Fine Dining 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!

London Calling!

November 5-9, 2010

“The man who can dominate a London dinner-table can dominate the world.”
– Oscar Wilde

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Only a month after we visited Italy, I had the opportunity to travel to London for business.

I pondered whether or not to make a 2nd vaca out of it for, oh I don’t know, a good two milliseconds or so.

Are you kidding? London?! Of course we were going!

Visions of medieval knights, architectural wonders built with bricks steeped in history, the Tube, and of course, British food (famous or infamous depending on who you talk to), filled my mind to bursting for weeks before our departure.

This girl was on a mission and wasn’t going to leave London hungry that’s for sure.

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For me, our weekend had to start with fish and chips. But where to go? There were literally hundreds of fish and chips places all over London.

After a little online elbow grease, we headed out to The Rock and Sole Plaice in Covent Garden.

It’s a small joint with the fryers right where you walk in and a tiny basement sit-down with walls adorned with groovy aquatic art. Family-owned for 130 years. They fry up all manner of fish from cod to plaice (flounder) to prawns. Malt vinegar, curry sauce, onion gravy, mushy peas and pretty much the lot you’d expect at a proper fish and chips place also garnished the simple straightforward menu board.

Seriously, this was what you call damn good fish fry.

Haddock and Chips with Mushy Peas

Haddock with Curry Sauce

Classic Cod and Chips

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We emerged from Rock and Sole – our clothes smelling wonderfully fried – and took a brisk walk through hip youthful Covent Garden under a slight drizzle.

We pretty much just let our eyes and feet lead us where they wanted to.

And it seemed all roads led to Trafalgar Square!

Yinka Shonibare’s “Nelson’s ship in a bottle” art installment

General Sir Charles James Napier

Whitehall to Big Ben

Admiralty Arch

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Despite the grey skies and sheen of rain on my cheeks, I was giddy.

And also ravenous for more English grub!

So after a quick change and chat with the concierge at the Cavendish, we were off to Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill which was just a few doors down.

Now don’t let the name fool you. “Bar and Grill” may conjure up images of loaded potato skins and Miller Lite, but Bentley’s is a veritable institution.

Opened in 1916 in the same Victorian building it occupies today, Bentley’s gothic facade speaks of a London from the past. But upon entering, Bentley’s gorgeous interior feels contemporary and undeniably British at the same time.

And the food – classic, crafted, local, and infused with pride.

Oysters sourced off the coast of Scotland – delicately sweet then refreshing like a salty spray of sea against rock

Pot of Wild Cornish Mussels – white wine, parsley, garlic, butter

Sole a la Meuniere for Two – butter, lemon, capers, parsley. Incredible.

Steamed Cavolo Nero

Local Cheeses – sheep’s milk, cow’s milk, bleu, fresh figs, arugula

I can truthfully say that I sampled English food from casual to classical all day today, and the exquisite flavors of fresh fish and shellfish, sweet thick butter, good salt, and creamy tart cheese lingered on my tongue all the way home.

Brilliant.

Spring in NOLA: Crawfish Boil to John Besh’s August

Another glorious morning in what was becoming like a second home to us. We couldn’t believe our luck as temps ranged in the 80s yet again and it was sunny as sunny could be!

Today, we were off to explore NOLA’s Magazine Street – famous for its eclectic shops. Maybe we’d find some gifties for our friendsies.

But of course, like a moth to flame, we ended up eating big time yet again. I hadn’t even planned on this or even heard about it. Promise!

Big Fisherman Seafood called to us like mystical Sirens out in the fog of sea…calling to us…hypnotizing us…come eat…crabs…oysters…shrimp…crawfish…

How could I possibly turn away from a place that has this sign outside of it?!

And has this kind of heavenly spread inside?

I mean…c’mon!

We had naught to do but get a pound of freshly cajun boiled crawfish and 2 cajun corn on the cobs; nevermind that we had no where to sit down and eat our snack with all its messes.

But you’re never too far from laid back hospitality in New Orleans. A casual (and kind of trendy) alfresco eatery across the street was kind enough to let us chow down at one of their tables as long as we cleaned up after and ordered a couple cokes.

How cool is that?

So that’s just what we did! And it was soooo worth it.

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But seriously folks, that’s not all.

Tonight we would dine at the place that was on my short list for must-visit fine dining restaurants in the States.

And John Besh’s August did not disappoint.

Our meal was superb, expertly prepared, and yet comforting like a good Nawlin’s meal should be. To top it all off, Chef Besh was super friendly and as his periodic visits to various tables throughout the place showed, an amazing host as well. You could really feel how much he cared and was passionate about the experience. Makes all the difference in the world, I’ll tell ya.

Oh yeah, and did I mention the food?

Redfish “courtbouillon”
Persillade crust, jumbo shrimp, blue crab, and sauce bourride

Hand-made potato gnocchi tossed with blue crab and winter truffle


Salad of heirloom beets, crab meat, cherry wood bacon, mizuna, and quail eggs with black-eyed pea croutons



P&J Oysters: crispy fried with Louisiana caviar “ranch dressing,” pepper seared with truffle spoon bread, horseradish crusted

“Breaded” speckled trout Louisiana crab, white shrimp, toasted almonds and sauce mousseline

Special: Goat three-ways

Napoleon of nougatine with Valrhona chocolate bavarois and salted toffee ice cream

Trio of gelee, chocolate, and pralines

The trip home in the dewy Spring night made for another amazing day in this magical place.

Spring in NOLA: Swamps, Shells, and a Dream Come True

We started bright and early the next day and went on the Honey Island Swamp Tour. It was like we were in some untouched fantasy land full of creatures, strange plants, and adventure! These guys do a great job by the way and I highly recommend them for a small group tour.

The Original Honey Island Swamp Tour

Afterwards what better to fill our swamp bellies but with some incredibly addictive Johnny’s Po Boys. Despite how famous and touristy this place is, it’s still legit eats! Soft-shell crab for me, oyster for Jordan, and a side of their sweet jambalaya to share!

Soft-shell Crab Po’ Boy

Fried Oyster Po’ Boy

Sweet Jambalaya

The only thing more killer than these po’ boys was the mega-nap Jordan and I took after…zzz…the….zzzzzz…

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One word: Middendorf’s! Waaaay back when Jordan and I started dating, one of our first conversations about food was about his days as a child in Mississippi. He spoke with such passion and affection for a place in Manshac, Louisiana that he and his family would go to on special occasions. It lies on the isthmus between Lake Maurepas and Lake Ponchatrain, and he’d spin yarns about sucking crawfish heads and tails over cajun spice-soaked newspaper table cloths. He’d also talk of the fried platters with such gusto that the memory became a food goal for me. And guess what, check off one ticker box for this girl!

“We’re with you through Thick and Thin!” – Middendorf’s

All manner of crustacean in this gumbo!

Fresh big boiled critters!

Middendorf’s Special Fried Thin Catfish

Old School Deviled Crab

Shrimp and Catfish

This was a dream come true, and Middendorf’s remains a living legend.

If you ever get to New Orleans and want a quick fun road trip around local parts, Middendorf’s is truly worth it!

Trust me on this! Git! Git!