Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Oahu Eats - Part Two

After our Chinatown excursion and hitting the rambutan jackpot, we took our rental car and headed to Lanikai Beach, our slice of heaven. Lanikai is next to Kailua Beach and is about 30 minutes away from Waikiki via the Pali Highway. It's a paradise where the sand is super fine and the clear waters sparkle green and blue. Last year, we went on a weekday and pretty much had the entire beach to ourselves and we ran into sea turtles in the water. It was a little more crowded this year since we went on a Sunday but still, it was our paradise. But no sea turtles this year.

Kalapawai Market in Kailua has a great deli to pick up a picnic of hot and cold sandwiches, sides and drinks before you reach Lanikai. This kalua pig burrito was sooooo good. I got the same thing last year :)

Rambutans at Lanikai.

We finally attack the rambutans.

We also picked up some ripe papayas in Chinatown. They were so sweet and fragrant and only $0.49 cents a pound! I love tropical fruits.

Yeah, we couldn't stay in Lanikai forever. Steph and I did a little damage to our credit cards at the Ala Moana Center the next day and came upon Goma Tei Ramen inside the mall. The place was really busy but the wait was quick. I got the Chashu Tan Tan Men. Oh my god, that was delicious. Three thick slices of tender fatty pork, steaming spicy tan tan soup and al dente egg noodles = ramen heaven!

Steph got the regular Chashu Ramen which was just as good but without the spicy kick. I knew we could trust an island with a history of Japanese immigrants to have plenty of good ramen shops. I would also recommend the oxtail ramen at Ramen Nakamura which I tried last year but didn't get to revisit this time.

Roy's Restaurant is touristy but heck, the food is really good there. We went for a late dinner and they ran out of their signature Ahi Tuna entree and they only had enough for a poke appetizer (apparently, there was an ahi tuna shortage recently). I was very happy I got it. The tuna was fresh and the soy marinade was a perfect compliment to the fish; it just danced in my mouth.

I didn't know Hawaii had breweries until my last night in Oahu. Luckily, I was able to try the Longboard Lager from the Kona Brewing Co. It was crisp with a very, very slight hint of hoppiness. I liked it.

Giant Prawns and Seafood Medley with potato gnocchi. This dark, poorly taken picture (my bad) doesn't convey how good this dish was. Everyone in our party (of five) was very happy with our dinner.

Chocolate Souffle. I've never seen Steph respond to a waiter so quick. She was going "yes, yes, yes" before the waiter could even finish saying "souffle." Smart woman she is. How can you go wrong with Chocolate Souffle?

Okay, I was a little loco to order the Loco Moco but it's a unique Hawaiian dish and it was my last day in Oahu. This had 3 scoops of white rice topped with a thick hamburger patty, onion gravy and 3 sunny-side up eggs. The dish was overwhelmingly gigantic. I ate about one third of it and gave one third to Steph. My stomach begged me to give up on the rest. The loco moco wasn't out-of-this-world delicious but I'd recommend it if you have a hangover or you're like me and just crave a little rice with your breakfast.

My Hawaii vacation was over in the blink of an eye because I was so relaxed and I was having so much fun hanging out with Steph and Andrew (even though Andrew is a card shark and an evil prankster preying on little ol' innocent me!). I really hope there'll be a reunion soon, either in LA, Hawaii or in Sydney. Ideally, it would be in Tahiti. Steph, you hear me?

Kalapawai Market
306 South Kalaheo Avenue
Kailua, HI 96734
(808) 262-4359
Goma Tei Ramen
1200 Ala Moana Blvd
Honolulu, HI 96814
(808) 591-9188

Roy's Restaurant
6600 Kalanianaole Hwy
Ste 209

Honolulu, HI 96825
(808) 396-7697

Monday, January 25, 2010

Oahu Eats - Part One

Oh gosh, Blue Mondays are terrible. I must remember that one of my 2010 resolutions is to "Be happy. Have fun. Laugh. Bring others laughter." I haven't been laughing on the inside very much lately so I must do better.

So, I'm going to think about good things and I'm going to write about my trip to Oahu last weekend. I had so much fun meeting up with my cousin and her husband. Stephanie and Andrew are from Sydney so Oahu was the perfect meeting point in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

While Andrew worked all day at a conference, Stephanie and I got to play all day :) It was such a relaxing vacation even though it lasted only 4.5 days for me. We didn't schedule anything and we just woke up each day and did what our hearts desired. Of course for us girls that really meant eating, shopping, bikini-hunting, sunbathing and swimming at the beach, crashing cocktail parties at the conference and more eating.

