Friday, January 30, 2009

Hawaii Revisited - Four Seasons Pahui'a

When we last visited the Big Island 3 years ago we were greatly impressed by the restaurants in the top end resorts, especially the Fairmont Orchid. It was clear someone overseeing that food operation was a superb executive chef with very high standards. Unfortunately, when we returned this month the Fairmont food had reverted to the standard Hawaiian mediocrity. We therefore ventured down to the
Four Seasons - which was good but not great on our last visit - to try the food at the transporting oceanfront Pahui'a Restaurant.

Cindy and I first went down to the Pahui'a for a dinner. We had a nice table overlooking the nicely lighted surf and perused the menu. The ala carte menu looked very inviting but we opted for the evening multi-course offering. I decided on the wine pairing as well. Our waitress offered to share the wine between the two of us - but Cindy is not really enjoying wine lately so I suggested she just share out the first offering - champagne - she poured two FULL galsses of Louis Roederer which was a really nice touch. The champagne was accompanied by very nice house made bread and crackers along with a trio of spreads - a truffle butter, a organic butter, and a fresh cheese - delicious.

Our first course which was a "Lobster Benedict" - a blini with the most tender butter poached lobster, a quail egg, and a nice dollop of caviar with a island orange Bernaise - fabulous.
The second course was a Kona Coffer infused Duck Breast salad on Waimea Frissse-Baby Field Greens with a ginger vinaigrette. The wine paring was a very nice Spanish white Albarino from Finca de Arantei - a wonderful salad with a wonderful wine to match.

The third course was a fresh grilled island fish - Kampachi (moonfish) served over a Dungeness Crab, Bacon, Potato hash with a Truffle (very subtle - a true sign of greatness) Butter Sauce. This dish was accompanied by a Napa Valley Chardonnay from Far Niente - this meal just kept getting better.

The final course was a Coconut Duo - a light subtle coconut Tapioca over and Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with a small Financier "Cake" topped with a Coconut Lime Sorbet. Dessert was accompanied by a sweet Muscat from Chateau de Jau. A perfect end to a perfect meal.

I jokingly asked our waitress if the Executive Chef had ever worked at the Fairmont Orchid and she said not that she knew of - but on doing a little research online the next day I discoverd that Executive Chef James Babian had, in fact, been the Executive Chef at the Fairmont 3 years a go when we were there last. It goes to prove that you can tell the great chefs whether they personally cook your food or not. If you ever get a chance to eat in this man's restaurants - DO IT.

This meal was so good that Amy, Jeff, Lyla, Cindy and I returned the next day for Brunch - It was superior in every way, for every dish than any other brunch we have enjoyed anywhere in Hawaii - an exact match to the Fairmont Orchid Brunch we had about 5 times 3 years ago when we visited the Big Island - and frankly - a big decison maker in our desire to return to the island.

Our final visit was another dinner enjoyed by myself, Jeff, and Amy - Cindy volunteered to babysit Lyla - dinner is past Lyla's bedtime! We ordered off the ala carte menu this time and enjoyed wines by the glass. The appetizers were transporting experiences that I will definitely attempt to replicate here on Vashon. I had a Duck Wrap with a tamarind sauce that was really great. Amy had a Dungeness Crab "cake" which was really a warm crab tower - beautiful and delicate - a winner - Jeff opted for the BBQ Pork (and island thing) Steamed Bun - really yummy and beautiful. I then enjoyed a whole Lobster with a cream dipping sauce - not as tender as my previous offering with Cindy but very good. Jeff had a local island Fish dish with a soy based sauce that was a huge portion and very tasty. Amy has a grilled Kampachi which was excellent.

The kids finished with a super warm chocolate melting cake with a lilikoi sauce - I had a taste Yum!
We all loved this restaurant - James Babian - you are a master!

Pahu I'a on Urbanspoon

Beach House on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 26, 2009

A Perfect Teahouse

Restaurant Name: Cha An Japanese Tea House
Restaurant Location: 230 E. 9th Street, New York City

Our friends Aaron and Lisa introduced us to Cha An Japanese Tea House not long ago, and ever since I have been thinking back fondly on the experience.

