Koko Head Cafe’s secret menu

By now you know that most, if not all, restaurants have some kind of off-menu items or combos that you can order, anytime, and impress your friends while enjoying an extra special meal. Double double animal style? Check. Sriracha breakfast burritos? Check. Foie gras loco moco? Check. I’ve done blogs on the hidden menus from various restaurants around town, thanks to my foodie friend Sean Morris, and his latest event knocked our socks off.

Lee Anne Wong at Koko Head Cafe agreed to show us nine of her secret menu items, things that people “in the know” can order any time, using ingredients that are already in her kitchen. They don’t really have names, but you can use this blog as a guide. Like pouring a scoop of chili on anything at Zippy’s, almost anything is possible if they have all the items handy.

Koko Head Cafe's volcano meatballs.

Koko Head Cafe’s volcano meatballs.

We started with volcano meatballs using Shinsato Farm pork and focaccia from 12th Avenue Grill. This is the same sauce used on their volcano eggs; note that it’s not called volcano because it’s spicy, but because it looks like hot lava. Yum!

Koko Head Cafe's Haloa gnocchi.

Koko Head Cafe’s Haloa gnocchi.

We all loved the Haloa gnocchi, which was a spoonful of luau leaf, chives, pa’i’ai, and toasted coconut. This was melt-in-your-mouth goodness! All the flavors were very subtle, so you get the earthiness with the sweet coconut at once.

Reuben mega hash browns at Koko Head Cafe.

Reuben mega hash browns at Koko Head Cafe.

Apparently customers already know to order the mega hash browns, but these have a Reuben topping: pastrami, kim chee slaw, cheese, and “eight island dressing.” This was good, but the Reuben lovers in the crowd absolutely loved it. You can also order this volcano style, with mushroom gravy, or with the ohayo egg sauce.

Fried tofu salad at Koko Head Cafe.

Fried tofu salad at Koko Head Cafe.

Another huge favorite, even with people who don’t usually eat salad: Fried tofu salad. Their salads change daily, which Lee Anne says pushes the crew to be fresh and creative. This one had large blocks of fried tofu (as delicate as the ones you get at Raku in Las Vegas) on a bed of lettuce, ali’i mushrooms, Easter egg radish, and watermelon radish. The kochoojung dressing and bubu arare topping pulled it all together. I could probably eat the whole bowl as a meal!

Twice-cooked jidori chicken sandwich at Koko Head Cafe.

Twice-cooked jidori chicken sandwich at Koko Head Cafe.

Whoa. I had to cut one third of this sandwich to taste, then take the rest home. The jidori chicken is poached in mirin, sake, shoyu, and herbs, then fried in tempura batter — this method of cooking twice enables them to produce a moist chicken nugget every time. It’s topped with cheese, billionaire’s bacon, and savory mushroom sauce, all on sweet bread buns. The sandwich was lovely, hearty, and savory, but using sweet bread buns was genius. Don’t settle for a regular bun! This was still good the next day, too.

Miso marinated swordfish congee at Koko Head Cafe.

Miso marinated swordfish congee at Koko Head Cafe.

Don’t forget, Lee Anne is Chinese, so getting a bowl of congee/jook is always going to be kicked up a notch. Instead of fish balls, she uses miso marinated swordfish (or whatever fish of the day) and tops it with scallions, chili flakes, bubu arare, house-made chili oil, and Indonesian sweet soy sauce so you get a range of flavors and textures in what would normally be a plain bowl of rice soup. I need to have Lee Anne do a congee showdown with my Aunty Helen, man. And with a big bottle of that sweet soy sauce so I can put it on everything.

This hidden menu dish at Koko Head Cafe has a name: Piggy in the garden.

This hidden menu dish at Koko Head Cafe has a name: Piggy in the garden.

Another of my favorites for the night: “Piggy in the garden,” a riff on Koko Head Cafe’s Donburi Chen (named after our own Will Chen). The restaurant always has fried and miso pork belly, so you can pretty much order combos using that. This one is pork belly fried in sweet chili glaze, with a poached Ka Lei egg on black garlic “soil,” Maui onion puree, and fried turnips. The black garlic and Maui onion lend sweetness and earthiness to this dish, which we gladly licked up. Vern Yoneyama wrinkled his nose when I told him there were turnips on his plate, but even those were cooked to perfection, and he surprised himself by gobbling those up, as well. Okay, well, we all did.

