Category Archives: Honolulu


Sweet Home Waimanalo

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My sister asked me to drive her to Waimanalo on the 21st of December, and it won’t surprise you to know that when I asked why, she explained that it was to find my Christmas present (a lime tree and a black pepper vine from Frankie’s Nursery, PS thank you).  There was also an organized stop for the fish tacos at Sweet Home Waimanalo, and on the cafe’s recommendation, the house brisket (in kalo stew).  The nursery was closed, but that mattered not to the passenger. “I’ll come back on Thursday,” she said.  “I want more of that brisket.”

Sweet Home Waimanalo

41-1025 Kalanianaole Hwy.

Waimanalo, HI 96795

(808) 259-5737


Tokkuri Tei

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More catchup: I’m eating soup made from year-end refrigerator dregs today, and reliving the past year’s eats in photographs, too.  A friend who knows Tokkuri Tei’s menu backwards and forwards chose his favorite dishes for this feast on July 2nd.  Oh, those nachos: nori “chips” halfway battered in tempura and loaded with guacamole, fresh herbs and spicy tuna.


Ethel’s Grill

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Sumo wrestlers, a line in the sun (more sumo wrestlers, construction workers, Honolulu hipsters, Kalihi businessfolk), fruit punch, iceberg lettuce, famous garlic chicken (the garlic perhaps playing second fiddle to artificial maple syrup), ahi tataki and miso soup at the ne plus ultra of plate lunch and favorite of John Heckathorn’s.

Sushi Sasabune - Snapper and Halibut nigiri

Popcorn Sushi (“But again, no soy please.”)

Here are some pictures from a birthday party at Sushi Sasabune, the Honolulu omakase where the approach to soy leaves no room for nonsense.  Above, the halibut (left, no soy please) and the snapper (right, soy sauce permitted).

Most dishes were (per instructions) a single bite, served in pairs, like this plating: nigiri of king salmon (soy) and scallop with yuzu koshi (no soy). It was, to this non-connoisseur, popcorn dining.  The fish melted into thin air, chased by the faintest brushstrokes of lemon sea salt, green onion, miso, wasabi, toasted sesame.

Sushi Sasabune

1417 South King Street, Honolulu, HI 96814

Au’s Garden

A Parisian son of our Chinese clan is on island; to celebrate, two round tables at Au’s Garden on Moʻokāula St. in Kalihi.  It was my first trip ever, and Aunty Helen’s third in two weeks.

It has been a long time since I last journaled on FiF; I don’t know why.  You probably know that I spent the summer paralyzed by indecision–and with apologies to Yogi Berra (“When you come to a fork in the road, take it”) I chose to stay in Hawaiʻi.  I remember it as a difficult choice, but driving to Kalihi with the windows down and “ʻŌpae E” on the radio, it seemed a natural step on the path to self-actualization, forks and all.

Au’s is a lovely dining room unchanged by time, and by the way I have also discovered it to be the best Chinese restaurant in America.  Hands down.  I swear in print that is better even than Darda.  (Another story for another time!)

We began with corn soup.  I will have you know that I am not particular about the service aspect of Chinese dining experiences.  But I will always kvell when soup is ladled with one hand behind the back.  It is a graceful echo of childhood dinners, special occasions, when Yong Sing’s kitchen would send forth giant winter melons, hollowed almost to translucence, cut with a serrated edge and  filled with shimmering broth.  I can remember when our family filled six or more round tables, each with a steaming melon.  (Also a soft spot: steamed fish fileted deftly with two silver spoons in a single hand.)

Yong Sing is gone, as are many of the masterminds whose taste and tact guided the selection of those ten-course meals.  It is an incredible art and science; my sister seems to have picked it up but I wouldn’t even know where to begin on a menu.  I believe our meal this time was pre-selected by Aunty Pat, perhaps with help from Helen and maybe Dori.   It was a triumph.  Following the soup: sweetest cuttlefish on sin choy;  wood fire roasted clams; bittermelon; green beans seared with crisp pork and garlic; spicy eggplant; sherry chicken; shrimp, jai; a brilliant fish over tofu and under a fragrant mat of thread-thin ginger and scallions.