Located in the East Village, not far from St. Marks Place, Cha An feels like a secret, special discovery. Up the narrow staircase from the street you'll find a tiny vestibule sheltering a small bench enclosed by bamboo. If you've had the bad fortune to arrive once the place is full (easy to accomplish since Cha An is tinsy-weensy), you will develop a close and special relationship with this bench during your long wait (Cha An's atmosphere invites lingering and patrons are in no hurry to vacate the precious tables).

Once seated you are in for a treat. Cha An has a lovely menu that centers around - as you might surmise - teas. Each is described in detail (there is even a map showing where different teas come from and so on and so forth) and all are equally hard to chose from. There are tons of selections, including herbal, black, green, and white teas. All are prepared and served differently and in the manner most suited to the particular tea you have selected. They are NOT messing around here.

There is also a small menu of savory and sweet delights. I should disclose at this juncture that I am wildly, uncontrollably addicted to mochi. Cha An offers a mochi treat so ridiculously, fantabulously good that I am shuddering ever-so-slightly in delight just thinking about it. Appealing to the chocolate-lover in me, this mochi dessert is filled with tea-infused dark chocolate truffle. I deem it Absurdly Good.

As the winter draws in tigher and more cruelly around us, I find myself thinking about Cha An all the time....and wishing that it was located around the corner from my apartment!

Cha-An on Urbanspoon

Also check out:
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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bis on Main

Restaurant Name: Bis on Main
Location: 10213 Main St. Bellevue, WA 98004

Here we are at what appears to have been a Bellevue fixture for 10 or so years now, that we have somehow completely missed. I have to admit I wasn't expecting much despite the relatively decent 24 Zagat food rating. We pulled in to the "free" valet parking lot, which didn't really need to be valet, to see Jaguars, Mercedes, Hummers, BMW's, and Audi's. Obviously this restaurant was for the well-heeled that Bellevue tends to cater to. The question was, is the food any good?

The menu looked a bit pedestrian unfortunately. A lot of standard dishes you see at many restaurants, nothing too incredible but certainly a respectable selection. What I did notice was that prices seemed a bit high for what was on the menu, but given the cars I saw in the parking lot, and the amazing, truly beautiful decor, this was unsurprising.

Probably the best part of Bis on Main was the wines. The wine list is terrific, and even if you are ordering by the glass you are sure to get something that is quite yummy by anyone's standards. They were a bit on the higher priced side, but that was again, expected for the area and clientele, and they were actually worth the price. More than I can say for the food unfortunately.

I started my meal with what I thought was an easy hit, a caesar salad. I took the first bite and was amazed at the amount of garlic they were able to cram into the dressing. My throat quite literally was burning from the amount of garlic in the dressing by the time I was halfway through the salad. I have had LOTS of caesar salads so it's not that I'm just not accustomed to them. This doesn't even mention the nearly invisible tiny croutons. So the salad course was not all-together inspiring for me, although for a garlic lover perhaps it would be the best caesar they have ever had. Maybe the main course would be better?

My main course was a double pork chop entree. This was huge! Not just the double chop, but everything else on the plate as well. There was a little too much of everything as it all could have been half the size and been plenty of food. The pork itself was very good. Excellently cooked, not dry, and the sauce was quite awesome as well. Subtle flavors that all mingled well and really complimented the pork. I just needed about half the quantity.

For dessert my wife and I shared the chocolate souffle. It was decent, but the ice cream on top was pretty good. So the dessert was really, just OK. Nothing inspired, but good.

There is something of a disturbing theme so far in my reviewing of restaurants on the East side of Seattle. It seems like all of the restaurants are expecting you to order an entree and leave. Therefore the entrees are humongous portions, and typically pretty decent. Unfortunately the salads, appetizers, and desserts all suffer greatly as a result of this. So when one comes in thinking 3 course meal, one ends up stuffed to the gills. In sum total, Bis on Main garners a "good, but not inspired" rating from me. If you go and just get an entree and leave, that might up it to a "very good, but not inspired." You can go and get a decent meal, but it likely won't be too memorable.

