Hawaii, home for amazing fine dining experiences

Hawaii has everything to be a paradise, and it is. From amazing landscapes with active volcanoes, incredible beaches with waves to surf until past dawn to a mix of cultures, ethnic groups, ancient history and heroic moments.

The isolation that the Hawaiian islands are immersed on makes them unique and unspoiled in many ways. Old traditions, from immigration waves that came to these shores generations ago, and simmered slowly along the years in a real melting pot. One of the many examples: my taxi driver spoke fluent Japanese, with an accent from Hokkaido, and his English had a strong Japanese accent, and he was 4th generation American, and never been in Japan.

Honolulu, and the a former POTUS’ favorite

Alan Wong is a Hawaiian institution. Trend setter, featured in magazines and specialized media, and often mentioned as a former President’s favorite, which brings adepts to the restaurant, and also creates some controversia.

I typically stay away from famous places and try to go to more “authentic” places, but in all my conversations with Hawaiians and former Hawaiians, I was always getting the same advise: “Go to Alan Wong’s, you aren’t going to be disappointed”.

When you only have chance to have one dinner in one city, then, follow the advises you get. And I went there. The restaurant is located on a 3rd floor of a building, but do not expect a breathtaking view. It’s not located in Waikiki. What I learnt is that you don’t go there for the view, you go for the food…

While waiting for the table, sat at the bar. Perfect excuse to have a drink. The bartender, very experimented and knowledgeable of his trade suggested the signature drink: Pineapple Martini. Made with pineapple vodka (don’t get confused, it’s not pineapple-flavored vodka, it’s fermented pineapple that then is distilled) that has a subtle fruity aroma, of course made in Hawaii.

For the meal, and once siting at the table I ordered and selection of the appetizers. It is my experience that ordering appetizers you have smaller orders and with more flavor, and typically, main courses are not that complex. Well, that does not apply to Alan Wong’s. Main courses are very well and carefully crafted. Anyway, I learnt that later.

Dinner started with an oyster. All good dinner that starts with an oyster is, and before even starting, an amazing dinner… And this was a shooter with spicy tomato water, fennel, basil essences and a Kualoa oyster, one of the most tasty and meaty oysters I ever have.

The second step was seafood cakes. A classic with kaffir-lime leaves and capers. Just an excuse to wait until a fantastic surprise arrived to the table: Kauai shrimps “escargot style”. Just think of shrimps cooked in butter and baked on the same style and dish that traditionally snails are served. That is already interesting, but to make it even better, some beautiful, fragrant and tasty mushrooms on top.

One of the most popular appetizers in Alan Wong’s is the nori wrapped tempura ahi. As the name states, a nice piece of fresh ahi tuna, wrapped in nori, lightly battered and deep fried. Served with tomato-ginger relish and soy mustard sauce.

Being myself not a big fan of sweets, I don’t do dessert, but the coconut dessert is not to be missed. I will spare the description so it will be enjoyed without pre-conception, but it worth it every bite.

I would like to highlight the quality of the service. From the bartender to the waiting staff and runners. As a former restaurant manager myself, I really enjoy when the service is attentive. And an example is when every dish is properly presented in front of the patron that ordered, and described in detail, for a better understanding and enjoyment. Makes it clear why a former President of the United States counts this place as one of his favorites.

Hilo, Mama’s Fish house, a staple for great food and amazing service

I fell in love with Mama’s Fish House last year, when after a rough morning at the office, left the ship right after clocking out for lunch, took a taxi, and without any directions, told the taxi driver to take me to the best restaurant in town. And he did. And I’m still grateful for that.

I arrived to the place, at the beach, with palm trees (well, is Hawaii…) an found a big building where you could listen the sound of laughter, silverware moving and lots of chat, even from the outside. That is music to my ears. The restaurant was packed. I was by myself, so I requested to sit at the bar. There is never a waitlist to sit at the bar, and the bartenders in these places love to have customers for lunch at the counter.

I was out of place. Wearing an electric-blue linen suite, neck-tie and shoes, I knew I was overdressed… but I was just out-of-the-office, and after a not-easy morning. Everybody around me was in Hawaiian shirts, flip flops and shorts.

What is about this place, that has about 300 sits, and is packed for lunch, in the middle of the week, and was opened before I was born, and is still successful?

It started small, with passion, by entrepreneurs that trained themselves in the business, and with one mission: serve fresh honest food. Here, fish is king, and brought daily by fishermen that have been fishing for the restaurant since ever.

Being is such a strange mood myself, I ordered a Mai Tai. We are in Hawaii, right? And is to early too start with zombies. It was made as it should, colorful, in front of my eyes, on a tiki mug, garnished with pineapple and cherries, and a fresh orchid! Since I didn’t want to think or make decisions, I told the bartender: “Just feed me…”. That’s a scary responsibility for any restaurant server, and I could see the trouble in her eyes. The bartender was new in the position and she was being trained in it after some time as a buss-person.

