Kalihi Eats: Palace Saimin

We continue with part 2 of 3 in our current “saimin series”, hot on the heels of the last stop at The Old Saimin House, where we’re here today at Palace Saimin, which is pretty much right across the street from there. King Street that is, in the heart of historic and scenic Kalihi, or as we like to say here at The Tasty Island, “The Center of Hawaii’s Food Universe”, a.k.a. “God’s Country”.

Palace Saimin is located at 1256 North King Street on the mauka side, not far down the street Daimond Head-bound of the Kapalama (Kalihi) Post Office. It’s on the ground floor of a walk-up nondescript apartment building, making it truly a hidden gem that you could easily pass by if you weren’t looking for it.

There’s very limited parking in the front of the building, and this place tends to pack a lunch hour rush crowd, so if you plan to eat here, it’s highly recommended to arrive early if you want a stall. Arrive in the heat of the noon-time lunch hour rush, and chances are you’ll also have to wait in line outside to get a seat inside, where notice they have stools in front, which indicates just how busy they get! Seriously.

Once inside, Like The Old Saimin House — or any hole-in-the-wall gem for that matter — you’ll find a very small dining room that can seat I’d estimate no more than 30 people at a time…

Similar to Hamura’s on Kauai, Palace Saimin has at least one communal table in the center that you share with anyone and everyone who’s there, which I think is great, as you get to meet the Palace Saimin “regulars” (and really nice folks) as I did on my visit.

You notice whenever I review restaurants, along with the food, I also I like to showcase the artwork they decorate with, which truly reflects the owners’ background and interests that they want to share with their customers, family and friends…

Speaking of owners, the history of Palace Saimin goes like this

THE PALACE SAIMIN STORY

Palace Saimin was the vision of Kame Ige, who immigrated from Okinawa in 1924. Mrs. Ige named the restaurant “Palace Saimin” after the Palace Theater on Beretania Street. The shop was opened in 1946 near the theater and the Palace Saimin experience began.

In 1950 Palace Saimin moved next to Tamashiro Market on King Street and again in 1960 to the existing location. In 1975 Mrs. Ige decided to offer the stand to one of her trusted waitresses Felice “Setsuko” Arakaki (“Mama”).

Mrs. Arakaki has been working hard with Mrs. Yoshiko “Aunty Yoshi” Takahashi, (waitress for over 40 years) and the rest of the friendly staff to serve the customers and keep the tradition alive. In 2010 Mrs. Arakaki’s son-in-law agreed to support the business and put forth his best effort to keep the tradition alive. We look forward to keeping Palace Saimin around for the generations of the past to enjoy, and the future generations to experience.

Keeping the tradition alive for generations to come, indeed. In fact, “Aunty Bobo”, a Palace Saimin regular who I met and sat next to on that communal table on one recent visit, told me she’s been coming here regularly for almost 50 years (her whole life). She pointed out the vintage baby chair they still have there is the same chair her daughter sat in when she was just a baby…

Her daughter is now an adult, and now HER baby daughter (Aunty Bobo’s grandaughter) sits in that very same baby chair at Palace Saimin. AWESOME! Passing along the Palace Saimin legacy from generation to generation to generation of loyal ohana (family).

Enjoy central air conditioning? Of course you do. Well, Palace Saimin has that, albeit done the old school way…

Classic! Cool, too, as it sorta’ feels like there’s this tradewind effect swirling around in what would otherwise be a very arid and muggy, closed room environment (no A/C).

Now that we have the history and place covered, let’s check out Palace Saimin’s menu…

That’s pretty darned GREAT prices. Most of which are a bit lower than The Old Saimin House, which was already very good, save for the BBQ Stick, which is 35 cents more here at $2.25 each vs. The Old Saimin House which are $1.90 each. BUT, at least here they really GRILL it! More on that later.

Now you might be asking yourself , “What the heck is “Saidon”?” Well, it’s pretty easy to figure out: SAI(min)+(u)DON=SAIDON. Which is essentially Palace’ Saimin, along with the much fatter-profiled Udon noodles in the same bowl, in about an equal proportion of each other.

Then what’s the mathematical formula for the “Combination” you may ask? Easy: SAI(min)+(u)DON+WONTON=COMBINATION. In other words, EVERYTHING they have to offer, all in one bowl, sans the BBQ Stick. Shoots, they should just throw that in there too! lol

And that’s pretty much it. No plate lunches, nor burgers, nor candies ‘n snack ‘n shave ice, nor — God forbid — “fru fru fancy-smancy” stuff.

This is a Saimin Stand through and through and to the core. Hardcore. All you’ll find on the other half of the menu are their business hours, phone number and customer appreciation message…

You have to love this place already without even haven eaten yet.

Reading over the numerous positive Yelp reviews, the bottom line appears to be unanimous that if you’re looking for truly “Old School Saimin” done the way it should be, Palace Saimin is where it’s at. Shoots. Hook. Me. Up.

Before we get to da’ grindz, let’s see what we have for table condiments here at Palace…

Same as The Old Saimin House, where I must note here they use my favorite shoyu brand, Yamasa, as I find Y amasa strikes a good balance between the more milder taste of Aloha and the salty, bold flavor of Kikkoman.

But does Palace Saimin’s broth NEED condiments to kick it up? Or is it fine just the way it is, OEM? We shall soon find out!

Hai, itadakimasu (let’s eat)!

First to arrive at the table are the standard saimin stand “tools of the trade”, a set of hashi (chopsticks), renge (soup spoon) and (Coleman’s) mustard, which you of course add shoyu and stir thoroughly for use to dip your noodles, charsiu garnish and/or wontons into.

And here it is in all its glory, my Palace Saimin’ Saimin (small order) and (Teri’ Beef) BBQ Stick…


Palace Saimin – small Saimin and BBQ Stick (with Coleman’s mustard and shoyu dipping sauce)

Tell me you wouldn’t want to be sitting where I’m sitting at this moment in time, with this staring at you, just seconds away from devouring it? Good LORD, there is a heaven.

Let’s zoom in…


Palace Saimin – small Saimin, $3.75

I immediately notice the broth here at Palace has a richer, more colorful tone than the light-looking broth at The Old Saimin House. Come to find out from 47-year regular “Aunty Bobo”, they use shrimp AND pork in the broth here. Ex. Cel. Lent! Surely there’s other secret “ingrediments”, but if that’s the gist of it, I’m already a happy camper.

As for garnish, there seems to be a trend that Kamaboko and sliced egg omelet is out of the picture at both Old Saimin House and here at Palace. That’s the only thing I scratch my head at, as I think those two are important ingredients that truly complete the dish. What’s even more perplexing about that is the fact that Okuhara Kamaboko factory is right down the street! Wassup’ wit’ ‘dat?!!! Next time I going come here da’ kine “BYOK” (bring your own Kamaboko). I bet da’ waitress and guests would trip out. lol!

Oh, before I continue, here’s Aunty Bobo’s Wonton Min…


Palace Saimin – large Wonton Min, $5.25

Getting back to my Saimin, note I took this shot after already having eaten the saimin, but can surely attest, based on broth alone, I have definitely found THE BENCHMARK OLD SCHOOL SAIMIN right here at Palace!…

There’s certainly a background hint of shrimp, while the pork bones “umamifies” it, or in other words, gives it an added dimension of “meaty-ness”. Yet it’s all still subtle and not as much a predominant element like it is in Japanese Ramen, where the broth is the central focus.

Here, the broth more like gently cuddles the noodles and garnish than it does take it along for the ride, if you know where I’m getting at.  It definitely DOES NOT need any of those table condiments unless you’re really starved for more salt and spices. It’s pretty much perfect, “OEM”, just the way it is straight outta’ the kitchen. I’m not saying you shouldn’t add anything else, but that you really don’t need to. Benchmark “old school” saimin stand broth FOUND!

