On our “road trip” to Venice, my friend and I stopped by a local breakfast/Italian dinner spot. We took the crowded of locals inside and on the patio as a good sign and put our name down for two. Just yards away from the sand and water, I realized that I’ve lived in Hawaii my whole life and never had brunch “on the beach!”

C&O was crowded with Sunday brunchers around noon. The two of us were quickly seated and presented with a plate of tempting garlic knots. The soft warm knots were just a tad crispy on the outside and simply tossed with a generous hand of melted butter of minced garlic. Famished, we finished the plate in a matter of minutes and were pleased when the plate was cheerfully filled with another half dozen of these addicting bites before we even thought to ask.

Brittney ordered the Sourdough French Toast with Whipped Mascarpone and Fresh Fruit ($6.95) She also added on a side of scrambled eggs and chicken apple sausage. Plain slices of white bread (surely not sourdough!) make for decent toast, nothing to write home about. What attracted me to her dish (and explains why I ate half of it) was the whipped mascarpone. Whipped cream and french toast go well but when you make it whipped mascarpone? Oh man, that’s a whole nother story! Thick yet billowly, the pure white cheese melted ever so slightly with the heat of the toast. A small square of toast with a generous spoonful of mascarpone and a smidgen of honey. Oh dear. Now if only they had used challah…

In an all out, why-not-a-heart-attack mode I had the Eggs Florentina ($12.95) Poached Eggs Sauteed Spinach and thick slices of Nova Salmon Lox were served atop Homemade Foccacia then literally smothered Lemon Basil Hollandaise Sauce. This was a rich rich dish. It tasted like the focaccia was dipped in butter then grilled. Delicious, but a little too much for me. The cool salty salmon contrasted nicely with the mound of sauteed spinach (I swear it was sauteed with an entire stick of butter). The hollandaise sauce was your normal rich bendict accompaniment, by this time all I could taste was butter here and butter there topped with more butter – couldn’t taste the lemon or basil element… I think I’ll ask for hollandaise on the side from now on. Restaurants pour it on so freely that before you’re even a fourth of the way through your meal everything is soaked and soggy with hollandaise. To sum up: the first two bites were good but it all went downhill after that. When there’s too much too rich food, you begin to lose any appreciation you may have had for the dish.
I try my best leave an empty plate at restaurants. Half of it is because I hate to let anything go to waste and the other half is because I don’t want to hurt the chef or cook’s feelings. But this was sooo much food. I could only get through two thirds before I felt like my insides were swimming in a vat of fat. So I got it to go. Probably not the smartest idea considering all the hollandaise sauce in there, but I’ll survive.

Will I come back? Yes. Will I have the Florentine again? Never.
Go for the garlic knots but be wise about ordering. They take the potentially healthy and make it unhealthy and take the unhealthy and add cup of butter. But if you’re seriously hungry and are considering quantity over quality while still demanding good food, then C&O’s your place.

C&O Trattoria
31 Washington Boulevard
Marina Del Rey, CA 90292
(310) 823-9491

Well I’m back to school now and it will be a good four months before I return home. I miss Korean plate lunches already! There’s plenty more I will post on places I’ve eaten at over winter break, but I first want to tell you of recent visit to Jin Patisserie.

I’ve heard much about Jin Patisserie through various food blogs, issues of Gourmet and Chocolatier and even a special on the Food Network. A friend and I made a pact to go last semester but never made it because we were always bogged down by “too much homework.” With the start of a new year and school semester we figured if we didn’t make the 90 minute drive this weekend we would never end up going. And thank god we did because I’m still swooning over the delights we consumed!

Located on a side street marked by unique restaurants and boutiques, I felt like I was walking into the back of someone’s garden. At 11 am many tables were full with people brunching on light quiches and salads, though most were there for desserts and a cup of tea.
Our plan was to take the cakes to go but the sight of those beautiful creatures made my stomach growl so we decided to sit and eat! Seats are located in the outside garden area which leads into a tiny store boasting shiny clear cases filled with the most wondrous delights. Heck, this even beats Payard in Manhattan!

