Monday, March 31, 2008

Maui 2008: Vietnamese Cuisine

Completely NOT something we expected to try in Maui, but after a night of beers, wine & Absolute, we needed a cure...

We saw "Vietnamese Cuisine" when we visited Izakaya Matsu the night before, so instead of looking up a good V. Restaurant to go to (again, hungover), we decided to check it out.

The room was big, looked tacky (as with most V. places, which I don't really care), and barely had any customers at 1pm or so on Thursday.

I don't remember seeing Green Papaya Salad on many V. Restaurant menus, and only tried the Thai versions, so I thought.. why not, lets check out Maui's V. version. The carrots and papaya were soaked through with with nuoc mam (fish sauce, sugar, water, lime juice, etc), topped with chopped peanuts and 2 pieces of shrimp. The flavor was good, vegetables were addicting, and peanuts really worked well with the dish. The shrimp wasn't very fresh -- tasted rubbery like it was def. frozen for a while.

Summer Rolls - the nuoc mam sauce was good but it was stuffed with too much noodles, and pretty flavorless by itself. There was no pork inside, so I think it lacked that meaty saltiness... and again, the shrimp wasn’t especially fresh/crisp.

Purpose of our trip -- Pho Tai. Their soup base was very good, meat well cooked, but the noodles were of a thicker variety that was precooked and just dumped in the broth, so we had a hard time breaking it apart and hoping it'd soften (it didn't entirely). The plate of ingredients for us to put into the soup didn't look fresh either... the basil had these white stuff in one of the stems that seemed like mold. The lime slices where small, thin and yellow, so I asked for more... and the ones given were still small, thin and yellow. It just looked old...

It seemed like a wife-husband duo that was running the restaurant. Husband was eager to fill our waters, ask about the flavors of their food, and spoke about their salad with much excitement. Wife seemed annoyed, and simply wanted to take our order, give us the food, and give us a check.

overall – good flavors, but they definitely lack in freshness of ingredients. The noodles definitely need to be replaced -- tasted older and were way too thick.

Vietnamese Cuisine
(Azeka Center)

Maui 2008: Sarento's on the Beach

This was a last-minute decision because we wanted to stay around our hotel that night. My sister recommended this place because she heard good reviews from the hotel concierge. We don’t often try Italian when we travel (even though it’s one of my TOP favorite cuisines) so I thought it’d be interesting to give it a try.

I was SO glad we did. Bread was warm, chewy, delicious, served with a curry hummus. Even though we were trying to save room for the actual dishes, we couldn't help but finish all of the

Pan Fried Crab Cakes with Yuzu-Dijon Aioli, Basil Oil -– big chunks of fresh crabs, nice flavors, but the portions were too teeny...

clam pasta – chewy, perfectly cooked linguini in a fresh clams white wine sauce. The only thing I did not care for was the toast with perhaps goat cheese? Not good. The pasta though, was delicious...

We also ordered a market-price special that was a cilantro crusted fish in a perfectly delicious tomato based sauce filled with Italian sausage and clams that I wish to recreate…BURSTING with great flavors. Under it is polenta, which my husband ended up loving. I just miss the sauce...

As announced by one of the waiters, "A team of us will be serving you today"! The "team" included a timely water filler, a great waiter that took our orders and made excellent recommendations with great details, knowledge, and passion...and finally the waiter who made the 'announcement' that didn’t bother apologizing when we asked for bread (they didn’t give us any). He rushed off without saying anything, leaving us confused...then came back to dump the bread on our table.

Overall, nice ambience (another beachfront restaurant), delicious food. Definitely worth returning to (even if it's owned by a restaurant group).

Sarento’s on the Beach
2980 S Kihei Rd, , HI.
Phone: 808-875-7555.

Maui 2008: Pacific O

Located in a cute little shopping area of Lahaina, Pacific O is situated on a beautiful beach, serving up Contemporary Pacific cuisine created with fresh fish from the nearby harbor and produce from their own O'o farm in Kula. (not all produce are from the farm, but nearly 100% of their salad greens and herbs are now from the farm) The O'o farm is shared with I'O (sister restaurant next door).

Ordered Items:

Tropical Ceviche Du JourAn island blend of fresh seafood, citrus juices, herbs and produce - the fish was fresh, but marinade was just sour with not much other flavor...almost a bit bland. Plaintain chips were ok.

