Back to Jimbo (Honolulu, HI)


One of the under-appreciated Japanese restaurants in Honolulu has to be Jimbo, which specializes in udon. The buses and people lining up in Waikiki suggests that Japanese tour companies favor Marukame Udon, which features make-your-own udon, a concept that has been picked up by U:Don in Seattle’s University District. Jimbo is located in a part of town north of Waikiki (McCully-Moiliili, on the other side of the canal) that is somewhat worn, certainly without Waikiki’s glamor and glitz. But locals know about it and could very well be glad to keep this place to themselves.

We were here before in 2010 and were looking forward to a return visit. My wife got her ume wakame udon that she had been dreaming about ever since the last visit and wasn’t the least bit disappointed this time around.

Ume Wakame Udon

Ume Wakame Udon

For me, the memory of their wonderful nabeyaki udon tugged at me, but one of the chef’s specialties on the menu was Japanese curry nabeyaki udon, which I felt I at least had to try. I like curry udon in general, but was hesitant about ordering it tonight for one big reason. It would overwhelm Jimbo’s wonderful broth. And it did. Yet, Jimbo’s was a very good version, served in a very hot iron bowl with shiitake, baby bok choy, nappa, broccolini, shredded carrot, snow peas, kamaboko and a raw egg that gets cooked by the piping hot liquid. A good broth is hard to keep down; it shone through the curry with its substantial umami. On the side came single pieces of excellently made shrimp and sweet potato tempura, a welcome change since our last visit when they were served in the bowl, the batter soaking up and softening in the broth. Any respectable udon restaurant should have excellent noodles. The udon at Jimbo is made in-house by a dedicated chef and it shows. They have a unique al dente texture, having a slippery and soft surface but firm interior chewiness that characterizes the best of them. To make their dashi, Jimbo imports its dried bonito (katsuobushi) directly from Japan.

Curry Nabeyaki Udon

Curry Nabeyaki Udon

Our dinner at Jimbo was a happy return visit.

Disappointment on My Return Visit (March 2016)

I hate when the food changes at your favorite restaurants. I’d been to Jimbo twice before, and I loved their nabeyaki udon. The noodles were wonderfully chewy and the broth soul-satisfyingly rich and flavorful. The current disappointing version consists of oddly cut noodles (thinly rectangular in cross-section) and while starting out firm, they quickly became soft. These were not the noodles I had in the past. And the broth? It had none of the smoky and umami-deep flavor of my memories, having transformed into a thinner version of the original. I’ve discovered since that other recent reviewers apparently felt the same. Something has changed in the kitchen. I will not be going back. Marukame now has a better udon.

Jimbo
1936 S King St # 103
Honolulu
808.947.2211
 

 

Advertisements

Mana Nalu Mural Project (Honolulu, HI)


In the middle of Ala Moana (between the shopping center and Ward Center) is a mural painted on the side of a building. Like many murals, you wouldn’t notice it unless you’re oriented correctly. It was difficult for us even when we were looking for it. The work is a masterpiece of trompe l’oeil as part of a project led by John Pugh, the great artist who has several public works in other parts of the U.S. as well as one in Rotorua, NZ. The panel displays two historic Hawaiian figures, Queen Liliuokalani and the great surfer Duke Kahanamoku, painted on a curved glass surface featuring a huge wave that is cresting on top, a portion of which appears to be reaching through a skylight. Along the right side, a painted window, through which someone appears to be looking out toward the wave, and a doorway give a strange illusion. But, the most masterful depiction/illusion is a group of children, serenely looking up at the queen and seeming about to be engulfed by the wave.

How appropriate that today should be April Fool’s Day.

Mana Nalu Mural Project
401 Kamake’e St.
Honolulu, HI
(painted on the southeast-facing wall toward the parking structure)
 

Lunch at Shirokiya (Honolulu, HI)


For me, no visit to Honolulu would be complete without a stopover, not to mention a meal, at the food level of Shirokiya, the Japanese department store in Ala Moana Shopping Center. I might lust after a ramen shop here, a tonkatsu restaurant there, poké at various places, Leonard’s, even mochi ice creams at Bubbies. But when it gets right down to it, none of these places holds a candle to Shirokiya for its eye candy and staggering variety of food, all conveniently packaged in plastic containers, ready to pick up at one of many specialty stations, to eat at one of the few tables there or take out. A big part of the allure is the ability to eat whatever fancies you at the moment, whether it’s tempura, sushi, nigiri, musubi, fried or mochiko chicken, takoyaki, tonkatsutsukemono, and a seemingly endless selection of little side dishes. The wonderful displays make you want to buy one of everything. It’s basically the biggest display of my comfort foods ever. We made our usual careful rounds whenever we visit, as if circling our prey, and settled on a good, eclectic selection.

