Friday, May 27, 2011

Big Island Grill--Kailua Kona, HI

Last month I met my match at the Big Island Grill in Kona. For the first time ever at breakfast, I walked away (more like rolled away) leaving food on the table. (And, I'm a guy who bought $18 worth of pancakes at IHOP and still left hungry.) Though I had a corned beef hash with home-made patties, I still ordered three-pancake stacks--both with strawberries--for each of my boys, thinking that finishing what they left behind would be a cinch.

The hash was good, but the quantity was marginal. My wife's three-egg omelet, which featured ham, bell peppers and mushrooms, was the better choice. As for the boys' pancakes, they each left me two. I appreciated that the strawberries came mixed-in with the batter, instead of merely sprinkled on top. The coconut syrup was also something not commonly seen. It gave the pancakes a distinct coconut flavor, but when combined with maple syrup it was drowned out. Overall, though, the pancakes were marked more by quantity than quality. The skin of the pancake peeled off easily, although everything--skin and all--was soft and fluffy.

Though I was comfortable through the three pancakes, I just couldn't power my way through the fourth. My breakfast won.

Big Island Grill
75-5702 Kuakini Hwy
Kailua Kona, HI 96740
(808) 326-1153

Friday, May 20, 2011

Simple salmon chirashi

In the May issue of Sunset magazine you'll find a recipe submitted by my wife Jenny. The Sunset staff labelled this one a "favorite." The dish is a play on a dinnertime staple of ours, which calls for a salmon steak seasoned with salt, pepper and oil. However, one day Jenny wanted a little pizazz and tried adding some ripped up nori (seaweed), cucumbers, green onions, avocado and, to add some punch, wasabi. Not only was her concoction delicious, but it was delightful to look at, too!

The recipe can be found here.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Pine Tree Cafe--Kailua, HI

After a morning at the beach on the Big Island last month, we stopped by the Pine Tree Cafe for lunch enticed by the prospect of plate lunch. Located on the west side of the island in Kailua, the restaurant is easy to access from Highway 19. I ordered a two-meat combination lunch with huli huli chicken and Korean chicken. The former was tender and had a strong smoky flavor--I'd get it again. The Korean chicken came in the form of wings only, but had a pleasantly sweet flavor and a crunchy skin.

The perpetually hungry twin went with the shoyu chicken while Mr. Slender had the teriyaki beef. They were both sweet and came with sauces that went well with brown rice. My fair wife had the ahi tuna, which was cooked through yet juicy not overdone. Jenny thought it didn’t have a lot of flavor and more or less dominated by the lemon she squeezed over it.

By the way, our side salads, which we chose over the macaroni salad, were fresh and crisp.

Pine Tree Cafe
73-4040 Hulikoa Dr
Kailua, HI 96740
(808) 327-1234

Friday, May 6, 2011

Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot--Cupertino, CA

Enticed by the buzz surrounding a trendy new restaurant featuring hot pot, we made our way to Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot, which sits in the Loree Mall on Stevens Creek in Cupertino. (This is the same mall that's home to Shanghai Dim Sum, which I reviewed last August.) Indeed, it seemed more a hot spot for young professionals or a first-date hangout than a family restaurant. With the restaurant known for its hot pot, we ordered a variety of raw meats (tiger shrimp, leg of lamb, lamb shoulder, chicken and beef) and a variety of fungi to match. To carry the experience to its fullest, we ordered both the plain broth and the spicy.

The broth, made with chicken and pork bones, was terrific on its own. However, shortly after dinner began it was not better than what my mom-in-law prepared in December, which I reviewed. After a short while, the broth was dominated by the meats and vegetables we put in it.

The fully cooked dumplings were delicious and meaty. We also got fish dumplings (below) that also hit the spot. Most remarkable was that the skin of the dumpling was itself also made from fish. The fish was ground into a glutinous paste that was then rolled into skin. The yam dessert was good and was distinctive for its crispy skin and its interesting orange color.

At least as notable as the food, though, was the outstanding service. Our server:
1) When I brought out my camera, arranged the dishes for a photo, promptly jumping out of the way.
2) Noticed that the dessert, best served warm, was delivered to our table by another server near the beginning of the dinner. He offered to re-heat the dessert when we were about to finish dinner.
3) Constantly refilled our glasses
4) Took the initiative to suggest we can bring home what we couldn't finish (I didn't know that we could) and gave us additional broth to take home.
He was almost reason enough to go back, since going to a restaurant is an experience where one hopes to be delighted, whether it be by the food or anything else.

If it's a Saturday, get there by 5:30. We got there at about 5:25 and the restaurant was 80% full. Their "spicy" was pretty spicy. It appears they have but one grade of spiciness. In other words, we weren't asked if we wanted it "hot", "mild", etc. I would say the "spicy" was at least as hot as the hottest as that would be found in a typical Korean tofu house.

Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot
19062 Stevens Creek Blvd
Cupertino, CA 95014
(408) 996-9919