Review #3: Hôtel Herman

19 September 2015

Wow. What a monumental hangover… I didn’t even get out of bed until nearly midday… I got back to my hotel from that awesome Joe Beef birthday celebration close to 4am and promptly passed out… When I woke up I was surprisingly hungry, so thank goodness for the microwave in the room as I finished that ribeye from last night. Yeah, went caveman…

I was still reeling from all that booze and my body was really not used to drinking like this anymore, to be honest. Way, way too much. First it was that fabulous long night at Park, then this. And tonight I was headed to one of my favourite places, Hôtel Herman.

I’ve done this trifecta many times while visiting Montréal, and I truly love this place. Still remember a totally awesome dinner last time there…wow… I got off one stop early on the Metro and walked a bit as it was humid and steamy inside the trains. I got to the restaurant soaked, however, as I was sweaty and also got drenched on by the drizzling rain. I took a slightly different seat at the really cool horseshoe-shaped bar and chilled out. Ah, good to be back.

I enjoyed a cocktail to relax, even after last night’s excess… I looked over the menu and designed another menu for myself for the night. I also told them to pair each dish for me wine-wise, so more booze… Oh my… I relaxed and enjoyed the atmosphere then the first dish arrived.

1-smoked sturgeon

This was a beautiful smoked sturgeon dish. The fish was fantastic, delicate but not shying away from flavours at all. The roe was a nice little touch, very mild, just enough to make things even more interesting. I’m so happy to be back! Then next up, urchin.


I love local urchin so whenever I’m here in Québec I get as much of it as I can. These were as creamy good as they were the past 2 nights, and this was a lovely little dish. Some excellent kitchen work here. Relaxed, had more wine, and then the third dish was presented.


This was a lovely crab dish, with a generous portion to say the least. With an assortment of peppers, it was a cute dish with a lot of good crab meat. Sorry the photo came out odd, I had to edit the lighting and my stupid Galaxy S6 once again screws up the focusing…

I was pretty good at this stage but I know there’s one more dish coming — and it arrived with a change in wine.


Wow, this was a fabulous dish. What is it? Duck breast. Fabulous flavours, cooked perfectly and very lightly, completely letting the quality of the quack do all the quacking. Fabulous end!

I chilled out and enjoyed the last of the wine when a surprise came out, a comped dessert. What, did the word get around? Wow. So I had a nice after dinner drink and some coffee to round this excellent night out.

Fabulous. This trifecta of Park-Joe Beef-Hôtel Herman has worked so well for me over the years and it’s done it again. Tonight was excellent, some fabulous work by this kitchen team with some excellent ingredients. I love this place. Again, as I said before, it’s the type of restaurant I wish I had. I headed out happy, and as usual I walked back to Centre-Ville as it was a good long stroll. And as per my personal tradition, I close the night off by grabbing a fatty at Schwarz’s en route back to the hotel.

Oh, Montréal, you killed it once again. I really wish I can come up more often. It’s one of my favourite places in the world, and once again it’s proven it to me. I can’t wait to return to do this trifecta again.

Hôtel Herman
5171 Boulevard Saint-Laurent
Montréal, Québec

Review #3: Joe Beef

18 September 2015

Okay, be warned, this review is going to be different. You will need to rely on my words alone… I did take photos of this brilliant evening but it was uneven and unbalanced, and would skew this review too badly. So this will be a word-only review, so join me for a literary ride celebrating my 43rd birthday…

After last night’s excellent (if not wee pricey) dinner extravaganza at Park, I didn’t have much energy for a proper lunch. So I ran some errands, albeit a bit groggy from the sake, and grabbed a small snack — just to make sure I don’t show up at Joe Beef for my birthday dinner on a totally empty stomach. Joe Beef, the shrine to simple and honest cooking with fresh local ingredients, was where I chose to celebrate my birthday this year. To be honest, there’s not many better places. Over the years I’ve come to love the place, not just for the excellent cooking but for the wonderful people there. The staff there are some of the most wonderful people in the world, not to mention the proprietors.