If I had to put together a bento or provisions for a day-long hike, I would most definitely come here.

IMG_0995

IMG_0997

Like this on Facebook

Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail (Honolulu, HI)


makapuu

To walk off the big breakfast (Rainbow Drive-In and Leonard’s) we had this Easter morning, we took the bus to Ka Iwi State Scenic Shoreline to hike the 3/4-mile trail to Makapu’u Summit. We were told about this hike by a couple we met at the Eat the Streets event. The bus doesn’t drop you off directly at the parking lot but at Sea Life Park, about a half-mile past to the northwest. As we were walking along Kalanianaole Highway to the trailhead, to our left were spectacular views of the beaches, rugged shoreline and islets out at sea. This being Hawaii, the waters were beautiful combinations of deep blue and turquoise.

Makapu’u Head is a remnant of an enormous caldera that partially collapsed into the sea about 1.8 million years ago and is the eastern end of the Ko’olau mountain range that is really the rim of the surviving caldera. The hike itself, a climb of over 450 feet in elevation over a paved surface, was nice on a cloudless day that was hot enough to make me a shade darker. This is a fairly easy hike, though some preparation is advisable; there are no water and toilet facilities on the trail or parking lot. On this Easter Sunday, there were lots of people on the trail, including families with children. It’s my understanding that some locals make this hike a regular routine. The vegetation along the way was interesting, suggestive of a dry, hot and windswept environment with succulents and cacti unexpectedly growing here. We missed the peak cactus flowering season as the blossoms were already spent. A good view of the lighthouse, still in operation by the U.S. Coast Guard, can be had from several vantage points. When we reached the summit, there were sweeping, spectacular views of the ocean and of southeastern Oahu. The wind up here is always strong, enough so that my wife had to remove her wide-brimmed sun hat that would have sailed away. This is also a prime spot for watching migrating humpback whales. We weren’t so lucky. A hiker we talked to told us friends on the day before had seen an entire pod.

The lighthouse is still operational and off-limits to the public

The lighthouse is still operational and off-limits to the public

Rather than returning to Sea Life to catch the bus, we walked in the opposite direction along the highway to another bus top at the Hawaii Kai Golf Course, which turned out to be about the same distance from the trailhead but our tired legs and hunger made it seem further away. Cold beers and a tasty kalua pork taco salad at the restaurant renewed our energy before boarding the bus back to Waikiki.

Along the trail, you can see the highway and Koko Head

Along the trail, you can see the highway. Hawaii Kai Golf Course appears in front of Koko Crater.

Kalua pork taco salad

Kalua pork taco salad at Hawaii Kai Golf Course

Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail
Ka Iwi State Scenic Shoreline
Kalanianaole Hwy
Honolulu, HI 96825
 

Like this on Facebook

Breakfast at Rainbow Drive-In (Honolulu, HI)


One of the island’s favorite foods is loco moco, a fried ground beef patty served over two scoops of rice, all smothered in brown gravy and topped with two fried eggs. Personally, I find very little to get excited about basically a hamburger without the bun, even with gravy and rice. But, we were standing in front of Rainbow Drive-In which fans say serves a legendary loco moco. Speaking of legends, President Obama was supposed to have frequented Rainbow in his youth. Not one to let food prejudices get in the way of possible enlightenment—once in a while anyway—I ordered a first-time-ever loco moco plate. A single bite was enough to confirm that I was still underwhelmed. Let’s just say it’s a dish that doesn’t appeal to me, regardless of how well it might be made.

Loco moco plate

Loco moco plate

On the other hand, my wife’s fried rice was pretty good, studded with bits of Portuguese sausage and green onions. Some of the rice was nicely crusted from a hot pan—what Japanese call koge—adding to the appeal.

Fried rice with eggs

Fried rice with eggs

We topped off breakfast by walking up a few blocks to Leonard’s to have their heavenly haupia malasadas.

