This month’s round-up should really be called the “Sugar’s Birthday Eats” edition. So without any further ado, let’s just jump right into my birthday dinner at Orchids at the Halekulani.
The Halekulani’s executive chef, Vikram Garg, is, hands down, my absolute favorite chef. He’s incredibly creative, super talented and a wonderful friend. He and Shake conspired on this secret birthday dinner. (Because of other commitments, Vikram wasn’t able to actually cook my dinner, so he left us in the very capable hands of one of his chefs, Robin Abad, who did a fantastic job with all of the food.)
You can see the entire dinner — three courses, plus three desserts (this is a restaurant that knows me entirely too well) — in the We Ate It Gallery, but here are two favorites from the meal. The seafood course: Butter-Poached Kona Lobster with Honey-Tomato Gastrique and Fennel Salad.
After dinner, Vikram and his wife, Abhilasha, sat with us for drinks and she told me that this dish is one of her absolute favorite things that he makes. Butter-poached lobster isn’t a new thing on the dining scene, but this sauce was a completely new experience for me. It’s what I love about Vikram’s dishes — he combines flavors it never would have occurred to me to use together. I would have thought tomato and honey together would be too sweet, but somehow it’s not.
Another favorite—the dessert course. Of course. Kulfi with Cashew Sponge Cake, Guava Gelée, Pomegranate and Pineapple Coulis. Kulfi is a frozen Indian dessert, very similar to ice cream, but much denser and creamier. I wondered why, when the server described it as “ice cream,” it didn’t really seem to melt although it took me a while to finish eating it.
OK, I said I was only going to show two of my dinner pics, but I can’t resist the birthday cake:
A return to earth and more basic food, but no less delicious: a City loaf from Breadshop by Christopher Sy.
The food obsessivores have been raving about this bread, deservedly so. It’s got a terrifically browned crust and a chewy interior. And it makes fantastic toast. I love toast. The City loaf is a “white” loaf while the Country loaf is a darker loaf with rye and spelt flour.
There have been promises of a bread subscription in the future, and I cannot wait!
More carb goodness:
Homemade bagels from our friend, Nathan. Yeasted dough products are just beyond me at this point. (Although, I bet they would rise up really nicely in our hot apartment…) I’ve not been very successful when playing around with yeast. (That reminds me—it’s probably time to flush the kitchen drain again.) So, I was really impressed by Nathan’s bagel efforts.
Birthday Dinner Number Two!
Far less glamorous than the Orchids extravaganza, but it made me equally happy. My family’s tradition is that each of the “kids” (me, Shake, my brother and sister-in-law) get to pick whatever we want Mom to make for dinner. The four of us are all born roughly two or three weeks apart from each other, so there’s always some jockeying to get our favorite for our birthday (instead of another sibling claiming it).
No one ever tries to claim my favorite, but I don’t always get it, because March isn’t exactly prime akule season. (Akule is the Hawaiian name for bigeye scad.) Pan-fried akule with sashimi and ikura over hot rice—happy fishy birthday to me!
Birthday Cake Number Two!
So, because we had ¾ of my Halekulani birthday cake, plus all the petit fours, to work on, and then Shake went on a trip and came home with no fewer than three frozen apple pies which had to be stored in our freezer for several days, I couldn’t get my traditional birthday ice cream cake until more than a week after my birthday. That’s OK, though. As long as you’re still working on polishing off your birthday cake, it’s still your birthday!
I love ice cream cake. It’s the food of the gods. Frozen frosting is awesome. (In case you’re wondering: chocolate cake and chocolate chip ice cream.)
At the beginning of the month, Chef Chai Chaowasaree threw an opening party for his new restaurant, Chef Chai at Pacifica—his new location after the closing of his Aloha Tower venue. We couldn’t make it to the party because of my family birthday dinner. But at the end of the month, Shake did a photo shoot with Chai, and apologized for not being able to attend. Chai invited us to come back that night for dinner.
It was like another birthday dinner! Chai generously gifted us with a dinner tasting menu, so we got a chance to try a lot of the dishes that had been served at the opening party. Again, here are just a few favorites. For the rest of what we ate, check out the We Ate It Gallery. (Note that most of the portions we were served were half-size or smaller, so that we could sample several items. If you go to the restaurant and order these dishes, you’ll get more food than you see here.)
These Rosemary Garlic Pork Tenderloin with Chinese Bao Buns, Hoisin and Scallion were tender and tasty.
Chai said that for the past several days, they were all he’d eaten for dinner. He’d walk through the kitchen, grab a bun, eat it and repeat throughout the night. Because they’re made from tenderloin, they’re much less fatty than most bao buns. This is in line with the philosophy of the new Chef Chai restaurant—healthier dishes, lean cuts of meat, no butter. Yes, that’s right. No butter.
Our favorite of the evening: Thai Style Oxtail Soup with Spicy Lemongrass Broth and Chinese Celery.
Chef Chai’s oxtail soup is very different from the usual local oxtail soup — more herbal flavors. I told Chai that if he ever saw Shake in the restaurant picking up just this soup, he’d know I was sick. It’s such a clean, soothing broth — I just know that if I get sick, this is what I’ll want. “You can come for it anytime, you know!” Chai told me. Well, yeah, and I will! (But I find comfort in knowing there’s a place to get something wonderful when I don’t feel well.)
Can’t skip dessert! Chai sent out three. He knows me well, too. (I adore Chai; he is simply one of THE hardest working chefs in town, incredibly generous and such a sweetie.)
Of the three, this was my favorite — Cheesecake with Shredded Coconut with Tahitian Vanilla Crème Anglaise. It’s a Japanese-style cheesecake, light and spongy, not dense and creamy.
You can see the rest of our meal in the Gallery. And for more dishes from Chef Chai, check out our friend @Melissa808’s photo gallery for Nonstop Honolulu. She attended the opening and got to try several things we didn’t.
Finally, a pair of pau hana drinks from DuVin. They’ve changed the cocktail menu again, so we tried new things instead of old favorites.
On the left: My Bellini d’Etoiles — Old Tom Gin, Local Strawberry-Dill Syrup, Lorina Lemonade. On the right: Shake’s Parisian Negroni at Du Vin — Courvoisier V.S. Cognac, Campari, St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram, Sweet Vermouth. A nice pair. The bellini I chose was an excellent, refreshing starter drink; the negroni Shake chose would make a nice closer. Or a starter, if you like negronis. Shake does.
That’s it for this very birthday-full month! Anyone have more dessert for me?