Food Trucks: Roll OK Please & 314 Pie at the Eastside Food Truck Snackdown

An event like the Eastside Food Truck Snackdown is problematic for a solo diner, such as yours truly at this second annual Crossroads shopping center gala. With twelve mobile trucks to choose from, I’m not able to sample more than a couple things.

I cased the possibilities three times. A few trucks drew my attention, among them one that was selling only paleo-diet meals (Outside the Box), fried chicken (Ezell’s Express) and Indian tacos (Off the Rez). One positive trend I noticed was the use of organic produce and grass-fed beef by more than one truck.

I settled on an item that I fell in love with in New Zealand, a meat pie, offered here by 314 Pie. The proprietors are neither Kiwi nor Aussie, but were inspired by the savo(u)ry snacks from Down Under. I found the Steak, Cheese and Mushroom Pie (☆☆½) somewhat of a disappointment. The crust was too thick, where fluting was needed to keep the substantial, vented crust restrained. The NZ pies I’ve eaten had thinner shells (no fluting) with a flaky, puff pastry-like top. 314’s steak was substantial, much more generous than its Kiwi cousins’, taking it beyond the realm of snacks to a bona fide meal. Though tender and flavorful, there was little savory sauce that should barely ooze out like Down Under pies. This pie will not make me forget the ones I’ve had from Copenhagen Bakery or Sheffield Pie Shop.

Steak Pie

Steak, Cheese and Mushroom Pie

Beef and mushroom pie

Beef and mushroom pie (Copenhagen Bakery, Christchurch, NZ)

In order to try something else, I ate only half the pie, the rest to be eaten on another day. From the familiar, I decided on something that I’ve never had before. Roll OK Please sells Indian snacks called kathi (or kati). They sort of remind you of taquitos. Paratha bread is rolled around a filling and then pan-fried. The Chicken Kathi Roll features grilled chicken breast marinated in yogurt and garlic-ginger masala. Cilantro-mint chutney and pickled onions give a flavor boost. You can add the excellent complimentary hot sauce, which is more like a fine mince of Thai chile peppers and garlic moistened with vinegar. A side of cucumber raita cooled things down. Though I felt chicken thigh would have been a tastier choice, this was still a very good snack (☆☆☆½), especially with that killer sauce.

Chicken Kathi Roll

Chicken Kathi Roll

Honolulu Aquarium’s Giant Clams

As aquariums go, Honolulu’s in Waikiki may be small, but it is no less interesting than others twice its size. It has several captivating specimens, all of which inhabit the Pacific Ocean. The collection includes several species of giant clams (Tridacna gigas). When I first saw one there, I couldn’t tell it was a clam. I was looking for colossal shells when I should have focused my attention on what was there. All I could see was the beautiful mantle, which is actually a colony of single-celled algae (zooxanthellae) that do the job of feeding the mollusk through photosynthesis. Amazingly, the clams need no additional food to stay alive. The mantle looks like a huge, purplish cloud ear fungus. That these algae can organize themselves into this amazing organism is beyond belief.

Equally splendid was the exhibit for syngnathids, the fish family to which seahorses belong. While seahorses are always fun to watch, other members of the family in tanks were more fascinating, probably because they’re rare. I’d never seen seadragons before. Leafy seadragons look like floating seaweed, which as it happens is part of their camouflage. The species in the aquarium is the weedy seadragon, which is not as “leafy.” Pipefish look like small, colorful cousins of eels with pointed snouts. I may have been witnessing a mating ritual where a pair of them seemed to be involved in a courtship dance.

Weedy seadragons

Weedy seadragons



Tropical Fruit Bowl

At the KCC Saturday Farmers Market in Honolulu, we wanted to buy fresh fruit. Even an apple banana or papaya would have sufficed. But we hit the jackpot at a stand that was selling tropical fruits. There were lots of nicely arranged fruit. What struck my eye were plastic tubs of mixed, cut-up fruit, none of which I had ever eaten before. The one I selected consisted of lum kai mango, dragon fruit, Hong Kong pink guava, Egyptian pear guava and mamey sapote. Whether all were grown in Hawaii, I can’t say, but I can say we enjoyed them for breakfast on the following day. They were exotic, intensely flavorful, and full of edible seeds—an experience.

