Ciao Mein at the Hyatt Ewa Tower

Another beautiful restaurant in Waikiki.  The theme of the restaurant is Chinese-Italian fusion.  Fusion is a big hit these days, as fetuccini alfredo can only be done so many ways.  This place had the right ambience for the most part.  However, they went a little too far with each staff member calling themselves by a fusion name: for example, one server’s “name” was “Bella Chai.”  Ha ha, we get it.  Please focus on the food.

We ordered and shared asparagus, the scallop ravioli, and a seafood lasagna that had been recommended to us.  The asparagus was crisp-tender with a light sauce, shiitakes, and bamboo shoots.  All three flavors blended well and were not overcooked or oversauced.  The scallop ravioli was a gorgeous presentation; however, the presentation made it nearly impossible to eat.  It was two large sheets of beautiful fresh pasta stuffed with small scallops and a light white wine cream sauce.  It was utterly delightful.  Again, the ingredient quality was stellar and each ingredient could shine.

Bonny DoonI was chosen as the sommelier for this trip and I was picking lots of wines I’ve read but never tasted.  I chose a Bonny Doon Pacific Rim Riesling, thinking the East-West flair would go well with the dishes we’d chosen.  This New World wine has a clear green apple note with a lemon drop finish.  It paired well with all but the seafood lasagna.  Then again, the lasagna was gluey and lacked flavor, so I am not that disappointed.

The lasagna was highly recommended to us, so I was surprised when it was not good.  The fish and other seafood was almost indistinguishable from the sticky pasta pieces.  It was overgarnished with fried rice noodles.  The noodles were very good when just a few were eaten with the dish to add crunch.  I sincerely wonder if they were holding the dish too long or something because it was honestly out of character with every other aspect of this dining experience.

The service was understated but prompt.  The food actually came too quickly, as my dad didn’t have time to finish his salad.  I don’t like to feel rushed and I think that the kitchen simply had poor timing.

Once again, I was dealing with a relatively short wine list with a heavy bias toward new world- specifically California- wines.  Maybe because California is closer geographically?  Or the import taxes are awful in Hawaii?  If any wine geeks read this blog, please comment and tell me why this is so.

Atmosphere: [rate 5]
Beer Selection: Not rated
Wine Selection: [rate 3]
Food: Bipolar! [rate 5] and [rate 1]
Service: [rate 4]

The Nostalgia Continues…

schofield_trip.JPGDad and I continued our tour of his past today.  We (finally) took the rental car out of the garage and took it around the island to his old haunts.

Our first destination was Waipio.  Dad was driving because he knew the way, and I was the furiously busy photographer.  I’m too lame to be able to upload pics while I’m here, so I’ll add them later.

As I listened to traditional Hawai’ian music on the radio, I was daydreaming about how good life is and how fortunate I am.  Suddenly, he said “how far up highway 99 are we?”  Before I could answer, we had turned into a little apartment complex.  He actually found the apartment- 6A- where he and my mom had lived.  I’ve seen the photos of him as he carried her over the threshold.  He called my mom and they relived old memories as he looked out upon the apartments of their old friends.

We headed next to Schofield Barracks where Dad had worked.  We entered the gate and they started checking our IDs.  Let me pause for a moment: my dad is so gregarious that he doesn’t always understand when he’s too close to someone, or if he’s boring them, or whatever.  So I was a little nervous that we’d bother someone as we entered. 

How silly of me.

As we presented our IDs to three twenty-year-old servicepeople, he told them in his most Nostalgia Dad voice: “I lived and worked here forty years ago.”  Instead of looking bored like many 20-year-old strangers would, all three of them perked up and were very interested in his story.  He shared a few moments with them and we entered the Barracks.

We found the place where he had once lived.  We entered, and I was worried that two civilians might be kicked out of the place.  We looked at the board listing chain of command.  Some young kid- 19 maybe?- passed us and we were starting to receive some glares of “why are you civvies here?”  My dad told the kid, in the same voice as before, “I lived and worked here forty years ago.”  Like the others, he actually perked up and asked Dad some questions. 

