Something new: Crackin’ Kitchen

White gloves at Crackin' Kitchen — where the gloves are for the guests.

White gloves at Crackin’ Kitchen — where the gloves are for the guests.

At this writing, there are only five crab boil restaurants in Honolulu (and a sixth in Aiea). The newest to hit the scene is Crackin’ Kitchen, which is in the spot formerly known as Blue Marlin. Not familiar with Blue Marlin? It had operated for less than a year in the old Matteo’s space on Seaside Avenue in Waikiki, owned by Toridoll and run by George’s Corp.

Inside Crackin' Kitchen. You can also get a seat on the lanai outside.

Inside Crackin’ Kitchen. You can also get a seat on the lanai outside.

At first glance, the menu looks like it’s a Cajun-style crab boil spot, but it’s more “Hawaiian-Cajun,” with a combination of the crab boil elements with more contemporary offerings, like salad, soup, poke, chicken wings, lobster dip and more — but all using local ingredients. You can see more in the photos below, but basically, even if you aren’t there for the crab boil, you can still get a nice meal with some Hawaii products.

Biancha getting excited at Crackin' Kitchen's seafood platter.

Biancha getting excited at Crackin’ Kitchen’s seafood platter.

Our friend Biancha Yalung was waiting all day to get this signature seafood platter. You get six raw oysters, ahi poke, jumbo shrimp cocktail, and snow crab legs. You can choose to enjoy it plain with a squeeze of lemon, with cocktail sauce, mignonette sauce, or their special vinegar sauce.

Seafood platter ($45) at Crackin' Kitchen.

Seafood platter ($45) at Crackin’ Kitchen.

Here’s another view so you can see the oysters. The nice thing about this is not having to do a lot of peeling or cracking; the shrimps are shelled and the crab legs are cracked and sliced. You do a little work, but not a lot.

Chowder fries at Crackin' Kitchen.

Chowder fries ($9) at Crackin’ Kitchen.

What the heck are chowder fries? French fries and regular potatoes are mashed into a bowl and drenched with chowder (including carrots and onions), then topped with cheese and bacon. This one is topped with a fried egg for an extra $2. These are rich and savory, definitely something to eat with a fork! We didn’t quite taste any difference with the egg, so although we do recommend this app, we think you can do without the egg.

Guava-soy chicken wings ($12) at Crackin' Kitchen.

Guava-soy chicken wings ($12) at Crackin’ Kitchen.

I thought this was a seafood joint? For a little variety, we do recommend the guava-soy wings, which are super moist and have a nice sweet-salty balance. I think the Hawaii macadamia nuts are supposed to add to the local-ness of this dish, but we didn’t think it was necessary. The wings are good as is.

Lobster dip ($12) at Crackin' Kitchen.

Lobster dip ($12) at Crackin’ Kitchen.

You can’t tell here, but the shredded lobster sits atop a creamy guacamole. This is a nice dish to share, especially with the house-made chips being so easy to eat.

Get the signature cocktails at Crackin' Kitchen.

Get the signature cocktails at Crackin’ Kitchen.

If you like original cocktails, try the ones that Crackin’ Kitchen has developed for the new restaurant. From left: Crackin’ white sangria ($10), with white wine, kaffir lime, pineapple and orange; White Satin ($12) with vodka, St. Germain and lychee; and the Pele ($10) with chipotle infused tequila, lilikoi and lime. The first two are lighter and more feminine — good ones to contrast the spices in the crab to come. The Pele is, of course, more for people who like spicy drinks and food.

Three kinds of crab?

Three bags of crab? Yes, please!

You can order the seafood by the pound, a snow crab combo ($40), or a king crab combo ($55). We ordered the Ultimate Combo ($70), which includes three bags, each filled with clams, mussels, calamari, shrimp, snow crab, king crab, spam (instead of sausage), potatoes and corn on the cob. Each bag features their signature sauce, from left: spicy red, using Hawaiian chilis; black, using Hawaiian cacao and cracked black pepper; and white, a Maui onion-based, non-spicy lemon butter.

Now, we had to think about the cost compared to other crab boil restaurants: One bag at another place with a combo of clams, shrimp, crawfish, crab, potato, sausage and corn has cost me about $40 to $60. The Crackin’ Kitchen spread you see above is three bags for $70. The portions may be smaller to accommodate — we aren’t 100 percent sure, pound for pound — but overall it’s a pretty good value. Especially if you are with good little eaters.

Biancha asked for additional Hawaiian chili sauce to make her crab hotter.

