The food you’ll eat: Joy of Sake

frolic primaryIt calls itself The World’s Best Sake Celebration, so you already know the sakes will be stellar. At next Friday’s Joy of Sake, you’ll find 391 of them — more sake than you’ve ever seen in your life — but we’ll get to that later.

Very quietly in these last couple of years, the world’s best sake celebration has also turned into one of Hawaii’s best food fests. The number of restaurants has grown by 50 percent to 21, and you should see who’s coming. It’s a culinary who’s who of Honolulu, the best local lineup in the state. We’re talking everybody from the new generation of buzz-worthy chefs — Andrew Le, Sheldon Simeon, Wade Ueoka — to solid favorites like the Halekulani, BLT Steak, Highway Inn, Banzai Sushi Bar.

Hot new restaurants include Ed Kenney’s Mud Hen Water and Mark “Gooch” Noguchi’s Mission Social Hall & Cafe. Soon-to-open restos are Hale Ohuna, Lee Anne Wong’s noodle and sake bar; Lance Kosaka’s SKY Waikiki rooftop lounge, and former Vintage Cave chef Chris Kajioka’s new place.

IMG_0419 copyWe asked them all to create new dishes to go with world-class sake, and nearly all came through. (Disclaimer: I’m on the Joy of Sake’s volunteer board and I’m also the restaurant coordinator, so forget objectivity.) You’ll see a lot of their dishes in the gallery below.

So yup, that’s 391 sakes and 21 restaurants. Most will be inside the air-conditioned Kalakaua Ballroom at the top of the Hawaii Convention Center. Others will be just outside in Izakaya Alley, where you’ll get to eat upscale street food, try OnoPops’ wacky new plum wine and Japanese snack pops, and get chill pours of fresh, unpasteurized namazake from Japan’s Miss Sake 2015.

Here are the details. Scroll down past the food and you’ll find a few tips on navigating 391 world-class sakes.

foie snow copyThe Joy of Sake
Hawaii Convention Center
Friday, July 31, 2015
6:30 to 9 p.m.
Premium early access from 5:30
Tickets available online

The food you’ll eat

The Pig and the Lady: Foie Gras Snow with haw flakes, coconut crumble, lychee, Thai basil (pictured)
BLT Steak: Grass-Fed Molokaʻi Ranch New York Striploin atop green papaya salad finished with a spicy-sweet-sour vinaigrette
Buho Cocina y Cantina: Tsukiji Yellowtail Ceviche Taco with caramelized jamaica, serranos, red onions, micro cilantro and pickled watermelon rinds in a hand-pressed corn tortilla
Cakeworks: Cold Sake Noodles with matcha sauce and mango
Chef Chai: Grilled Lemongrass Beef Salad with mango, tomato, cucumber and roasted peanuts in a fresh lettuce cup

banzai copyBanzai Sushi Bar: Fresh Ahi and Salmon Pinchos with avocado, white miso-marinated tofu and hibiscus gelee (pictured)

kenzo copyChez Kenzo: Uni Pasta with snow crab and ikura (pictured)
Chris Kajioka: Sake-cured Ikura with potato purée, grain furikake, green apple

doraku copyDoraku: Kakaʻako Kainalu Ahi & Scallop Poke with sambaizuke and habanero tobiko creme fraiche in a won ton cup (pictured)
Gokujo Sushi: Freshly rolled Temaki Sushi filled with spicy ahi or crab and cucumber

halekulani copyHalekulani: Lobster Espuma, puffed rice (pictured)
Hale Ohuna: Chilled Udon with Mana Ai sour poi-coconut-ponzu broth, Ho Farms okra and tomatoes and toasted coconut

highway new copyHighway Inn: Smoked Wild Boar with Big Island poha berries and kabocha purée (pictured)

kahala new copyKahala Hotel & Resort: Soy-braised Kurobuta Pork Belly Ramen with toasted sesame seeds, bean sprouts, Tokyo negi and chili oil (pictured)
Kaiwa: Softly Steamed Octopus with warabi fern
Migrant Maui: Kiawe Bean Flour Fat Chow Funn with tinono pork belly and bacon-shiitake cream

