Clockwise from top left: hamburger steak plate at Dean's Drive Inn, meat jun at Gina's Korean BBQ, shabu shabu spicy curry with cheese at Coco Ichiban-ya Curry House, and short rib pasta at the Food Company Market and Cafe.
A culinary expedition: journalist resolves to achieve edible incapacitation in the Aloha state. Let us resolve to gain weight this new year!
Known as the melting pot of the Pacific, Hawaii is home to hundreds of culinary curiosities, from traditional Hawaiian to Japanese to Korean curry. And O’ahu, the most visited of the Haiwaiian islands, doesn't stop there.
Waiting in line at Matsumoto's.
First stop: Matsumoto’s Shaved Ice. With over 30 years in the biz, this historically landmarked blizzard of a joint can be found on a tourist-ridden road in the beach town of Haleiwa on O’ahu's North shore. I stood in line for a Hawaiian treasure called shaved ice. My choice of flavors included various fruit-flavored syrup choices, root beer and vanilla. Four inches of flavored ice to cool down a steamy 89 degrees? Yes, please.
A dessert engineered from raspberry and lilikoi, or passionfruit.
For round two, we moved on to fine dining, sampling the molecular gastronomy dessert concoctions at Vintage Cave in the heart of Ala Moana shopping center in Honolulu. Chilled, reverse-osmosis lilikoi and raspberry fruit bubbles popped in our mouths.
Tres! Some spicy shabu shabu beef curry at the Japanese chain Coco Ichiban-ya Curry House, located in the Pearl Kai shopping center in Aiea. Slightly sweet with a caliente finish, and the signature pickled vegetables make a nice garnish. (Warning, they have a vinegar bite.)
On the east side of O’ahu, right off of the old Kamehameha higway in Kaneohe is another fav – Dean’s Drive Inn. This family run business, owned and operated by Dean and his wife, offers a menu created by Dean himself.
I order a plate lunch called hamburger steak, lightly garnished with colorful green onions, beets and carrot shavings. This dish has so many renditions. But the gravy to rice and entrée levels at Dean’s are precise: sirloin-quality hamburger beef paired with sticky white rice and dark gravy sauce. Perfection. The epitome of local Aloha State cuisine.
Round five, still alive. My family and friends from California all gather together at Market City in Honolulu for Gina’s Korean BBQ. More specifically, her one-of-a-kind meat jun plate lunch – complete with four options of Korean sides, rice and succulent meat jun sauce. Piping hot right off the fryer, marinated Korean beef thinly cut, battered and then fried. This dish is like no other. My four choices? Sesame choi sum, bean sprouts brined, brined green cabbage, and some sweet long rice marinated in peppered Korean spices along with bits of shredded carrot and white cabbage. And Gina provides us with a complimentary peppery-and-sweet spicy chicken entrée, a welcome addition to the culinary adventure.
On my way to the airport, we make a final stop in Kailua at a new café run by a close friend. The Food Company, with a vibrant interior decorated with local art, has a fusion menu that makes my eyes pop. Pipikaula pork jerky and roast beef wraps, short rib pasta topped with generous leaves of sharp parmesan. I have the short rib pasta: a dark beef-and-tomato marinara, pasta generously supplied al dente. The short rib has been stewed into the marinara, soft and melting, superb. Plated with a small tuft of baby kale salad dressed in a light vinaigrette. Delicious.
The author and friends on their first stop.
Having conquered a small fraction of the culinary curiosities Hawaii had to offer, I feel satisfied with my resolution. I hit my goal three days ago – but hey, why not overshoot a goal now and again?
Mahalo nui loa, Hawaii. You will be missed.