Biancha asked for additional Hawaiian chili sauce to make her crab hotter.

As for the sauces: Biancha, who loves spicy food, not only liked the red sauce best, she asked for extra Hawaiian chili sauce to kick it up farther. We preferred the white sauce, because we were able to taste the seafood.

Many of the staffers seem to like the black sauce, which sort of makes sense — it’s different and unique. It was interesting to crunch on the Manoa cacao nibs right in the sauce, but it was not our favorite.

The dessert art at Crackin' Kitchen.

The dessert art at Crackin’ Kitchen.

Nothing highlights an end to a great meal better than something sweet. With all the food we ate, and the combination of rich and unique flavors, it’s nice to know they offer one dessert to compliment the food, and it is light, fresh and colorful. The presentation is also memorable, as one of the staff artfully creates this colorful concoction of fresh seasonal fruits, homemade malasadas, locally grown and then crafted fruit puree and topped with sugar sprinkles and chocolate sauce. The personalized message spelt out using chocolate adds a nice touch to the finale of the meal.

Since opening last week, this dessert was the obvious end of the meal showstopper with many posting photos and videos of the wait staff presenting the dish on your table. It’s not a complicated or fancy dish but was the perfect end to the evening as it was sweet, refreshing and a bit of a palate cleanser. The menu concept is inspired by Michelin-star Chef Takeshi Omae, who is known for his Japanese cuisine. The dishes are not very Japanese in flavor or portions but perhaps the whimsical, colorful and fruitful dessert created shows his playful side.

Mahalo to the team at Crackin' Kitchen!

Mahalo to the team at Crackin’ Kitchen! From left, Taku Teramoto, Tony Lam, and Jonathan Botello.

For locals to head into Waikiki, you must have a few things: Free/validated parking, of which they validate for up to four hours at the Waikiki Trade Center, good food, and excellent service. From the moment you walk-in the staff is friendly, approachable, eager and well informed of the menu and all of its ingredients. If you can’t decide what to order from the bar or the menu, ask anyone and they will give you a recommendation with a smile.

Crackin’ Kitchen
364 Seaside Ave.
808-922-5552

For more photos, click here.

What happened when Disney called: Kuana Torres Kahele

Kuana Torres Kahele

Kuana Torres Kahele

When I think of Kuana Torres Kahele, I think there is nothing this Hilo man can’t do. Hula dancer, composer, songwriter, master lei maker, educator, award-winning musician… you get the gist, right? Now he can add Disney/Pixar star to his list of accomplishments.

That’s right, the multiple Na Hoku Hanohano award-winner who won for solo album of the year and song of the year after parting ways with Na Palapalai, has literally exploded onto the international music scene. As with everything else that’s thanks to his extreme talent, vocal grace and passion for the Hawaiian culture, language and music.

At Kuana's Oahu home backyard in Manoa

At Kuana’s backyard in Manoa

After traveling the globe these past few years, ironically, one of the biggest opportunities of his life landed on his doorstep following a concert on his home island of Hawaii. Disney/Pixar reps were looking for someone who could speak and sing in Hawaiian for “Lava,” an upcoming animation. He performed for them, and a few weeks later received the phone call he had dreamed of.

Fast forward and Kuana was in Los Angeles as the voice of Uku, an animated volcano. He also landed the role of narrator of the film after legendary musician and composer Dennis Kamakahi, originally pegged as narrator, lost his battle with cancer last year. Kuana was honored and humbled to take the role in honor of Kamakahi.

How did Kuana score not one, but two roles in Disney’s new animation? Here is his story:

“Lava” hits theaters in late June. It’s the animated short that will play just before the fantasy/comedy feature Inside Out.

Here is a short teaser clip of Lava:

Hawaii Island residents can catch Kuana live this weekend at a special two-night show at the Aloha Theater.

Catch Kuana Torres Kahele live at the Aloha Theater Kona - May 22 & 23

Catch Kuana Torres Kahele live at the Aloha Theater Kona – May 22 & 23

Something new: Thai Lao Pearl City

Fried fish with chili sauce. Photo credit: Grant Shindo

Fried fish with chili sauce. Photo credit: Grant Shindo

Growing up on Kauai, I wasn’t really into ethnic foods. When I say ethnic, I mean that aside from Kountry Kitchen, Bull Shed, Dukes, the always popular Kintaro and the traditional Chinese restaurant, I wasn’t all that diverse in my childhood culinary adventures. The first time my mom took me to eat Thai food was Christmas Day and we were going to watch Titanic. I had spring rolls and loved it. After moving to Honolulu, the chance to seek out new and tasty dishes from places like Vietnam, Korea, Mexico, Greece, India and more opened up to me.