Rainbow Drive-In
3308 Kanaina Ave
Honolulu, HI
808.737.0177 ‎
 

Happy Hour at Taormina and Afterward (Honolulu, HI) **No Longer Observed**


An Italian restaurant doesn’t immediately come to mind when trying to decide where to have a happy hour drink in Honolulu. Along the short stretch of Lewers Street south of Kalakaua, several cafes, restaurants and bars compete for your happy dollar. We intended to get a drink at Yard House known for its plethora of cocktails, drinks and entertainment. But, today was Saturday when the happy hour menu is put away for the weekend. Minor disappointment. A sandwich board close by plugged Taormina, a Sicilian restaurant across the street. More than that, happy hour was happily being observed.

Taormina doesn’t have the flamboyance of Yard House or P. F. Chang where diners and imbibers are in full view from their huge open-air spaces. There is an immediate atmosphere of formality when you walk in: tablecloths, cloth napkins, dressy waiters. You wonder if you’re properly attired to dine here, but I figured that the restaurant wouldn’t be so naive not to expect shorts and sandals in Waikiki. Sure enough, the wait staff didn’t batt an eyelash when we asked to be seated.

Peach prosecco bellini and Limoncello thyme cocktails at Taormina

Peach prosecco bellini and Limoncello thyme cocktails at Taormina

Of the two cocktails we ordered, the other a peach prosecco bellini, the limoncello thyme was a standout, so much so that we ordered another round before leaving for dinner. A big sprig of thyme floated like kelp in a tall glass filled with limoncello, citron, squeeze of lemon, simple syrup, and a splash of Chartreuse to add to the herbal and citrus flavors. At $5, it’s a great bargain for something this good. Outside of happy hour, it is more than twice that much ($14). The bellini was disappointingly weak on peach flavor.

From Taormina, we walked a few blocks to Eggs ‘n Things to split an ahi steak that had a nice furikake-macadamia nut crust. Cut at 1/2″ thick, the cooked tuna was predictably dry, but it was really tasty, served with wasabi mayonnaise served on the side. To top off everything, we got seated almost immediately, which is an impossibility for breakfast!

Ahi steak with furikake-macadamia crust and wasabi mayonnaise

Ahi steak with furikake-macadamia crust and wasabi mayonnaise at Eggs ‘n Things

Note: We returned to Taormina for a full dinner on our last night on Oahu. I mention this because, not only did we have the limoncello cocktail again, but had their outstanding bolognese alla classica, a recommendation made by a couple sitting next to us at happy hour (see above). It was surprising to see this Northern Italian entrée on a Sicilian menu; Taormina distinguishes it from its bolognese alla Siciliana. Regardless, we’ve never had better freshly made pasta (pappardelle, in this case) nor a finer ragù (made with beef, pork, chicken and foie gras), a dish made in Hawaiian paradise.

Bolognese alla classica

Update (9-10-14): We discovered that Taormina’s no longer observes happy hour.

 Taormina Sicilian Cuisine
227 Lewers St.
Honolulu HI 96815
808.926.5050
 

Barbecued Abalone at the Saturday Farmers’ Market (Honolulu, HI)


abalone_banner
Last time, we missed out on the grilled abalone at the Saturday Farmers’ Market. How is it that a mollusk long banned from fishing can make an appearance here in Hawaii? It turns out they are farmed off the coast by Big Island Abalone, which cultivates a Japanese species primarily for export. I was (am) a big fan of abalone, having had it as a kid at family meals (sliced and dipped in soy sauce) and later as an adult in the form of abalone steaks that used to be sold in Southern California restaurants, but its disappearance from the market left me longing for it. So, by the time I discovered that they were selling it at the Saturday Market back in 2010, they were already sold out. This year, I was bent on not missing out. My wife and I headed to the booth as soon as we got to the market. There were only a half dozen people in front of us, so it didn’t take long. We ordered one apiece, setting us back $6 each and sized almost 3 inches long, not very big by California abalone standards back in the day. Several sauces were offered for flavoring, including shoyu-ponzu, lemon juice, and butter spray.

bbq_abalone

Grilled abalone

While the abalone was not without merit, we were both disappointed with the flavor, or lack thereof. It was too mild, not having the signature assertive abalone taste that I remembered from years ago. It’s like the difference between eating a steamer clam and a Northwest razor clam, both are good but the razor is unique and extraordinary. Today’s was a case of an expectation unfulfilled.

Meanwhile, the rest of the market experience was as great as ever—so much food and so little time.