Recipes: Two Ways with Westover Farm Peppers

Our favorite farmer, Darrell Westover (Westover Farms in Maple Valley), was again at the Issaquah Farmers Market. We’d missed the market for the last two and a half months for reasons beyond our control, so we were sure to get there today before it closes for the season in a few weeks. As I’d posted before, Westover sells unique produce at very fair prices. Two of our favorites are shishitō and corno di toro peppers. The first is technically a chile pepper, the other is in the bell pepper family.

When you find them at the supermarket, shishitō peppers can be both mild and surprisingly spicy in the same batch. They’re typically picked green. But Westover’s are always mild, a quarter of them having turned bright red. My favorite way to enjoy shishitō is pan-fried until blistered, then liberally sprinkled with kosher salt. This is a Japanese preparation, simple and delicious. Eat them as a snack or with steamed Japanese short-grain rice.

Shishito peppers

Shishito peppers

Blistered shishito peppers

Blistered shishito peppers

Blistered Shishitō Peppers

  • Servings: 2
  • Print

  • 1 pint shishitō peppers, rinsed and thoroughly patted dry
  • canola oil or light olive oil
  • 1 tsp kosher salt

With an icepick or round toothpick, poke two holes in each pepper to prevent bursting. In 12″ skillet over moderately high heat, add oil and heat until almost smoking. Spread peppers evenly over pan, making sure that none overlap. Allow peppers to fry for 2 minutes until they begin to blister and turn brown on the bottom. Stir peppers frequently for an additional 2 minutes. Turn off heat and combine with salt. Remove peppers to serving bowl.

The Italian bell pepper known as corno di toro (bull’s horn) is thinner and more pointed than supermarket bell peppers. They are also quite sweet, delicious raw. I usually use up lots of peppers by roasting them Italian-style with sliced Italian sausages. Roasting intensifies their sweet flavor and caramelizes the edges for even greater sweetness. Sausages provide a savory counterpoint.

Corno di toro peppers

Corno di toro peppers

Roasted peppers with Italian sausage

Roasted peppers with Italian sausage

Roasted Peppers with Italian Sausage

  • Servings: 4
  • Print

  • 3 lbs corno di toro or red bell peppers, rinsed and patted dry
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 whole sweet or hot Italian sausages (I use the local Isernio brand)

Preheat oven to 400oF. Trim peppers, cut each lengthwise (cut larger bell peppers lengthwise into fourths), remove veins and seeds, and slice each half (or quarter) crosswise into 1″ strips. In 12″ skillet (preferably cast iron), toss peppers thoroughly with olive oil. Place pan in center of oven and roast for 15 minutes. Stir peppers and place whole sausages on top, and continue roasting peppers and sausages for 10 minutes. Remove sausages to cool, and stir peppers and continue roasting for an additional 10 minutes. Meanwhile, slice slightly cooled sausages into ¼” rounds, stir peppers again, put sausages even over the top and roast for a final 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven, stir peppers and sausages together, and remove to serving bowl. Serve warm or at room temperature with crusty toasted Italian or French bread.

Middle East Piece

Artist Miri Golan advocates peace and understanding through her organization, Folding Together. In collaboration, Israelis and Palestinians create origami cranes from their respective language newspapers and string them together in the manner of Sadako Sasaki, the Hiroshima bomb victim who folded a thousand cranes. These were displayed at the Bellevue Arts Museum.

peace cranes

Is Matsumoto’s Faltering? (Hale’iwa, HI)

A group of us drove to the North Shore to enjoy its special pleasures: gazing at the beautiful beaches and pounding surf, and making our way through the trifecta of required eating—a shrimp truck, Ted’s Bakery and Matsumoto’s.