Had a wonderful afternoon in town and I headed to Little Burgundy on the early side of this Friday evening — getting there soon after the restaurant opened. They set me up at the “throne” position, at the top of the raw bar counter. Many staffers came by to say hello, as it’s been awhile since I’ve been back in Montréal, but each of them taunting me with a “well I heard today is kind of a special day for you…”

Uh oh…

But I also found out this was a special day for Joe Beef, as it was their 10th anniversary! Unfortunately the big man himself, David McMillan, was not in tonight as he was celebrating his own little bundy of joy (!!!!), but Fred Morin and the crew took great care of me all night — far more than I ever imagined and expected.

As usual, I let them handle everything, from food to drink. They know I eat and drink everything and anything, so I left my fate entirely up to them all night — for the next 9 hours… Yes, 9, hours. Soon the sparkly flew and the opener — a selection of oysters. They were excellent, creamy and delicate, not wimpy but not overwhelming. Fabulous stuff to start.

The raw bar was still at it as the next dish were three sea urchins. These Canadian beauties were creamy and briny, full of complexity. Lovely stuff, one of my favourite things to eat. We were on some nice white wines at this point, all pours ridiculously generous…

The kitchen got to work and my next dish was interesting — a plate of pink. A generous plate of house-cured ham, I believe all done on the premises. Sublime and restrained, it worked well with the wine — and honestly, was very useful in helping to line my stomach for the heavy amount of alcohol flowing! It’s not the very smokey or heavy ham that you’d associate with Benton’s or something, but a subtle, relaxed one that you can snack on all day.

Things accelerated soon with a large portion of horse tartar. I know lots of people don’t like the idea of eating horse, but it’s a tasty, lean meat — and I have it as much as I can in Montréal. This was a tasty bit of tartar, and it was heavy as it was a rather generous portion. In fact, the portions may mean the death of me as I see they are enjoying challenging me this evening again!

Took a bit of a break with more excellent wine — it just kept flowing — and the conversations were also lively and engaging. Was good to chat with fellow diners, both first-timers and regulars, but even better was chatting with various members of the staff. I felt like a member of the family the way each of them treated me all night, from the raw bar team to the drinks team to the kitchen team. Every one of them took time to chat with me and wish me a happy birthday. It was so amazingly special…

The feast must continue, and the next dish was a cool one. I really, really wish I got a useful picture of this — a squid stuffed with pork. Oh, how fabulous, it held together very well, and the two complemented each other brilliantly. Easily the best dish of the night so far, creative and strong but distinct. Loving this! Though I must admit, unlike years ago when I had the bottomless appetite, my appetite isn’t what it used to be…

More wine, more conversation, then the next dish blew me away… It was a full trout. Looks simple, but the cool thing is that this came from their trout pond out back in the garden. How cool, not just the ham was all done on premises, but the trout was swimming back there earlier today too. It was a big ol’ fish and it took me over half an hour to eat it, slowly. Excellent stuff, didn’t mind the bones (got more bones in my mouth than usual as it was dark as Hades inside the restaurant by then). The flesh was solid and flavourful, no flakiness here — as it was just swimming hours earlier out back. Cooked perfectly, the freshness of the fish really stood out.

I admit I laboured through the last bits and on a good day (and a brighter restaurant) I would have cleaned off the fish much better. I forgot to eat the eyballs too — that’s how full I was getting. They warned me I had one more dish left, and they got a red wine, so I was wondering which of the meat dishes they would try to kill me with…

They knew I needed time so there was a lot more chat and wine. We’re talking about hour number 4 now for this dinner as we went past 10pm. Then the item came out, and I quietly cursed Fred and David… It was a gigantic bone-in ribeye! It was one of those sizes that I would usually order as the only dish of the night, especially not after so many full courses already! Oh I am gonna put on so, so much weight this trip!

I took the beef slowly and honestly I felt my steam was running out, so I only got through about half of it. Also, the mood of the night was changing as the place was thinning out a little, and the staff was starting to close things out. I asked them to pack it for me to take it home — for lunch tomorrow!