What attracted me to this creation ($5.25)is the haphazard crazy shape and the fact that it’s the only dessert not featured on the website along with all of Jin’s other treats.. It’s quite possibly the ugliest cake in her shop and from past experiences I find that the stranger a dessert appears, this more likely I am to enjoy it (however this doesn’t always hold true).
I was in awe of the jagged pieces of lightly browned meringue dusted in powdered sugar. The meringue was tossed in a medley of a sweet fruity cream studded by darling bits of vibrant yellow mangoes and sun kissed strawberries. This deliciously tangled, whimsical creation was boxed into a presentable manner by a delicate layer of the tender white meringue. It was like the excited mass of billowy poofy cream and fruits mixed with thin cuts of meringue had to be held down by a more “secure” layer of meringue, lest the intoxicating filling bust from sheer deliciousness Ooh, it makes me tingle just to think about it.

And of course if one dessert pleases beyond any doubt, why stop there? Appropriately named “Passion” ($5.25), this cheery teardrop cake combines the rich flavors of mascarpone with passion fruit and mangoes. Though delicious to both the eye and palate, I found it to be a slight disappointment after the meringue. A thin layer of vanilla sponge cake was topped with a very basic mousse – a little too jelly-like in texture to be to be considered silky but the subtle sweetness and intense fruit flavors were intriguing.
I really wanted another pieces, perhaps the gorgeous dark Belgium Marquise or the Green Tea mousse made with azuki beans, but my stomach and wallet said no. I can usually avoid listening to my stomach, but the wallet? eh, that’s another matter!
However I did have enough left for a trio of macarons.

Eleven of these sirens are lined up a on a shelf with flavors ranging from Caramel to Lavender. At $1.10 they’re a bit smaller and “plumper” than your average ones though looked delicious nonetheless. I’ll never get over the aesthetic value of macarons, innocently sitting there in a row, adorned in the most gleeful shades pastels and completely unaware of their beauty.

I hemmmed and hawwed over the flavors for a while – how difficult it is to pick!…before settling on black sesame, matcha and coffee. And what joy they were to eat! I loved hearing the crack of the cookie with the first bite and feeling bits just melt away in your mouth. From the intense coffee creme to the nutty warm flavor of the black sesame and a mellow green tea, I could have easily eaten through a dozen of the babies. It is the play of cool flavored cream and the magic of a crunchy, nearly hollow cookie that verges on being chewy but effortlessly disappears at the touch of your tongue leaving you only the flavor, whether it be the essence of a rose or a touch of coffee, that keeps you longing for more.

Jin Patisserie is a pricey treat, but is worth the occasional visit. And even after becoming famous, owner Kristy Choo is still at the counter serving, making recommendations and ringing up orders everyday. She took the time to ask customers how they enjoyed so and so dessert and welcomed frequent visitors by name. It’s small things like that (and macarons) that make me so happy.

My only mistake? I should have eaten more!

Jin Patisserie
1202 Abbot Kinney Blvd
Venice, CA 90291
(310) 399-8801

The Well Bento is tucked away upstairs in a little corner near the Moilili Starmarket. Most of Honolulu’s Indian and heath markets/restaurants are centered in this Moilili/Kapahulu area. A friend who loves good healthy food recommended Well Bento to me two years ago, citing the large portions, excellent dishes and friendly service. I’ve been a frequent visitor since. The concept is local plate lunches done “healthy.” You still get your starch, mac salad and even coleslaw. Only now it’s brown rice, a light mac salad and healthy coleslaw. The best part is that it really does taste good – very good.

The place nearly went out of business for financial reasons mid 2005 but luck for us, Todd & Kristine (a nutritionist) Brown purchased it from the previous owners. Other than smaller portion sizes, nothing much has changed. It’s important that a place like The Well Bento stays in business because it is one of the few restaurants in Hawaii which offer a full macrobiotic menu.

