrast and balance. Texture (the cloud-like liver was a foil to the rice’s excellent nebari and the crunch of the hearts of palm), temperature, and taste (slight sourness of red vinegar rice and hearts of palm Narazuke vs. creamy sweetness and oceanic flavor of liver and nori).
Shiroebi (baby white shrimp, 16 of them here), highlighting the good nikiri shoyu.
Kinmedai no aburi with yuzu daikon oroshi (seared golden eye snapper with grated radish and yuzu)

34 servings. Aged lobster in aged xiaoxing wine, Kahuku corn soup with Molokai salt, etc. delicious stuff.

@beefnoguy you would have loved their homemade iburigakko with white shari “cheese,” and since I know you might be interested to know, I drank: Gangi, Kokuryu Ryu, Hakurakusei, Kubota suijyu, Kobuta manjyu, Suehiro Ken, Tamagawa, and Harushika “Spring Deer.”

Arancino at The Kahala for lunch. Pretty nice. Great service. We ate outside and had the 3 course and split a pizza (puffy, semi-dense crust, wet center) - we were super full and had to skip shave ice near by.


Day 4:

Morning Glass Coffee in Manoa for a post-hike breakfast. A really nice cup of Big Island Coffee Roasters’ “Ka’u Morning Glory” and their bruleed oatmeal with strawberries. Then Hawaiian food from
Helena’s Hawaiian Food, the best in town. And some poke from Ahi Assassins - they packed it big to go, so it’s the picture below is not a very charitable presentation.

Maru Sushi for dinner. Recently arrived from Hokkaido, Maru Sushi is the newest high-end sushiya in Honolulu. Kawasaki-san’s son helms the original Maru sushi in Hokkaido, and Kawasaki-san himself is from the famed Sushi Zen. The neta at Maru Sushi is undoubtedly quite fresh. The style is a little more casual and I think I expected a bit more, given the pedigree and its price. The first 6 bites came out rapid fire, like less than a minute between each. The simply fresh ikura was very good, as was the boiled octopus, which was also served unadorned. The sushi rice was packed a little tight for my tastes, but I believe that might be a stylistic thing. Dinner was nice, but I think it was maybe in the wrong price quadrant ($250pp+), at least relative to my enjoyment.
chutoro sashimi
boiled abalone with liver cream sauce
fried baby white shrimp
kisu (silago) tempura in kudzu starch sauce, with ginger
julienned cuttlefish, with ginger
chawanmushi with uni, abalone, and baby shrimps
aji (horse mackerel), cut in 2
fresh ikura (salmon roe, here with no marinade) over rice
simply boiled octopus, no seasoning
karashi mentaiko (mustard cod roe)
zuwaigani (snow crab)
toro (fatty tuna belly)
broiled toro with nitsume sauce
shimaaji (striped jack)
bafun uni (“horse shit” sea urchin gonads)
shime saba (marinated mackerel)
suimono with shrimp, negi onion, and mitsuba
kohada (gizzard shad)
engawa (halibut fin)
tamago (egg omelette)
negitoro maki (onion and minced fatty tuna, roll)

Day 5:

Agnes’s Portuguese Bake Shop in Kailua for malasadas, or fried and sugared Portuguese pao doce. These are my favorite on the island. They’re made to order, and take about 15 minutes to bake. While the malasadas at Leonards are a little softer, what I like about the ones at Agnes’s is the slightly crunchy crust before that pillowy interior.

Not a far drive from Lanikai beach or the Pillbox hike. Driving back down through the Kamehameha highway and then Pali, we stopped at Waiahole Poi Factory for Hawaiian food plate lunch. Kalua pig, pork lau lau, and of course fresh poi - the kind of comfort food that hits the spot when you’re exhausted from being in the sun for a few hours.
Back to Lemona for more shave ice - 100% Kona coffee with condensed milk, this time. A great pick-me-up.


