Dinner at Noodle Boat (Issaquah, WA)


Noodle Boat is without doubt our favorite Thai restaurant in the greater Seattle area. Luckily for us, it’s only a fast drive down I-90 away. Many regard it as one of the truly authentic Thai restaurants in the area. The menu is quite extensive, with many items you won’t find anywhere else. We’ve been customers here since 1999.

Noodle Boat is hard to find, tucked away in one of many strips malls along Gilman Blvd. that are separated by great distances, made more difficult because Issaquah has strict regulations regarding commercial signage. To make matters worse, the storefront is difficult to see from the street, partially obscured by shrubbery in front.

We ate here for dinner and had the Queen of Banana and a rice dish called Kow Ob! Gai Tod (KOGT). Queen of Banana is really a unique dish. Whether it’s their own creation or not, I’m not sure. It boasts bold flavors from lemongrass, mint, finely shredded kaffir lime leaves, cilantro, toasted coconut, chile paste and red onions, combined with shrimp and strips of chicken breast. The sweet-and-sour dressing tastes of coconut milk, lime juice, nuoc mam and sugar. The interesting ingredient is steamed banana blossoms that have the texture of tender artichoke hearts, which they somewhat resemble. Overall, a wonderful dish that’s a little on the sweet side, not surprising for a Thai dish. The flavors were terrific, assertive. Normally, I would say this was an excellent dish, but our sample had overcooked shrimp and an overload of dressing that pooled at the bottom, something better managed in the kitchen.

Queen of Banana

Queen of Banana

The KOGT consists of turmeric-tinged rice with raisins, Chinese long beans, cucumber, cilantro, shredded carrots, and chicken tenders that have been battered and deep fried, sliced and served alongside the rice. While the other rice entrées are fried rice, this dish is baked. The crowning touch is a sweet-tart and slightly spicy sauce that suffused the rice, a combination that has savoriness, sweetness and punch.

KOGT

Kow Ob! Gai Tod

The Barbecue Chicken was a great combination of perfectly grilled and moist chicken (the dark meat with skin still on and nicely browned), bathed in a curry-coconut sauce, served with a more-potent-than-usual sweet chile sauce.

Barbecued Chicken

Barbecue Chicken

Lunchtime offers many items printed on both sides of a oval fan-shaped menu, an excellent way to get acquainted with the restaurant’s excellent dishes.

Noodle Boat
700 NW Gilman Blvd Ste E104B
Issaquah, WA 98027
425.391.8096
Lunch menu, dinner menu

Lunch at Samurai Noodle (Seattle, WA)


Samurai Noodle is regarded as one of the best ramen houses in Seattle. Rather than the tonkotsu ramen, we thought we’d try the so-called “Shouyu” instead, which is a combination of pork/chicken. Our initial tasting of the broth was good, but we both noticed that it seemed to somehow become more bland as we continued to eat. This was kind of curious. It’s entirely possible that maybe the soup got diluted from excess water on the vegetables and meat that were served on the side: green onions, bamboo shoots, extra chashu slices. In fact, there was a pool of water at the bottom of the dish in which they were served.

Although we ordered the noodles “firm,” they still had a somewhat underdone firmness that the egg ingredient didn’t overcome. I don’t know how to describe it except to say that thre was a slight crunchiness, rather than chewiness that I look for in Japanese noodles. Odd, because Samurai makes a big deal of the fact that their noodles are specially made for them in California. O-o-kay … At least one slice of chashu tasted like it’s been sitting in the refrigerator too long, rather than freshly made, the refrigerator equivalent of freezer burn, which also affects poultry. Other slices tasted just fine.

All these are indications that there are issues with ensuring total quality, missteps that should be corrected if it hopes to be a serious ramenya, which now it definitely isn’t.

Rating: ☆☆

Matsumoto Shave Ice (Hale’iwa, HI)


Lychee/pina colada and lychee/lilikoi shave ices

It was good fortune that we were able to compare not only shrimp trucks but shave ice as well. Earlier on our trip, we sampled shave ice at Waiola store in Honolulu. Matsumoto’s is a destination stop for many fans, including busloads of Japanese tourists. Waiola draws mostly locals. The lines at both can get quite long, though I suspect that it’s more of a problem at M’s throughout the day.

