Hennessy Prestige dinner: Learning about cognac

It’s not every day you get to drink a spirit that costs $4,000 a bottle, so I’m going to blog about the unique experience  — not just to share it but to keep it in my memory. I’m pretty sure I won’t get to experience this again!

From left: Yasuo Ogawa, Sten Lilja, Dr. Jeff Yeoh.

From left: Yasuo Ogawa, Sten Lilja, Dr. Jeff Yeoh.

My friend Yasuo Ogawa invited me to a special dinner at Morton’s Steak House last night, where we got to meet Sten Lilja of Moet Hennessy, who explained some of the history and science behind the art of creating their cognacs.

Hennessy Privilege raspberry sidecar and Privilege smash.

Hennessy Privilege raspberry sidecar and Privilege smash.

To start, we were offered two cocktails made with Hennessy: the Privilege raspberry sidecar, which was sweeter and feminine; and the Privilege Smash, which was supposed to be more of a manly cocktail. I actually liked the smash cocktail better, as it was very smooth and the cognac flavor was a little more prominent. But it was neat to see that you could make cocktails with Hennessy.

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Here’s the main display of cognacs, so you can see what the bottles look like. The original Hennessy XO retails for about $219 per bottle; the Hennessy Paradis Imperial is about $3,000 (regular Paradis is just $899); and the Richard Hennessy, at the top of the line, is about $4,250 per bottle. Each carafe of Richard Hennessy is numbered and made of pure hand-blown crystal.

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Here’s what we drank. Sten has to travel with refillable “dummy” bottles, because the real ones are too heavy (and probably too valuable) to pack.

From left: Richard Hennessy, Hennessy Paradis Imperial, and the original Hennessy XO.

From left: Richard Hennessy, Hennessy Paradis Imperial, and the original Hennessy XO.

And then the tasting! We went from right to left:

  • The original Hennessy XO was created by Maurice Hennessy in 1870 for his group of friends, and is blended using 100 eaux-de-vie aged up to 30 years. Did you know that XO stands for eXtra Old? Due to the long aging, you end up with a cognac that is very bold and rich. Sten put an ice cube in everyone’s glass, which made it softer on the palate, but you could still taste the fruits and caramel.
  • Hennessy Paradis Imperial was created at the request of the Imperial Court of Russia in 1818 by the Empress as a birthday gift to her son, Tsar Alexander I. Seventh generation Hennessy Master Blender Yann Filloux paid tribute by mixing this special blend, made from the most exclusive eaux-de-vie from the 19th and 20th centuries, aged up to 130 years and matured in old casks. This was, of course, even more complex, with notes of vanilla, flowers and smoke. Sten mentioned lavender, which I didn’t get, but I did smell orange blossoms. This needs to be served in a tulip-shaped glass for optimal experience.
  • Richard Hennessy was created as a tribute to the founder of Hennessy, using more than 100 of the most exceptional eaux-de-vie, aged up to 200 years. The oldest of these are extremely rare, and some date from the early 19th century.  Sten had us take a very small sip at first and hold it in our mouths (almost chewing on it). This one was the boldest of the three, with spices, vanilla, flowers, fruit and oak (I sensed a little leather, too). The flavor lingers in your mouth for a long time, so you can sip and talk, sip and talk, making that $400 glass last the night.

I’m sure I could have appreciated these exceptional cognacs on their own, but having Sten walk us through the history of each while telling us what to look for in smell and taste really helped me to gain extra respect for the painstaking — and long — process of making it.

Lobster bisque, Bibb lettuce salad, prime ribeye steak and a dessert trio.

Lobster bisque, Bibb lettuce salad, prime ribeye steak and a dessert trio.

Although the Hennessy was really the focal point, we had it with a four-course dinner at Morton’s to see how it went with food instead of wine. And it was great! I’m not just saying that. Instead of worrying about the perfect wine pairing with each course, the cognacs added elegance, but didn’t clash with anything. That was one of the big takeaways for me — you can enjoy a bold spirit with dinner and it still enhances the food.

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As an added party favor, Yasuo and Jeff gave all of us a miniature bottle of Hennessy XO. Now I have to decide on a special occasion to sip this! Mahalo to Sten, Yasuo and Jeff for an amazing tasting event!

Something new: Off The Wall Craft

It’s finally happening: Our Ed Morita is opening his own restaurant. He’s teamed up with Kyle Matsumoto, owner of Off The Wall Restaurant and Catering in Pearl Kai Shopping Center to bring a new dining experience to Honolulu with Off The Wall Craft Desserts & Kitchen (OTW Craft). They’ll be taking over the former Tsunami Night Club space at 1272 S. King St. with a soft opening from January 29 to 31, and a grand opening on February 14 — Valentine’s Day.