But I had never had Lao cuisine before a new restaurant in Pearl City opened in February serving a combination of Thai, Vietnamese and Laotian dishes. Thai Lao Pearl City is from the same family that owns Thai Lao in Kapolei and also Fort Street Cafe in downtown Honolulu (which is hands-down my favorite place for Panang curry, garlic chicken and pad thai). So I was happy to be invited to experience authentic Laotian food.

Influenced by French, Japanese, Thai and Chinese cooking, Lao food is different from other Southeast Asian cuisines. The flavors are very earthy, with a lot of spices, herbs, chili and fish sauce. Sticky rice is a staple, but the combination of fresh vegetables with noodles, fish, meats and earthy seasonings is unique and perhaps an acquired taste if you’re not used to it.

Here’s a look at some of the dishes on the diverse menu:

Beef jerky - homemade, deep-fried and served on a bed of cabbage. This was a totally different take on jerky with flavors of chili and lemongrass, so delicious.

Beef jerky – homemade, deep-fried and served on a bed of cabbage. This was a totally different take on jerky with flavors of chili and lemongrass, so delicious.

Beef salad - tossed with tomatoes, lime juice, chiles, mint & cucumber. Refreshing, with great flavors and a good combination of crunch and chew. One of my favorites from the meal. Photo credit: Grant Shindo

Beef salad – tossed with tomatoes, lime juice, chiles, mint & cucumber. Refreshing, with great flavors and a good combination of crunch and chew. One of my favorites from the meal. Photo credit: Grant Shindo

Fried chicken with sweet and sour dipping sauce. Everyone loved this as the chicken was perfectly cooked and nice and crispy.

Fried chicken with sweet and sour dipping sauce. Everyone loved this as the chicken was perfectly cooked and nice and crispy.

Spicy pork sausage - I didn't realize how spicy these were until I ate them as leftovers the next day. Delicious homemade sausages with chili and spices.

Spicy pork sausage – I didn’t realize how spicy these were until I ate them as leftovers the next day. Delicious homemade sausages with chili and spices.

Pad ki mao (Drunkard's Noodle, also Thai) - stir-fried noodles with broccoli, fresh basil, chiles and garlic. The garlic is not overpowering and the flavors are rich and delicious, I couldn't stop eating this... not sure if that has anything to do with its nickname. LOL

Pad ki mao (Drunkard’s Noodle, also Thai) – stir-fried noodles with broccoli, fresh basil, chiles and garlic. The garlic is not overpowering and the flavors are rich and delicious, I couldn’t stop eating this… not sure if that has anything to do with its nickname. LOL

Caramelized catfish in a clay pot (also Vietnamese) - one of the signature dishes, the fish is served in a caramelized fish sauce with scallions and chiles. I know this is a standout dish for many from the region. The sauce is very earthy, sweet and savory. It was full of deep and intense flavors. For many familiar with this type of dish it is often their favorite and reminds them of home, for me this was a bit too much flavor, but still very unique and a beautiful presentation.

Caramelized catfish in a clay pot (also Vietnamese) – one of the signature dishes the fish is served in a caramelized fish sauce with scallions and chiles. I know this is a standout dish for many from the region. The sauce is very earthy, sweet and savory. It was full of deep and intense flavors. For many familiar with this type of dish it is often their favorite and reminds them of home, for me this was a bit too much flavor, but still very unique and a beautiful presentation.

Last but certainly not least, the house special - pia rad prik: deep-fried whole fish topped with tangy sauce, bell peppers and onions. This was my absolute favorite. I would love to get my hands dirty eating this again! The crunch from the fish with the tangy sauce and garlic was a great combination. Perfectly cooked and overloaded with veggies and delicious sauce.

Last but certainly not least, the house special – pia rad prik: deep-fried whole fish topped with tangy sauce, bell peppers and onions. This was my absolute favorite. I would love to get my hands dirty eating this again! The crunch from the fish with the tangy sauce and garlic was a great combination. Perfectly cooked and overloaded with veggies and delicious sauce.

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Thai Lao Pearl City is in the former Souvaly Thai Cuisine spot. I would definitely order some of the traditional Lao dishes along with some Lao-inspired eats, but my heart remains with the Thai curries and treats that I have come to love.

