Panya Bistro

A 4-word conclusion on lunch at Panya Bistro this lovely Thursday afternoon:
Service: Nonexistent Company: Wonderful!

Today I met Gail Jennings of, Hawaii’s ultimate restaurant and food site. I’ve been a long time admirer of Gail’s site, always keeping up to date on her podcasts (think food radio!) and reviews. After email communication and phone calls comprised of “oooh, and the bread pudding there was sooo good!…we need to find an amazing macaron…the most succulent braised short ribs…” I met up with Gail and her close friend and awesome food photographer, Adriana.

Gail invited me to meet them at Ala Moana’s Williams Sonoma where Elmer Guzman of The Poke Stop in Waipahu was doing a rather scrumptious cooking demo. He made two dishes, an Entouffee and localized version of a Calamari Po’Boy. Adriana was there shooting photos (how I envy people with photography skills) and Gail over seeing the operation – this lady has everything covered! A few pieces of golden crispy calamari straight out of the deep fryer and sprinkled with a good hand for Guzman’s signature seasoning was indeed satisfying. With a welcome chew and slight sweetness, the combo of smooth squid with a light crunchy batter was enhanced by the addictive heat of Guzman’s seasoning – the roots his experience working with Emeril Lagasse imparting a slight Cajun influence.

With a bit of calamari to whet our appetites, the three of us made a short walk to Panya Bistro. Panya is one of the main Japanese bakeries in Hawaii (the other being Saint Germain and Ginza Kimuraya), but what sets them apart, (and brings in lots of additional revenue) is the “bistro” operation of the bakery. There was a brief wait for a seat during this peak lunch hour, but our time was well spent ogling the pastry cases on either side.

It’s a very “hip” looking restaurant, no? Definitely mall material for the fashion conscious Japanese tourists and higher end mall trekkers. The staggered mirrors and strands of shimmering silver discs predicted the coming of hip Japanese fusion restaurants like Shokudo.
Service was a bit spotty at the beginning, with the waiter hovering over, asking us if we were ready to order before we had barely been seated. The next time he bussied on over just minutes later, we placed an order for drinks and appetizers, not yet having decided on the entrees. The waiter gave us a slight look and sashayed on off. Time passed and nothing came. I think the bartender finally took pity on us for he came by to inquire about our order. I was starting to think we were invisible.

The Tropical Fruit Iced Tea came shortly. It’s a aesthetically attractive drink, the vibrant red with tiny bits of fruits like apples and kiwis floating on top. Cool and sweetened just so, the clean flavor of the tea blended well with the mixture of fruit juices.

And if you thought the tea was good, the Cucumber Apple Ginger Juice was even better. I initially ordered the Pineapple Ginger, but they were out of Pineapple. Touted as a “skin cleansing drink,” the juice was thick and bordered the verge of smoothie texture. I could barely make out the presence of Ginger, but the Cucumber flavor was strong. Mingling with sweet summer taste of apples, this essentially vegetable drink rivals any smoothie you’ll ever have!

So we drank. And waited. And waited. “Maybe we should order our entrees.” But no one came. “I don’t think they see us.” By now the place wasn’t even full though waiters keep on walking by here and there, not really doing anything, including taking our orders. Luckily the three of us had a mouthful to talk about. Everything from food to dining services and travel, the otherwise extensive wait was fill with genuine excitement and chatter. Once you get eaters on a roll about eating, there’s no stopping us! Who you dine with is important. Eat only with people who like to eat. Otherwise you are doomed. Or that’s my conclusion, for what it’s worth.

Consider it a blessing our House Gyoza appetizer arrived. It was already an hour since we were seated. I had higher expectations and was disappointed by the thick and chewy gyoza skin. While you could forgive the fact that the pork and shrimp filling were left in big chunks, the skin was not tightly binded together at the ends, resulting in an unraveled gyoza after the first bite. The dipping sauce was mediocre, and Gail noted that the oil tasted a bit stale. It’s a mall restaurant, but even the noodle shop in the food court downstairs does a superior job. I’d take my grandma’s woorteips over these in a second.

