Say cheesecake in Kaimuki

cheesecake
With its bright red and yellow exterior, Otto Cake (1127 12th Ave., Honolulu; 808-834-6886; ottocake.com) is one of the most colorful storefronts in Kaimuki—and proprietor Otto is easily one of the neighborhood’s more colorful characters. Otto, who uses only one name (“like Sting,” he says), plays bass in the band 86 List and is a cheesecake maker extraordinaire. He opened his shop in Kaimuki in 2013 and tempts customers with nine different flavors per day from a total of 270 that he has developed.

cheesecake with otto On any given day he might draw from the flavors of the island for haupia (coconut milk) or lilikoi (passionfruit) cheesecakes or for a combination such as macadamia-pineapple-coconut. Less subtle choices might include chocolate peanut butter, orange chocolate chip or Chinese almond cookie. He also delights in finding just the right crust to complement the flavors of the filling. He uses an orange cookie crust for the lilikoi cheesecake and pairs a cinnamon crust with a Mexican chocolate filling.

Otto declined to share a recipe. But he did offer a few tips to help home bakers avoid some of the most common mistakes in making cheesecake. To begin with, he says, all ingredients should be mixed by hand to avoid over-emulsified, pasty results. And neither the crust nor the filling should be overly sweet. If you are using ingredients that have a lot of natural sugar, he says, cut down on the amount of added sugar.

“Timing in the oven is the most important thing,” he says, noting that most people overcook their cheesecake. If your cakes tend to be crumbly, that’s probably why. Finally, he says, “do not use a water bath.” That might be fine for a pudding, but not for a cake.

And, it almost goes without saying: Have fun!

25

02 2016

Going loco for Koko Moco

Koko Head Cafe in Honolulu
New York-born chef Lee Anne Wong cooked in restaurants around the world before settling on Oahu and opening Koko Head Cafe in Honolulu’s Kaimuki neighborhood in 2014 (1145c 12th Ave, Honolulu; 808-732-8920, kokoheadcafe.com). She may have been a newcomer, but she had an unerring sense of what people would want to eat when they gather for brunch in this very Hawaiian take on a modern diner, right down to the varnished plywood counter and orange vinyl banquettes.

She also seems to belong to the school that holds that brunch really should hold you all day. Wong’s inventive dishes range from kimchi bacon cheddar scones to a hearty congee with bacon, ham, Portuguese sausage, cheddar cheese, scallions, and cinnamon-bacon croutons.

But I was most taken with her “Skillets,” which come to the table in small, piping-hot cast iron pans. The Chicky and Eggs, for example, highlights her easy way with Euro-Asian fusion dishes. It features Japanese-style fried chicken, French-style scrambled eggs, house-made pickles, and maple Tabasco sauce.

Wong’s version of the Hawaiian staple Loco Moco, demonstrates how quickly she absorbed local foodways and made them her own. Introduced on the Big Island in 1949, the extremely filling Loco Moco features a hamburger patty on white rice, topped with brown gravy and a fried egg. Wong calls her take on the comfort dish Koko Moco. She uses local grass-fed beef for the patty and high-quality sushi rice cooked in garlic oil until it develops a crunchy crust as the base. In addition to the gravy (in this case, a meatless mushroom version) and a local egg cooked sunny side up, Wong gives the whole dish a shot in the arm with garnishes of scallions, toasted sesame seeds, peppery togarashi (a Japanese spice mix with hot red pepper), and tempura-fried kimchi.

Koka Moka dish

KOKO MOCO

Serves 4

Beef Patties
1 1/2 lbs high quality grass-fed ground beef
1 tablespoon shoyu (Japanese soy sauce)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
salt

In a small bowl combine the shoyu, Worcestershire, and black pepper, mixing well. Pour over the ground beef and massage with your hands until well-mixed, being careful to not over work the meat. Form the beef into four 6-ounce patties, about 4″ in diameter and 1/2″ thick. Refrigerate covered until needed

Garlic Oil
12 large cloves peeled garlic, smashed/crushed
1 cup vegetable oil

Combine the oil and garlic cloves in a small pan or pot. Simmer on low heat until the garlic begins to turn golden and the oil is fragrant, about 20-30 minutes. Allow the oil to cool to room temperature. Remove the garlic cloves and save for another use.