Okinawan soba with miso smoked pork at Koko Head Cafe.

Okinawan soba with miso smoked pork at Koko Head Cafe.

Just when we thought we couldn’t eat any more, they busted out this noodle dish using Sun Noodle Okinawan soba. It’s topped with shredded miso smoked pork, caramelized onions, fried onions, garlic croutons, and parmesan sauce. It looks really heavy, but the flavors are all delicate and complement each other well. This was another one I had to pack up, and it was also delicious the next day. Normally it’s a crap shoot with noodles that are already sauced, but the soba was sturdy enough to keep its integrity.

Koko Head Cafe's banana on a stick.

Koko Head Cafe’s banana on a stick.

And finally, dessert: Fried Big Island Cuban red banana dipped in ricotta pancake batter, then rolled in corn flakes and toasted coconut. Creamy lehua honey pepper sauce is then drizzled over the top. It’s like a fruity version of their French toast, with a little savory crunchiness with the more dominant sweetness. 

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Mahalo to Lee Anne Wong and her crew at Koko Head Cafe! They opened late to bring us this dinner, and they had to clean up and get back to work so they could open at 7 a.m. the next day.

Don’t forget, you can order these off-menu items at any time. To see more, look for the #KHCSecretMenu hashtag on Instagram or Twitter.

Koko Head Cafe
1145 12th Ave.
808-732-8920

Hawaii: In Real Life ~ frozen Primo Popcorn

DSC01730By now you’ve tried Primo Popcorn, the classic snack in zany gourmet flavors. They’ve been coming out with new ones since I first did a blog video with them, but now they’re giving their customers a fun, new experience with 77 K~orn: flash-frozen popcorn.

Rylen Sato, the chef behind the business, wanted to do something more visual and interactive at events and trade shows to add fun to their display. He had always wanted to get into molecular gastronomy, so he experimented with liquid nitrogen to make ice-cold popcorn in minutes, with cold vapor rising from the containers. Since they usually use their chocolate-covered popcorn, the result is a sweet frozen treat, almost like ice cream.

Here’s a look at how they make their new 77 K~orn:

 

Pretty neat, huh? We talked story with Rylen a little more to find out why he decided to do this, and what other flavors he’s freezing! Visit HawaiiIRL.com to see more. You can also catch them at the new products show at the Blaisdell Center this weekend.

Primo Popcorn
120 Sand Island Access Rd.
808-729-7322

Something new: Golden Pork Tonkotsu Ramen Bar

IKKA Dining Project President Taro Takenaga (center) with Executive Vice President Shunta Fukui and manager Masahiro Isoda.

IKKA Dining Project President Taro Takenaga (center) with Executive Vice President Shunta Fukui and manager Masahiro Isoda.

There’s a new ramen spot in town, and it’s going to give the others a run for their money. Japan-based IKKA Dining Project, which owns 21 Italian restaurants, izakaya, and Kyushu cuisine restaurants, is launching its first endeavor in the ramen business — as well as its first venture in the Hawaii market.

Golden Pork's interior, with tables and a bar/counter.

Golden Pork’s interior, with tables and a bar/counter.

Their Hawaii subsidiary, IKKA Dining International, is set to open Golden Pork Tonkotsu Ramen Bar this Sunday, March 29 (the restaurant will soft open in the evenings from March 25) on 1279 S. King St., where Mediterraneo used to be. We went to a series of previews to taste the ramen, and found the menu to be good food at a good value.

Golden Pork's "Caesar" salad, $4 small and $7 regular.

Golden Pork’s “Caesar” salad, $4 small and $7 regular.

Start with their “Caesar” salad, a plate of Romaine lettuce, bacon (more like lardons), croutons, tomatoes and a soft-boiled egg. It was served whole, but we broke the yolk for dramatic effect. The salad is topped with cheese fresh from their special grater, which makes it fine. We loved this salad, which was kind of rich due to the egg, but not too heavy or filling.

Crackers with cream cheese miso paste, $5.

Crackers with cream cheese miso paste, $5.

Miso cream cheese? This was oddly delicious. You can’t even really taste the miso, but it adds a little saltiness to the cream cheese.