It is a small takeout spot, most people place orders in advance becuase waiting in front of the cramped storefront for 15 minutes or longer isn’t much fun. There’s an open kitchen so you can watch them prepare all the components of your order from grilling seitan to scooping some lusciously soft brown rice.

Pictured is the Grilled Setian Plate ($7.50). (Look how nicely it’s arranged!) On the side is a small scoop of mac salad and coleslaw. The coleslaw was very refreshing and slightly tangy – I prefer the Well Bento version much more to “normal” coleslaw. The mac salad was passable, but can hardly satisfy cravings for the real stuff. The macaroni wasn’t cooked long enough and the vinegar dressing failed to hold the pieces together like good old mayo. My favorite part of the plate lunch is the tahini sauce. This creamy, very nutty gravy-like sauce is generously poured over a healthy serving of Lundberg brown rice. I could probably make a meal out of just sauce and rice alone. I choose to have the seitan grilled with a spicy assortment of Cajun seasonings. In addition to the Cajun seasoning you also have the option of teriyaki or maple bbq sauce. Six fair sized pieces of seitan were thinly sliced, dusted in the seasoning and grilled to near perfection. A squeeze of lemon and a bite of the spicy seitan with some fresh boiled veggies – from the play of textures and wide range of flavor, you don’t realize how healthy it is. I’m no vegetarin but love tofu and have always been interested in “meats” like tempeh and seitan. Seitan tends to be on the softer side with a slight chew while tempeh is meater, almost like chicken mcnuggets (maybe this is what McDonalds should replace their nuggets with…)

If you’re skeptical of fake “meats,” Well Bento offers a Transitional Menu featuring salmon, chicken and even hamburger steak. They all come with the same starches and sides. And for those who are serious about macrobiotic foods, you can get the Zen Macrobiotic plate which includes an assortment of boiled root veggies like kabocha, daikon and hijiki. But whatever you order, make sure you don’t leave without the rice with tahini sauce. The food is a worthwhile departure from everyday plate lunches. Though prices are a few dollars more than a chicken katsu plate from L&L’s, you won’t miss chicken at all after a bite of the seitan or tempeh, and think of how much good you’re doing your body!

The Well Bento
2570 S. Beretania #204
Honolulu, HI 96826
(808) 941-5261

This is a loooong post. Don’t feel obligated to read it unless you have some time to kill It was an interesting meal at the very least.

I’ve never left a dinner so confused and in doubt of my ability to eat well and know when I’m eating good food…

A tiny restaurant along the Waialae dining area that runs from 8th to 13th Avenue, C&C has often been considered as one of Honolulu’s favorite Italian restaurants. I’ve been meaning to come here for a while but never found the perfect time until now. Steph and I decided that instead of exchanging Christmas presents we’d take each other out to a nice dinner.

We got in just after 7:30 pm. Though not completely full; the place was crowded with couples and groups of friends laughing and drinking wine and even a table of Japanese men conducting their own wine tasting. Soft beige walls and a wooden floor were perfect complements to the warm glow of the candlelight on each table. The two of us were even more excited about the food after seeing all the happy diners.

Our waitress was extremely sweet, cheerfully answering all our questions with great enthusiasm (she made everything sound so good!), quickly bringing out the bread and making sure our water was constantly refilled. I think it had a little to do with the fact that we were the only diners under the age of 30.

The dinner started off fantastic. We began with warm squares of onion and tomato focaccia and slices of a nutty rustic loaf. The focaccia was unlike any I’ve had before, very dense and heavy. I didn’t like the first bite but soon the combination of the buttery onions and sweet bits of tomato changed my mind. The rustic bread was accompanied with the traditional olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This was excellent – ever so simple with a crisp crust, you tasted the quality of key ingredients, the flavor of finely ground nuts with just a touch of sea salt.