Savory Mushroom Gravy
1 cup dried shiitake mushrooms soaked overnight in 4 cups water
6 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely minced yellow onions
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
2/3 cup all purpose flour
3 tablespoons Maggi seasoning
3 tablespoons mushroom soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 cups cremini mushrooms, quartered, trimmed, stems reserved
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon dried sage or 3 tablespoons fresh sage, minced
oil for sautéing mushrooms

Remove the rehydrated shiitake mushrooms from the soaking liquid, squeezing out excess liquid. Reserve the mushroom water. Remove the stems from the rehydrated shiitakes, set aside. Slice the mushrooms into 1/4″ thick slices, set aside.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat and saute the onions for 5 minutes until they begin to soften, stirring often with a wooden spoon. Add the minced garlic and cook for one minute more. Sprinkle the flour over the mixture and stir well until incorporated, it will become thick like a dough. Slowly add in the mushroom soaking liquid, stirring out any lumps (use a whisk) until all of the liquid has been added. Continue to whisk and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes. Add the Maggi, mushroom soy, sugar, and black pepper.

Combine the shiitake mushroom stems and the cremini mushroom trimmings and stems and add to the cup of cream. Add the minced sage, bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce to low heat and cook until the stems are tender, about 5 minutes. Puree the cream and mushroom mixture on high in a blender until it is a smooth puree. Add the puree to the mushroom gravy pot.

Bring the mushroom gravy to a boil, whisking until smooth. Check for seasoning and adjust as necessary. Puree the gravy in the blender on high in small batches (be careful to only fill the blender pitcher halfway and keep the lid held tightly on with a toweled hand). Return the finished gravy to a clean pot.

In a large sauté pan, heat up a few tablespoons of oil over high heat and add the quartered cremini mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper. Cook the mushrooms for 2-3 minutes, stirring often. Add the sliced shiitake mushrooms to the pan and cook, stir frying vigorously for another 3 minutes until all of the mushrooms are cooked and tender. Drain on paper towels then add the cooked mushrooms to the mushroom gravy. Keep warm or refrigerate until needed.

Assembling Koko Moco

4 six-inch cast iron skillets or a small 6-8″ nonstick pan.
4 six-ounce beef patties
garlic oil
4 cups steamed white rice
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
4 large eggs
1 green onion, minced
salt
togarashi
toasted sesame seeds

Heat the skillets on high heat until they begin to lightly smoke. If using a small nonstick pan you will need to fry four batches of rice, or you can use a large nonstick pan and cut the rice in quarters once finished. Add a tablespoon of oil to the skillets and press one cup of rice into the bottom of each skillet. Reduce heat to medium-high and cook until lightly golden brown. Add a 1/4 teaspoon of fresh minced garlic on the top of the rice and gently stir in. Season the rice with salt.

Separately: Season the beef patties with salt and pepper. Grill or griddle the beef patties to desired temperature.

Fry the eggs individually sunny side up in a nonstick pan using garlic oil to fry; season with salt and pepper.

Warm the gravy in a small pot. To assemble, place the cooked burger patty on top of the seasoned garlic rice. Ladle a generous portion of gravy over the burger (1/2 to 1 cup). Top with a fried egg and garnish with sliced green onion, togarashi, salt and toasted sesame seeds. Serve immediately.

14

02 2016

Beets provide tasty twist on Hawaiian poke

Kaimuki in Honolulu, where Ed Kenney serves beet poke One of the great things about the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival is that the schedule allows plenty of free time to check out the rest of the local food scene. I was particularly curious about Kaimuki, a residential neighborhood north of Diamond Head and about two miles east of Waikiki Beach. Waialae Avenue and its side streets are full of a tantalizing mix of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Thai restaurants that provide the Asian zing to Hawaii, as well as a great ice cream shop Via Gelato (1142 12th Avenue, 808-732-2800, www.viagelatohawaii.com) that makes such fabulous flavors as green tea chocolate chip, black sesame, lilikoi, and guava.

Two chefs have made the greatest impact in turning the neighborhood into a dining destination. Ed Kenney has three eateries within hailing distance of each other. He first opened Town (3425 Waialae Avenue, 808-735-5900; www.townkaimuki.com) about ten years ago with a focus on San Francisco-style Italian dishes made with highly local ingredients. As Town evolved, it became ever more Hawaiian, but its Italian roots have always shown. Last summer, he branched out with Mud Hen Water (3452 Waialae Avenue, 808-737-6000, www.mudhenwater.com). It took food inspirations from around the world and executed them with a Hawaiian sensibility, demonstrating conclusively that the New Hawaiian culinary revolution has a new generation up-ending the status quo.