Rewind back now, and let’s slurp some saimin noodles done “Palace style”…

Like The Old Saimin House, Palace Saimin also sources their noodles from Eagle Noodle Factory.  And the noodles here are indeed cooked a little more on the softer side than at OSH. It’s still acceptable, but if I had a choice, I’d take I’d prefer it cooked like OSH does it. Flavor-wise, Also like OSH, Palace’ noodles are somewhat neutral in flavor, without any of that egg-like undertone from the potassium and sodium carbonate (Kansui) that Sun Noodle uses.

Moving along to the garnish, as mentioned earlier, since there’s no kamaboko (steamed fish cake) or sliced egg omelet to be had here, all’s left to try is the sliced Charsiu pork and green onions…

Spot on in flavor, moist ‘n tender Charsiu. She go. I must note they also are a little more generous in portion compared to OSH in that regard.

How’s the sliced green onion? Like sliced green onion. lol

Summing up Palace Saimin’s Saimin, solid 4 SPAM Musubi, with a broth that taste just how “old school” Hawaii saimin broth should taste. If it had Kamaboko and slice egg omelet, I’d give it a 5.

I enjoyed it so much that I “polished’ the bowl….

Moving along, let’s try the BBQ Stick…


Palace Saimin – (teriyaki beef) BBQ Stick, $2.25

Of course I didn’t eat the BBQ Stick AFTER the saimin, but along with it, as you should.

Come to find out from Palace Saimin regular Aunty Bobo, you can request to have your BBQ Stick “Koge” or burnt on the edges, a.k.a. “Papa’a”…


Palace Saimin – BBQ Stick done “Koge” style (seared edges, free service upon request)

What I also found out is that the way they “Koge” their Teri Beef BBQ Sticks is by searing it with a handheld propane torch, an old trick chefs use to make Crème brûlée. Hey, whatever works! All I know is next time I’m gettin’ mine BBQ Stick “Koge’d” like Aunty’s are.

Let’s have a bite…

Oishii (delicious). It’s not heavily marinaded in Teriyaki sauce, which I like, as I want to taste the beef. The medium-cooked beef itself is a little tough, but tolerable. While I didn’t ask, my guess is this is cut is no better than your average top round choice. Huge thumbs-up for serving it on a plate in a puddle of the (thin) Teriyaki sauce, which also has little bits of burnt beef in it, as that helps to add moisture to the medium-cooked beef, so every bite is tasty, moist ‘n juicy from start to finish. Nice.

3 SPAM Musubi for Palace Saimin’s BBQ Stick.

I enjoyed my lunch so much at Palace Saimin, that I returned a week later with Diner A and E to join me! This time around, Diner A ordered the Large Saimin and BBQ Stick, where both he and I requested some “Koge action” for our “sticks”…


Palace Saimin – “Koge” BBQ Sticks and large Saimin

A closer look at his large Saimin…


Palace Saimin – large Saimin, $4.50

Deciding to try something a little different, Diner E ordered Wonton Udon…


Palace Saimin – small Wonton Udon, $4.00

And yours truly went for the Combination (Saimin, Udon and Wonton)…


Palace Saimin – large Combination (Saimin, Udon & Wonton), $5.25

Zoom in on my Combo’…

Here I dug up all the three different types of noodles so you can see it better…

Talk about carbo’ load. Makes you wanna’ run the 26k just looking it. lol

This time around I added some black pepper, as that’s what I usually add to my saimin when not in taste-testing mode…

Very, very consistent. The broth tasted EXACTLY the same as on my previous visit, save for my personalized addition of black pepper.

Let’s try the Wonton (notice the spelling, where as OSH spells it “Wun Tun”)…

Like the softer-cooked saimin noodles, the wonton are also cooked on the soft side. Which one diner who was waiting outside told me he prefers The Old Saimin House’s Wun Tun better because it’s firmer and has a better filling. Although he prefers the broth here at Palace. Sounds about right.

The pork filling was kinda’ “manini” (skimpy), but I suppose adequate enough to validate it. It was also pretty basic, tasting simply like ground pork and that’s it. No green onions, onions or other veggies in it. Good though. I have no complaints. I definitely need to try OSH’s Wun Tun Min so I can compare the two, but that’s a different story for another day.

Let’s go for the Wonton dunk in the hot mustard shoyu…

Oh yeah, ‘das da’ winnah’ right deah’ ( that’s the winner there lol)! So funny how no matter what, once the food hits that Coleman’s Mustard and Shoyu, you get immediately transported to a Chinese restaurant.

Let’s try the Udon now (this next shot is actually Diner E’s bowl, but I had Udon in mine too)…

Diner E agrees with me that the Udon, while good in and of its fat, fat noodle self, doesn’t quite work as a substitute for traditional Saimin noodles. I think because the mild nature of Saimin broth doesn’t quite cling or absorb well into the fat, slick Udon noodles. So when you eat the Udon, that’s all you taste is noodle, as the broth just slips on back into the bowl, barely clinging any of its flavor on the Udon. That’s pretty much the best way I can describe it.

The finer, more absorbent nature of traditional Saimin noodles holds onto the broth like glue in comparison when you slurp it up.

You can hear “SLURP, SLURP, SLURP” just looking at that.

Overall, the combination of textures between the thin Saimin noodles, fat Udon noodles and slippery-soft wontons made for a very, very, VERY unique “noodle soup” eating experience and certainly an option other saimin stands should follow.

Let’s try some Saimin noodles and Charsiu in the Coleman’s…

Winnahz. Dig that “clear-your-sinuses” effect that hits you first, then you taste the noodles and Charsiu soaked in Shoyu that immediately follow and it’s like POW!

Moving along to our “Koge” BBQ Sticks, you see how much more seared they are then on my previous visit…

Here you can see on this visit they’re also cooked to medium doneness…

Personally I would have liked it even more “koge” then that,, where it looked more like the ones Aunty Bobo had on my previous visit. So if you like REALLY “koge”, tell them so. I know I will. Still, those seared edges added a whole lot more flavor and put the BOLD in BBQ. Winnahz.

Summing it up, I give my Combination Saimin/Udon/Wonton Min at Palace Saimin a very solid 4 SPAM Musubi, and once again would give it a 5 if had Kamaboko and sliced egg omelet. Diner E gave his Udon 2 SPAM Musubi, while I must note, he and I ate here a few weeks prior where he ordered the saimin, to which he gave a very solid 3, which to you and I would be either a 4 or 5.

Diner A gave his Saimin a 4, and surprisingly, the BBQ Stick a 3, which I think is because both he and Diner E prefer their Teri Beef SOAKED DEEP with Teriyaki marinade, whereas I’m opposite in that regard.

As for service, very, very friendly and quick, where on all three recent visits, my/our order landed on the table within a 5 to 10 minute window.

So the benchmark of what old school Hawaii saimin should taste like has been found right here in beautiful downtown Kalihi at Palace Saimin!

Now with my taste buds educated on “Saimin 101”, next up, a review on Sun Noodle’s new S&S “Old Time Island Style” Saimin featuring “traditional shrimp soup base”.

Palace Saimin
1256 North King Street
Honolulu, Hawaii  96817

Tel. (808) 841-9983

Business Hours
• Tuesday to Thursday: 11am – 3pm lunch, 8pm – 10pm dinner
• Friday & Saturday: 11am-11pm
• Sunday & Monday: closed

The Tasty Island rating:

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

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3rd Annual 'Up in Smoke Challenge'

The 3rd Annual “Up in Smoke Challenge” is an all-out “bong-fest” produced and hosted by Cheech and Chong, where folks compete for who grows the best “buds”, who can smoke the most Pakalolo (weed) without passing out, and last but not least, who can eat the most doughnuts from “da’ munchies”.

Nah, just kidding. lol

This is the third year for this very successful event, which took place this past Father’s Day Sunday, June 19th, 2011 at Aloha Stadium’s makai-side auxiliary parking lot. Brought to you by the good folks at Fresh Catch, with owner and chef Reno Henriquez at the helm here, the talents of home and pro cooks from all over the state of Hawaii compete for the BEST SMOKED MEAT, while adding to the attraction is a car show, vendor booths, a HUGE “bouncie” for the keiki, live entertainment, and of course ONO KINE GRINDZ, particularly of the smoked variety.

