Take-Out Sushi Quest Chapter 1: Kozo Sushi

Kozo Sushi – 15 Piece Lunch Box, $5.49

There are now many imitators around town, but the original take-out Sushi in Hawaii is Kozo Sushi. At least, they were the first and only one of its kind to set up shop in my hometown of Kaneohe way back in the 80’s.

To this day, it never ceases to amaze me how affordable the prices are at Kozo, yet the quality of ingredients, made-to-order freshness and overall execution is nearly flawless. You’ll easily pay two or three times the price – in some cases much much higher than that – for the same set at other Japanese restaurants. Especially those that specialize in sushi or seafood.

Just look at that lunch box above, which I enjoyed for lunch today. Fresh Ahi (raw tuna) Nigiri, Ika (squid) Nigiri, Ebi (shrimp) Nigiri, Salmon Nigiri, Egg Nigiri, 2 Inari (Aburage), 2 Futo Maki, 2 cucumber Hosomaki, 2 Tekka (Ahi) Hosomaki and 2 Shinko (Daikon) Hosomaki… that’s 15 pieces, including fresh seafood Nigiri items for just $5.49! Common! That’s gotta’ be one of the best bargains in town.

There are several other combination bentos like this, but the lunch box has all my favorite selections all in one, well-rounded assortment. Nice.

They also have many other types of sushi on the menu, which you can check out at their website.

The most important and defining factor that makes take-out Sushi places like Kozo so great is that they make the Nigiri to order – never premade. So it’s very fresh and the rice is at an ideal state when you get it. Not dried out, stiff or too cold like it often is when you buy those Sushi bentos in the refrigerator case at the local supermarket. The rice has that all-important stickiness to it. Some of the Maki rolls are premade, but always made that day and kept at room temperature, which is important. Refrigerated sushi is just not good.

They’re also very consistent. I’ve NEVER been failed by Kozo. Always satisfied with my orders from the various locations around the island.

Following their business model are some new kids in town such as Aloha Sushi and Sushi Man, which are also respectfully good. I’ll add them here in future “Sushi Quest” chapters.

The company that owns the Kapahulu Kozo Sushi franchise also owns four other locations in Kahala Mall, Pearlridge Shopping Center, Moili’ili and Pearl City near Walmart.

There are also additional locations on Oahu who are owned by various independent franchisees.

Keep in mind that Kozo Sushi is strictly take-out. Most locations usually don’t have seating in the establishment, although they’re usually located in malls where there are seating outside the establishment, like the location on Kapahulu which is tucked between Star Bucks and Jamba Juice.

Whenever folks ask where to go for good sushi, I always suggest Kozo for best bang for the buck, and best of the take-out joints. Highly recommended!

Related links:

There's a New L&L in Iwilei

L&L Hawaiian Barbecue Iwilei – Fried Mahi Mahi plate, $6.95

A new L&L “Hawaiian Barbecue” restaurant recently opened in the business area surrounding the bustling Costco membership megamarket anchor tenant in Iwilei, adjacent to Dole Cannery.

I must admit to having a bitter, jaded taste about L&L after trying several newer locations around town over the years recently and finding their food mostly generic and lacking in character. Part of the problem is that most of them use a flat top griddle (basically a frying “pan”) to cook their food vs. an open-flame gas grill, which essentially makes their claim “Hawaiian Barbecue” almost a heresy.

But it can’t be that bad, right? Many rave about them, and surely each franchisee puts their own twist – if not slight – on what they serve. At least we hope. So what the heck, we decided to try this new one that recently opened by the Iwilei Costco.

Here’s Iwilei Costco…

Just east across the parking lot from this vantage point is L&L Hawaiian Barbecue, next to Quiznos Sub and Hawaiian Furniture & Lamp Company…

L&L will be holding a “Green Corned Beef Musubi Eating Contest” at Kahala Mall on March 15, 2008…

They were asking customers to enter. I never got around to find out what exactly is a “Green Corned Beef”. What the?

Here’s the front counter and menu board…

The place was certainly well-staffed, indicating they’re very busy. When we arrived this past Friday just before noon, they were steady, but no lines.

So what to order? Let’s look!

All I can say is goodbye to the $5 plate lunch. Market prices at restaurants, not only here at L&L, but all across the island have risen considerably over the past few years, thanks to inflated real estate and energy costs.