Pasta Ele’ Ele’
Blackened fresh fish served over whole wheat spaghetti toassed with cilantro pesto, organic green papaya, fennel and a mango creme Fraiche - very fresh and moist fish, temperture just right. It was also blackened perfectly with a nice and crisp top. Pasta had good flavor, but it was very rich, thick, and greasy. It was a very heavy lunch.

Special: Seared, sesame crusted, sashimi-grade Ahi over arugula, topped with seaweed salad-
I felt this dish was so much more refreshing, yet not lacking in flavor. All the ingredients were very fresh, and I also enjoyed the small topping of seaweed salad.

The location is nice -- we enjoyed people-watching under the sun, and walking around the area after lunch, especially since there were additional busy stores down the street. The ingredients were very fresh , bread was soft, dishes were creative, and presentation was one of the best. But for the price they charge, I'm not sure it was exceptional enough. I probably won't return again.

Pacific ‘O
505 Front Street, Suite 114
Lahaina, HI

As a quick note... Having nothing to do before whale-watching, we went into Ma'alaea Grill for a snack/drink. The restaurant looked old, and the waitress gave us pressure about ordering food. She also suckered us into getting the ridiculously huge beers that we didn't end up finishing. We tried their clam chowder which wasn't bad, but it was VERY thick, stuffed with potatoes. In all fairness, we didn't go for a meal...but honestly, I'd never want to go back here again:

Ma’alaea Grill
(in Maui Ocean Center mall)
300 Maalaea Road
Maalaea, HI 96793


One more review for our dinner the same day... we ran out of batteries on our camera (from all the attempts of capturing a whale), so we couldn't take any photos.

Waterfront at Ma’alaea
50 Hauoli Street
Maalaea, Maui, Hawaii 96793

Tucked behind a condominium, this restaurant had the most amount of fresh fish on their menu! Essentially, you pick out a fish of the day, and a way you'd like them to prepare it (pretty big list for both, and they also recommend certain style of preparation for certain type of fish).

The fish was fresh and delicious, but the sauces were too thick, creamy and rich.

Hubby chose the ‘monchong’ cooked a’la meuniere, and I chose ‘opakapaka’ cooked en bastille. My style was very interesting... shredded, crisped potatoes wrapped around the fish. It was good..but again, sauce was so heavy that it overwhelmed the natural flavor of the fish.

The bread service wasn't impressive at all... but the appetizers were probably the stars in comparison. We ordered fresh raw oysters that were super-fresh! We also shared steamed clams in a delicious wine/butter sauce. Those were definitely our highlights.

This restaurant is also oceanfront, so sitting outside was nice. The restaurant inside looked a bit outdated, and the wait staff seemed a bit older and a bit cheesy with lame jokes.

I'm not certain whether or not I'd return (after all, I do love fresh fish, and they had a big variety, some of which I've never heard of). If I do return, I'd ask for sauces on the side, and choose the lightest preparation method possible.

Maui 2008: Izakaya Matsu

OH how I looove Izakayas (居酒屋) ! Shin's mom is an awesome cook (even though I recently found out she actually doesn't enjoy cooking that much), and one of my favorite bday meals that she treated me to was her own Izakaya-style cooking.. SO GOOD.

Upon discovering the existence of an authentic izakaya in Maui, we HAD to give it a try... TWICE. (for some reason, Chicago does not have izakayas, which makes us overexcited when we find them in other cities)

Izakaya Matsu is in Azeka Center (a little strip mall in Kihei). Cute atmosphere, very sweet and cute waitresses, and seemingly warm-hearted owners.

Chef was very good at making fried foods. Their agedashi tofu was one of the best I've ever had –- the tofus were partially soaked and softened in dashi, so ½ of it remained crisp. Seldom do I get agedashi tofu that isn't completely soaked and softened.

Their fried oysters, chicken-kushi (fried, moist chicken on skewers), potato croquette (panko-crusted mashed potatoes/vegetables) all had that perfect crispness at times are difficult to find at restaurants. The panko crusts makes the layer thin and less greasy too.

I also loved the gyu-tongue, tho my dad felt it was slightly overcooked. I just love the chewy texture.

