Catering Excellence from Kahai Street Kitchen

Kahai Street Kitchen – Grilled Teriyaki Skirt Steak, Pulehu Chicken
and Tossed Greens with Balsamic Dressing, $7 per person

Finding a consistently good caterer for company functions can be a challenge, especially when you’re on a tight budget. Fortunately we’ve come across a hidden gem over at Kahai Street Kitchen.

We’ve been so satisfied by several catered experiences from them in the past, that we went with “KSK” once again just this past week. It all started from early 2007 when we ordered their fantastic, broke da’ mout’ bento…

Kahai Street Kitchen Lunch Bento
Kahai St. Kitchen’s bento includes (top to bottom): (1 pc.) Panko Shrimp, (2 pcs.) Spicey Fried Chicken Wings, (2 pcs.) Teriyaki Beef BBQ Short Ribs, (1 pc.) Herbed Mahimahi Dore style, (2 pcs.) Takuan, all served on a bed of shredded cabbage and white rice with a light sprinkle of Furikake. Wow!, $5.75. What a deal.

What really sets Kahai Street Kitchen’s catering service apart at this price point is owner Nao Iwata’s attention to detail. He delivers the entire meal to the office himself with pride and confidence, and he does his best to make sure it arrives in prime, ready-to-serve condition. All trays are sealed tightly both in plastic AND aluminum foil wrap to preserve ideal moisture, temperature and flavor at time of service.

Check it out…

Kahai Street Kitchen catering – Tossed Green Salad (from a past order)

Kahai Street Kitchen catering – Pulehu Chicken

Kahai Street Kitchen catering – Grilled Teriyaki Skirt Steak

Extra sauce

Another tray of grilled Teriyaki skirt steak from a past order, with extra Teriyaki sauce poured over it. Yum.

Kahai Street Kitchen catering – Dessert (from a past order)

Of course steamed rice was also included, which was also cooked to perfection – something sometimes overlooked. Ehem.

This all totaled out at approximately a meager $7 per person, making it an exceptional value, as was that bento, and all other orders from KSK.

Most importantly, Kahai Street Kitchen puts tender loving care into each and every dish.

Just look at it!…

The skirt steak was so moist and tender. Being this type of cut, it was slightly chewy, yet soft and easy. The teriyaki sauce complimented without overpowering it, which is important. Nice.

Both the chicken and steak had that smokey hibachi grilled flavor to them, with defined blackened sear markings. You can tell that they were tended to carefully, making sure every piece was grilled to perfection; not overdone, not undone.

The only thing I didn’t care for was the sauce on the chicken, which tasted like it had Hoisin in it. Bleck. No problem though; just scrape ’em off and she go.

The tossed greens were fresh and crispy, accompanied by a tangy and spicy Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing.

Portioning was also perfect for our head count of just over 60 people, with adequately-enough, but not too much of any particular item, except the greens. We obviously have more T-Rexes than Brontosauruses.

While this particular order appears to be rather plain and simple, the end result was complete customer satisfaction, and another great execution on the part of KSK. In fact hardly anything was left in the trays after all was said, done and eaten. That says a lot. The carnivorous part of our office crew devoured every last bit of beef and chicken, and we all certainly savored everything, mostly quiet during the meal. The unspoken seal of approval.

For a great catered dining experience, Kahai Street Kitchen is highly recommended.

Kahai Street Kitchen
Plate Lunch and Catering
237 Kalihi Street (Kalihi and Kahai st., makai of Nimitz)
tel. 845-0320
fax, 842-4273

The Tasty Island rating:

(4) Excellent. Worth another visit or purchase. (Winnahz!)

For the kind gesture of sharing, here’s an unrelated photo I took last year during Don Ho’s Aloha ‘Oe celebration of life at Waikiki beach…

Grindz of the Day: Huge Hamburger Steak Plate

Brandi’s Lunch Wagon – Hamburger Steak Plate (click on image to enlarge)

Here’s another filler post, digging deep into the archives of the past.