Diner “A”decided to go with the fried Mahi Mahi plate…

L&L Hawaiian Barbecue Iwilei – Fried Mahi Mahi plate, $6.95

L&L Hawaiian Barbecue Iwilei – Fried Mahi Mahi plate, cross cut

Diner “A” gave me a piece to try and, I must say, this was ono! Uh no, it’s Mahimahi, but it’s ono! Very moist and tender, while the batter was delicately-crunchy and nicely seasoned. The simplified tartar sauce served with it had a nice twang-slash-tang to it. I’d like to order this next time, substituting the rice for fries to make for one great, value-priced fish ‘n chips!

What’s with the fish? The first thing that comes to mind when you mention L&L Drive Inn is massive servings of beef and chicken, right?

Well like Diner “A”, I’m watching my “girlish figure” (lol!), so I too chose fish and went with the “Healthier Choice” Garlic Ahi…

L&L Hawaiian Barbecue Iwilei – “Healthier Choice” Garlic Ahi plate, $6.50

As you see, it’s a steak-cut piece of Ahi, simply sautéed with finely chopped garlic, salt and pepper. It’s served over a basic tossed green salad, brown rice and kidney beans; the last one I didn’t expect, as it’s not listed or pictured on the menu.

There certainly was an abundant amount of greens in this plate…

So much so, that they gave me two packets of Italian dressing. And it needed it. The only gripe was that the kidney beans tasted like (actually, I’m pretty sure) it came straight out of a can, with no seasoning or further preparation whatsoever. So I’m guess it was intended to be incorporated into the salad, which is what I did. That worked.

The Garlic Ahi was a bit overcooked for my taste, but otherwise flavorful thanks to the garlic seasoning.

As a whole, for $6.50, a satisfying and filling meal.

While this new L&L location isn’t any redemption of my gripes mentioned earlier, it does fit well within the area with what it has to offer.

So next time a $1.50 hot dog and drink at Costco doesn’t quite cut it, meat, rice and more are just a few parking stalls away.

Related Links:

Kakanin – Filipino "Native Rice Cakes"

Kakanin “Native Rice Cake”, made white and purple glutinous rice and sugar, with a sweet, caramelized coconut topping.

If you’re a fan of Japanese Mochi, then Kakanin should be right your alley. Kakanin is actually a very generalized name in Ilocano dialect for a popular Filipino rice cake dessert made with cooked glutinous white mochi rice called Malagkit, and in this case a type of purple rice called Pirurutong. In the Philippines, there are several varieties and sub-categories of the dish, including ingredients used and overall recipe, depending who and where you’re getting it from.

With this particular Kakanin, the white mochi rice and purple rice are cooked separately due to different cooking times; note that the purple rice must also be pre-soaked in water the night before in order to ready the hard, raw grains for cooking. After they’re both fully cooked, they’re combined in a non-stick pot with brown sugar until fully incorporated. Then it’s pressed into a serving pan and topped with a rich coconut topping called Latik.

Latik is made by heating coconut milk with a special type of hard cane sugar until reduced into a curd-like, condensed consistency with a brown color. This is good stuff!

Kakanin with Latik topping

At that point, the dish doesn’t require any further cooking, but is left in the serving pan that is covered until cooled, then cut into individual squares.

Think of it like this: If a Rice Krispy treat and Mochi had children, this would (sort of) be the result. lol

I especially appreciate that it isn’t overly-sweet, and while it’s sticky for sure, the whole grains of glutinous rice provide a most interesting texture that, personally, I prefer over mochi. Rounding it all out is that deceptively decadent, almost buttery condensed coconut Latik topping that makes this dish truly exotic.

Diner “C” brought this pan of Kakanin to share with us at work yesterday and we all loved it. Masarap!

Related links:
The Little Kakanin Book
Filipino Kakanin (Snacks)
Kakanin, Suman, Native Rice Cakes

Hamakua Mushrooms "Fungal Jungle"

Hamakua Mushrooms “Fungal Jungle”: (left to right) Alii™, Shimeji and Kea Hon Shimeji

This past week Marukai had an assortment of exotic Hamakua Mushrooms on sale. 4 oz. trays of Alii™, Shimeji, Gray Oyster and Kea Hon Shimjeji™ were $1.89 each, and the 8 oz. “Fungal Jungle” variety tray for $4.47.

