Eggplant 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 EDD-ters Tour of Italy – La Finale e arrivederci!

One bullet train later, I had to blink several times before it sank in that we were back where our culinary tour de forza began. One afternoon and night left in this magical country.

What can I say? I was bummed!

We decided to visit Piazza Navona on our last afternoon in Rome. The air was slightly cool and damp, and a creeping melancholy gave me quite a chill. Good thing there were plenty of roasted chestnut vendors about to fill the air with nutty sweetness.

So the big question now was where to have our final meal? Where could we find the culinary closure we’d need to sustain us for the long journey home?

Like divine inspiration from Neptune himself, a craving for fettucine al tartufo d’Andrea aroused my appetite. Trattoria d’Andrea – homey, delicious, comforting, authentic – answered the call.

In the meantime, it was impossible not to grab a snack at a small pizzeria on our way back to the hotel. Homemade pork sausage and straight-up tomato basil between chewy, lightly cheesy, crispy pizza dough. How can something so simple be so darn unbelievable!

At Trattoria d’Andrea, we started with antipasto vegetale – eggplant, zucchini, cipollini onions – generously flavored with garlic, tomato and breadcrumbs. The antipasto italiana was fresh and comfortingly salty sweet.

Although the house fettucini was my must-have dish, Jordan opted for the ravioli bolognese. Slightly tart and meaty ragu on chewy cheese-stuffed pillows.

By excellent fortune, before my truffle fettucini arrived, they mistakenly brought a fettucine con porcini by accident. Oh no! What to do?

Andrea also recommended a especiale di pollo which was a braised chicken with tomatoes. Fall-off-the bone tenderness in a sweet, sumptuous sauce. Beautiful.

It was such a wonderful meal and it encapsulated so much of the soulful impact Italy has had on me. The country appreciates people, art, food, and simply life itself. And this philosophy is intermingled with all my memories.

I’m so glad I was able to share some of my fondest memories with you all, and I hope they inspire you to visit Italy as well! I know I’ll be back!

But for now…

Arrivederci!

An EDD-ter’s Tour of Italy – Siena

One of the most wonderful surprises during our trip was the medieval village of Siena in Tuscany. It’s easy to imagine princes and princesses, dukes and dragons, and all manner of swords and sorcery while walking the narrow cobblestone streets of this town.

It’s also easy to gawk at the tempting nibbles of salami, formaggio, and gelato along your stroll.

So much of the town seemed untouched in the rainy drizzle of the November morning when we arrived. We made our way slowly toward the famous Piazza del Campo that when entering felt much like emerging out of a dense jungle into a wide ocean. It was thrilling to imagine the bartering and marketplace activity that must have happened here day in and day out in medieval times.

I must mention that this famous tower is called “The Eater’s Tower” due to its first guardian being known to spend all his money on food. Was this a prophetic sign for things to come?

But nothing could have prepared us for the Duomo in Siena and its adjoining cathedral. Towering above all the orange brick buildings of Siena are the dramatic black and white marble towers of this incredible gothic cathedral. It appears adorned on every corner of its outer facade with elaborate carvings of medieval creatures and intricate designs. And within its walls, every inch is crafted with purpose and care – a testament to the time, sacrifice and devotion its artists had for this structure. We were extremely lucky as well to have viewed the legendary marble-etched floor inside which was uncovered in its entirety (only 6 weeks out of year)!

I also must mention the Piccolomini Library that felt alive when I walked into it. Its wonderfully preserved Renaissance frescoes teeming with gold inlay and brightly colored detail, as well as, an amazing collection of medieval choir books took me back in time to something akin to a historical fairytale.

As we left the cathedral, we walked as if in a waking dream and only snapped back into reality when our stomachs started growling and we absolutely had to find the perfect dining experience to go along with our new found love for Siena.

And we found it – Antica Osteria Da Divo.

Da Divo is housed in ancient Etruscan rooms cut out of the ‘tufa’, the soft volcanic rock on which Siena is built. Cozily lit and surrounded by exposed ancient rock walls, we settled into our table and couldn’t believe our luck in not only finding the place but squeaking in with a last-minute reservation.

We had an array of rustic yet elegant Tuscan dishes that ranged from crispy breaded anchovy fillets pungent with extra virgin olive oil, famous Florentine-style T-bone steak carved table side, Senelese style pasta – thick and chewy – in a rich robust wild boar ragu flavored with whole juniper berries, and an indulgent porcini mushroom risotto finished table side in a Tuscan pecorino cheese wheel. Unbelievable.

We finished off our many courses with plenty of Chianti Classico and homemade Italian cookies with espresso. Oh, and there was a chocolate lava cake – more chocolaty than sickly sweet – that just happened to appear on our table.

Needless to say we were seriously delirious and pretty slap-happy when we finally stood up after the hours of warm-cozy-delicious-sumptuous-all-day-sight(eat)seeing in Siena.

The cold drizzle outside was a welcome embrace when we walked outside. Again we were immediately transported back in time except now the village looked excitingly dangerous in the dark.

Somehow we found our way back to our car and sadly bid farewell to Siena.

We vowed to return one day.

But now, it was time to head to Florence.

p.s. Don’t forget to check Food Pix for more photos from Siena!

New Food Pix! Dim Sum Yum

New gallery of luscious dim sum from Shui Wah in Chinatown Chicago!

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On the menu:
Cha Sui – Chinese BBQ pork
Char Sui Bao – BBQ pork bun
Yeung Qi Dze – Shrimp stuffed eggplant
San Juk Guen – Vegetable stuffed bean curd roll
Fung Tsow – Steamed chicken feet
Gow Gee – Pan-fried pork potstickers
Shao Mai – Pork and shrimp dumpling
Law Bok Gow – Pan-fried turnip cake
Har Gow – Shrimp dumpling

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Shui Wah Chinese Cuisine
2162 S Archer Ave
Chicago, IL 60616
(312) 225-8811