Bis on Main on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

From Miranda's Kitchen: Spicy Fried Pork Chops

Spicy Fried Pork Chops

serves 2

I was blessed with the inspiration for this dish when I was visiting my sister and her husband in Seattle over the holidays. I wanted to make Salt Baked Shrimp for dinner, but Amy is no fan of our sea-dwelling friends. So, I though...hmmm, could I adapt this recipe with everyone's favorite animal - the pig? I gave it a whirl, with awesome results! The cornstarch makes the perfect light, crispy crust and the jalapenos infuse the meat with flavor...and heat!

2 Pork Rib Chops (important to use the fattiest chops from the rib), pounded thin
2 fresh jalapenos
2-3 Tbs cornstarch
2-3 tsp kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
Canola oil

Pound the pork chops thin (particularly if they are very thick chops) - they should be around 1/2" thick. Divide the salt between the two chops and rub it into the flesh on both sides. Season liberally with freshly ground pepper. Let the chops sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Divide the cornstarch between the two chops and dredge them on both sides so they are well coated (shake off any excess). Roughly chop the jalapenos (if you don't want this too spicy, you can remove some of the seeds and white pith, but don't take it all away...this is also where the flavor is!).

In a large, heavy cast iron skillet (preferably a coated Le Creuset or something similar) heat enough canola oil to completely coat the entire bottom of the pan. Heat the oil until it is very hot, just below the smoke point (you may want to turn on the exhaust fan). Add about 1/4 of the chopped jalapenos and saute them quickly. When the jalapenos begin to brown, remove them from the pan and discard. Then add the chops. Sear them on one side until they are dark brown and very crusty. Adjust the heat as needed to keep them from burning but don't turn it too low (not below medium-high). Depending on your stove, the thickness of the chops, and the pan you are using, this will take anywhere from 3-7 minutes. Try not to disturb the chops for at least the first 3 minutes (they more you move them, the less they'll brown). Once they are dark golden brown, flip them over and cook them on the other side. Keep the temperature high. The interior of the chop should remain slightly pink (it should register 135 degrees on your meat thermometer). In the final minute of cooking, add the remaining jalapenos and saute. Serve the chops hot with jalapenos scattered on and around them.

This dish is great accompanied with oven roasted Yukon Gold potatoes (seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic powder and roasted in wedges at about 375 degrees) served with a spicy aioli (think a roasted garlic aioli or a spanish paprika aioli). If you must sully the meat-and-potatoes gluttony with green veggies, a nice salad, steamed green beans, or the like would be good.

Bon Appetit!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Food is a Weighty Subject! The best diet book you never have to read.

Since it is the time of year when one ponders with great intentions on their potential New Years Resolutions I thought this a good time to talk about weight loss or gain. I have been keeping a daily exercise (extra calories burned) and weight chart since 2002. I find it very motivating as well as incredibly instructive as to the food/exercise balance. Since I eat pretty consistently 3 meals a day of yummy stuff I can pretty well look at my exercise level and see weight gain or loss. If I don't do an extra 5000 calories a week I gain weight - if I burn more than that I lose weight.

Basically, over time weight gain or loss is determined by one thing: The number of calories consumed vs. number of calories burned by your body. It makes not one whit of difference if you eat nothing but ice cream or a low fat diet. As long as you consume less calories than you burn you will lose weight and if you consume more than you burn you will gain weight. If the average American adult has 3500 calorie imbalance over any time period you will gain or lose 1 pound of fat. In other words if you burn 100 calories a day more than you take in for a year that is a 3650 calorie imbalance which will result in just over a 10 pound weight loss.