I love mushrooms. So I thought about a few recipes that I might use to incorporate these exotic beauties that would really showcase their flavor. At first I was going to simply saute them in garlic butter and wine and serve them with a grilled rib eye steak. Then I thought about making a swiss ‘n ‘shroom burger.

But the star of those two dishes is the beef, and I wanted the focus to be on the mushrooms. So I decided to go with a this most delicious pasta recipe I got from my girlfriend who used to work for Wolfgang Puck a while ago. The perfect choice for this.

First let’s take a closer look at each mushroom…

Alii™ Oyster (Pleurotus eryngii)

Kea Hon Shimeji™ (Hypsizygus marmoreus)

Shimeji (Hypsizygus marmoreus)
Hamakua Mushrooms “Fungal Jungle”

Here’s a look at the cross-section…

Left to right: Alii™ Oyster, Kea Hon Shimeji™ & Shimeji

So let’s get cookin’!

Hamakua Mushroom & Asparagus Penne Pasta

• 1 eight oz. tray Hamakua Mushrooms (any variety, but not Shiitake), sliced into cross section strips
• 1 bunch fresh Asparagus, cut into 1-1/2″ pieces cut on the bias (at angle)
• 1/2 of a white or Maui onion, sliced semi-thin
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped fine (substitute dry if fresh not available; of course fresh is better)
• 1 tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped fine (same as above)
• Kosher salt & fresh cracked pepper
• 1 cup chicken stock
• 2 tbsp. butter
• 2 tbsp. olive oil (or EVOO)
• Parmesiano Reggiano, freshly grated (the grated packaged type works fine, but none of that stuff in that green container!)
• 1 package dry penne pasta

Begin by cooking the penne pasta in rapid boiling water according to package directions. When it’s finished, remove from heat, drain water and set aside.

While the pasta is cooking, put the asparagus, mushrooms, onions, garlic, thyme and oregano in a large pan or wok with a little olive oil on medium high heat and saute for 1-2 minutes.

Here you can see the ingredients before they’re cooked through

Now add the chicken stock and dab of butter and cook until stock is reduced to half. When the asparagus and mushrooms are el dente, add the cooked penne and gently combine everything together. Sprinkle a generous amount of the grated Parmesian cheese on top and incorporate it in until it’s melted evenly throughout the dish.

Here the cheese has just been added, but needs to melt through

Finish by adding salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste. If desired, add more grated Parmesian on your plated dish.


Hamakua Mushroom & Asparagus Penne Pasta

This recipe is absolutely fantastic. You gotta’ try it. The asparagus truly compliments the meaty flavor and texture of the mushrooms, and the Penne acts as a vehicle that brings it all together. You could serve this as a side dish along with a pork chop, steak or fish, or enjoy it just the way it is as a healthy one dish meal. Delicioso!

I’d say the Alii™ Oyster was my favorite of the three here, mainly because of the shear size, which was, well, just “meatier”. The skinnier Shimeji varieties did offer an interesting texture to the pasta dish because of their shape. Some were so skinny that I left them whole instead of slicing them in half length-wise. All of them had a slight chew to them which was nice. And all had a similar flavor profile that had a bit more character than a white, but not too bold or “woody” like a Shiitake.

Hamakua mushrooms are also available at our local Costco and select Supermarkets. If you’re a mushroom fan, pick these up. They’re excellent!

Hamakua Mushrooms “Fungal Jungle” variety tray: Alii™, Shimeji and Kea Hon Shimeji, $4.47 sale price.

Related Links:
Hamakua Mushrooms – “Hawaii’s Gourmet Fungal Jungle”
Gourmet Mushroom Farm Sprouts from Koa’s Sawdust
Mushroom Farmer Grows Into Job

Kapalama City Square Grindz

City Square in Kapalama, originally a GEM department store, has become a bustling strip mall with a variety of businesses, including a pet shop (in the space where Shiro’s Saimin stand used to be), a flower shop and, where Grocery Outlet was formerly located, a discount used furniture warehouse store.