mission copyMission Social Hall & Cafe: Summer Salad of Namihana Hawaiian Shochu-braised celery, tofu, dried akule, young chard (pictured)

morimoto copyMorimoto Waikiki: Fresh Ahi Pizza with olives, anchovy aioli and jalapenos (pictured)
Mud Hen Water: Pig’s Feet Soup

mw copyMW Restaurant: Roast Beef with Corn Polenta Fries and yellow ketchup (pictured)
Top of Waikiki/SKY Waikiki: Kim Chee Quinoa and Kalbi Marinated Pork with Kula baby romaine in a rice paper wrap

Finally, your sake tips:

Don’t even try to taste all 391 sakes. Don’t think of it as a challenge. Think of it as a chance to find sakes you really like. About three dozen is an excellent sampling.

All the sake is self-serve, Japanese-style. That means you’ll use small siphons to put a small sip into your cup. This method works because 1) you get to taste a lot and 2) it saves you from wasting an entire cup of something you might not like. When you find something oishii, stay there and siphon some more.

If you’re new to sake, head for the daiginjo tables. These are the most elegant and expensive sakes. Daiginjo A sakes will be mild and slightly floral. Daiginjo B sakes will show more range.

Sip and nibble. Sake’s amino acids give it a lot of umami. This and its smooth characteristics — it’s never as sweet as sweet wines, never as acidic as tart wines — make it eminently food-friendly. Grab plates of food, take them to the sake tables, and experiment.

Pairings? In general, big, meaty flavors and fried foods go well with junmai sakes. A lot of seafood and herbaceous dishes go well with ginjo sakes.

Look for the stars. These sakes are the best: They’re the labels that 167 master brewers entered into the U.S. National Sake Appraisal, which is held two days before the Joy of Sake. Judges blind-taste all 391 sakes and award gold and silver stars to the ones with the highest scores in aroma, taste, harmony and overall impression. When you see a star on a sake card, drink that sake.

— Photos by Darryl Watanabe Photography
 
 

Oh yes we did: Midsummer Natto Feast

All 32 pounds courtesy of Aloha Tofu, all non-GMO

All 32 pounds courtesy of Aloha Tofu, all non-GMO

Full house for Sunday night’s Midsummer Natto Feast, now a four-year-old tradition in Honolulu. Thanks to the ravenous appetites of Hawaii’s Facebook natto lovers group, we’ve had izakaya-style natto, global natto, crazy nouveau Japanese natto, diner-style natto and now, Vietnamese-style natto feasts.

Pig and the Lady’s crew married the famously stinky fermented bean with different kinds of Vietnamese street food, and then some. Whipped together with bone marrow, ikura and black truffle, it was spooned atop crusty baguettes before sake was poured into the marrow bone and drunk, to unanimous approval. And then there was dessert … just scroll down and see.

Full house: 85 hungry natto fiends

Full house: 85 hungry natto fiends

She missed two years of slime fests, kept trying. Third time's the charm

She missed two years of slime fests, kept trying. Third time’s the charm

Photo op for the apps

Photo op for the apps

Natto beignet with parmesan and pickled date, and bo la lot of garlicky natto beef rolled in betel leaf and grilled

Natto beignet with parmesan and pickled date, and bo la lot of garlicky natto beef rolled in betel leaf and grilled

Bone marrow, black truffle, ikura and natto, spooned onto buttered baguettes

Bone marrow, black truffle, ikura and natto, spooned onto buttered baguettes

NattoDayDinner-66

Then the marrow bone comes ...

Then the marrow bone comes …

Filled with sake ...

Filled with sake …

Which you drink ...

Which you drink …

Like this ...

