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]

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]

MacNiven’s Restaurant & Bar

Link to restaurant information
and other reviews

Located on the Southwest end of Mass Ave, MacNiven’s has been a favorite of mine since I moved to this town. The front bar-style tables are a must during the spring, when the windows are opened and one can watch friends and strangers pass.

As I waited for my friends, I sat at the bustlingly busy bar. Despite the business, the other patrons were friendly. It may seem minor, but some establishments’ clientele don’t seem to care about anyone but their own companions. The bar menu has a fantastic selection that mirrors the food menu: lots of authentic Scottish selections with some delicious picks from other parts of the world also. If you want to try my favorite scotch (Lagavulin), MacNiven’s is one of the only places that serves it. A server was pouring Scotch ale for someone, and I asked her if it was any good. She responded by happily pouring me a shot of beer to sample. This won my business on two levels: first, she was extremely busy and was pouring a sample for someone who hadn’t even placed an order. Second, any business that stands by its wares enough to give samples knows the quality will speak for itself. This beer was no exception: I ordered one immediately and savored it while I waited.

The Belhaven Scotch Ale was amazing, with a light, creamy head. The hops were pronounced but did not overpower the smooth, smoky malt finish. The sweet, toasty caramel flavors of the finish made this a beer that novice tasters will like, and that pairs well with dessert flavors- I’m thinking of toffee ice cream with a chocolate and scotch ale sauce (or is that too Cannery Row- Beer Milkshake-like?). When my dinner companions arrived, the bartender made my transitions to the table effortless, offering to bring me my brew and my tab instead of making me wait. It gave me the ability to enjoy the company of my friends instead of waiting on a tab.

I met a couple of people there for dinner, and I was excited to review the fare. However, though the menu has an amazing variety of authentic Scottish dishes and elegant casual dining meals, both of my dinner companions gravitated to the sausage rolls for dinner. I had the Scotch eggs appetizer and one of my companions started with the Scotch egg salad.

Hot from the oil, the Scotch eggs did not disappoint. I would have chosen a different beverage, as the assertive flavors overwhelmed my Scotch ale (perhaps a thick Xingu or hoppy Gumballhead would have been better). The eggs are hard-boiled, then wrapped in a spicy sausage coating and fried to perfection. They are served with a garlic-coarse red pepper aioli with just the right heat to balance the sausage. If you’ve never tried them- you are in for a treat that elevates bar food. The Scotch egg salad was a garden salad topped with sliced Scotch eggs, avocado, and bright red peppers. While the salad was good, the eggs are better alone with the aioli.

The sausage rolls are 5-ounce sausages wrapped in a puff pastry- think Sausage Wellington. The delicate pastry was tender, yet flaky, indicating it was not only made correctly, but also didn’t sit in the back for long before being brought to the table by our server. The side of beans was more of a palate-cleanser than an interesting dish.

Our server was attentive without being overbearing, and he was available when we had questions or requests. Despite the fact that it was a busy Thursday evening and we were finishing dinner around ten o’clock as the bar crowd arrives, he didn’t push the check onto our table until we requested it. Our glasses of ale or water were always filled, and we didn’t have a lot of interruptions or feel like the server was in our laps. The service staff was a mix of young, attractive folks that would have blended well with the bar’s clientele except for their black t-shirts and aprons.

Well done, MacNiven’s. I highly recommend this place for a brew, a scotch, or a full meal- either right after work or late in the evening, the menu and atmosphere are sure to please you.

Atmosphere: [rate 4]
Beer Selection: [rate 5]
Wine Selection: Not rated
Food: [rate 4]
Service: [rate 5]

The Slippery Noodle Inn

Link to restaurant information

One of the things I enjoy most about my city is that there is so much diversity in restaurants. What I don’t like is how many chain restaurants there are. So, in an effort to support local eateries, I decided to post my restaurant reviews.

My very first review is of a much-beloved establishment: the Slippery Noodle Inn. Known as a great place to listen to live music, it also has a diverse food menu and even more diverse beer selection, with many brews on draught. It’s really nice to go to a place that actually cares to pour more than domestics and fake Irish red beer.

The Noodle has a really fun bar at the entry with a bartender who actually knows his stuff. He was affable and entertaining even though the place was quite crowded for a Wednesday. However, the atmosphere- and knowledge- stops there. The atrium has sticky formica tables and cheap brass chairs on dark blue indoor/outdoor carpet. All of the glass makes it very loud, a fact that is not helped by the extremely noisy server’s stand. Seriously, they were dropping plates into bins so loudly that I couldn’t hear the person right next to me. This happened not just once but throughout the evening.

Only four of us were eating, so we ordered drinks and dinner quickly. A kitchen helper- not our server- brought out a large tray of food and set it on a tray stand across the aisle next to our table. It sat there so long that we wondered whose it was…then realized it was ours. We continued to talk, and the food just sat there. It was almost 10 minutes before it was served. By that time, the toppings on the nachos had soaked the chips and the cheese had become one sheet of cheddar. This pattern was repeated with two other tables, though their waits were only 3 minutes or so.

I had the steak salad, which promised tender steak and bleu cheese on top of a garden salad. The bleu cheese was satisfactory, but the “steak??? was shaved beef that had been soaked in a teriyaki-like sauce that was not complimentary to the earthy tang of the cheese. The meat was not seared to create delicious fond, but appeared to be simmered in the sauce; it was so cloyingly sweet that I couldn’t finish it.

The other dining guests had hamburgers and the aforementioned congealed nachos. The flavors in the nachos were actually very good. Bar nachos aren’t supposed to be authentic- and these weren’t either- but they were flavorful. The hamburger was also passable, but the home fries were spongy, fried potato discs that clearly revealed that the fry oil was old. Fried foods are the stuff of bars- using stale grease is not excusable.

The servers were attractive young women in sportsbar-esque tight t-shirts and low cut jeans, except for the aforementioned male bartender. Our server was not familiar with two of the three dishes that were ordered.

I’ll still go to the Noodle to meet friends for a beer- it’s a downtown establishment that attracts a diverse crowd of music lovers and the post-work crowd. But I’ll sit in the front bar and not eat, thank you.

Atmosphere: [rate 3]
Beer Selection: [rate 4]
Wine Selection: Not rated
Food: [rate 0]
Service: [rate 1]