Our appetizer was no less satisfying. Intrigued by the words “gelato” on an appetizer menu, we ordered the Parmagiano Gelato ($11.00). A Liliha bakery cocopuff sized scoop of creamed parmagiano reggiano was served with three slices of beautifully browned warm bruchetta generously brushed with olive oil, sweet slices of red wine poached pear, a handful of toasted walnuts and drizzles of honey. At this point I was near heaven, first the focaccia, now the gelato, everything we had been served was somehow new or unique to me. It’s my favorite kind of adventure – food adventures. Strange. I felt like I was making important discoveries despite the fact that I was actually sitting on by bottom consuming the food while some crazy inspired chef was whipping up parmesan gelato. And what delicious gelato! Our waitress explained how they took freshly shaved parmesan cheese and whipped it with cream until the cheese achieve a smooth creamy, gelato-like texture. Oh it was a joy to spread a thick layer of the parmesan, top it with a slice of the cool, sweet pear, a walnut dusted in powdered sugar and a tiny smear of honey.

We could barely wait for our entrees. And even though we had no bottle of wine on our table, the two of us felt as happily intoxicated as the other diners.

That’s when things started to go wrong. Or not wrong, but different. Well we don’t know if it was different or wrong. That what made this dinner senseless. Have I confused you already?

I ordered the Gnocchi with Sweet Sausage ($18.50). I have never tried gnocchi at a fine dining restaurant but have eaten it enough times to recognize and understand the dish. I don’t know what I was expecting but definitely not 6 tiny potato dumplings swimming in a bowl of salty gorgonzola sauce. My initial thought was “talk about small servings!” but that was quickly replaced by “what did I just eat?” after the first bite. It would break my heart to say I didn’t like it but I simply couldn’t bring myself to. The gnocchi were tasteless doughy little things, flavored only by the near headache inducing sauce. They were at once far too chewy, border lining heavy rubber. The loosely hand shaped sausages were the only redeeming component of the entrée. Moist, baby tender texture that gave into a gentle bite, slowly releasing an enchantingly sweet meaty juice, I tried hard to take back my horrible feelings about the gnocchi.

Steph had a similar reaction to her Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with aspargus, mint and mascarpone sauce ($17.50). I remember us both taking the first bite, our only expectation that it be spectacular. We looked up at each other and asked “how’s yours?” And we wanted to, so badly, to say that we loved it, that it was just as memorable as the snow white gelato and ruby pears. But it wasn’t. Or at least to us it wasn’t. And that’s the confusing part. How come every other diner around us appeared entranced by their meal?

We came up with two solutions:
1.The food only tastes good with wine. Every other table in the house had at least one bottle, if not two or even three on their table.
2.Our taste buds weren’t sophisticated enough (this one made me sad). As stated earlier, we were the only people who were under the age of 30.

We did not come up with an answer but trudged along with our entrees. I ate half of Steph’s and she had half of mine. A couple of bites into the ravioli which, thanks to the asparagus dotted sauce tasted like breath freshener, we realized that it was unusually hard. Not the, too thick dough kind of hard, but hard hard. As in undercooked hard. Do we send it back? Neither of us had sent back a dish in our entire lives and were hesitant to do so. And our waitress was so sweet we didn’t want to hurt her feelings. (how pathetic are we?) But it was HARD! So we did, only we told the busboy instead of the waitress. His remark, “is it too al dente for you?” nearly sent us into peals of laughter, but he was very kind about it and shortly brought out a new order.

It was from that point on where our waitress began to avoid us. Drunk by the rich cheese sauce, one of us got the idea that we had embarrassed her by sending by the ravioli. She had been so kind to us early on the dinner and now she was doing her best to avoid us by weaving around other tables.

And so the new dish came. This was much better. Four large raviolis in a soft shade of green enclosed a dainty filling of spinach. The ravioli was warm and slippery, bathing in a mint mascapone sauce. Though the texture had improved, we could not bring ourselves to like the barely filled ravioli and a sauce that was at once both heavy and refreshing. Similar to the gnocchi, we felt like we were consuming forms of flavored dough in sauce – mine potato dough and steph spinach dough. I know pasta is dough, but this…eh. You gotta come to understand what I’m doing a very bad job of explaining.