Actually, “filling” may be an understatement! Because of the outrageous size of the two burger patties on this Hamburger Steak plate lunch, we nicknamed this lunch wagon properly known as Brandi’s, “Hockey Pucks”.

Just look at the scale of those gravy-smothered ground beef delights in comparison to those standard-sized scoops of rice. Outrageous! And they were thick like hockey pucks as well. Both of ’em. How about adding a fried egg or two on it? Then we’d have to name it the “Godzilloco Moco”. Or, “The Angioplasty Plate”.

You’re probably going to either say “That’s so wrong”, or “Bring it on!”

Going back in memory, I remember all their plates practically required two hands to carry, which easily had to have weighed in over a pound each. Choke, CHOKE grindz. IIRC, they were also good enough in flavor that we returned for an encore or two. So gladly they didn’t get smacked across the ice (or sand on the beach in this case) like a hockey puck.

Brandi’s Lunch Wagon used to be located on an access road behind Office Max in Kaka’ako. This was perhaps approximately 8 years ago. If you know of this lunch wagon, leave a comment on their whereabouts, either past or present.

Imagine the impending “Kanakattack” after “pounding” this poundage of a Hamburger Steak plate. ZZZ ZZZ ZZZ ZZZ

Lunch Buffet at Hanaki

Mention all-you-can-eat Japanese buffet and the likes of Todai and Makino Chaya immediately come to mind. Yet another popular, though inconspicuous place for this type of dining is Hanaki Restaurant, tucked way behind Manoa Marketplace in Manoa Valley.

We’ve dined here several times over the years, taking advantage of their free birthday meal promotion, where the person who’s birthday falls on that day eats free (must show valid ID) with the purchase of 2 or more paid meals.

While the selection isn’t as large or diverse as Todai or Makino Chaya, most of what you’d expect at a Japanese buffet are there, with the emphasis Hanaki being the sushi, and the Pièce de résistance… the shrimp tempura! We’ll see.

“Chef’s Specials” at the hot food station on this visit included teriyaki chicken, potato hash, grilled saba, shu mai, nishime, somen, soba, miso soup, fried rice, white rice and fried saimin noodles.

The sushi station included quite a variety of nigiri, maki and other more eclectic creations, ranging in style from the traditional to the contemporary.

There’s also a salad station that had all the usual vegetables and condiments, along with a Kamaboko salad and Mac salad. Yes, even a Japanese restaurant must serve Mac salad when in Hawaii. lol

Let’s take a look at some of the dishes that landed on our table…

Soba noodles with kombu, tofu and negi in a simple dashi broth

Miso soup

Nigiri Sushi

Plate of (counterclockwise from top): Nishime (in bowl), potato hash, eggplant tempura, zucchini and carrot tempura, shrimp tempura, various tsukemono and hamachi sashimi

These last three plates shown here are mostly the same things in different order and quantities, but there surely are other things to try at Hanaki not shown that may be more to your liking. Indeed.

Along with the sushi, the star attraction here is the Shrimp tempura, and it’s always been fantastic on past visits. But this time they were over-battered. Most of us ended up pulling and scraping off some of the excess deep-fried bits, as the shrimp became lost in it. The excessive batter also made it a bit greasy. It still had that light, flaky, delicate, crispy golden texture that Hanaki is good at – just too much of it this time.

Thankfully the shrimp itself were a fairly decent size (can’t give you a “U” figure) and were flavorful and sweet. Another slight disappointment was the unavailability of grated daikon for the tempura dipping sauce. Gladly again, the sauce itself was good enough to still work on its own.

The buttery fresh Hamachi sashimi was by far my favorite. Easy to please, ain’t I? I could have just piled a gigantic mountain of sashimi on a plate along with a bowl of wasabi and shoyu and lived happily ever after for that day, but surely not without getting “stink eye” from other diners and scoldings from the owner. lol

The Nigiri sushi was decent. It tasted like they had been sitting on the serving trays for a while, but were still acceptable. Otherwise, if you prefer it being absolutely fresh and made-to-order, a sushi chef is on duty behind the counter to serve you. I’ll try that next time.