Like this …

... or like this

… or like this

KITV is very curious. KHON, in back, seems less pleased

KITV is very curious. KHON, in back, seems less pleased

Pho-sta tastes and smells like Vietnamese pasta, smeared with lots of natto

Pho-sta tastes and smells like Vietnamese pasta, smeared with lots of natto

Explainer: Cha ca is Hanoi-style grilled fish mixed with rice noodles, dill, peanuts and here, sweet natto chili fish sauce

Explainer: Cha ca is Hanoi-style grilled fish mixed with rice noodles, dill, peanuts and here, natto chili fish sauce

Mix and eat

Mix and eat

2015 Natto King and Natto Queen: They won a natto-themed word search game (she was MUCH faster)

2015 Natto King and Natto Queen: They won a natto-themed word search game (she was MUCH faster)

Dessert!

Dessert!

Natto gelato (yes, natto inside and out) with brown butter coconut crumble and bourbon maple sauce

Natto gelato (yes, natto inside and out) with brown butter coconut crumble and bourbon maple sauce

And this, sweet and natto-ey, topped with bacon and more natto

And this, sweet and natto-ey, topped with bacon and more natto

Here’s how we looked on TV!

Photos courtesy of Kiman Wong and Ed Sugimoto

Natto again! Midsummer feast coming July 12

UPDATE: The July 12 natto feast is now sold out.

Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 11.55.30 PMOne thing I’ve come to learn about Hawaii’s Facebook natto lovers group: They really love natto. This is a group who posts pictures of all the natto they eat: natto poke, natto rice, natto omelets, natto grilled cheese sandwiches. The more natto they eat, the more they want. And they eat natto ALL the time.

So when Andrew Le, the Pig and the Lady’s James Beard-nominated chef, came up with a menu for their midsummer Natto Day feast that featured natto foams and garnishes, I had to ask him to punch it up.

This group likes it hard core, I texted. And that was it. After that, Le’s brain took off.

Natto pasta thingy, which will have natto on July 12

Natto pasta thingy, which will have natto on July 12

“Guess I could do a natto pasta thingy,” he texted.

Oh yeah.

“Ohhhhh natto cha ca la vong.”

Omg. This is a Vietnamese dish of grilled fish with turmeric, dill and fish sauce. I had it in Hanoi forever ago, in a rickety restaurant that served only this.

“Sacrilegious,” he texted. “The dipping sauce is funky yeah. Maybe can do something with natto for the funk.”

Next thing I knew, this entire menu came through in one text:

Natto beignets, which will have natto on July 12

Natto beignets, which will have natto on July 12

BITES
• Natto bo la lot — garlicky beef rolled and grilled in a betel leaf, with natto
• Natto beignet, parmesan, pickled date

FIRST
• Natto and bone marrow, ikura, black truffle, baguette, sake bone luge — after everything goes on the crisped baguette, you get to drink sake out of the giant marrow bone

SECOND
• Natto pho-sta — think pasta, but you know, with slimy fermented beans

THIRD
• Cha ca la vong, natto nuoc cham — because sweet-tart fish sauce isn’t funky enough by itself

The works, which will have natto on July 12

The works, which will have natto on July 12

SWEETS
• Natto gelato, brown butter coconut crumble, warm bourbon maple syrup

Got that? This year’s Midsummer Natto Feast is part-Vietnamese, all wacky, completely Le. I’ve had Pig and the Lady’s normal versions of some of these dishes, and I thought those were wild already (porcini beignet with parmesan fish sauce? Warm mezcal sipped out of a cow bone?). And did you see? Natto gelato with bourbon maple syrup (thank you pastry chef Rachel Murai)!

Natto fiends, we’re reveling in umami for this one. Tickets are on sale now for next Sunday’s feast, and it’s open to all natto lovers. That is the only rule: You must love natto, because there won’t be any menu substitutions.

MIDSUMMER NATTO FEAST
The Pig & the Lady
83 N. King St.
Sunday, July 12 at 6 p.m.
Tickets: $55 plus tax/tip*, available online
Full no-host bar; $20 corkage fee
Parking: Street parking and municipal lots on Smith Street (behind Pig and the Lady) and Maunakea Street (kitty-corner from the restaurant)

* Please don’t forget to tip the servers!

