The Starbucks Oatcake. Only found in Hawaii. And not even all of Hawaii. Only on the island of Oahu. Kinda neato, eh? I was introduced to these mysteriously ugly brown rounds by my friend Noelle. She would bring them into our high school newspaper office every so often and munch on them for breakfast/lunch/snack, or whatevers. I was intrigued. It took quite a while to eat, those heavy monsters. And they weren’t very attractive at all.
Then one day, out of sheer curiosity more than anything…I bought one. $2.25. Weightwise, I felt as if I were carrying 3 or 4 of their scones. I pulled it out and inspected it. Ugly. Moldy appearance. Hard. I couldn’t wait to dig in :)
And you know what? These things are awesome! Close your eyes and eat. Eat bit pulled off (I wouldn’t suggest biting a piece off with your mouth) is a bit chewy with the faintest taste of honey. Lots of nutty oats and the occasional bit of blueberry, but more often, dried cranberries. Blended with ground walnuts, it’s not too sweet yet satisfies my dessert and lunch craving. And at 500 calories a piece, you bet it’s a lunch! So add this on you list of excuses to come visit our little island: I need to go to Starbucks. And please don’t turn your nose up high. I like Starbucks. Besides, the oatcakes aren’t shipped over from some random place but are baked by our very own local Honolulu Baking Co. And make sure to visit early as they sell out fast – islanders are addicted to these Hawaiian Hockeypucks. Here’s comment posted by “MR” on the Starbucks Gossip post on the general crappiness of Starbucks pastries,
“The only Starbucks that has good pastries are the ones in Hawaii. Why? They use local vendors. That’s what all of them should do! They have a killer oatcake!”
Indeed. Why in fact, it’s caused quite a bit of experimenting on the part of Hawaii’s newspapers and local homecooks more than once. But after reading the recipe, I think I’ll stick with purchasing them!

Ginza Kimuraya, Sconees…Pastries for Lunch!

Today’s lunch:

A bakery stop at Ginza Kimuraya en route to the post office. Making the stop was the RIGHT move indeed. I passed the bakery right after 11am when a ‘ding ding’ reminder when off in my head. Bakery sensor, I tell you. 11am is PRIME TIME for hot goods leaving the oven, making its way onto the display cases at Ginza. I made an instinctive U-turn, and viola! found myself waltzing into the bakery. Totally forgetting my resolution to stop eating so many sweet things. Some things were not meant to be.

One pastry I craved in particular was the Milk Brot. Think of a mini, slight softer and sweeter sister of a baguette. The Japanese interpretation. Then slice the sweet baby baguette right down the middle and pipe in a daring mix of whipped butter, condensed milk and sugar. The warm bread soaks up some of the buttery spread but leaves enough for a bit to ooze out with every bite. Imagine. Hot bread, sweet spread. It brings back memories of school day breakfasts of toast with butter and sugar. Only more refined. But just as decadent.

But to balance the sweet, I also picked up the Curry Donut. There is nothing more honest than a piece of fried bread, teasing you with its shiny brown glory. Even better is when the bread is stuffed with a beef and potato curry. This was a little more oily than usual, however the light flaky crunch and soft stretches of buttery dough and warm curry quickly pushed that thought aside. Hey, at least it wasn’t a chocolate donut :)

Well then I thought, ‘I’m already here. And everything is warm. So FRESH. It needs to be eaten. It must!!! So I did. The “special” good for the day was an orange croissant twist. The heavy brush of sugar syrup on top made it overly sweet and I thought the raisins didn’t quite fit in. Scratching my head, I plunged on with bite after bites, peeling apart the soft wispy layers, each one with the faintest hint of butter. Ay yah. This was a really filling lunch. Bakeries were invented to give human heart attacks. And we love them all the same.

I went to my mom’s office afterwards to help her out with emails and a few administrative thingamagiggers. I’m going back to school on Monday, which makes me sad and happy and mostly wistful. But these last few days – no more summer school, work or obligations. Just family time :) I took a walk along Kaimuki’s Waialae Ave in the later afternoon. Too much staring at the computer in a freezing cold office can drive you crazy. And I walked. And walked. Past the comic book stores, Cafe Laufer, C&C Pasta, Bozu, Kaimuki Choy Suey, Verbanos, poking my face in the windows of everyone, examining menus I already memorized from past walks. I like doing things like that. Then I passed Sconees.