It was around 9 pm and the meter had run out so we gave the busboy (who exchanged our dish) a dollar and asked for change. He took our dollar. And never came back. Paranoid about getting a ticket, we frantically tried to come up with solutions. We attempted to wave him down, but now it seemed like he was also avoiding us! What did we do wrong?! Then another idea passed through out heads. What if he didn’t hear us clearly and thought it was our way of thanking him for bringing out the new dish. Oh crap. What an evening. It got to the point where Steph was ready to walk to a nearby restaurant and ask for change. Eventually we flagged down another waiter and explained the situation. He quickly apologized and came back with the change, saying the other guy had forgotten.

We didn’t want to eat any more food or embarass anyone else – we just wanted to leave. My favorite dessert, bread pudding, was on the menu and the large towering, rectangular pecan and pineapple studded pudding topped by a silky smooth round of pistachio gelato on the next table over looked tempting. But we didn’t order it, couldn’t bear to be disappointed again. So we asked for the check. And nothing strange happened while waiting to receive it – hooray.

And I guess since nothing strange happened to us, us dum dums had to go do something weird ourselves. We left the waitress a note, “Dear Waitress, we’re sorry for returning the ravioli. It was too undercooked for out taste but the mint sauce was delicious (she was the one who recommended the sauce)” Sincerely, Steph & Kathy.” What the hell possessed us to do that? I think we attempted to un-embarrass her (did we even embarrass her in the first place or was it our imagination?) but I’m pretty sure she was more embarrass or perhaps even angry after reading that note, thinking, “such immature kids!” At least we tipped well.

We were full but not satisfied. Sitting in Steph’s car we attempted to find some way to redeem this dinner. Some chicken katsu curry? An order of pad thai? Somehow we ended up with Cold Stone of all places (after a short detour to 7-11. Musubis never looked so good). A strange ending to a stranger dinner. Steph and I both dislike Cold Stone (we have Bubbies!) and have no explanation as to why we ordered the green tea ice cream in the largest size offered with a massive waffle cone. We were debating between oreos or Reese’s to mix in and ended up with both due to a mistake by the girl who mixed our order. (how often does that happen?) The sight of Cold Stone usually makes me sick but we both devoured the pint sized serving and felt perfectly fine.

We said we we’re going to exercise after – probably run around Waikiki beach like little potato men, but only got as far as the parking lot. Well this post no longer makes sense. I don’t know if it made sense to begin with. But yeah. I didn’t understand this dinner. I didn’t understand what we ate. And all the little oddities that occurred throughout our meal just confused me more.

But it was a night worth remembering. I don’t think I’llbe back to C&C or Cold Stone for a long time. Just let me know if you visit. We’re still trying to figure out if we are the only ones whose hearts have not been caputured by this little Italian restaurant.

C&C Pasta Co.
3605 Wai’alae Ave
Honolulu, HI 96816
(808) 732-5999

Shokudo Japanese

You don’t come to Shokudo for excellent food. You come for the trendy atmosphere – a sexy red glow, a tiered dining area and rice paper lanterns haning from the tall ceiling. The large portions of well priced food doesn’t hurt. The goal of Dream Dining Corporation, the company behind Shokudo Japnese, is to open 50 restaurants in the next 10 years. Mighty ambitious, eh? This Ala Moana location happens to be the very first – we’ve been selected to be the test kitchen! The concept here is fusion Japanese food eaten in the “Shared Meal Style.” Menu items ranging from sushi rolls to fried udon exhibit a blend of Japanese, Korean and local tastes. Unless done correctly, fusion restaurants often waver between brillant and just plain strange. I’d say Shokudo is closer to the strange side, but the food is fine and it’s an ideal place to come on a Friday night when food isn’t a key priority (god forbid!) and the object is to socialize or just feel pretty hip strutting around the bar with a lava flow in hand.