What actually is its current anchor tenant and partial-namesake is Honolulu City Hall, a government office where folks from all over the island come to get their Hawaii state driver license, take care of DMV matters and other City & County affairs.

When hunger strikes, there’s also an interesting variety of eateries to choose from. So this past week, me and my two coworkers went here to seek out whatever it is we felt hungry for.

Diner “A” had the “ono’s” for a bento, so he went with a Garlic Chicken and Teriyaki Beef mini bento from Sugoi Bento and Catering just a few doors mauka of Young’s Fish Market…

Sugoi Bento & Catering: Garlic Chicken and Teriyaki Beef Mini Bento, $5.35

He loved the Garlic Chicken, but wasn’t very fond of the Teri’ Beef.

Sugoi Bento has a substantial selection of local favorites on the menu, including breakfast, ala carte dishes, bentos, noodles, salads, plate lunches, and even their own bottled signature bottled sauces. I’m most curious about that Ahi Loco Moco. There’s also a Teri Loco Moco. Very interesting.

Diner “E” checked out Young’s Fish Market where he chose a Pastele and Turkey Tails plate…

Young’s Fish Market: Pastele (Puerto Rican) and Turkey Tails. Includes 2 scoops rice and mac’ salad, $7.00.

Well OK, that doesn’t make for a pretty presentation in a photo, but Diner “E” said that Pastele was excellent. And he ALWAYS orders those juicy Turkey Tails at Young’s, which is one of his favorites.

As you may know, Young’s Fish Market is one of Honolulu’s most reputable purveyors of Hawaiian Food, serving up what is arguably the BEST Lau Lau in the state. They have Hawaiian combo plates that range from $8 to $15.

Or you can get all the good stuff ala carte: Laulau, Kalua Pig, Pipikaula, Salted Butterfish, Salted Salmon, Chicken Long Rice, Tripe Stew, Squid Luau, Pua’a Na’au Lu’au, Beef Stew, Pasteles, Butterfish & Watercress, Raw Crab, Inamona, Dried Aku, Dried Opae, Dried Ahi, Poke, Haupia, Kulolo, Sweet Potato, Char Siu, Roast Pork, Turkey Tails, Boiled Peanuts, Smoked Marlin, Portuguese Sausage, Chili Pepper Water and Sashimi platters. Hungry yet?

I chose Korean and went with a Fish Jun plate from Chong’s Bar-B-Q…

Chong’s Bar-B-Q: Fish Jun plate, $6.50

Chong’s has a rather cozy dining room where you’re served restaurant style, or you can order take-out like I did here. The typical Korean menu is all here, including Kal Bi, Bi Bim Bap, Meat Jun and everything else, all including your choice of 4 Korean style pickled vegetables from the wide selection available at the front counter. I especially loved their simmered Shoyu Potatoes. Winner.

The fish jun batter was tasty and more on the crispy side, which was different, but the fish inside, which I’m guessing was something cheap like Pollock, was rather bland and sliced too thin. Still, the portions were generous, all the vegetables sides were excellent and the price very reasonable. If I worked closer to City Square, I’d certainly make this place a regular stop.

Another popular local eatery here is Kapiolani Coffee Shop, who are known for their ono Oxtail Soup, Pig’s Feet Soup and Kim Chee Fried Rice. They also have hot cakes and eggs breakfasts, sandwiches, burgers, dogs, and plate lunches in a comfortable coffee shop environment.

So next time you need to renew your driver’s license, car registration or transfer a title and the stomach begins to growl, ono grinds are just a few doorsteps away!

Related Links:
Sugoi Bento & Catering
Kapiolani Coffee Shop at Kam Bowl (Ono Kine Grindz review)
Chong’s Bar-B-Q (Yelp.com review thread)

Magic & Flying Knives at Musashi

Teppanyaki master. Magician. All-around great guy. All those descriptions pretty much describe Chef Kevin Matsuda of Musashi Japanese restaurant at the Hyatt Regency and Spa Hotel in Waikiki.

Kevin was one of four chefs featured on the Food Network’s Flying Knives Teppanyaki competition which aired last July.

On our visit at Musashi, he was much more relaxed than he appeared to be on the show, and spent as much time with his magic tricks and joking around as he did cooking for us, making the experience that much more interactive, fun and exciting.