The “sleeper” was the miso soup, which had a surprising depth to it. Sometimes this side dish basic is overlooked and is just passable “big deal Miso soup, wow-whoopie”, but theirs had some TLC that went into it. Condiments were the usual cubed tofu and green onion. If only there were Asari clams!
I didn’t grab any Maki or other types of sushi, or much else of the “hot” items, but those who did enjoyed it, finishing whatever was on the plate.

For dessert, there’s various flavors of Jello, and a “snow bowl” station…

Rainbow-flavored “Snow Bowl”

Similar to shave ice, obviously not as finely shaved.

I’m not sure what the capacity is of the place is – it’s neither big nor small – but it does get packed. Here’s the main dining area…

Surprisingly on this Wednesday visit at noon it was quite empty.

Aside of that Shrimp Tempura batter “issue”, everyone enjoyed the meal. Nothing really stood out as being exceptional, yet nothing was really bad either. Again, the sashimi on this visit was my favorite. Overall, a good selection of Japanese favorites at a competitive All-you-can-eat buffet price of $15.99 for lunch. Plus the birthday girl ate free.

Hanaki Restaurant
Manoa Marketplace (behind Safeway)
2756 Woodlawn Dr
Honolulu, HI 96822
(808) 988-1551

The Tasty Island Rating:

(2) Very Good.

Related Links:
Hanaki Offers Solution to Potluck Problems

Surf & Snack Diamond Head at Ala Moana Beach

Teri Chicken plate, $6.50

Two weeks ago we sampled the grinds at Concessions Surf & Snacks over at the Ewa end of Ala Moana Beach Park. The plate lunches there were so good, it only left us wondering in curiosity if there was something even better on the “other side”.

Enter, or more like walk up to Surf & Snack Diamond Head at the – yes – Diamond Head end of Ala Moana Beach Park.

What’s important to note about this particular concession stand is that it’s located on the busier end of the park, nearest Magic Island, where many folks are out on the grass having a picnic, or just cruisin’ the parking lot. Even on this visit on a lazy Thursday at noon, there were considerably more customers than “Concessions” on the Ewa end at the same time and day two weeks ago.

Here’s the place…

Surf and Snacks Diamond Head at Ala Moana Beach Park

The pond is located just behind on the right side, and Magic Island is right across the street…

Ala Moana Beach and Magic Island

What a view. Now let’s get to the grindz.

Diner “E” ordered a Chicken Katsu/Roast Pork mixed plate…

Chicken Katsu/Roast Pork mix, $7.25

The chicken katsu was very good. Moist and tender inside, with a golden brown n’ delicious, crispy panko crust. What was odd was the sauce, which tasted like a Chinese sweet and sour sauce, similar to what’s used for Sweet and Sour Shrimp. But you know what? I liked it! This must might be the new wonder sauce for Katsu.

The Roast Pork was a let down though. The pork itself was cooked nice and tender, but the gravy – the most important part – lacked depth and character.

Which was also the case with my Loco Moco…

Loco Moco, $6.50

Looks fantastic, but again the gravy was a deal-breaker. It just tasted watered down, which it was indeed a bit thin in texture. The burger patty, while having a nicely seared crust, still wasn’t anything special. Also, the rice was soggy, and the mac salad another so-so deal; it didn’t have that desirable creaminess. At least the two sunnyside-up eggs were done perfectly, with the yolks still runny, just the way I like it. So props to that.
The best of the bunch was the Teri Chicken plate that Diner “A” ordered…

Teri Chicken plate, $6.50

And still it wasn’t perfect, yet. The chicken arrived at the table raw on the inside, so Diner “A” had to take it back. Good thing we sat nearby on the surrounding tables to eat. That would have been a hassle had we gone somewhere farther on the beach to eat. So they cooked it all the way, and added another large piece to boot.

