Monday, August 25, 2008

Hawaii Journal Day 10: Of Shrimp Trucks and Celebrity Chefs

Day 10: Tuesday (The last full day of our vacation)

We enjoyed the North Shore so much that we headed back up to hang out at the beach, hike up to some Hawaiian ruins and eat shrimp.

Breakfast: Roadside Fruit

Before there were farmers' markets in Hawaii, there were unofficial farmers markets. Across the windward (east) side of the island, there were little stands where people would sell the mangoes, guavas, coconuts and bananas from their backyard trees. This network of stands still exists, and they are a great place to get fresh Hawaiian fruit. At the stand pictured, between Kahuku and Haleiwa on the North Shore, we got fresh, young coconut and beautiful, pink fleshed guavas. My favorite part is, after you drink your coconut juice, watching the proprietor bust open the nut with a giant machete, making moves that would surely cost me a limb or too, to get the precious young, gelatinous flesh.

Beware though, that roadside stands that offer pineapple probably picked them up at the supermarket or the Dole plantation. Unlike the rest of these fruit, which grow on backyard trees, it is takes a fair amount of cultivation to grow pineapple (at the stand I stopped at, they were still in the Dole boxes).

Lunch: Romy's Kahuku Prawns and Shrimp Hut

If I had enough time or if I ever move to Hawaii, my first chowish adventure will be to try all of the shrimp trucks on the North Shore. But since I only go for a few weeks and often make only one or two North Shore trips, I always end up at the irresistible Giovanni's (see Day 5).

This time, I swore it would be different, so I stopped at Romy's in Kahuku. Though technically a hut and not a truck, Romy's serves the shrimp scampi and spicy shrimp dishes that are shrimp truck staples. I ordered the scampi so as to better do a direct comparison with the beloved Giovanni's.

The shrimp at Romy's, which is located in a field of shrimp farming ponds, is excellent. They are bigger, more succulent and seem fresher than Giovanni's, and Romy's gets points for leaving the heads attached. I also enjoyed the spicy shoyu sauce accompaniment. In terms of the totality of the dish, however, there is no comparison. Giovanni's takes it away. There is something about the Giovanni's preparation that makes the oil and garlic cling to the shrimp, while Romy's less garlicky sauce spills off onto the rice. At Giovanni's, you want to suck every last morsel of sauce off of the shrimp before peeling it. At Romy's, the flavor just isn't there. It's a nicely cooked shrimp in a nice setting, but it's no Giovanni's.

Romy's Kahuku Prawns and Shrimp Hut
56-781 Kamehameha Highway
Kahuku, HI

Dessert: Liliha Chantilly Cake

For dessert we headed back to the Liliha Bakery on our way back from the North Shore. As I discussed on Day 5, I love the Liliha Coco Puff, and I am intrigued by the mind blowing chantilly topping. Traditionally, chantilly is a vanilla whipped cream, but Liliha's chantilly is so much more than that. It is more gloppy and grainy than a whipped cream. It is at once sweet and salty. I stop, mid-bite, to savor and ponder its flavor.

Given my fascination with this topping, I decided I must try Liliha's chantilly cake. The cake is a chocolate chiffon layer cake, layered with what is probably vanilla pudding and frosted with my beloved chantilly. I was grateful to have all of that chantilly in one place, but I have to say that the combination did not work as well as the coco puff. I missed the sweet, richness of the chocolate pudding that contrasted so well with the saltiness of the chantilly. On top of that, I'm not a huge fan of chiffon cake; I find it light and flavorless. When a cake is brown, I expect it to taste like chocolate, and chiffon cake has only the slightest hint of flavor. But I still scraped off every last bit of chantilly.

Liliha Bakery
515 North Kuakini Street
Honolulu, HI 96817
(808) 531-1651

Dinner: Sam Choy's Brekfast, Lunch and Crab

Sam Choy is sort of the clown prince of Hawaiian cuisine. He was one of the new wave of chefs, with Alan Wong and Roy Yamaguchi, who pioneered the mixture of Hawaiian traditional foods with classical techniques. I was a big fan of his Diamondhead restaurant back in its heyday, with its brie won tons, fried poke and macadamia nut crusted opakapaka. In the process, Choy became sort of the Emeril of Hawaii. He appeared on TV (including on Emeril Live), and he even has a motto: "Never trust a skinny chef."

But it appears that Choy has fallen on hard times. Earlier this year, his more formal Diamondhead restaurant (formal for Hawaii, that is) closed and his original Big Island eatery is also gone. That leaves Choy's brewpub, Breakfast, Lunch and Crab, as his only Hawaii outlet (he has one other restaurant on Guam). In the fall, he will rename Breakfast, Lunch and Crab "Sam Choy's" and renovate it. For now, some of the aforementioned classics have been added to the BLC menu.

We stopped by Breakfast, Lunch and Crab for their regular keiki (kid's) night. The concept is simple and delightful to parents - we get to eat good food, the kids get to play, get balloon animals, etc. Of course, if you don't have kids you should stay away unless you simply love the thought of huge numbers of children running around and yelling. (Though it must be said that Chris da Clown makes the best balloon animals anywhere).

I've been to Choy's many times and it's always enjoyable, but it has lost much of its excitement. The classic dishes have been around a long time and there has not been much effort to expand the menu with new and exciting fare. Fifteen years ago, Choy's food felt fresh, exciting and, perhaps most of all, playful. Now it seems old and worn out. He is in need of inspiration.

Still, the food was good, if not innovative. Choy is a master with island fish and the kalbi cooked butterfish was a nice piece of butterfish, seasoned to taste exactly like Korean kalbi. Fried oysters were thick and meaty and crab stuffed fish with a shitake cream sauce was nicely done.

I'm hoping that the renovation will reinspire Choy to create some new and exciting menu options. I know he has it in him, and I look forward to the new Sam Choy's.

Sam Choy's Breakfast, Lunch and Crab
580 N. Nimitz Highway
Honolulu, HI 96817
(808) 545-7979

Tomorrow: Something Special in the Air

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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anyhow thanks for the good read!