Or make that a Virgin Lava Flow ($4.50). We’re not quite of age yet. This was waay too sugary. Your $4.50 is better invested elsewhere.

The Fried Chicken with Spicy Tartar Sauce ($8.75) is one of the better items at Shokudo. The chicken is juicy and full of flavor within its cripsy shell; just a tad too salty. The tartar sauce with a nice peppery zest is best served on the side allowing you to control the amount of sauce on your chicken. Otherwise it’s poured on till it appears that your beautiful chicken is covered in a mountain of creamy white pudding.

I’ve never had Oxtail Ramen ($7.75) that come with more oxtail than noodles. But Shokudo isn’t your average restaurant and who’s to complain? The oxtails were tender and meaty, making for a rich broth with a flavor rivaling that of Kam Bowl. Overcooked ramen noodles were a disapointment but the massive amount of oxtails in the bowl made up it.

Sushi is where everything takes a turn for the worse so don’t order them despite the attractive pictures on the menu. They’re deciving! The rice in the room temperature California Roll ($8.75)was dry and hard like it had been out somewhere for much too long. The yellow stuff on top? Egg salad! What the heck is egg salad doing here? I don’t know and I doubt the kitchen staff knows either. This restaurant has a tendecy to throw random stuff of this and that to enchance the asthetic appeal of a dish while doing nothing for the actual taste. I like egg salad as much as the next guy, maybe even more, but on a California Roll?

The Spicy Tuna Roll ($8.75)was also a mistake with just a smear of NOT spicy tuna surrounded by cucumbers, cucumbers and more cucumbers. Holy cow, it was like a cucumber roll with a spoldge of tasteless tuna for color. Remember, they’re big on asthetics here!

Desserts are best understood as “random,” you never know quite what to make of them. I had something called Honey Toast ($6.75) the first time I came. It was basically two three-inch thick slices of toasted bread with the insides hollowed out and chopped into cubes. The two slices are stacked on top of each other, drizzled with honey then topped with two perfectly round gobs of vanilla ice cream. It was simple and huge. HUGE! I guess it was good, but then again how can you go wrong with toasted bread, honey and ice cream? My inability to waste food resulted in near combustion of my stomach after finishing this dish. That’s what happens when you eat an entire loaf of bread for dessert. I don’t know why I do that to myself.
Today we decided on the Ice Cream Puff ($6.75). Slightly less daunting in size than the Honey Toast, this dessert was no less odd or mind boggling (6 inches of bread is so simple that it ends up being confusing!) What we got was a huge ring of choux pastry filled with a thick custard cream studded with bits of chopped up fruit. And just for kicks, an equally large ring of whipped cream and and a happy drizzle of chocolate syrup. Oh don’t forget the scoop of vanilla ice cream which seems to be mandatory for all their desserts. Take note of the use of random ingredients again – I think they wanted to fill up the plate for fear that two pounds of custard cream wasn’t enough. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike the desserts but find them very funny/confusing.

The food isn’t bad. It’s not very good either. But it’s fun to talk about. Our dinner conversation centered around questions like,
“Hey, what’s that on top of that guy’s noodles? The red and white squiggly things?”
“Er, it looks like ketchup and mayo…”
“Oh. And mayo? That’s kind of creepy”
“Well the Japanese do have a tendecy to squirt mayo on a lot of stuff…”
“Who told you that?”
Mayo on noodles, egg salad on california rolls, you won’t love the food here but I’ve got a soft spot for the always enthusiatic service, dishes that never fail to spark a conversation and even the dim red glow of the restaurant. Shokudo fills the niche for a low priced, casual Japanese restaurant with a hip, almost “big city” vibe. And that is why I’ll return to have cream puffs the size of my head and a bowl of oxtail with some noodles.

It’s also one of the very few restaurants in Honolulu that open till 2 am.

Shokudo Japanese
Ala Moana Pacific Center
1585 Kapiolani Blvd
Hon., HI 96814