Oahu is a paradise for everything. If you don't like Waikiki, rent a car and escape to Kailua, Lanikai or other beautiful beaches on the island. If you like shopping, you can find bargains at theAloha Stadium Swap Meet or hit the Ala Moana Center for more upscale (window) shopping. Oahu has a pretty diverse population so finding good food from around the world is not hard at all. I didn't do a crazy "foodie" list this time since it was my second time visiting Oahu and I wanted to be completely relaxed. This time, I chose to just go with the flow and checked Google or Yelp on my phone whenever I happened to be for local eats.

The Wailana Coffee House was right next to my hotel. It's awesome. It's open 24 hours a day and serves honest, cheap diner food. I was amazed by the variety of condiments at our breakfast table. Only in Hawaii do you get soy sauce, ketchup, tabasco, 3 kinds of jam, coconut syrup and maple syrup at breakfast; it just goes to show you how diverse the people and food culture is in Hawaii.

$5.95 Breakfast that came with 2 eggs and Portuguese sausages. There's an IHOP next to Wailana but IHOP is almost always empty while the Wailana has lines snaking out the door for breakfast every day and it's got a good size crowd for lunch and dinner too.

The breakfast also came with all-you-can-eat buttermilk pancakes. The pancakes were amazingly buttery and rich (without me having to put any butter on it). I couldn't really take advantage of the AYCE pancakes though because I got full after one pancake.

Steph and I were starving after hitting the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet. The pho at Pho Minh Thu was pretty good. I was just happy that the joint was near my hotel (Aqua Palms). The rare beef was perfect and the soup was good though not as strong and rich as the ones I'm used to in El Monte or SGV. My only gripe was that they don't use thin rice noodles; their rice noodles are slightly wider in width so it wasn't as springy/chewy.

We tried to go to Ono Hawaiian Foods for dinner because we had such a memorable meal there last year but they close at 8:00pm! Fortunately, we walked up the street and found Pyramids - a Mediterranean restaurant - and we had a delicious meal there. This rice-stuffed grape leaves appetizer was a hit with us.

I had this lamb chop entree and I pretty much ate EVERYTHING on the plate. I was true to my Hungry Kat name. Andrew and Steph also cleaned their plates. :)

Andrew introduced me to this crazy wonderful fruit called Rambutan in Oahu last year so we went hunting for it in Chinatown this time. Of course, a trip to Chinatown must include a meal. We ended up having dim sum at Happy Garden - a small, simple, almost hole-in-the-wall place. We were surprised that the dim sum was actually pretty good. The fresh Har Gau (shrimp dumpling) and Beef Meatballs were highlights.

Yes! Rambutan jackpot! This tropical fruit bursts with citrusy sweet juices and the meat is similar to the longan fruit. I'd say if you crossed a longan with a lychee, a rambutan is what you'll get except the rambutan is about 2-3 times bigger than a longan or lychee. And I just can't get over that eye-popping red color; it just makes you want to crack that hairy peel and devour that juicy fruit inside right away. By the way, rambutans are grown in Hawaii which makes it even more delicious because I find the ones that are shipped to Los Angeles a little lackluster. Fruits are always best fresh-picked. And at $4.99/lb, it's a bargain especially considering that Stephanie says they sell for almost $20/lb in Sydney.

Part Two forthcoming...

Wailana Coffee House
1860 Ala Moana Blvd Lbby
Honolulu, HI 96815
(808) 955-1764

Pho Minh Thu
478 Ena Rd
Honolulu, HI 96805
(808) 946-2299

Happy Garden
1113 Maunakea St
Honolulu, HI 96817
(808) 538-1088

758 Kapahulu Ave
Honolulu, HI 96816
(808) 737-2900

Monday, January 11, 2010

Blue Mondays and Roast Duck

Last Monday, I roasted a whole duck and today (another Monday!), I read that there's something known as Blue Mondays. Apparently, Blue Monday is the most depressing day of the year. Heh, I'm not saying it's scientific but it's interesting nevertheless that it has been calculated that Blue Mondays always happen in January due to the combination of cold weather, bygone holidays and failing New Year resolutions.