And checked my watch (or phone, cause I don’t own a watch). Nearly 4pm! Magic time (again)! The whole bakery, aside from refrigerated goods like custard pies and lilikoi & guava bars, go half off soon before closing. The 15 minutes leading to 4pm is rather exciting with crowds of elderly couples, school kids and people on their way home pouring in to take advantage of the deal. People in Hawaii love deals. And love buying in bulk. That’s why we have 3 Costcos and 2 Sams Club on this tiny tiny island. My mom phoned right as I was passing by,
“where are you? I’m leaving now and can come pick you up”
“Sconees,…did you want anything? It’s all HALF-OFF!”
“Didn’t we just eat?”
“Oh. Oh yeah.”
“Get something if you’d like, I’ll be there in 5 minutes.”
Hangs up.
Exactly five minutes, mom pulls up on the side.
“Oh, you got something – a scone?” She peers eagerly at the bag, attempting to see right through with her nonexistent x-ray vision. Mom loves to eat as much as I do, only she’s better at resisting the sirens of sweet baked goodness.

She looks slightly confused. I guess choosing cornbread in a place that specializes in scones is different…but it was the CORNER PIECE. And I don’t even know why I got it. I was so full! But it was so CHEAP! And so BROWN and PRETTY. My mom didn’t ask why I bought it, but I felt as if I needed an explanation. So I gave one. Or at least I made up one in my head…
“Oh, I don’t know…my hand. It just wandered there and pointed at the cornbread. And before I knew what happened, my wallet opened and out flew a dollar bill. Suddenly the bill disappeared and in place of it was a golden corner cut of cornbread. I, I really have no idea.” OK, I was happy. Really. That’s JUST how it happened.
A strange moment indeed. (Summer is frying my brain!)
I’ll leave you with happy thoughts that my $.64 corner piece was mighty delicious. Crusty around the edges, buttery and just so corny soft throughout. Imagine having it warm! With butter, of course.
And yes, I shared with my mom.

Ginza Kimuraya
Kahala Mall
4211 Waialae Avenue
Honolulu, HI 96816
(808) 735-9600

1117 12th Ave.
Honolulu, HI 96816
(808) 734-4024

Lunch: Pho 97

Holy moly. I am so full. Sigh, it seems like that’s how I always start my posts. But it’s the truth! We took at family friend out for lunch at Pho 97 today. Instead of ordering individual dishes, we did it family style. This tends to be more fun as you get to taste everything but the problem is (for me at least) is that I end up eating far more than I ever intended. I cannot stand wasted food. It drives me crazy. Absolutely crazy! I can stop eating if I set aside what I will not eat in the beginning. But that doesn’t happen often. I am like the human shovel bucket. I thank someone or something everyday for a fast metabolism.

We ordered a broad range of dishes as our guest has not gone past the realm of Pho and Spring Rolls in terms of Vietnamese foods. First up was the duck and bamboo noodle soup. The duck is served separate from the noodle soup, like a salad. Duck is one of my favorite meats and that’s probably because it is quite fatty and so favorable. Here it is sliced cold and surrounds a mound of shredded cabbage, onions and minced ginger and green onions. We picked off the duck and pour some nuoc nam over the cabbage before mixing it all together. It’s tastes light, crunchy and carefree – like a good summer day!

Here’s the soup that accompanies the noodle. The broth is very simple and basic, and though it’s supposed to be duck broth, I could hardly taste any difference from their chicken broth. On top are chunks of pigs blood and pieces of bamboo shoot. I don’t crave pigs blood, but I’ll never refuse a piece or two. I think it’s the texture that I find intriguing. Like soft, salty jello. Or even lighter than jello, it just falls apart with one bite, nothing like human blood of course, if that’s what you’re imagining. Just make sure to try it for yourself. At least once! It never hurt :)

The spring rolls were especially good. I’ve eaten too many of the “local kind” spring rolls recently, which are akin to the kind you receive with your delivery of greasy Chinese takeout in nyc. Heavy, oily skin with a fatty filling. Even worse cold. But the skin here was crisp, light and hot. Wrapped tightly around shrimp, pork and vermicelli, I ate quite a bit from this plate. Take a piece of lettuce, a bit of noodles, bean sprouts and basil, put the spring roll in the center and roll it up. Mmmm, indeed!

The sugarcane shrimp is eaten in the same manner, only they serve it with dried rice paper which forms the base for wrapping. Replace the thicker spring roll noodles are very thin noodles steamed together, forming layers of thin squares. Shrimp paste is wrapped around the sugarcane then grilled. I suppose the sugarcane is to impart some of its sweetness into the shrimp…but sweet or not, it’s good to eat. The shrimp is chewy, like fish cake or beef balls but so much better because of the smoky char.