Housemade gyoza, $5.

Housemade gyoza, $5.

No ramen dinner is complete without an order of gyoza. The wrappers are nicely crisped on the bottom, and the filling is comprised of pork, cabbage, Chinese chives, garlic, ginger, scallions, and a mystery ingredient called se-abura. These are meaty and moist, and well-seasoned.

Golden Pork buns, $3.50.

Golden Pork buns, $3.50.

Another side favorite: The Golden Pork buns. Endo slow-cooks the pork ribs for five hours, then tops them with their special teriyaki sauce, mustard and mayonnaise. All the pork here is very melty.

Tokyo "monja" salad, $7.

Tokyo “monja” salad, $7.

I’m still trying to figure this Tokyo “monja” salad out, but I’m posting it so you can see what it looks like. It’s a salad of shredded cabbage, corn, ao nori, soft boiled egg, red pickled ginger, char siu, mayonnaise, and curry powder. It’s topped with bonito, so you get a variety of sweet, savory, and spicy in each bite.

Golden Pork classic. All the ramen is in the $10-12 range.

Golden Pork classic. All the ramen is in the $10-12 range.

If you try nothing else, get the Golden Pork Classic — the most widely known style of ramen here, featuring a rich broth made from pork bones and miso and shoyu from Japan. The noodles are from local company Sun Noodle, and grand chef Masahiro Endo said he went through a lot of R & D to get the consistency to his liking. The broth has a deep richness from Endo’s four-hour reduction process.

Golden Pork classic with some mentaiko.

Golden Pork classic with some mentaiko.

If you want more flavor, order add-ons like the seasoned egg, negi, mushrooms, corn, or mentaiko (Sean’s dollop is shown here) — the seasoned cod roe. This one was specially selected by Endo, an it adds another layer of complexity to each bite.

Black garlic original ramen.

Black garlic original ramen.

The first time I went, I had the black garlic original ramen. It was so good, I was sad that I had already eaten dinner earlier, so was only able to take a few bites. I wanted to take the rest home, but they couldn’t allow me to take it knowing the noodles would absorb the broth and stretch. The broth is rich like the original, but has the added black garlic oil for another level of flavor. I really liked the crunchy garlic chips on it, too.

Black garlic tsukemen.

Black garlic tsukemen.

So the next time I went, I had the black garlic tsukemen (dip noodle). I think a lot of local people like the novelty of it; I like dipping it because it’s not as scalding hot as the regular ramen broth, but that’s me. I’m also a big fan of wide noodles. Dump the toppings on the spoon in the broth, and mix in the red hot sauce if you dare, then dip and eat as you go. I didn’t quite get the hang of the lime wedge, though.

Spicy red miso dragon ramen.

Spicy red miso dragon ramen.

I predict the spicy red miso dragon ramen will be popular with locals, as well. You can choose the spice level — I did the middle level, and it wasn’t too spicy — and you get another rich, porky broth with a kick. Next time, I’ll try the hottest one. Watch my instagram to see if it’s super hot!

Spicy red tsukemen.

Spicy red tsukemen.

Like the others, the spicy red broth comes in tsukemen style, too. Again, if you like the wide noodles and don’t want scalding hot broth, this is for you.

Green tea panna cotta, $4.50.

Green tea panna cotta, $4.50.

If you still have room for dessert (I don’t, after a full bowl of ramen like that, but Sean Morris wanted to try), they have vanilla ice cream with kinako and kuromitsu, and green tea panna cotta. This wasn’t too heavy, large, or rich, so I don’t think it will put you over the edge if you eat it. If you’re into green tea, this is probably going to be how you end your meal!

Golden Pork grand chef Masahiro Endo.

Golden Pork grand chef Masahiro Endo.

Golden Pork will be open daily from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. from March 29. During this soft opening period, call ahead if you are hoping for alcohol, as they are still waiting for their managers’ liquor licenses so you may be able to bring your own sake (hint: The Sake Shop is just down the street). For more photos, click here.

Golden Pork Tonkotsu Ramen Bar
1279 S. King St.
808-888-5358
Parking on street or in a tiny lot in back

TacoCat HI launches its fusion pop-up

Has it really been that long? Korean fusion tacos blew up the street food scene seven years ago, and food trucks haven’t been the same since. As with all fads, the new fusion ran its course, with the cream of the crop surviving and thriving throughout the country.

