after dinner sneeze

a lot of g says, t says

That time we went to Hawaii

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t says:  As now g and I are Californians, it is only right that we vacation where Californians vacation: Hawaii.  From my understanding, it seems like Hawaii is to San Franciscans as Florida is to New Jerseyans.  Never having been to Hawaii, g and I were pumped.  As I write this, it’s been a little while, so the details will be lacking (as usual), but I hope these pictures will remind g and me of just how much fun we had!

Indeed, the first place one is told to visit in Hawaii is Helena’s.  Home of “traditional Hawaiian” cuisine, g and I didn’t quite know what to expect.  I have to say that there was a bit of trepidation when we pulled up to the parking lot – it doesn’t look like much from the outside, occupying one space in row of shops in a relatively residential neighborhood.  But we knew it was legit because it had a line … quite a long line … meanwhile the restaurant literally in the next space over had absolutely no one in it (I kinda felt bad for them).  Had we been there for longer, I would have considered trying out their food, too … but alas, with only one stomach, we had to go for Helena’s.

The menu required some googling, as g and I didn’t quite know what we were getting ourselves into.  Between bloggers and the folks sitting next to us (and older couple from Florida who were very friendly; they visit Hawaii at least once a year), we concocted an order to experience “a taste of Hawaii”.

Ok … so we found out that a taste of Hawaii isn’t exactly appeasing to the eyes – lots of browns and whites.  Meats, rice, meats, rice; and of course the purple shade of poi.  Before I go into how things taste, I do wonder: how do Hawaiians maintain their bowels??  There was not a legitimate vegetable on the entire menu!  Ok – back to not being gross: the food was CRAZY-good.  The kalbi (in the upper left position), was quite tasty.  It reminded me of Korean kalbi, but not quite as heavily seasoned.  More important was kalua pig (left position) and the wrapped lau lau (lower right position).  It was interesting to compare the flavors of these two pork dishes, with one coming across with more of a smoky, bbq flavor, while the other had some vegetal flavors courtesy of the leaves in which it was cooked.  Poi is a pass for us – the flavor was quite a bit odd – not sure how to describe it, but I’m not sure how it really works with the rest of the dishes.  As far as what was missing: kimchi.  I yearned for some kimchi.  Something acidic and spicy to really round out the flavor profile.  I had rice and I had meat – really all I needed was some kimchi and it would have been heaven!

There was also an obligatory “have-to-visit-while-in-Oahu” visit to Liliha Bakery.  Now I want to start off saying that I don’t like cream puffs.  I think that just because you have a boring, tasteless pastry, injecting it with more sugar doesn’t make it better … it just makes it sweet.  Well that’s not the case with these puffs.  These “coco puffs” are insane, with a chocolate pudding inside and a ?macademic nut? topping; it’s like the baby of a cream puff and a reese’s.  So amazing.  The donut all the way to the left is their poi donut, which I actually enjoyed quite a bit.  The texture was kind of chewy and resilient, which I thought was great (kind of like a Korean rice cake).  The malasada (in the middle) I think had guava in it, which was less exciting for me, as I find guava to be too potent for my fragile taste buds (the rest of the donut was good!).

And now here was probably our best meal of Hawaii.  After watching a junior surf competition on the north shore, we stopped by Romy’s prawn and shrimp shack.  The layout is similar to a Philly cheesesteak shop – you order at the window and they prep it right there.  While it seems that most people get a fried version, g and I went for the steamed option, as this would allow us time to get to the beach and watch the sunset without having to worry about fried-ness getting soggy.  And it. was. amazing.  The shrimp were huge, perfectly cooked (surprising!), and funt o dip in the sauces (we mixed together the soyu and garlic).  We could not imagine a more Hawaiian experience than sitting on that beach with our shellfish.

Another Hawaiian chain that often makes bloggers’ lists is the Koa pancake house.  I have to say that this one was a little underwhelming.  It came across as more “fusiony” than truly authentic anything.  In the foreground, we had a super-dry/over-cooked chicken, tossed in a “Korean sauce” (that lacked heat) over a mooshy waffle.  g went for a take on eggs benedict (that I think had some kind of kimchi-inspired sauce on it), but that English muffin was quite anemic in appearance and taste.  I mean, the food was fine if you’re in a pinch, but not worth going out of your way for.

