Hawaii Trip Report (Maui and Honolulu), November 2016

Reporting back from my recent trip to Maui and Oahu. The two were night and day. Maui food was touristy and disappointing, but we had some awesome food in Honolulu.

In Maui we ate at:

  • Mama’s Fish House
  • Merriman’s
  • Star Noodle
  • Cane & Canoe
  • Taverna

Taverna was ok, not great, but probably the least disappointing of the trip. Actually the quick $3.99 McDonald’s breakfast of Portuguese sausage, eggs, and rice + hash brown was the most enjoyable meal for the price :grin: .

Mama’s Fish House
Mama’s has fresh fish, but that’s about it, as far we were concerned. Prices are about double of what you’d reasonably expect them to be. Probably 90% of the patrons are tourists. My biggest complaint was that the flavors really didn’t match well - things were just strewn together randomly. E.g. the kampachi “ceviche” lacked fresh citrus acidity - there was no leche de tigre, only a subdued lemon olive oil (not a great one, at that), rendering the dish more like a crudo. Sweet potato chips and crunchy persimmons didn’t help much either, and the radishes and kaiware stems didn’t give it that fresh levity as advertised. It’s not hard to make good ceviche when you have good fish, and this was just a misguided dish for $28. Steamed opakapaka with ginger and peanut oil was a bland version of Chinese steamed fish, the edamame pointless and the whole dish was a let down for $55. The best thing was the “Traditional Hawaiian” plate with mahi mahi, ti leaf cooked wild boar, octopus luau, ahi poke, grilled plantain, and ube. Mahi mahi was fresh and cooked pretty nicely, but $52 for a mixed plate lunch? Be prepared to spend $100+ p/p, maybe $175p/p for a full meal. This place is overhyped and overpriced; I don’t get all the rave reviews…


Cocktails here are alright; they add up very quickly, though.

A hot mess of “ceviche” with too many flavors and no balance. Not a charitable presentation of the otherwise fresh kampachi.

Good but severely overpriced traditional Hawaiian plate.

Merriman’s
Another disappointment, reminiscent of other somewhat competent but overpriced Pacific Rim tourist-geared joints. To wit, my “Fresh Lemon, Thyme and Sichuan Pepperered Kona Kampachi” with capers, fennel, and tomato was a hot mess. The “truffled potato ravioli” were literally potato-filled wonton skins. The “pasta’s” lemon beurre blanc clashed with the tomato and olive sauce, though I got a hint of success with the interesting effect of Sichuan pepper with the capers, but it was too little too late. Malasadas were too tough on the outside. Other dishes were nondescript - ok, but honestly not really any better than your local Il Fornaio, just with a sometimes messy Pacific Rim twist. Service, however, was very nice, as is the view.

Star Noodle
Ubiquitous pork buns were good, but everything else was off. Udon and ramen both had really bad noodles. No bounce, bad chew; doesn’t matter if they’re homemade in this case. Yakitori is your run-of-the-mill chicken teriyaki on a stick. Kimchee had a hair in it, so I didn’t really touch that. Poppin’ place with a demi local celebrity chef, but if you want proper noodles, this isn’t the place. Maybe I’m spoiled in California.

Cane & Canoe
Nice space, just wish the food weren’t so mediocre oversalted and over-buttered hotel food. But then again, it is hotel food, so just relax a bit if you’re staying in the Montage, Kapalua, just don’t expect much from the food here.

Taverna
Fine, but not as good as your average San Francisco or LA industrial Italian joint.

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Oahu was much kinder to us…I’ve been to Honolulu several times in the past few years, but we’re really hitting our stride now in finding our favorite places, and this was our best trip yet in terms of food.

Restaurants:

Sushi Sho
In short, it’s excellent and very unique. My full write-up review herewith pictures

Opah sushi

Sushi Ginza Onodera
Excellent sushiya, IMO better than the LA branch from my experience. Some of the best ankimo anywhere, and the grilled nodoguro with ponzu sauce is one of the best bites of fish I’ve had in a long time. But the highlight was the abalone with liver creme sauce, encored as “risotto.”

Ankimo (simmered monkfish liver in yuzu dashi sauce)

Kamasu no yuan yaki in shuto (Grilled barracuda from Hokkaido in yuan sauce and fermented bonito innards)

Nodoguro no aburi with momiji oroshi and wakame (seared blackthroat sea perch in ponzu sauce with spiced daikon relish and seaweed)

Mirugai (geoduck clam sushi)

Steamed Kona abalone in liver creme sauce

part 2 (“risotto” :grin:)

Hy’s Steakhouse
This place is an old school throwback with the look of a gentleman’s library, tufted oxblood leather couches and all. They tout their kiave wood broiled steaks but honestly my favorite thing here is the tableside flambeed desserts.

