Last Bits of Oahu

A final entry about our trip to Oahu, then we’ll be done!

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Saturday morning after breakfast, we set out for a drive around the island. We headed southeast from the hotel, past Diamond Head and onto Highway 72. It is a beautiful drive with lots of points where you can pull off the road and take in the magnificent views.

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Despite the barriers and warning signs, nearly everybody (including Tawn) decided they needed to climb down the rocks and get closer to the waves that were crashing ashore. I stayed back and caught some pictures of Tawn trying to protect himself from the spray.

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After you drive around the easternmost point of the island, the spectacular views continue. We ended up driving all the way around the north shore to Waialua, then drove straight down the middle of the island back to Honolulu. Honestly, I think we would have been fine to have turned back at Kailua, seeing only the southeastern quadrant of the island. The views north of that point were nice, but most of the time you couldn’t see much from the main road.

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There’s lots of free culture available in Honolulu. Every Friday night at 6:00 you can enjoy classical Hawaiian music performed at the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center in the heart of Waikiki. There’s also a free torch lighting ceremony and hula shows four nights a week at nearby Kuhio Beach Park.

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On Monday and Friday evenings, browse the farmer’s market at King’s Village shopping center, also in Waikiki. While the selection of produce is limited, there is still a lot to see.

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Among the attractions are fresh baked goods including (left hand side) malasadas filled with a variety of flavors. Feeling peckish before dinner? A stop here will tide you over!

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Sunday morning we headed to the outdoor restaurant at the New Otani hotel, where we stayed. With a view of the beach just beyond, it is a enjoyable place to start your day.

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Special item from the menu: macadamia nut French toast. Seemed like the right way to end our trip.

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One last picture of the two of us at the tail end of our ten days in Hawai’i. I hope you’ve enjoyed the many entries about our time on the islands. Now we’ll get back to the mainland and, eventually, back to Bangkok (where I’ve actually been for more than two weeks now!)

 

Breakfast and Lunch in Honolulu

One corner of Honolulu that we found ourselves returning to throughout our two-day visit was Kapahulu Avenue. This neighborhood runs from the north side of the Honolulu Zoo (which is at the south end of Waikiki) to the H1 freeway near Chaminade University of Honolulu. The approximately two-kilometer distance is gentrifying nicely, with lots of long-time shops rubbing shoulders with a new Safeway supermarket. On our visits there, we ate a breakfast and a dinner.

 

Breakfast: Sweet E’s Cafe

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Located in a small shopping complex kind of hidden off Kapahulu Avenue near the H1 freeway, Sweet E’s Cafe is one of the higher-rated breakfast places on Yelp.com. To be certain, I take Yelp reviews with a few large grains of salt. That said, it looked like a good bet for a decent Saturday breakfast before we started driving around the island. 

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Arriving early, we found the dining room less than half full. From the reviews, I get the impression that the restaurant is very crowded later in the morning. The interior is pleasant and the servers were helpful, if not exactly warm.

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Poached eggs with Kalua pork. My big beef with lots of places is that their poached eggs are overcooked. This time, the problem was that the eggs were undercooked. In my mind, the perfect poached egg has solid but not rubbery whites, with runny yolks. When I cut into the first egg, the whites were still watery inside. It was right on the line between “worth sending them back” and “not worth sending them back,” so I didn’t. As the watery whites soaked my English muffins, though, I regretted my decision. The pork and the sauce were tasty, so points there, but the potatoes were bland and would have benefitted from some herbs or spices.

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Tawn ordered a basic waffle with maple syrup. It was pleasantly crisp, cooked to just the right point.

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We also ordered French toast stuffed with cream cheese and blueberries. The toast itself was nicely done but the blueberries inside the toast were tough, leading me to conclude that they use frozen blueberries for the stuffing and only place fresh berries as garnish for the plate.

Overall conclusion: Sweet E’s didn’t show such a sweet face for us, at least as far as quality. It has the potential to be very good and if we lived there, we would give it another chance to redeem itself. But if you are just visiting, I would suggest you search out Boot’s & Kimo’s in Kailua.

 

Dinner: Sam’s Kitchen

On Friday evening, we found ourselves looking for a tasty dinner that didn’t involve a lot of expense or effort on our part. Turning to Yelp.com, I searched for “cheap seafood dinner” in Honolulu. Sure, that’s probably the last place you want to eat – somewhere serving cheap seafood – but we got a result whose high ratings were accompanied by thoughtful reviews: Sam’s Kitchen.