The Fried Shrimp on the other hand was a palate pleasure. About 8 large pieces of butterflied shrimp were deep fried and tossed in a spicy/crispy mixture I’ve yet to identify. You also find the same cooking method and mix at Chinese restaurants, only it’s typically done with crab. Served in deep bowl the chopped lettuce and shredded carrots proved to be excellent vehicles for scooping up the crunchy nuggets.

Appetizers all pau…but we were not even give an opportunity to place our entrees! Maybe the waiter was peeved when we place only an appetizer and drink order first, without doing everything at once, so he decided to take revenge on us by NEVER allowing us to place an entree order. Fine. We waited, hoping someone would be kind enough to notice this lonely table with no food. And then we waited. But NOTHING happened. When the same bartender came back to fill our now empty glasses of water we asked for a dessert menu.

Deny us entrees but we’ll get our desserts!!!

The Panya Panna Cotta came beautifully presented with chopped fruits sprinkled over. (These were the same fruits that went into the Iced Tea). The Panna Cotta itself was on the bland side and we could barely discern the vanilla flavor. Texture wise, nothing to complain about, a cross between a thick custard and jello. It’s not a difficult dessert to make and it certainly deserves more effort.

Unanimous. We all declared this the winner. The Japanese do brilliant things with cheesecake. I’m sure most locals have tried Japanese cheesecake at a local Japanese bakery, but this one rivals even Saint Germain (which I so wrongly thought had the best). Start off with an Italian cheesecake, heavy rich and dense. Then, make it less sweet, give it a bit of fluff, make it more cake, almost muffin-like than cheesecake, but keep the cold creamyness of the dessert while adding body. Bake till the crust separates a bit, turning into a thin layer of golden crunch. A light dusting of powedered sugar, and there you have it, The Japanese Cheesecake.

The summer after high school graduation, I enthusiastically decided that it was my duty to try every single bread pudding in Hawaii. As it is simply my favorite (ok, I know I have many favorite, but this is really a favorite) I busted on with full gusto from Kaka’ako Kitchen, 3660, Cafe Laufer and Plumeria Cafe at the Mandarin and OnJin’s. I only got to a dozen before having to leave for college. See how school interferes with eating? Well, I’m back for summer and let the festivities resume! The Panya Bread Pudding is the first I had since coming home and let me tell you, this would have been awesome…if it were not served coooold. Noooo. Bread pudding in my dictionary needs to be warm, with vanilla anglaise or a thick custard a la Kaka’ako Kitchen poured on top. But it should never be this cold. Or this flat. I want to dig into a piece, not pry off a inch high bit with a spoon. The pudding was thick, with a more custardy bottom. Bits of raisins added flavor to the lackluster dessert and while I cringe at overly sugary treats and prefer lighter sweets (ooh but when I crave chocolate, that’s a whole nother ball game!), a hint of nutmeg, cinnamon sugar, or something would have helped.

Well what do you know. We’ve been here for over two hours, “feasting” on appetizers and desserts. Funny thing, there seemed to be no time lag when bring us the check or clearing the tables in anticipation of our departures. Another thing worth nothing – we were the only “invisible” table despite being seated practically in the hub of waiter paths. Others appears to be served their Laksa, Beef Stew and Curry Fried Noodles (our never placed orders) in a timely manner. Did the waiter really get mad at us for not ordering everything at once? Or were we simply forgotten? Either way, I’ve got no incentive to come back, that wonderful cheesecake can be taken to go (at a lower price) along with buttery round loaves of their famous Hokkaido Bread. I will stop in to pick up a few curry pan and a chocolate horn, but dine in again? We’ll have to think that through. (Note: Scoot on to eat at Alan Wong’s Pineapple Room for the same price!)

Despite the long wait and nonexistent service, this was one of the most enjoyable lunches I’ve had in a long time. Gail and Adriana were both incredibly sweet and conversation just flowed naturally. There’s so much (food) to talk about! We made plans to visit the newly opened Yannis in Restaurant Row for an evening of Greek, a day of fooding, food shopping, food looking and pointing and food eating though Chinatown (concentrating on dim sum and Vietnamese sweets) and then a full tour through the dessert menu at Sam Choy’s :) Hawaii, you rock!