In between, Kenney launched the wonderfully old-fashioned Kaimuki Superette (3458 Waialae Avenue, 808-734-7800, www.kaimukisuperette.com) which serves very 21st century sandwiches such as poached octopus with celery seed and tarragon aioli or slow-roasted pork with fennel aioli and arugula. The Superette’s grilled lemon lemonade can’t be beat on a hot day—and the Superette’s inventive salads, such as watermelon with chile-lime salt, cilantro, and jalapeño, are equally refreshing.

Beet poke at Kaimuki I was most taken with Kenney’s Beet Poke, a colorful dish that he first created for Mud Hen Water and is so popular that it’s also in the deli line-up at the Superette. As Kenney explained, it’s a variation on the iconic Hawaiian dish usually made with seafood. It also seems to sum up his approach to bringing a modern touch to traditional dishes and local ingredients. Thanks to the seaweed, sesame, and wasabi, the flavor profiles are surprisingly like traditional poke—but with sweet, gingery beets in place of fish.

Kenney’s Beet Poke has several steps and calls for a few ingredients not always readily available to mainlanders. But Kenney has suggested some simplifications and substitutions that still result in a delicious dish. For example, at the restaurants he roasts his beets “lawalu style” in the dying embers of a fire, but notes that most cooks will simply want to roast them in the oven. He also smokes the macadamia nuts, but again points out that even raw chopped nuts work fine.

Beet poke

ED KENNEY’S BEET POKE

This dish (shown above) is essentially a roast beet salad where the beets are tossed with pickled seaweed, thinly sliced sweet onion, and some toasted sesame oil. A mash of avocado with wasabi and lemon juice is served on the side as a counterpoint. The recipe is given here in steps. Be sure to read through for all the ingredients. It’s a good idea to roast the beets and pickle the seaweed the night before. Then it all goes together in a flash. I’ve given Kenney’s directions for smoking the nuts, but I made the dish without smoking and found it was fine.

Roasted Beets

4 tennis-ball-sized red beets (whole, tops cut off, unpeeled)
1-inch finger of ginger (smashed or coarsely shredded)
1 orange
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

beets roasting for beet poke Preheat oven to 350° F.

Place beets and ginger in an oven proof dish. Cut the orange in half and squeeze the juice over the beets. Add the halves to the dish. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil. Roast in the oven for one hour or until a knife can be inserted into the beets without much effort. Don’t overcook or they’ll be like the awful beets served in grade school cafeterias.

Allow beets to cool. Peel the beets and cut into random 1/2 to 1 inch chunks.


Pickled Seaweed:

3/4 cup limu (fresh seaweed) or rehydrated hijiki or wakame (available at Asian grocery stores or most branches of Whole Foods)
1 tablespoon sea salt
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar

Rinse the seaweed well, then toss the seaweed with salt, place in a colander, and allow to sit and drain for one hour. Meanwhile, bring the remaining ingredients to a boil to make the brine. Allow the brine to cool for 5 minutes, then pour over the seaweed and place in the refrigerator. Seaweed will be ready to use in 2-3 hours and will keep for up to a week.


Mashed Wasabi Avocado:

1 teaspoon wasabi powder
1 teaspoon warm water
1 ripe avocado
1/4 teaspoon lemon juice
salt and pepper

Combine the wasabi powder with warm water and mix well until a thin paste is formed. Allow the wasabi to sit and bloom, covered, for ten minutes.

Mash the avocado in a bowl with a fork, add the wasabi paste, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and mix well. Refrigerate.

Smoked Macadamia Nuts

1 cup macadamia nuts
wood chips

Place the nuts to one side of a deep pan. Place the wood chips in a small cast iron (or fire proof) bowl that will fit in the other side of the deep pan. Ignite the wood chips with a torch until they begin to smoke. Place the smoking wood chips in the deep pan with the nuts and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Allow the nuts to smoke for 30 minutes.

Repeat the process one more time with fresh chips for a total of one hour of smoking time. Chop the nuts roughly and reserve.

To Assemble:

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup sweet onion (shaved thin)
1/4 cup green onion tops (sliced thin)
1 striped or golden beet (raw, shaved thin) placed in iced water to crisp.

Place the beets in a bowl with the seaweed, 2 tablespoons of chopped macadamia nuts, sweet onion, and sesame oil. Toss with salt and pepper to taste.

Place a dollop of the avocado mixture on a plate and spoon the beet poke next to it. Garnish the poke with three wheels of shaved raw beet and sliced green onion tops.