It must be noted that, due to “Hawaiian Sunday time contraints”, I arrived towards the end of the “People’s Choice” tasting segment, which took place from 11:30am to 1pm, so some of the smoked meat samples were nearly wiped out, yet thankfully all the competitors’ booths still had something to sample. I also left before they announced the winners, so I don’t currently have the results, yet I’ll contact the organizers to get the scoops and retro-post it here later.

In the mean time, what I DO have is the list of this year’s “Up in Smoke” contestants and the categories they competed in. Here they are:

UP IN SMOKE 2011 Contestants
Booth #3) VRM Pit Crew – chicken, pork, beef, anything goes
Booth #4) Dee Dee’s – fish
Booth #5) Always Smok’n – chicken, pork, beef, anything goes
Booth #6) Moana – pork, fish, anything goes
Booth #7) Guava Smoked – pork
Booth #8) All Game – pork
Booth #9) B&A Smokers – pork
Booth#10) Koa Alii – beef, fish
Booth #11) Maui Wowie – pork, anything goes
Booth #12) Black Velvet – chicken, pork
Booth #13) Flamin 7’s – pork
Booth #14) Big Boyz – pork, fish, anything goes
Booth #15) Gemini – pork
Booth #16) Buck Wild – beef
Booth #18) BK Smokers – pork
Booth #19) Hard to Beat – pork
Booth #20) Kealoha – chicken, pork, fish
Booth #21) Transplanted – pork
Booth #22) All Stock Meats – pork

The general public are given a ballot slip with a list of all the contestants, along with a checkbox for each category of meat — chicken, pork, beef, fish and anything goes —  where you circle to vote either OKAY (1), GOOD (2) or BEST (3). Now if I were the organizer, the event would be using The Tasty Island 1-5 SPAM Musubi voting (rating) system. Ha ha!

What’s great about the “People’s Choice” segment, is that the general public gets to sample all the competitors’ wares for FREE, where many of whom are more than eager to practically SHOVE their smoked meat entries down your throat in an effort to win your approval and “People’s Choice” vote. I tell ‘ya, when I left the place, I was absolutely STUFFED from smoked meat samples!

It must be noted that since I arrived “Hawaiian time”, I was in a rush to get as many photos as possible in a narrow time frame. Therefore, for the most part, I was unable to make notes of whose dish was whose. So the following photo coverage is a walkthrough with no team identification or other specifics on many of the entries. Also note, I didn’t have my high end camera on me, but just a bare bones point ‘n shoot model that I wasn’t familiar with the proper exposure settings for the best shot. Yet at least, you get a generalized visual idea of what this event is all about.

Enjoy.


“Q’d” Pork Spare Ribs


“Q’d” Pork Spare Ribs


Smoked Chicken Thighs (meticulously trimmed!)


VRM Pit Crew Chief and BBQ Master Chef “Crash” (www.HiBarbeque.com)


VRM Pit Crew has won numerous awards at BBQ competitions across the United States. Cool (well, actually smokin’ hot) trophy!

What was most impressive is that many contestants really went “all out” and brought their “A Game” to this competition, including having professional banners with their own custom team logo, along with matching team logo t-shirt uniforms for their entire crew!…


Team “Guava Smoked”


Team “Dee Dee’s” (she’s on the right with the pink visor)

Speaking of which, I LOVE smoked fish, whether it’s marlin, salmon or whatevahz. Bagel Locks? Hook. Me. Up. Here at Dee Dee’s booth, her daughter “Sassy” (shown in photo above on the left) had her own special Smoked Salmon that Dee Dee deemed “Sassy Smoked Salmon”…


Team “Dee Dee’s” – Sassy Smoked Salmon


Sassy Smoked Salmon being cut up for People’s Choice service

Smoked salmon from Team “Big Boyz”…


Team “Big Boyz Smoked Salmon


Team “Big Boyz” Smoked Halibut


Smoked fish?


Smoked Marlin


Smoked Marlin


Smoked Marlin


Smoked Marlin


Smoked Lomi Tako (smoked octopus with diced tomato)


Smoked Lomi Tako (smoked octopus with diced tomato)

Time to head back to shore and up the mountains with this “Anything Goes” entry, smoked venison (deer)…


Smoked Venison (deer)

Of all the entries at this year’s event, I find it somewhat ironic that probably my favorite dish in overall flavor and texture was this Smoked Sausage…


Smoked Sausage

Bacon-wrapped turkey legs in the smoker


Bacon-wrapped Smoked Turkey Drumsticks


Beef Brisket


Beef Brisket wrapped in lettuce


Beef Brisket wrapped up in lettuce. This one is being presented to the judges.


Beef brisket


Beef Brisket


Smoked Pork, presented on a Ti Leaf and a traditional Hawaiian Poi Pounder

My question is: WHEAH DA’ POI? Da’ bes’ way fo’ eat smoke meat is wit’ poi!!!


Smoked whole Pork shoulder, cut into cubes


Smoked Pork


Smoked Pork


Smoked Pork


Smoked Pork


Smoked Pork


Smoked Pork


Smoked Pork with Sauteed Onions


Smoked Pork


(left to right) Smoked Marlin, Smoked Lomi Tako and Smoked Pork

That’s pretty much the gist of the “People’s Choice” tasting segment of this event. I should have gone to the judges table and got photos of the entries in their most presentable form, but I got caught up “wala ‘au’ing” (talking story) with folks at each booth, I couldn’t make it.

At least I got a group photo of the judges…


2011 3rd Annual “Up in Smoke Challenge Judging panel

While I can’t name everyone, I do know standing in the center in black is Fresh Catch owner and chef Reno Henriquez, who is the event producer. Second from the left looks like it could be Russell Yamanoha of KHNL News’ “Cheap Eats” segment.

Another rather fascinating highlight of the event was the arrival of a team of local wild pig hunters, with 5 pigs that had just been hunted earlier the same day, with the heaviest weighing in at 105 lbs…


Oahu Wild Pig Hunting Crew winners

The OTHER main attraction at this event is the The ‘Nobody Cares’ Car show, which also had a “People’s Choice” voting slip, where you write down your favorite “ride” under HUNTER TRUCK, CLASSIC CAR, STREET ROOD, DRAGSTER, MOTORCYCLE, MUSCLE CAR and IMPORT categories.


There was also a few vendor booths, such as Fresh Catch, who was selling their new Signature sauces…

Other vendors also had t-shirts, car collector memorabia and a few other goodies.

Plus a giant “Bouncie” for the keiki…

I was asked by Reno’s mom last year if I’d like to judge last year’s competition, which I just didn’t have the time for and turned the offer down. Admittedly, I have to “humbly” say, I think MY smoked meat tastes better than any of the offerings here. lol Therefore I should seriously consider ENTERING the competition next year. I have a few “tricks” up my sleeve that I think will make mine stand out. He he.

Rounding it up, this year’s 3rd Annual “Up in Smoke Challenge” was lotsa’ fun, with plenty sights, sounds and, most importantly, ono kine smoked meat grindz! See you there next year!

For more information about this event, visit:
www.UpinSmokeHawaii.com
www.FreshCatch808.com

The Tasty Island related links:
First Annual Smoked Meat Competition a Big Hit
Big Island Style Smoked Pork
Big Island Eats: Roy’s Smoked Marlin and Smoked Ahi
Backyard Kiawe-smoked Pastrami
Kiawe-smoked Pastrami Ba-Le Banh Mi
Whole Foods Eats: Taro Delight Smoked Taro Dip
Kalua Pig roasted in a Barbecue Grill

P.S. Happy 4th of July everyone. Be safe and enjoy the fireworks!

Chinatown Eats: Little Village Noodle House

Several weeks ago we celebrated yet ANOTHER birthday luncheon at Little Village Noodle House, located on “scenic” Smith Street in historic Chinatown, Honolulu.