Now that it was done right, this boneless, skin-on barbecued teriyaki chicken rocked! The absolutely delicious teriyaki sauce packed a punch, and had enough moisture to coat the outside. The best part was the seared and slightly “papa’a” skin that gave it that hibachi-grilled, smoked flavor. Even though they went back on the grill, they were still very moist and tender. Winner.

There were two guys doing kitchen duty and a girl at the front counter, so staffing wasn’t an issue like it was over at the Ewa “Concessions”.

Got a birthday coming up? Give them “Beach Bucks” Gift Certificates!…

Interesting. Gotta’ say, that would be quite a unique gift. lol Actually, I think this may not be valid, or there may be stipulations, as, according to the girl working at Concessions Surf & Snack on the Ewa end, they’re no longer operated by the same owner and are separate entities now.

Here’s the front window…

The sign in the center promotes Shave Ice, running $3.00. Sounds reasonable enough for frozen water, transformed and covered in syrup.

Here’s the menu…

Click on it to expand the entire menu

Their hours of operation are 8:30am to 5:30pm daily.

We sat on the red table to the left…

Nice lookin’ logo…

Surf & Snack Diamond Head
Concession – Lunch Wagon – Catering
Located at the Diamond Head end of Ala Moana Beach Park, across Magic Island
Hours of operation: 8:30am to 5:30pm daily
The Tasty Island rating:

(1) Average. (She Go)

*With note: The Teri Chicken deserves 3 SPAM Musubi.

Related Links:
Concessions Surf and Snacks at Ala Moana Beach Park

Taco Bell Goes Hawaiian

Or as they say it, “Kalua Pork Goes Mexican.” How about “Luau goes Fiesta”?

However you wanna’ word it, Taco Bell Hawaii recently introduced three new promotional items on the menu: Kalua Pork Soft Taco, Kalua Pork Quesadilla and Kalua Pork Grilled Stuft Burrito. Of course “available for a limited time only”.

I’m a sucker for experimental stuff like this, where corporate food chains take popular local delicacies and come up with interesting “fusion” creations in hopes of coming out a hit. So when I seen the TV commercial recently, it immediately put me into “gotta try that” mode.

Remember McDonald’s Haupia and Taro Pie? Must have worked because both items returned to the menu.

For the most part, Taco Bell’s extensive menu is really a lesson in 1001 different ways to assemble and name something else using the same ingredients. lol

Finally now with the introduction of Kalua Pork, we have an opportunity to remove the “mystery” out of the meat that is their conventional all-purpose seasoned ground “beef” (is it really just that?) filling.

And there is some sense of reassurance with this Kalua Pork, as you may notice it states on the poster that it’s supplied by popular local meat packing company, May’s, famous for their teriyaki beef burger patties and other marinated meats. The commercially-sold Kalua Pig brand most common in the local supermarkets is Keoki’s, and I wasn’t even aware May’s had a Kalua Pork product, until now.

To get this fix, I took a stroll down Kalakaua avenue last night and visited the Taco Bell/Pizza Hut located at the basement of the Waikiki Shopping Plaza.

Your typical Taco Bell/Pizza Hut take-out counter…

Not that I can eat all of it in one sitting, still, I decided to get all three at once in order to do a side-by-side comparison.

First up we have the Kalua Pork Soft Taco…

Kalua Pork Soft Taco, $1.89

Good deal. Let’s look what’s inside…

Chunky tomato salsa, shredded lettuce and May’s Kalua Pork. Check. Let’s have a bite…

Ono! So far I’m diggin’ it. The crispy lettuce, cool, slightly acidic chunky Tomato Salsa along with the defined smoky flavor of the Kalua Pork matches quite well. The Kalua Pork was a little too lean, dry and chopped up for my liking, but for fast food, what can you expect. I think that chunky salsa is supposed to resemble Lomi Lomi Salmon, which it does in texture, but certainly not in flavor without the salted salmon. Overall as a package, this works.