Because the ice here is a bit grainier than Waiola’s, it holds its shape better when topped with syrups. There is a good selection of syrup flavors, including two of my favorites: lychee and lilikoi, though for the life of me, I can’t figure out why the latter should be so bright red. Then again, part of the fun and eye appeal of shave ice are the bright artificial colors. My wife’s piña colada syrup was very tasty, very coconut-y. Vanilla ice cream and kintoki are two extras you can add. I’ve never developed an appreciation for sweet azuki (adzuki) beans, but the ice cream that I added for the first time last year, right here at Matsumoto’s, is something I perhaps can’t live without. The photo above shows lychee/pina colada and lychee/lilikoi combinations.

Matsumoto Shave Ice
66-087 Kamehameha Hwy
Haleiwa, HI
808.637.4827
Flavors and accompaniments

Shrimp Wars: Giovanni’s vs. Fumi’s (Kahuku, HI)


The usual money on the North Shore shrimp trucks is on Giovanni’s, which started the phenomenon back in the 1960s by offering fresh shrimp (from their own farm) cooked in olive oil, butter and garlic and served with two scoops of rice (what else!). Since then, there have been many imitators, some who have their staunch advocates. These include Macky’s, Romy’s and Fumi’s, all located along the Kam Highway in Kahuku.

Last year, we ate at Fumi’s Shrimp Truck in Kahuku on the recommendation of a poster on chowhound. So, this year, in our attempt to compare the two, we purchased one plate from Giovanni’s and one from Fumi’s to do our own taste-off. We selected two kinds to compare: garlic and butter (which Giovanni’s popularized) and spicy. Lest you think we ate our way through four whole orders, we were able to get half orders of each. G’s will actually make half-orders separately ($6.50 each, as of 2010); Fumi’s charges an extra $1 for the split combination on top of the basic $12 price).

The flavor of the garlic and butter shrimp were very similar. The shrimp were fresh and potent from garlic with a hint of lemon juice. The shrimp at Fumi’s were slightly more buttery (☆☆☆☆), while the prawns were more garlicky at Giovanni’s (☆☆☆½). A virtual draw.

The spicy shrimp was another matter. Giovanni’s version was very disappointing (☆☆). Their “special blend” of hot sauce lacked depth, as if it were a mere combination of chile pepper sauce and vinegar. Add to this the fact that the shrimp were overcooked. On the other hand, Fumi’s spicy shrimp was much more flavorful (☆☆☆☆) from a combination of chile pepper sauce, sriracha and plenty of butter. There was no comparison. The sauce drizzled on rice was to-die-for.

From our point-of-view, the overall experience is better at Fumi’s. Not only do you get as good a product or better at Fumi’s, the crowds are rarely a problem (as it almost always is at G’s) and, for those to whom this is important, it appears cleaner, less grungy. Another extra nicety–at Fumi’s, you get a side of salad and a slice of pineapple. It’s also $1 cheaper for a plate. Our future visits will be to Fumi’s without question. There are two Fumi’s: the shrimp truck and the stand, not far from each other. We ate at the stand.

 

Giovanni’s
83 Kamehameha Highway
Kahuku, HI 96731
Menu
Fumi’s
56-781 Kamehameha Hwy
Kahuku, HI 96731

Koko Head (Honolulu, HI)



Some of the most spectacular scenery in the islands can be seen along the coastline of southeast Oahu. Past Diamond Head, you’ll begin to notice steep sides of Koko Crater’s caldera on the left and on the right, rugged lava and sandstone cliffs overlooking beautiful beaches and pounding surf. This is the area of the famous Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, a popular snorkeling spot, and where Doris Duke and Henry Kaiser have built huge estates. As we drove by the Preserve around lunchtime, the parking lot was completely full. Traffic cops were directing cars away.

