Something new: Mark Noguchi’s Mission

FullSizeRender-6“Remember you used to tell me,” Mark Noguchi said, “how my food took you back? Well, that’s what I’m cooking here. It’s comfort food with a nod to history.”

Sitting in the leafy courtyard of the Mission Houses Museum, I have no idea what he’s talking about. Noguchi’s Mission Social Hall & Cafe opened just last week, his first real restaurant since those magical months when he ran Heeia Kea Pier General Store and Deli. He’s cooked at other places since, including Lunchbox, the employee cafeteria kitchen he still runs inside Hawaiian Airlines corporate headquarters. But Mission is where you and I can come and eat his food.

FullSizeRender-3Noguchi is the one chef whose flavors can awake in me forgotten memories of times long past, which is always a powerful surprise. Is that the nod to history? Or is it the setting we’re in? On sunny days the dappled shadows of milo leaves play on the white facades of 200-year-old missionary homes. Across the lane is Kawaiahao Church, whose bells I never noticed chime on the hour; across King Street are Honolulu Hale and the Hawaii State Library.

FullSizeRender-2Is it something in the dishes? The small menu starts with luau stew, the soulful dish Noguchi has been saddled with since he introduced it at Heeia Pier. He learned the recipe from his uncle in Waipio Valley, a fool-proof simmer of luau leaves, pork shoulder, onion, ginger and salt. Everywhere he’s cooked it, customer demand prevents him from taking it off the menu. He challenges me to pick out the one key change he’s made to it at Mission; I can’t.

FullSizeRender-4There’s also a kajiki sandwich of swordfish salad dressed with housemade takuan pickles and topped with bacon, along with other sandwiches, a daily soup, salads of cooked and raw vegetables, and big chunks of steamed taro dressed in salt and sesame oil and flecked with creamy-crunchy toasted macadamia nuts.

Dessert is a calamansi or lilikoi-guava tart topped with a dollop of fresh whipped cream. Both make everyone at the next table pucker approvingly. For me there’s sweet, fresh kulolo, heartier than the squishy stuff I buy that’s been frozen and steamed back to life. And here’s an awesome P.S. The taro for every week’s kulolo comes from a different family around Hawaii, so you’ll taste different varietals.

FullSizeRenderSo what is it? I ask Noguchi finally. What’s the nod to history?

“We’re sitting here, surrounded by history, but it may not be what you think,” he says. “It’s not food or recipes from a certain era. It’s all kinds. It’s the haole brownie, the kulolo, this luau stew, the kimchee chige we made last week. It’s food that reminds us where we came from.”

So it’s all of the above. But mostly it’s the power to evoke, which is what can make Noguchi’s food magical. I’ve been waiting a long time.

It’s good to have him back.

Mission Social Hall & Cafe • 553 S. King St. • 808-447-3913 • Tuesday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Don’t talk stink! Izakaya-style natto dinner coming

UPDATE: The Feb. 17 natto dinner is sold out. Don’t cry, natto lovers, we hope to have another in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned to Frolic!

Ika natto shiso tempura of squid, okra, tobiko, natto and green onion wrapped in shiso and nori

Ika natto shiso tempura of squid, okra, tobiko, natto and green onion wrapped in shiso and nori

What’s better than an annual feast celebrating the gloriously stinky-slimy natto? Two feasts!

That’s right, natto friends and foes: Back by popular demand, because Hawaii’s Facebook natto lovers group could not wait a whole nother five months until Natto Day on July 10, is an upcoming dinner with course after course starring the famously fermented bean. This one will be at McCully’s Izakaya Torae Torae, where chef Hide Yoshimoto is planning seven izakaya-style courses including dessert.

What this means: Yoshimoto, whose pedigree includes a long stint at Doraku, updated that restaurant’s sushi menu with profusions of textures and flavors. He brings the same no-holds-barred approach to Torae Torae, so along with familiar, pure flavors (natto miso soup), you can expect riotous explosions of natto and other ingredients in your mouth.

Natto miso soup with botan ebi shrimp

Natto miso soup with botan ebi shrimp

This dinner is open to the public, and there’s only one rule: You must like natto. If you don’t, stay away. Yoshimoto’s kitchen will be totally given over to the great bean on this day, so there’ll be no ordering off the menu.

Izakaya-style Natto Dinner

Tuesday, Feb. 17
Izakaya Torae Torae
1111 McCully St.
Seatings at 6, 6:30 and 7 p.m.
Cost: $43.50 per person
(includes tip and tax)
Tickets available online
Parking: limited on-site parking, street parking, and $2 parking at Central Pacific Bank after 6 p.m.

Domburi rice bowl topped with natto, grated mountain yam, okra, ahi, quail egg

Domburi rice bowl topped with natto, grated mountain yam, okra, ahi, quail egg

Torae Torae serves beer and a nice selection of sake. If you want to bring your own drinks, the corkage fee is $20 a bottle.

No room for the pic, but I’ll tell you the happiest dish on Yoshimoto’s planned menu: shrimp chips stuffed with mashed avocado and topped with natto, ahi, ikura, takuan, cucumber and shiso with a drizzle of kabayaki sauce. As for dessert, your guess is as good as mine.

See you Feb. 17, natto lovers!

NOTE: If you get shut out but wanted to come, let us know and we’ll do our best to schedule a second natto feast.

Townies can grow food: Demo this Saturday

photo 2I grew a tomato plant on my back porch last year. It was either that or keep blowing $20 a week on Beretania Safeway’s sweet, gargantuan, mainland-grown heirlooms at $5.99 a pound, which in my mind cost even more because of their carbon footprint across the Pacific.