Next up we have the Kalua Pork Quesadilla…

Taco Bell Hawaii Kalua Pork Quesadilla, $2.99

Again a good deal. Let’s look what we have in here…

Here the simplicity of just hot, melted cheddar and jack? cheeses melting over and through the smoky Kalua Pork really packs a flavor punch. That, along with the soft, toasted crust of the tortilla makes this one mighty tasty Quesadilla.

While Taco Bell’s OEM tangy and spicy Taco sauce helps introduce an extra dimension of moisture and kick, I really think if they offered something sweet like, say Mango Salsa, it would really compliment the pork. That, along with a generous dollop of sour cream on top would be perfect.

Same for the Taco. That chunky tomato salsa is good, but Mango Salsa, or any fruit-based salsa would be great in that. Pork and fruit go hand-in-hand.

Finally we have the largest of the three, the Kalua Pork Grilled Stuft Burrito…

Taco Bell Hawaii Kalua Pork Grilled Stuft Burrito, $3.79

This thing is huge. I’d say easily a half-pounder. Here you see the “grilled” tortilla wrapper…

Let’s have a bite…

Notice the ratio of “stuft” Spanish rice to Kalua Pig, in which the flavor of the starchy, slightly spicy rice comprises the bulk of it, while the Kalua Pork is more of a subtle add-on. I think this one needs a little recipe tweaking. Perhaps if they simply made this the wrapped up version of the Kalua Pork Soft Taco, with just a little of the rice and the addition of sour cream, that might work better.

Whew, I’m “stuft”, yet glad I got that off my chest. Next time you’re in town and run into a Taco Bell, give one of these a try. I recommend the Kalua Pork Soft Taco and Kalua Pork Quesadilla. Very good. With either one, ask them to add sour cream. It would be worth the extra 25 cents, and that would really kick ’em up a notch. Bam! lol

All that’s missing in this equation is POI!

The reason I repeatedly insist on Mango Salsa and sour cream is because of this most excellent example of Kalua Pork Quesadillas I had recently at a local pub…

Kalua Pig Quesadillas with Sour Cream and Mango Salsa, $4

These were da’ bomb! Notice the cross-hatch grill markings, which not only look good, but offers a more balanced toasted flavor vs. the broader flat top method like its done at Taco Bell. That, along with the very moist and tender Kalua Pig, most fantastic sweet and spicy Mango salsa and creamy coolness of the sour cream is such a winner here. Taco Bell should look into implementing one of these grid/grate type of griddles.

And of course this isn’t anything new, as apparently Hawaii celebrity chef Russell Siu and Roy Yamaguchi already have fancier gourmet offerings of the dish.

Speaking of Kalua Pig, check out our neighbor’s pet pig named -yes – Kalua! I kid you not. That’s sick, yet cute at the same time. lol

Here’s Kalua at about 9 months old…

And here’s Kalua currently at about 1-1/2 years old…

Whoah! Yes, that’s the same pig. I don’t know if that dove in front really shows in scale just how HUGE he is now, but we estimate he currently weighs easily over 200 pounds. Yet he’s a gentle giant. The boy loves sweets. Especially fruits like bananas and especially chocolate. Goes nuts for chocolate, belting out loud squeals of jubilation whenever he even just smells the stuff. Like most pigs, he’s also very intelligent. His name may be Kalua, but he’s certainly not destined for the Imu!

Lastly, while we’re on Taco Bell, check out this hilarious logo spin-off I Illustrated a while ago…

Here you can order the “Tako Supreme”, which comes with extra Ogo.

Ultimate Choux Creme

Kachan’s home-made “ichiban” Choux Creme “Creme Puff” with fresh Strawberry and Kiwi Fruit

Going through my photo archives, I came across this set of absolutely awesome Choux Creme or “Creme Puff” pastries brought for us as Omiyage on Halloween this past year. Notice the Halloween-themed colors represented by the candy sprinkles. This being one of several holiday occasions throughout the years that we’ve been so fortunate to receive them.

And as they always are, these gems are the immaculate work of “Kachan”, a family friend of ours from Japan now living here, who over the years out of her home kitchen has absolutely perfected this delicate French pastry to a science and art.