And the ever popular pho. The veggies were clean and fresh, like how they ought to be. This restaurant has high turnover, so no worries about freshness here.

I can think of many place in town that serves better pho, but not one that offers such a wide range of Vietnamese dishes. The broth was a bit salty and they didn’t serve the beef rare, on the side as I would have liked, but other than that it was your standard, hearty bowl of pho.

This dish is a good choice for the indecisive! It vaguely reminds me of a local plate lunch, only much healthier. The rice is my very favorite part of the dish, broken up jasmine rice. Like couscous, only with more bite and substance. I supposed the increased surface area just makes it more efficient in soaking up nuoc nam. The yellow square is…the best. Ever! I love meatloaf and I love the Vietnamese take on it even more. Yes, just like meatloaf, only leaner and with vermicelli used in place of bread crumbs. It has a bit of bounce and the light flavors pair well with the rice. At the top are slices of lemongrass barbequed pork chops. I’m loyal to my grandma’s version, so I must say these weren’t nearly as good as hers :). On the left is a mix of shredded pork skin, grilled pork and other wonderful meaty delicacies tossed in roasted rice powder. I apologize if that doesn’t shed much light, but if you come to Hawaii I’ll be sure to take you here! It also is to be mixed with the rice and a spoonful of nuoc nam. Nuoc nam is like the magical Vietnamese condiment. It flavor and makes everything all the more delicious. Sounds quite dangerous, no?

We all ended with a nice cup of cafe phe su, the Vietnamese drip coffee. At the bottom of the cup is a good serving of sweetened condensed milk. Once all the coffee (very strong!) has dripped down, just give the coffee a swirl to mix in the milk. I prefer it much over American coffee as I find the flavor more hearty and robust. Like coffee…maxxed out. lol. I hope that gives a vague idea. I like lots of milk, till it’s not so much coffee but more of a dessert whereas dad likes it without milk. Oh so bitter. Shudder. One day I’ll learn to love bitter coffee. But while I’m young, let’s keep it sweet.

Pho 97
1120 Maunakea Street
Honolulu, HI 96817
(808) 538-0708

San Diego: Cafe 222

I spent two days in San Diego in late July for an accounting/recruiting/persuade-you-to-join-our-firm-event earlier this summer. As soon as I found out I was going, I did what the normal food obsessed would do and read every San Diego food blog from beginning to end. I had all my restaurants down. Man, was I excited. Until I discovered the firm would cover breakfast/lunch/dinner and have us locked in conference rooms all day. Oh pooh. Nonetheless, I “snuck” our early one morning before our scheduled 8am breakfast and strolled over to Cafe 222.

The restaurant wasn’t crowded given that it had just opened so I didn’t feel too guilty taking up an entire table of four. It was just me. :) The dining area and kitchen sort of blend into one, with a small bar counter between. It was cozy and colorful, the type of place where you would meet a longtime friend for your “every Saturday” breakfast.

I had my heart all set on the pumpkin waffles until I saw the orange pecan pancakes on the table to the right and a man in the corner devouring a large plate of peanut butter and banana stuffed french toast. Why are making decisions so hard? I would have preferred to order a plate of each, but my wallet forbid me to do so. Thank god, otherwise, I would have finished everything. I’m so bad at wasting food. Someone once told me (or maybe I read it somewhere…) “Better a burst stomach than wasted food.” I don’t want to say I fully support of the quote, but I’ll admit it perfectly defines my actions.

I ended up selecting the French Toast. How did I end up picking the most simple item among offerings of tamales & eggs, peanut butter and banana stuffed this and that, sweet cornbread waffle and eggs italia? Well what usually happens is that I become overwhelmed with alll the options and I’m just like, “Bah!” eat the simplest thing. And I love french toast. So I made the right choice (I think…gah. So many “I thinks” in this world. Fine. “I Know!” The toast was dipped in your regular egg batter spiced with orange zest and grand marnier. What made me happiest was that there were 6 halves (!) instead of the usual 4 that come with an order. Note to restaurants in Hawaii: 4 halves are not filling for brunch. On the side was a scoop of butter and a squeeze bottle of maple syrup. The bread was not thick as it should be for really good french toast, but it’s hard to turn my nose up at any sort of fried starch. Sweet, hot and eggy with a generous dusting of powdered sugar, the butter and syrup effortlessly melted right in, offering me soft bites of deliciously buttery morning sin :)

The clock struck 8:00 am before I knew it, and I had to dash back and change into business attire for the morning conference breakfast. The french toast there couldn’t even compare.