Onto the famous Osaka goodies...their Okonomiyaki (flour, seafood, vegetables pancake with seasonings and mayo) was crisp, delicious, stuffed with ingredients. Takoyaki (octopus-stuffed flour base balls covered with fish flakes) on the other hand was only okay... maybe the batter was overdone, or they didn't stuff enough octopus?

Saba misoyaki had good flavors, with well-cooked fish and eggplants.

We had to get the yakitori (chicken skewers) since it's typical izakaya food. The chicken was so moist and tender! Both the shio (salt) and shoyu (soy sauce) were delicious, but I still love shio (salt) the best.

I'm not a huge fan of yakisoba, but my brother wanted to order this dish. It's made well for what it is (nice chunks of crispy vegetables contrasting the thin, chewy noodles), but I still don't think I'm a big fan.
How can I forget to mention the absolute necessity at an Izakaya? chilled sake, mm... they overpour the glass to slightly fill the bamboo container...

Ahi sashimi with grounded yama-imo (yam-potatoe).. for those that never had yama-imo, it's a VERY healthy vegetable with no flavor that's of a slimy texture. It's often served cold but my mom puts it into soups too (which lessens the sliminess). Picture the consistency of okra after you cut it up.. the sliminess is the same. This was refreshing, nothing special.Hamachi sashimi -- mediocre
yaki-mochi... this reminded me of japanese crackers, but obviously it's bigger with thicker consistency. It was too sweet for my taste, probably a regretful order:

Their raw oysters came with a nice soy-based sauce w/ green onions, but the oysters itself weren't as fresh as another seafood restaurant we went to in Maui, so we weren't as impressed:

Ahi Poke had nice balanced flavors -- probably the best poke we tried on this trip:

Mentai Ika - as Andrew Zimmern said on his "Bizzare Foods - Taiwan" episode, I don't understand why Mentaiko isn't as popular...I too LOVE this stuff. Mentaiko (明太子) is marinated pollock roe (typically slightly spicy). It's like sausages with fish eggs instead of meat. I love eating it with rice, used as a pasta sauce, even in our breakfast oatmeals. Anyway, in this dish, the eggs were taken out to place on top of ika sashimi (squid). The result was clean & simple -- mentai was very fresh.

Next time, we would love to try the shabu shabu that many locals ordered, as well as their shoyu ramen that became available all day (instead of only after 9pm) by popular demand. Didn't quite get to those two things after all the chowing above...

Izakaya Matsu
(Azeka Center)
1280 South Kihei Road
Kihei, HI 96753


Maui 2008: Big Wave Cafe

Day after my sister's wedding, I woke up early (and hungover) to have buffet breakfast / coffee while chatting with my sister. After a few hours of failed nap attempts, my dad wanted to have lunch together, so he asked me to pick out a place from my 'list'... I decided to check out Big Wave Cafe. On their web site, it says, "...award winning chef Raul Bermudez. Delivering great food at great prices while using only the freshest Maui-grown vegetables, fruits and local seafoods..." seeing the key words "freshest Maui-grown", "seafoods", "great prices" were instant selling points!

Very casual ambiance, seriously a "cafe" look -- for a second I thought it was a coffeehouse. It's in a strip mall with outdoor seating along the walls. Service was okay, we waited a little, but it wasn't too bad. Thankfully I didn't need to use the bathroom because I later read from another review that the bathroom is difficult to locate and quite secluded... yikes.

Onto the food.. which was grrrrrreat!

The hub and I shared their Fresh Fish Tacos ($8.95) – very fresh, great flavors, tortillas perfectly crisp. The husband loved the mango salsa that came with it.

I forgot what the soup of the day was but we shared it as well -- very hearty vegetable soup (I think with sausages), very strong tomato flavor.

I didn't snag photos of my brother and dad's meals but I definitely sampled them. My brother's Kalua Pork with Macaroni Salad and Rice was tender, moist, perfectly flavored. A tad of soy sauce made it perfect over rice.

For the first time ever, my dad ordered a dish I was jealous of -- Roast Beef, grilled with Swiss, Lettuce, Tomato, Onion, Peppers and Chipotle Sauce (7.95)
I pictured deli-style roast beef, but this was actual home-roasted beef. Very melt-in-your-mouth tenderness, smoky delicious flavor, excellent balance of sauce/meat.

