Tour de Eats: Food Crawl around Honolulu
Take in the city, three (or four) restaurants at a time.
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Tip 3: If you prefer to be more spontaneous and not make reservations, restaurant bars are good places to share a dish.
We sit at the sushi bar at Saeng’s Thai Cuisine. Yes, this Thai restaurant has a sushi bar. Apparently, Saeng’s owner loves sushi, and he recently converted the liquor bar to serve raw fish and rice instead. It is surprisingly good, in no small part because of the charismatic sushi chef, Mavrick Smau, a Waimanalo boy with a love affair with Seattle. He serves us a Post Alley roll (named after a Seattle street) which combines fresh, generous chunks of hamachi, ahi, unagi and avocado, served with ponzu for dipping instead of shoyu.
But we have come for the ikura nigiri sushi topped with quail egg—Okubo describes the egg as emulating ikura’s popping quality, while adding richness. Sadly, they are out of ikura … as well as uni (Okubo’s second choice for the quail egg). So instead, we try quail egg on tobiko sushi, which is fine. As if to tease us with what we can’t have, Smau tells us of fresh, local uni that he harvests—he looks for the black-grey ones, shakes them in a wire basket until the spines fall off, then cracks them open and scoops out the insides. Come back in October, he says, around the full moon, when the uni are best. I will.
Formaggio is right next door, and when Okubo enters, the staff and owner Wes Zane greet him like a son returning home for the holidays. They fill him in on events (Zane has sold his other restaurants to focus on Formaggio in Kailua) and bring him food (the day’s special, fried chicken livers). We are so full, we can only muster one bite.
Dessert, on the other hand, I always have room for. It’s a light, not-too-sweet lilikoi chocolate mousse cake, but I recognize it as a cake from JJ’s French Pastry. Half of the dessert menu is JJ’s desserts, brought in. The other half, they are all out of.
I have more fun with our drink: a moscato sunrise, which Okubo introduced to Formaggio’s menu when a drunk friend accidentally poured pinot noir into his girlfriend’s glass of moscato. It arrives with the red wine floating on top of the white—a Kailua sunrise you can have anytime of the day. I drink this far too quickly, and realize, too late, that I have consumed three glasses of wine and half a carafe of sake. Town suddenly seems very far away.
Tip 5: If you plan on drinking, cab or walk.
Total for two: Kalapawai: $34 + Baci Bistro: $40.03 + Saeng’s Thai: $29.06 + Formaggio: $26.70 = $129.79
>> Kalapawai Cafe, 750 Kailua Rd., 262-3354, kalapawaimarket.com.
>> Baci Bistro, 30 Aulike St., 262-7555, bacibistro.com.
>> Saeng’s Thai, 315 Hahani St., 263-9727.
>> Formaggio Grill, 305 Hahani St., 263-2633.
A progressive dinner is like a neighborhood scavenger hunt; in looking for my next course, I’m exploring a neighborhood, which is why it’s a great way to travel. But even at home, it gives me an opportunity to delve into our city’s streets. So for the site of my other progressive dinners, I choose dense areas to explore by foot. That, and I can drink more.