Senia chef’s counter for dinner.
Senia is less than a year old, but it is already one of the best restaurants in Hawaii. Chefs Anthony Rush and Chris Kajioka have worked at several fine dining restaurants before. I opted for the ~10 course Chef’s Counter menu, which proved to be quite nice. It’s prepaid dining, which I’m not crazy about, but the meal and service were good enough that I didn’t care in the end. Most of the dishes exuded a fair bit of finesse and made judicious use of local Hawaiian ingredients. The wine pairing was creative and well executed.
Going off memory - there’s probably a few errors in listing the ingredients.

First course showed a nice range of seafood textures. Clockwise, from top left, Shigoku oyster with mignonette, basil oil, and strawberry guava gel. Hamachi wrapped in daikon and topped with mountain rose apple gel. At bottom, a nori-crusted rice cracker with diced kampachi, compressed cucumber, lemon gel, horseradish creme, and ogo seaweed. Good clarity of flavors and a strong start with a nice blanc de blancs.
Smoked salmon and chives in feuille de brick “cigar,” to dip in seaweed-dusted butter. It was quite savory but well balanced.
Hearts of palm custard with coconut gel, caviar, avocado, calamansi, and chives. Great mouthfeel and elegant textures.
Maui venison tartare on brioche toast, with caramelized onions and chives.
Honeycomb foie gras au torchon with burnt local honey gel, pickled fennel, strawberry guava gel, and bee pollen. Great combination - the burnt honey really nice with the pickled fennel and bee pollen, and good quality foie. Chef Anthony foraged for the strawberry guava that morning.
Charred cabbages with first of the season matsutake mushrooms, onion dashi, dill, lime creme fraiche. This was a really smart ingredient pairing with a good deal of finesse. The charred brassicas and onion dashi were comforting, and the matsutakes’ fresh pine flavor with dill was a fantastic combination when bound by lime creme fraiche. That gentle dairy element helped the flavors transition from comforting and warm to fresh and delicately green and bright. Really smart pairing, and a standout dish! It’s one of those where every ingredient detail is essential and it impresses with confident yet creative cooking. It went perfectly with a trocken riesling. Best dish of the night.
“Fonduta” tortellini with liquid center, crisped sage, porcini, crisped speck ham. Delicious and comforting. Reminds me of the better pastas at SPQR in San Francisco.
The last 3 courses were pretty good, but not at the same level as the preceding ones.

Aku (bonito) in the style of Nicoise. The sauces were done nicely and the sea beans and olive crumble were a great touch. The bonito itself and the scotch quail egg were a bit dry, in my opinion.
Berbere spiced duck breast with ume gel, preserved plum, charred endive, and chanterelle mushroom was pretty good, but it didn’t quite come together. I was hoping for a bit more texture contrast with the duck; the skin was a touch flabby for my tastes.
Dessert course - like an orange creamsicle in varied textures. The marigolds were a nice touch. Mignardises included some good caneles.
Senia is probably my favorite fine dining in Hawaii at the moment. For context, if Vintage Cave under the prior chef Jonathan Mizukami was a touch more technical at times, I find Senia more interesting and creative. Other such as Alan Wong’s are longstanding institutions, but Senia is a clear notch above, in my opinion. If this were in California right now, it’d probably be a mid-high 1* Michelin - about what I’d rate Aubergine in Carmel or Providence in LA. Senia is off to a great start, and the starting snacks, caviar with hearts of palm custard, and charred cabbage dish show potential for this to be taken to the next level.

After Senia, I dropped into The Pig & The Lady next door for their awesome “LFC” wings and coconut, lime, and rhum agricole cocktail.
Finished off the night and trip with some more tropical cocktails, at Bar Leather Apron.