The trainer stepped in and they figured out my lunch for that day. I trusted them blindfolded. It started with a sashimi tasting (Papa’s Sashimi), three different fishes in it’s own style. Then, Maui venison seared with spices and honey-lime sauce. And last, Waihee tomato salad with Maui onions, blue cheese and aged balsamic vinegar.

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I have to say, one of the best culinary experiences in my life. After a rough morning in the office, just checked my pockets: ID?, checked. Phone?, checked. Wallet?, checked. Skyroam?, checked. I asked the port agent about the best restaurant in town. I was in for a treat. I was by myself, asked for a sit at the bar… And that was the best decision ever, and the last one! I saw that the bar staff was very professional and knowledgeable and trusted them blindly. I just said… feed me! And they did!! The brought me an assortment of appetisers. Papa’s Sashimi: Ono – with calamansi, chilli and papaya and Alaea pink salt Ahi Tuna – with ponzu shiso and Kukui nut. Kanpachi with a Maui onion-fig ham and Molokai black salt. I was so excited I forgot to take the picture before eating! Maui venison seared with roasted spices and honey-lime sauce. Waihee Tomato Salad with Maui onions, blue cheese and very old balsamic vinegar. After all that, I got tempted with some BC oyster… the highlight on it was the Chilli water. Tengo que decir, una de las mejores experiencias culinarias de mi vida. Después de una mañana dura en la oficina, solo revisé mis bolsillos: ¿Cédula?, si! ¿Teléfono ?, si!. ¿Billetera?, si!. ¿Skyroam ?, si. Le pregunté al agente de puerto por el mejor restaurante de la ciudad. Me merecía una indulgencia. Estaba solo, pedí que me sentaran en el bar … ¡Y esa fue la mejor decisión!! Y la última! Vi que el personal del bar era muy profesional y conocía bien su trabajo y confié en ellos a ciegas. Les dije: alimenténme! Y lo hicieron !! Me trajeron un surtido de entradas. Papa's Sashimi: Ono – con calamansi, chile y papaya y sal rosa Alaea Ahi Tuna – con ponzu shiso y nuez Kukui. Kanpachi con una mermelada de higo y cebolla de Maui y sal negra molokai. Estaba tan emocionado que me olvidé de sacar la foto!!! Carne de venado de Maui con especias tostadas y salsa de miel y limón. Ensalada Waihee de tomate con cebolla Maui, queso azul y vinagre balsámico añejad. Después de todo eso, me tenté con algunas ostras de Stellar Bay. #northshore #maui #hawaii #sashimi #venison #ahi #ono #oysters #myskyroam #foodie #foodporn #worldshonestfood #crewlife #world

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I was happy as a fish, and I was in a fish house, but I still could eat something more… Oysters! And that is when I discovered the chili water, a traditional Hawaiian condiment that is fantastic to season and enhance the flavor of fresh oysters.

But that was last year. This time I went, still in a suit, with shoes and necktie, sat in te same bar, in the same chair, and was served by te same bartender. But this time she was not a trainee anymore, and her personality, comments and jokes were making the place sparkle.

Since last time the “Just feed me” line worked out so well, I used it again, and she gave me a second look:

—You were here before…

Another point for her!

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Feliz de volver a uno de mis restaurantes preferidos en todo el mundo! Siempre una sorpresa, siempre sabroso, siempre con un gran servicio. Degustación de entradas, para probar más sabores. Primero, media docena de ostras de Chelsea Gem, después wontons de langostinos, y luego un lomo de atún rojo sellado con especias. Todo regado con un Mai Tai… solo por que estamos en Hawaii! . Happy to return to one of my favorite restaurants in the whole world! Always a surprise, always tasty, always with great service. Tasting appetisers, to try more flavors. First, half a dozen Chelsea Gem oysters, then shrimp wontons, and then a red tuna loin seared with spices. All washed down with a Mai Tai … just because we are in Hawaii! #mamasfishhouse #oyster #hawaii #searedtuna #worldshonestfood #worldcruisefoodie #maitai #tikibar #orchids

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This time she surprised me with a wonderful seared tuna, some amazing oyster locally sourced, with chili Water (I need to get the recipe!), and then she said she was going to bring me shrimp wontons. I typically do not trust dumplings. Most of the times is a little pie, either boiled or fried with some sort of unrecognizable mix of meats inside. But I was at Mama’s… and she brought me fresh jumbo shrimps, wrapped in a very crispy layer of dough, deep fried, and with the tail outside of it, as a little handle to grab them from it, deep it in the sauce and let the melt in your mouth.

I seriously don’t know what is about Hawaii, but the quality of the food, the hospitality and the professionalism is just superb.

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