Developed by successful restaurateur, owner and chef Kenneth Chan and his wife Jennifer, the Chinese cuisine served here is described as a blend of styles influenced from the Northern and Szechuan regions of mainland China, as well as Hong Kong, all brought together into a “balanced new taste”. With that, over the years Little Village has won numerous “People’s Choice” and “Critic’s Choice” awards by the major local newspapers and a prominent lifestyle magazine, just to name a few.

Upon entering the cozy, somewhat contemporary dining room, you’ll find the decor theme fitting of its name, along with a rather relaxed, low, naturally lit ambiance, as well as quiet demeanor by the mostly local patrons who work nearby in the downtown Honolulu business district…

Getting right to it, let’s check out the menu, starting with the specials of the day, which are written on a chalkboard above the kitchen service area…

On to the regular menu…

I suppose when it comes to Chinese restaurants, over 100 menu items listed here is about par for the course. At least they make it easier here for “newbies” to choose by identifying which ones are their “Signature Dish”.  Ideally when choosing “family style”, we like to have a representative of each meat type, which of course would be beef, pork, chicken and a seafood dish of some sort.

That said, first to land on our table (which took about 15 minutes from the time we placed our order) was the Mu-Shu Chicken Roll…

Mu-Shu “Roll”? Well not yet, as they do the final assembly of the dish tableside. That there is the filling that will go into each crepe that it’s accompanied with. Here our server immediately makes a Mu-Shu Roll for each guest on our table by first spooning a layer of Hoisin sauce, then on goes the Mu-Shu Chicken filling…

Save for using the spoons to handle it, as far as the way it’s rolled up, this is pretty much a Chinese “burrito” if you will…

Voila (or however you say “voila” in Chinese)! There you have it, one complete Mu-Shu Chicken Roll…

OK, let’s try this…

First of all, the flavor and texture (especially the thickness) of the crepe came across to me anyway as being more like a Mexican style flour tortilla. The filling certainly had a fresh, pipin’ hot-seared wok flavor to it, with nothing really discernible in and of itself except for the Hoisin sauce surrounding it, which was quite bold. Overall, it all tied together nicely as a “package”, where I’ll give Little Village’s Mu-Shu Chicken Roll 2-SPAM Musubi, noting I’m quite confident the pork version would easily score at least one extra Musubi point (because pork fat rules!).

Chicken? Check. Now of course we’re in a Chinese restaurant here, so you know what time it is, right? Duck time!…

As in Peking Duck, which is described as “Slices of crispy roasted duck skin and tender duck meat served in a fresh steamed bun with green onion and hoisin sauce.”

Just like Filipino Lechon (roasted suckling pig), arguably (in every sense of the word) the best part by far of roast duck is the SKIN, and that’s exactly what you get on these light-yet-glutenous steamed “bau” Chinese buns.

Have a peek under the hood…

Under that crispy, FLAVOR-PACKED duck skin is a thin layer of tender, well-seasoned meat…

This again is enhanced by the bold, savory boost of a Hoisin sauce drizzle, along with finely-julienned green onion slivers. Of course the “Manapua Guy” in me (that sounds weird) often expects anything in a Chinese “bau” (steamed bun) to have a Charsiu flavor to it, but Peking Duck doesn’t really ring that tone, if perhaps just slightly. There’s more this absolutely delicious, albeit complex combination of spices and sauces that all come together and really punch out the uniquely rich, “dark meat” flavor of the duck. Super solid 4 SPAM Musubi for Little Village’ Peking Duck Bau. Yum!!!

Not only do we get that, we also get the entire half of the roasted Peking Duck, all cut-up into bite-size pieces and ready to sink into…

Needless to say, among the five of us in our party, we quickly went through this plate! (I should do a time-lapse animated GIF shot some time)…

Now’s time for some seafood, here in the form of Little Village’s signature Honey Walnut Shrimp…

Before I stop and review this plate, let me finish adding the rest of the plates that landed on our table on this visit, where soon after that mouthwatering heap of Honey Walnut Shrimp arrived, joining it was this equally mouthwatering masterpiece of Beef Broccoli Fried Noodles (Cake Noodles)…

No Chinese meal would be complete without pork, where here we have Little Village’s Salt & Pepper Pork Chops…

Adding one more chicken dish to the spread, we have Little Village’s Orange Chicken…

Rounding it all off, gotta’ have some starch, where we decided on Chef Chan’s Special Fried Rice….

What. A. Spread!!! Chicken. Duck. Beef. Pork. Shrimp. Veggies. Fruits. Nuts. Noodles. Rice. Sauces. We’re all set!

Now that everything’s on the table, let’s make ourselves a handy-dandy little “sampler plate” of each dish…

Sampler plate B (or A, actually)…

What I can’t wait to try is that Honey Walnut Shrimp, so let’s check that out…

Oh. Em. Gee. This HWS ROCKS! There’s an ever-so-delicate light and crispy batter coating each tasty, tender and juicy shrimp tail, which I would estimate are in the U36-40 size range. There was just a slight hint of garlic flavor from the cream sauce, yet you tell it was there, with the predominant compliment coming from the sweetness in the sauce and the honey-glazed, toasted walnuts. Add to that the texture contrast from the fried rice noodle garnish and KUNG-POW!… this Honey Walnut Shrimp slams it out of the park for an easy 5 SPAM Musubi! Kung-Pow! lol Seriously though, I could just as well order a platter of this and call it a day, it’s that good.

Speaking of “Kung-Pow!”, also slamming a drive-line homer out the park was Little Village’s Beef Broccoli Fried Noodles….

..the latter of which is actually referred to here by locals as “Cake Noodle”,  a style of chow mein that some say is difficult to come by in the mainland. Oh well, looks like you’ll to book a trip to Hawaii if you want some!

The reason we call it “Cake Noodle” is because the noodles are sort of packed and almost “glued” together by their own starch, while being thoroughly permeated through with the savory beef sauce from the Beef Broccoli. There’s also an every so light and crispy “crust” on the bottom from the hot wok which creates this fantastic texture and flavor contrast to the starchy noodle “cake”. Then topping it off,  you have that buttery-tender strips of beef also permeated with the sauce, along with the perfectly al dente Broccoli and KUNG-POW! Another 5 SPAM Musubi winnah-winnah Chinese Dinnah! Err, lunch that is.

As for the Orange Chicken, it was certainly juicy and tender, yet I didn’t really know what to make of the sauce coating it. It was sweet, although could have used more “citrus-ee twang” to it, as it didn’t really scream the flavor of orange, regardless of its red color and orange slices garnishing  it. I must note, the tender mushrooms were a nice touch, as I LOVE and welcome mushrooms with just about any entree, no matter what it is. Summing it up, I give Little Village’s Orange Chicken 2 SPAM Musubi.

Finally there was the Salt & Pepper Pork Chops, which somewhat reminded me of Side Street Inn’s famous Fried Pork Chops, albeit done in a more traditional Chinese style than the “localized” version SSI prepares. This one being more airy and light with what I think is a cornstarch-based batter coating it. Whatever pork meat on there was certainly well seasoned (thanks to the batter), tasty and tender, yet it was mostly BONES. Wassup wit’ dat? That said, I give their Salt & Pepper Pork Chops 1 SPAM Musubi.

As for the Fried Rice, I didn’t try it. Sorry, I was already filled up from everything else, and had no room for rice on this occasion. Others on our table said it was “pretty good”, which I take would be about 2 SPAM Musubi.

Service was quick and friendly, with, again, our first dish arriving within fifteen minutes of being ordered, and everything else soon after that in a steady flow that kept pace with us as we went through dish after dish. Little Village offers FREE VALIDATED PARKING in their own private lot behind the restaurant, which is a huge convenience advantage, considering this is downtown Honolulu where parking is limited, especially during the work week lunch hour rush.

