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

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

Photos courtesy of Kiman Wong

Something new: Signature flavors at Shimazu Shave Ice

shimazu3It’s a year now since Kelvin Shimazu left this earth, and left it a happier place, thanks to the shave ice shop he put on the map with its wild and wacky flavors. I stopped in the other day and found these, his son Kendall’s first new adds to the menu.

They’ve been there only a couple months. “We were sitting around talking and looking at some new extracts, and I had some ideas,” Kendall says. Sounds like his dad’s Willy Wonka-esque tendencies live on, thank goodness. I ordered a bunch, and found that every one of the newbies except tiramisu has no color. Score one for health-conscious shave ice fans (what? No oxymoron here).


This is a kiddie size, by the way. To me, Shimazu’s small is enough for three people. I tried tiramisu espresso cake and White Russian, which is vodka and coffee (what can I say? I’m addicted to caffeine and other fine things). If Kendall hadn’t been so busy with a Sunday afternoon crowd that stretched out the door under a hot sun, I would have asked him about his inspiration for this lineup.

But he was slammed. So I’ll just say it here: Kendall, your dad would have been proud.

shimazu2 copyThe reason I stopped in originally was not to discover new flavors, but to see if Kendall would come make sake shave ice at next Friday’s Joy of Sake. He said yes. He’s bringing two machines and will be selling not only a combo of Shimazu’s signature red velvet and creme brulee syrups (thank you, Kelvin!), but also bowls of yuzusake and umeshu shave ice as well. He’ll be in the new Izakaya Alley section along with Pig and the Lady, Koko Head Cafe and others serving upscale street foods included in the price of the ticket. Kampai!


Shimazu Store
330 N. School St.

Want to guess Shimazu’s top two flavors? No. 1 is strawberry, of course. If you’re curious about No. 2, leave a comment, ping me, Facebook message, whatever. That one was a bit of a surprise.

Hard-core natto: Get ready to feast

UPDATE, 7/4: The Hard-Core Natto Dinner is SOLD OUT.

At long last, dinner. Hard-core natto, this year’s Natto Day* feast by Ethel’s Grill, happens Sunday, July 13. And if you’ve ever been to Ethel’s Grill, you know a little of what to expect: deceptively simple, lip-smacking, soul-satisfying, no-frills food. Think diner style. Think mounds of natto.

natto grilled cheeseHere’s the first course, a natto grilled cheese sandwich that was the only dish chefs Robert and Minaka Urquidi would divulge details about: Natto mixed with shoyu, Coleman’s mustard and green onion, plus Havarti and Kraft singles cheeses sandwiched between Saint-Germain white bread toasted with parmesan mayo butter.

Drooling yet? Here’s the full menu:

  • Natto grilled cheese sandwich
  • Crispy natto gau gee
  • Ethel’s Grill natto green salad
  • Natto roast pork kim chee
  • Natto flan

“I wanted to keep it simple, and our style,” says Robert. “But with a lot of natto. Oh yeah. There’s gonna be a lot of natto.”

Because natto has a certain, uh, quality, takuan and other pickles will appear with every dish to cut through the flavor and slime.

Hard-Core Natto Dinner
Sunday, July 13 at 6 p.m.
Pig and the Lady
81 N. King St.
Cost: $35 pp (does not include tip)
Parking: Street or municipal garages on Smith below King and on Maunakea below Hotel
Order tickets here

A couple of notes: This dinner is for natto lovers only! There will be no other food. Those who don’t-won’t-can’t eat natto will go hungry.

And Pig and the Lady has a full bar with beer, wine and sake. Mixologist Kyle Reutner is creating several specialty cocktails (natto cocktails?), including a Guinness cocktail. On this Sunday, there will be Guinness. If you do BYOB, please be aware that Pig and the Lady’s normal corkage will apply, and that’s $25 a bottle.

One last thing: Don’t show up at Ethel’s Grill on July 13. You’ll be lonely — Ethel’s is a little too cozy for Honolulu’s raving natto appetite, so Pig and the Lady is generously providing the space.

Any questions? Please post them in the comments. If not, I’ll see you July 13!

* Natto Day is actually July 10, because 7-10 can be pronounced na-to in Japan, where people love their puns. And here’s a shoutout to Scott Pang and Greg Sekiya of the Facebook Natto Day — July 10! group, whose shoutout to me for help organizing feasts celebrating the stinky bean resulted in all the delicious slimefests you see in the thumbnails below.