Oh, and they don’t sell any alcohol so feel free to BYOB!

Thai Lao Pearl City
803 Kamehameha Highway, Suite 203
Pearl City, HI 96782
(808) 456-8088
11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.

How to win Wheel of Fortune

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Wheel of Fortune has long been the most-watched game show in Hawaii … and one of the most successful in American history. Even now, as I did growing up, at 6:45 p.m. I can hear the soft ping and spin of the wheel resonating through my neighborhood.

Hawaii residents have grown to love Pat Sajak and Vanna White like family. I had the honor of meeting them and the rest of the Wheel team when they were taping promos for the Hawaii shows last year. They were genuinely nice people, so very humble and funny, and they love coming to Hawaii!

How many of us dream of getting on the show? This became reality for a local couple during the Hilton Waikoloa Village show tapings last year. The episode that aired in February was part of a couples show that was aimed at celebrating a second honeymoon sweepstakes and showcasing local couples who auditioned, then were tested, then cast. Much to my surprise a fellow professor at Hawaii Pacific University made it onto the show with her husband by her side.

Second Honeymoon Episode

Second Honeymoon Episode

Here’s a look at their audition:

So what does it take to get selected? And once you’re cast, how do you win? Here’s my one-on-one interview with Dr. Lisa Chuang, who along with her husband Ben managed to win their episode of Wheel of Fortune even after the pair went bankrupt.

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Hidden gem: Da Crawfish & Crab Shack

unnamed-8Several years after the crab pot and boiling crab restaurant fad hit O’ahu, I was a bit hesitant to drive to the west side to try another place claiming to have fresh seafood in your choice of sauce, served in a steaming hot bag. But after a dinner that my friends unanimously proclaimed “phenomenal,” “outstanding,” “amazing” and “the best on the island” — despite close to two hours in pau hana traffic — I can’t wait to head leeward again.

Here’s why Da Crawfish & Crab Shack, formerly known as Maili Sunset Bar and Grill, is a true hidden gem located right across the street from Maili Beach Park in Waianae.

Shrimp Tempura

Shrimp Tempura

Known for their specialty seafood combinations, the restaurant also serves up some notable appetizers that are nicely seasoned and fresh, including the shrimp tempura, whose crisp lightness rivals traditional Japanese restaurants.

Sunset Pupu Steak w/ Onions & Poi

Sunset Pupu Steak w/ Onions & Poi

This ain’t your typical steak pupu, this guy is the bomb. It is very similar to the kalbi-style pipikaula from Helena’s and is pretty on-point too! A must have! So good!

Poke Bowl

Poke Bowl

What’s a seafood place without a winning spicy ahi poke bowl?! This was delicious, perfectly seasoned and well balanced. A nice hearty appetizer or a light entree if you are looking for something without butter and not fried.

Shrimp Burger w/ Fries

Shrimp Burger w/ Fries

The waitress highly recommended the shrimp burger, the best-selling appetizer on the menu. The shrimp is pounded out, lightly breaded, fried and placed in a sweet bun. It’s nice and crunchy with good flavor. (Note: double order pictured).

Ahi Caesar Salad

Ahi Caesar Salad

I have to have some greens in my meal or else I feel like I am being overindulgent. I don’t know if Caesar salad is the best option, but boy was this good. Anchovy dressing, crunchy romaine lettuce and ahi that looks like croutons. This was an excellent Caesar salad.

Sunset Specials

Sunset Specials

Here we go, now time for the good stuff! For the crab pot portion of the menu you can pick your choice of creature (shrimp, clams, lobster, etc), seasoning (scampi, cajun or butter garlic) and spice level (mild to spicy). They have several combinations priced from $40 to $140. These combinations could easily feed 4 to 6 people.

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I’ve tried my fair share of crab pot restaurants and most of the time they are good and some are not so good. But honestly, this place is worth the drive. The seafood is tender, sweet and moist and the garlic butter sauce is superb. It’s buttery, sweet and salty, but not overpowering. I had to force myself to stop eating because the sauce was literally finger-licking good.

I recommend heading to the west side early. Go to the beach and enjoy the sunset. Bring a group of friends and share all the dishes. This hidden gem is casual, great for large parties, offers a full bar, entertainment and some super ono grinds! Someone please take me again soon.

Da Crawfish and Crab Shack
87-064 Farrington Hwy
Wed, Thurs & Sun 4:30 to 10 p.m.
Friday & Saturday 4:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.
808-679-9080
Reservations not required, but are suggested