Summing it up, the highlights at Little Village on this visit were the Peking Duck (with skin bau), Honey Walnut Shrimp and Beef Broccoli “Cake Noodle”; all of which were absolutely STELLAR, broke da’ mout’ onolicious WINNAHZ!!! Good Lord, I sure could go for a combo’ plate of those three dishes right about, just looking at, writing about and reminiscing it!

Little Village Noodle House
1113 Smith Street
Honolulu, Hawaii  96817

Tel. (808) 545-3008
web: www.LittleVillageHawaii.com

The Tasty Island Rating:

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

P.S. You might be asking what we had for dessert? Well, for that we headed mauka on School Street to the Shimazu Store for some Shave Ice!…

That there is my Coconut, Melon Bar Melon (think Melona) and Strawberry combo Shave Ice.

Here’s the storefront…

Here’s Shimazu Store’s Shave Ice menu…

The custom shave ice syrup flavors are all hand-made by owner Kelvin Shimazu who we met there on this visit…

Pour it on!…

That there is the birthday girl’s Melon Bar Melon and Orange Creme (think Creamsicle) combo’. As you know, ice melts quickly in Hawaii, so once the server finishes pouring the syrup on, it’s time to QUICKLY dig in and start gettin’ yo’ shave ice GROOVE ON!…

You can see in that photo just how FINE and POWDERY Shimazu Store’s Shave Ice is. As good as Shave Ice gets, PERIOD.

This here is a trio Blue Cotton Candy, Strawberry and Li Hing Pickle Mango combo (Li Hing Pickle Mango on the backside/not shown)…

Common’ now, LI HING PICKLE MANGO SHAVE ICE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Key Lime Pie, Sour Lemon and Strawberry….

Another angle of my Coconut, Melon Bar Melon and Strawberry combo’, where you can again see the fine, powdery consistency of the GENEROUS portion of shave ice they serve here at Shimazu Store…

The Melon Bar Melon flavor taste almost EXACTLY like a Melona Bar, albeit not quite as “creamy” as the real deal. I’m sure a drizzle of some Condensed Milk would have finished it off, but I wanted to keep it simple on this first time visit so I could savor the texture of the Shave Ice itself. Note, notice us locals call it “Shave Ice” and not “Shaved Ice”.  And God forbid, NEVER call our Shave Ice a “Snow Cone”. Ack!!! lol

That Orange Creme flavor also tasted pretty much like “Creamsicle”, where again I think some Condensed Milk would have truly authenticated it.

Speaking of which, like many other Shave Ice stores nowadays, notice on the menu that Shimazu Store offers all kinds of “extras”, including the old school go-to Azuki Beans and Ice Cream, along with the “new school” goodness’es’es, such as Mochi Balls, Li Hing Powder, and what I hear REALLY ROCKS, their CREAMY HAUPIA, which is like a thick sauce that’s smothered over the top of the Shave Ice.

Still, of all the flavors I tried on this day (thanks to everyone who shared a taste), by far the Li Hing Pickle Mango as shown in the next photo was by far my favorite!…

You can kinda’ see the speckles of what may either be Li Hing Powder or actual Pickle Mango “pieces”. Whatever it is, this flavor ROCKS. Best way to describe it, is it’s sorta’ like taking pink Lemonade and infusing it with the “essence” of Pickle Mango, along with a slight Li Hing “twang”, if that helps at all.

So you get that “bite” from the acidity, while adding a pleasant balance of salty and sweet going on in a “Pickle Mango-meets-Shave Ice”, super-chilled kinda’ way.

Just take my word for it and CHOOSE the Li Hing Pickle Mango flavor on your next visit to Shimazu store. That one slams the ball out the park!

Getting to the bottom of the Shave Ice, you have that “slushy”, ice-cold “brain-freeze” combination of all the flavors, along with the creaminess from the  ice cream….

Now you have to admit, on any hot, Hawaiian sunny day who could resist that? Nobody! No ways! Da’ bes’!

Summing it up in this “bonus” Tasty Island review, with their best-as-you-can-get, super-fine and powdery shave ice, topped with a most excellent variety of house-made custom syrup flavors and extras that really kick things up, all offered in HUGE PORTION at a great price, easily awards Shimazu Store a Li Hing Pickled Mango-tastic 5-SPAM Musubi!!!

A Catered Luncheon with Soul

By now, regular readers of this blog must think all we do at work is throw parties and EAT. Well, we certainly work hard, so when it comes time to relax, like everyone else, we love to sit down and enjoy a good meal. So here we are this past week, where we threw a nice going-away party luncheon for one our people in accounting, this time catering the food from Soul Cuisine with Aloha & Spice.

Soul is a still relatively new restaurant by Chef Sean Priester, who had a long run as executive chef at the highly regarded Top of Waikiki revolving restaurant. Compared to the posh, high tech (literally) digs at Top of Waikiki, Soul is a very tiny and humble hole-in-the-wall restaurant located in a rather “mishmash” strip mall on the corner of Waialae Avenue and St. Louis Heights Drive at the Ewa (west) end of Kaimuki.

I personally haven’t eaten there yet, although I’ve heard and read favorable reviews about the place. However, I HAVE had the opportunity to try all the food here already, back before Chef Priester opened his restaurant, when he had his “Soul Patrol” lunch truck while making the brave transition from employee to entrepreneur. To note, the “Soul Patrol” lunch truck is still in service as an extension of their brick & mortar restaurant.

Us folks always like to try new types of cuisine for luncheon themes, and we were all eager to sample some “Soul Cuisine with Aloha”. Which really is what Chef Priester’s concept is, using locally-sourced, high quality ingredients in his classic southern style dishes.

Without further ado, let’s see what Soul has prepared for us on this occasion, starting with some good ‘ole Mac ‘n Cheese!…

Next up, Chef Priesters EXCELLENT Coleslaw…

You see what’s coming next, right? Some FRIEEEEEED CHEEYIKIN!…

Let’s stay here for a brief moment and bath in cooking lard, savoring a few more pics of these absolutely delightful morsels of “Aloha & Spice” Chicken with serious SOUL!…

Soul’s Fried Chicken is accompanied with this KILLER Honey-Butter Sauce, that you drizzle over the chicken right before service…

So you’ve got the super-juicy, savory, slightly spicy ‘n crispy thang with the chicken, along with the sweet ‘n buttery thang goin’ on from the sauce and BAM! AWESOME.

Next up, Soul food would never be complete without Collard Greens!…

Another one my personal favorites is Chef Priester’s Vegetarian Chili…

Then wrapping things up from Soul, the also must-have dish for this type of cuisine, Corn Bread…


Not stopping there, folks from various departments in our office also contributed to the spread, where adding to the selection of main dishes, here we have some (Filipino) Pancit, courtesy of accounting…

Also from accounting, (Filipino) Lumpia…

There was also all kinds of scrumptious desserts, where our department contributed these EXCELLENT Brownies from Kilani Bakery in Wahiawa…

Back to P.I., we have a pan of Kakanin…

Peach Cobbler…

Blueberry Cheesecake…

\

Custard Pie…

Cherry Pie….

Wow. What. A. SPREAD!!!!!

Time now to check out some plates hot off the “assembly line”….

Here’s my plate…

Angle “B”…

Let’s try that “Cheeyikin”…

Oh man. Even though this piece of fried chicken had gone down to air conditioned room temperature by the time it landed on the plate in front of me, it was still STELLAR! The batter was still crispy, with a pleasantly-blended, subtle hint of spices going on in it.  While the chicken meat was super buttery-tender and incredibly MOIST ‘N JUICY, while being cooked all the way through, with no raw spots towards the bone or blood at all. It also wasn’t greasy at all. Just so, so, so, so, so, SO GOOD!

5 SPAM Musubi for Soul’s Fried Chicken for sure, even at the less-than-optimal a/c room temperature service when I ate it. I’m confident if I had the luxury of eating it FRESH ‘n PIPIN’ HOT out of the deep fryer, Soul’s signature Fried Chicken would score an EASY TEN!!!