So, here is your diet book. It has 2 alternative diets. On the "consume less and do nothing diet" you will be starving, miserable, unhealthy, grouchy, have no energy, and probably gain weight anyway. On the "exercise more diet" you will be happy, eat what you want, improve your health, and longevity, and probably lose weight.

People ask me a lot after eating with me how I stay thin. Well, my daily chart tells the story. Over the year 2008 I rode the exercise bike for an average of 50 minutes a day (that was 302 days times 50 minutes) - which burned an extra 162,000 calories. I also took a 50 minute walk with my dog about the same number of days for an additional 90,000 calories - TOTAL EXTRA CALORIES BURNED - 252,000 or 72 lbs. In 2008 my average weight was 182.5 lbs exactly the same as 2007. If I had not done that exercising would now weigh over 255 lbs.
Need I say more.

Maybe you don't have 2 hours a day to exercise but if you make an hour you will have a much longer, happier, healthier life. Maintaining a healthy weight in America today is virtually impossible by diet alone. You just have to figure out how to get more exercise - A LOT MORE EXERCISE.

There are a few neat tricks to be learned from my favorite eating culture - the French - that I try to incorporate into our eating habits. Here are a two neat ideas to cut down on the calories without "dieting".

1. Use smaller dinner plates and other dish's. I know this sounds stupid but it has been proven scientifically that you will consume at least 100 calories a day (that 10 lbs a year folks) less while feeling just as full by using smaller plates. Your mind determines when you are full not your stomach. If you get a "full" plate of food you will be satisfied. The average dinner plate size in America is literally 25%bigger than a french dinner plate I kid you not. Get some 8-9 inch dinner plates and correspondingly smaller bowls, salad plates, etc.

2. Learn to drink water and wine instead of soft drinks and juices. Most Americans consume up to half their calories in liquids. We drink unsweet tea, coffee, ice water, and wine. we almost never drink soda or juice- yes unfortunately juice is very calorie heavy - eat fruit instead. This one is easily worth 10 lbs a year as well for the average person.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Hearty breakfast that's simple, easy, and oh so good!

I'm a busy mom, who just started back to work after maternity leave. I don't have time to spend a lot of energy in the kitchen in the morning, and I need a breakfast that's fast, easy, tasty, and good for me. Recently, I did some Web browsing in search of something that would fit the above requirements. Thanks to a genius named Tracy, who posted a recipe on, I was able to find the perfect breakfast fare...with some tweaking and revisions, of course!

The beauty of this recipe is that you whip it together the night before, stash it in the fridge overnight, and toss it in the oven for 35 min. while you're showering and dressing in the morning. It's great when you have company (just tried it with the in-laws over the holidays), and it heats up beautifully for a snack or a second day on the breakfast table. The other great thing about this recipe is that it's totally customizable (I can't have dairy, but rice milk subs wonderfully, and you can use whatever fruit you like. Walnuts would be a great addition as well, unless you have a husband that hates them, like me :).

So without further ado, here is my take on lovely Tracy's baked oatmeal.....

Baked Oatmeal with Fruit

Prep time: 10 min. (the night before)
Bake time: 35 min. (the next morning)

1/2 c. vegetable oil (or apple sauce)
1/2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 c. milk (or soy or rice milk)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 T baking powder
3 c. quick cooking oats
1/2 c. fresh or frozen fruit of your choice (blueberries, raspberries, peaches, etc.)
1 apple, grated (no need to peel)
1-2 generous dashes cinnamon

Mix the oil and sugar in a bowl. Add the eggs, milk, salt, and baking powder, and mix well. Add the oats. Add the fruit, grated apple, and cinnamon. Mix. Pour into a square pyrex pan or pie pan. Cover and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the oatmeal, uncovered for ~35 min, or until it's slightly brown around the edges and soft/firm to the touch in the center.

To serve, cut or spoon a portion into a bowl and pour warm milk (soy or rice milk) over the top. Note that Jeff likes it dry (without the milk). So you could try that too!

Hope you enjoy this, and find it as easy as I do! Happy eating!