So, speaking of Blue Mondays and failing New Year resolutions, I want to do a quick epilogue to my last post of 2009. In that post, I shared that I started my plan to lose 50 pounds in Oct. 2008. I reached my goal at the end of last year. It wasn't easy.

It wasn't always easy to stick to my diet of 1200-1400 calories per day. But I knew it wasn't really a diet; it was a lifestyle modification and balancing foods I love so I still ate my favorite foods like white rice (I'm Chinese! What do you expect?), red meat and sweets but in small portions and I kept myself full by eating smaller meals often and eating snacks like almonds, fruit, egg whites and yogurt. And I drank lots of water and kept sugary drinks and juices to a minimum. I have to admit limiting alcohol isn't as easy :P

It was hard to keep up my gym schedule which was 4 to 5 times a week. There were many times when I just sat on the exercise mat at YMCA and just wanted to cry (or did cry) because I was bored by my routine or frustrated by my lack of progress in terms of weight-loss or muscle/tone gain. It's so easy to give up when you hit a weight-loss plateau. I'm lucky to work at a company that introduced me to Core Performance last year; they got me off my plateau and breathed new life into my exercise routine. I'm still working out 4 to 5 times a week but I look forward to it now because I love the trainers and the variety in my programs there. In addition to helping me meet my goals, I'm also more energetic, healthy and fit to tackle other outdoor activities I've always wanted to try. There are still days when it's hard because work or life is driving me crazy but the trainers at Core are great and very supportive and they always guide me through my workout. And I've learned a little mental trick. If I find myself making a million excuses to not go workout, I remind myself that it clears my mind, gives me more energy and also, I don't have to go for the full hour - 30 minutes is better than nothing.

It's difficult fighting the mental battle everyday too. However, you have to remember why you're doing it and not lose sight of your goal, your determination and what you have to do to reach your goal. But don't drive yourself crazy and remember to take it one day at a time. For a period, I weighed myself every day which was great encouragement when I was losing the first twenty pounds rapidly but then when I plateaued, it was pure agony. So, switch your routine and try new tricks if something is driving you crazy. And sure, have one bite of that chocolate cake.

So beware of those Blue Mondays this month and don't give up on your New Year resolutions this year. It's hard to change eating habits and keep up an exercise routine but remember that this is for yourself. So be good to yourself!

I have 10 more pounds to go and I'd like to achieve more toning and muscle. I don't expect it to be easy. I know I'll have my share of Blue Mondays which I'm sure aren't restricted to Mondays or January but I have determination, Core Performance and my results so far to keep me going. And I'm good to myself so I work out...and then I reward myself with Oven-Roast Duck :)

I roasted this last Monday and shared it with a friend and my sister. It definitely wasn't a Blue Monday! I think this is pretty easy to make; my uncle taught me this simple roast duck recipe a few years ago and I love it.

Oven-Roasted Duck

Prep Work
  • Buy fresh, whole duck (I got mine from Superior Poultry in Chinatown)
  • Cut and discard the duck's head and feet (not the drumsticks!)
  • Cut the long neck as close to the body as possible and set aside
  • Clean cavity thoroughly (make sure to take out the lungs and any other bits that may not have been cleaned well by the poultry shop) and wash duck inside and out with water
  • Make sure you pat the inside and outside of the duck very dry with paper towels.
  • Line 2 large trays with foil and put a roasting rack on one of them. (It's fine if you only have one tray. It'll just be a little more work for you.)
  • After prepping the duck, sprinkle kosher salt and ground white pepper liberally in the cavity of the duck
  • Sprinkle lots of garlic salt, kosher salt and some white pepper outside of the duck. Don't forget to marinate the neck too.
  • Wrap in a ziplock bag or on a tray and put it in the fridge to marinate at least for 2 hours (3 to 4 hours is best if you can afford the time).

