Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Korean Ranks #3 in Hawaii

Meanwhile, top honors go to Los Angeles, while New York comes in second.

This here is the savory spread served up by Shillawon Restaurant in downtown Honolulu. My sister and I met up with the patriarch and matriarch of my father's side of the family (both 80-something-years old and still going strong!), and we lay waste to the fine food set before us.

Thumbs way up for the sundubu jjigae (spicy silken tofu stew), which came out boiling hot (so hot my sister had a massive choking fit after she'd swallowed some down—yikes!) and had a pleasingly rich consistency and pumped-up flavor profile (thanks to the pork, shrimp, shellfish, garlic and other goodies swimming around in there). The kalbi (barbecued short ribs) were also mighty fine—well marinated and oh so tender.

But what I really loved was Shillawon's dol sot bap (rice brought out in a stone pot). I rarely have it, but this one made my day, stuffed as it was with so many lovely treats from yummy hunks of pumpkin to sweet dates and peas. You stir it up, scoop most of it out and into a bowl, then pour boiling water into the stone pot which you then cover to let the liquid steep. After you've eaten your meal, you go back to the pot, and finish off what's left inside, making sure to scrape up all the best bits. Good times.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Holy Incanto

Whenever my sister's in town, I always try to pick some place special to go out to eat with her. On the rec of my Urban Daddy friend, who never steers me wrong, we ended up at Incanto. In fact, UD friend came along, and all three of us were absolutely thrilled with our meals.

The mint malfatti (spinach pasta) came out perfectly al dente and decadently doused in a rich red wine-braised beef and mushroom sauce.

Incanto's marinated sardines were super fresh and firm with the celery, grapefruit and radish salad giving just the right tang and crispety crunch to counterbalance the little fish.

Ma soeur and I both asked for what turned out to be the most stupendous slow-roasted, fall-off-the-bone hefty neck o' lamb with a generous garland of gremolata (garlic, cilantro and lemon zest), sitting atop a tangle of sauteed flowering rapini and a pool of the creamiest polenta along with the lamb's own jus.

We finished off with a bowl of some home-made blood orange sorbet and a savory-sweet, rustic Fuji apple and rosemary crostata crowned with vanilla ice cream and a butterscotch drizzle. Usually, I don't think much of Italian desserts, but hats off to Incanto for ending the meal the way it began ... on top.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

King of Noodles

When I heard from "cheap eats charter member" JH that King of Noodles—purveyor of hand-pulled noodles—had recently supplanted the pathetically empty Ueno 'round the corner from where I live, I made a mental note to head over while my sister was in town.

After perusing the list of 10-or-so types of noodle dishes and debating the possible pros and cons of several of them, we finally settled on the one we wanted (the pork and spinach dumplings with noodles) ... only to be told by our waiter, "You don't want that one. You want our special of the day: beef stew with noodles." Ah, really? Hmm, I guess we do ... He assured us it would be delicious. And it was.

As we looked around the small, no-frills eatery, we noticed that the beef stew, which was really just a mild beef broth swimming with chunks of meat, shiitake mushrooms and bok choy, was the only noodle soup on offer that day. No matter. It was really quite lovely. And the home-made pasta was amazing—springy and firm, and super satisfying. King of Noodles is aptly named.

I was thrilled to see Shanghai soup dumplings on the menu. I haven't had 'em in years and was determined to try them here. They were divine: atomically hot, juicy, tender and so much fun to eat.

With tax and tip included, the total damage for this tasty foray came up to just $15. King of Noodles deserves a place in the weekly line-up .. fo' sho.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Omnivore's Dilemma

Every so often, I toy with the idea of going back to my vegetarian ways, and then I'm presented with something like this:

MH's South African-tandoori-spiced, yogurt-bathed, grilled-on-the-barby chicken that'll make you say uncle to your meat cravings like no twist of the arm could.

Served up with a wholesome Russet potato slathered in gobs of butter plus a medley of roasted veg, this chicken dinner was finger lickin' good.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Night of Beast-ly Proportions

I will always be ever so grateful to AS for getting us into the second seating at Portland newcomer Beast, which according to Travel & Leisure, "isn’t so much a restaurant as a regularly occurring, eccentric dinner party in chef and co-owner Naomi Pomeroy’s exhibition kitchen. Dining is at a pair of communal tables, and there are just two seatings per evening. ... Meals are prix fixe, either five-course or six-course (wine pairings optional), and there’s one nightly menu—no choices, no substitutions. Pomeroy and her talented staff prepare exquisite meals using sustainable, farm-fresh ingredients."

We decided to go for broke and opted for Beast's 6-course, 2 oz wine pairings.

Sitting down to the smaller of the 2 farm tables (seating 8, and on this night including the chef's own dad), we started off with a luscious cream of spinach soup topped with a spiral of lobster créme fraiche and a sprinkle of espelette pepper. We scooped up every drop.

Following on its heels, a dreamy charcuterie plate comprising artisanal salami; steak tartare and quail egg toast; pork, pork liver, sour cherry and pistachio paté; fois gras bon-bon with a sauternes geleé on a peanut butter biscuit; and my absolute fave: chicken liver mousse with a small slab of maple candied bacon. All helped down with a lightly dressed fennel and radicchio salad, pickled veg, cornichon and stone-ground mustard.

Then came the oh-so-tender and succulent pork cheeks braised in rosé, accompanied by sweet-hot pepper and roasted shallot salsa, roasted potatoes with olives and Beast bacon, sautéed rapini with garlic and chili flake, and a generous douse of pork demi glace. By this point, I was already struggling to get all of this rich food down, much as I wanted to ... the 2 oz pours were really more like 3 ... and with a few more courses bearing down, what to hold back on?

Well, as it was, the next course was a huge helping of butter lettuce and herbs in a pistachio vinaigrette with a dollop of fresh raw house-made ricotta sitting on a warm bit of toast, so I held back on the (slightly overdressed) greens though couldn't resist finishing off the soft creamy curd.

Nor could I forgo the selection of cow's and sheep's cheese brought out with some poached plum, marcona almonds, and anise and fleur de sel shortbread. And no one could resist the finale: a lemon-buttermilk souffle with créme de cassis ice cream.

We rolled out of Beast well past midnight, 3 and a 1/2 hours after we'd first arrived. All in all, it was a magical and somewhat surreal experience—made all the more surreal looking out the picture window and into the windows of the building across the way to see the silhouettes of not one but 2 lone folk taking showers in stalls stacked one on top of the other. Go figure.