I could continue the theme of everyone we met hearing Dad say those same words, and their respect for him as a result.  Dad found his old office and we took pictures again.  As we left, he shook hands with the guys and said, “thank you for what you do for our country.”  The reply: “No, sir, thank YOU for paving the way for us.  Thank you for your leadership 40 years ago.”  I was floored.

It wasn’t a one-time thing either.  That happened again on our way down the stairs as he thanked someone for their service and they said, “If it weren’t for your sacrifice, I wouldn’t be here today.”

I think war is the heartbreak of civilization, but meeting these men and women was extraordinary.  They were all respectful, well-groomed, and the way they carried themselves made me stand a little straighter and give them the respect they deserve.  I have always respected that these folks put themselves in danger so that I can be free to disagree with the government and say so.  Now, it’s not as abstract: I truly honor them and the sacrifices that they make for us.  Not only that, but I saw my dad in a new way too.  He lived that life once and its lessons have stayed with him for a lifetime. 

We went to a beach on the north shore after that, and the peaceful calm gave Dad a chance for a nap and me a chance for some yoga and reflection.  Life is good.

Hanauma Blowhole Dive

Moorish Idols Hanauma Map

This site is well known for its crashing waves, but it’s little known as a dive spot.  That’s perfect for me.  I like shore dives as opposed to a boat dive.

The divemaster, Mike, was kind enough to let my dad tag along and stay on the beach.  Dad took some pictures and had a minor panic when he saw me disappear under the ocean.    dive_with_mike_small.jpgMike Helps Prep for Dive

The water conditions were not bad, except for visibility.  There was some surge but Mike taught me a tip to keep my energy use minimized: “tread” water when the current is against me, then do powerful kicks when it’s moving me in the right direction.  It was a dive lifesaver.

We saw all manner of fish and some cool Hanauma Sea Turtleturtles.  Mike poked around looking for an octopus but had no luck.  If you are seeing this post with no pictures, they haven’t been emailed to me.  Mike had the same camera I have but with a nice underwater case.  The photos looked pretty crisp. 

The only problem with this shore dive was the ingress and egress.  It’s a steep, rocky path with some steps 3Hanauma_Cliff feet tall.  It starts about fifty feet above sea level.  The picture at right shows the terrain; Dad is on the rocks and I'm in the water.  Anyway, my fear of heights reared its ugly head on the way down as my mind raced to what my brains would look like dashed on the rocks.  Dad walked in front of me and that helped.

The way back up to the car was worse.  I had to do some heavy kicking at the end of the dive in order to go to shore.  The wave crash wanted to pull me back out to sea.  Anyway, I emerged from the 55-minute dive with rubber legs.  Rubbery muscles + 40 pounds dive gear + fifty feet of climbing = disaster.  I did OK on the smaller steps, but started to falter about halfway up the path.  Dad started helping by pulling one arm as I lifted myself with the other arm and both legs.  A few of those big 3-foot steps and my legs buckled under me.

Mike had already made it up to the car, removed his gear, and cleaned his first stage.  He was nice enough to come back down the path and take my equipment so I could climb better.  It was a little embarrassing to be unable to walk.  I need to build some muscle tone in my legs!  Time for some squats I think. 

I would recommend this dive site for intermediate divers with more leg strength than I.  I would not want to go there as a beginner – especially without a person who has been diving at the site – because of the danger if one goes too close to the blowhole itself.

Duke’s Waikiki at Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach

Another hotel restaurant.  I was forced by nostalgia to go to this place.  I had been nine years earlier and I thought it was the kind of place my dad would like.

I was nonplussed by the “famous” salad bar.  It was good but not any more special than any other salad bar I’ve seen.  No special tropical dishes, just regular white mushrooms, sprouts, and pots of dressing.  It was a good salad, just not “famous.”

Dad and I both chose the fresh fish.  I asked what was freshest and the server was quite knowledgeable.  I chose monchong, firecracker style, and Dad chose monchong, Duke’s style.  The fish was superb in flesh and flavor in both styles.  The side of rice had lots of broken grains and was obviously scooped from a big, congealed batch, but Santa Margheritadid have good flavor.  Both styles worked well with this kind of fish, and the firecracker heat was very low, allowing the fish flavor to shine along with the fresh guacamole relish topping.