Panya Bistro
Ala Moana Shopping Center
1450 Ala Moana Boulevard
Telephone: 808.946.6388

My dad’s president of the Hawaii Teo Chew Association, and in terms of food, this roughly translates to required attendance at many Chinese banquet dinners throughout the year. He complains about the monotony of the food, but I sure appreciate the novelty of a bagazillion courses no one ever finishes. The kind and quality of the dishes will vary depending on how much money the association has “invested” per table. Chinese New Year banquets are extravagant with lobster, abalone and sharks fin galore, but this year for Mother’s Day, they decided to be cheap. Nonetheless I was excited to be home and when I’m happy I eat plenty!

Courses are eaten family style. The waitress will set the dish on the lazy susan and scoop out individual servings. Note: this made it very hard to take pictures as I had to battle strange looks from the rest of the table and the waitress, who send evil glares in my direction whenever my camera flash went off in a desperate attempt to snap a shot before she dissected the dish.

First in this thoroughly enjoyable three hour journey was a tray of cold appetizers. Sea cucumbers, scallops, jellyfish, a slice of abalone and the single (hot) appetizer, a deep fried shrimp ball. You can count on Legends for great shrimp balls – consistently hot and sweet with the thinnest golden crispy coating, I always find myself picking my mom’s share off her plate. Think of all the fat and calories I saved her! There’s nothing I don’t like this in this plate, though the jellyfish could have been at a colder temperature. Texture-wise, after finishing the shrimp ball, everything flys on the cold/chewy/gummy side. But each bears a distinctive flavor, such as the sea cucumber’s briny saltiness and the spicy sweet of the marinated jelly fish.

The Seafood Egg soup was a sore disappointment. Talk about going overboard with the cornstarch as a thickening agent, resulting is a very “gluey,” unnaturally thick soup. Along with beaten eggs, were small pieces of shrimp, scallops and pork. The soup literally coated your spoon (in a bad way), like salty sticky pudding soup that wasn’t meant to be.

I love Peking duck and could probably finish an entire dish of this on my own (given a few hours and no distractions). Imagine a fluffy, warm bun. The bun alone has a soft, light texture and a nearly creamy, milky taste. Then, fill the bun with a golden brown hot slice of duck skin and meat dipped in hoisin sauce and a small handful of scallions. The savory crispy butteryness of the skin drives me insane. It’s so awesome. Thin and crunchy, like a meaty cracker with hoisin, hidden between the palms of soft buns. You MUST have some now if you’ve never tried it. Separating the skin and meat is a thick layer of fat. Scrape it off if you feel guilty, but oh man, what you’ll lose in flavor!

Plain and simple: broccoli stir-fried with dried shredded scallops. I would have enjoyed the use of fresh scallops more, the strong, “old” taste of the dried ones along with it’s stringy texture after cooking doesn’t really appeal to me. The older Chinese generation has a much greater appreciation for dried scallops (any dried seafood for that matter).

Oooh, pigeon! I used to like seafood a lot more than land meats, but am starting to notice a change in taste preferences. I still like fish as much as I used to, but now I love meaty meat even more! Pigeon reminds me a lot of duck, only sweeter and a greater dark to white meat ratio. There were 10 people on the table. Most were disgusted by the pigeon. I ate a whole one on my own. The math work out! (Later on in the evening I was like…oh man. I ate a whole pigeon…)

That includes the head. I’m not joking when I say the brain is the best part. Dig in the head, poke around with your chopstick and fish out a tiny, sphere of warm buttery brains. It is similar in taste and texture to foie gras (which explains why I like it so much), only more spreadable. Where’s my toasted brioche!!!

The crabs just weren’t kicking it tonight. Small, and nearly devoid of any sweet juicy meat, I found myself expending excessive energy cracking though shells without much reward. My teeth got quite a workout! I like crab best when it’s dry fried with lots of chili peppers, tonight’s sweeter, wet method of cooking seemed like a ploy to hide the sissy crabs.

I could only get a picture after it had been dissected. Fish in the classic Chinese preparation: simply steamed and served with ginger in a light shoyu sauce. The fish was a little overcooked tonight, but I was perfectly content with a bowl of rice any many spoonfuls of the shoyu sauce and ginger.

In our culture, nothing goes to waste. Remember the duck from the beginning of the meal? Here’s the rest of it! I ate a couple of the still skin-on pieces, hoping to relive the blissful moments the crisp Peking duck in the bun. Not quite up to par, but moist dark duck meat is always welcomed in my book.

