So, I totally skipped over November and December’s round-ups…but you’ll forgive me, I hope.
Of course, the first thing (literally) consumed this year was a bowl of ozoni at my parents’ house.
Ozoni is the traditional Japanese New Year’s mochi soup. Every family has their own recipe. Our family recipe is a combination of the recipe passed down in my mom’s family combined with some elements from my dad’s mother’s recipe. In our soup, we’ve got: Hokkigai clams, konbu (seaweed), daikon (Japanese radish), carrots, hasu (lotus root), gobo (burdock root), shiitake mushrooms, mizuna (Japanese mustard greens). And mochi, of course. (A really tiny one for me, because honestly, I think it’s kinda gross and chewy. Shake thinks this is kind of weird because I’m nuts for Korean duk kook soup which has mochi noodles…but it’s totally not the same.)
Everything in the soup has symbolism — all of it for good fortune and prosperity — but it’s almost impossible to find a site that gives you the run down on all the meanings. (Not to mention that recipes vary so widely, who knows if what’s in your soup has a traditional meaning.) Even my parents are very vague on what the different items represent. “Good stuff. Eat it,” is pretty much their standard answer. It’s yet another of those things I wish I’d known I should have asked my grandparents before they were gone.
Friends of ours who live outside Hilo invited us to spend a late afternoon on their boat, which they keep tied up at the Suisan pier. Suisan is an old Hilo landmark — it started out as a fishing company and now they distribute food products of all kinds. They have a cool neon sign that they light up at night.
The town is known for being rainy, but it was actually quite nice for most of the days we were there. Of course, the moments we happened to be out and about in places I wanted to shoot, the rain came down. It didn’t stop these folks in the colorful sailboat from tacking back and forth across Hilo Bay.
Back to the food.
We didn’t actually consume this while in Hilo, but we bought it there and now can’t find any here at home. A new favorite chocolate brand: Chuao. They make all sorts of delicious chocolate products. I also have a “Winter” hot chocolate mix from them, which combines dark chocolate cocoa with “winter-ish” spices like cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, ginger and black pepper. The KTA supermarket chain is really the most awesome grocery store. They always carry things that we never see anywhere else. So, good luck to me finding more of these Honeycomb bars. Shake got the Milk Chocolate Nut Bar. I didn’t photograph it because I have no idea where it’s gone. I think he ate it. I know he liked it because he keeps grousing (and searching every chocolate section we come across) that the brand isn’t carried here.
The Manifest in Chinatown has become one of our favorite after-work spots, provided that ace bartender Justin Park is on duty. Justin’s incredibly creative and whips up an incredible drink. When you start with this array of spirits, you’re already in a good place…
They have a selection of drink specials that change regularly, mostly crafted by Justin, and often including creations by Tim Rita, another local cocktail talent.
I didn’t know what “Pamplemousse” meant, but I ordered it anyway. Who can resist saying “Pamplemousse”? Turns out (thanks, Google) it’s a French grapefruit. Shake got — no surprise — the “Old Fashioned of the Week.” He’s deemed Justin one of the greatest Old Fashioned makers around.
That’s the Pamplemousse on the left, the Old Fashioned on the right. I love shooting drinks at Manifest — they have lovely oil lamps in mason jars that give off such a pretty glow.
Later in the month, friends invited us to join them at Tsunami Bar & Lounge. The bar’s been around quite a while, but the menu’s been given a complete overhaul with the arrival of Chef Wade Ueoka, a StarChefs.com Rising Star, formerly of Alan Wong’s restaurants. (One of our friends was there to write about the new menu.)
We ordered a healthy amount of food. Here are a few selections:
From the night’s specials menu: Uni and ‘ahi poke, which everyone picked as a favorite of the night. A little bit spicy, with bubu arare (rice crackers) for added crunchy texture. We asked Chef Wade what he would recommend, his favorite thing on the menu, and he suggested the Twice-Cooked Tonkatsu. I have never had tonkatsu like this! Inside, it’s slow-cooked pork, ultra-tender; outside, like normal tonkatsu, it’s panko-coated and fried crisp. I got my fork into one piece before the rest of the dish disappeared. I need to be faster… The last item shown here was another “top pick” for me (though, really, I didn’t have one thing that I didn’t like): a hot roast duck sandwich on garbanzo bean mash. We may have licked this plate clean.
The bar itself is very sports bar-ish. Definitely not our usual type of place. “We just got here and got seats. We’re in the dart room,” said the text. We easily identified the location when we arrived — there was a full array of electronic dartboards covering one wall, and a couple low leather couches, which our friends had commandeered. Don’t bother with cocktails; I was even disappointed by the vodka selection, my go-to fallback being vodka on the rocks. They seemed to have a decent beer selection; Shake had a couple, which indicates to me that it must be pretty good.
Still, I am so in love with the food, I’m willing to put up with sports bar décor and disappointing beverages just to eat what Wade sends out of the kitchen.
We closed out the month with a visit to The Modern Honolulu. We were invited to attend a media reception to re-introduce their lobby bar, now called The Study, and pool deck bar. The property is delightful — if you want to sip some drinks in a pretty spot, it’s hard to beat. The drinks themselves hover in that not-bad-but-not-too-memorable range. I felt I picked pretty wisely, but I think they’re going after a palate closer to mine than to Shake’s. I started out with a French 75 at the Sunrise Pool Deck bar and finished with a “Wuthering Heights” in The Study. I was fine with both.
One of the fun things about the lobby bar is that it’s accessed by a swinging bookshelf that doesn’t open up until the evening. In keeping with the library theme, they’ve named all the cocktails on the menu after books. (Although they’re kind of stretching it with a few…)
The Wuthering Heights is a rum-based drink created by Tony Abou-Ganim. I picked it mostly because I adore Tony and his drinks, and I enjoy drinks that contain a lot of culinary spices — cinnamon, cloves, that sort of thing. (Not spicy spices.) This one listed Sailor Jerry spiced rum as the base, but to be honest, I thought that it tasted more of tequila (a lot of the drinks on the menu are tequila-based) or Scotch. It had a smoky, earthy, peaty quality that I associate more with those spirits. I honestly don’t know if there was a mix-up, or if it really is meant to taste that way.
Which brings me to another partial reason I picked the drink — it’s one of the only ones on the menu whose namesake book I’d actually read. Shockingly, I’m an English major who has probably read less than 10% of the traditional English literary canon. Basically, if it was written by a dead white man, I didn’t read it. I took all the “alternative literature” classes — they were way more interesting. Anyway, given that I’ve actually read Wuthering Heights, I can say with certainty that this drink was nowhere near as dramatic and moody as it should be to bear that name. It’s funny that I thought I tasted Scotch, since that’s the spirit it ought to be based on — moors and whatnot.
The new menu also includes some desserts (and they advertise “Ice Cream Sundays” which may bear some further investigation). Here’s the cute Malted Chocolate & Peanut Butter Tart with Caramel Krispy topping we sampled.
The selections were decent, but I couldn’t help but want them to be more special so they could match the wonderful setting. I’d almost never turn down a dessert offered to me, but I can’t say that I’d make a date to come specifically to have dessert in the bar. Like I said, though, it is a really beautiful place to have a drink.
All in all, January was a delicious start to 2013. I hope we eat and drink as well throughout the year, but I’ll also be happy to just stay home a bit more! I’m tired!