Friday, August 15, 2008

The House of Noodle, Sanoya


The original plan for the night was to head down to Rock-Za at 6pm for Neil's bachelor party. A night of drinking and strippers, but I got diverted by Hawaiian music and S., my ex. After Gordon Biersch, S. and I met up at a local bar and spent the next few hours hanging out, catching up and skirting around lots of issues. By the time Doc Rhee started calling me at midnight, things were just starting to get interesting. Crap.

The problem is that we're supposed to head back to Ka'a'awa tonight to stay at the beach house. It's a forty minute drive and Doc Rhee is wasted which means he's impatient and belligerent. I'm getting my groove on and he's calling every ten minutes to pick him up at Rock-Za. Can't you just buy a girl in the VIP room to pass out with for a couple of hours?

I mean, it's still early.

For a brief moment, I contemplate smashing my iPhone.

By the time I pick him up outside of Rock-Za, he's wasted. I mean really messed up. I'm surprised he could walk. Happily, he was lucid enough to know when he was going to puke.

But like any trooper, once the puking was done he realized that he was hungry. It was time to eat. It was time to eat ramen.

Doc Rhee and the Sanoya Special - seafood, pork, mixed vegetable with special sauce.

Ramen. It holds a special place in my heart. When you suggest ramen, you don't have to convince me. I'm ready. I'm willing. I'm able. Just don't offer me that Cup O Noodles or freeze-dried crap - I'll puke on you. Give me real ramen noodles and delicious broth. And for late-night ramen in Honolulu, give me Sanoya.

As a comparison, a generic ramen from some sushi or noodle shop in Baltimore costs anywhere from 12 to 16 dollars. And it's usually lame crap. Ramen from Sanoya runs between $5.25 to $9.25 and is the perfect meal any time day or night.

At the heart of ramen is the noodle. It has to be good. Just the right amount of soda. Just the right spring. The perfect size and texture. It has to come together. The noodle is paramount. But that's only the beginning.

You could have the perfect noodle, but it's the broth that is the soul of the ramen. It needs to be deep, complex, satisfying and full of depth and character. Without soul, it falls apart: dead.

My Wontonmen - char siu and wonton.

Sanoya has got that soul. It warms the body and comforts the mind. For Doc Rhee, it eases his pain and reduces the hangover. I've had better ramen in the world, but at one in the morning, Sanoya is just what the doctor ordered.

1785 South King Street
Honolulu, HI 96826

Ramon Hawaiian Music

Ahi Poke and sunset Hawaiian music at Gordon Biersch.

One of the things that I found endlessly frustrating while living in Honolulu was the lack of live Hawaiian music. Sure, you could always find Aunty Genoa Keawe playing down in Waikiki, but that was only for a couple of hours in the afternoon. For tourists. The whole idea of going out to a local bar or club to listen to a night of Hawaiian music just didn't seem to compute. Seems like some of that has changed.

A few weeks ago, I gave Ramon a call to see if he was in Honolulu or Virginia. Nowadays, the ukulele slash raku virtuoso is all over the place and one never really knows if he's here or there. Luckily, he told me he was playing at Gordon Biersch Aloha Tower tonight from 6pm to 9pm, and what more can you ask for than live Hawaiian music in Hawaii?

The place is packed, the beer is flowing and I'm in need of pupus. I decide to order up some ahi poke that's pretty good but on the warm side which kinda freaks me out. I prefer my raw fish to be served cold - outside of the food temperature danger zone, but it's pretty good and I'm pretty hungry and I figure the chances of me getting ill are high but I gamble anyway. I lived.

Gordon Biersch
Aloha Tower Marketplace
1 Aloha Tower Drive, Suite 1123
Honolulu, HI 96813

Ka'a'awa Spam

The Rhee and Joey waiting to check in.

After our morning and afternoon of nearly non-stop eating, we make our way to Ka'a'awa on the Windward side of O'ahu where we've rented a house to stay in for the weekend while attending Neil's wedding.

Spam Musubi while we wait.

As far as beach houses go, the location is stellar. Across Kamehameha Highway from the beach and backing up to the back country of Kualoa Ranch, it's perfect. In fact, the valley that backs up to the house is the same one they shot movies like Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates and Tears of the Sun. Visions of Drew Barrymore and T-Rex dance on the horizon.

Doc Sree wondering if The Bob is going to arrive.

The house itself is pretty large with six bedrooms, four baths, a loft, two kitchens, a two-car garage and two decks. The only problem is that the house is old and slightly worn. Not to mention the odd decor - like the designers' penchant for Native American dreamcatchers and a general mish-mash of furniture, art and colors. But we're here to party, so I'm not complaining.

The Back Yard

Check-in time is 3pm and we're on time but the cleaners aren't. They're still in the midst of cleaning the place. And while it may sound like an irritant, it's not a tremendous hardship. The cleaners are a couple of young and tight-bodied Brazilian girls and we're in no rush for them to finish. Would you mind standing on that step ladder and dusting the top of that bookcase one more time, please?

The Front Yard

After a while, the property manager stops by to check us in and then it's back to Honolulu for more provisions and supplies since we'll be hosting the afterparty...


