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travel: the delights of waikiki

aloha!
once again, i must hang my head in shame and apologize for my absence. i was away for 9 days, but the rest of it has just been real life and a giant black hole of stress sucking my inspiration.  but this morning, i’ve committed myself to posting my hawaii roundup before i head off to seattle for the night.

november saw me return to waikiki for the 5th time.  but this trip wasn’t about sightseeing or anything important… it was about getting some sun and relaxing with my husband.  …and special guest appearances by my bro & his buddy and the puss & her family.  all around, it was a great time.

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we stayed at the aqua bamboo, which was new for me.  it was actually my first time not staying at a beachfront property right on waikiki beach.  for those familiar with the area, the bamboo is on kuhio, pretty much in line with the surfrider.  so it’s not far to the beach… lets say a 5 minute walk (2 blocks), but i will still stand by my preference of staying beachfront.
the hotel itself was good… cheap and cheerful as they say… nothing fancy, but absolutely fine for a week stay.  the hotel had an adorable little pool and the world’s tiniest hot tub, which was a factor in choosing the hotel, but at the end of it all we never actually made it in to either.

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i did enjoy that the bamboo had a very affordable massage place that was poolside.  my husband i both had a 50 minute massage for just under $80 including tax & tip.  a great bargain.  and boy did it ever feel good after that hike to diamond head.

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ah the diamond head hike… its turned into a must do for me.  you know… i must punish my body for so many mai tais.  somehow it makes me feel better. this trip, i literally woke my hangover up, did the 45 minute walk to diamond head, then did the hike and back and then ate a giant burger and then swam in the ocean,  then went for a massage.
overall, i’d say it was a hawaii win.  cured my hangover, thats for sure.

so, beverages will come in their own post, because in hawaii, there is no shortage of happy hour and tropical delights… but this one is all about the food.

hawaii’s food is a unique style of cuisine that defines melting pot.  it has strong influences from asia, polynesia, north america and when its mixed in with the traditional foods native to the area, you get things you can’t find anywhere else.  my husband’s favourite is loco moco.
basically loco moco is rice, a hamburger patty, 2 fried eggs done any style and smothered in gravy.  for breakfast. and its delicious.

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you know how they say; when in rome…?  well, when in hawaii, you’d best eat some loco moco.  and my husband did.  5 times.  lol.  he was on a mission to sample the local favourite at as many places as possible… and his verdict was that every place did it a little different, but at the end of the day, it was all delicious.  some places had a homemade gravy, sometimes adding mushrooms and/or onions… some places garnished with chopped green onions… some places put the gravy on top of the eggs, others eggs last.  some burger patties were clearly frozen from a box, others were hand formed and fresh.  but the base for all of them never changed… this delicious hawaiian style white rice.  i’m not too sure how they make their rice taste so good, but it sure does.  and for me, it’s one of my LOVES about hawaii, is that i can get this yummy sticky almost sushi style rice with my breakfasts.

so while my husband was eating his weight in loco moco, i was eating things like this:

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and i can’t forget the magic of this…

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ahhhh pancakes in hawaii.  another random thing to be in love with, but i never ever order pancakes at home. i just don’t care for them much. but in hawaii its a different animal.  topped with things like pineapple, coconut, macadamia nuts and other local treats… and then smothered in coconut syrup instead of maple?  oh man, put a fork in me, i am DONE.

and let us not forget the papaya that much accompany every breakfast no matter what your main of choice is:

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yup, thats the stuff.

another island favourite is “pupus” which as far as i can tell is just hawaiian for appetizer.  which makes for hilarious (warning: may only be hilarious after several mai tais) jokes about needing to “take a wicked appetizer”.  haha.
anyhoo…. we had a lot of pupus.  because happy hour is cheap!  and if you do it right, you don’t really need a proper dinner.
one of my favourite destinations for pupus in waikiki is hula grill in the outrigger waikiki on the beach.  its upstairs from duke’s and often overlooked in favour of dukes.  but here’s the thing.  the decor is just as awesome upstairs, the food is pretty much the same and the drinks are waaaaay cheaper during happy hour.  so the hula grill is where you’ll often find me at happy hour…. eating things like: kahlua pork potstickers and ceviche and crab & mac nut stuffed won tons…

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and my personal favourites: crispy pork belly bao

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and the honey chicken lollypops which were ridiculously sticky sweet goodness.

