10 Things We Love: ‘Ilima Awards
Food-obsessed Star-Advertiser staffers pick their gastronomic must-haves.
1. Curry sandwich stands out with flair
On a busy workday, there’s often nothing better than a sandwich, especially when it’s a chicken curry sandwich ($7.65) from Fendu Boulangerie.
Baker extraordinaire Niel Koep’s upscale boulangerie makes artisan breads a centerpiece of the operation. It stands to reason, then, that the sandwiches would also excel.
The curried chicken salad sandwich served on soft naan bread is satisfying with its delicate savory and sweet flavors. As with all Fendu offerings, the sandwich has flair.
— Elizabeth Kieszkowski
Manoa Marketplace, 2752 Woodlawn Drive; 988-4310
2. Bowl of ramen packs mouthwatering mix of flavors
You gotta love a dish with the audacious name: Innovative Hot Mess.
Oh, it’s innovative and hot all right, but by no means a mess and definitely no miss.
Agu a Ramen Bistro chef Hisashi “Teddy” Uehara, pictured center, took all that was already great on the restaurant’s menu, starting with tonkotsu broth made the old-fashioned way by boiling pork bones for 18 hours, then combining Agu’s signature savory Parmesan ramen with bari kote broth made with black garlic oil, garlic butter and silky se-abura, small globules of fat rendered from fatback after cooking it down for 10 to 14 hours.
Thin Hakata-style noodles hold up to the heft and carry the flavor well.
This may be the priciest ramen bowl in town, at $19.75, but oh so worth it, and considering the fat content, it’s not likely something you’ll want to order more than once a month anyway.
— Nadine Kam
925 Isenberg St. (across from Old Stadium Park); 492-1637; www.aguramen.com
3. Local ingredients spun from farm to candy
It’s always inspiring when chefs elevate local ingredients, but few dishes reach the heights of delightfulness that Hawaiian Nougat Co. achieves with its delicious candy. Pastry chef Liz Anderson magically spins Maui cane sugar, white kiawe and ohia lehua honeys, Big Island vanilla and macadamia nuts, and local egg whites into a light yet luscious French confection that’s delivered two ways, in unadorned vanilla and chocolate-coated.
Anderson entered the candy biz with her husband, Peter, in 2008 and opened their storefront in Kaimuki in December. Find 3-ounce bags of the delectables for about $12 at their store as well as Whole Foods, Foodland markets and Dole Plantation, for which the couple will produce an exclusive pineapple-laced nougat. For Halloween, look for a holiday version at Whole Foods flavored with orange Belgian chocolate. The Andersons are currently experimenting with Kona coffee, green tea and li hing versions.
3613 Waialae Ave.; 926-4885; www.hawaiiannougat.com
4. Pastry elements combine to form dessert perfection
The Coco Puff is the perfect dessert. You could argue with me but you would be wrong.
Consider the elements: tender pastry, creamy chocolate filling, buttery topping applied judiciously so that the overall effect never tips into over-sweetness. All those parts in the right proportions and chilled to be perfectly refreshing.
And, no, it’s not just a cream puff. Wrong again. So wrong that I will not even dignify that with a comment.
Liliha Bakery was founded in 1950 by Roy and Koo Takakuwa and remained a family concern until it was sold in 2008 to restaurateur Peter Kim, who has opened a second location on Nimitz Highway.
The bakery has added a green tea Coco Puff. Pure puffery, pardon me. The original, at a mere $1.49, will always be perfection.
— Betty Shimabukuro
515 N. Kuakini St.; 531-1651; and 580 N. Nimitz Highway; 537-2488; www.lilihabakeryhawaii.com
5. It’s way more than just beef and broth
Not everyone gets shabu shabu. What’s the point of going out if you have to cook? It’s just broth, how hard is that?
For those, however, who appreciate beautifully selected and prepared ingredients, and an excellent broth, Asuka Nabe is a treat. The Kaimuki eatery’s signature milk and honey broth is a rich, silky delight.
My husband and I are omnivorous, so the house special, at $22.95 for two, is perfect for us. But you can order a la carte if you prefer, or avoid certain foods. Just order slowly. Everything is fresh and tempting, but the broth itself is filling. You may need less food than you expect. That said, the niko dango meatballs are particularly tasty. Try those for sure.
Asuka is a great place to take guests, both for the communal dining experience and because the restaurant takes reservations only for parties of four or more. The wait for walk-ins can be long.