Hanna and The Bob play 'Paper, Rock, Scissors.'

Four years is a long time to be away from Hawaii. Especially when little girls are involved. The last time I saw Hanna she was two years old. Now, she's six and quite precocious.

I know, I know, regular readers of this blog are probably aghast and spitting out their meals at the sight of me dining at Chili's. In my defense: it wasn't my choice. It was Ray Ray's choice. He wanted to meet at the Mililani Chili's and I was too stuffed from the Original Pancake House to encourage a different selection.

Country Fried Chicken Crispers, Corn and Rice.

The nice thing about Hawaii is that you can order rice just about everywhere - even the national chains. Since that's the case, I couldn't resist a taste of their Chicken Crispers. Nothing special really. Just battered and fried strips of commercial chicken breast and overcooked corn. Ray had the habanero chicken wings and The Bob had a dessert sampler. Only Doc Rhee and Donella were the smart ones and stayed away from the food.

Ray Ray

Sweet Shots - warm cinnamon roll, double chocolate fudge brownie & apple caramel cheesecake.

Hanna and her pizza.

I'm a bad uncle as I bet Hanna that she can't eat the whole pizza at once.

Donella and Hanna

Original Pancake House

Bacon Pancakes

Perhaps some of you will think it's odd that we would go to a chain restaurant by choice. To be honest, for years I never knew that the Original Pancake House was a chain. I just thought it was a couple of restaurants in Honolulu making great pancakes. Either way, the pancakes are good and we can't get enough.

For me, I'm a simple enough chap. Just a mound of macadamia nut pancakes, melted butter and maple syrup for me. I'm happy. Add on some Portuguese sausage, fried eggs and steamed white rice and I'm absolutely ecstatic. This is the kind of eating unavailable on the mainland and is part of what makes living in Hawaii so special.

Today, we've brought the entire crew down: Polly, Anna, Tilly, Michelle, Christian, Gerry, Baby Ian, Doc Rhee and The Bob, which promises a veritable smorgasbord of eating.

Macadamia Nut Pancakes

The dangerous part of their menu is their happy accommodation of pairing a short stack of pancakes (in any flavor) with your breakfast plate. That means the dream of meat, eggs, rice and pancakes is more than possible. It's absolutely necessary.

The ordering itself is a mad blur. The restaurant is packed and noisy to begin with and our cries of hunger only add to the contented cacophony that is the Original Pancake House. While the rest of our party occupies themselves with ordering, Doc Rhee and myself have been casually checking out the girl four tables to our right. She's gorgeous. A knockout. A true island sexy. But there's something "off" about her. Maybe she's too coiffed for this Kalihi crowd. Everything is just right - the makeup, the hair, the nails, the pareau. She's too perfect for the average woman. Then we notice it, the hands are just a bit large. Just a bit on the masculine side. Aw shucks, we knew it was too good to be true.

Tilly and Polly getting ready to grind.

Hawaiian Islands Coffee Company brewed coffee

Many people know that I do coffee for a living and that my preference is to drink the best quality coffees in the world and that I have no problem poo-poo-ing on places that serve crappy coffee. But what I should stress is that coffee needs context. If I'm ordering a coffee from a coffeeshop then my expectations are severely different than a cup from a place like the Original Pancake House. I know it's not great coffee. Chances are that it's going to be barely passable. I'm pretty sure it's going to be utter crap.

But sometimes you like utter crap - especially when it's mixed with sugar, cream and stacks of butter-drenched macadamia nut pancakes. There's a warm pairing of coffee with sweet stuff and that's all you want: the semblance of coffee. And keep it coming, please.

Fried Eggs and Corned Beef Hash

I won't try to include a paragraph for each of these images. There's just too much. It's not fancy food. It's simple food. Simple food to satisfy the soul. It's delicious.

But I did try a taste of just about everything here. The bacon: crispy and delicious. Portuguese sausage: just as a remember. Scrambled eggs: not bad. Fried eggs: good. Pass me more bacon and bacon pancakes, please. Polly on the other hand just couldn't get enough of the coconut syrup.

Spinach Omelette and Hash Brown

Portuguese Sausage Omelette and rice

And while I prefer the macadamia nut pancakes, Gerry ordered the bacon pancakes and those were absolutely stellar. Imagine soft, fluffy buttermilk pancakes mixed with bits of bacon throughout. Lord Have Mercy. Too good.

The omelettes were good but they've got a unique way of fluffing the eggs into a puffy texture that I'm not too fond of. Personally speaking, I would have preferred my Portuguese omelette with a healthy dose of chili, cheddar and onions (with Tabasco, of course)

Fried Eggs, Portuguese Sausage and Rice.

Portuguese Sausage Omelette

Bacon and Scrambled Eggs

The Bob and The Rhee eying other meals.

The Bob grinds what we can't.

Finally, the one thing that I had forgotten was that The Bob could always be depended upon to consume what the rest of us couldn't. He didn't disappoint. The man is a machine.

The Original Pancake House
Waiakamilo Shopping Center
1414 Dillingham Blvd.
Honolulu, HI 96817