Thursday, February 7, 2008

Ramen Update Honolulu

When I decided to get out of Tacoma for a few days and chose Oahu versus Los Angeles, I was immediately thinking about the delicious ramen noodle shops I had discovered in previous trips, and was hoping my favorite would still be there--as it was rather dingy, and I had heard Waikiki had undergone a major renovation with a corresponding influx of high-end clothing boutiques that appeal more to the Rodeo Drive crowd and less to the International Marketplace tourists looking for souvenir T-shirts “7 shirts for $20”.

The famous / ubiquitous ABC Stores that sometimes seem to be 3 to a block, are still there, but I also noticed that upscale retailers like COACH seem to be on almost every block also—appealing to high-end consumerist Japanese fashionistas that flock to the area (the weak American dollar proving ever more alluring).

But lo and behold-- right next to the most fashionable stretch of high-end shops on Kalakaua Ave Waikiki's fashion mile of luxury brands -- Burberry, Tiffany & Co., Yves St. Laurent, Gucci, Prada, and Louis Vuitton, sat my favorite Waikiki ramen shop –thankfully dowdy as ever-- Ezogiku. (You can also find it by simply walking down the sidewalk west from the International Marketplace until you see the long line of people standing waiting to get into the place). Or stop when you smell the delicious aromas wafting out the door carried by the gentle trade winds down the street.

Ezogiku is located on the Mauka side of the street (toward the mountains) as the locals would say. It is worth the wait. Most of my visits I was the only Caucasian in the joint, so I knew I had hit pay-dirt. One visit, a Japanese tourist who wanted to practice her English skills struck up a conversation with me while standing in line and seemed genuinely amazed that I liked ramen! When I told her how many times I had eaten there in my brief stay she giggled and put her hand over her mouth—a custom I also observed later when, after the meal, all of the Japanese used toothpicks to clean their teeth but by carefully and shyly covering their mouths with the other hand. Out of deference I adopted that style myself so as not to offend.

I ate there several times during my 12 day visit. It is delicious and laughably inexpensive. You can get a huge bowl of Sapporo Ramen with 4 different styles to choose from: (I tried all 4 over the several visits) Shoyu [soy sauce flavored], Curry, Miso, or Shio [light soy].

Sapporo RamenTheir 3-item Special will get you a giant bowl of steaming noodles with your choice of fried rice or California Roll, and 4 pieces of fantastic gyoza (potstickers).

All for $8.59 plus tax!

It is way too much to eat so I usually took the fried rice home to the hotel and put it into the refrigerator in my room for a tasty cold rice breakfast the next morning before heading out to the beach.

The service is fast if not professional. There are a few tables inside but it is more fun to sit at the oblong counter, with the servers working inside the corral. Each time I came in I always seemed to get the same middle-aged server with the plastic hibiscus flowers in her hair. And each time I tried to ignore the fact that she always brought me my water by holding onto the rim of the glass. Trying to circumvent this by ordering a Sapporo draft beer I was still frustrated by her clinging to the rim of the frosty mug. The next time I succeeded by ordering a bottled beer.

It has been said in Tokyo to find a delicious ramen shop that there are three criteria:
--it must be old, crowded, and dirty.

Ezogiku scores on all 3 !

2146 Kalakaua Ave
Honolulu, HI 96815
(808) 926-8616

Open Hours: 11am-midnight
Seven locations around Honolulu and Waikiki, Vancouver BC, and Tokyo

Sunday Dinner in Kahala

Tate EdwardsMy last night in Honolulu, my dear friend Yuriko McPhail, who owns the Honolulu Baking Company, called to ask me to dinner before my 10pm flight back to winter weather. Her bakery provides all the baked goods and sandwiches for all the Starbucks in Hawaii --and since there are 56 Starbucks, you can imagine how busy her bakery is! Her younger son, Tate Edwards, is in culinary school and is an aspiring chef. Her other son, Keegan Edwards is ranked #5 in the world of professional surfers (and was my daughter Mariel’s “boyfriend” in grade school in Aspen, CO before they moved to Oahu). Keegan is rehabbing a bad leg injury he suffered while competing in France. (I didn’t even know they surfed in France did you)?

Yuri told me that Tate had read on this blog my love for ramen, and wondered if I would like to try his favorite ramen spot before I got on the plane?

Would I ever!

Yuri and Keegan EdwardsThe previous Sunday I had been invited to their gorgeously comfortable home in the Kahala area near Diamond Head. Young Tate was busy preparing a wonderful meal for 9 of us, as Yuri showed me around their beautiful home filled with exotic tropical flowers, and fabulous local art.

Tate prepared a mildly spicy Hawaiian Opah (Moon fish) with a delicious crispy breading (that I forgot to get the recipe for—still need that Tate). He told me he was upset that there wasn’t any salmon, but I would much rather have a local fish and the Opah was wonderful. Yuri’s husband Dean owns the Jamba Juice franchises in Hawaii and Guam and just opened the first P.F. Chang’s China Bistro in Honolulu with a second location opening in 4 months in Waikiki. Dean was in charge of grilling the filet mignons. There was a tasty salad with local lettuces from Nalo Farms (nestled at the feet of the majestic Ko'olau Mountains in Waimanalo. Waimanalo also has a beautiful state park and one of the most beautiful beaches to spend a day sunbathing and swimming in the gorgeous blue green waters).

Scalloped potatoes & steamed asparagus completed the wonderful meal. The Opah was so delicious I had to get seconds. Dessert was a trio of sorbets: mango, coconut & raspberry.

Left to Right: Dean, Keegan Edwards, Yuri, Gordon NaccaratoPerfect.