A stop at Fumi’s Kahuku Shrimp is always an event to look forward to. We always love it there, this trip being no exception. It would be practically a capital offense not to stop at Ted’s and have the chocolate-haupia pie. We were not guilty of any crime this time through either.

One of Oahu’s biggest attractions is Matsumoto’s, the shave ice store in Hale’iwa. It has long been a destination ever since shave ice became the rage when surfing in the area became big time. Its popularity has spread beyond local shores, for legions of Japanese tourists arrive in phalanxes of buses, lining up out the door cheek by jowl with locals and other tourists (including our party), to satisfy their lust for shave ice. It is said that Matsumoto’s turns out over 1,000 cones daily. With a crew of only 3 or 4 people working behind the counter, one wonders how it’s possible to turn out consistent product. The fact that they’ve been doing it for years now is quite remarkable.

But, on this day, my wife and I noticed a difference in quality from what we remembered from two previous visits. The first thing is that the shave ice granules seemed to be coarser, a sacrilege in Hawaii which prides itself on serving almost fluffy snow. The other failing was the short-shrifting of syrups. Or they lacked their customary intense fruitiness. The shave ice was mostly ice on top, with the syrup pooling at the bottom of the cones, mine overflowing several times and tasting watered down. A finer grind of ice would have done a better job of suspending the syrup evenly. Is Matsumoto’s cutting corners to satisfy the onslaught of customers? Let’s hope not. I’m almost loath to go back.

Chain of Craters Road, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park (Big Island, HI)

Its history convulsed by vulcanism, the Big Island is basically a giant lava rock. It reveals its ancient past and continuing growth everywhere you look. At one-third of a million acres, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is home to two volcanoes which can both claim Guinness Book statistics. Mauna Loa is Earth’s most massive; Kilauea is the youngest (and one of Earth’s most active). While Mauna Kea at the Big Island’s north end is dormant, these two are still active, sometimes threatening human property (and lives) with lava flows.

I was attracted to Hawai’i as much as any visitor trying to get a glimpse of Earth’s restless energy. These days it isn’t possible to see active lava other than by air, a fact that helicopter and small plane tour companies have capitalized on by charging high prices. Still, I seriously considered taking a copter ride, but the timing never worked out during our brief stay in Hilo. For now, there is no lava pouring into a boiling sea, sending up stupendous plumes of superheated water into the air .

At the park, my wife and I had time only to take the Chain of Craters Road. Though it’s only 20 miles long, it takes 45 minutes of straight driving from the visitor center to the lot near the literal end of the road on the Puna coast. But, there is much to see along the way, including several craters that you can drive up to. There are reminders, like vast fields of hardened lava, that what used to be verdant forest can disappear under lava’s relentless, incendiary march.

The most extraordinary crater vista is the one above Kilauea Iki. The view from the main overlook is not the best. There is a much better (and smaller) one, unobstructed by trees, a short distance up the trail that leads to Thurston Lava Tube. In 1959, there were multiple eruptions in Kilauea Iki that filled the deeper, older crater with a lake of hot lava, several hundred feet deep, that eventually drained partially through vents back into the magma chamber to form the solidified floor that you see today. From the overlook, we could make out tiny figures of hikers making their way over the trail that goes through the middle of the crater. The area from where the eruptions spewed is now an enormous cinder and spatter cone (called Pu‘u Pua‘i). Other viewable craters include Mauna Ulu and Kealakomo.

kilauea iki

Kilauea Iki (click to enlarge). Pu‘u Pua‘i stands over the crater’s edge, Kilauea smokes in the distance, Mauna Loa sits on the horizon.

A short distance from the Kilauea Iki overlook is Thurston Lava Tube, one of countless many tubes that riddle the land. Walking through it is disquieting when you realize that only 500 years ago, there was a river of hot lava rushing over the very ground you’re standing on. The attraction is well-lighted and the ground above is surrounded by rain forest.