And, this being this, resin water glasses, little tea bowls, Australian sauvignon blanc in plastic cups.

We also observed the upcoming departure of another cousin, who is headed to Portland for college.  His recent graduation from Punahou was the centennial of our great grandfather’s commencement in 1911, a fact not lost on a great-aunt after likely 18 years of calculated anticipation.

On the subject of generational cycles, I happened to make this image below as we were wrapping things up.  It is the ritual act of portioning and packing leftovers, an exacting exercise that is perhaps one of the quaint hallmarks of Aunty Pat’s singular hospitality.  Here our young Parisian guest is seen, instinctively doing the same, unprompted (even as the original leaps in from the next table).

What a meal.  I kept snapping and snapping pictures all night.  Whatever kept me from blogging had disappeared.  We were all together at the right place in the right time–and though I didn’t take that fork, there was a pair of chopsticks for me.

Punahou Carnival

Here they are again.  Punahou’s perennial Portuguese pastries.  Looking much smaller than last year’s, and perhaps tasting even better.

Sister and I gnawed daintily on a sackful by the Lily Pond and split a taco salad.  There is only one day a year when shredded iceberg lettuce, canned olives, jalapenos, tortilla chips and ranch dressing can be called an excellent taco salad.  Man, it was good.

Sister’s friend J., a Harvard-trained scientist, wanted to know how sugar gets everywhere when you eat a malassada.  At 1/1000 of a second (f/2.5) we found the answer:

Japanese Macrobiotic

I think it started with the grilled lotus root. What I remember: it was late, I had just gotten out of the ocean, and I let J. pick the place for dinner. He chose Hale, a new restaurant where an okonomi-yaki outfit had just shuttered. In its place was a Japanese restaurant… Japanese macrobiotic.

Our first course: crisp grilled root, plain and tall, festooned with a broken branch of parsley.  I probably pulled my usual trick of quick judgment and started looking for a route to the door–but then a very special dish arrived at our table.

Hale offers a tightly-edited menu of few choices–maybe five entrees and about as many salads and small plates–which, after you subtract obligatory standard fare to appease unadventurous diners, should leave little room for surprises.  But not at Hale.  Not where, in the middle of the short menu, a roasted half papaya awaits, stuffed with grilled onions and mushrooms in a mayonnaise sauce.

Roasted papaya.  Onions and mushrooms.  Mayonnaise?  J. had tried it before and had to have it again.  So it soon arrived (taking the stage to a lukewarm audience after the lotus’ tough first act).  Unfazed, luscious, warm, smoky, super-ripe, gorgeous, hysterical, unapologetic, it sang.  The carotene meat was soft and just sweet, savory insides were umami and still steaming.

The table continued to fill: a show-stopper teishoku with kuruma-fu (a seitan-like cutlet) and all kinds of little pickles and seaweeds and salads, and dabs of two house-made misos: one pounded from apples, the other, from kale stalks.  (I went home and looked up what miso-making involves; it’s a feat.)

My favorite thing that night that didn’t grow on a papaya tree was the sushi sampler of creative non-maguro nigiri, highlighted by a supple strip of well-balanced (mirin?) roasted bell pepper, draped over rice and anointed with a pesto.  The meal was sensational, and almost entirely vegetal: after feeding our faces for the better part of an hour, we stood again with none of the heaviness of a multi-course restaurant meal.  J., it should be mentioned, washed it down with something called “twig tea.” Not sure at all if that’s what it sounds like; I was on one of those radical no-bark/ no-wood diets at the time.

Went back for the lunch special just last week.  Lunch company was Magali, whose Ph.D. research at Stanford focuses on brand authenticity.  She studies how well businesses, including restaurants, align their products and services to clearly-focused and well-defined identities; unequivocal shops, she says, might be less likely to fold.  Didn’t work for the okonomi-yaki theme grill, but this newer kitchen is still going and was kind enough to let me order papaya off the menu at lunch; maybe next time I’ll ask if they’ll grill me a lotus.