Dinner Category

Our Adventure in Kauai: Day 4

Needless to say the soreness of my joints welcomed a jacuzzi, sauna, and steam in the morning; all the more because I was about to head out for my first open-door helicopter ride. The forecast showed heavy clouds, strong winds, and rain, but there was no turning back now. I was off to Inter-Island Helicopters for a private 60 minute tour of the island in their peacock blue Robinson R-44.

Inter-Island provided exceptional service despite the shoddy weather and it did make for an exciting ride. I actually enjoyed the pitching and weaving of the helicopter, as well as, the occasional sea and rain sprays across my face accompanying each turn. It made for the kind of ride I was hoping to experience! The Napali Coast looked mysterious and even more dangerous with the misty tumultuous weather. I don’t think I could ever tire of the views.

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After my flight of boisterous fancy, I had a roaring appetite. Jordan and I decided to let our bellies lead us through the day. We got in our midnight blue Camaro convertible, and headed toward Hanapepe and Lihue where we could stop at a local sporting goods store and hopefully, enjoy some local comfort food.

On the way to Hanapepe, we spotted Paco’s Tacos food truck parked in an empty parking lot. We figured, meh, probably nothing anyway. Let’s keep moving.

Pfft! Yeah, right!

These tacos were some of the most memorable morsels from our whole trip. Super fresh, grilled mahi-mahi tacos with shredded cabbage, lime, pico de gallo and cilantro sauce. And equally good carnitas and carne asada tacos. Hit da spot.

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After admiring some especially kitschy refrigerator magnets at a local store, we drove to Lihue to hit up Haimura Saimin. Saimin is a Hawaiian original that mixes Japanese ramen, Chinese mein, and Filipino flavors, into a big bowl of steaming savory broth. It’s Hawaiian comfort in a bowl, and the joint speaks for itself. It’s the epitome of a tropical island diner complete with a menu just as small and quaint as the place itself.

I highly recommend ordering a bunch of chicken skewers and putting the chicken pieces right into your bowl of saimin, along with generous amounts of hot mustard, hot sauce, chili vinegar, and a little soy sauce. Own your saimin!

We ordered the lilikoi chiffon pie for a little sweetness. Imagine if you scooped a chunk of bubbles from the top of a bubble bath, sprayed it through with tangy sweet passion fruit, and topped it with fluffy whipped cream. It was an ultra-airy end to a heavy, savory lunch.

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Last spot on our food tour was Fish Express which is a full-on local “deli” that offers a wide variety of fresh Hawaiian fare including local fish, poke, fish jerky, and raw seafood. And if you’re lucky enough to get there for lunch (which we weren’t unfortunately), they also offer Hawaiian-style sandwiches and gourmet lunch entrees like fish “blackened with guava basil” or “macadamia nut crusted [fish] with lilikoi.”

We decided on a bunch of funky pokes and ahi peppered jerky to go. And we also were pleasantly surprised to find boiled peanuts – one of Jordan’s all-time favorite snacks from the South! Who would have thought we’d be eating boiled peanuts and kimchee octopus poke in a parking lot of a Kauai-ian deli in the middle of the Pacific?

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Ok, I lied. We still had some room left for another sweet. After a little mobile research, we pulled into a strip mall parking lot and walked into Tropical Dreams which offers super-premium gourmet ice cream. Started by husband and wife team John and Nancy Edney who source more than 50% of their ingredients locally and are dedicated to using environmentally-friendly and sustainable means of production for their ice cream, this was the best ice cream I’d ever had. I mean, EVER.

The proprietor of the place – a “expat” from NYC named Daniel – was feeling extra chatty (queue teenage son’s eye roll), so we got foodie star treatment! While giving us taste after taste of the incredibly delicious ice cream, Daniel proceeded to illuminate us on his strong opinions on fiber optics, entrepreneurial ventures, Kauai, and why Tropical Dreams covers their ice cream bins with lids despite snotty tourists turning their noses up because they can’t see all the flavors on display.

After I literally tasted every flavor, I landed on chocolate coconut almond to which Daniel insisted he add a generous dollop of peanut butter. This was seriously flavorful ice cream. If you’re ever on the Hawaiian Islands, definitely try to find a Tropical Dreams shop!

Sigh, wish I could have gotten a better picture. This definitely doesn’t do the real thing justice.

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After a much needed nap back at the ranch, we couldn’t believe it but before we knew it, we were getting in the car again to go to dinner at Josselin’s Tapas Bar & Grill.

I know.

But it’s OK. We were on vacation. Isn’t gluttony a virtue when you’re on vacation?