For the wine, I picked Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio from Italy.  I normally only use Pinot Grigio in making white sangria because its flavor is often too mild to stand against a food pairing.  However, my dad is intolerant of lots of stronger wines, so I thought I would try this wine a friend had recommended.  It was crisp, refreshing, and tasted like fresh apples and light spice.  It was overwhelmed by the firecracker fish, but paired well with the milder fish prep Dad had.  It would be refreshing to drink on the patio on a hot summer day, but too boring to stand alone for long.

Duke’s is fun but tourist-y.  Dad liked it and so did I.

Atmosphere: [rate 3]
Beer Selection: Not rated
Wine Selection: [rate 3]
Food: [rate 3]
Service: [rate 3]

Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck on the North Shore

North ShoreThis is my kind of place!

(more pictures to be added later tonight)

The highway along Oahu’s North coastline has lots of different shrimp trucks.  Shrimp trucks?  Wha?

Well, local fishers troll for shrimp and bring the fresh catch back to trucks, prepare them (usually as scampi), and sell direct to the public.  Giovanni’s is an established favorite and did not disappoint.  But allow me to digress.

We finished our tour of Schofield Barracks, and we were both feeling happy, nostalgic, and a little exhausted.  We started our tour through the mountains and happened upon a restaurant where my mom and dad had once eaten.  We stopped to snap pictures and for Dad to say yet again: “I lived and worked here 40 years ago.”  It’s a fun routine.  The shop girl assured us the restaurant had been in existence for well over 40 years.  Fun.

We toured through the mountains, snapping pictures as we lamented that power lines were ruining our views.  Funny how we require energy (I loves me air conditioning), but loathe its personal, planetary, and aesthetic cost.  Dad wanted to find a beach- so we did.  I love the easy idea of vacation and the fact that Oahu complies and offers us so much gorgeous shore.

We decided to stop at a beach/park area with lots of parking spots but few attendees.  There were trees lining the beach that shaded us.  I jumped- Tevas and all- into the water.  I swam as far as I dared and swam back to Dad.  We splashed and I did back and front flips.  He taught me how to splash my opponent better (training I immediately used against him).  I felt so young again.  I remembered times playing with my dad in a pool: giggling, retrieving rings, playing games.  He contributed to my fearless love of water.

We went back to the beach and he commenced Nap #476 of this trip.  I walked up and down the quiet beach.  Children played in the sand with abandon.  I stopped back where my dad was and did some stretching and breathing yoga.  The rustling trees complemented the slow rhythm of waves and I felt… peace.  Inner calm.  I finally slowed down.  I started to empty my mind and clear my head.  It felt so good.  I sat and watched sand crabs.  I spent a long time watching them work and defend their territories.  I felt so happy to just watch, be calm, and focus on them.

Dad awakened and we lazily went back to the car.  I had a craving for a cold beer.  Suddenly we were on a mission.  We passed a couple of places due to Dad’s poor navigating (he blamed my breakneck speed of 35mph…  “don’t honk!”).  Suddenly, at the same moment, we both spotted the perfect little convenience store.  It was exactly what we needed: they sold singles of a wide variety of beer, they had nice outdoor seating, and they had a gorgeous view of the Pacific as cars passed us on the road.

We ate the snacks we’d brought and tasted two delicious local microbrews (pictured at right).  I would recommend both of these beers.  One had a macadamia nut flavor, but maybe that was just suggested by the locale.

Back on the road, we started looking for Giovanni’s.  It ended up being much farther east than we’d expected.  The menu was simple: shrimp three ways.  They had hot dogs, wich I presumed were for those with shellfish allergies, but they were cooked along with the shrimp.  Huh?  Whatever.

I ordered, of course, the hot-n-spicy.  Read the menu: so hot they don’t give refunds.  Shrimp TruckI was game.  Dad ordered the scampi.  As we waited, we went to a conveniently located tropical drink truck.  I ordered a pineapple-coconut and a guava-passionfruit smoothie.  The woman in front of me had tears rolling down her cheeks and explained it was from the spicy shrimp.  Uh oh.

Dad raved about the scampi and I waited even longer for my dish.  I powered through the shrimp.  My mouth is watering as I write this.  It was the second-hottest thing I’ve ever eaten, right behind the habañero that I ate whole just for the “fun” of it.  Dad has never seen me in such delicious agony.  It was overly hot, only from the standpoint that it seemed gimmicky, but it was flavorful and the shrimp were cooked perfectly and full of fresh flavor.  I ate them shell and all (except for the tail).