I was pretty full by this point, but somehow found room (don’t I always) for the seafood fried rice. This wet version is much different from ordinary fried rice as the white rice is fried with only eggs and served beneath a thicker, seafood stew-like topping. Before distributing portions, the waitress madly mixes everything together in a flourish, making for…hey, can we call this Chinese Risotto? :)

Mango Pudding. One of the best desserts on this planet. Ever. That is, after bread pudding, rice pudding and a couple of other things. It hurts! I cannot have favorites, nothing can be the best because there are too many good things! But pudding in general is my weakness. The pudding “fish” is cut into chunks, served in individual bowls with evaporated milk poured on top. Light and fruity without being too sweet, mango pudding is an ideal way to end a banquet meal.

I usually go to these types of dinners twice a month (when I’m not away at school), most of the time it’s at Legends, but Hong Kong Harbor View is another place banquets are frequently held. The banquets range anywhere from six to a hundred reserved tables and people are grouped according to family or member position. But despite the fact that I nearing the ripe old age of 20, I am still seated on the “Children’s Table” along with 6, 7 and 8 year olds. I share this humorous/bitter resentment with my 17-year-old cousin who has been doomed to the same table. Pros? More food for us, as 6 most year olds rarely care to eat. Con? It’s the children’s table! Maybe they’ll move me when I hit 21.

Did I mention how good it feels to be back home?

PS. Just bought Alan Richman’s Fork It Over this morning. I wanted for quite a while now but could never justify paying $30 for a hard cover version. Now it finally came out in paperback. Hooray! Delicious bedtime read material. My brain seems to be forever fixated on food. My parents think I’m suffering for an unknown disease and wonders how the heck my friend put up with my. It’s like food spews out of every pore of my being. And I kinda like it that way :)

Legend Seafood
100 N Beretania St # 108
Honolulu, HI 96817
(808) 532-1868

HOME! It feels awesome. Hawaii rocks. And so do Kalbi & BBQ Chicken plate lunches from Yummy’s Daiei location.

It’s a bad picture, but hopefully it still coveys this massive mound of deliciousness. For the vegetable options, I went with kimchee, long rice, seaweed and pickled cucumbers. For an extra dollar, a few pieces of fried mandoo and zucchini made it the perfect sharing size for my mom and I. There are countless Korean plate lunch spots throughout the island but my favorite is still Yummy’s. You won’t find this quantity, quality (their long rice is addictive!!!) and price anywhere else. Now it’s off the unload my luggage…a pre-mother’s day banquet dinner at Legends tonight :)

It’s late in a new york city night and I’m hankering for some food. No desserts please, my sweet tooth has been satisfied for the day and nothing greasy, for I can’t seem to stop at just one Corner Bistro burger. I just want a small quiet place to chill with a friend, talk over a light snack. The focus of the conversation though, must be about the “snack” itself. Cause we’re in new york. And we’re here to eat. Pssst…let’s head to Ino’s.

This truffled egg toast is hailed as a genius creation by Ino’s fans…tack me onto the list. A thick slice of bread hovering the lines between a dense country and focaccia is hollowed out and filled with an egg then lavishly drizzled with truffle oil. The whole creation is slid into a small oven and toasted till the bubbling egg verges on spilling over the side of the bread, the edges, hot and crusty. A sprinkle of pepper to tie up the ends, sweet green asparagus, the essence of truffles everywhere, ohhhh…you know you want it.

On another occasion, I enjoyed the hot bruschetta layered with pears and a snowy white mound of mascarpone. My mouth marveled at the delicious simplicity of crunchy bread doused in honey with bites of sweet crisp pears and a mouthful of creamy cool cheese. It’s basic enough to make at home, but everything seems to taste better in the whisper-like cozy atmosphere of Ino’s.

Apologies for the super off centered picture, I was so hungry I couldn’t think straight! :)

21 Bedford St
NY, NY 10014
(212) 989-5769

Bouchon Bakery

What happens when you get two girls with a terrrrrible weakness for sweets and pastries? Eager visitors to the grand opening of Bouchon Bakery in the Time Warner Center! I met Robyn around noon and we quickly subway-ed our way up with visions of cakes, muffins and brioches dancing in our minds. And the weather was so nice, too.

