Thursday, August 14, 2008

Big City Diner

Some beverages to start the meal.

Lisa and her Ramen.

My Future's So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades.

Fried Calamari



Kim Chee Fried Rice Loco Moco

Morning Coffee in Waikiki

Ham and Cheese Croissant from Saint Germain Bakery.

You know you're either having a great time or things have really gone awry when you're feeling crushed in the morning from last nights' partying. And while you'd prefer to sleep in bed longer, the six hour time difference causes tremendous jet lag and your body is screaming to wake up even thought you're still incredibly tired.

Time to get some coffee.

From our 15th floor roost at the Acqua Waikiki Wave hotel the view is magnificent. The slopes of the Ko'olau mountains to the right dotted with expensive homes (that once used to cost $300K) and the urban ghetto that is Waikiki below our feet. And Waikiki is just that: a tourist ghetto.

Tilly, Michelle and Polly in search of coffee.

At the corner of Kuhio and Seaside Avenues, and backing up to the grotesque International Marketplace, our hotel is smack dab in the middle of Waikiki - and it's making me depressed. Depressed because this is what most people come to think Hawai'i is all about. It's dirty, seedy and a facade of what Hawai'i is really about. Ever since my days driving tourists for Roberts Hawaii, it's always made me sad that so many tourists come to Waikiki and think that's what Hawai'i and O'ahu is all about.

But tourist depression aside, I'm in need of coffee and a little nourishment. Luckily, my favorite Japanese-style bakery Saint Germain has set up an outpost next door to the hotel. For those of you unfamiliar, these Japanese-style bakeries typically make some truly fantastic French-inspired breads. My favorite is the plain, old white bread that's crusty with a springy, spongy interior that crisps beautifully in the toaster. Spread on some butter and allow it to penetrate into the crevices and it's true baked perfection.

We make a quick pit stop to pick up a couple of handheld breakfast pastries: ham and cheese croissant, almond croissant and something custard filled. And while it would have been nice to have enjoyed our coffee with the baked goods, they just didn't make it that long.

My way too foamy cappuccino at Honolulu Coffee Company.

The Honolulu Coffee Company has been around for quite some time and the original owner was pretty obsessed with offering a quality product in nice environs. The Waikiki shop, located in the former Alfred Dunhill shop in the Sheraton Moana Surfrider Hotel is a really nice-looking coffeeshop with rich wood textures, open windows and a Kees Van Der Westen Mistral three group espresso machine. My last visit here didn't leave me with very positive feelings about this shop. But promises of quality coffee in the land of my second home are few and far between and Honolulu Coffee was our best bet.

The girls aren't exactly hardcore coffee aficionados, as evidenced by their choice of the Iced Nutty Hawaiian Latte - a Starbuckian concoction of espresso, milk and hazelnut syrup over ice. It's not bad as far as flavored lattes go and they sucked them down pretty hard. A bit too sweet and syrupy for my tastes though.

I went with something a bit more traditional: a cappuccino. Of course, the problem with these kinds of places is that they offer three sizes of cappuccinos. Still, in this day and age of "enlightened" coffee professionals, there are those who still follow this arcane and disrespecting practice. I had to make sure they understood that I wanted the "smallest" cappuccino possible and that I would have it "for here."

Michelle and the Iced Nutty Hawaiian Latte.

Watching the practices of a shop is more than telling. The barista still follows the "I must clack the lever of my grinder as loud as possible" mantra that's so popular amongst modern-day baristas. It's a pretty busy shop so they grind slightly ahead of their demand - not exactly the ideal approach but they seem to pound through the coffee so it's not so much of a concern.

From there it's sixty-four ounce steam pitchers and a general lack of cleanliness when it comes to the pitchers. They maybe have two - and they're in constant use without being washed out. How do I know this? There's that telltale buildup of old steamed milk forming on the inside of the pitcher. Wiping and keeping your steam wands is a step in the right direction but that old mil crusting inside the pitcher is not.

Tilly hides from the peering eyes of a frustrated coffee professional.

And while the steaming technique looks pretty good and they're attempting latte art, when it comes to my cappuccino there's no preheating of the cup and the barista dumps the milk into the cup pouring off the side of the pitcher to get more of the foam into the cup.

Unfortunately, "cappuccino" here seems to mean "more foam." Just make a drink with a lot of foam and you're done. My cup is half foam. The delicate balance between espresso, milk and foam is gone - obliterated by a preponderance of foam. As far as foam goes, it's not half bad. It's slightly sweet, not too hot, microbubbles and has nice texture without being dry. Add a bit of sugar and the drink is actually okay. But it's only "okay", with a little more thought, effort and adoption of standards, this could easily have been a "killer" cappuccino. Instead, it's merely okay and that's a shame.