It might have been the full belly talking, but I wasn’t too hyped on going to Josselin’s despite all the positive recommendations. Although I’d been eating very well, I wasn’t so sure that fine dining restaurants on Kauai were doing anything that interesting beyond dishes that could satisfy the greatest common denominator of flavor palates visiting the island day after day.

Thankfully, I was proven wrong by some dishes at Josselin’s! It started with the “muffin” assortment which included miniature biscuit-like rolls flavored with ginger, Thai curry, and cilantro. I know I’ve got a bread “thing” but these really perked up my taste buds.

The watermelon salad was disappointing, but the naan with spicy merguez, roasted eggplant, and mint was a huge win.

What was truly the pièce de résistance, though, was the 36-hour braised pork belly with apple kimchee and Lehua honey – an unbelievable, locally sourced honey from bees that feed exclusively on the Lehua flower which only grows on the ohi’a tree.

The honey glaze created a sweet candied shell keeping the wonderful juices inside every chunk of pork you pulled off with your fork. No knife necessary. The kimchee splashed spicy and tart refreshment at the back of the throat, whilst the salty sweetness of the meat meandered over the tongue. Chestnut, vanilla and basil also remarkably came through each bite.

The experience was kind of astounding. In fact, it was so exceptional that we finished off most of it, despite our stomachs being full to bursting.

Needless to say we did not order any dessert! And this time I’m not lying!

An Adventure Anniversary in Kauai: 10 Years!

As I walked over the gap from plane to paradise, I immediately smelled sea salt in the air as its light moisture descended on my skin, wrapping me in a warm dewy embrace. We had finally arrived in Kauai.

Expectations were already running high given the accolades I received for Kauai from what seemed myriad friends and colleagues, and yet I sensed this island would still manage to surprise us.

Kauai – home to a variety of climates on any given day, stretches of grassland ideal for raising cattle, dense fragrant jungle forest, beaches ringed by ancient rocky cliffsides, and “red dirt” soil rich with iron giving it its famous rust-like hue – promised adventure, perhaps even danger. This trip would be quite a contrast from the lazy luxury I’d experienced 10 years ago in Maui for our honeymoon. Kauai seemed the ideal destination for an adventure anniversary.

And of course, exploring would require plenty of energy-fueling eating.

But first: get our bearings, eat some fresh local ahi tuna (ideally, pool-side), and relax.

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The Dock is the casual eatery on the upper level pools at The Grand Hyatt in Poipu on the southern coast of the island. Nothing fancy, but I have to admit, this hit the spot. No fuss. No muss. Just fresh ahi. The Kalua BBQ pork sandwich was tasty as well.

Done and done. Now nothing but sun and sun.

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After a truly praiseworthy hour with our concierge extraordinaire Maren, we took a quick hike up the cliffs on Shipwreck Beach which is conveniently located right next to the hotel. This public beach area is aptly named given the rocky cliffs and ocean-side outcroppings. Seasoned local body surfers love this spot for its breaks. Definitely not for newbs. The waves here are raucous and relentless.

The hike gave us our first taste of Kauai’s rugged natural beauty and unforgiving terrain. Even for avid hikers like us, the Garden Island will make you work for it.

We were stoked.

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Unfortunately our first dinner on the island at Tidepools was disappointing, but romantic. The restaurant seemed to float on a picturesque koi-filled lagoon in the middle of the gardens at the Grand Hyatt. But it seemed Tidepools took its popularity a bit for granted.

My local baby romaine salad was so heavily dressed, it was white, and the ahi I had was sadly overseasoned to the point of being salty. It was almost like it was seasoned twice by accident. The ingredients were top notch, too. Sigh.

Jordan’s opah was much better, but the fish still had to fight for attention alongside the strong Creole-flavored sauce and succotash of potatoes, corn, edamame, and crab. It was decent, but the dish still seemed a bit heavy-handed.

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All in all, no matter. We were in Kauai. The Garden Island awaited us tomorrow.

Our dopey smiles said it all as we drifted in a sleepy haze through sweet-smelling greenery back to beckoning crisp white pillows.

There’s no place like a [Korean] home…

Just when I’m getting cabin fever and feeling homesick, my photo archive reveals a treasure trove of pictures from a visit back home to Pennsylvania where my parents still live. I know it’s trite to say, but memories do indeed fuel the wonder only dishes from home can bring to the soul; especially when you come from a Korean family that loves to eat!