So I bought an organic, non-GMO seedling and a self-watering tomato planter from Hawaiian Hydroponics in Kahala. Life as an urban gardener is easy when you have one tomato plant. Slugs tend not to climb 12 stairs. Birds stayed away once I learned to wrap my tomatoes in paper towels and twist ties (what do real farmers use?). My back porch heirlooms burst forth in striated golds and oranges, some as big as my hand. They were gloriously sweet.

A bird got to this first

A bird got to this first

Now that I’m ready for Townie Gardening 2.0, i.e. Beyond Back Porch Tomatoes, I get word about a free urban gardening demo this Saturday in Kakaako. It’s especially for people who need or want to grow food indoors, on lanais and in small outdoor spaces. Hawaiian Hydroponics will be there (thanks for use of the seedling and indoor tomato pics) showing how to grow hydroponic herbs and food indoors. There’ll also be stuff on tower gardens, which may be my next adventure (do birds eat lettuce?).

Here’s the full lineup:

10671297_10152608194822613_4401245246168845003_nIndoor hydroponics, Hawaiian Hydroponics & Garden. DIY hydroponics and off-the-shelf hydroponic kits, plus lighting for indoor plants.

• DIY fertilizer, Kokua Worms. Worm bin units for balconies or under counters that turn food scraps into natural fertilizer.

• Aquaponic prototypes. Punahou Engineering Club with support from the Institute for Human Services has developed a “mini modern grow unit” that can fit in small spaces.

• Victory Garden class preview. Sarah Leone of Aloha Resiliency previews her Victory Gardens course and shares DIY tips for small-space container gardening.

• Aeroponic Tower Gardens, The Juice Plus Company. Soil-less, vertical, aeroponic growing system that lets even novices grow produce in a very limited space.

GLISS Urban Garden Demo Day (That’s Grow Local in Small Spaces)
Saturday, Jan. 31 from 2 to 4pm
ProtoHUB Honolulu
458 Keawe St.
Free Parking in the lot on Keawe & Pohukaina

Dive in: MW’s Chocolate Cafe popup

Not Reese's: Frozen Waialua chocolate peanut butter cup with chocolate mousse. — Photo by Olivier Koning

Not Reese’s: Frozen Waialua chocolate peanut butter cup with chocolate mousse. — Photo by Olivier Koning

“We’re gonna do a vertical tasting of different chocolates,” MW Restaurant’s Michelle Karr-Ueoka was saying.

That was it. Vertical tasting of anything, I’m in. But chocolate? By a James Beard-nominated pastry chef? She had me.

“Through this thing I want people to realize that a 70 percent dark chocolate from Waialua’s David Murdock Estate will be different from a 70 percent by Madre—and even Madre’s chocolates will each be different.”

Karr-Ueoka’s talking about her first Chocolate Cafe popup featuring chocolates from around Hawaii, this Sunday at MW from 4 to 8 p.m. Cafe, as in you walk in, no reservations required or accepted, choose what you like from a menu and either sit down and eat it there or take it home.

Unless you get the vertical tasting of ice creams made with different chocolates from around Hawaii. Or the mousse trifle, which will be made to order. Or the donuts and fondue. Which may be hard to get home. Or the hot chocolate with housemade marshmallow.

mw cacao podsThat’s not even half of it. Karr-Ueoka’s idea is not just for side-by-side tastings of different chocolates from Original Hawaiian Chocolate Co., Madre Chocolate, Waialua Estate chocolate and possibly others, but tastings of different stages in the life of chocolate, from pulp to pudding. So the rest of the lineup:

  • Fresh cacao
  • Chocolate pudding
  • Bon bons
  • Bread topped with chocolate tapenade, pesto or tomato, bruschetta-style
  • Foie gras with chocolate

I think there’s more—I saw the words “mole” and “pork” and “BBQ” on a draft menu—but this is all I can wrap my brain around. All of it will be from $3 to $18.

“It’s like wine,” Karr-Ueoka is saying now. “For example, Waialua chocolate is grown on former pineapple, sugar cane and coffee fields, so the taste to me is more acidic, very bold and up front. I’m not saying it’s better than another. It’s for each individual to taste.”

MW is planning monthly cafe-style popups like this, but only January’s will focus on chocolate. Cheese fiends, you’ll want to stay tuned: February is for you.

MW Restaurant Chocolate Cafe
Sunday, January 25
4 to 8 p.m.
MW’s private dining room
1538 Kapiolani Blvd.

Did this: Hard-core natto dinner

Another Natto Day dinner is in the books, and while the stink may have faded and the sticky-gummy slime been washed from our lips, the glorious afterglow lingers.

The place: Pig and the Lady. The time: Sunday night. The chefs: Robert and Minaka Urquidi of Ethel’s Grill. Together the husband-wife team — he formerly of Pineapple Room, she a pastry chef at Roy’s in a past life — created a five-course menu of all-natto eats, including dessert. The concept: hard-core natto in the fusion diner style of Ethel’s. And lots of it: Aloha Tofu donated 50 pounds of the fermented beans.

Announced on Frolic, the dinner sold out in three days. At 86 people, it was the largest-ever Natto Day dinner in our four-year history of natto dinners. And that was before Hawaii Public Radio got wind of what we were doing and ran a story.

But don’t worry if you missed it — Natto Day falls every year on July 10. We’ll be back next summer, somewhere in Honolulu, with another feast of redolent funk.

Here now, the faces of natto.

Hard-core natto

Picture 1 of 24

Pig and the Lady on Sunday night: Full house in the front, 50 pounds of natto in the kitchen.

Photos courtesy of Kiman Wong