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and at the end of a several hour long happy hour… we weren’t much worse for the wear financially.

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then there’s downstairs.  duke’s.  what can you say? if you’ve gone to waikiki, you’ve gone to dukes.  you just… have to.  yes, its loud and crazy and filled to the brim with pasty tourists and there’s children… but it’s dead centre in waikiki beach and makes a wicked mai tai and has good food and live music and, well, it’s just fun.

i am particularly in love with their salad bar.  there’s not a lot of good salad in waikiki, and dukes scratches my itch for fresh crispy lettuce and tons of good toppings so that i can construct my picky girl salad of choice.
but the fish entrees should never be overlooked.  you get the list from the server of whats in season and fresh right now and you choose from one of 4 preparations that they offer and chow down.  the fish entrees are always well cooked, perfectly seasoned and just fucking delicious.

we had the following: mine is the opah with mac nut crust and butter caper sauce (i just drooled typing that)
SAUTÉED MAC NUT AND HERB CRUSTED – Lightly dusted in parmesan cheese & bread crumbs, topped with lemon and caper butter

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and my husband dinned on the ono done duke’s style…
BAKED “DUKE’S STYLE” – Baked in a garlic, lemon and sweet basil glaze

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both were giant portions of fish so fresh, it may have been swimming yesterday… and at a fair market price.  plus it includes salad bar. did i mention the salad bar?

my last category for hawaiian eats is pop ups, food carts & beach shacks.  yes, food is everywhere in waikiki.  on two occasions this last trip, my husband and i grabbed some fish tacos & pork tacos from the food hut right on waikiki beach beside the surfrider and deemed it one of the best deals around.  $19 got us 4 giant tacos and a house brewed iced tea with pineapple juice in it to share.  not too shabby.

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a few days into our trip, on the way back from the beach to the hotel, we were surprised by a pop up market of sorts… except it was all food stands.  it wasn’t selling groceries, like our markets here, but selling fresh baked delights and pad thai and poke and even empanadas and dim sum treats.  so we stocked up and went back to our balcony with some local beers and made our own happy hour.

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last, but certainly not least… once can not forget that hawaii knows its food trucks.  possibly the best one i’ve ever seen… the malasadas truck.  leonards is famous for its malasadas which are basically like a big round dounut rolled in sugar and sometimes stuffed with creme or fruit filling.  they’re DELICIOUS.  and leonards is the king.  buuuuut we didn’t quite make it to leonards proper, so we were thrilled to stumble across their food truck on the way to sandy beach one day.

so while we did this:

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we also go to eat this:

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a clear win win situation.

and off course, on our quest to enjoy this beach:

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we also got to enjoy this shrimp shack on the north shore.

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there’s a lot of shrimp options, and generally we go to giovanni’s, but this one lured us in with their option to have local shrimp, while a lot of stands have switched to the cheaper and inferior thailand shrimp.  the difference slapped you in the face.  these were almost like my beloved spot prawns.  sooooo worth the half hour wait.  (this place was BUSY – also a good sign)

and of course, i had to have my coconut… and this time i also may have had a corn on the cob at the roadside pit stop…

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mmmhmmm.  and thats how i do hawaii.
oh, but before i wrap up, i’d like to give a surprising honorable mention to buba gump’s shrimp.  yes, it is a chain theme restaurant and generally that goes against my better instincts, but my husband loves it and he actually sold me on it with this:

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thats a pound and a half of hot fresh cooked peel & eats with half caijun spice and half butter and garlic.  ya, we slayed those in a few minutes flat.  they were messy and buttery and so fucking delicious.

but then we followed it up with some shrimp tacos…

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and the calamari that they swore was the best ever and you know, it actually was like top 5 in my life and i’ve eaten a LOT of fried squid in my day.

