Something new: Bellini Bistro

belliniOn a cool and breezy night I wanted the hominess of a simple chicken — nothing Asian, nothing battered and as close to roasted as I could get. Which is why, Friday night last week, I was on my way to Kincaid’s with a friend when we drove by Bellini Bistro at Ward and boom! saw that it had opened.

Bellini is the townside creation of Maile Sengoura of Hawaii Kai’s Maile’s Thai Bistro. Rustic Italian menu, casual upscale vibe, and who, I ask who, can resist a restaurant named Bellini? Cancel the Kincaid’s reservation (it was Friday night) and bring me the bellini menu.

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Beef carpaccio, $17: roll up all, drizzle with sauce. More wine-friendly without the lettuce

Beef carpaccio, $17: roll up all, drizzle with sauce. More wine-friendly without the lettuce

What I like: You can sit outside. I don’t care that this al fresco arrangement fronts Auahi Street across garish, monolithic Pier One, it reminds me of relaxing afternoons and evenings in other, bigger cities, talking and eating in the shade of buildings as people go by and the sky changes colors. I liked the signature bellini, which adds elderflower liqueur and seltzer to the prosecco and white peach puree. I liked that it was $7 at happy hour instead of $12 regular. And I loved my chicken.

Lest you think my chicken simple, it was. A burst of salt on crisped skin, the fragrance of anchovies, soft morsels of garlic. While I was eating, Sengoura and another staffer stopped by to tell me this was their favorite dish. If I could, I’d have it swimming under a mound of tomato-rich pasta; I had mine with fluffy potatoes. I’m still thinking about it.

Pollo alla aglia soia, $26: a.k.a. crispy skin-on chicken thigh pieces sauteed in olive oil, anchovies and garlic

Pollo alla aglia soia, $26: a.k.a. crispy skin-on chicken thigh pieces sauteed in olive oil, anchovies and garlic

Oxtail osso bucco with pasta, $27: Rich, simmered in a layered tomato sauce, fall-off-the-bone tender

Oxtail osso bucco with pasta, $27: Rich, simmered in a layered tomato sauce, fall-off-the-bone tender

Bellini opened just last Thursday and has yet to grand-open. You’ll see dishes you might recognize from the style of Assaggio and Paesano, both owned by members of Sengoura’s family, but it’s a more streamlined and slightly more expensive menu. There are twists like an oxtail osso bucco, a full bar and a happy hour (bellini time!) between 3 and 5 p.m.

bar

Bellini Bistro & Bar
Ward Centre
1200 Ala Moana Blvd. (Auahi Street side)
808-591-2488
Monday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 4 to 11 p.m.

Ladies vs Gents: Whose cuisine will reign supreme?

So MW Restaurant is putting together a benefit dinner with a male vs. female lineup of culinary superstars. Which is heart-stopping enough (I know who I’m putting my money on), but I wanted to know more.

“It all started because Lee Anne wanted to do a girls dinner, so last month we did one with Les Dames d’Escoffiers,” MW’s Michelle Karr-Ueoka says. That’s Lee Anne Wong of Koko Head Cafe, who famously soared to national prominence when she made the final four in season one of Top Chef.

“We had so much fun,” Karr-Ueoka was saying. “Wade (Ueoka, the other half of MW) goes, when’s the boys dinner? I said we should do a boys vs. girls. Then Lee Anne says, that sounds cool! So Wade got his team together and we said let’s go.”

DSC_0001_edited-1Up for the women: Wong, Koko Head’s new chef de cuisine Nicole Anderson, Karr-Ueoka, Pig and the Lady pastry chef Rachel Murai and Roy’s Restaurants corporate chef Jackie Lau. Their mixologist is Chandra Lucariello of Southern Wine & Spirits.

For the men: Chris Kajioka of San Francisco’s Mourad and formerly of Vintage Cave, Mark “Gooch” Noguchi of the new Mission Social Hall & Cafe, Sheldon Simeon of Migrant Maui, Pig and the Lady’s Andrew Le and Ueoka. Mixologist is Bevy’s Christian Self.

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With each chef making one canape and cooking one course, every diner gets 10 canapes, 10 courses and two cocktails, all featuring local ingredients. The catch? You won’t know who cooked what.

“Let’s say Lee Anne is competing against Gooch, they’re gonna have the same ingredient,” Karr-Ueoka says. “You’ll get five pink tickets, five blue tickets. Let’s say the first dish is made with kampachi. You’ll know which kampachi is from the female and which is from the male. That’s all. If you like the boy dish, you give the blue ticket to the server.

“It’s like a people’s choice award. At the end, the team who has the most tickets wins. It’s a friendly competition, and we wanted the guests to be the judge.”

Ladies vs Gents copyHa so. Proceeds benefit the Hawaii Culinary Education Foundation, which helps culinary programs throughout the state with funding and professional resources. This fundraiser is created and brought together by chefs, to help give a leg up to chefs of the future.

Ladies vs Gents
A Culinary Farm to Table Battle

Sunday, May 3
Cocktails 6 p.m., dinner 6:30
MW Restaurant
1538 Kapiolani Blvd.
955-6505
Tickets: $200 for dinner, $250 with wine pairings, available online at mwrestaurant.com

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
RSVP to growlocal@kanuhawaii.org