As for the other dishes, the Vegetarian Chili was delicious, yet I must note it tasted and had the pasty texture more like baked beans than Chili. The Collard Greens were good, especially in that they’re enhanced with  pieces of smoked ham hock meat in it, yet everyone mentioned there was a distinguishable “tang” to its flavor profile, not sure if that was vinegar, or if there’s some spoilage factor, or if that’s just the nature of Collard Greens, as that’s certainly not a green commonly eaten here in Hawaii.

The Mac ‘n Cheese was congealed, thanks to the air conditioning, and also what seemed like the macaroni noodles had absorbed most of the cheese’s moisture. Other than that, flavor-wise, it was dee-lish. Which has me thinking we should SERIOUSLY invest in sterno warmers for our company luncheons. That would most DEFINITELY be a HUGE improvement when it comes to serving temperature “issues”, such as it was for this Mac ‘n Cheese.

I LOVE Soul’s Cilantro Coleslaw. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. PERFECT Coleslaw recipe. Nuff’ said.

The corn bread was a winner as well, with the right balance of “sweet” going on, although I would have preferred it to be a little more BUTTERY! Shoots, with this here soul food, I’d just as well take some melted drawn butter and drizzle it over the entire plate! lol

As for the dessert, the Brownies from Kilani Bakery were FANTASTIC, with the perfect “brownie texture” going on, not being too dry nor too moist, but, as Rap Replinger says, “Jussssssss’ right”….

The Kakanin was also fantastic, especially the one with the Latik-like glaze covering it…

SOUL Cuisine with Aloha & Spice
3040 Waialae Ave
Honolulu, HI 96826

Tel. (808) 735-7685
Web: www.PacificSoulHawaii.com

The Tasty Island rating (for catering service):

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

Related links:
First Bite: ‘The Soul Patrol’ by Chef Sean Priester – The Tasty Island
360º View at the Top of Waikiki – The Tasty Island
Soul – Yelp user reviews

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7Z56dxeGMA

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXZoowWAPZA

It's Good & Healthy Cafe, where the Catering is Great!

OPA!

This past week we held yet another office party luncheon, this time with an exotic Greek/Mediterranean/Middle Eastern theme of dishes from It’s Good & Healthy Cafe, a popular lunchtime eatery on Merchant Street in the heart of busy downtown Honolulu.

Let’s get right to it and check out what’s for lunch, starting with some warm ‘n toasty Pita Bread…


It’s the Good & Healthy Cafe (catering menu) – Pita Bread

Next up, one of my favorites, a fresh ‘n crispy Greek Salad…


It’s the Good & Healthy Cafe (catering menu) – Greek Salad: lettuce, tomatoes, onions, Kalamata olives, Feta cheese & dressing

There’s chicken ‘n rice, THEN there’s Chicken Tarna over a bed of Rice Pilaf…


It’s the Good & Healthy Cafe (catering menu) – Chicken Tarna (flame-broiled chicken) over a bed of Rice Pilaf

It’s NOT “Jai-roh”, IT’s “Yee-roh”…


It’s the Good & Healthy Cafe (catering menu) – Gyro: marinated lamb & beef over a bed of Rice Pilaf

Exceptionally nice pan presentation they’ve given for the Falafel…


It’s the Good & Healthy Cafe (catering menu) – Falafel: fried Fava and Garbanzo beans)

Another fave’ of mine, the Dolmades…


It’s the Good & Healthy Cafe (catering menu) – Dolmades: rice-stuffed grape leaves

Now it’s time to kick things up and turn this party into an all-out BASH, where here we have Tabouli…


It’s the Good & Healthy Cafe (catering menu) – Tabouli: wheat, mint, parsley, tomatoes, lemon juice and olive oil

Gotta’ love all the color, flavor and texture contrasts in this type of cuisine, where from green, crispy and chunky, we go to creamy, nutty and pasty…


It’s the Good & Healthy Cafe (catering menu) – Hummus (Garbanzo bean dip)

Yet ANOTHER favorites of mine here, the Baba Ghanoush…


It’s the Good & Healthy Cafe (catering menu) – Baba Ghanoush: Eggplant dip

Time to cool it down with some Tzatziki…


It’s the Good & Healthy Cafe (catering menu) – Tzatziki sauce (yogurt, cucumber, dillweed)

Contrasting the cool and refreshing Tzatziki, we also have the more nutty ‘n creamy Tahini sauce…


It’s the Good & Healthy Cafe (catering menu) – Tahini sauce (ground sesame seeds)

Rounding it all out, for dessert we have the all-time Greek favorite, Baklava…


It’s the Good & Healthy Cafe (catering menu) – Balava

Mmm-mmm-mmm, everything look’s “Opa-licious”!

Now let’s check out a few plates “Cool ‘n hot off the press”…

In case you were wondering why in that first photo it said “Year of the Rabbit”? Well, we’re a worldly bunch, as while we were enjoying cuisine from the middle East, we also recognize the far east Chinese zodiac all in the same sitting. Where those in attendance at our luncheon who were born in the Year of the Rabbit (Hare), were each awarded these homemade, hand-made plaques as shown next to the plate above in their honor. Big mahalo to diner “FS” for that!

Now, if you can tell us the name of that rabbit, you get extra bonus “SPAM Musubi” points! Hint: It’s indigenous to Hawaii and can often be seen “cruising Waiks”, as well as other landmarks around the islands.

Anyhow, as for our catered lunch by It’s Good & Healthy, I’ll put it you this way, once everyone sat down to eat, the room became almost entirely SILENT. Which as you know is a good indicator that everyone was thoroughly and INTENSELY enjoying their meal! As I mentioned earlier, the wonderful contrast of flavors and textures, as well as that “hot ‘n cold” thing going on, especially with the exotic side dishes and condiments such as the Baba Ghanoush and Tzatziki sauce, takes you on this “magical carpet ride through flavortown”, as Guy Fieri would’ve probably said it.

I could have just as well piled my plate high with the Greek Salad salad alone, been a happy camper and called it a day. Yet having that pita bread and everything else truly kicked-up this meal above and beyond! Especially the individual variety of DIY Pita Sandwiches we could create using everything on the plate.

Such as here, where I topped one of my Pita bread wedges with a swipe of Hummus and Baba Ghanoush, then over that with lettuce, tomato, Kalamata olive and Feta from the Greek Salad, a small piece of Gyro and a small dab Tzatziki sauce…

And here where Diner A looks like he has “everything, including the Greek kitchen’s kitchen sink” in his Pita bite…

Red Pepper, Thabouli, Gyro, Rice Pilaf, Tzatziki… looks ono!..

If there’s any complaint from me personally, it’d be that the seed-in Kalamata olives were EXCESSIVELY salty. Also for the Falafel, while flavor-wise, was EXCELLENT, doneness-wise was a little on the dry side, as was the slices of Gyro beef and lamb. Yet that was absolutely NO PROBLEM, as we had more then enough wonderful side dishes and condiments to help “wet” and jazz ’em up, with my favorite accompaniments being the smokey-tasting, characteristically-textured Baba Ghanoush and of course the cool ‘n creamy yogurt and cucumber-based Tzatziki. So ono.

The grape leaf-wrapped Dolmades were pretty much spot-on, with the rice filling having a complex yet subtle nuance of spices going on, while the grape leaves were very tender and not overly acidic. Winners.

Not to forget dessert, where we end this BASH with some bang-slam-scrumptious Baklava…

Notice the finely-chopped Pistachio nuts topping.

This is up there with the the best Baklava I’ve had to date, tasting very freshly-baked with layer-upon-layer-upon-layer of delicate, “poofy”, lightly-buttered, crispy filo dough. The tasty honey “sauce” had a perfect balance in quantity and sweetness, without being TOO sweet like Baklava often can taste when being “drowned out”, while the nutty filling had a nice “chew” to it. That finely chopped Pistachio topping also was a nice touch. Easy 5 SPAM Musubi for the Baklava.