How to up your bon dance cred

I’ve been a bon dance fool. I’ve danced backwards when everyone is going forward, I’ve been too busy scoping out the fresh corn and andagi to remember my grandparents’ ashes right there in the temple columbarium. And Buddha forbid, I think I’ve even dressed little kids for picture-taking in the style reserved for dead people.

I’m living proof that growing up Buddhist and going to bon dances doesn’t fool-proof you at the summer festivals Hawaii has come to love. So here are some tips to help you look good, or at least like you know what you’re doing, at your next bon dance.

11033127_913644018695691_7069473390703419593_nGo early. Yes it’s hot, but you’ll find parking and food. Early is when temple priests will chant to open the bon dance, which is held to assure spirits of the dead that we’re all OK. If there are special performances, like taiko or lion dances, they’ll happen at the beginning.

Leave the center ring to the pros. A circle of women in identical yukata means this dance troupe is demonstrating the moves for everyone else. No ladies in identical yukata? Go for it.

IMG_3389Yup, those are yukata, not kimono. Yukata are made of cotton for hot summer weather; kimono are often made of heavy silk and are reserved for formal occasions. Show your cred: Don’t say ‘kimono’ at a bon dance.

More cred: That yukata is always worn left over right. Right over left is how corpses are dressed for funerals.

Don’t even worry about having a yukata or happi coat. Bon dances stopped requiring them a while ago. A lot of times you’ll find these for sale at the temple, though.

Look around. Basements, social halls and annexes of temples hold attractions that up the bon experience. Hawaii Shingon Mission on Sheridan Street has a tiny bazaar with food and craft vendors. Honpa Honganji on Pali Highway, my home temple, has people like me dressing bon dancers and their kids in yukata and obi for professional picture-taking.

11667537_913643122029114_2527834885027924293_nGo easy on the baked goods and pickles. A lot of times, all the homemade butter mochi, corn flake cookies and old-fashioned Japanese pickles for sale are made by temple ladies like these, the group who made Honpa Honganji’s Spam musubi this past weekend. Baking and slicing vegetables for pickles is labor intensive, and there’s a limit to how much they can make. Given the appetites of excited foodies like me, these simple treats run out fast. Please don’t hoard. Let others taste the flavors of the past.

1472834_913644775362282_6994172304823083013_nLook for politicians. In election years, they’re often passing out fans.

That dance that everybody rushes to join? The recorded number? That’s ‘Tanko Bushi.’ It’s a miner’s song, so yes, you should make like you’re digging with a shovel.

If you don’t know the dance with the sticks, don’t dance with sticks. These may have a tendency to fly out of your hands. Trust me on this.

Wear soft shoes. Tell all your friends. Except for the Okinawan Festival at Kapiolani Park, bon dances in Honolulu are on asphalt or indoors. You won’t believe the number of moves where everyone stops suddenly and starts dancing backward. Your dancemates will thank you.

— Photos courtesy of Ruth Tokumi

Kakaako street food scene hits 2.0

Those tables, tents and food trucks you see at the old Fisherman’s Wharf? On Ala Moana just across Ward Warehouse? That’s Kakaako’s new street food pod.

Not only that, it’s a permanent thing, and the start of something much bigger. Those five trucks and tents will rotate every day at lunch and dinner, seven days a week, so the lineup is always changing. And with much of the area being converted to semi-permanent built-out stalls, elevated decks, a bar area, a space for movie nights, a doggie rest area and parking, the rotating lineup of five vendors at a time will triple by late summer. You can find out who’ll be there when at makersandtasters.com.

What else? Even bigger news ahead for Eat the Street, already one of the country’s largest street food fests: It’s doubling in size, and it won’t be monthly any more. Here’s Poni Askew of Streetgrindz, driver of all these happenings, with details of what’s coming.

Streetgrindz Kewalo
1011 Ala Moana Blvd.
Lunch 10am to 3pm
Dinner 5 to 10pm
makersandtasters.com