The puff pastry “shell” here has that airy lightness to it, with a perfectly-crisped texture contrast provided by the baked-brown outer crust. The light-yet-rich, vanilla-flavored creme filling is so cool, smooth, and, well… creamy!

Size-wise, they’re a bit too large to pop each one whole, but with effort or a large mouth you probably could. Otherwise about two or three savoring bites will do it, which while doing so, you must be strategic in your “angle of attack” so the creme filling doesn’t ooze out, which can be a bit of a challenge, yet kinda’ fun and certainly a tasty reward.

While the chocolate shell and various other toppings are nice, what really kicks these up are the application of fresh strawberries and Kiwi fruit as shown on the left two, where the acidity and further dimension of texture those afford make eating these almost a spiritual moment. Seriously, they’re that good.

For a convenient retrospective, let’s look at some creme puffs we’ve covered in the past…

Beard Papa’s vanilla, chocolate and strawberry Creme Puffs (sans powdered sugar… booo!), $1.50 each

Liliha Bakery’s Coco Puffs with Shantilly topping (left) and Creme puffs with chocolate topping (right), $.80 each

Kachan’s Strawberry & Kiwi Fruit Choux Creme

Drive-Thru Plate Lunches at Richie's Drive Inn

Shoyu Chicken plate, $5.05

Ever heard of a plate lunch stand with drive-thru service? No? Then enter Richie’s Drive Inn, where you can literally drive in, then quickly drive out with your plate lunch! Best of all, not only is it done fast, but it’s done right.

Although we didn’t order it on this visit, one of the most popular items at Richie’s is the Chili Dog plate, which not long ago was just $3.80. Now it’s still a wallet-friendly $4.81, which includes a heaping serving of Richie’s awesome Chili (better than Zippy’s, IMO), 2 hot dogs (yes, two!), 2 scoops rice, mac salad and a medium drink. What a deal!

In the first photo, Diner “E” ordered the Shoyu Chicken plate, which he gave me a sample to try. Excellent. Very tender and flavorful.

Diner “A” ordered the Combination plate…

Combination plate, $6.25

The combination plate includes teriyaki beef, breaded chicken and mahimahi, with 2 scoops rice and mac salad, plus tartar sauce for the fish. Diner “A” loved it. Again tender and very flavorful, with the breading crispy and light.

What must be noted is their use of the more “traditional” paper plate and cardboard box serving containers. This, in comparison to everyone nowadays using those flavor-robbing styrofoam clamshell containers. For some reason, paper plates seem to give the food on it more character. At least me and Diner “E” thinks so. Even better if it’s the old school Chinette plate lined with wax paper, and food wrapped with butcher paper and rubber-banded shut. The Kewalo lunch wagon classic! Anyway…

I went “light” and tried Richie’s Deluxe Burger…

Richie’s Deluxe Burger, $1.95

This was just OK. The thin double patties could have been seared more. Sauce was your typical local style mayo-mustard mix. Price is right, that’s for sure.

As is all the items on Richie’s menu…

Click on image to expand

Look at that. A Chili plate is just $3.36. Pork Long Rice with Laulau (wow!) only $6.72. 2 eggs, choice of meat and starch for just $3.61. Incredible!

Hard-working Honolulu folks come here in droves during lunch hour and take advantage of their quick drive-thru plate lunch service…

There were cars wrapped around the building when we arrived. We usually go inside to order…

See the guy laying down in back? He’s got a case of “Kanak’ Attack. lol!

You can have Kanak’ Attack too, with supah’ ono grindz at a great price, and quick service at Richie’s Drive Inn!

Richie’s Drive Inn
1178 N. King Street
tel. 808-842-4004

(located across the post office, near Waikamilo home road and Farrington High School)

Related links:
Richie’s Drive Inn – ‘Ono Kine Grindz review

The Tasty Island rating:

(4) Excellent. Worth another visit or purchase. (Winnahz!)