Well, the cycle is circling back. Kat Araujo and Joseph Lee met while working at Seed restaurant in Kaimuki, and decided to put their skills toward forming a pop-up company. TacoCat HI uses Joseph’s Korean mother’s recipes for taco fillings, and desserts from Kat’s childhood. By the way, the name was chosen because it’s a palindrome, and they love plays on words.

They officially launched TacoCat HI to the public last night with an event at Kakaako Agora, where 100 attendees paid $25 for all the tacos and desserts they could eat. The large, tasty tacos had chicken, pork, beef and tofu fillings; the tres leches and cookies were a big hit. Judging from the rate at which fillings ran out, pork and chicken were probably the crowd favorites. (Joseph’s mom was on hand to help out and laughed that one of the tres leches would be her dinner, since the tacos went so quickly.)

You can catch TacoCat HI at the next Eat the Street in Kakaako.

Photos by Eric Baranda:

TacocatHI's launch

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Wang Chung’s new food menu

Wang Chung’s, the popular karaoke bar in Waikiki, unveiled its new food offerings at a special media event last night. Owner Danny Chang and chef Randy Sanchez created a whimsical menu of Asian- and Latin- inspired dishes to go with their fun, unique cocktails.

If you’ve never been to Wang Chung’s before: Dan likes to have names and merchandise that poke fun at his first- and second-generation Asian heritage. In addition to a full bar, special infused spirits and singing bartenders, the new dishes reflect that spirit in a delicious way. Here are a few that we tried (all photos by Grant Shindo unless marked):

Wang Chung's lamb sliders.

Wang Chung’s Vietnamese pork hash sliders ($6).

Everyone’s favorite was the Vietnamese pork hash sliders, which are moist, meaty, and get a little tang from the pickled veggies. These are perfect for sharing, but you won’t want to! I appreciate that they call this a banh mi that doesn’t hurt the roof of your mouth.

Wang Chung's Uncle Juan Tachos ($8).

Wang Chung’s Uncle Juan Tachos ($8).

The Uncle Juan Tachos feature house-roasted kalua pig, Randy’s nacho sauce, mango pico de gallo, and house made wonton chips. These are pretty filling! Also, they go pretty fast. I only had two bites.

General Wang's chicken torta ($7).

General Wang’s chicken torta ($7).

I really liked the General Wang’s chicken torta — the chicken was so moist, I thought it was fish at first. The slaw, orange gastrique and chili dust give it a nice, sweet/spicy Asian flavor.

 

Wang Chung's handcut house fries.

Wang Chung’s handcut house fries.

The handout house fries are really good — they’re lightly salty, but I loved that they are lightly crisp on the outside and fluffy inside. Served with sriracha mayo and house ketchup, Randy says these fries are “made with Mexican sweat and tears.”

Wang Chung's sweet corn chicken tamale dumplings.

Wang Chung’s sweet corn chicken tamale dumplings.

I didn’t see these sweet corn chicken tamale dumplings on the menu, but they are dericious! They’re sweet and savory, and a little too easy to eat with the dipping sauce. Definitely a dish for sharing, so you don’t end up eating the whole plate yourself.

Wang Chung's flied pickles.

Wang Chung’s flied pickles.

Fried pickles? No, flied pickles! Say it like you’re fresh off the boat. As you might guess, these are a little tangy, which works with it being battered and fried. The sriracha mayo that it’s served with is perfect. I didn’t think I’d like this, but found myself eating them like chips.

Wang Chung's Fried Oyster Bao (FOB, $3).

Wang Chung’s Fried Oyster Bao (FOB, $3).

Another nod to Dan’s Asian-ness: the F.O.B. (Fried Oyster Bao). Peking duck buns are filled with Asian-inspired cole slaw and a whole fried oyster. It’s quite a mouthful! Maybe more than a mouthful. Get a lot of napkins for this one.

We got more party pics from the event, which featured Ocean Vodka cocktails and shots. Party pics are easy to do at Wang Chung’s now, since the current location is exponentially larger than its original spot down the street.

Wang Chung's bigger Wang!

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Wang Chung’s
2424 Koa Ave. (in the Stay Hotel)
808-921-9176
(Parking available at nearby hotels or on the street)