I really regret not returning for dinner, because that menu looked even better. Excellent place that I’d definitely return to next time we visit Maui!

Big Wave Café
1215 South Kihei Road
(Long’s Shopping Center)

Maui 2008: Makena Clubhouse

There's something about having a drink and grabbing a bite to eat at the clubhouse after a round of golf, especially when the view is scenic, and you can watch other players drive off their tee! Since our tee time was at 9:30am, it was around 1-2pm by the end of our round, which was too late for a big lunch. So we decided to eat at the clubhouse for both rounds, sharing an appetizer and entree so we wouldn't be too stuffed for dinner.

On our first visit, our waiter seemed very excited about their mai tais, claimed that it's the BEST anywhere, so I had to give it a try. Honestly, I did not think there'd be much of a difference, but there really was-- this drink was GOOD. (and I'm not even into sugary drinks) Just enough stiffness, not too artificial / sugary, and very refreshing.

We shared the Island Style Sashimi - Thin slices of fresh Hawaiian Ahi (tuna)

Usually we would never order sashimi at a non-Japanese restaurant, but it was towards the beginning of our trip, we were in Hawaii, and CRAVING raw fish, so we did it. Not impressive, but not bad either. For some reason ginger / wasabi / raw fish is quite delish after golfing.

For our entree, we shared the Ahi sandwich (I know, Ahi again...). This was seared perfectly, mounded with a big chunk of onion, tomato, on a nice foccacia bun -- very tasty! The fries were freshly crisp on the outside, soft and hot inside. good dish!

For our second visit, we decided to try these Shrimp / Avocado Spring Rolls (they might've called in Summer rolls, I'm not sure). It's definitely something I can easily imitate at home, and not even close to being authentic in any way, but it was fresh and sauce was tangy. Would I order it again at around $12 a dish? Probably not.

Okay, I seriously seem like a westerner by now, but yes -- we shared an asian wonton noodles dish (yes, we are still at the clubhouse). It's only because my dad ordered it a couple days prior and said it was good! (not that I trust my dad's taste)

Surprisingly, the broth was quite good. The ingredients are definitely on the non-authentic side, but it was overall soothing and tasty.

I might return for the excellent view, nice atmosphere, convenience (if I golf at Makena) and mai tai, but the food wasn't impressive enough for the price tag.

5400 Makena Alanui
Makena, Hawaii 96753
TEL 808-874-1111

Maui 2008: Five Palms

Just returned from a week-long, beautiful Maui Wedding Celebration / Vacation. For the next week or so, I will post photos/reviews of restaurants we visited.

First is a rehearsal/welcome dinner at Five Palms Beach Grill, an open-air restaurant in Wailea, Maui. Tiki torches along the beach guided guests to the beachfront restaurant. Inside, the romantic and classic atmosphere is marked by soft lighting, beautiful view, and full length open windows that invited sea breeze and the sound of ocean waves. It was $55/person (plus drinks, tax, 20% service charge) for a 3 course meal. We added an additional $5.50/drink welcome mai-tai, selected 6 bottles of wine for the guests, and everyone ordered anything additional they wanted.

Restaurant added a nice personalized menu (although my sister's name was spelled wrong even after I spelled both names over the phone as well as over emails):

Our selections as follows (note: guests were able to select 1 of 3 entree choices)

Appetizer: Pan Seared Tiger Prawn and Diver Scallops
Served with Lychee Demi Glace

very delicious, nice and delicate flavor. scallop and prawn were cooked perfectly crisp, I really enjoyed this dish.

Choice 1: Grilled Pacific Salmon
Island Style Marinade and Grilled, Laced with Cilantro Citrus Butter Sauce served with Asparagus

Nicely cooked fresh salmon, but it wasn't impressively memorable.

Choice#2: Macadamia Nut Crusted Fresh Island Fish (in this case, mahi mahi)
Served with a Lilikoi Ginger Butter Sauce, Sautéed Garden Vegetables and Jasmine Rice Pilaf

very mediocre, the crust wasn't very crisp, although the fish was fresh and moist.

Choice#3: Slow Roasted Prime Rib of Beef
Rubbed with Hawaiian Alae Salt and Garlic Herbs, served with Mashed Potatoes, Creamy Horseradish and Au-Jus

I didn't try this dish -- my bro-in-law snapped a picture for me so I thought I'd post it.