04

02 2016

Provisions provides pitch-perfect Boston bistro

Braised beef cheeks and rigatoni at Provisions
We wondered if the opening of State Street Provisions (255 State St., Boston; 617-863-8363; statestreetprovisions.com) during December’s holiday blur was like Hollywood releasing its most promising films just before Christmas to make them eligible for award consideration. In that case, Provisions wins Best Boston Bistro of 2015. But that hardly makes the place out of date for 2016.

Readers of HungryTravelers know we rarely write about our home turf, but Provisions seems so representative of dining trends we’re seeing in Europe and the U.S. alike that we couldn’t resist. Also, we expect a lot of visitors to Boston this year, and we’re happy to send them to this waterfront bistro/gastropub where they’ll get good value (and great food and drink) for their money.

dining room at Provision Executive chef Tom Borgia has piped a pitch-perfect menu for the location and probable clientele. The menu draws heavily on local suppliers—it is just steps from Boston Public Market, after all—and Borgia has used those local ingredients to assemble meal offerings that are somewhere between the simplicity of a Dublin gastropub and the heartiness of a neighborhood Parisian bistro. The backbone of the menu is the pantry of fresh breads, housemade sausages and preserves, pickles, cheeses, and charcuterie. The prepared dishes are inventive without being precious—chicken liver pâté with a cranberry mostarda, for example, or a grilled chicken sandwich with feta, roasted peppers, pancetta, and aioli.

The number of seafood options initially seems surprising, given that famed fish restaurant Legal Sea Foods is just around the corner, but Provisions does seafood differently. We loved starting with fried oysters served with ginger aioli, dashi broth, radish, and some flaked bonito. Fried oysters are usually more about the breading than the oysters, but the accompaniments brought out the succulence of the shellfish.

The dish that ultimately made us swoon was a pasta appetizer of rigatoni—those 2-inch long open tubes that are perfect with a thick sauce. (Provisions makes its own pasta and also offers a pasta of the day.) They were served with braised beef cheeks (a luscious dish on a cold night), and roasted mushrooms and Brussels sprouts. The recipe is below; the photo (courtesy of Provisions) is above.

Cocktails at the bar in Provisions Desserts at Provisions are very bistro-ish as well—baked custards and the like. But the main after-dinner draw is the same as the main pre-dinner draw: the bar. In addition to a good craft beer list and some distinctive wines by the glass, Provisions has an active and inventive cocktail program. And you have to love a bar that has Amaro Lucano on tap.

PROVISIONS’ RIGATONI & BRAISED BEEF CHEEKS


You could substitute a good grade of commercial pasta for the home-made rigatoni, especially if you don’t have a machine to extrude pasta. But note that the Provisions pasta is made using only egg yolks instead of whole eggs—creating a silky, densely colored rigatoni. The optional poached egg creates a genuinely yummy sauce.

Makes 6 appetizer servings

Dough for rigatoni
1/4 lb. semolina flour (generous 3/4 cup)
1/4 lb. all purpose flour (generous 3/4 cup)
1/4 lb. egg yolks (6-7 large yolks)
1 Tablespoon water

Braised beef cheek
2 lb. beef cheek
3 Tablespoons canola oil
1 carrot peeled and rough chopped
1 stalk celery rough chopped
1/2 Spanish onion peeled and rough chopped
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine
2 quarts chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste

Roasted oyster mushrooms
8 ounces oyster mushrooms (stems removed)
3 Tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon minced shallot
salt and pepper to taste

Roasted Brussels sprouts
8 ounces Brussels sprouts quartered
3 Tablespoons canola oil
salt and pepper to taste

Make the pasta:
Mix all ingredients together in a large mixer or food processor until it forms a uniform ball. Allow to rest for 10 minutes. Push through pasta extruder with hollow rigatoni attachment and cut into 2-inch lengths.

Cook the beef cheek:
Season beef cheeks with salt and pepper and then brown on high heat with canola oil in a thick bottomed stainless steel or cast iron pan. Remove beef cheeks and add rough chopped vegetables.

Lower heat to medium and brown vegetables slightly. Add tomato paste and allow to cook for 2 minutes on medium heat. Add browned beef cheeks back to pan and add red wine.

Allow red wine to reduce until thick. Add chicken stock, cover, and reduce heat to low and cook until beef cheeks are very tender (about 1 hour). Remove beef cheeks from the pan, strain braising liquid and reserve. Dice the beef cheeks and reserve.