This photo is a place-holder for an entire experience: if you go to Honolulu, you have to go to Shangri-la.  The collection of art is amazing.  To post the pictures would do it disservice, because it’s really all about being surrounded by such an eclectic mix of pieces.  Do it.

We did it.  We went to Cinnamon’s.  The famous eatery that features guava (background) and red velvet (foreground) pancakes.  Are you surprised?  Probably not.  However – you should be surprised that it was g’s wishing that led us there – she loves guava.  As I mentioned above: I could do without it.  Cinnamon’s has been open for 32 years.  I daresay that it has not been renovated once.  We sat in the oddest gazebo-looking thing in the middle of the dining room, looking around at tourists feeding their children pounds and pounds of sugar (that’s right!  even I thought that these pancakes were a little over-the-top) – not exactly the ambience I was hoping for … and then these pancakes hit the table … and even though my eyes and brain clearly said “you probably shouldn’t eat all this pancake”, my mouth responded with a “watch me”.  I confess: they were good (the red velvet ones at least).  It’s worth a trip.  Drop in, eat some pancakes, and pop out …    

This is another terrible picture.  I got it.  There was such terrible lighting, I had to get up real close.  While in Hawaii, we had to do at least one Roy’s restaurant, so we ventured Eating House 1849.  This mess of rib was the best item we had.  Smokey and sweet, the meat just fell off the bone.  The rest of the items we had were pretty tasty as well (some Brussels sprouts, some fish, an obligatory molten chocolate dessert), but it was the ribs that I will remember from this meal.  Just so delicious!

What would an adsz post be without some ramen?  Goma Tei’s tan tan ramen is well-known in Hawaii, with a delightful sesame-based broth.  It was thick and creamy, adding a great texture.  However, it was a bit overpowering, as the other ingredients were difficult to shine through the broth’s flavors.  Meanwhile, the pork was tasty, but a bit on the drier side.  I can see why most would like this ramen (it’s quite unctuous and uniquely tasty), but for me, I felt like it needed to have some stronger complementary additions to stand up to such a strong background.  Super-glad I tried it, but if I went back, I’d try some others.

Whereas the Goma Tei ramen had some highlights, I have to say that the AGU ramen (another famous shop in Hawaii) was absolutely forgettable.  Above, you can see a version amped up with some black garlic, some fried garlic, and the [super-gimicky-but-they’re-known-for-it] Parmigiana cheese.  First off, lets’ just settle it now: the cheese added nothing to this dish.  Its texture was wrong, and its flavor wasn’t useful, rather, it only masked every other ingredient in the bowl.  The rest of the dish was kind of bland (cheese notwithstanding), so much so that I dumped the kimchi into the soup just to jazz things up.  Fortunately, the service was quick and nice, so we were able to fill up and move along with our day.   My advice is to skip out on AGU ramen and instead go to the udon shop around the corner, Marukame, which was incredible.  I wish my pictures would have turned out, but the place is totally legit.  You can see them making the noodles from scratch, cooking them up, and composing the soups to your specifications.  Seriously worth waiting in their line and dealing with the curt, borderline-rude service (i.e. don’t expect to stay long!)

One of g’s dreams was to drink an umbrella-laden drink by the beach.  Boom – mission accomplished.  Mai Thai!  But to follow it up: you have to go to Duke’s Waikiki.  It’s essential.  The food isn’t necessarily authentic, but it is quite tasty, including multiple food groups (veggies!), and served an atmosphere that’s just so classically tourist-Hawaii that to miss it would be a crime.  Sit back, relax, eat some raw tuna served over puffed rice, and bask in the glow of the Hawaiian sun!

Oh the shaved ice.  I totally forget the name of this cart/shack, but their shaved ice was the best sweet thing I had on the trip – it was perfect.  Ice cream covered in ice and spritzed with flavors and spiked with fruit and mochi – it was incredible.  Why have I never had it before?  We need this exact treat on the mainland, stat!

And just for k, we went to banan …  That’s not ice cream, so much as whipped frozen banana … served with toppings … and served in a papaya.  That’s right!  In a papaya!  g was loving it … (although I wished it was another one of those shaved ice concoctions, above …)

In all, our first trip to Hawaii was pretty darn incredible.  We went on a fun hike, we tried/nearly-got-blown-out-to-sea during stand-up paddle-boarding.  We beached-it-up right.

Written by afterdinnersneeze

7 June 2017 at 12:10am

Posted in Happenings

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