Cafe 222
222 Island Avenue
San Diego, CA 92101

What I discovered today: Kelly’s house is full of really good Japanese snacks.
I was dropped off at her home today after a brief conversation of:
“what do you want to do?”
“i dunno, what do YOU want to do?”
“i dunno.”
“i dunno either.”
I’m afraid our lives are not terribly exciting at the moment. We lounged around her kitchen, complaining about the heat, complain about our lives, trying to figure out why I’ve never had a boyfriend while my sister, my cousin and it seems the whole world has had one or two or three and trying to guess how many cavities I’ve accumulated this summer. Between pondering out loud the whys, whos and why why why of our lives we covered a pretty decent territory of FOOD FOUND ON KELLY’S KITCHEN TABLE.
To begin:

She just returned from Hilo last night bearing boxes of the most wondrous mochi from the Two Ladies Kitchen. And such beautiful and color creatures they were! This box was for Steph but I had the blue one on the left there. You would have wanted one too. :) There was a dozen of assorted mochi and manju, ranging from azuki bean, lilikoi, baked blueberry, peach and sweet potato. They’re just about the happiest looking creations in the world.

Here’s a closer look at the “blue one.”

I was expecting a blueberry filling giving the color of the mochi, but was surprised to find not only azuki bean paste but the paste along with…bits of rice krispies rolled in white chocolate! Talk about modern mochi! Oh it was so good, soft, chewy and not too sweet. The white chocolate and occasional bits of ‘crunch’ gave a nice change from the always welcome but occasionally boring azuki bean paste. Who would have ever thought to put the two together? Hah. Magic, I tell you.

But the real specialty of Two Ladies Kitchen is their strawberry mochi. They don’t look like much from the outside aside from their enormous size, but I’ve heard enough about the quality and taste to know that they are indeed fantastic. James from Big Island Grinds has a nice split shot of the mochi. I think his strawberry was surrounded by a white an, though the one Kelly brought back was the red tsubushian. Either way, you can’t go wrong!
Moving our way across her kitchen table we came across a mysterious purple box. Kelly’s dad recently returned from Okinawa & Japan so we concluded that this came from one of the two places. I opened the box (I apologize for being such a nosy guest, Kelly!) and came upon this:

Oh glory be! Now what is this? We initially assumed it was mochi given what we had just eaten and the presentation and design of the treats. Not hungry, but very curious, we opened a pack and slid out the purple flow. Oh! It did not feel like mochi at all, but a soft, moist sponge cake.

The first bit revealed a soft, mildly flavored cake/mochi. The second bit led to a smooth filling of sweetened whipped plum paste. So odd. So good. I couldn’t quite place the flavor at first, sweet, but with a little tang. It was familiar but I haven’t had plum in a sweet confection for such a long time that I’ve nearly forgotten how wonderful it can taste.

While eating, Kelly was resting her hand on the wrapper when suddenly she pulled it away, “Ooow! It’s hot!”
“Hot? What, you’re crazy”
“no, YOU’RE crazy”
“no, YOU!” and I took from here, and indeed I am crazy. It was hot! We did a little inspection and pulled off a tiny little patch from the inside skin of the wrapper. It said, “Oxygen Heater” or something like that. What it did for the confection, I do not know, but the Japanese really do think of everything don’t they?

Underneath the purple box was a more sophisticated, subdued gray box. Ooooh, curiousity strikes again! We lifted the lid of Figlio & Figlia to find an assortment of cake sticks! Cake sticks! How much fun is this? You can have just one or a bit of alllll the cakes. Or a bite of his and two of hers. It’s just the best world ever.
Since I just had burgers and fries from W&M less than an hour ago and plenty of sweets too boot, I split the shortbread jam with Kelly.

We had a rather difficult time picking between the chocolate sponge, butter cake, and almond puff pastry but I think we made the right choice. The shortbread was light and perhaps more flaky than buttery. The layer of jam was so subtle that you don’t really notice it’s presence until you taste just a hit of something sweet and fruity as the cookie dissolves. So that’s how I spent my Thursday, eating burgers and fries on the beach then clearing off Kelly’s kitchen counter by filling my stomach. An hour later we drove down to Jamba Juice. The Matcha smoothie for me and the Red Gummy Bear for Kelly. Red Gummy Bear? you ask. Yes Yes! It’s a Hawaii only creation, so you mainlanders should fly over here for a taste. I swear, it’s tastes exactly like The Red Gummy Bear. We even have White Gummy Bear and Strawberry Starburst!