Sherman's Food Adventures

Helena's Hawaiian Food

Originally, we had other lunch plans on our second day in Honolulu.  However, things changed as we were sweaty and tired from our hike up Diamondhead.  That's what almost 100 degree weather can do to you I suppose.  Don't think it was ever that hot last time we were here!  So rather than getting takeout from Yama's, we headed over to Helena's instead.  With a bunch of awards including a James Beard, there was some lofty expectations to live up to.

After waiting for over 30 minutes for a table (which wasn't that long anyways), we got down to ordering.  After a short wait, everything came at once and filled the table.  I gave the Fried Butterfish Collar first and it was money.  Fried until lightly crispy, the entire thing could be eaten including all parts of the bone.  Inside, the fish was still buttery and flaky while well-seasoned.  Interestingly, my son has suddenly developed a liking for Kalua Pork, especially with a sprinkle of pink salt.  He ate practically the whole dish with his rice.  This version was good with lots of natural meat flavour and was sufficiently moist, but there were some stringy portions.

For myself, the best item were the Short Ribs Pipikala Style.  Although the overall texture was firm, the ribs were meaty and tender.  These were dry on purpose due to the cooking technique involved (which requires the meat to be brined and air dried).  The flavorings penetrated the meat as they were an appealing salty sweet.  We also got one order each of the Beef and Tripe Stew.  Both bathed in the same rich and slightly tart tomato sauce, the stews were flavourful with depth.  The beef was sufficiently tender while the tripe was buttery soft while maintaining a slight chew.

Viv thought the Lomi Salmon was rather ordinary as it lacked strong flavours except for a bit of the white onion.  In fact, she thought the dish was fishy even though the salmon seemed on point.  On the other hand, the Ahi Poke appeared fresh with a nice sheen and in fact was sweet and buttery.  We were able to customize our own mix of chili and soy which meant we made it spicier!  Creamy and mild, the Mac Salad featured soft pasta which made us yearn for the one we had at Mike's Huli Huli Chicken.  Lastly, we had the Poi which had the classic wallpaper paste texture.  On it's own, there was a background sweetness while strangely tart.  It tasted much better when eaten with a protein of some sort.  We ended off the meal with an order Haupia which was mildly sweet and plenty coconutty. A nice way to end a pleasant Hawaiian meal that didn't cost us an arm and a leg.

The Good:
- Inexpensive and great to share
- Sincere service
- Great short ribs

The Bad:
- Usually a long wait outside where it is hot
- A/C is a bit weak

Helena's Hawaiian Food Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Leonard's Bakery

12 years ago, Viv and I hiked Diamondhead in about 20 minutes all the way from the park entrance (we were too cheap to pay for the $5.00 parking).  Fast forward to the present and I was up for the challenge, but Viv, having not played hockey for the last 5 years due to concussions, didn't find it as easy this time around.  In fact, while we were going down from the top, my son was kicking my arse.  Yes, it might've been something to do with age, but I would like to blame the 2 Malasadas I consumed just prior.

Yes, you guessed it, we paid Leonard's Bakery a visit before we made it out to Diamondhead.  Once again, we were doing the touristy thing, yet remember, we had 2 hungry kiddies with us.  Also, they would never pass up a donut from any culture.  We got a 1/2 dozen Malasadas in Original, Cinnamon Sugar and Li Hing (sweet & salty dried plum dust).  Oh boy, these were made to order and one bite into the fluffy light center made me a convert.  Yes, it was only a fried ball of dough, but the texture was so enticing and easy to eat.  I gobbled up 2 just like that.  My favorite flavor was the li hing with a good mix of sweet, tart and salty.

We also got a 1/2 dozen of the Puffs filled with Chocolate, Coconut, Custard and Macademia Nut.  Exhibiting the same eggy light texture, these were graced with an extra amount of sweetness.  In fact, the chocolate filling was very sugary, yet fortunately, the actual malasada was not sweet to begin with.  I liked the coconut filling the most as it wasn't super sweet while being aromatic.  Despite being advertised as macadamia nut, I didn't find much difference between that and the standard custard.  Not necessarily a negative, just an observation.

Lastly, we got a couple of the Ham & Cheese Wrap to give the kids something that resembled breakfast rather than a bunch of Malasadas.   With a generous slice of rolled-up sweet honey ham in the middle, the thing ate well with plenty of filling while wrapped in a soft pastry.  But really, we didn't come here for that.  It was all about the malasadas and they really go that part down to a science.  It was well-worth the wait for the made-to-order treat.