Off the wall, Andrew Mitani, Ed Morita, Kyle Matsumoto

Living Off The Wall: Andrew Mitani, Ed Morita, and Kyle Matsumoto

Ed will be doing the sweets, of course, and Off The Wall’s Andrew Mitani is the chef de cuisine who will be presenting the savories. The unique twist on the menu, however, is that Ed will be encouraging you to eat your desserts first. (Social media users, use #DessertFirst.) “Every restaurant I’ve ever worked at treated desserts as an afterthought,” he said, “that is why I knew that if I ever had the chance to develop a dining concept, it would revolve around highlighting #DessertFirst.”

Andrew, of course, will be encouraging you to eat your food first, dessert later. (Social media users, use #FoodFirst.) The three have collaborated on a fun, unique menu that will sometimes blur the lines between sweet and savory. Here’s a look at some things you can expect to find:

Kabocha malasadas with haupia sauce.

Kabocha malasadas with haupia sauce.

The kabocha malasadas with haupia sauce were actually the last things I tried, but they’re so good, you will definitely want to eat #DessertFirst. In fact, when Ed left the room, Andrew and I inhaled these shamelessly. They’re fluffy and light — better than Leonard’s. I kid you not. The kabocha doesn’t provide a too-strong pumpkin flavor, but it does take the taste to a whole new level.

“These are a variation on a pumpkin malasada recipe I’ve been working on for a long time,” Ed said. “I previously made a variation using ‘ulu pala while at Highway Inn.”

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Ahi poke “cupcake.”

The ahi poke “cupcake” has a cute presentation in a cake cup, with rice on the bottom and a poke muffin top. Andrew added bubu arare sprinkles and created a special sesame-ginger “frosting” topped with yuzu tobiko. I liked that it had a nice blend of flavor and texture in every bite, and wondered why no one had invented this before. Did you know that Ed is anti-cupcake? Andrew created this not just to do a fun play off a dessert item, but as a dig at Ed!

Bacon pecan sticky bun with Manhattan-spiked syrup.

Bacon pecan sticky bun with Manhattan-spiked syrup.

Will you start with a bacon pecan sticky bun instead? This will actually be offered for brunch, when they start that. Ed’s bun is made from his kabocha malasada batter and it’s got a generous layer of candied pecans and bacon, plus Manhattan-spiked honey syrup flavored with whiskey, bitters, and maraschino cherries. Need I say more? Actually, to be honest, the bun is delicious on its own and doesn’t need the extra honey, but it does give it an extra bit of decadence.

“I came up with the idea for spiked honey when I was doing blogs with the honey I received from the Adopt-a-Beehive program. After my first test batch, I realized that I had something special, so I’ve been holding on to the idea until now,” Ed explained. “And by the way, I’m not anti-cupcake! I’m anti-bad cupcakes.”

Sweet vs. savory: Cream puffs two ways.

Sweet vs. savory: Cream puffs two ways.

“The sweet versus savory cream puffs signify our ‘battle’ between #FoodFirst and #DessertFirst,” Andrew said. These are regular menu items, but watch for them in smaller versions as an amuse bouche when you dine at OTW Craft. The savory puffs are filled with goat cheese, bacon and chives with passion fruit falernum glaze. (Falernum is a Carribean syrup used in cocktails with high proof rum and some spices.) The sweet cream puffs are filled with Black Sand Porter “beer-a-misu” — tiramisu made with lady fingers soaked in beer and coffee syrup.

The puffs are nice and light. I intended to just take a bite and move on, but each was so tasty, I ended up eating a whole puff. The passion fruit falernum glaze on the savory puff is fantastic — it adds a great, subtle citrus flavor that contrasts well with the goat cheese. As for the sweet puff, I tend to not like beer, but this was not too strong. The cream is rich but not heavy, which made it too easy to keep eating!

Ozoni pizza.

Ozoni pizza.

Happy new year! You’ve heard of ozoni (good luck mochi soup), the traditional Japanese dish eaten on New Year’s Day. Well, the guys have created ozoni pizza. Ed made the pizza crust and they topped it with hatcho miso sauce, grated mochi, miso chicken, and mozzarella cheese, then a salad of mizuna, daikon, carrots, and yuzu wafu dressing. For added crunch and general prettiness, they added fried hasu chips. On the side is pickled mizuna stems in chili pepper oil.

Kyle said this is the first on a list of unique pizzas they’ll be rotating throughout the year. I liked this twist on a classic soup dish, not to mention it’s quite healthy.