— Stephanie Kendrick
3620 Waialae Ave.; 735-6666; www.asukanabe.com
6. Bagel puffs deliver a center full of deliciousness
If you love bagels and cream cheese, then it’ll be hard to resist the bagel puffs from Lox of Bagels. Basically, it’s bagel dough surrounding a center filled with cream cheese goodness, also available in various flavor combinations.
You have the plain bagel puff filled with cream cheese, which hits the spot, but also pink ones filled with a mix of cream cheese and chocolate (decadent and rich). The golden ones are filled with peanut butter and cream cheese. Finally, there’s the sesame-seed bagel puff filled with an, or red beans.
They’re pretty substantial, so one or two can fill you up, and they’re best if you get them hot out of the oven in the morning.
Kokea Center, 1111 Dillingham Blvd. (formerly on Sand Island Access Road); 200-7259; www.bagelshawaii.com
7. Secret ingredient defines classic Thai noodle soup
There’s a reason the broth of a classic Thai boat noodle soup is chocolate colored.
It’s the secret ingredient.
Without it, guay teow rua wouldn’t have the deep pork flavor and richness that’s key to the dish.
The squeamish should stop reading here.
The secret ingredient is pig’s blood.
The real deal is served at Siam Garden at the Nimitz Business Center and at Thai food stalls in the Mauna Kea Marketplace.
The soup with chunks of beef, rice noodles and ong choy is served with at least four sauces on the side — chili powder, chili with vinegar, sugar and chili with fish sauce. That way you can balance the spicy, sweet, sour and salty to your taste.
You can get guay teow rua without blood. But then it’s just Thai pho. And what’s the fun in that?
— Craig Gima
1130 N. Nimitz Highway, A-130; 523-9338
8. Unique flavor combos elevate decadent scones
Scones have gotten a bad reputation — people say they are like dry, heavy biscuits. Those people have never eaten Mama’Nita Scones. Anita Rhee combines sweet fruit, crunchy nuts, chocolate and cream cheese into moist pastries — perfect for a decadent breakfast or a delicious dessert.
My favorites are the apple caramel almond and the orange cream cheese. Previously the only way to get them was to order online 48 hours in advance or hunt them down at Cafenity (700 Bishop St.) or at Whole Foods in Kahala Mall on Fridays and Saturdays. But soon Mama’Nita Scones will be available to the masses, ready for pickup whenever that sweet craving hits.
On Monday, Mama’Nita Scones is scheduled to open its first regular location, within HASR Deli. Orders will still be taken online but must be picked up at the shop. Scones start at $2.35; miniature sconettes are $1.75.
Check out all the flavor options online, or visit the shop to check out new flavor combinations such as Green Tea & Asian Pear, Kimchi Bacon and Cheddar & Chive. Rhee says the shop will feature a rotating selection of eight flavors daily, including a gluten-free blueberry scone.
— Donica Kaneshiro
HASR Deli, 31 N. Pauahi St., above HASR Bistro; 521-4888; www.mamanitascones.com
9. A bowl of comfort served up in a humble setting
Everything about Your Kitchen in Palolo is unassuming. It’s a tiny Kaimuki storefront that’s easily missed if you’re focused on getting into the valley; it’s not even open on Mondays or Tuesdays. They serve dishes with plain names like pork bowl.
None of that matters once you’ve eaten the aforementioned pork bowl, a sinfully rich combination of pork belly, special sauce and soft-boiled egg that’s battered like a piece of katsu. It’s a bare-bones version of kakuni served without the traditional accoutrement of daikon and scallions, but I don’t miss that stuff one bit.
Don’t forget to order an extra egg — and extra sauce if you’re really in it to win it — and set aside enough time for a nap once you’re done eating. Kanak attack ahead!
— Jason Genegabus
1423 10th Ave., Kaimuki; 203-7685
10. Bone marrow satisfies with eclectic character
The Pig & the Lady’s bone marrow appetizer reminds me of the restaurant’s bathroom.
Stay with me now.
With posters and wallpaper, the bathroom is themed to the silly ’80s movie “Big Trouble in Little China.” Like the marrow, it’s gaudy, eccentric and awkward. And I love it!
The appetizer, sitting in a pool of pho broth with some baguette, looks as if came from the knee of a cow. It’s intimidating at first, but once you’ve spooned a bit of that creamy marrow on the bread, dipped it into that broth, topped it with some crispy shallots and onions, and taken a taste, you’ll get a feeling you thought only a silly B-movie could provide — some will get it, but a few will consider it a classic and order it every time.
— Joe Guinto
83 N. King St.; 585-8255; www.thepigandthelady.com