Dessert: Pineapple Crème Brulee
Served in Pineapple Cup

tasty, crisp top, nice presentation... it was slightly too creamy but I still licked the pineapple shell clean.

The overall experience was nice, wait staff was sufficient and accompanied to our needs, but I do have a few complaints:

1. catering manager that planned our event was not there to meet us and make sure everything went as planned. he misspelled the bride's name, and did not assign the task of putting candles on the desserts for two of our guests who were also celebrating their bdays (I told someone there and he took care of it on the spot). Also, the children's keiki menus we discussed were not given to them.

2. the waitress kept pushing our guests to select over-priced tropical drinks, making suggestions when they weren't asked.

Decent experience, but I probably won't return nor recommend it for a reception (overpriced).

Five Palms
2960 S Kihei Road
Kihei, HI 96753

Monday, March 17, 2008


After reading rave reviews on chowhound, LTH forum, and various critics, and seeing the Best New Chef of 2007's words, "Vie, French word for "Life"..My goal is to help them enjoy every morsel and drop of life.” and learning of their "Use of local, fresh ingredients"... I was excited to take my parents to Vie for their anniversary.

The setting is nice -- contemporary design/decor, b&w pictures, and a surprisingly large space. Everyone from the hostess to the designated person who filled our water regularly were pleasant. the only person we unfortunately interacted with most ended up having an attitude problem...for some reason he didn't give us a decanter for our bottle of wine (other tables around us had decanters). i don't care whether or not a decanter is used, but I found it irritating that we're the only table not offered... especially since it was my parents' special day. and when my dad ordered "steak", the waiter asked, "um, are you talking about the strip steak?" it was the only "steak" on the menu, I found it unnecessary to make my dad feel stupid and second guess his order. not terrible service, but snobby and not very helpful. we had the foie gras & gnocchi appetizer, (special) corned beef, strip steak, bass, and pork belly for dinner. the timing and temperature of all the dishes were great, but there were way too much sourness (pickling) and saltiness.. taste was so strong I felt like I needed starch to settle the flavor (especially the bacon/pork belly)...but there weren't any. foie gras melted in my mouth, but the sauce was too sweet and a bit sour too... the only thing that wasn't too strong was probably the well-made gnocchi (without the vegetables that came w/ it), as it melted in my mouth. the two slices of bread served to each of us was also quite good, tho two out of four of us had the ends of the loaf served to us. while the flavors were somewhat inspiring, it was way too strong. Unfortunately, I would not be interested in wasting my time for a return (thanks to the memorably disappointing server). I also wonder whether or not Chef Virant was available -- never saw him out, so perhaps that was the reason why everything was overly seasoned.

ricotta gnocchi, pan roasted oyster mushrooms,

werp farms sorrel, sweet butter

seared au bon canard foie gras, warm english crumpet, local squash butter,

wisconsin black walnuts and walnut vinaigrette

pan-roasted sea bass, braising greens, preserved tomato arrabbiata,

toasted breadcrumbs, shaved celery and arugula

slow-cooked “fresh bacon,” wieland family farm cranberry beans, tuscan kale,

preserved tomato vinaigrette, house made giardiniera

marinated and wood-grilled painted hills strip steak,

toasted barley, marinated cauliflower, mushrooms, mustard béarnaise

"Special" Corned Beef (St. Patrick's Day)

Recommended Wine (which also sucked):

06 Gypsy Dancer, Pinot Noir, Emily Ann, Chehalem Mt.,


As a side note, my friend went to Vie a few weeks ago and had a wonderful experience-- she said her waiter was so wonderful and even offered to give a tour of the restaurant/kitchen after they finished eating. the pantry, variety of pickling jars, marinades, were shown with pride and everything looked fresh and clean. goes to show how different the wait staff can be...

while i want to give them a second chance, there are just way too many other restaurants I'd rather try and many more that I'd want to return to.

my expectations were high.. it's such a shame.


4471 Lawn Avenue

Western Springs, IL

Thursday, March 13, 2008


I can't believe how terrible I am at updating this food blog -- I blame it on my hub who barely takes me out to eat. It's just too difficult trying to add 'taking photos' to my cooking process, although I should.. cuz there are recipes I'd love to try again, and there are others that I really should make adjustments to...