First let’s talk about what to me is the quintessential Korean dish (besides kimchee, of course), bibimbap. Bibimbap literally translates to “mixed rice.” It’s become so mainstream, you find it on the menu in the most unlikely of places. Even just today I discovered that Chicago’s famous gastropub The Publican’s Sunday brunch menu features a pork belly bibimbap!

Bibimbap works for so many reasons, not least of which is that when it’s made at home it takes no prep whatsoever. It originated from literally taking whatever leftover rice and banchan you had (traditional small dishes to eat with rice), throwing it all in a big bowl, adding lots of gochujang (bright red, sweet and spicy fermented chili and soybean paste) and a sunny side up egg (if you had it), and mixing and incorporating everything together until your arm hurt. Then the fam would each grab a spoon (somehow it seems to taste better with a long stem metal Korean spoon), and communally dig in! Even clean up is easy!

And just as layers of flavor permeate bibimbap, so does this dish speak to the rich agricultural history and resourcefulness intrinsic not only to making Korean food, but also eating it. At its core, it’s a no frills, hearty kind of eating spiced up with fire from plenty of hot chiles.

These photos were taken from Christmas 2011. We had a bunch of tasty banchan from my Mom and during a visit to my aunt’s house, a bibim party ensued with gusto! It’s always a special treat when my Dad decides to be the “Bimbim Master,” as we kids like to call him.

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This is the kind of spread waiting for me when I visit home. Gawd. Moms should be recognized as the ninth wonders of the world. All of this was made from scratch, yo.

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We also had some other memorable dishes from the visit including homemade Duk Mandoo Guk (beef soup with beef dumplings and rice cakes) and Guksu jongol (spicy casserole with noodles). Had to throw these in too because they are absolute pure comfort food for any Korean!

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Pure comfort indeed.

Smattering from the Big Apple: Part 1

Despite Jordan and I being inducted into the hall of fame of “mutant viruses of 2012” all in the same weekend, we still managed to enrich our food tasting repertoire.

Here’s part one of the smattering of yummies I indulged in whilst my mind endured a feverish delirium…

Joe’s Pizza
7 Carmine Street @ Bleecker

Of course the minute we landed we headed north into Soho and then Greenwich with one thing on our mind – a NY slice. Joe’s is a straightforward joint that is authentic NYC. The pizza tasted friggin’ great after a stuffy plane ride.

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Molly’s Cupcakes
228 Bleecker St

I was dying for something sweet afterwards and just kitty corner to Joe’s was Molly’s Cupcakes from Cupcake Wars fame.

Peanut Butter Nutella – Peanut Butter cake stuffed with Nutella and topped with Nutella buttercream. Uh, yum.

Chocolate Decadence – Chocolate cake filled with chocolate mousse topped with ganache and chocolate curls. Seriously, this is ALL the chocolate you can stuff in a cupcake? Slackers.

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Murray’s on Bleeker
254 Bleecker St

This was a random walk-by then walk-through. I can never resist a deli counter with signs like “cave aged” above it.

I was lucky enough to get a taste of the paleta de bellota which I learned is the front leg versus the hind leg of the famous Spanish black Iberian pigs from which the even more famous jamon iberico is made.

It’s that beautiful cured leg on top of the counter that looks like its been chomped in the middle by Pac-Man.

It definitely wasn’t as melty as jamon iberico which makes sense given the part of the pig, but it had a straightforward, kind of more “working man” type meaty flavor – “working man” of course meaning only slightly lesser upper echelon of cuisine.

We also got some finnochiona which tasted like a kicked up sopressata and some thin slices of tasso ham. Did I mention that this snack was only about a half hour after leaving Molly’s?

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The Spotted Pig
314 W 11th St (between Hudson St & Greenwich St)

Although both our bodies were feeling the non-stop eight hours of walking creeping up on us (and catching up with a vengeance later), we mustered up our last bit of energy…to wait for two hours.

But, here are the dishes that made it worth it!

I thought the creamy Deviled Egg with the surprise of chili oil would be my fave, until I dived into the Chicken Liver on Toast. Damn.

Imagine a slathering of peanut butter and jelly on toast, but substitute the peanut butter for creamy smooth chicken liver, bulgogi-flavor, and a rich caramelized onion marmalade for the jelly. I’ve never had anything like it, and craved it almost immediately after I’d finished the whole thing.

But there was still, one more gastropub delight. Crispy Pig Ear Salad. Super crisp as you bite into them – the ears of course – melty fatty then slightly chewy. Good god.

It was pretty late when we hailed a cab outside of The Pig as Jordan liked to call it, but the place was still jumping when we left. We were wrecked but oh so happy with our food excursions for the day.

What awaits us on day 2?!