The “Bakery” includes both a sit down service area (oddly located behind a massive Samsung sign) and a takeout bakery counter. We hemmed and hawwed a bit before deciding to opt for the bakery counter. Why? Well we wanted SWEETS…and maybe some salty, but our goal here was to sample alllll, or as many as possible baked goods and desserts. Not to mention the fact that we’d rather invest $20 in a trio of cakes than one sandwich. Yahhh!

I just thought this was an interesting shot. The window though which all the bistro orders are sent out. Love the colors. Soft green pastels and whites, reminds me of Financier. Bakery. Serious business, you know, with all those black ties and suits.

That’s Sarah in behind the counter. A good friend of Robyn, I only got to meet her this once before break ended (how quickly 10 days passes) but she was awfully sweet and made plenty of delicious recommendations. (Oh man, I’d get so fat from working here…one day I’ll tell you about my summer working at the Japanese bakery Saint Germain back home in Hawaii).

Overwhelmed by the options, Robyn and I had to make a plan. We’d start with a couple, or three items. Eat our way though those and then strategize what to have next. Brilliant, no? :) First, a picture perfect brioche. On the small side, but we’ll call it “dainty.” All at once richly eggy, yet light with a golden brown surface dotted by sugar crystal. But I daresay, I do love Claude’s brioches more, they’ve got more of a rustic loving feel and buttery flavor.

Banana muffins don’t get more banana-ey than this. Honestly, it tasted like banana…transformed into muffin! Sheer sweet taste of bananas alone in the texture of soft, moist batter. The sticky bun was a little too sweet for me and I would have preferred thicker layers of dough to soak up the caramel. Nonetheless, contrasts between nutty bites of pecans, melty caramel and round ribbons of sweet dough make for a pretty happy snack.

Having covered a decent round of baked goods, we huvveyed (another word for “joyfully jogged”) back to the bakery counter and returned with a Paris Brest and a seasonal Apple Tart. Note: this was not just any apple tart. It was like all the best pudding, tart and pie components combined. The base of the shell was filled with a thin layer of apple puree, then layers of sweet sliced apples. The top was the best: a half-inch thick layer of a caramel flavored gelatin-like meringue/mousse. Meringue or mousse? Almost jello – on the verge of agar-agar? I don’t know! Put all that together in the flavor of a mellow smooth caramel. A glimmering puddle of thinned caramel liquid, toss of chopped nuts and a sweet apple was the ideal way to top off the tart. Oh yeahh…
The Paris Brest was decent, but we were both slight disappointed – so much lost potential! It was beautiful to look at but the cream filling hovered on bland and wasn’t rich enough to balance the crispy pastry shell.

A part of me would have felt guilty if we didn’t leave with at least one savory item, hence the ham and cheese on baguette. We asked for it to be pressed but were told that the kitchen was doing that at the moment (opening day chaos perhaps?) Accompanied by a brush of sweet butter and dijon mustard, it was simple well prepared sandwich. But it was cold. And baguette sandwiches shouldn’t be eaten cold, in my opinion. Those of you who’ve eaten sandwiches with me might have noticed that I eat in layers. haha. Even sandwiches (it does NOT defeat the purpose of a sandwich). I think it’s cause I have a need to taste everything individually. First the top half of the baguette, then cheese and ham…the butter. I liked the butter the best. It was a soft sweet, very full tasting butter. I read that Keller sources his signature “sweet butter” from a single lady in northern California who produces only for him. Does that mean I can’t buy a pound or two for myself?

The madeline on the left was barely flavored with hints of lemon, light and soft cookie/cake like. I haven’t had enough madelines to make comparison, but it something I’d eat again if it was given to me, though I wouldn’t make a ride up here for it. Though what I would make ride for is the sexy sexy caraaaamel macaron. Aside from skimping a tad on the caramel creme, the cookie itself rivaled that of Financiers. A smooth surface giving way to moist, sweetly caramel innards with a slight chew – it quickly vanishes in your mouth leaving only a hint of caramel…smoking there, in the air somewhere… Did I tell you I love macarons? I could eat them day and night and never cease to by amazed by the complexity of flavors and changing texture for the very moment it passes your lips.

Thank god for ovens.

Bouchon Bakery
10 Columbus Circle
nr. 59th St., third flr.