I did take a couple photos of a few recent eating adventures though.

First is a revisit of one of our old fave Japanese places in Chicago -- Itto Sushi. My oh My, has that place gone to shiiiee... ok, maybe not that bad. But the food wasn't that good.. at all. Fish wasn't fresh (especially uni... I wanted to spit that back out). The only thing decent was chawanmushi, but it's hard screwing up steamed egg custard. Even still, the fish in that custard was NOT fresh. wtf is going on.
this is their eggplant -- very simple. i like simplicity but this was just boring...

this used to be my favorite at itto, and it's still good...but not awesome.

I didn't take photos of this, but I wanted to mention my recent burger outing at Taylor Place Brewery.
One of the best burgers I've had in recent years. Never-frozen, freshly grounded (or so it tastes) big chunk 'o beef patty, fresh vegetables, and a tasty layer of mushroom/onion sherry sauce. My medium rare was cooked perfectly .. still got some bloody raw goodness. My friend Roo's medium barely had any reds, but the tenderness remained. The only complaint I had was the burgers got a lil soggy at the bottom (even though we asked for our sherry sauce on the side). I prefer the buns to be a bit more toasted so there's some crunch to the layer. Also, 1 tiny slice of pickle came with my burger instead of either a couple slices or 1 long piece...but I'm sure I can just ask for that. Other than that, it was delicioso... next time I plan on getting burger with one of their beers, since they're brewed in-house.. yum.

Lastly, I went to Cocoa Bean for lunch and took pictures of my Veggie Sandwich - Roasted portobello mushrooms with sweet onion marmalade, sliced tomatoes and provolone cheese on Italian bread, and my brother's Tuna Melt Sandwich- White albacore tuna with mozzarella cheese on wheat bread.

I really don't think they used 'Italian bread' for my Veggie sandwich because it tasted more like rye. For some reason, it got a bit soggy, losing the crisp texture that I obviously love. And they weren't kidding about the "sweet" onion marmalade because it was SWEET. argh. I prefer my savory items to be salty, so I was pretty disappointed.

I've had my brother's tuna melt so I drooled at the thought of that taste while stuffing the 'way too sweet marmalade thing' down my throat. Our sandwiches came with cookies this time... either the cashier last time forgot to give that to us, or it's a new idea to encourage customers to return (with the current recession, I wouldn't be surprised if they're lacking business). Cookies turned out to be quite delicious. Very soft, chewy, just the way I like my cookies. Esp. oatmeal raisin was STUFFED with oats & granola.. mmm.

My coworker (who eats 1 hour earlier than I do) also went to Cocoa Bean and brought back a little gift for me -- Rasberry Rugelach - Flaky pastry rolled in coarse sugar. Not something I'd typically order, so I was excited to try it. OH MY, yummers!! This soft, chewy dough was wrapped around each other with rasberry sauce spread in between... melted sugary goodness made the dough slightly chewier and crispier than expected. And the dough was airy! Definitely something to buy for one of my sweets- loving friends. don't you just LOVE to share good food?? i do! (unless it's MY portion that I intended on eating by myself.. there is a distinct difference)

So of course I couldn't resist bringing home a couple things to share with hubby for tomorrow's breakfast (i'm contributing to the economy!!!):

Plain Croissant - *updated* - VERY GOOD... it not only looked perfect and beautiful, the buttery layers made this a luscious treat. I want to go back and eat 10 more.

Leek & Gruyere Quiche- "updated" - fresh ingredients, nice separation of a leek/egg layer, and a gruyere layer, crispy/flaky crust. but i dont think i'm a huge fan of quiche.. a bit too heavy for me.

Ham & Cheese Brioche - "updated" - crust was actually a bit too thick for me, then again, this is prob. the first time i had a Brioche. very ok. will not order again.

My brother ordered a Pistachio brulee cake for my dad's bday, and it was light, creamy, delicious! Look at the writing on the cake too.. so pretty! This is my new go-to place for cakes for sure!

Itto Sushi
2616 N. Halsted
Chicago, IL 60614

Taylor Place Brewery
717 East Butterfield Road
Lombard, Illinois

Cocoa Bean Bakery

11 S. Seventh Street
Geneva, IL 60134