Sandwich rolls with banana-nutella filling and white chocolate haupia sauce.

Sandwich rolls with banana-nutella filling and white chocolate haupia sauce.

Another sweet versus savory pairing: Ed made sandwich rolls with banana-nutella filling and provolone cheese that are rolled up, grilled in butter and served with white chocolate haupia sauce. So good! And I especially liked that he cuts off the crust. “Since I was making Twinkies at Highway Inn, people said I should make my version of other hostess snacks. This is my version of a Hoho,” he said.

Vegetarian sandwich rolls with grilled zucchini and eggplant.

Vegetarian sandwich rolls with grilled zucchini and eggplant.

Andrew’s answer is this dish: Vegetarian sandwich rolls with grilled zucchini and eggplant with housemade ketchup. I’m admittedly more of a savory person, so I really dug these easy-to-eat, crustless yummies. The ketchup, I think, really pulls it together. “We really wanted to do something that was vegetarian, but I think this will appeal to omnivores, as well,” Andrew said.

Dirty Caesar salad.

Dirty Caesar salad.

For a lighter alternative, get the dirty Caesar salad with spinach, romaine and swiss chard, topped with bacon and croutons made by Ed. “We wanted to make this salad appealing to carnivores, so we reduce bacon down and use the fat to make the dressing,” Andrew explained. No wonder I ate all of it.

Curried roasted pepper hummus with house made flatbread.

Curried roasted pepper hummus with house made flatbread.

The curried roasted pepper hummus with house made flatbread is another collaboration between the two, since Andrew makes the hummus and Ed makes the bread. I liked the curry flavor, as it was subtle but just enough to make it unique. Andrew said, “This is something for the entire table to share to start the meal off right. We chose to marry the sweetness of the roasted peppers with the slight spice of Indian curry to round the dish out.”

Buffalo slider.

Buffalo slider.

Andrew is a burger guy, so he created a buffalo slider. Instead of regular condiments, he provides housemade ketchup, grainy beer mustard, mushroom duxelles, and a pickled onion. I really enjoyed this one, with the meatiness of the burger and the flavorful condiments. In fact, the condiments really make this burger sing. Great. Now I can’t eat commercial condiments anymore, either.

“We wanted a burger that a burger lover will crave. We took ground buffalo and cut it with 80/20 ground beef to add a little higher fat content. The burger itself was built to be great on its own, but the condiments raise the bar,” Andrew said.

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Off the Wall Craft will be open to the public from January 29. There’s parking on the street, and limited free parking in the back. You’ll find a very spacious, comfortable interior (don’t forget to look at the floor) and some thoughtful touches; Ed has table lamps available for people who like to take photos of their food.

Off the Wall Craft
1272 S. King St.
808-486-WALL (9255)

Baking bread with Berkley

A few months ago, fellow blogger Olena Heu took me to an un-birthday dinner at Vintage Cave. It was my first time trying the restaurant since Jonathan Mizukami took over as executive chef, so it was pretty cool to taste his talent, as well as the talents of the new staff.

During dinner at Vintage Cave, you can try Berkley Spivey's bread service.

During dinner at Vintage Cave, you can try Berkley Spivey’s bread service.

The week that we went was the debut of their new bread service, created by head baker Berkley Spivey. The breads are all small, so you can try all five or just one or two. But like everything else in Vintage Cave, these aren’t ordinary breads. They’ve got a gorgeous chewiness, and they have distinct flavors — all bready, but you can taste the unique grains featured in each.

The grains and flours that Berkley Spivey uses.

The grains and flours that Berkley Spivey uses.

Olena arranged for me to meet Berkley to see what goes into the breads he makes and the philosophy behind making breads that have flavors and textures. Since we had to get over the holidays, we finally got together in the kitchen recently and he walked us through his grains, flours and starters. As you’ll see in the video below, he studied extensively to find the items he uses, even ancient grains.

Jonathan Mizukami slicing one of Berkley Spivey's loaves.

Jonathan Mizukami slicing one of Berkley Spivey’s loaves.

“The first time you eat real grain bread it is a revolution,” he said, and explained that a lot of the flour used in commercial bread today is stored in a warehouse for a long time … so by the time it is used in baking, it’s essentially a dead product. He uses living grains and starters, and even has plans to start his own little mill in Vintage Cave.

“We’ll order whole grain and mill it in-house before it goes into the bread so it’s super fresh,” he said. “It’s like the concept of fresh-cracked pepper — fresh cracked grain for your bread tastes so much fresher.”

Berkley Spivey's experiments with larger loaves (see video).