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theirs had half squid, half rock shrimp and also deep fried red peppers and pepperoncini peppers.  well played bubba gumps, well played.

and so, i leave you with my last view of hawaii for this trip… diamondhead from my brothers suite on the 33rd floor of the sheraton.  yes, it was a grand time had in hawaii, and yes, i’ll be back as soon as i can.

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food & travel: beaches turks & caicos

caribbean food is some of my absolutely favourite on earth.
it’s spicy and lively.  it’s always prepared with care and love and passion.  it makes the most of the local foods and doesn’t waste anything.  and more than anything, its just so different from the food you get in vancouver.

in canada, if you want good caribbean food, you have to head to toronto.  and indeed, every time i’m in toronto, the first place i hit up for food is a jamaican place.  you simply can’t get that level of authenticity out west.
yes, i have enjoyed many a fine meal at the reef in vancouver… but it’s just not quite the same.  but don’t get me wrong, the reef is a great bandaid for my caribbean food itch.

my absolute dream plate?  jerk chicken or pork… curried goat… conch in some form… rice & peas (that’s rice and beans, but they call beans peas in the caribbean)… and festival.
i am happy to report, i ate this on my very first night in turks.
and there is a picture… but it wasn’t on my camera, so i’m waiting for my friend to email it to me.  so when it comes, i’ll stick it in right here.

the locals in turks like to joke that the only thing that comes from turks is conch.  which is pretty much true.  almost everything is imported except the conch.  it reminded me very much of the bahamas in that respect.

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there’s a LOT of conch in turks.
and i mean… a LOT.

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no no no.  like A LOT!

Caicos Conch Farm

yup.  thats the conch farm.
a few of my coworkers worked there for their sandals foundation project.

conch is a hideously ugly thing in an absolutely beautiful shell.

in terms of taste… well, i like it.
a lot actually.
it’s kind of like a scallop in terms of flavour and in texture it tends to be quite rubbery, so the preparation and proper cutting and cooking is key to its enjoyment.

the first night i had it in a stewed form… the second night in a ceviche type salad (i couldn’t tell if it was pre-cooked, but i think it was) and then on my last night i had a traditional conch chowder that was a delight.

to no one’s surprise, the jerk chicken at beaches was exceptional.
there was a lovely restaurant that had a jerk bbq as part of their lunch buffet.  i ate there twice.  it was amazing.
and the view wasn’t so bad either…

and since that shot above is super washed out, this is the very past that lady’s shoulder.

and now for your epic fail portion of the blog…
i totally took two pictures of my jerk chicken and BOTH of them are blurry.
because i am the worst apparently.  food blogger fail. but here they are anyways.

ya, so basically that was lunch.  a big old slab of jerk chicken fresh off the bbq and smothered with hot jerk sauce… a slice of flank steak marinated in garlic & chili… and a tiny salad so i can technically say i ate something other than just meat.

and all the while, i enjoyed this view from my seat in the restaurant…

ya, i know.  rough life, right?

the only other time i had the presence of mind to take food pictures was our last night at schooners, which was a seafood place right beside the beach.
for my appie i had the seared scallops on a corn puree with a little seaweed salad on top and some sort of preserved fruit…

it was pretty yummy although the scallops were more steamed than seared.  in fact they didn’t have any crust or color to them at all, as you can probably see.

then i had a bowl of the conch chowder… which i didn’t take a picture of because it just looked like a bowl of chowder.  not cream based though, the classic recipe is something like this:

CONCH CHOWDER

INGREDIENTS:

Olive Oil – 2 Tbsp
Conch Meat, chopped – 1 pound
Garlic – 2 Tbsp
Onions, diced ½” – 1 ½ cups
Celery, diced ½” – ½ cup
Tomato paste – 3 Tbsp
Chicken Broth – 1 quart
Thyme, fresh – 2 tsp
Oregano, fresh – 1 tsp
Carrots, diced ½” – ½ cup
Clam juice – 2 cups
Potatoes, diced 1 – ½ cups
Tomatoes, diced 1 – ½ cups
Salt and Pepper to taste

PREPARATION:

Place the oil in a pot and heat until very hot.
Add the conch meat and sear for 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the garlic, onions, celery, carrots, and potatoes and sauté for 2 minutes.
Add all the remaining ingredients, mix well and bring to a boil.
Simmer until the potatoes are tender.
Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve hot with croutons or crackers

and then for my main i had a seafood risotto.
it was ridiculously rich and i’m pretty sure it had oodles of butter, cream & cheese in lieu of actually following a proper risotto method… but hey, what can you do except eat it?

it was really tasty and among my table of 12 people, agreed to be the best main course served up.
but yes, helloooooo richness.

all in all i was pretty happy with the food choices at beaches.  i wish i had more freedom to explore the a la carte restaurants and more time of course, but 3 of our 4 dinners were buffets as part of our evening activities, so we didn’t have much say in those.
the breakfasts were underwhelming, but the all inclusive breakfast buffet never wows me.  the best they had to offer was the omelet station and their chocolate croissants were appropriately sinful.
i was also pleased to see an actual espresso coffee machine in the french village cafe to get my americano in the morning.  they also made a damn fine iced coffee.  and actually the plain regular coffee was quite good too.  jamaican blue mountain coffee is just so delicious.
overall better than the food choices i’ve seen at other all inclusives and i definitely give the thumbs up for incorporating the local cuisine into the offerings.

food: nicoise salad

i don’t know if this is in any way unusual or noteworthy, but until last night neither my husband nor i had ever had a nicoise salad.
i mean… we’re not french… but we do like salads.  and seafood…. so… ya.

anyways.  in addition to working on paring down everything about our lives, the food budget is definitely a giant blinking light on the list.  we like food and 100% believe its worth the money to buy quality food.
but we also are living on the BC working man’s paycheque.  which means it can’t be all sablefish and spot prawns.

canned tuna and canned salmon are two things we’ve really taken a shining to lately.
it’s economical, relatively speaking, although you pay a premium for the ethically caught options, but its worth it…
and it’s tasty, fast and easy for those times when standing over the stove just isn’t your idea of a good time.
but one can only eat so many fish cakes (untrue – that shit is delicious) and so we’ve been hunting around for new ideas.

this nicoise salad really made itself.
my husband came home with bags of produce on monday and among them were lovely green beans, little red potatoes, baby heirloom tomatoes and 2 giant heads of romaine…
and also this genius idea.

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we made a dressing of olive oil, anchovy, olive brine, lemon and white wine vinegar with some tarragon and garlic for flavour and whisked it together by hand.
the cooked potatoes and blanched green beans were tossed in it and the rest was drizzled on top.

for the tuna, we used one can packed in water and drained and one can packed in oil with jalapenos in it and mixed them together so it had oil, but not too much.

garnished with perfectly hard boiled eggs sprinkled with a few grains of coarse salt, tomatoes, olives and capers and it was ready for eating.

except for for mine, of course.  thats my husband’s plate above.
mine is the picky and much smaller plate below.
which was still equally as delightful.