Musashi is one of four featured restaurants at the Hyatt Waikiki, along with Colony (steaks), Ciao Mein (Chinese-Italian fusion) and Terrace Grill (continental).

While there are private table also available for dining at Musashi, the highlight of the experience is at the Teppanyaki station; the price for the latter about $50 to $75 per person, depending which meal set you choose.

Here, your meal begins with a sushi set served by the wait staff…

When this arrives, the Teppanyaki chef – in the case Kevin – arrives and begins his preparation, including introductions to everyone on the table surrounding the grill. By this time, you get to know all the parties you’re dining with, as there are seating for 12 at each station, and you’ll likely be sharing the experience with folks you may not formerly know. Good fun!

I might add, that sushi was absolutely perfect.

Then as the chef begins cooking, you’re brought accompaniments for the meal, which includes rice, Tsukemono (picked vegetables) and Miso soup.

Chef Kevin likes to make things personal, and since he knows my girlfriend and her friends who we dined together with, Kevin carved our names into cucumbers and set them on the grill in front of our seat…

How cool is that?! He also uses it as a barricade for the onslaught of mushrooms that start the grilling session. Yum.

Here you can see how he carefully organizes his arrangement, with the lobster and scallops sitting off on the cool spot on the side awaiting their turn…

A pinch of salt is all that’s needed!

As you’ve seen in the first photo, here it is again in proper sequence as he builds the “Volcano”…

Oh, don’t mind, just a couple pieces of lobster wanted to get acquainted..

As the scallops cook, he take time out to bust out another magic trick…

Kevin, the show’s name is “Flying Knives”, not “Flying Lemons”…


Yeah, yeah, O.K., wait, another magic trick!…

1-2-3… voila!…

Grilled cucumbers, mushrooms, scallops shrimp and lobster? Folks, it doesn’t get any better than this! While this doesn’t have any presentation factor, keep in mind that this is a dynamic cooking environment, and the chef doesn’t have time or space to “plate” each dish. Everything on the grill is distributed in bite-size portions to each diner’s plate as the show goes on.

This is as much a show as it is a dining experience.

Since these are simply seasoned with salt and pepper, you’re given a misoyaki and sesame-shoyu dipping sauce…

And just when you thought that was great, now comes the prime – not choice – New York Strip Steaks!…

The magic continues, the food excellent and everything was perfect. Mahalo Kevin!…

Teppanyaki Chef Kevin Matsuda

Food Network Challenge: Flying Knives
Kitchen Magician
Hyatt Regency & Spa Hotel Waikiki

Holy Gau! It's the Year of the Rat

Gau: Caramel-colored rice cake, dusted with sesame seeds, topped with a Chinese date and dressed in strips of vermilion paper

“Squeek, squeek, squeek.”

As you know know, today, February 7, 2008 rings in the Chinese New Year of the Rat, succeeding last year’s Pig. In 2009 it will be the Ox.

And paradox to the metaphor of this entry’s title, there is no “Year of the Cow” in the Chinese lunar calendar.

Anyhow, a coworker of ours brought Gau to share with in honor of this annual cultural celebration.

If you’re familiar with Japanese Mochi rice cakes, then that’s pretty much what Gau is like. The only difference is it has more of a caramelized and sweeter flavor from the type of sugar, cooking method and recipe used, and the lack of a dry, powdered rice flour coating that is often found on Mochi. When fresh, it’s very soft and sticky; and just like mochi, begins to “tighten” after a few days. This is when some folks like to fry it up, which rejuvinates and melts it and gives a tasty, crispy bottom. Yum.

Of course like many culinary New Year traditions, there are symbolic meanings to every aspect of Gau:

• The round shape suggests family and community are coming back together full circle
• Its stickiness suggest family and community cohesiveness and integrity
• The date on top represents good luck; red in Chinese is the color of luck
• The sesame seeds suggest fertility

You can find it around this time at select supermarkets or in Honolulu’s Chinatown area, ranging in price from about $2 to $5 each.

There’s a fantastic write-up published just this past month by Wanda Adams, Food Editor of the Honolulu Advertiser, on everything about Gau here.

Gung Hay Fat Choy ~ “May You become Prosperous” (Cantonese)
Sun Nien Fai Lok ~ “Happy New Year” (Cantonese)

Or as we simply say here in Hawaii…