The Good:
- Made-to-order ensures freshness
- Soft and not too sweet

The Bad:
- A little greasy
- Parking is an issue

Leonard's Bakery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Alan Wong's Honolulu

Fine dining + vacay + kids = usually a no-go and/or we need to stop by a drive-thru afterwards.  However, as they are growing older (too fast I might add), their palates are improving (even my son!). Hence, we decided to make a reservation at Alan Wong's as it represented a somewhat casual fine-dining experience on our visit to Hawaii. Well, apparently other people thought it was a good idea too as there were quite a few kiddies in attendance.

I decided to go for the Tasting Menu which started with a plate consisting of the Soup & Sandwich (chilled vine-ripened tomato soup, Grilled Hawaii island goat dairy mozzarella cheese, foie gras, kalua pig sandwich) and Chopped Ahi Sashimi & Avocado Stack (crispy wonton, spicy aioli and wasabi soy).  I thought the light and airy soup had enough tang and brightness to balance out the salty and savory sandwich (which was crispy, decadent and meaty).  As for the stack, it was texturally on point with buttery tuna and soft avocado counteracted by the crunchy wonton and puffed rice.  It was aggressively seasoned, but was not overwhelming with a slight spice.

Next, I was served the Keahole Lobster Lasagna with crab cioppino sauce and a Parm Hollandaise.  With firm ribbons of pasta, the buttery and bouncy pieces of lobster were bathed in a buttery and cheesy concoction.  Hence, this was truly decadent where the lobster was still the star of the show.  I thought the crab cioppino was a brilliant addition as it added a subtle background seafood essence.  Moving onto the Ginger Crusted Onaga (Long-Tail Red Snapper), it seemed to be topped with a familiar Hainanese chicken condiment. Underneath, there was a miso sesame vinaigrette with mushrooms and corn.  I thought the fish was a little overdone, yet it was still flaky and moist.  With the ginger and scallion condiment on top, the fish was aromatic and fully seasoned.  I was amazed that the ginger was not sharp at all, in fact, it was rather sweet.  The burst of fresh sweet corn was nicely balanced by the salty and aromatic vinaigrette.

Even though at this point I was already stuffed, I was presented with the Twice Cooked Short Rib, Soy Braised and Grilled "Kalbi" Style.  This was accompanied by chili lemongrass goat cheese and mushroom peanut salsa.  My son had devoured his half-portion willingly and I could see why at the meat was fork tender and required very little chewing.  It was on the sweeter side though (as with any kalbi style type dish), but did exhibit some spice.  The short rib was so sweet on its own, the only thing I noticed about the salsa was the peanut and slight pungency of the goat cheese (despite all the aforementioned ingredients).

For dessert, I was presented with the whimsical Coconut with haupia sorbet in a chocolate shell, tropical fruits and lilikoi sauce.  I enjoyed the sorbet as it was only purposefully sweet while being super creamy and rich.  It really did capture the essence of a haupia dessert (coconut pudding similar to the Chinese version).  The chocolate shell was super thin and nicely aromatic with toasted coconut.  Add some sweet tang was the passion fruit sauce as well as the fruit.

Viv didn't go for the tasting menu and ordered a la carte.  For her appie, she had the Poki Pines with crispy wonton wrapped ahi poke balls, avocado and wasabi sauce.  These very large manifestations featured crunchy wonton "needles".  Inside the main pocket was fully cooked ahi tuna that resembled the texture of ground pork.  It was full-flavored with white onion, green onion and wasabi.  This was a filling, if not unrefined dish.  She found it a bit clumsy to eat as well.

For her entree, she went for the Surf n' Turf featuring Misoyaki Farm-raised tilapia, seared Hudson Valley foie gras, unagi short rib roulade. The whole dish could be summed up in one word - sweet.  Yes, there was a lot of sugar going around.  With that being said, there was also a lot of good things going on too.  Although tilapia can often be mushy, this one was expertly prepared with some flakiness.  With sweet caramelization, the foie was buttery and properly prepped.  Finally, the roulade featured melt-in-our-mouth tender short ribs spiked with sweet unagi.

As mentioned, my son had the half-portion of the Short Ribs which was prepared a bit differently than mine.  It did not have the accompanying salsa.  Also, there was a single grilled prawn topped with the same ginger scallion condiment as my snapper.  As mentioned, he dusted this off with his side of rice.  For my daughter, she had something less adventurous (yah, go figure) and had the Buttery Noodles.  Despite being a kid's dish, the pasta was al dente while being quite mild.  I would've liked to see more salt added, but she ate it happily anyways.  Overall, we enjoyed out meal at Alan Wong's even though some of the items were a bit too sweet.  Would I say it is a must-visit in Honolulu?  Depends on your mood for spending money...  

The Good:
- Enjoyable eats
- Outstanding service
- Casual, yet elegant

The Bad:
- Some items too sweet
- Enjoyable, but not outstanding
- Pricey

Alan Wong's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Musubi Cafe Iyasume

Here is the scenario: it was 8:30am in the morning and my daughter exclaimed she was hungry.  What to do?  Head down to ABC and grab some yogurt and fruit?  How about visiting the adjacent McD's for their breakfast with pineapple?  No, none of those options sounded that interesting.  What could I get for her and also my son (who is super picky) for a quick breaky before we picked up our rental car?  Solution: walk up 3 short blocks to Musubi Cafe Iyasume.  Reason: the stuff was cheap and the kids would love them (including my son).

Naturally, we had to try the basic Spam Musubi as a baseline for all the other variations.  As much as some might thing a musubi is a simple item that can be easily made at home, they are partly right.  Yes, anyone can make one, but would it be any good?  The Spam is pretty much standard, but having it seared up did increase the aroma.  It wasn't overdone though as it retained its fatty moist texture.  Also, the most important part was the sushi rice.  This one was on point being chewy while not dry.  Adding a piece of tamago to it rendered the Spam & Egg Musubi.  Other than adding a certain fluffiness, the egg brought down the saltiness even further.

That was not the case with the Bacon, Egg and Spam Musubi though. For me, the addition of bacon (which was not crispy due to being wrapped in saran) only compounded the saltiness.  But what do I know because my son gobbled it up seaweed and all.  Other than the musubis, I decided to try 2 of their Rice Balls with one salmon mayo and one chicken mayo.  Other than a slight textural variation, both of these were very similar with chewy seasoned rice and dry mealy meat.  I was indifferent with them because I found them bland and uninteresting compared to the musubis.  However, with the low prices and accessibility of their products, there is not much to dislike about Musubi Cafe.

The Good:
- Cheap
- Well-executed musubis

The Bad:
- Not sure about the rice balls

Musubi Cafe Iyasume Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Giovanni's, Matsumoto and Hawaiian Island Xtreme

To some, this post represents 2 of the most overdone and over-hyped tourist food attractions on the island of Oahu.  I don't deny this and in fact, whole-heartedly agree.  Personally, I would've tried other places since I've been to both Giovanni's and Matsumoto on my last visit to Hawaii.  But with the kids around, we thought they needed to experience them as well.  So after lunch at Mike's Huli Huli Chicken, we continued driving towards the North Shore.

Our first stop was Giovanni's Shrimp Truck which was super busy.  Man, we had not visited the place since 2003 and let's just say that they have gotten even more popular.  I went for the standard Shrimp Scampi marinated in olive oil, fresh chopped garlic and lemon butter.  Okay, I'm going to say something that might offend some people, but Viv and I thought the version at Mike's Huli Huli Chicken was better.  The one at Giovanni's was a bit overdone and the caramelized garlic was sweet and aromatic, but was missing the pungency of the one at Mike's.  With that being said, it was still addictively tasty.

While at Giovanni's, we noticed Hawaiian Island Xtreme and their Ice Cold Coconut.  Although it was a hefty $6.00, we thought it was well worth the cost.  Partly because we were thirsty and mostly because the chilled drink was sweet and refreshing.  It was a bit unusually sugary and we wondered if there was anything added to it.  Whatever the case, we enjoyed it to the end partly because it was so humid and secondly we needed something refreshing to down the garlicky shrimp.

Next stop was the ever-popular Matsumoto Shave Ice out in Haleiwa, also in the pouring rain. To our surprise, they were renovating the ol' store into something more modern.  We had to head around the corner to join the long lineup.  We ended up with a small Shave Ice with raspberry, cherry and grape flavours.  With these basic fruit syrups, it was expectedly sweet and really didn't taste like the real fruit.  Furthermore, the ice itself was somewhat gritty and not as soft as we would've liked. The kiddies loved it though, so what do we know.  Other than the Dole Whip (which we didn't have when at the Dole Plantation), the shrimp and shaved ice are some of the obvious tourist destinations in Oahu (that is not located in Honolulu).  So there, we did it, now onto less touristy eats...