Summing it up, the excellent quality and freshness of ingredients, authenticity in flavor and attention to detail in each dish, makes It’s Good & Healthy Cafe’s catering service HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Opa!

It’s Good & Healthy Cafe
212 Merchant Street
Honolulu, Hawaii  96813

Tel. (808) 566-6365

The Tasty Island rating (for catering service):

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

Related links:
It’s Good & Healthy Cafe – Yelp user reviews

Pressure-cooked Kalua Pig

Success! Ah yes my friends, this second time around I’ve successfully made Kalua Pig (“Pork” if you prefer the sound of that) in my new pressure cooker. This, after FAILING MISERABLY in my first attempt.

As I’ve suggested in comments from my previous post about “My First Pressure Cooker“, the ideal goal of using a pressure cooker should be about both speed and simplicity. Well, this method of making cooking Kalua Pig certainly exemplifies both those virtues in using this “wonder gadget” of a cooking tool. Which I’m convinced in this resource-crunched world, that EVERY household should have and use on a regular basis.

Here’s how I did it.

I began by deeply scoring the fat cap on a MASSIVE 7¼-pound pork butt that’s been thawed from previously frozen state. Then I rubbed it generously on all sides with Wright’s Concentrated Hickory Seasoning Liquid Smoke (the must-have Kiawe wood substitute), followed by an also generous sprinkling of Hawaiian rock salt. Then in it went DIRECTLY in the pressure cooker pot, resting on the bottom, fat cap side up, cut side down, using NO steamer basket.  Just directly resting in the pot. Then I added 2 cups of water, to which it looked like this…

Fearing it would scorch and burn like it did in my first attempt, this time, instead of wrapping the pork butt entirely with Ti Leaves, I added it around just the sides…

Then topping it with layer-upon-layer of Ti Leaves like this, making sure to tuck both ends of each Ti Leaf tightly in so the overall “build” within didn’t obstruct the pressure valves on the underside of the lid, keeping in mind that my 6-quart pressure cooker must have at least 1/3 of it’s total capacity reserved to build pressure…

Cover it up, lock the lid, set the switch to “High”, put it on the stove, set the fire to HIGH, then once the yellow pressure button indicator pops up, TURN THE FIRE DOWN TO LOW and start the time for 1½ hours.

As is emphasized in LOCKED CAPS in the previous sentence, LOW HEAT from the stove top fire source is all this pressure cooker needs once it hits 15 PSI, whereas, the big mistake I made in my first ever use of my pressure cooker was leaving the flame on HIGH, which pretty much “blew” the valve.

Keep in mind that, although the heat is reduced to low from the stove top source, the heat within the pressure cooker itself remains at a stable, high pressure 257ºF temperature, which PENETRATES the meat fibers throughout the entire cooking time, in a way conventional oven roasting can’t be achieved.

After about an hour of pressure cooking time, steam starts to slowly release from the automatic valve switch, due to the pressure increasing beyond the valve’s designed threshold…

At this INCREDIBLY QUICK 1 hour cooking point, you already begin to get a drift of “Luau” aroma that wafts in the air from the combined smell of the near-tender pulled pork that’s been thoroughly infused with the flavor of liquid smoke, Hawaiian Salt and Ti Leaves.

1½ hours is up, so I turn off the fire, then turn the valve switch to “release” to depressurize the cooker, which takes about a minute or two to blow all the hot steam out. Once the yellow pressure button drops down, I remove the cover, where it looks like this uncovered…

Aaaaahhhhhh… ooooooohhhhhh… aahhhhh.

The Ti Leaves certainly look like they’ve been “extracted of their essence”, yet amazingly still look incredibly GREEN, and not parched at all.

Uncovering the Ti Leaves, the 1½-hour pressure cooked pork looks like this…

LOOKS tender. Now let’s find out if it’s REALLY done and ready for “pulling”, where the tools of choice are simply two forks…

I really shouldn’t have done it yet at this stage, but I drained the liquid in a heat-proof container, although of course I saved it, as that’s the “essence” of your Kalua Pig… it’s all in that liquid!

But nope, not quite ready yet, as after that 1½-hours pressure cooking time, underneath the top layer of buttery-tender pork and fat cap, the inside part of this massive pork butt was still tough and resistant…

No probs. Put back the rendered Ti Leaves, drained liquid and cover it back up, brought it to back to pressure, then I decided a half-hour (30 minutes) should be enough more time to fully cook this “butt” to pulled-pork tenderness to the very core…

My “guesstimate” proved correct, as sure enough, the 30 minutes of additional pressure cooking time, plus the time it took to let it cool down naturally, which took another 30 minutes, resulted in absolutely ONOLICIOUS, fork-tender pressure-cooked 7 pounds (starting weight) of Kalua Pig…

Once again, that MASSIVE 7½ pound pork butt turned into falling-off-the-bone, super-moist, tender ‘n tasty Kalua Pig in just 2½ hours in my 6-quart pressure cooker. If THAT isn’t incredibly energy-efficient and outright statistically AMAZING if you understand cooking basics, I don’t know what is!

Here in this next shot, you see I’ve saved the cooking liquid, as, once again, this has the “essence” of the Kalua Pig, which you should add to the meat slowly until it reaches just the right amount of moisture and flavor profile that you’re happy with…

Notice in the cooking liquid is the one single bone this pork shoulder had in it.

7.5 lbs. bone-in pork butt cooked for a total of 2 hours under pressure + 30 minutes natural release = a bone that LITERALLY fell off the meat…

At this final stage after you’ve added the liquid drippings to the moisture and flavor profile you like, the last thing you want to do is adjust the seasoning by adding more Hawaiian rock salt to taste, if necessary. Yet be VERY careful when doing this, and by all means, DO NOT go overboard! Remember when salting foods, you can always add, but you can’t subtract. If in doubt, have someone who has a “good palate” do the salt seasoning taste testing for you. I’m pretty good about it, as I’m quite sensitive to sodium on my tongue.

Now to illustrate how my method of not using a steamer basket (and following directions) worked out beautifully, notice here that there was absolutely NO burning or scorching of the pork (or Ti Leaves for that matter, thank GOD!) on the bottom of the pressure cooker pot after all was said and done…

Nothing but net…

Just add poi, Hawaiian music, hula dancing, da’ ohana and friends, and we’ve got ourselves a Luau!…

With this, you can also do all kinds of other fun ‘n tasty stuffz.

Oh, like say, being adventurous and going south of the border, “KP style”

Or bowl-up some hot steamed rice and top it with the all-time fave’ Kalua Pig ‘n Cabbage

Summing it up, I give my pressure-cooked Kalua Pig in this successful method an absolutely moist ‘n tender, super onolicious 4 SPAM Musubi.

I honestly must admit that roasting it in the oven or of course in an Imu tastes better, as, if you were to compare it with this pressure-cooked Kalua Pig, you could tell this tastes more “steamed”. Still, at just 2-½ hours of cooking time using this no-fuss method, I have absolutely no complaints!

Follow my energy and time-saving instructions here on making Kalua Pig with your pressure cooker, and I’m confident that — providing you understand the dynamics of your own pressure cooker — you too will have fantastic results!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m-uUjyRsik4

Kalihi Kai Eats: Monarch Seafoods

For today’s review we’re back in Kalihi, where it’s repeatedly and affectionately designated here on this blog as “The Center of Hawaii’s Food Universe”, a.k.a. “God’s Country”. This time around at yet another hole-in-the-wall gem over at Monarch Seafoods, located next door mauka (towards the Koolau mountain range) of Chun Wah Kam Noodle Factory on Kalihi Street, with Bank of Hawaii’s Dillingham Boulevard branch also adjacent to them if that will help you find them.

Monarch Seafoods is a fish distributor that also offers catering services, as well as what we’re sampling here in this review from their daily takeout operation. And the place is strictly takeout with no dine-in seating.