Saint Germain Bakery Waikiki
2301 Kuhio Ave., Unit 117A
Honolulu, HI 96815

Honolulu Coffee Company
Sheraton-Waikiki Hotel
2255 Kalakaua Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96815

I Am A Golden God

The Volcano

Nikki and Neil are getting married and by tomorrow I will probably be dead.

Traveling with friends is a very rare treat and after our first night in Honolulu perhaps it's better that way.

Our journey started in Los Angeles yesterday morning with an upgrade to first class with Michelle. The thing that always gets my goat is that domestic first class is nothing compared to international first. Sure it's nicer seats and nicer service but it's not the same as international. Not to mention the fact that United has gotten cheap and just dropped the ice cream cart service last month. No more fresh Haagen Dazs ice cream. The friendly skies sucks.

But drinks in first class are free and Michelle and I proceeded to slosh ourselves straight across the Pacific while the rest of our friends were herded into the cattle car. Perhaps we should have just sat in the back with our friends. You know, taken one for the team but the reality is that the lure of first class and going into the back to visit with the common folk was just too powerful.

At least we're a benevolent Lord and Lady who tried to bring our friends in steerage a taste of our mai tais.

For our first night, we've camped out at the Waikiki Wave Hotel on Kuhio Street. It's a boutique hotel that's really quite nice. For $169/night we've got a spacious room with three queen beds and a party pad. Our flight was delayed for two hours so we didn't get situated and rolling until 8pm.

First stop was to visit The Bob where he has been recently gifted with a Volcano. I was first introduced to the Volcano last year at Alinea where they used the device to create juniper vapors that wafted out from a pillow during one of the courses. At The Bob's Bachelor Pad, our experience with the Volcano was less Grant Achatz and more Harold & Kumar. The surprise of the experience was the strong taste of popcorn.

From there, it was time to eat. First stop: Dave's Famous Ice Cream where they make truly amazing Haupia, Ube and Green Tea ice cream in-house. Sweet, delicate, delicious, I couldn't get enough. But ice cream doesn't make for a complete meal and nothing will substitute than Zippy's.

On the island of O'ahu, no restaurant satiates the local hunger like Zippy's. It's sort of a Hawiian Denny's that specializes in fast food and plate lunches that fill the local cravings. And while everyone has their favorites at Zippy's, for me it's the Holy Trinity of steamed white rice, fried chicken and chili that absolutely rocks my world.

They're taking a long time to fill our order at the Kaimuki Zippy's but it's worth the wait. The chicken is juicy and tender while being wonderfully crisp. The chili is perfectly balanced between the beef and the beans, and with cheese, onions and a liberal application of Tabasco, it's sublime. Paired with a large cup of Lilikoi juice (passion fruit) and nothing beats it. In fact, Anna and the girls order new menu item: Korean Fried Chicken but the regular fried chicken trumps the Korean. Next time we're gonna order the chicken barrel.

It's at this point that my night gets blurry. A combination of travel, fatigue, alcohol, food and The Volcano has brought me to the edge, and pushed me off. Muneko and Lisa are calling to head over the house in Hawaii Kai to party. Neil and friends are on their way to our place to drink and partake of the Volcano. The only sane person in my world at this point is Shellie, who's decided to stay home tonight instead of coming over. We're on a roller coaster ride and I need to get off.

When we get back to our pad, I'm done. Toasted. Burnt. Finished. Kaput. The Bob has brought along the Volcano. Christian has a case of Stella Artois and a bottle of Jack Daniels. I can't hang. I must hide. My vision is blurry. I imagine that this is what Tony Bourdain must feel like. I need to be done but in this condition, sleeping is not a simple matter. It's a fit of starts and stops. Everyone is still partying. The volcano is erupting. I'm hiding.

This morning is a dizzying recovery. After a few minutes, I'm lucid once again. From our fifteenth floor pad, I can see the Ko'olau Range covered in showers and the sun poking out from the east. It's beautiful. I moved to Hawaii almost exactly twenty years ago and for the life of me, I can't imagine why I ever left.

The wedding is on Saturday. DJ Un-G arrives today. My brother arrives tomorrow. We've gone balls to the wall and we haven't met up with all of our friends yet. I'm scared. I'm terrified. But I'm loving every minute of it.