Then after a bit then flavour of the night changed even more. The clearing of things were ongoing, most of the place had emptied out, and we approached the midnight hour. Just before my birthday ended, a cute little birthday swirl for me…what a great way to mark the end of this amazing 24 hours!!! With calvados in hand, I happily moved on from this quiet celebration for me — to the celebration that was about to happen.

This was, as I mentioned, Joe Beef’s 10th anniversary, and the crew was ready to party a little. And it wasn’t crazy, but just a lot of tired but happy people drinking and taking lots of photos out back. I somehow got into the family photo… :)

But more calvados, poire williams, shots at times, and other heavy firewaters for the next few hours until the last of the crew were about to depart. And it was time for me to go too. Then it got really stupid… They gave me a T-shirt as a gift — after all the wonderful stuff they presented me tonight, all the wonderful attention. Each of them were so awesome to me, and now a T-shirt. Sounds small, but it’s a huge thing for me. And then they gave me a ludicrously low bill — one that wouldn’t even cover 2 dishes or half the drinks post midnight… They refused to increase it, so I tipped about as high as I could without getting my stupid bank to ding the transaction as fraud…

I said goodbye to all the wonderful crew that were still there. They were family for me this one night, and made this one evening one of the best birthday celebrations I have ever had in my 43 years. This memory I will treasure for the rest of my life.

As I rode back to the hotel on a taxi, my fear is that the hangover will haunt me for the rest of my life. But damn, it would be worth it — this was how damn good it was tonight…

It’s good to be alive.

Joe Beef
2491 Rue Notre-Dame Ouest
Montréal, Québec

Review #2: Park

17 September 2015

I spent 4 days trekking through Vermont (and part of Upstate New York), fighting blazing sun and massive downpours. Had some okay food, but most were barbeque that were nothing very special. A meal in one of the “top” places in Vermont actually disappointed pretty badly, and I just don’t have the heart (or energy) to write a review — and the photos came out bad due to poor lighting…

But after those four days I hopped onto a Greyhound (!!) north for the short trek across the border to Montréal, where I planned to spend the next 3 days celebrating my birthday. Last few years I took big trips, such as last year celebrating “one year closer to death” at the amazing Koks in the Faeroe Islands. This year was gonna be drawn out in one of my favourite cities in the world, 3 nights at 3 of my favourite restaurants in the world.

The celebration began at Park, a place that has some of the most photogenic food presentation in the world. Chef Antonio Park is a master of visuals, without compromising on the taste one bit. He has some of the beast seafood in all of North America, and I went to have a pre-birthday feast — hoping to possibly drink past the midnight hour. I’ve had some amazing meals there before…

Sadly my friend Antonio was in Toronto on a food-industry event but his staff took great care of me all night. I perched at my “usual” spot on the counter and took a cocktail happily. Relaxed, told some friendly faces I remember from previous visits that I was leaving my fate up to them. They smiled and went about their business, and soon the first item arrived.


A humble start, soba in dashi. Very tasty broth, with some simple soba and vegetables. Basically a way to get the stomach ready. I had also switched to sake when the second dish arrived.


This was a tasting of local foie gras. As you know Québec is rather famous for this item (go to Québec City if you don’t believe me, fabulous), and this was a nice little tasting. I’m not the biggest foie fan (remember my diatribes when in Hawai’i?), but this was a good little dish. A bit more sake and we finally move into the world of seafood…


This was a nice set of nigiri, ranging from some rich Chinook salmon to some snappy shimaaji, from some delicate hiramasu to some special hamachi. All were done in a very unique, Park style — heavily garnished compared to most sushi masters. I am generally old school when it comes to my nigiri, but I like much of how Chef has set things up here. Very nice. (Sorry I needed to put 2 separate pix together as it was such a LONG display!)

A nice little break and we were off again, a little more sake, and another super dish appeared.


This was a small tasting of excellent swordfish; but more importantly, a generous serving of matsutake mushrooms. These Canadian ones were very tasty, nutty and rich, perfect with the oily swordfish. I am very particular about swordfish because I love it so much, and these were good — accentuated perfectly by the matsutakes. Wow, nice. A bit more sake and then more food.


