Monday, November 15, 2010

Four days in Honolulu, four and a half nights of Japanese food

B had a conference in Honolulu this weekend, and so we flew here on Thursday (I'm starting this post from the Honolulu airport on Monday, as we wait for our flight, not really wanting to leave). We stayed in Waikiki, which is not known for great food. In fact, we enjoyed all of our meals, which I will detail blow. In brief: what you can be sure to find prepared well in Honolulu is Japanese food.

Thursday: overpriced, but tasty, sushi in Waikiki

We arrived at San Francisco airport Thursday with just barely enough time to catch our flight (they had started boarding by the time we were through security) — since we didn't have time to find take-out lunch for the plane, we were forced to go with the "snack boxes" that United sells. We've had better cheese and crackers. But our flight here went smoothly, and in spite of arriving on a national holiday, we managed to catch a bus to Waikiki.

After checking in to the hotel, we asked the receptionist for sushi recommendations, and he sent us to Doraku Sushi (warning: link makes sound, a nice place in an upscale shopping mall between our hotel and the beach (he also recommended Sansei Sushi, which Lonely Planet also liked, an probably we should have gone there). The dinner was tasty, but a bit more expensive than it should have been. B ordered a tuna-and-avocado tartar, and I had something with thinly sliced snapper. We were still hungry, so we had uni nigiri (I thought the waiter had said that the urchin was served in the shell, but, alas!), and then a fish-and-greens salad to close. With the wine and tip, the dinner was more than we had hoped, but not a terrible welcome-to-Hawaii dinner.

Friday: picnic lunch on Diamond Head, and menchankoin Waikiki

We had stopped into a corner market (every street corner in Waikiki has an ABC Store) after dinner to pick up some milk for our hotel-room coffee, but they didn't have acceptable food for breakfast. So Friday morning we walked to Lonely Planet's favorite diner, only to find them with an hour-long line, and so we found ourselves at Starbucks making do with their arm-and-leg yogurt-and-granola and a microwaved "spinach, feta, and egg white wrap". The iced coffee, though, was welcome.

Afterwards, we did find the one actual grocery store in Waikiki, Food Pantry (prices are about the same as at Andronico's), where we bought crackers, brie, and grapes for a picnic. From there, we walked to Diamond Head Crater. Well, actually, we walked all the way around Diamond Head, because we wanted to see the beaches. The crater is quite a sight, and has a fantastic one-mile mostly-stairs climb to an old military outpost, which I highly recommend. Unbeknownst to us until we got to the park, they have started repairs on the trail, and were closing the hike every weekday afternoon, so we were some of the last hikers in. In any case, we had a fun picnic at the top of the mountain, until the workers came to kick us off. Along with the walk back to Waikiki (the short way), we did about ten miles of walking and 800 feet of elevation gain.

After a brief swim, we consulted lonely planet and went to Menchanko-Tei, a fantastically good cheep Japanese joint. Menchanko is some kind of Japanese meal-in-a-bowl, like the ramens and udons that we're used to on the mainland. (It's a good thing that we've stopped being so strict about vegetarianism: every dish had pork and chicken in it.) All told, the food was delicious, and not at all expensive. However, the only wine on the menu (a serviceable Beringer) was $36. I would have been much happier paying the same total but with food priced higher and the drink lower: as it was, the wine felt like a rip-off. (Corkage is $18, so if you are in Waikiki, go for lunch or order sake.)

Saturday: Berkeley lunch and fantastic sushi

Having found the grocery store, we were set for breakfasts for the rest of our trip: english muffins with cream cheese, yogurt, orange juice, coffee, on the balcony of our tenth-floor hotel room.

After breakfast, we headed towards Chaminade University, where B had his conference. We had been planning on getting poke at a shop along the way that Lonely Planet recommended, but found the building razed (our Lonely Planet is two years old). So instead, after checking in to our conference, we headed up the street to Town, a local-organic restaurant where we felt very at home. B had an entree salad, and I had a tasty sandwich with beets, mozzarella, and arugula, and it came with very good french fries that were served with fried sage on top.

After B's talk, we walked through the campus of the much bigger University of Hawaii at Manoa, cooled off at Lonely Planet's favorite coffee shop (Glazers), and then went to Imanas Tei for dinner. The dinner was fantastic — not too expensive and absolutely our best quality-to-price ratio. We each ordered the "Nigiri A": after miso and salad, we were treated to a platter of two kinds of tuna, salmon, various white fish, and roe and sea urchin (the waiter says that if we want it served in its shell, we're better off looking near the urchin farms in California).

Sunday: Museums, dim sum, and take-out

For our last full day in Honolulu, we took the bus to Bishop Museum (an ok anthropology museum, but at $15 for students, not worth admissions), and then walked to China Town, where we had absolutely fantastic dim sum at Legend Vegetarian. If you go to Honolulu, you simply must go to Legend (they also have a seafood restaurant next door). Don't order from the menu (we started with a broccoli and mushroom stir fry and lemon chicken, which were good but not "best ever") — simply eat everything in the dim sum cart.

From there, we walked to Honolulu Academy of Arts, which is a nice art museum. The elegant building is laid out into thirty numbered "galleries", each of which tries to collapse a humongous amount of art history ("Italian Renaissance", "Korea") into one room. If you, like us, have been to many European and Euro-American museums, feel free to skip the first ten rooms: they're nice, but the museum has the requisite one Picasso, one Cezanne, one Goya, one Matisse, and you won't find anything you haven't seen (or seen better than). But if you, like us, have confined most of your art museums to Europe, then I highly recommend you check out the second two thirds of the museum. The style of one-room-per-topic is continued, so this is not a complete exposure to, say, Chinese art history. But there are pieces and styles that we'd never seen, from countries that aren't usually featured: nineteenth-century cartoon/comic style art from Japan, a wall of Indonesian masks, country-by-country exploration of southeast Asia (organized by pre-European-colonial nation, rather than post-), O'Keeffes from when she tour Hawaii.

Our original plan had been to walk back to China Town, or to find sushi near the Honolulu Academy. But we weren't excited by either prospect, and we weren't hungry enough to eat before it got too dark to walk back to Waikiki. So we returned to the hotel, stopping by a Safeway along the way, and looked up take-out sushi joints, eventually finding Sushi 2 Go. For take-out sushi, it was very good, and we had a lovely dinner just the two of us in our hotel room, with a bottle of Oregon pinot noir (compared to restaurant wine, even the expensive stuff at Safeway is great) and pineapple for dessert. We were pretty tired of eating out, and happy to have a meal just the two of us.

Monday: Flying

I'm finishing this post on the airplane, although I won't be able to post it until I get home tonight. For lunch, we had more takeout sushi, this time from the very serviceable Samurai Sushi and Bento in the Honolulu airport. Dinner will be crackers, brie, and fruit on the airplane, with the airplane quarter-bottle wine. There are worse meals. Here's to cooking at home tomorrow!

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