Dad looked at me like his hero as I pulled out our rum flask and made those silly smoothies into adult beverages.  Mmmmm….. The piña colada was the perfect balance of flavor and cooling against the heat of the shrimp.

I would highly recommend Giovanni’s shrimp truck.  It’s a fun, campy place to take a break from all that fine dining.

Atmosphere: [rate 3]
Beer Selection: Not rated
Wine Selection: Not rated
Food: [rate 5]
Service: [rate 2]

Chances are Your Chances are…Awfully Good


Speaking of chance, I called a Waikiki dive shop to arrange a dive and ended up knowing the divemaster from nine years ago on my first dive.  He told me today he contracts with five different Waikiki shops so I guess it’s not that much of coincidence, but still…

Word travels fast, and I received a phone call from another friend of mine, Wil, from nine years ago.  I knew him pretty well, but haven’t spoken to him in all these years.  We’ve had a couple of brief phone conversations because his friend the divemaster never showed for our dive yesterday.  It was weird to hear his voice after all of this time and it set me to reflecting. 

Nine years ago, my life was a roller coaster.  I made my own fate; I was happy one minute and angst-filled the next.  I had a horrid temper, frequent migraines, and a penchant for being a wench.  I remember (while wincing) how I would snap at people I loved, be it family or a boyfriend or whatever.  I was so busy trying to control everyone that I didn’t have time to control myself.

Now?  Well, I’m not perfect by any stretch, but I am a lot better.  I think nine years ago was a turning point for me where I started to try to be a better person.  It culminated in meeting my husband seven years ago and promising myself I would change my relationship habits.  I don’t engage in a lot of the petty stuff I used to do.  I am so thankful that I started to change nine years ago as a result of my good friend from Hawaii.  If I had not followed his example and changed my demeanor, I would never have been ready to meet my husband and to be the kind of person with whom he’d want to spend the rest of his life. 

People walk in and out of our lives all of the time.  It’s worth taking a moment to see what you can learn from everyone.

Why am I so philosophical these days?  I don’t know.  I think it could be that the relaxation time has given my brain room to stretch itself in different ways.

The Colony Restaurant at the Hyatt Diamond Head Tower

As our first meal in Hawaii, this restaurant did not disappoint.  I was hoping to eat at fewer hotel restaurants but this place was good enough for us to eat there twice.

My dad had designated me as the trip’s sommelier.  I also knew we’d be eating lighter, tropical fare, so I crumbled and started to learn more about white wines for the trip.  I realized I was being snobby and narrow-minded by only drinking reds.  So I read a lot, watched some shows, and attended some tastings.  Tonight was my first attempt.ZD

I chose a wine that’s in my cabinet at home but not yet tasted.  I chose the 2003 ZD Chardonnay Reserve from Napa.  The cool fermentation and oaking temperatures result in a wine that is less oak-ridden than many chardonnays.  There were flavors of tropical fruit, notably pineapple, with a zingy-ness that was refreshing but not overpowering.

We had an island seafood chowder that was great except for the addition of corn and haricots verts that seemed more like a pack of frozen veggies than fresh.  The clams and other seafood were firm and flavorful in a light, creamy base.  I had the ahi three ways as an entrée.  It was gorgeously presented and delicious as well.  The poke was incredible- an explosion of flavors, colors, and textures.

The others in my party enjoyed their meal as well, especially the mushroom ragout.  I had creamed spinach that was fantastic and garlicky.  By this time, we were ready for another bottle of wine, and one of my guests had a craving for merlot.  *sigh*  Clos du Val

The restaurant had a very short wine list (too short IMHO), and the merlot selection was only four types.  I chose a Clos du Val 2003 Merlot from Napa.  I have had this wine before and it has changed little in six months.  The fruit is not assertive enough against the dried herb (specifically thyme) flavors.  The tannins are still too tight and a year or so might make this a more balanced wine.

Atmosphere: [rate 3]
Beer Selection: Not rated
Wine Selection: [rate 2]
Food: [rate 4]
Service: [rate 3]

Life Is 50% Chance

Wow, two posts in one day!!