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Located on Kapahulu Avenue right across from a new Safeway shopping center, Sam’s has a slightly retro dive bar appearance. When we arrived about 8:00, we were charmed by its exterior but baffled (and slightly worried) by its almost vacant state.

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We entered and found only a half-dozen customers (if that) listening to live Hawaiian music. I felt a little conspicuous walking in during their performance – after all, it wasn’t like we could sneak in unnoticed. The lady behind the counter was welcoming, though, so we figured out the menu and placed our order.

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Sam’s is about as “Hawaiian” as you can get, a fusion of flavors that represent the different cultures that make up the local population. There is a heavy Japanese bent (and it seems that their original Waikiki location is wildly popular with Japanese guide books), but other cultures are represented, too. Dishes are mostly either rice bowls or bento boxes and their garlic sauce is apparently “famous.”

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Tawn tried the spicy garlic shrimp rice plate, which came with a salad and a half-ear of corn. This was good food – the shrimp is tender and sweet and the garlic packed a punch – and stayed with us for the next day.

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I had the fried mahi mahi with macadamia nuts. The fish was very fresh, lightly breaded, and the sauce was tasty. Both dishes were simple, inexpensive, huge, and excellent. So much so that on Saturday night, our second and final night on Oahu, we decided to visit Sam’s again.

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This time we stopped at the original location on Royal Hawaiian Avenue in Waikiki. This location is take-out only, although it does offer some self-service tables if you can’t wait to get back home to eat. The menu is the same and the customers were mostly Japanese.

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Tawn ordered a combo plate (left) with the same two items we had the night before, but half a portion each. On the right, I ordered a garlic steak plate. The steak was tasty, although pretty tough.

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With two small bottles of wine from the convenience store downstairs, we celebrated our last night on Oahu with a sunset dinner on our balcony.

 

View of Waikiki

While in Honolulu, we stayed at the New Otani Kaimana Beach Hotel. Located close to Diamond Head on the south end of Waikiki, the New Otani is situated across from Kapiolani Park. It is a good value for many reasons. Its biggest selling point for me, was the view.

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Sunrise from our balcony.

This position is ideal because the hotel is quiet, set apart from the touristy, shopping mall busyness of Waikiki. Plus, you look back at the entire beach and skyline and take it all in. If you were staying in Waikiki proper, you wouldn’t have so broad a perspective. Here are some of the pictures I shot during our two nights at the hotel.

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Kapiolani Park with Diamond Head in the background.

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Graceful palm trees backlit by the setting sun.

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Other visitors stop to capture a picture of the sunset.

A trio of pictures from our balcony at different times of the day:

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Just after sunset, I spotted the moon above the palm trees.

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One final nighttime shot, in black-and-white.

 

Honolulu Academy of Arts

Near the end of our Hawaii trip, Tawn and I flew to Honolulu for two days. Our original plan was to visit Michael, a (nowadays inactive) Xangan whom we first met during our Kauai trip last year. Unfortunately, Michael had some health issues and ended up hospitalized. (He is out of the woods now, thankfully.) That meant two days in Honolulu under our own steam. For guidance, we turned to the New York Times’ travel section and their article, 36 Hours in Honolulu.

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Arriving in the late morning and unable to check into our hotel until mid-afternoon, we started our visit at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. A visit to the Academy is worthwhile even if you have no interest in art, as it is located in a beautiful complex of buildings that is a pleasure to stroll around.

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In front of the Academy is an engaging installation by Patrick Dougherty that evokes a wooded glen. The sculpture, composed of twisted sticks and vines, invites passersby to interact with it, coming inside and peering through the various openings.

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Our first stop was the Academy’s open-air restaurant. Located in a shaded patio with beautiful sculptures and a waterfall nearby, the Pavilion Cafe offers a restful setting in which to recharge your energy. The food, mostly Mediterranean and Asian influenced, is surprisingly good for the setting.

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Grilled chicken sandwich with a mango-pineapple salsa

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Mixed greens with lamb

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Apple-mango cobbler

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Ice cream sundae

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Tawn plays with his phone while waiting for our meal. Modern art?

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Afterwards, we spent an hour and a half perusing the collections, which are very diverse. The emphasis is on Hawaiian and Asian art, but there is a respectable showing from other genres. There is also a partnership with the Shangri La, the Doris Duke estate’s Islamic arts museum. Located off-site, we didn’t get a chance to see that collection but watched a short video that shared some of the highlights. We will have to catch it next time we are in Honolulu.

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Much of the art is incorporated into the Academy’s buildings, such as this whimsical steel screen that depicts all manner of animal life.