Roast the mushrooms:
Toss all ingredients in a mixing bowl until mushrooms are well coated with oil, salt, and pepper. Spread seasoned mushrooms on a baking sheet and roast at 350° F for 8 minutes. Reserve.

Roast the Brussels sprouts:
Toss all ingredients in a mixing bowl until quartered Brussels sprouts are well coated with oil, salt, and pepper. Spread seasoned sprouts on a baking sheet and roast at 350° F for 12 minutes. Reserve.

To Plate:

Boil the rigatoni in heavily salted water until tender (2-3 minutes). Meanwhile, heat diced cheeks, mushrooms, and Brussels sprouts in the braising liquid. Add pasta and heat for an additional 1 minute. Place a small amount on each plate and garnish with chopped parsley and grated Pecorino Romano.

Optional:
Top each serving with a poached egg. Heat a small amount of salted water and vinegar to about 180°F. Stir and crack an egg into it. Keep water at 180°F for about 4 minutes. Remove the egg with a slotted spoon and place ever so gently on top of pasta. Then garnish with parsley and grated Pecorino Romano.

And the winning Champagne is…

Barons de Rothschild blanc de blancs with raspberry tart

What was our best bubbly of 2015? We’ve been fortunate this year to enjoy some spectacular sparkling wines, from a range of proseccos to an elegant pink Franciacorta to several cavas and crémants that we simply drank without taking notes or photographs. (Even wine and food writers are entitled to a day off.)

Barons de Rothschild brut But the champagnes of Barons de Rothschild (www.champagne-bdr.com) really took us through the seasons. We started off in warm weather with the non-vintage brut, which is the company’s anchor champagne. It’s blended with 60 percent chardonnay (mainly grand crus in the Côte des Blancs) and 40 percent pinot noir (principally from the villages of Verzenay, Ay, Mareuil-sur-Ay, and Bouzy). It has a Rumpelstiltskin straw-gold color, a faintly yeasty aroma, and fine and persistent bubbles, The full mouth feel and abundant acidity make it an excellent food wine, even with something as complex and spicy as mole amarillo. (Mexico did have a French emperor for a while, after all.) The BDR brut retails around $80.

BDR rose Come fall, we moved along to the non-vintage rosé, which might be our favorite sipping champagne of BDR’s non-vintage portfolio. It is produced from 85 percent chardonnay (again, mainly grand crus in the Côte des Blancs) and 15 percent pinot noir from the Montagne de Reims. Some of that pinot noir juice goes in with the chardonnay at first fermentation, and some is fermented as a red wine before being blended together. The blend marries in the cellar for at least three years before dosage, then another six to nine months after disgorgement. The result is a wine with strong fruit and floral characteristics, with undertones of raspberry, rose petals, and sweet-tart wild strawberries. The color is a salmon pink, which accentuates the spiral of bubbles from the bottom of the glass to the top. We like watching the dance of the bubbles. How long do they last? They’re still prickling the tongue when we empty the last glass. The BDR rosé retails for around $105.

For our money (about $115), the blanc de blancs is the most elegant of BDR’s non-vintage champagnes and the perfect wine for the winter holidays. It is crafted entirely from chardonnay grown in the signature Champagne crus of Avize, Cramant, Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, and Vertus. It is a little paler than the brut, slightly more acidic, and infinitely more sophisticated. Although it has a citrus-like freshness, some of the flavor notes include raw almonds and white peaches. The bubble profile can only be called creamy. It’s great by itself, but we think it’s the perfect pairing with a fresh raspberry tart (as shown above), since the bubbles cut through the unctuousness of the butter crust and pastry cream, while the acidity and mineral notes accentuate the flavor of the raspberries.

31

12 2015

Whimsical cake beets all

Culinary students at Hawaii Food & Wine Festival
Of all the culinary students assisting guest chefs at the Chopstix & Cocktails event of the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, those assigned to Bill Corbett certainly seemed to be having the most fun sampling dishes from the different tables (above).

The whimsy wasn’t lost on guest chef Corbett himself. Named one of the Top 10 Pastry Chefs in America by Dessert Professional Magazine in 2013, Corbett is currently executive pastry chef for the Absinthe Group of restaurants in San Francisco. He turned a savory dish into a sweet by creating a Beet Cake with Fromage Blanc Frosting.

“It’s kind of a joke,” he told me. “At one time everyone in the Bay Area had the same beet salad on the menu: beets, goat cheese, walnuts, maybe fennel or citrus. So I figured why shouldn’t the same thing be on the dessert menu.”