In addition, Koko Head Regional Park has several tourist stops, including overlooks, bays, a botanical garden, the Halona Blowhole, and extremely rugged coastline. It’s mesmerizing to stand on the cliffs to watch the surf pounding the rocks and see enormous ocean currents swirling offshore.

We wanted to hike along the Kuliouou Ridge Trail when we planned our trip, but the continuing winds and spotty rain put a damper on this.

Bubbies (Honolulu)


bubbies
Bubbies is a premium ice cream store that has been doing business on Oahu since the late 1980s. They are based in Aiea and have two outlets on Oahu, including one on University Avenue between Waikiki and the university. Oprah’s “O” Magazine featured their island-favorite mochi ice creams. They are served in many hotels and a few Japanese restaurants on the island. We even bought one at Coffee Bean on Lewers. There are many flavors to choose from, including several tropical ones.

On our way to southeast Oahu and the North Shore, we stopped at Koko Marina Shopping Center where Bubbies has a store. The picture at the top shows guava and lilikoi mochi ice creams. We also had a lychee one at Coffee Bean last Sunday. These are really delicious. The guava flavor is more muted than lychee or lilikoi. With their tropical flavors, these are our favorite mochi ice creams (☆☆☆☆).

Bubbies Homemade Ice Cream and Desserts
Koko Marina Shopping Center
7192 Kalanianaole Hwy, D103
808.396.8722

Kona Brewing Company (Honolulu, HI)


On our way to southeast Oahu and the North Shore, we stopped at Kona Brewing Company, a restaurant that serves food and the beers made on the Big Island, which the staff affectionately calls the “Mother Ship.” One of their distinctive brews is the Pipeline Porter (available on the mainland), a smooth and dark beer blended with Kona coffee. The Longboard Island Lager (also available on the mainland) is smooth and slightly spicy, a great all-around beer. Another interesting one is Wailua Wheat, which contains lilikoi. At the restaurant, all their beers are on tap.

One good way to taste their beers available only on-tap is to purchase a flight, a sample of four 4-ounce glassfuls, which you can select. Our flight consisted of Black Sand Porter (very dark, bitter, chocolatey, roasty), Duke’s Blond Ale (light, crisp), Lavaman Red Ale (caramel, orange-red in color, malty), and Wailua Wheat (medium, slightly sweet, passion fruit, tangy).

This is a great place to stop before or after visiting southeast Oahu.

Kona Brewing Company (Koko Marina Shopping Center)
7192 Kalaniana’ole Highway
Inside Hawaii Kai, waterside
808.394.5662
Menu

Leonard’s (Honolulu)


Custard-filled malasada

Custard-filled malasada

Among the island’s favorite pastries are Portuguese malasadas. Leonard’s is generally regarded as Oahu’s best, and for good reason. Our visit here last year hooked us. My favorite malasadas are those filled with custard. Why are they so good? First of all, they are served warm out of the oven. Their yeasty shell is slightly crispy on the outside, achingly tender and slightly doughy inside. One bite will release the creamy and not-too-sweet custard filling, available in a variety of flavors. The flavor of the month was lilikoi. We ordered it and coconut. Wow!

Leonard’s is a bakery, so it actually does sell other pastries as well as a few savory items, including pao doce, which looks like a sausage with a wrap.

Pao doce

Pao doce

Leonard’s Bakery
933 Kapahulu Ave
808.737.5591
 

Sweet Home Cafe (Honolulu, HI)


sweet-home-cafe
Sweet Home Cafe is another restaurant that specializes in one thing, and one thing only–Taiwanese hot pot. There is no shortage of patrons. By the time we arrived at the restaurant at 5:30pm, there was already a waiting list. We didn’t get seated until after 6:30, and I’ll say it right now, the wait was worth it.

If the visit is your first, you will be given detailed instructions on how the operation works. First, you select a broth from among many. Then, you choose one or more meats (beef, pork, lamb, or beef tongue). If you’re on the waiting list, the maitre d’ will ask you to make your selections right away so that when you get seated, the broth and meat(s) will immediately be brought to your table. You may be told that the three most popular are the house special, spicy and healthy herb broths. Every patron is not required to order a meat (we selected a single serving of beef). If you want two broths (to try different ones), you will be charged for two broths, which will be served in a divided vessel. The container is placed on top of an electric hot plate. We selected the spicy and house special broths.

