From Our Files: Food
Throughout 2013—our 125th anniversary year—From Our Files will focus on a different theme each month, looking back at how particular aspects of life in Honolulu were lived and reported on by HONOLULU Magazine and its predecessor, Paradise of the Pacific.
THE GATHERING PLACE
“For a third of a century, or more, Nolte’s, on lower Fort street, in the ‘Wall street’ region of the city, has been the gathering place … In Nolte’s famous restaurant royal monarchs of Hawaii have been seated and dethroned; revolutions have been plotted and suppressed; plantations have been floated and wiped out; men have been made and broken; reputations have been established and undermined; millions of dollars have been won and lost, and all the problems of the world have been discussed—and settled, in the minds of some.”
“Sugar kings and peanut-peddlers” came to the table at Nolte’s to debate. Literally. There was a table designated for people who wanted to “exchange ideas on red-hot, live-wire subjects of the day.”
FINALLY, A RECIPE FOR CREME CELESTIAL
The first recipes published in Paradise of the Pacific devoted more words to the table settings appropriate for a lanai luncheon, garden luau or dinner “under the stars and the full magical moon” than it did to the food. Recipes included stuffed crayfish, “creme celestial” (preserved kumquats and ginger, flamed with brandy and served over vanilla ice cream “in commodious sea shells”) and papaya cocktail, a mashup of papaya, orange juice, “tomato catsup or chili sauce” and grated onion.
FLIED SLIMP, SPARELIBS, EGG LOLL?
In a travel supplement, the Hawaii Visitors Bureau touted Hawaii’s food experiences: “The aroma of spareribs nested in golden pineapple, chicken cooking with bamboo shoots over a charcoal stove, and of taro leaves and coconut milk to flavor the succulent mullet is an experience to be long remembered by the visitor.”
Recommendations for Chinese cuisine included Trader Vic’s for “soyu broiled stakes” and lobster broiled with butter over a charcoal grill; Wo Fat’s, “one of Honolulu’s longest-existing Chinese eating places,” with “true Chinese style” banquets with bird’s-nest soup and shark fin; and The Golden Duck, on the corner of McCully and King streets, one of Honolulu’s newest small restaurants.
For Japanese: Mochizuki Tea House, where “geisha girls” cook your meal over a charcoal stove tableside.
And for Hawaiian: The Waikiki Poi Bowl.
A PLACE TO WATCH THE SAMPANS GO BY
Fisherman’s Wharf at Kewalo Basin is Honolulu’s newest seafood restaurant, with a location where you can watch the “picturesque sampans of the Hawaiian fishing fleet tie up to unload their catches. Here, too, the fishermen may be seen drying their lines and mending their nets. Located on Kewalo lagoon between Honolulu and Waikiki, the restaurant is so situated as to command a spectacular view of the ocean, Diamond Head and green hills surrounding the city.”
GROWING MUSHROOMS (THE EDIBLE KIND, NOT THE HALLUCINATORY)
In his spare time, Ronald H. Deisseroth, vice president of the Hawaiian Housing Corp., grew 6,000 pounds of mushrooms for restaurants, Foodland and Times in old tunnels in Kaneohe that were abandoned by the military after World War II.
THE PERFECT RESTAURANT
Tom Horton wrote a hilarious piece, “Clues to Finding the Perfect Restaurant in Hawaii.” “This is what restaurants in Hawaii should be,” he said, “fun. And a little unpredictable. This is not Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, Union Street in San Francisco or any remote part of Manhattan. This is purely Hawaii, where a waiter in Kona who had apparently taken too much sun, or some golden Kona resource, once looked a single diner in the eye and said, ‘Separate checks?’ If you find exceptional food at a restaurant that is also fun, you have found the perfect Hawaii restaurant.”
His tips on The Perfect Seafood Restaurant: “The perfect seafood restaurant in Hawaii will be found somewhere in the middle of an island, or the greatest distance in any direction from the nearest body of sea water. Over the years I have concluded that the closer a restaurant is to the ocean, the less chance it will have fresh fish … Some say that Hawaii fish, unlike French wine, travels well.”
And The Perfect Service: “It will be found at lunch in a restaurant using only 70-year-old waiters who hate girls, are allergic to the sun and afraid of the water.”
The first Hale Aina ballot appears in HONOLULU. It’s the size of a postcard and has only 15 categories, including Continental, Sunday brunch, fast food and “Other Ethnic.”
And the winner is …
The Hale Aina Awards were introduced for the first time ever, and The Third Floor beat out John Dominis, Michel’s and Bagwells for Restaurant of the Year. Dinners at The Third Floor began with naan bread with duck liver pate and ended with “ice cream bonbons, served with billows of smoke from the dry ice.” Siegfried Poesch, manager of the restaurant on the third floor of the Hawaiian Regent Hotel, said, “We’re fairly traditional. Our food is based on Escoffier and not on cuisine nouvelle.”
This style of cuisine would dominate the Hale Ainas and fine dining in Honolulu for years, until 1995, when Roy’s won Restaurant of the Year, signaling the arrival of a new era in food: Hawaii Regional Cuisine.