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restaurants: rm seafood

rick moonen’s rm seafood is a pretty choice little place tucked in to the corner of mandalay bay right by the house of blues.
it has an upstairs fine dinning restaurant and a downstairs casual restaurant with a raw bar.
i’m a huge supporter of this concept… because sometimes you want to go all fancy pants and sometimes its nice to have a bit more of a casual option for your food.
we ate at the downstairs for this occasion, since we had just done a fancy pants meal the night before.  and let me assure you that downstairs did not mean there was any sacrifice in quality or service.

the big underlying focus of rick’s restaurant is sustainability and i can totally appreciate that.
in a city like las vegas, that is so utterly unsustainable, the irony is delicious.

of course, i started with a cocktail.
the menu was mighty and enticing, but i settled on the lehigh.

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and a yummy little drink it was.
i only had the one cocktail, as we ordered a bottle of wine – the kim crawford white for the record.

and then, on to the food.
i really wanted to try something from the raw bar, but my mom isn’t a big sushi/raw fish fan.
we agreed on the ebi-go roll which has tempura prawns in it and just the tuna sashimi on the top like a lovely little blanket of yum.
it also had a little jalapeno in it, which added a nice spiciness without drastically changing the flavour as wasabi would.
like an idiot, i dipped my first piece in soy sauce out of habit, but after that, i just ate it as is.
the flavours were so delicate and balanced, it didn’t need anything else.

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for our mains, my mom had the chef’s daily special, the surf & surf, which was lobster and prawns on toasted orzo.
and man oh man was it ever good.
the lobster was buttery and perfectly cooked – admit it, how many times have you had an overcooked rubbery lobster? it’s so disappointing.
and the toasted orzo was nutty and full of flavour.
i wish i could remember the sauce with it.

i ordered off the menu, the turbot caught my eye right away.
the waiter chris (hi chris! – he asked for my blog address) declared it to be a favourite and really, it had me at dijon-chive spaetzle.  also i LOVE ramps.

turbot – dijon-chive spaetzle, ramp greens, mustard caviar & whole grain mustard butter sauce

seriously?
the turbot was cooked beautifully with a golden crust so crisp that you could knock on it, but the underside of the fish was perfectly done.
the spaetzle was tender and not gooey and the mustard sauce was a bit strong on the first few bites, but once your palate got used to it, it was really lovely.

for dessert, it was a simple choice.  the dessert sampler.
because if you can try more than 1 dessert at a time, you sure as hell should.

blueberry cobler beignets: a-la-minute beignets, blueberry compote, vanilla bean ice cream & brown sugar streusel
vanilla bean cheesecake: cinnamon sugar puff pastry, strawberry coulis & basil sorbet
decadent chocolate: chocolate brioche pudding, chocolate raspberry mouse & chocolate ice cream
key lime pie: swiss meringue & cilantro syrup

ya, i’m not even sure what to say about this.  it was just ridiculous.

the standouts for me were the cheesecake – so thick and rich and the puff pastry was a nice change to the usual crust, but it was the basil sorbet that really elevated it.  it cut through the cheesecake and toned down the richness so that you wanted to keep eating it until it was all gone.  (and we did)

and the key lime pie was my other favourite – to no one’s surprise.
the cilantro syrup seemed like an odd choice for a split second until it hit me, that OF COURSE!  cilantro and limes are perfect partners in all sorts of savoury mexican applications, why wouldn’t they be BFF on the dessert plate?
definite stroke of genius.

and then… as if this meal wasn’t already all kinds of awesome, i actually got to meet rick moonen himself!

i was pretty excited.  (can you tell by my face?)

its an absolutely wonderful thing to be able to tell the chef face to face how much you enjoyed not only the meal, but the whole inspiration for the restaurant.
and he was so nice.
like, legitimately kind and interested in my comments and discussing restaurants in vegas and vancouver that focused on sustainability.
it was a real pleasure to have met him, and big thanks goes out to our wonderful server chris that got him to come out for me.

i also took home his book which is an insanely huge collection of all sorts of knowledge on how to cook, handle, clean and select fish.  it’s a very exciting read thus far, i’m glad i picked it up.  20120528-114006.jpg

(also – he signed is best fishes?  love!)