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.
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.