Cut into small squares, Corbett’s cake was better suited to fingers than chopsticks. With its rich red color, it would be a good addition to a holiday dinner. Note that the cake can be made ahead and frozen, which will help cut down on last-minute party preparations. Instead of fromage blanc, Corbett used a local goat cheese produced by Big Island Goat Dairy.

BEET CAKE WITH FROMAGE BLANC FROSTING


Makes 4 dozen squares beet cake at Hawaii Food & Wine Festival

Chef Corbett notes that soft goat cheese works well as a substitute for fromage blanc, which can be harder to find.

For the cake
2 large eggs
2 3/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups olive oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1/2 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups beets, grated and squeezed of excess liquid

Preheat oven to 325°F. In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip eggs and sugar on medium speed to full volume. Drizzle in oil and vanilla while continuing to whisk.

Sift all of the dry ingredients, then add in three stages to the egg mixture. Once emulsified, fold in the beets. Split cake batter between two 12×18 (half sheet) pans lined with parchment paper.

Bake until cake springs back to the touch and slightly pulls away from the sides (about 1 hour). When almost fully cooled, wrap and freeze.

For the frosting

1 cup cream cheese, room temperature
2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 cup butter, soft
1 cup fromage blanc or goat cheese, room temperature
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped as garnish

In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, slowly mix cream cheese and half of the sugar until completely smooth. Add the butter and remaining sugar and continue mixing until smooth again. Pass fromage blanc through a wire strainer. (Goat cheese does not need straining.) Add fromage blanc or goat cheese to cream cheese/butter mixture and incorporate until smooth.

To assemble
Remove parchment from cakes while frozen. Cut each cake into two equally sized squares and place back in freezer.

Spread 1 1/2 cups of frosting evenly on each layer of cake, stacking as you go. Use an offset spatula dipped in hot water to smooth out each layer.

Spread a very thin layer of frosting on the cake to hold in crumbs and refrigerate until firm. Then frost the cake more thickly to finish and garnish with toasted walnuts. Cut cake into small squares with a clean knife dipped in hot water.

19

12 2015

Great tastes rule Hawaii Food & Wine Festival

Hawaii Food & Wine Festival
As the sun set over the water and the air began to cool, Mayor Kirk Caldwell toasted the fifth anniversary of the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival. “We started with spam and sausage and took it to a unique Pacific Hawaiian cuisine,” he told the crowd assembled on the outdoor decks of the Modern hotel in Honolulu (above). “We’re chop suey,” the mayor said with a laugh. “We make great looking people and great food. We are proud of who we are as a people and we are proud of our food.”

Started as a modest three-day event on Oahu, the festival (scheduled for October 14-30, 2016) now features events on the islands of Maui, Hawaii, and Oahu, with the bulk of activities in Honolulu. With an emphasis on local foodstuffs and talented chefs, the festival encourages creativity and even a sense of fun.

The festival is also a great springboard for exploring the unique cuisine that the mayor described in such memorable terms. For a taste of Pacific Hawaiian cuisine, I spent a few days sampling some of the festival events, searching out up-and-coming neighborhoods, visiting a farmers market and the fish auction, and dining at modest restaurants serving traditional dishes as well as those setting new standards in Hawaiian dining. Look for more in the upcoming posts.

Sarah and Evan Rich from Rich Table at Hawaii Food & Wine Festival For the Chopstix & Cocktails event, where I met the mayor, 13 chefs from around the world created dishes inspired by Asian countries that use chopsticks. The challenge of balancing the morsels on chopsticks while weaving in and out of the crowd did not deter diners from sampling such goodies as grilled ono with guacamole and Romanesco sauce by chef Jonathan Waxman of Barbuto restaurant in New York and Top Chef Masters fame, Vietnamese beef tartare on a sesame cracker from chef Charles Phan of the Slanted Door in San Francisco, and kampachi with hearts of palm and bone marrow salsa verde from husband and wife chefs Sarah and Evan Rich from Rich Table, also in San Francisco (above). “They invited us and gave us a list of ingredients and told us to do our thing,” said Sarah Rich.

Morimoto green tea soba at Hawaii Food & Wine Festival Local chefs were also well-represented, including two from the Modern, which usually hosts the opening event of the festival and is the hotel of choice for many of the visiting chefs. Executive chef Keith Pajinag created a lovely twist on a sweet treat with his foie gras macaron, while chef Masaharu Morimoto, who has one of his signature restaurants at the hotel, offered a lovely plate of cold green tea soba noodles with vegetables and a tempura shrimp garnish. Chef’s Morimoto’s dish was one of my favorites. It’s also a good example of how a real culinary star can elevate a fairly simple concept. He simply cooks green tea noodles and steams some vegetables. The dish is topped with pico de gallo and a Thai fish sauce-based dipping sauce, then garnished with a tempura shrimp, micro greens, and shredded nori.