I am a big proponent of the theory that life truly is what you make it.  However, there is some chance to it, where prayers or runes or blind luck lead you to where you are.  For instance, I was born into a wonderfully loving family in the United States, not into the poverty and orphaned life of Sudan.  But, as usual, I digress. 

On our layover, my dad told me a story.  I wanted to document what he said so it wouldn’t be lost.

I knew that my parents married on their fourth date and my father stationed in Hawaii right after their second date.  I also knew that Vietnam had become a full-fledged military operation and that my dad was never sent there.  Here’s why, in the long-winded version:

He left for Hawaii after his second date with Mom.  They’d already determined that they would marry (!) in the next few months.  He left his own family as well, my paternal grandparents, to move to a place that was farther from home than he’d ever been.  I can’t imagine how awful it would feel to do that; how lucky he was to be stationed in Hawaii instead of elsewhere!

Dad reported to Fort Shafter after arriving in Hawaii.  He was to be a payroll clerk despite his MBA in finance.  Gotta love the military…

His boss immediately recognized that Dad could do way more than payroll, and he was reassigned to Scofield Base to audit non-appropriated funds, such as movie theaters and officer’s clubs.  My dad was the first non-civilian to do this job for his civilian boss.  As tours of duty in Vietnam were assigned, my dad’s boss knew that operations would come to a screeching halt without Dad and my dad was granted the opportunity to continue to work in Hawaii.  For Round Two of assignment of tours of duty for Vietnam, my dad only had 11 months left of his military service.  Tours were 13 months, so he could not complete a full tour, and once again was passed.  Twice he could have gone to come back scarred for life or worse.

As Vietnam embroiled our country in controversy, Dad said my mom was scared that he’d be called to serve at any moment.  Lucky for me, he escaped that tribulation.  What if he’d been called?  Would he have come back, forever changed from the man I know?  What if (shudder) he hadn’t come back at all?  How many people have parents whose whole personalities changed?  How many people were never born because of Vietnam?  I would not have been…

So I’m feeling pretty damn lucky right now.

The Ultimate Mooch

Wow, I haven’t blogged in forever.  Now is a great time to restart!  That is, before my laptop dies…

Life has taken me to some interesting places lately.  Currently, I’m sitting … well I’ll get to that: 

First, I love my family.  I have taken many business trips with my sister where she worked all day while I lounged by the pool, ordered room service, had a massage.  Then we would find a fantastic restaurant, club, or both (!) and have a fabulous evening.  I love the mix of alone time an d time with someone that a regular vacation does not afford.  I have taken a couple of trips like this with my dad too.

I would be entirely remiss not to mention that I love to mooch.  Now, I’ll eat six free doughnuts in a conference room, but I don’t just mean free stuff.  I think it stems from my love of someone taking care of me.  From my mom with a wet washcloth during a bad fever- to my sister’s friends scaring the junior high girls being mean to me- to my dad taking me to a scary doctor’s appointment- to my brother giving the bird to my exboyfriend- my family takes care of me.  Sure, we take care of each other, but I’m the baby and we all like it that way.

All I pay is airfare and I’m on my way to a nearly-free vacation with someone whom I love and whose company I enjoy.  I arrange for restaurants, bottles of wine, and other things, but for the most part, someone is taking care of me and I love it.

So back to now: I’m traveling with Dad this time.  He is in first-class and was so excited that I was going that he purchased my ticket with his frequent-flier miles.  On our brief layover, he went to “check on the in-flight meals.”  He returned and with a very dadlike flourish dropped a first-class boarding pass in my lap.  So where are we?  Currently, I’m sitting about 30, 500 feet above Nebraska, moving at 536mph toward Honolulu.  Yeah, that’s right, I’ve managed to mooch not just the hotel like usual but first-class tickets to paradise.

Mom and Dad were married and moved to Hawaii as their first home.  I’m excited to see where they lived, where Dad bought her engagement ring, to see the misty eyes when he thinks of those times.  She preferred to stay home rather than fly and while I’m sorry she’ll miss it, this is a fantastic opportunity for me to spend some time with Dad and hear his stories.  Let the fun begin!

Today is
Where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten