Eating My Way Around Oahu
One of my son’s friends recently was astonished to hear that I currently have one kid living in New York and one living outside of Honolulu – two of the farthest points in our country, and two great places to have a reason to visit. My “baby” Jenny is working and playing in Oahu for 6 months before she starts culinary school back in Colorado later this summer. I hadn’t seen her since New Year’s, so despite having just returned from a big trip to Europe, I turned right around and boarded a flight for Oahu to see her. And what do you think two foodies like us did for the next four days together? Pretty much ate our way around the island!Within an hour of arriving we had both showered and headed off to Sarento’s at the I in Waikiki. Jenny’s current chef (corporate restaurant kitchen within the main Bank of Hawaii building in Honolulu) used to be the executive chef here, so he called the kitchen in advance of our visit and we were treated to all sorts of extras. We had ordered the beef carpaccio and tuna brushetta for appetizers, then he treated us to a combo of more carpaccio, some oysters, and seafood sausage in a very light sauce. All with a fabulous view of Diamondhead from our table facing the window.For our entrees I had some sort of fish (I’ll just say up front I had ono, branzino, opakapaka, opah, and more, on this trip to Hawaii, and for the life of me can’t recall which was at which restaurant!) and Jen had the beef over a really great creamy risotto. We didn’t really have room for the complementary cake the chef sent our way, but managed to eat most of it anyway as the sunset turned into dark over the boats in the harbor.If you haven’t been to Oahu let me give you a tip. Waikiki is very crowded, a bit dated, and there is just so much more beauty to the island if you get outside of Honolulu itself. Since it’s only an hour from where Jenny lives to the north shore, I opted to stay at the gorgeous Turtle Bay Resort (tip: hotel prices were actually on par with or cheaper than in Waikiki). I had arrived in the dark at night after dinner, so was delighted to awake to these gorgeous views of the ocean from my room (free upgrade upon arrival, which was nice). The pool area and surrounding villas and gardens are all pristine.I set out in the morning to walk one of the several beach trails around the resort……taking in the views of the ocean, the surf, and the sandy beaches.The green trail I was following ends by circling around this massive and ancient banyon tree in the woods along the beach. Isn’t it spectacular?Isn’t it interesting that the next photo I took all day long, a full 10 hours later, was this sunset shot near the pool and beach bar? How often do you get a day all by yourself, at a lovely resort, with nobody to dictate your schedule, nothing demanding your attention, and an opportunity to just pamper yourself? For me, that might be close to never. I do travel quite a bit but it’s often with groups or friends, hoofing our way through cities, intent on making our dinner reservation, and finding very little time to just unwind. This day, for me, was the antithesis of that. I could have photographed my room service breakfast on the patio, or the musicians by the pool, or the ceremonial blessing of the hotel in honor of its 40th anniversary, or the lovely breezy patio waiting outside of the spa for a massage, or my dinner at Lei Leis, but I photographed none of that – just enjoyed it all immensely.The next day I was up early to head down to Honolulu to both check in on Jenny at her new job and meet her chef, then whisk her away to spend the weekend with me at Turtle Bay.Jenny suggested we drive up the east shore of the island, where some of the prettiest scenery is, since we were in no rush to arrive anywhere. We got out of the car along the way to see sights like the incredible Hanauma Bay state park and reef……the Beach of Eternity, where it appeared a young couple was either becoming engaged or committing their vows on the rocky point……past the rough coastline where you’ll find the large blowhole……and up the coast along Sandy’s Beach. The ride was relaxing and gorgeous – well worth the hour or so it takes to head up to the north shore.Along the way, you can’t help but noticing the weather difference from the breezy and sunny coastline to the lush green rain forests in the hills.You also can’t miss the many shrimp food trucks along the way, perhaps none so famous or crowded as Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck parked on a corner along the Kamehameha Highway right before you get to Turtle Bay. We had eaten wraps from Jenny’s restaurant along the drive, so weren’t really hungry – but that never stops a true foodie who wants to experience something, so we did our best to share a plate of the intensely garlic shrimp. They also have a very hot and spicy version that comes with a warning: “No refunds!”After getting Jenny settled into the room, we still had a couple of late afternoon hours by the pool, watching the turtles in the bay, before sunset. Although it’s nearly summer, which means the famed north shore surf is not so big, it’s still fun to watch the surfers, hanging out long into the sunset to catch their last wave of the day.We opted for dinner at Ola Restaurant within the resort, and settled on the poke appetizer, a green salad, and two different fish dishes – one steak-y like swordfish, one flaky like halibut, both delicious with their unique sauces and accompaniments. By the way, when Jenny and I dine together we usually order too much food, share everything, and have trouble finishing it but do our very best!The next morning we headed into the historic surf town of Haleiwa, hoping for a visit at the farmers’ market, only to find it’s on Sundays instead of Saturdays. Not discouraged, we stopped at one of the little stands for one of the trendy acai bowls – frozen and pureed acai berries covered in granola and bananas which we shared for breakfast. Tummies full, we headed to a peaceful beach on the north shore to spend a couple of hours until lunch time. See what I mean about eating our way around the island? We seemed to have planned other activities only to fill in the time between meals!We arrived at Haleiwa Joe’s, a somewhat famous spot in town, just before the crowds and snagged a nice outdoor table for lunch. Jenny loves those Li Hing Mui margaritas – ever had that salty dried plum powder before? We both felt the ceviche was some of the best we’d ever had – tangy and fresh. Kalua Pork Lumpia are like fried spring rolls served with a sweet and sour sauce. I’m intent on making Kalua Pork soon after tasting how great this Hawaiian pulled pork is. The fish of the fish tacos was certainly better than any fish I ever see on a taco in landlocked Denver, but I must say the entree itself lacked some of the zing we are used to. Southwestern fish tacos tend to use more chipotle aioli, more pickled onions, and blackening seasonings so these seemd a bit bland to me.After lunch we stopped at the famous Pipeline beach, hoping to catch some surfers on big waves, but alas, with summer already here, there wasn’t even a wave, and nobody hanging out at the lovely surf team houses (that’s the Volcom house above) that line the Pipe.After spending the afternoon back at the hotel pool (including all sorts of 40th birthday celebration activities going on) we once again watched the sunset before getting ready for dinner.Lei Lei’s within the resort (at the golf clubhouse) is a busy and popular spot, but you can almost always get a couple of seats at the bar (circles around inside to outside) and we shared a poke appetizer (Jenny would have this at every meal if she could), tomato and mozzarella salad, another great fish with a pineapple salsa, and a filet with bearnaise sauce – oh, and perhaps the world’s best creamy mashed red potatoes.Surfer Bar, which is run in conjunction with Surfer Magazine and boasts all sorts of people like Jack Johnson dropping in to jam, had a full lineup of talented musicians for the anniversary celebration, but we only stayed about 20 minutes, rather exhausted from a full day in the sun.On Sunday we returned to Honolulu via the H1 and H2 highways cutting from the north shore through the island, passing right through the Dole pineapple plantation. Embarrassingly, neither Jenny nor I knew that pineapples grew in the ground like this, and when she learned this she thought they were pulled from the dirt like a potato. Even the most savvy cooks can still learn something new I guess!We headed to the Modern in Waikiki because that’s where the Morimoto Waikiki restaurant is where Jenny and her friend Kalani used to work – only to find Morimoto there himself, hiding on a side patio in a business meeting.I let Jenny and Kalani order, since the two of them used to cook this stuff and know what’s best – another poke appetizer, but this one with dashi foam, pickled tomatoes and small balls of mozzarella; the rock shrimp tempura with kochujan aioli; the very popular tuna pizza with anchovy sauce; and the ugly but delicious gyoza with bacon foam.Jenny and I shared a platter of sushi and sashimi……while Kalani opted for the Loco Moto, strips of wagyu beef with hayashi gravy and a sunny side up egg, served with a side of rice and a small bowl of miso soup.As the sun set in Waikiki, I had to hug my girl goodbye and head off to catch the red-eye flight back to Denver, sad to be leaving her, but happy knowing she’ll be returning to Colorado in just a couple of months. And certainly glad she gave me an excuse to visit Oahu. Mahalo!
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