By the way, if you decide to dine at Morimoto Waikiki (808-943-5900, www.morimotowaikiki), schedule a table on the terrace or by a window on Friday night for a view of the fireworks over the beach.

15

12 2015

Sherry takes back the bar

Tio Pepe sherry sign in Puerta del Sol
When we were in Madrid in October, we were happy to see that the Tío Pepe neon symbol darkened by the corporate forces at Apple had switched sides of Puerta del Sol and was lighting up the plaza again from atop El Corte Inglés department store. (See above.) The bright lights seem symbolic of the broader rehabilitation of the image of sherry. For a long time, drinking sherry implied that you were were old, prissy, British or all three.

Sherry by Talia BaiocchiBut now that cream sherries (a hideous adulteration of sherry by blending with sweet wine) are all but a thing of the past, cocktail-savvy drinkers are embracing real sherry in all its complex, nuanced forms. And though we’re a little late to the party, we want to call our readers’ attention to a fairly new book, Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret by one of the best wine and spirits writers to come along in a generation, Talia Baiocchi. It’s a great introduction to the wine and makes simple good reading. It’s also a good guide to visiting Spain’s Sherry Triangle if wine is foremost on your agenda.

The editor of the online magazine PUNCH (www.punchdrink.com) was captivated with sherry when she first started tasting the good stuff. So off she went to Spain to chronicle the wine, its production, and many of the leading bodegas that export to North America. She also includes a number of recipes and cocktails, including the directions for a Sherry Cobbler, the number-one cocktail in 19th century America. Classically, it consists of 3 ounces of amontillado, 3/4 ounce of simple syrup, a lemon wheel, an orange wheel, a glass of crushed ice—and a straw. “Don’t forget the straw,” Baiocchi says. The Sherry Cobbler actually popularized the drinking straw way back when.

09

12 2015

It’s smart to get Luckee in Toronto

Bar area at Susur Lee restaurant Luckee in Toronto
Susur Lee was always my favorite contestant on season two of Top Chef Masters, but it took a while until I got to eat his food instead of watching him make it on TV. This year I finally made it to his jewel box contemporary Chinese restaurant, Luckee, at the Soho Metropolitan Hotel (328 Wellington St. W; 416-935-0400, luckeerestaurant.com). This polished restaurant serves some of the best meals in an already food-obsessed city. Much more than a gastronomic shrine directed by a celebrity chef, it’s flat-out good fun. I’m not the only one who thinks so. On my last visit Will Smith was in town shooting yet another movie where Toronto stands in as a generic North American city. He and his entourage took over a large piece of the bar area to eat and drink the night away. (That’s the bar area above.)

Chef Susur Lee of Luckee restaurant in Toronto In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, Susur Lee (right) is one of the most influential chefs of the last few decades, widely admired for his keen marriage of classical French technique and Chinese fine dining traditions. He is as well known in Singapore (where his restaurant Club Chinois recently changed its name to Tinglok Heen) and Hong Kong (where he started as an apprentice in the kitchen of the Peninsula) as in Toronto. Critics have tried to pigeonhole Lee as a “nouvelle chinoise” or a “fusion” chef, but what they often miss about his food is the reverence for traditional Chinese dishes.

As he put it when we sat down for a few minutes, “Invention happens all the time. Someone had to be the first to make har gow [steamed shrimp dumplings]. Now, maybe centuries later, we all make them, but that doesn’t detract from how good they are.”

Susur Lee makes Luckee Duck Dinner is definitely a treat at Luckee. Lee presents traditional dishes like Hunan wok-fried lotus root and Chinese celery with great panache, and his version of moo shi duck lives up to its name of “Luckee Duck” with deep flavors and a range of textures. (That’s Luckee Duck here on the left.) Lee has a special place in his cuisine for the traditional small dishes of dim sum. He keeps about a dozen on the dinner menu and offers them at all hours in the bar.