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We worried less about trying to see all the collections and instead enjoyed the cool, serene courtyards of the Academy. Instead of rushing to see the madness of Waikiki or driving about with our suitcases in the trunk of the car, our first few hours in Honolulu were relaxing and refined.

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Eventually, though, we had our fill of serenity and drove to the hotel to check in!

 

Ocean Kayaking on Maui

Near the end of our trip to Maui for Andy and Sugi’s wedding, I had the opportunity to kayak in the ocean. While I had kayaked once before on the Wailua River on Kauai, this was my first time kayaking in ocean water.

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(All photos and video courtesy Andy Yang and his big zoom lens)

While Tawn took a yoga class, Andy, Sugi, and I went to Sugi’s family compound nearby in Paia. After hosing off a long-unused kayak, Andy and I carried it down a steep and untended cliff, giving me the first of many cuts and scrapes.

Eventually, we launched the kayak in the shallow waters of the cove. Sugi and her cousin watched from the comfort of the lawn some twenty feet above and Andy snapped photos as I headed towards the surf. The water remained shallow – not more than ten feet at its deepest – and I could see the lava rocks and coral as I paddled by.

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This one-person kayak seemed much less stable than the two-person kayak I used on Kauai last year. It wobbled readily and I became very cautious when it was time to turn around. A few hundred feet from shore, the gentle swells became large enough to threaten to capsize my vessel. I paddled out and back a few times before leaning too far and pulling too hard with the paddle, dumping myself into four feet of water.

The capsizing wasn’t a problem – I’m an able swimmer, wore a flotation device, and could touch bottom. The problem was how to get back into the kayak. Nobody had taught me that! Turns out, it is much more challenging than I had imagined. After a few failed attempts, I floated the kayak into much shallower water to start again.

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Eventually, I managed to seat myself on the kayak again and paddled for another fifteen minutes or so before returning to shore. Surprisingly (or not), Andy decided he didn’t want to try his hand at ocean kayaking. My repeated falls and poor choice of footwear (flip-flops = bad for kayaking) resulted in a cut knee and scrapes to the tops and sides of my toes. These injuries were worsened when we were carrying the kayak back up the cliff and my left leg fell through what I thought was a solid mass of dried palm fronds. Turned out they were covering a crevice between too tree trunks.

Oh, well – what’s an athletic adventure if there aren’t some injuries, right?

 

Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice

While I said I was done with the food entries from Maui, there actually is one dessert/snack entry remaining: Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice.

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Andy’s wife Sugi (I can say “wife” now – yay!) enjoying her favorite shave ice. Since her mother is from Maui and Sugi spent her summers growing up on the island, I put great stock in her number-one rating for Ululani’s. After some so-so experiences with shave ice on Kauai last year, I was surprised at how good the dessert can be – if you go to the right place.

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Shave ice, often confused by mainlanders with snow cones, is a local Hawaiian specialty. Unlike snow cones, which are made with crushed ice, shave ice is precisely that – shaved – with a texture akin to snow. (I know, it would seem that shave ice should really be called “snow cones,” right?) This is important because while a snow cone results in a big pool of flavored syrup sitting at the bottom of a cup of ice, shave ice absorbs the syrup, ensuring that each bite is full of goodness.

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Ululani’s has four locations on Maui – two near each other in Lahaina, one in the island’s main town of Kahului, and the newest shop on the north side of Kihei. We went to the original location on Front Street in old town Lahaina.

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Each of Ululani’s 40 flavored syrups is made in-house using fruit purees, extracts, filtered water, and pure cane sugar. Toppings are either home made or come from other Maui companies. This local approach is one of their secrets to success. Now, it is true that shave ice can be a sickeningly sweet dessert. The key is to choose favors that create complexity and contrast rather than just add one layer of sweetness on top of another. I chose a recommended combination – Ho’ike – which offers lilikoi (passionfruit), li hing mui (Chinese salted plum), and passion orange. The salted plum adds a tart and salty note that cuts the sweetness, making the shave ice refreshing. 

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Another part of Ululani’s charm is their friendly employees. Sure, I’m a mainlander who barely knows my pu pu platter from my poke. But this young lady was patient, happy to answer every question with a smile, and chatted with us about our visit to Maui while preparing our shave ice. In this picture, she adds mochi (made by Maui Specialty Chocolates) to my shave ice.

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The finished product! Yummy!

 

Maui Food Madness Part 4

Sorry for being absent from Xanga for over a week. We returned from the United States with my sister and brother-in-law in tow, and have been showing them around Bangkok, leaving little time for blogging. With that said, let me pick up where we left off in Hawai’i. For the final segment on food in Maui, we visit a lavender farm, a goat dairy, and eat some fantastic fish tacos.

Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm

One of the interesting things about Maui is that it is agriculturally more diverse than you initially expect. While there are wide swaths of land dedicated to sugar cane and other tropical produce, as you ascend the slopes of Haleakala (the volcano that forms the eastern 75% of Maui), you pass through a more temperate zone. The combination of rich soil, moisture-laden air, and the filtered tropical sun provides a fertile growing environment for a wide variety of produce. Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm is a great example of this. 

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Situated 4,000 feet above the ocean in the town of Kula, the Ali’i farm stretches over 13 sloping acres. Different varieties of lavender are cultivated and the grounds are largely open for self-guided walking tours. In the early afternoon, the breeze was pleasantly warm but we were protected by a thick layer of clouds that reminded me of the fog of my native San Francisco, but without the need for multiple layers of clothing.

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Here, Sugi and Tawn pose amidst a field of lavender on the upper edge of the farm. The farm offers settings for private events including weddings. While the steep slopes might prove challenging for guests with limited mobility, the views (and fragrance!) would be unforgettable and worth the effort.

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Close up of one variety of lavender. The air really is perfumed with a subtle, but pleasant aroma from the acres of lavender.

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In addition to the lavender, the farm has extensive gardens with many different plants and beautiful flowers. Many of the plants were familiar to me from growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, which has a similar climate. I was excited to see the fuchsia (on the right) because my father used to grow these in our back yard.

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No trip to the farm is complete without a stop at the gift shop for a snack. Beverages include lavender lemonade and tea.

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The highlight is the lavender scones served with passion fruit and lavender jelly. A few years ago, I purchased some food grade lavender but rarely used it. Tasting these scones, I was sorely tempted to buy some more and make it a point to cook more frequently with this beautiful flavor.

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Sitting on the shady balcony outside the gift shop, we were visited by a flock of small birds who waited not so patiently for scone crumbs. Tawn decided to share his crumbs with them and they gingerly approached and pecked them from his hand.

Surfing Goat Dairy

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Just down the hill from the lavender farm is the Surfing Goat Dairy, another example of the agricultural variety found on Maui. A working farm that produces more than two dozen varieties of goat cheese that are used at restaurants across the island, Surfing Goat Dairy proudly claims to make da’ feta mo’ betta!

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One of the younger goats playing on a surf board.

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The dairy offers tours and there is a small gift shop that sells a variety of their products. Recommended are the cheese tasting flights, which feature both fresh and aged cheeses.

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We sampled six cheeses, a mixture of fresh and aged. From the back left, clockwise: fresh feta, “Ping Pong Balls” (drained chevre, rolled into balls and marinated in garlic olive oil), Ole! (chevre with jalepenos, lime juice, artichokes, and cilantro), Udderly Delicious (plain, salted chevre), Garden Fantasia (chevre with fresh garden herbs), and French Dream (an aged cheese with herbs de Provence). Lots of fantastic cheese here, many of which have won national awards. 

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A pleasant, shaded seating area was populated with a friendly farm dog and cat, both of which came over looking for some attention. Despite being outside, both animals had exceptionally soft, well groomed coats. Perhaps the result of drinking plenty of goat milk?

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Before we left, I snapped a picture of these kids feeding kids. Ha ha…

Coconut’s Fish Cafe

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The final entry about Maui food concludes with a stop at Coconut’s Fish Cafe in Kihei. This restaurant, which is in a strip mall, looks like nothing to write home about but surprises you with tremendous quality. The must-eat item is fish tacos, which are prepared from fresh, locally-caught fish.

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The owner, Mike Phillips, who is in the shop most evenings, supervises operations and comes out to chat with customers. He took this picture for us. He explained that they are just setting up franchises on the west cost of the mainland, with the initial store to be in Santa Cruz. If a Coconut’s Fish Cafe opens near you, please make sure you try it. As Mike explained, the only advertising they do is customer word-of-mouth. So from my mouth to your ear: word.

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The beautiful fish taco, made with fresh mahi mahi, crunchy cabbage slaw, and a sweet and tangy mango salsa. This taco was so good that I would seriously consider stopping in Maui next time I’m flying back to the mainland US, just to eat here. My only quibble is that the toppings are cut in very large chunks, making them a bit hard to eat. Smaller bits would ensure you get a little bit of everything in each bite, but that’s a tiny complaint.

There you have it, the conclusion of my Maui Food Madness entries. I hope you enjoyed them!

Part 3
Part 2

Part 1