Bills Sydney and B.Patisserie at Kona Coffee Purveyors for breakfast before the flight


Best bites of the trip:

  • Agnes’s fresh malasada
  • Helena’s tripe stew over rice, because what better after a morning hike?
  • Lemona’s Big Island papaya with homemade condensed milk
  • Senia’s charred cabbage with dill, matsutake, lime creme fraiche, and onion dashi; caviar and coconut with hearts of palm custard and avocado. Good complexity and subtle layers.
  • Sushi Ginza Onodera’s slick Oma akamizuke
  • Sushi Sho’s banana-leaf smoked bonito, “lau lau,” ankimo with hearts of palm Narazuke, hotategai, iburigakko smoked daikon pickle with white sushi rice “cheese,” Oma akamizuke (longer aged than at SGO, hence a different sensation of “shitazawari,” as I understand it)
  • Yakitori Hachibei’s chicken ramen (yeah, the noodles had good bounce, but that clean and deep broth)

I love how you roll Brad. . .
Slaying it bruddha. .


Thanks, @Plumeria . It’s easy to have a good time in Honolulu. Glad to share and will report back from my next trip which I’m already planning.

I love HNL and tho’ I was just in Maui, in September and Kauai in May/June, the food is nothing like O’ahu food scene.

Just my two Aloha cents.

nice little jaunt - dying to go to sushi sho.

So we’re going in November with kids so unfortunately so Sushi Sho or Ginza Onedera. My kids are 7 and 9 but pretty adventurous. What do you think of my list?

Leonard’s Malasadas
Waikiki Yokocho
Helena’s Hawaiian Food
Ono Seafood
Yakitori Hachibei
Scratrch Kitchen and Meatery
Tonkatsu Ginza Bairin
Fete Hawaii
Chuck’s Cellar
Artizen MW
Liliha Bakery
Kyung’s Seafood
Gina’s BBQ
Side Street
Beer Lab HI
Ahi Assassins

Had a great first meal at Herringbone. We’ve been to Herringbone brunch in Vegas and always enjoyed the food. Excellent happy hour menu consists of $2 oysters, buffalo octopus (so good I didn’t get a bite bc my kids devoured it so ordered another one), yellowtail crudo, margherita flatbread and brussels.

Bang bang at Mitsuwa. Modo donuts. Loved my black sesame. Great mochi chew and nice black sesame flavor. My wife loved her cookies and cream. $0.75 cans of Kirin and more varieties of spam musubi than I’ve ever seen.

Not sure about this.


Not a ton of options at 6am but pleasantly surprised with Kona Coffee Purveyors. Good coffee and the pastries were excellent. They were fresh baking and you could smell the butter permeating through the air. I gained 3lbs just sniffing.

Very crunchy crispy airy light delicious KA. Kids loved three ham and cheese croissant. Fluffy light quiche with a nice crust. They were cooking the butter croissants and we couldn’t wait but will be more patient tomorrow.

Probably will be here for breakfast every day since we are still on LA time.

Dinner at Maguro Bros. Crappy pictures but not crappy sashimi and poke. Not the most efficient system but they cut the fish to order. Very good knife skills. Excellent yellowtail, uni, salmon and toro. The scallop was the only miss of the nigh. Rice in the donburi was excellent. Poke was well seasoned but still highlighted the ahi. Hawaiian onions are delicious without being overpowering. $70 for small sashimi plate with uni and ikura, toro donburi with scallop and medium shoyu onion poke.

Koko Head Cafe is a worthwhile stop for breakfast. Winner of top chef season 1 Lee Ann Wong with an inventive very Asian influenced breakfast menu. Kids got standard eggs, pancake, ham, bacon and has browns. The pancakes were fluffy and delicious. The hash brown was like a crispy deep fried McD type of hash brown. All very good.

Wife and I split the dumplings of the day. Vegetable fried samosa like dumpling with spicy coconut curry and sweet fruit chutney. Indian flavors abound. Delicious. The ramen was dry, spicy and filled with oxtail, poached egg, roasted tomatoes and eggplant. Both were non traditional breakfast items but delicious and well executed. Some of the spicier food we’ve had in Hawaii. Recommended.