Once you get seated, you then select however many wrapped plates of ingredients as you wish from the coolers along the back wall. Each plate is color-coded: $2.75 for white or green; $3.75 for yellow or orange; $4.75 for blue. There is a bewildering selection of vegetables, seafood, organ meats, noodles, and several kinds of tofu from which to choose. I can’t even provide a complete list. We chose soft tofu, watercress, sliced squashes, nappa, lobster balls, and fresh shiitake.

Extras

Extras

As if selecting ingredients weren’t enough, you can choose one or more of fourteen different dipping sauces: homemade*, sesame, Chinese-style shabu shabu, hoisin, sweet honey mustard, Chinese-style steamed soy sauce with chili pepper, chili garlic, oyster chili*, homemade spicy, miso*, Thai-style sweet and sour, black bean*, tomato chili* and hot bean curd*, all of them prepared in-house. Every single one we tried (asterisked above) was delicious.

Dipping sauces

Dipping sauces

At first, you may be intimidated by this whole process, aggravated by the tight spaces, mostly community-shared tables, and human traffic to and from the coolers, but you’ll quickly get settled and concentrate on the task at hand.

Steamed white rice is also provided.

Once the meal is over, you will be given a dessert gratis. Finely crushed ice (not as fine as shave ice) was surrounded by scoops of green tea and pineapple tapioca pearls, coffee mochi cubes, soft tofu, with the whole works drizzled with condensed milk and almond cream, and topped with an espresso mousse. Despite the fact that the tapioca flavors were artificial and the ice clumped in several places, the mousse, mochi balls and almond flavor were absolutely delicious. If you stuffed yourself with the main meal, you’ll still find the room to (mostly) finish this stellar dessert. It’s possible that the dessert might change periodically.

From start to finish, the dining experience was extraordinary. Not only was the meal fantastic, the entire wait staff was very friendly. Sweet Home Cafe aims to make you feel at home and is on our list of must-return places.

Sweet Home Cafe
2334 S. King St (McCully/Moiliili)
808.947.3707
 

Honolulu Saturday Market


IMG_2228
The Honolulu Saturday Market is, without doubt, one of the best farmers markets in the country for foodies. It has its share of produce stalls; they mainly benefit the locals who come here for fresh fruits and vegetables. But, I’ll wager that the vast majority of visitors come here for the incredible selection of prepared foods. We’re talking about food beloved on the islands. The merging of cooking influences (mostly from Asia) is reflected in the offerings. While the food may not be the best examples, it is still good. The variety alone in an open-air market setting is exciting.

After contemplating for a while, at approximately 10:15 am (45 minutes before the market closed) we decided on a salmon fried rice and grilled kasu cod, grilled corn flavored with shoyu butter and furikake, and a mango and ginger drink. Our plan was also to get grilled abalone that were selling for $5 a small pair, but they had all sold out. It was amazing that this hard-to-get shellfish was being sold at all. We almost lost out on the corn; I managed to get one of the last ones. I did get the last fried rice combination, too. The moral of the story is that it’s best to get what you want early, even if it isn’t quite the lunch hour.

As for the food itself, the kasu cod was delicious, though somewhat overly charred. The salmon fried rice tasted less interesting than it sounded, though it wasn’t bad. The corn was over-grilled to the point of getting dried out and the furikake made it too salty. Any drink from the PacifiCool booth is always refreshing, although the large amounts of ice cubes tend to dilute the drink if left too long. The ginger syrup they sell is really good stuff. For dessert, we snagged a couple of shave ices, one topped with lilikoi syrup, the other with ginger syrup which was also sprinkled with dried ginger flakes.

Kasu cod

Kasu cod

Furikake corn

Furikake corn

PacifiKool ginger drink with mango

PacifiKool ginger drink with mango

Shave ice

Shave ice

Saturday Farmers Market
Kapiolani Community College
Hours: Saturdays, 7:30-11am