Berkley Spivey’s experiments with larger loaves (see video).

Since they bake their bread fresh daily and don’t turn as many tables as other restaurants, production is limited — which is why the little breads work. Eventually, though, there may be a place for larger loaves, so diners can really appreciate the special textures of his products.

Foie gras and brioche at Vintage Cave.

Foie gras and brioche at Vintage Cave.

The one bread item that isn’t miniature is the brioche, which they serve with their foie gras. This is a new presentation that Jonathan is doing — instead of covering the foie with a layer of fat, he uses a layer of gelee. Still delicious, just lighter.

Berkley Spivey in the kitchen at Vintage Cave, smelling a fresh-baked loaf of bread out of the oven.

Berkley Spivey in the kitchen at Vintage Cave, smelling a fresh-baked loaf of bread out of the oven.

Berkley is also experimenting with different techniques, which will hopefully make it to the Vintage Cave dinner tables. He’s made a smoked sprouted rye bread that has a very bold, unique flavor.

Unsalted butter, made in-house at Vintage Cave.

Unsalted butter, made in-house at Vintage Cave.

“We get our dairy from Naked Cow Dairy and make our butter in-house, about a pound and a half a day,” Berkeley said.

Here’s Berkley in the kitchen at Vintage Cave:

 

Tasting Berkley Spivey's breads alongside commercial ones.

Tasting Berkley Spivey’s breads alongside commercial ones.

Just for fun, we brought breads from commercial bakeries (I won’t say which ones!) to taste side by side with his fresh breads. I knew the difference would be obvious, but not that much! Comparitively, the commercial breads had no flavor or texture. Even breads that we might usually like because they’re “fluffy,” were not really so nicely airy after all. That loaf on the right was almost like cardboard by comparison.

And, yes, as you know, I don’t like to eat crust. I did end up eating most of the crust on two of Berkley’s breads, especially the one with the sesame seeds, since they were tasty. Since Berkley is into breads, he was able to diagnose me like a doctor: “You probably don’t like the bitterness in crusts.” And he was right. I never thought of the crusts as bitter, but they can be, and that’s a flavor profile that I know a lot of you like.

Since our bread lesson, I’ve had a hard time eating the stuff from the store (I shamefully let half a loaf go moldy because I couldn’t bring myself to eat the rest of it). I can’t bake Pillsbury biscuits, because I can smell the chemicals as soon as the can opens. It’s amazing to realize what kinds of food Americans put into their mouths, and actually have learned to enjoy. Realistically, I know we can’t go to Vintage Cave all the time or just order bread from them. But if you do go, be sure to try all the breads. They will change your palate.

The first time I had Berkley’s bread was at my un-birthday dinner back in October. So much time has passed and I’ve changed purses since then, so I don’t have the menu to tell you what every dish is. But the menu is constantly changing; when you look at what people are eating now, it’s very different from what I had months ago. In any case, here are the photos, with selected descriptions:

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To see all photos from our day in the kitchen, click here.

Tasting new desserts at MW Restaurant

It’s no secret that one of my favorite things to do is stalk Michelle Karr-Ueoka of MW Restaurant. I love her desserts so much, I once snuck under the ropes when I saw her serving pineapple shave ice in the VIP section at an event, just to steal a bite. You can also see my article on her in this month’s Edible Hawaiian Islands magazine, now out on the streets. So you can imagine how excited I was to have her invite me and some friends to try some of her new desserts.

I’m not the only fan of her stuff: Her brother Jay said that someone came in and had a five-course dinner, all off the dessert menu. That’s hard core.

If you’ve never been to MW Restaurant, my advice is to leave room for the end. Michelle’s lineup is always full of intense flavors, along with great combinations of textures. But, enough talking. Here’s what’s on the menu:

Strawberry shave ice.

Strawberry shave ice.

I’ll start with my favorite of the night, the strawberry shave ice (this is a mini size). From the bottom to the top, you get haupia tapioca, strawberry kanten, mochi ice cream, strawberry-yuzu sorbet, and shaved “hibiscus strawerr.” She froze the strawberries and shaved them for more intense flavor. First reaction: Someone get me a bucket of this to take home!

Bananas foster.

Bananas foster.

Another of my favorites was the bananas foster, an artful plate of malasada bread pudding, banana carpaccio, and dolce de leche. The malasada bread pudding by itself is so good, but combined with everything else, it’s fantastic. And not too heavy, either.

Tiramisu with Waialua chocolate and Kona coffee.

Tiramisu with Waialua chocolate and Kona coffee.