Thurston Lava Tube

Thurston Lava Tube

Along stretches of the road are vast fields of previous lava flows, as late as 1974. It’s a strange juxtaposition of untamed nature and modern civilization when you see jumbles of basalt next to paved highway. You can get out of your car and within feet, clamber over craggy pahoepahoe and a’a. These fields would be dead ringers for surfaces on a lifeless planet if it weren’t for little pockets of vegetation that have sprung up.

Before reaching the Puna coast, the road passes the Holei Pali (cliffs). An overlook faces the ocean and the broad beach below that reveals wide swaths of hardened lava flows. You can make them out as patterns darkening the lowlands. It must’ve been quite a spectacle to see hot lava spilling over these escarpments into the sea.

lava out to sea

Lava spilled over Holei Pali out to sea (click to enlarge)

From this overlook, the road switches back and descends toward the beach. As you get closer to the lava fields, they appear to be oil-slicked.

lava on beach

(Click to enlarge)

Chain of Craters Road ends at a parking lot. Nearby is the much-photographed Holei Sea Arch, a testament to the power of water to erode lava rock. Cars can go no further beyond this point.


Holei Sea Arch

The road continues though it can only be traversed by foot. About a mile and a half beyond the restrooms and concession stand, you reach the “end of the road.” In 2003, a lava flow covered a ten-mile section. A “road closed” sign is left to stand where it was inundated as a reminder that nature observes no human barriers.

"End of the road" (click to enlarge)

“End of the road”. Note the sign. (Click to enlarge)


Tonkotsu Ramen at Yoe’s Noodles (Bellevue, WA)

The Taiwanese presence in the Bellevue Chinese restaurant scene is unmistakeable. And why not? The Eastside city has a large demographic of Americans of Taiwanese descent. It was no surprise that Din Tai Fung established its first Northwest location in Bellevue’s Lincoln Square complex. Many Chinese restaurants in the city, some explicitly serving Taiwanese cuisine and others not, are owned by Taiwanese. Yoe’s Noodles is a different animal. One might be curious about why a Taiwanese-owned restaurant serves a Japanese menu with descriptions in both English and Chinese. Not so strange when one finds out that Japanese food is popular in Taiwan, no doubt a byproduct of the 50-year Japanese occupation between 1895 and 1945. Besides ramen, also on the menu are udon, soba, donburi and bento box.

I contemplated getting the Nagasaki chanpon (champon), which originated in that city at the turn of the twentieth century and was concocted as a way to satisfy Chinese students’ preferences.

But, in the end, I decided to try the ramen at the top of the menu, Yoe’s Ramen with Signature Tonkatsu, the broth’s name no less begging for the kitchen’s prowess to be judged. It was disconcerting though that the menu used the incorrect word—tonkatsu instead of tonkotsu. My first taste of the broth was not bad. It did have the requisite milky quality, but lacked complexity. The noodles, thin and curly, relied on eggs rather than kansui for springiness. There were too many bean sprouts for my taste, pork slices that were a bit dry and a half egg whose white part was made overly salty by soy sauce and yolk hard-cooked. In short, even allowing for the restaurant’s promotion of fusion cuisine and its reasonable price ($8.95), Yoe’s tonkotsu ramen fundamentally does not compare favorably (☆☆) with that of Bellevue’s three new Japanese ramenya (Jinya, Santouka and Kukai).

Yoe’s Noodles
1411-C 156th Ave NE
Bellevue, WA 98007
(425) 643-8528

Yoohoo Uhu

It’s easy to see why this fish is called a parrotfish (uhu, in Hawaiian). It’s also good eating on the islands. We saw these specimens at the Maunakea Marketplace in Honolulu’s Chinatown.

The Conservatory at Foster Botanical Garden

Foster Botanical Garden in Honolulu is known for its outstanding collection of tropical trees, including an impressive set of palms. There is also an orchid garden, but we didn’t see many flowers in bloom. Inside the conservatory was another matter. Although not the largest orchid collection I’ve ever come across, there were some beautiful specimens interspersed among plants that are splendid for their leaf patterns and color contrasts.