Are you ready? Hard-core natto dinner

1488037_10203037797372363_55260749_nSome “weird facts” I found about natto on foodista.com have convinced me Honolulu is ready:

  1. Some Japanese restaurants even make sushi rolls with natto. — Get outta here. Next you’ll be telling me there’s even natto spaghetti.
  2. Those with adventurous palates can make natto spaghetti. — What? What?
  3. Natto was a featured ingredient on “Iron Chef.” — YUM.

Are you with me, Honolulu? Does Foodista’s timidity not prime your palate for gobs of stinky fermented beans? For mouthfuls of slime and redolent funk, for course after course of overflowing, glorious natto?

If the answer is yes, mark your calenders: Frolic’s annual midsummer Natto Day dinner returns on Sunday, July 13. The theme: Hard-core natto. The chefs: Yoichi Ishii and Robert and Minaka Urquidi (pictured below with Ryoko/Ethel Ishii and baby Mizuki) of Ethel’s Grill in Kalihi. Ishii is the chef-owner whose food draws Chris Kajioka, Mark “Gooch” Noguchi, Alan Wong, Roy Yamaguchi and other chefs to the 22-seat eatery on Kalihi Street. Robert Urquidi is an alum of the Pineapple Room and Pig and the Lady kitchens. Minaka Urquidi was a pastry chef at Roy’s.

photo-1The menu is still in the works but will include Ethel’s signature ahi tataki seared sashimi with natto and shoyu-pickled garlic chips, a natto grilled cheese sandwich and a natto dessert among its courses. No guarantees, but I’m hoping Pig and the Lady’s resident mixologist, Kyle Reutner, will come up with either a natto-inspired cocktail or one crafted specifically to pair with natto.

And don’t go to Ethel’s Grill on July 13. Dinner will be at Chinatown’s Pig and the Lady and will cost $35 a person not including tax and tip.

Details are being finalized, including where and how to buy tickets. So be patient, natto lovers, and stay tuned to this channel.

Natto oatmeal pic above courtesy of Laurie @konaish Oue.

In defense of foodies

Please. A bit of respect for the maligned.

Ever since Myong Choi came out with his “Fed up with foodies” rant, people have been gushing in agreement. A few have even gushed to me. Well delivered, Myong. Great for the new site.

But hear me now: True foodies don’t deserve this. You do a disservice when you paint us with the same brush.

photoAre you a foodie if you can’t eat something without posting a pic of it first? If your commentary ranges from absolutely nothing to “Best. Pork belly. Ever. Nuff said”? How about if you check out a new place, try two dishes and post a “review”? Or if you preface your review with “This is gonna suck because the parking/hours/no credit card policy blows”?

If you answered yes to any of the above, I cannot defend you. You’re no foodie. You’re a food diarist (except for the “parking blows” people, for whom I don’t have a word). And that’s where you got it wrong, Myong.

You were right about one thing: This is a self-anointed group gone wild in this age of smartphone cameras and digital food porn. But you can be a foodie without posting a single pic or uttering a single word of commentary. And you can certainly be a foodie if you’re the last person in town to check out a new place.

It’s about your passion. You understand, Myong. You would go to movies, follow your favorite directors and actors, revel in plot twists, witty dialogue and telling facial expressions whether anyone valued your opinion or not. You’d do it because something innate drove you to it. You’d do it because you love it.

That’s the same quality that defines a true foodie. We may or may not know the ingredients and techniques that go into a dish. But we know we love it, and if asked, we can say exactly why. We can identify dishes around town that make us happy, whether it’s the old-school burger at a hole-in-the-wall or the grilled octopus with goat cheese at the latest farm-to-table iteration. We’re true to our standards, which are as developed and constant a part of our psyche as your movie preferences are to yours, Myong.

The fickle and finicky? We find them hard to eat with. And we’re always hungry. Not necessarily in body, but in mind, because we’re reading and thinking and talking about food. So we’re never content with an unchanging roster of favorite dishes and places, we constantly seek out more. Because we can’t not. Because we love it.

That’s it, Myong. Foodies are like any other group that follows a passion. Listen to us if you want; if not, that’s OK too. Just don’t malign us.

I’ll still eat with you, though.