  • Preheat oven to 400 degree Fahrenheit
  • Truss the duck - This video should help if you don't know how to truss.
  • Place duck - breast side up on the rack. The neck can go on the side of the tray.
  • Cook for about 1 hour and 10 minutes.
  • Then take the duck out of the oven. Take the neck out to avoid overcooking - cool and enjoy - preferably with a beer.
  • Flip the duck so it's breast-side down now. Transfer the duck to the second foil-lined tray and return to the oven. If you're only using one tray, then discard excess duck fat as best you can with a spoon before returning to the oven. There will be lots of fat! (Tip: I like to save my duck fat to fry potatoes and cook.)
  • Cook for another 35 minutes depending on color. It's done if it looks crisp and brown.
  • Then take the duck out again, discard excess duck fat if necessary.
  • Set oven to 450 degrees and flip duck one last time so it's breast-side up and return to the oven for about 15-20 min to crisp the breast. Or, use broiler if you have it but watch it carefully to the duck doesn't burn.
  • When done, take the duck out and let rest for 10-15 minutes before carving.
  • If you trussed the duck well, the cavity will hold a lot of juices from the duck so try to carefully pour that into a bowl and you can use that to make a nice gravy sauce to go with the duck. Just mix in a little salt and cornstarch and pour into a saucepan to reduce on low heat.

Superior Poultry
750 N Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 628-7645
*Open Mon-Sat 9am to 6pm and Sun 9am to 5pm. There's a giant chicken on the top of the store so it's hard to miss. They sell a variety of fresh chickens and duck, quail and I think rabbit too.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Iberico de Bellota Ham Back at Surfas!

Surfas was out of cured Iberico de Bellota Ham a few months ago and I was really excited yesterday to see it's finally back. The ham is a thing of beauty to be admired in person. Surfas gets the whole leg (bone-in of course) and sets it at their deli/cheese counter to be carved to order. Surfas said they should be stocking this until March.

Look at that lovely fat; trust me, you want to savor every bit of that. Black Iberico pigs are exclusive to Spain and feeds (free-range) almost exclusively on acorns and fresh herbs. Therefore, both the meat and fat have a rich salty and nutty flavor that tastes like gold...well, that's what I imagine what gold would taste like if gold was edible. I ate my first slice today and I did slice off of some of that fat and used it to roast a chicken for dinner. (I slit the chicken skin and stuck the Iberico fat between the chicken breast and skin. The breast came out moist and extra tasty.)

Surfas is selling the Iberico for $135.25/lb. I got four slices which set me back $33. What can I say? A New Year's treat was in order.

Oh, check out my first post if you want to read about cooking raw Iberico de Bellota. It was fun cooking it and even more amazing when it came to chow time.

8777 W. Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90230
(310) 559-4770

Starting 2010 Right with Park's BBQ

Pretty much every respectable restaurant was closed on New Year's day on the Westside but I knew I could count on Chinatown and Koreatown to satisfy my taste buds.

My cousin and I had a wonderful girls' day out and started the day with two steaming, flavorful bowls of pho at Pho Hoa in Chinatown and after a long day of shopping and a movie (Up the the Air is great! Go watch it!), we decided to hit Park's BBQ. We were sooooo glad we did.

The place was hopping on New Year's day but we only had to wait about 20 minutes before we were seated. The restaurant was clean, tables/booths were well-spaced and the ventilation must have been strong because we never felt the smoke was in our face. The service was surprisingly good at Park's; our waitress put all our meat on the grill and came back frequently to check on it, cut up the meat and refill our banchans and drinks.

Park's was attentive about changing grills. Ours was changed three times and the waitress changed the grill each time before she put on new meat to cook.

The banchan was great in terms of variety (8 kinds) and quality; I loved the cold vermicelli noodles, the chive tofu, kimchi, octopus, cold broccoli with sesame oil and the sweet potato salad.

Besides lettuce, Park's also includes the rice paper wraps (duk bo ssam) to wrap your meat.

Marinated "Tokyo X" Pork Belly
I was really happy to see this pork belly had a lot of meat. Some pork belly at AYCE joints have too much fat. The marinade was a mixture of sugar, soy sauce and sesame oil.

Marinated Kalbi Short Ribs
Ahhhh, this was so good. The meat was tender with a good amount of marbled fat in the thick chunks of USDA Prime meat. Park's is not AYCE but the quality and quantity of this Kalbi sure shows that you get what you pay for.

Vegetable Stone Pot Bibimbap
Hehe, this is where you can fill your veggie quota. The portion is perfect for two people to share if you just want one bowl of rice.

The two of us were stuffed and the damage was only $40/pp which is normal for a non-AYCE Korean BBQ joint and the quality of the meat/food and service was totally worth it. I can't wait to gather a big group of friends and go back to try the other cuts of meat and their famous Beef Short Rib Soup.

Park's BBQ
955 S. Vermont Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90005
(213) 380-1717
No reservations; street parking or $2 valet

Pho Hoa
818 N. Spring St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 485-0074