A really beautiful bowl of sashimi now, focusing on some stronger flavours. The urchin was particularly nice, but the star was the kampachi belly. Mmmm, this was excellent. I was starting to feel the weight of the food, but I was game. I skipped lunch today and have been skipping lunch the last few days in Vermont too, so I had the room. More sake, and then we hit one of the big items of the night.


Now this was a great portion of imported, authentic kobe beef. Chef Park is the only person in Canada to have a license to import the REAL stuff — not the “kobe” or “wagyu” you get from Oregon or Australia. This is the real stuff, the stuff I love when I am in Japan. This was a large serving, and it was magical… Full of flavour, not much needs to be done to this…


Frankly I did not touch any of the blotches of sauce. Totally not necessary. This is gonna be pricey, but this was worth it… More excellent sake and I was nearly in heaven.

After a little break we revisited nigiri sushi for a bit, but with a Park-esque twist on the surf-and-turf: mackerel tasting first, then some seared Alberta angus beef..


Then when I thought it was all over, as I was just drinking away happily, I saw them work on this monstrosity behind the counter. I was wondering which table this amazing dish was going, then they looked up… Holy crap…


Look at this thing. This was something out of a mad scientist’s lab! What an amazing presentation! Of course at the end it was several nice sashimi, with the snapper family heavily represented. The sauces were interesting as were how everything was fitting on this monstrosity of a thing! Wow, this was fun, creative, and delicious!

I was pretty spent at this point and they were done too, but just a last small dessert for my birthday…


Awww, how sweet. Not yet, but I stayed and drank until just after the midnight hour, chatting with them as they wrapped up service for the night. Then I headed out by cab after settling a rather huge bill…it was actually bigger than my 20+ course tasting at Maaemo for my 40th birthday… But it was a fabulous dining experience and they did a fantastic job. They took great care of me and it was a wonderful evening, the kind of nights you want for a celebration!

Park is one of those places you will enjoy with all senses, especially the taste and visual. He has trained his excellent crew to follow his philosophy of beautifully plated items without compromising on taste. Too often plating affects taste, but Chef Park doesn’t allow that to happen. This was a master class in visual food once again.

Oh, this 3-day feasting trip got off to a bloody good start. A lot of rest, and tomorrow — the proper birthday night — is THE place. Joe Beef.

378 Avenue Victoria
Westmount, Montréal, Québec

Ono grinds in Honolulu…ah, good to be home…

31 August – 3 September 2015

One of the best parts about being back in Honolulu is doing local food for lunch. Nothing says being home like a plate lunch, a bowl of chicken long rice, or just a nice chunk of haupia. This is what I miss most about Hawai’i, as real good Hawai’ian grinds are not easy to find on the Mainland, especially the East Coast. So I took advantage of it during the few days I spent in Honolulu.

If you recall, I had a rather hellish flight from Melbourne thanks to that awful airline Jetstar. My legs were feeling just awful as I got to Honolulu. After I checked into my vacation house I headed out for a drive towards my old hood. And en route back to the house I stopped at a place I stopped at hundreds of times in the past, ‘Aina Haina Shopping Center. Why? To pick up lunch at a place that wasn’t there back then, but locals like a lot, BBQ Town Drive Inn.

It’s an unpretentious quick service place with 4 tables, though most people take their food to go — like me. I placed an order and went to grab a few things at the Foodland next door (my, that place has changed…) before I came back and appreciatively too the box and drove on back to the house. And this is what I found…

BBQ Town Drive Inn - mixed grill plate

Mmmm, as good as it gets, this is the BBQ Mixed Plate — with some kalbi, chicken, and teriyaki beef. Excellent, simple stuff, with the obligatory mac salad on the side and rice on the bottom. This was a very satisfying moment, and I truly felt like I was back “home” in Hawai’i. Later that night I had the solid dinner at 12th Ave Grill.

The next day, my first full day, I had lunch with an old friend (so not reviewing it) and dinner was the fabulous dinner at The Pig and the Lady — especially that amazing marrow dish. I can still taste it…oh, what rich goodness…

My second full day I had a long, busy set of things to do. One of them was to explore the historic O’ahu Cemetery, where so many of the key figures of the Kingdom of Hawai’i are buried. For a historian like me, it was a treasure trove in a small area. But a few hours under the blazing sun I was burnt to a crisp. I was worn out and dehydrated, so I headed to one of the very best places in the world for Hawai’ian food — Helena’s Hawaiian Food.

This legendary eatery has been hear for over 60 years, and has even earned a James Beard award. It’s down-home good grinds, and I was really looking forward to this. And of course there’s a queue out the door, but I was gonna take it to go anyway. I waited for a bit, chatting with the staff and taking down a lot of liquids. Then the food was ready and I drove as fast as I could back to the house to enjoy this…

Helenas - mixed grill plate

Mmm, another beautiful plate lunch. The kalbi, which are hung and aged in the kitchen, are legendary — full of flavour, more intense than most other preps. Fabulous, the epitome of the Hawai’ian version of this Korean favourite. Then, of course, was the kalua. One of my favourite things to eat in the world, it was so good to have excellent kalua on Hawai’ian soil again… Thick and juicy and tender, oh my… And of course, no meal is right without some haupia…

Helenas - haupia

Oh, I love these things, such coconut goodness. I can eat these things all day (and I used to…). What a totally wonderful lunch, totally recommended for as many meals as possible! I just went with what I missed most, but I can spend a week eating there and not order the same thing and be totally happy… Oh, I miss this… Later on that evening was the mediocre experience at Alan Wong’s — nearly the antithesis of what Helena’s is…

And finally, the last day arrived. It was cooler when I woke up and then I saw the storm clouds. Today is gonna be an adventure. I checked out of my vacation home and took a long drive back to the old hood again, just to say goodbye if my absence from Hawai’i is another 7 years (I doubt it, having discovered so much good food!). But by the time I got back from the east, the skies began opening up.

By the time I got to my lunch location it was pouring, and the parking lot was flooding. If anything, Honolulu has an awful drainage system (or some would say NO drainage system), and ponding/pooling is very common when a storm hits. And this is a storm. I parked and ran into the Highway Inn in Kaka’ako and hopped on a stool.

Highway Inn is another well-liked Hawai’ian food place, this being a more convenient location. Designed like a diner, I loved the coincidence as the music over the PA was all 80s hits — the music I remember listening to on 98 Rock… I ordered my lunch and chilled out. This is my last meal in Hawai’i for awhile, so must milk it. Plus, I am jumping on a red-eye flight, so… Then the tray arrived…

Highway - plate lunch

Wow indeed… This was a big tray, of all sorts of goodness aside from my main items — beautiful purple local sweet potatoes, the ubiquitous mac salad, and of course rice. And the necessary piece of haupia. But the first star of the set is the extremely hard-to-find na’au stew:

Highway - na'au stew

This is basically a chitlin’ stew, cooked with young taro greens. Awesome, I don’t know how long since I’ve had this… Then the chicken long rice…

Highway - chicken long rice

This is a Hawai’ian staple, and it just worked for this weather. The broth was intense, and the flavour was strong and beautiful. The 2 items contrasted in every way, which made this selection so much better. Oh, this was a wonderful final meal in Honolulu, a perfect way to end things.

I fought the storm to the airport as now there was widespread flooding and road closures. It was chaos at the rental car return as the downpour was extremely intense, and tourists were caught off guard. I actually gave my umbrella to the Thrifty employee with the unfortunate task for checking cars upon return (she was drenched). I headed to the terminal and awaited my red-eye to Atlanta. Now that won’t be fun, having to run for a connection after that. But this meal will keep me going. Now I just hope I get some sleep on the flight…

But this has been a wonderful few days of eating, especially these lunches. All my favourites, from kalua to chicken long rice, all my cravings satisfied — for now. I have to return sooner than later… Mahalo, Hawai’i!

BBQ Town Drive Inn
‘Aina Haina Shopping Center
820 West Hind Drive #117

Helena’s Hawaiian Food
1240 North School Street

Highway Inn
680 Ala Moana Boulevard #105
Honolulu, Hawai’i

* PS… Well, it was a disaster after this. I thought I had the front row of my section (meaning lots of leg room) but turns out I had the door (and emergency slide) in front of me, so my legroom was smaller than most seats! 8hrs later, sleeping little, we landed in Atlanta. I had 39 minutes to connect, and just as you expect, Delta would make it 3 terminals away. My leg was asleep, and sprinting was no fun. I got to the gate just as it was boarding and my left leg cramped up bad… Got to Baltimore, chaos at the car rental, then fought 3hrs of traffic home (less than 75km). Ugh…

Review: Alan Wong’s

2 September 2015

Despite that utterly amazing dinner (oh that dish!!!) at The Pig and The Lady, I slept badly. Jetlagged and hot, I got on a few short hours of shut-eye. I had a very long day today, so I was out the door early…

By the time I got back home, I was spent. I was roasted into a crisp, with a pretty massive sunburn that epitomises the word “redneck” — as well as my head (perils of a shaved head). I needed to relax a little before heading out to my last dinner in Honolulu — and on this epic long trip. I headed out and got to Alan Wong’s just about time.

Alan Wong’s is a legend in Honolulu, one of the foundations of the city’s food revolution. Many, if not all of the top chefs in Hawai’i rotated through stations in this kitchen, and it’s known as the proving grounds for new talent. But on this day, I got a bit of a different impression as I was seated — alone — at the chef’s counter.

I realised why in about 5 seconds…the AC is not working well, and it is sweltering back there. Clearly there was an AC fail in the back of the premises, as the kitchen staff seemed to be knuckling under from the unusual heat of the day. Honolulu is unusually hot and humid, but this is noticeably odd. I was sweating within minutes myself at the counter, despite cocktail in hand…

My server was good but he was over-selling things a little too much, constantly offering his recommendations like I was unable to figure out the items on the menu. Borderline condescending really… So I basically ordered nothing he recommended, and I bypassed the tasting menu too. The short seasonal menu looked good but it was too much in this heat; the big tasting, again, is plagued by the Hawai’i tasting menu curse — the constant presence of Hudson Valley foie gras… So I ordered and did my best to chill in this heat.


Soon my starter showed up, the seafood chowder. More of a bouillabaisse, with some nice shellfish, very plump. The flavour was nice and rich, perhaps on the salty side. It’s one of the day’s special and it worked pretty good. But in the meantime I was seeing some comedy in the kitchen as there was some rather sloppy cooking, with stuff falling all over the place. And at one point the (assistant) sous chef, running the kitchen, began berating one of the female cooks in a rather unpleasant way that left her nearly in tears.

I wasn’t enjoying this comedy too much, as I watched the chef and he was obviously treating the female chefs different from the male (on the other side). Strange, as Alan Wong’s is one of the few top restaurants with both a female chef-de-cuisine and head-sous. He seemed to gloss over his own mistakes with a chuckle…

I was struggling with the heat when my main arrived, the kalbi ribs with shrimp.


Not bad, but I really wish it was more authentic. Tasted nice, but it had that “not quite grilled, not quite braised” feel that misses on both with an unhappy middle. If you’re not a die-hard kalbi fan like I am you probably wouldn’t care, but compared to the plate lunches I’ve had all week, this missed. Oh well…

I was not enjoying this environment much, whether it’s the stuff behind the counter or the ridiculous heat, but I thought this dessert would help.


Shaved ice, ah… Pineapple… Just what I needed, though it was starting to melt quickly. Was actually the best dish of the night. This heat is just unpleasant, they really need to deal with the AC situation. No wonder every other diner that was offered the counter walked up to the seats and changed their minds…

I asked for a final scotch before I left and once again, the quadruple…I can get used to this… But I headed out a bit disappointed. I know it’s the training ground for Hawai’i’s top new talent front and back of the house, but it’s more like a boot camp. Not my scene, to be honest, I like a kitchen that works in symbiosis and with comraderie instead of an unpleasant field marshal aloofly directing action far away from the battle. I may have just come on a bad night — temperature-wise, and direction-wise.

But a pretty solid last dinner here…another ridiculously long flight tomorrow, not looking forward to that…

Alan Wong’s
1857 South King Street
Honolulu, Hawai’i

Review: The Pig and the Lady

1 September 2015

Had a terrible sleep as it was just too hot, and I was still on Australia time (I left just as I fully adjusted…). The heavy but good dinner at 12th Ave Grill may not have helped, but it was the not-very-useful AC to be honest…ugh… I don’t think I fell asleep until 3am or so, and I didn’t get up until 10am or so… I felt groggy and worn out, but I had to get ready as I had to get ready for lunch.

I met a very dear old friend for lunch, someone I have known (and trusted) since I was 10 years old. It was great to catch up, sharing some old memories of some shared trials we both faced during those days. There’s always a special connection with someone who has been together with you through extremely bad times. A nice Japanese lunch in a venerable restaurant that I’ve not been to since the 1980s, a wonderful trip in time for me.

The afternoon I had a few errands to run, so it was a little busy — not helped by Honolulu’s terrible traffic. I’ve always remembered bad traffic but it seems to be far worse now — if that’s possible. But I got things done and headed back to the house, which wasn’t much cooler (my car was cooler). I was knackered but only had a short time to rest before I need to head out to dinner.

Now this I was totally excited about, as The Pig and the Lady is probably the restaurant with the biggest buzz all over Hawai’i at the moment. I headed out and hit utterly awful traffic, and it took me nearly an hour to get from Kaimuki to Chinatown (it’s 5.7 miles…I could have ran that quicker!). That was exhausting and frustrating!

I got to the restaurant and took my place at the end of the chef’s counter, where I had a perfect view of the station working on their fabulous foie gras pot pie (yeah…now you’re seeing what kind of place this is!). The restaurant is Vietnamese-influenced comfort food, but you can’t use that as a guide. The menu, although with plenty of pho dishes, has things that are just mind-blowing (such as the foie pot pies). I placed my order over a cocktail and just chilled, looking at other people enjoying their fabulous dishes.

In fact, I saw my starter being served to a couple nearby and I thought — damn, this is a starter, for $18? Holy crap. Then it came…

the works

Yeah…they call this, lol, “The Works” — a beautiful dish of escargots, but instead of butter it uses bone marrow. Wow. This is just mind-blowing.

marrow and snails

The combination was utterly fabulous, rich beyond words. It’s even better than it swimming in garlic butter or genovese pesto, or dare I say, better than the garlic bone sauce that my friend at El Pote in NYC makes… They got a LOT of marrow out of that bone… Wow… And after that, I grabbed the knife and went to work…


There was still a little bit of meat on the bone, but the joy was the tendons. Oh my goodness, this was braised and the broth used for their pho, so you know how good it tasted. The tendons were absolutely gorgeous. I even went into the joint socket and excised everything that was not ossified — and promptly consumed it. This was one of the closest moments to feasting paradise I have ever felt…

Not sure what could top this, or if I want to top this. Wow… That was a LOT of food. I think they appreciate me stripping the bone so cleanly! I relaxed, took a lot of deep breaths, and enjoyed a bit more wine. Oh my, the dish of the year so far!

After a little bit the “main” course came out, and to be honest, after that spectacular bit of excess, this was a little anticlimactic.

matsutake bucatini

It was an excellent bucatini dish cooked in duck broth, but most importantly, some slices of fragrant matsutake mushrooms. Full of flavour — I hate to use the word umami, but there you have it. Excellent, but not sure it can topple “The Works” in my brain…

I was full, but for some reason I decided to rally — and go for another dish. I was talking with the chef at the counter about oysters as he was shucking them for people between doing the foie pot pies, and I was surprised they have local oysters. So I was talked into it. But he also asked if I liked scotch, and geez, that was almost like if he read my mind. So he did something special for me. Before the main oyster set came out, he gave me these babies.

lagavulin oysters

These are West Coast oysters, but with a touch of a sauce he came up with — based on Lagavulin. Wow, that was pretty awesome! If you know Lagavulin you’ll know why this was awesome, the full taste of briny and smokey in harmony. Awesome. Then the main set came out.

Kualoa oysters

These oysters, from the east shore of O’ahu, were excellent. Mild, creamy but suitably briny, went down very well indeed. Wow, this was some awesome dinner!

But I was then talked into a dessert by the staff and I needed to go for it, so I did. And this was the swirly that resulted…

swirl with bacon

Yeah, bacon. Bacon. I think I’ve said enough… #heaven

I had a full French Press of excellent coffee to keep me moving after this ridiculously fantastic dinner. The place was buzzing all night, with a huge queue at front, and it was still buzzing with people coming in when I was on my way out. After finishing the coffee and a closing drink, I thanked the crew profusely for the awesome dinner and headed home.

Wow, the dish of the year, one of the best dinners of the year. Just awesome. During that drive back the only thing I could think about were logistics of possibly moving back to Honolulu after 38 years…until I got home and it was *still* not cooled off (with the AC running 30+ hours straight). That brought me back to reality, but it did nothing to diminish the memory of this amazing dinner…especially that dish…

W. O. W.

The Pig and The Lady
83 North King Street
Honolulu, Hawai’i

Review: 12th Ave Grill

31 August 2015

Ugh…11 hours of hell in a Jetstar flight, literally TRAPPED in a window seat and not being able to move for 5+ hours (reclining seat in front collapsed onto my leg, person on side sticking into my seat), I could barely feel my left leg by the time we landed in Honolulu. Thank goodness for the ridiculously long walk to Immigration, as I got to finally stretch my legs.

For the first time in my life I actually worried about DVT… Do NOT ever fly Jetstar. Ever!

I got my rental car and headed to the vacation house I had rented for the next 3 days. My goal is to NOT step foot into Waikiki for the entire time I’m “home” in Honolulu. I hated Waikiki back then (as did most locals), I hated the idea of being stuck in a hotel there. This is much better, even if the AC is a bit wanting at times…

I was a bit tired from that awful flight but tried to keep myself from going to sleep, so took a long drive to my old hood to see how it’s changed…wow… Tons of development, it’s so crowded now where there were just empty lots before… Anyway, stopped off for a nice lunch (I will talk about my lunches on another post), a plate lunch of course, and chilled out (or tried to, it was hot and humid, and the usual tradewinds were not blowing).

But I got ready for dinner and made the very short drive to one of the top places in town, 12th Ave Grill. When I was growing up we didn’t have places like this is Kaimuki, so I was very happy to see this. I relaxed with a cocktail in hand, looking over the menu. The AC was cranking, so that helped me relax. Nice looking stuff, far better than anything I saw on Maui — and lots of locally sourced stuff. Excellent.

I ordered my food and relaxed, enjoying the cocktail before I switched to wine. Very quickly my starter arrived.


Of all the things I could have had, some may be surprised why I went with the bruschetta. It’s cuz I’m back in Honolulu, and it’s appropriate to have some ahi — even if smoked. It was in a spread and accompanied by some good local veg. Not bad, just something good to taste again. Partly also I was saving room for the main course, which appeared soon.


Oh my, this looked good. I had been looking forward to enjoying some local grass-fed beef, finally — this one is from the Big Island. Cooked just about perfect, the meat was extremely tender delicious. The pasta on the side was excellent, boasting a full mushroom flavour thanks to the fine sauce. The radicchio, however, was overwhelmed with balsamic and hard to eat. But the beef was so good it didn’t bother me, nor that they forgot my side of mushrooms. Oh well.

I chilled out after this huge and excellent beef — just a pip better than the amazing beef this same day for lunch (before I travelled back in time) at Pei Modern in Melbourne. Both were awesome — and testament that locally-sourced, grass-fed beef is by far the best. Beats any corn-fed rubbish out there that’s shipped half way across a continent.

I skipped dessert but went with a double scotch (an inside joke), and of course it came as a quadruple. Lucky I didn’t have much wine and it was a 3-minute drive back… But a very nice dinner, and I am glad in a neighbourhood like Kaimuki that there’s such top-notch restaurants now.

Man, Honolulu is changing — for the better. As long as you stay outside of Waikiki.

12th Ave Grill
1120 12th Avenue
Honolulu, Hawai’i