We started with classic escargot in herb butter and foie gras with poached figs, balsamic, and brioche. Both were fine but nothing special. 28 oz ribeye au poivre was huge (what was I thinking?), but the au poivre sauce a bit too creamy. Delmonico cut bison steak with bleu cheese was pretty good. Chateauneuf du papes went down pretty well, but we were disappointed that their online wine menu was out of date - Sine Qua Non almost doubled in price.

Anyway, the best thing here were the desserts, even if just for the spiritied theatricality of the old school tableside flambeed desserts. It doesn’t look like much, but this was delicious, if a bit sweet: pineapples flambeed in two rums and sauteed with brown butter and lemon juice, served over coconut ice cream. I paired it with Grand Marnier Cent Cinquantenaire, which is fantastic with tropical fruits.

Vintage Cave was closed for renovation. They have a new chef, again. It’s now French-Japonais, which could be interesting.

Helena’s
The best Hawaiian food on the island. We went 3 times in 4 days. Pipikaula (beef ribs), tripe stew (really tender honeycomb beef tripe in a light tomato-based sauce), chicken long rice, kalua pig, haupia - delicious, casual comfort food. Odd hours, but order takeout to avoid the line.

Pig & the Lady
Their pho French dip is a smart idea, though the flavors here are very bold and there’s a lot going on. Maybe too much, but I enjoyed the sandwich, which had both a chimichurri sauce and your traditional banh mi fixings. The baguette and roast beef were delicious; the accompanying pho broth was quite offal and funky, more of an acquired taste. Porcini grougeres cauliflower puree were delicious, and though they were on the house, I’d order these as a nice opening snack for sure.

I-Naba
They have traditional Japanese breakfast, and it’s pretty good!

Morning Glass Coffee
Nice casual coffee shop in Manoa with a small but nice breakfast menu. Good coffee and spiced oatmeal brulee with good strawberries is a nice way to start the day.

Snacks:

  • Lemona (Waikiki, shave ice - more like kakigori, very natural and pure tasting, a great find)

    Fresh Big Island pineapple and meyer lemon shave ice
  • The Local (Kailua, shave ice - newer spot that shares retail space with a surf shop, good all-natural and local syrups with interesting flavors but maybe a bit too thick…it didn’t permeate the ice so it was more jam-like on the outside)

    Mountain apple, pineapple, guava shave ice
  • Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha (Kahala, shave ice - very natural tasting syrups)

    Matcha green tea and pineapple shave ice with fresh mochi
  • Leonard’s (malasadas, Portuguese donuts - still the best)
  • Maguro Brothers (Chinatown, poke - good, but I’m not a huge poke fan)

    shoyu ginger ahi tuna poke
  • Japan Village Walk by Shirokiya (Ala Moana, food court - a bit hectic…the wagyu curry places weren’t open yet. Otherwise, I’d rather go elsewhere for Japanese food.)
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A giant flambé at the end of a meal forgives many kitchen sins.

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Oh, it was giant. Those are just the embers in the photo after the light show. It’s pretty hard for me to pass up anything over coconut ice cream, especially if it involves rum. It’s impossible for me to pass up anything that involves the above plus a big, bad flame.

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Love Helena’s. Have you been to Ono’s? It’s been a number of years for me, but thought it was very good too.

Yes I went to Ono’s last year. Helena’s is better pretty much across the board, in my opinion. One thing that I remember about Ono’s was the kalua pig, which was very smokey but not tender or juicy - if I had to guess, maybe a little artificial liquid smoke? Service was also rather curt. Anyway, I like the food and service more at Helena’s, so that’s where I’ll continue to return.

Aloha baller Brad. …
Lovin’ how you roll.
O’ahu kicks ass over all the island resto’s and IMO, HNL, is one of the best places to eat on da planet!

Merrrimans for sunset happy hour and lunch at Star Noodle is still one of my faves…

Mama’s Fish House for lunch is the only way to dine…
I love the place but it is pricey but never had a bad meal there.

Headed to Kauai in May and if you have some new recs for me, many Mahalos…
:sunrise:

Haha, I guess I was unlucky in Maui, but we’ve been really findinging our groove in Honolulu, especially lately.

We’re actually returning next week! It’s kind of impromptu so we won’t be able to get in to Sho again, but that’s ok since we have a fairly packed itinerary as is with some repeat visits and some places that are new to us. Will give a full rundown report in about 2 weeks.

Sorry, I haven’t been to Kauai, and I don’t have any recommendations! But if you’re in Kona, Brown’s Beach House has an awesome setting. I don’t remember the food much; it’s been a while.

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Can’t wait to read your report!

Here is the Best of list from Honolulu Magazine 2016…

:palm_tree::hibiscus::pineapple::tropical_drink:

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