This is Michelle’s version of tiramisu, with Waialua chocolate and Kona coffee. It is a mocha bombe, with liquid chocolate, crispy rice, aerated frozen coffee, and Kahlua chocolate soup. Need I say more?

Kabocha cheesecake brûlée.

Kabocha cheesecake brûlée.

You may remember we featured a kabocha cheesecake brûlée in one of our holiday roundups. Well, it was supposed to only be available during the holidays, but so many people came in looking for it that they had to extend its time with the restaurant. During this holiday photo shoot, I remember I was full from lunch but couldn’t stop eating this thing. It’s addicting!

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This gorgeous plate is a “coconut cake,” comprised of haupia cake, kafir lime coconut pudding, coconut snow, haupia, and ribbons of compressed pineapple. The creamy coconut with the pineapple is a classic tropical combination, and very light.

Lemon meringue.

Lemon meringue.

I think this was a mini version of the lemon meringue. If you’re a lemon lover, this is for you! It’s very tart, but the meringue — which has a bit of custard in it — helps to mellow it out.

Pineapple upside down cake.

Pineapple upside down cake.

And, last but not least, pineapple upside down cake. The braised pineapple is juicy (or at least, tastes it), and the rum cake is full of browned butter flavor. The tuile is just more browned butter layering in your mouth. Get some yogurt sorbet and Hawaiian hearts of palm in the same bite for the best effect.

Michelle still has her classics on the menu, like the MW candy bar and the MW doughnuts. To see the full list of desserts, click here. 

By the way, MW Restaurant is having a “Chocolate Cafe” on Sunday, January 25, from 4 to 8 p.m. in their new private dining room. Items are $3 to $18 and will feature Hawaii chocolate in both sweet and savory dishes.

MW Restaurant
1538 Kapiolani Blvd.
808-955-6505

Hawaii: In Real Life ~ Origami Dō

With origami masters Richard Alexander and Michael LaFosse.

With origami masters Richard Alexander and Michael LaFosse.

How many of you have ever folded origami cranes for a wedding, or dollar bills for a graduation? Chances are, if you’re like me, you haven’t graduated past that kindergarten lesson in paper folding. But this weekend, you can learn more about making more artful origami — and paper, if you want to get really fancy — at the Spalding House (formerly known as The Contemporary Museum) from two world-renowned origami masters.

Michael LaFosse and Richard Alexander of Origami Dō have written dozens of books on origami, from beginner folds to the more advanced items that have been featured in art shows and museums. You may have seen their work in magazine and TV ads or retail store windows like Saks Fifth Avenue and Hermes, but LaFosse has also produced exhibits for the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the Peabody-Essex Museum, the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, the Carrousel du Louvre in Paris, and Matsuya Ginza in Tokyo.

Fancy tips: Origami seahorse, star, and butterfly from dollar bills.

Fancy tips: Origami seahorse, star, and butterfly from dollar bills.

I don’t know exactly what folds you’ll learn in the Saturday classes, but they have beginner, intermediate, and intermediate “wet” sessions and have an amazing array of paper flowers and animals to show you how to take your origami to the next level. You also get to talk to them and get a better idea of how they apply the science of folds to the art. We take it for granted, but there’s quite a bit of math and geometry involved! And for those of you who think you are too left-brained to be artistic, think again: Both Alexander and LaFosse are biologists.

On Sunday, Alexander will teach you how to make your own paper. Whether you’re an origami enthusiast or a home crafter, or want to modify your favorite papers to make them more suitable for your needs, this is the workshop for you. He will discuss fibers and blends, pulp beating, sheet forming, pressing, and drying techniques.

Whichever class you take, you’ll get a special sneak preview of the Spalding House Less Is More exhibit, opening February 4, featuring LaFosse’s and Alexander’s origami works.

I talked story with LaFosse about origami, the upcoming workshops, and some quick folding tips as he made me an intricate butterfly, one of his original designs:

We also talked story with both Alexander and LaFosse about their background, different books, and original creations seen around the world. One of the things that interested me was the book on recycling various paper items to create new things. These are great tips for teachers, who can’t always afford to buy their own materials for class. Visit HawaiiIRL.com to see more!

Origami Dō workshops at the Spalding House
January 17 (click for details)
10-11:30 a.m. : Introduction to Origami ($20)
12:30-2 p.m.: Intermediate Folding ($20)
2:30-4 p.m.: Intermediate Wet Folding ($20)

January 18 (click for details)
10 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Papermaking for the artful folder ($175, $150 museum members; class is limited to six people)

Reservations are required. To reserve a space, call (808) 237-5230 or email seng@honolulumuseum.org.