To get a full appreciation, though, it’s best to make a reservation for the weekend dim sum brunch, which is arguably even more fun than dinner. And, if possible, it’s even more crowded, so try to book ahead. One of the classic items on the dim sum menu (and the weekend carts) is siu mai, a steamed dumpling filled with meat or fish and vegetables and formed to capture steam inside the wrapper. Lee was kind enough to provide his recipe for Luckee Siu Mai. During brunch, he gilds the lily by placing a slice of scallop on top of each dumpling. You’ll know that you’ve formed it correctly if, when you bite into it, the dumpling exudes a warm fog of flavors similar to the gasp of soufflé when you puncture the top with a fork.

Susur Lee's Siu Mai at Luckee in Toronto

CHEF SUSUR LEE’S LUCKEE SIU MAI

Makes 24 dumplings

Ingredients

454g (16 oz) chicken (a 50/50 mix of white and dark), minced
8g (1 1/2 tsp) salt
16g (4 1/2 tsp) potato starch
360g (12 oz) shrimp, minced
120g (4 oz) wood ear mushrooms (fresh or rehydrated), thinly sliced
16g (4 tsp) sugar
4g (1 3/4 tsp) white pepper
15ml (3 tsp) sesame oil
5g (2 tsp) dried orange skin
24 gyoza wrappers (or won ton wrappers trimmed into rounds)

Directions

Mix chicken meat with salt and potato starch until combined. Add shrimp and mix. Then add mushrooms and mix. Add sugar, white pepper, sesame oil, and dried orange skin. Mix again.

Divide mixture evenly into 24 balls. (They will be about a rounded tablespoon each). Place a ball in center of a wrapper. Moisten the edges of the wrapper and gather up the edges like a purse, pleating around the top and leaving a small opening to vent the filling.

Steam in bamboo steamer for 15-20 minutes and enjoy.

02

12 2015

Sevilla has a great new hall of tapas

Mercado Gourmet Lonja del Barranco When Sevilla’s Mercado Gourmet Lonja del Barranco (C/Arjona; 954 220 495; mercadolonjadelbarranco.com) opened a year ago, it was an instant hit and yet another example of the trend throughout Spain of converting neighborhood markets into tapas halls. If the structure below looks familiar, it’s because it’s a classic Gustav Eiffel market design. Construction began in 1861 and was completed in 1883, and for generations the handsome iron building on the riverbank at the end of the Isabel II bridge to Triana served as Sevilla’s principal fish market.

Mercado Gourmet Lonja del Barranco The World Heritage Site structure had been closed since the 1980s—until journalist Carlos Herrera and bullfighter Fran Rivera saw an opportunity to give Sevilla a glassed-in tapas court like Madrid’s Mercado San Miguel. Two years and a reported €2.1 million later, the riverfront was awash with Sevillanos eating all manner of tapas and drinking beer and wine. In warm weather, they spill out of the building to picnic and café tables.

octopus at Mercado Gourmet Lonja del Barranco Only a few of the 18 food stalls sell food to take home and prepare (a butcher and a fish monger, as far as we could tell). The rest have tapas and food specialties—and we do mean specialties. One stand (Peggy Sue’s Grill) makes nothing but variations on the American hamburger. Pulpería Barranco serves a zillion versions of octopus (left). Another stall specializes in empanadas.

Salmorejo in every guise

But our favorite stall might be La Salmoreteca, which specializes in variations on salmorejo, a puree that’s a first cousin to gazpacho. The modern version combines tomatoes, bread, onions, and garlic, but the dish predates the availability of tomatoes and peppers from the New World.

salmorejo sampler Brainchild of chef JuanJo Ruiz, the company actually began at the Mercado Victoria (another market turned tapas court) in Córdoba, the city that’s usually credited as the cradle of salmorejo. Ruiz exploded the basic concept of salmorejo to a purported 600 variations. The sampler plate shown above consists of eight distinct variations in small bowls surrounded by Spanish wine crackers—an appropriately sturdy vehicle for scooping up the purées. The bowl in the foreground is the roasted pepper version topped with faux baby eels made from seafood, faux caviar made from vegetables, and some fried potatoes. Just to its right is the salmorejo of avocado and seaweed with a ceviche of dace (a small river fish) and lots of chopped egg.

The dishes offer a surprising and delicious range of flavors and textures for what is basically a dressed-up purée. Salmorejo is a barroom staple in Andalucia, and the concept of whizzing bread and vegetables in a blender lends itself to infinite variations of “salmorejos de vanguardia,” as Ruiz calls them. It’s a trend we can definitely get behind.

The Mercado Gourmet Lonja del Barranco is open Sunday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to midnight. On Friday and Saturday, it stays open until 2 a.m.

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11 2015