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Mike's Huli Huli Chicken

Call it the curse of the Triple-D's or my daughter's obsession with the Food Network, but we made the drive out to Mike's Huli Huli Chicken out in Kaneohe.  Could it be that good that it made Guy Fieri salivate?  Or is it another one of those over-hyped places that all tourists flock to?  I guess that was another determining factor in our planned visit.  Well, Mother Nature didn't seem to agree with us as the skies opened up and almost made it Mike's rain-soaked chicken.

Of course, our first dish was the Quarter Chicken Plate with green salad and rice.  Being the namesake of the place, there was a lot riding on the broiled chicken leg.  In actuality, it was pretty good as the meat was brined which resulted in succulent and well-seasoned chicken.  The skin was nicely rendered and spiced which meant no other sauces were needed (but the side of hot sauce was provided).  Did it blow my mind?  No, but it was still very good.  Now we couldn't say the same for the 2 Pork Combo consisting of char sui and Kalua pork.  The char sui was disappointing as it was dry where some pieces were tough and chewy.  It was rather one-note too as it was predominantly sweet.  The Kalua pork was better, however, it was dry as well.

Our last plate was the Ahi Tuna and Garlic Shrimp with mac salad and garlic butter rice.  Although fully-cooked, the tuna was not terribly dry.  It was adequately seasoned where there was nice acidity to go with the savoriness.  Surprisingly, the best thing we had was the shrimp as they were large and beautifully prepared.  The barely cooked shrimp exhibited a buttery snap while drowning in an addictive fresh garlic butter.  Although sometimes considered an afterthought, the side of mac salad was on point with firm noodles mixed with just enough creamy dressing.  So was Mike's a tourist trap?  I would say no.  The food was decent enough including the surprisingly on point shrimp.

The Good:
- Generally pleasant-to-eat food
- Nice people
- It's got that weird location thing going for it

The Bad:
- BBQ Pork was universally disliked

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Duke's Waikiki (Barefoot Bar)

With an evening flight to Honolulu that would include a 3-hour time change, our dinner schedule was in disarray.  Sure, we could've purchased food on board the Air Canada jet, but that didn't really interest us.  So we got some eats prior to boarding and planned to hit up Duke's in the Outrigger Hotel once we arrived.  We had visited Duke's the last time we were in Honolulu and we wanted to reminisce (when we didn't have any kids and life was so carefree!).   Making the short walk from the Aston Waikiki Circle Hotel, we decided to head to the Barefoot Bar side of the Duke's because we were hungry but not that hungry.

Things began with an order of their Calamari coated with crispy panko, lemon caper aioli and tropical cocktail sauce.  As much as the dish didn't look that impressive, the squid was money.  Each piece was buttery and tender while still maintaining a chew.  As mentioned, the coating was perfect being firmly crispy while not greasy.  For me, I thought the aioli was a better match for the calamari as it was creamy with a tart finish.  My son wasn't too lively at this point and merely chose the kid's Chicken Strips with some fruit (not for him, but for my daughter).  These were also prepared nicely with tender and moist breast meat coated with a crispy batter.  Again, it wasn't greasy and it was seasoned enough to stand on its own without the ranch dip.

Viv and I shared 2 items including the Cajun Fish Tacos with flour tortillas, tomatillo sauce, guacamole, pico de gallo and fresh chips.  Although a bit too done for our liking, the fish was seasoned well as it was savoury and a bit spicy.  We thought the gauc and salsa were a bit weak.  The best item of the meal was the Kulua Pork Sandwich with BBQ & tomatillo sauces, watercress, tomato and red onions on Hawaiian sweet bread.  The massive mound of pork was super tender and buttery moist.  The combination of sauces added a good balance of sweetness and slight spiciness.  Although it started to fall apart, the soft sweet bun was a nice match for the pork. Even though we only sampled 4 dishes, it was pretty evident they know what they are doing at Duke's.  I've been twice in the past and yes it's been awhile, but I've never had a bad experience.

The Good:
- Spectacular location and view
- Well-prepared eats
- Lively atmosphere

The Bad:
- Super busy
- As much as it is not expensive for Waikiki, it's still not cheap

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