Without further ado, here’s their most current menu as of this writing…

Upon entering, you’ll find the customer service area is rather small, where as little as 10 people waiting in line for their order can already make it feel crowded. Yet that’s how it is at most hole-in-the-wall gems. Here’s the front end service counter, made up mostly of a refrigerated display case filled with a goldmine of ono kine grindz…

Being a seafood purveyor — with nearby Honolulu’s fish auction block right down the street, mind you — naturally there’s no shortage of fresh fish and prepared Poke to be had here…

Of course they also have prepared bento lunches ready to go…

Next time I visit here, I definitely need to try “Pop’s Homemade Banana Cream Pie”, as that’s one of my favorite kinds of pie…

So on this first-time visit, Diner A decided to go “Surf ‘n Turf” and chose a mixed plate of Monarch’s Deep Fried Poke and Hamburger Steak with Sauteed Mushrooms and Onions…


Mixed Plate of Monarch’s Deep Fried Poke and Hamburger Steak with Sauteed Mushrooms ‘n Onions and House Nalo (as in Waimanalo) Greens. $8.45

A closer look…

OMG, Monarch’s Deep Fried Poke is da bomb!…

Seemingly simple, yet easy to mess up if done the wrong way. Yet Monarch NAILS this, as the thoroughly cooked-through Ahi cube is seasoned with just the right amount of what tastes like a shoyu-based marinade (because you know, it’s Poke), while the Panko crust is offers a wonderful “GBD” taste and texture contrast to the delightfully tender and moist Ahi meat. Superb indeed. In fact, , just drop a bunch of these absolutely scrumptiously onolicious Deep Fried Poke bites in a big bowl along with a case or two of ice cold Heinekens amongst a bunch of you and your best friends, and you’ve got one heck of a great paina (party)!

They provide a chili Aioli sauce for the Deep Fried Poke, but both Diner A and I agree what REALLY makes this OUTRAGEOUSLY OFF THE CHARTS is their AMAZING House Salad Dressing…


Chili Aioli Sauce (left) and Monarch’s signature House Salad Dressing (right)

I swear, you could dip your car bumper in Monarch’s salad dressing and it’d taste awesome. Seriously, if you ever visit this place, ASK FOR EXTRA DRESSING. Trust me, you’ll thank me (and them for giving you an extra cup) for that tip.  It goes great with, well, EVERYTHING.

To explain it, it’s got a sweet ‘n sour-meets-creamy flavor profile goin’ on, with a subtle hint of garlic. It sort of reminds me of Costco’s Parisian Dressing that comes with that salad kit they sell. But this one BLOWS that and is by far one of the BEST salad dressings I’ve ever tasted in recent memory.

As for the Hamburger Steak, the gravy is solid (tasting that is), also sporting garlic undertones, with plenty of depth and “beefy-ness”, while having perfect thickness and body. The single hamburger patty was on the small side, yet according to Diner A it was seasoned nicely and had all the right fillers that make a hamburger steak taste like it should.

Overall, Diner A gives Monarch’s Deep Fried Poke and Hamburger Steak mixed plate a super solid 4 SPAM Musubi.

Next up is yours truly, where I just had to go with what everyone on Yelp raves about, which is Monarch’s ever-popular Nori-wrapped Crab-stuffed Ahi…


Monarch Seafoods – Nori-wrapped Crab-stuffed Ahi with Nalo Greens and Brown Rice. $8.95

A closer look…

What nobody on Yelp mentions nor probably haven’t tried experimenting with, is dipping the Nori-wrapped Crab-stuffed Ahi roll in their AMAZING House Dressing!…

Oh man, I tell ya’, that dressing takes what is already an awesome dish to levels unknown to mankind. Bam! You can see they drizzle the Nori-Wrapped Crab-stuffed Ahi with Wasabi, which is great. Then you add the creamy, sort of garlic-ee, sweet ‘n sour element from the dressing and, I swear, it  just makes you wanna’ roll your eyeballs backwards in your noggin. lol Seriously, so ono!

Construction-wise, it appears they take a thinly-sliced slab of ahi and top it with minced imitation crab that’s mixed with other ingredients I couldn’t quite pinpoint, although I’m sure there’s at least some mayonnaise in it. They take that and roll it up all wrapped up in several multiple layers of nori maki, then it gets a quick dredge in tempura batter then deep fried. You know, the kinda’ thing Kahai Street Kitchen right down the street would probably do.

The end result is Ahi that’s super moist and imparted with plenty of “Umami” thanks to the Nori and (imitation) crab meat surrounding both sides of it, while you get that “decadent crunch” factor from the lightly crispy tempura coating it’s encased in. Genius.

As for the Nalo Greens, they were super fresh ‘n crispy, and incredibly packed into the left corner pocket of my plate. Where after I finished the Ahi, I was able to fill the entire main entree section with my salad!…

I tell ya’, it was like having a refreshing appetizer salad after the main dish!

Summing it up, 4 SPAM Musubi for Monarch’s Nori-Wrapped Crab-stuffed Ahi. Use real crab meat and I’d give it 5. Trade out the crab for lobster and I’d probably give it a TEN! Bu-Ya!

We enjoyed our lunch from Monarch Seafoods so much, that we made a hana hou (encore) visit just a week later! This time around with Diner EY (different guy than Diner E) in tow, where he decided to give their Garlic Roast Pork plate a spin…


Monarch Seafoods – Roast Pork with Gravy. $7.95

I got a taste of the gravy, and can cofirm it’s certainly “garlic-ee”, yet not obnoxiously so. In words of Rap Replinger’s “Aunty Marialani”, it’s “jussssssss right”. Go check ’em now, check ’em now, go. lol  Diner EY also gave a thumbs-up of approval for the roast pork, saying it was fork tender and packed with flavor. 4 SPAM Musubi.

This time around, Diner A decided to try Monarch’s Crab Cake, Mochiko Chicken and Fried Poke Bento…


Monarch Seafoods – Bento: Crab Cake, Mochiko Chicken and Fried Poke. $7.95

The crab cake…

How was it? 3 SPAM Musubi.

Finally, yours truly laid it down this time with Monarch’s Garlic Butter Sauteed Tiger Prawns with Zucchini and Mushrooms over Linguine pasta…


Monarch Seafoods – Garlic Butter Sauteed Tiger Prawns with Zucchini and Mushrooms over Linguine. $8.95

A closer look…

How was it? Eh, it’s OK but nothing really worth writing home or here about. It wasn’t drenched in garlic butter as much as I would have liked, while the tails were on the verge of being overcooked and rubbery. They also weren’t as sweet as I was expecting it to be. As for the pasta, the linguine was cooked perfectly al dente, but the “cream” sauce just did not work. It literally tasted like somewhat thickened canned cream, while having barely any seasoning or flavor, whatsoever. Someone please pass me some butter and fresh grated parm’ please. I gotta say though, there were generous slices of zucchini and sauteed white mushrooms in it, yet even then, the really lame, plain Jane cream sauce didn’t lend them a helping hand in flavor ‘tat all.

Summing it up, I give Monarch’s Garlic Butter Tiger Prawns 1 SPAM Musubi, which I’m being generous at even that. Thankfully, again, I had their awesome House Salad Dressing to save the day and make a lame plate at least decent enough to eat.

Regardless,

Leave it use to take advantage of a scale when we see one, where here we weighed my Nori Wrapped, Crab-stuffed Ahi plate on our first visit, which clocked in at 1.065 pounds…

So if they charged us $11.95 per pound (the average price of their fresh raw ahi), this plate would have totaled out at $12.73. Thankfully that plate is just $8.95, which is truly a bargain for a truly inspirational and creative seafood dish you’d easily pay 3 or more times that in a finer dining restaurant.  Gotta’ love Kalihi for that.

Monarch Seafoods
515 Kalihi St
Honolulu, Hawaii  96819

Tel. (808) 841-7877

Monarch Seafoods & Catering menu (71k 2-page PDF document download; current as of 1.11)

The Tasty Island rating:

(3) Very Good. Considerable of another visit or purchase. (Supah’ Ono!