It would seem Tate has a promising culinary future ahead of him.

The trade winds kicked up and Yuri went upstairs to grab a sweater.

“A sweater?? …but it’s 74 degrees,” I protested.

“I know”, Yuri replied… “chilly.”

Honolulu Baking Company
523 Ahui Street
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813-5303
808-596-2556, Fax 808-597-8415

P.F. Chang’s
1288 Ala Moana Blvd
Honolulu, HI 96814
(808) 596-4710

Jamba Juice Hawaii
32 locations on all 4 islands

Nalo Farms
41-574 Makakalo Street
Waimanalo, Hawaii 96795

Goma Tei Ramen

Goma Tei Restaurant
When I arrived at Goma Tei, I was a bit disappointed to see that it was located in the shopping mall at Ward Center, a little further west from the Ala Moana Shopping Center. Normally I would never eat at a mall restaurant unless starving, (ok maybe an Auntie Anne’s Pretzels once a year) but the promise of good ramen made me hopeful. It felt like it took 15 minutes to find a parking space in the cramped old parking structure, and I thought I was going to be late to meet my friends the parking was so bad.

Another bad omen—when I walked up to the restaurant, the place looked too new, upscale and fancy, and there was no line out the door. Worse yet--when I walked in the door-- I could also see that it was spotlessly clean. Not a good sign. I was fearful.

I hadn’t seen a menu yet but already it had failed 3 out of the 3 criteria (old, crowded, and dirty). But it smelled wonderful. Tate and his mom Yuri were waiting along with the fabulous June who works with Yuri at the Honolulu Baking Company. June has an enigmatic smile and infectious laugh that implies she knows all the secrets!

When I asked Tate he explained the “Tan Tan” style of ramen meant that it was a Chinese Szechuan-style, the broth mildly spicy and fragrant with sesame oil. Richer than the cleaner lighter Japanese style ramen broth. Tate and I both decided to order the Tan Tan with the char siu Pork. “Char sui” is a meltingly tender version of roast pork, not the firm, sweetened Chinese-style barbecued pork colored with red food dye & ketchup we find here in pork fried rice.

Char Siu Tan Tan RamenWhen the ramen was served, I immediately knew it was going to be good. The stock was dark and authentic looking; the waitress told us it was made from roasted chicken & pork bones. And I mean authentic in the sense that it appeared hearty and homey, slightly oily-- in a good way-- and tasted rich and soulful.
Notice the rustic wooden spoon—a nice touch.

The Ramen was garnished with gai lan (Chinese Kale/broccoli) and several slices of char sui, hiding the abundant soft chewy noodles beneath. The broth had just the right amount of heat for a brothy soup, and the sesame oil was used with restraint. So many times I have tasted an Asian-inspired dish ruined by too much sesame oil.

I told Tate that when you cook with sesame oil to think of it as a condiment to be used sparingly: “Pretend, I told him, that you are using an eye-dropper when you add sesame oil to a dish. Then you won’t over-do it”.

We also tried Goma Tei’s curried fried rice with chunky carrots; tonkatsu a Japanese deep fried pork cutlet ( "Tonkatsu" comes from the word "katsu" meaning cutlet and "tonkatsu" meaning breaded and fried cutlet); gyoza; and ban ban ji chicken which was poached slowly in ginger and garlic in the Chinese style and very silken-textured.ban ban ji chicken
It was served on a bed of slivered salted cucumber in a sprightly vinaigrette that tasted of rice vinegar. Yuri thought the cucumber "looked old", but I thought it was like a wilted pickle--and anyway it tasted delicious!

Gyoza (potstickers)The gyoza i.e. potstickers [photo to right] were delicious with their dipping sauce.
Gyoza are beguiling in the same way as crème brûlée –the wonderful textural contrasts of the crisp-sided dumpling with the opposite soft noodle side--the same way the crisp burned sugar contrasts with the silken custard of a brûlée.

The other similarity is that they both make me smile when I eat them.

The delicious food was washed down with ice cold Kirin drafts (bottled).

I know you might not want to “spend” a night in paradise to have dinner in a mall, but believe me this place is worth the cramped, antiquated (and frustrating) parking garage hassle.

Thanks Tate for the great tip!

Very “ono” [delicious] as they say in the islands.

Is onolicious a word?

located at Ward Center - 1200 Ala Moana Blvd
Honolulu, Hawaii 96814
Phone: 808-591-9188

Goma Tei ramen features authentic Japanese noodles with assorted pupus and ice cold beer. Specialties include Tan Tan Ramen, Cold Noodle, their version of Hawaii’s famous Teishoku [Plate Lunch] & and assorted pupus.


Anonymous said...

What a perfect blog. I LOVE ramen. I used to go to Pal Do World to get the authentic thing. Alot of times I would be the only American in the store. Also wanted to comment about the gyoza. The korean word for it is mondu. Tacoma City Council member Marilyn Strickland's mother made the best I have ever tasted. It was such a treat for me when I was growing up to eat her mondu and chop chae. I have tried alot of different things but nothing compares to Momma Stricklands home cooking.

Anonymous said...

Just had to leave you a brief note Chef G. After our conversation last night about mondu my Korean next door neighbor was knocking on my door with a big plate of hot mondu. What a treat. When are you going to put it on the bar menu? It was wonderful seeing you. I know that Steeno will be a wonderful addition to your establishment. Hope to see you soon.

ChefGordonNaccarato said...

You know I have never tried the Korean version before.

Are they crisp on one side like potstickers?

Are they spicy-hot as some Korean dishes are?