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Hawaii Food & Wine Fest 2014

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugSeptember was truly a month of gluttony for me. Knowing that I’d be on the road for months with a mostly street food diet to stretch my budget over the course of my trip, I wanted to be sure leave on a high note. I created a “Honolulu bucket list” of sorts – places I’d never gotten around to dining and things I’d always meant to experience, like riding around Oahu via The Bus, trying to omakase menu at Sushi Sasabune, watching the sunset from Kaena Point or having a picnic lunch on the lawn at Iolani Palace. Thanks to my amazing friends, I made it to most of them.

Of course, I also went out with my foodie friends to my favorite spots more than a few times, trying to soak it all in. Now, almost two months into my trip, I miss the familiar flavors, even as I’m experiencing new ones daily. I can’t help but crave dry mein from Sam Sato’s, a good cocktail from the Manifest, just about anything on the menu at town or The Pig & The Lady, not to mention poke, sashimi, ramen, pho…

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMugSo I suppose it was perfect that one of my “last hurrah” food events in Honolulu was Hawaiian Airlines presents: Corks & Forks at the 2014 Hawaii Food & Wine Festival. I’d attended last year’s festival as a guest at the Under A Modern Moon: Morimoto & Friends event and loved it. As it was my first time attending, I quickly joined up with a little group of social media acquaintances and food lovers – Dawn & Derek Paiva and Martha Cheng. It was only fitting that for the 2014 event, we once again worked on our strategy to secure a table as a “home base” while we took turns making the rounds, photographing chefs and their dishes and scouting out the best plates to bring back to the table. I have to say, it’s pretty much the perfect way to attack an event like this. Dawn quickly scored us a table right in front of one of the cocktail stations and I was free to roam.

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Before I Leave Honolulu…

I moved to Oahu a few months before my 21st birthday. Sometimes it seems like a lifetime ago, but as I look back through old photos before I pack them away, I can remember discovering Honolulu through my 21-year-old eyes.

(Ok, and mayyybe through a bit of the haze of a 21-year-old hangover.)

Coming from Maui and having had a brief taste of living in New York, I was restless and wanted to do and see more, more, more. I was ready for new adventure. So Honolulu was my compromise – the “big city” nightlife and culture, better job opportunities, but still close enough to my family on Maui.

In my 20s, I was fortunate enough to find myself surrounded by an amazing group of friends. Back then, we traveled in packs, created “theme nights” to celebrate birthdays, raised thousands of dollars for charity, ran marathons and traveled across oceans together in search of adventure.

Our Roaring 20's

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In our 20s, we pursued careers – doctor, lawyer, architect, therapist, accountant, professor, nurse, artist, teacher – with the same passion we went after boys. We took shots, we took chances, we took many, many group photos. I’ve been so proud that I’ve cried during a handful of graduations, including (eventually, and a bit surprisingly) my own.


Along the way, I’ve also rekindled friendships from my childhood, some going back as far as Pukalani Elementary. We simply picked up wherever we’d left off, and I realized that there’s something to be said about a relationship where the other person knows every single part of your history. There’s no need to tell stories of childhood or growing up, because they were there.


It was these friends who were with me through the not-so-happy times. We comforted each other through sadness, frustration, loss – smiling through the tears of breakups, arguments, even death. During the times when I felt like I had no fight left, they were the ones who showed up, sat with me and who allowed me to just be me. I’m forever, forever grateful.


I’ve watched as many of my friends turned into wives and then mothers. I’ve cried tears of joy at each engagement, wedding, and birth announcement, knowing that these strong women have found someone who appreciates just how unique and special they are. Who, like me, would treasure them. Trusting that they are now in good hands.


As for me, while I haven’t yet found that romantic love or a life partner, I don’t have regrets. I’ve lived my life the way that felt right to me, every step of the way. I did my fair share of staying up all night, sleeping in til noon, I found (and left) a variety of careers, relationships and passions. Of course, I also ate my way through Honolulu and around the world.

All of it has led me to the person I am today. I feel very, very lucky looking back on the time that I’ve spent here.

Now 13 years later, as I prepare to leave, there are a few things that I’ve always wanted to do, yet have never gotten around to. Unfinished business is not my style, so here you go… (drum roll, please!)

Malia’s Honolulu Bucket List

Around the whole island by bus
Watch the sunset at Kaena point
Makapuu lighthouse trail for sunrise
Kyung’s Seafood’s sashimi platter
Morning Glass’s Mac n Cheese pancake
Sushi Sasabune
Ono Hawaiian Foods
Izakaya Torae Torae
Sunday Supper at 12th Ave Grill
Liliha Bakery waffle, extra crispy
Kan Zaman
Picnic lunch on Iolani Palace lawn
Yajima-ya’s mushroom chicken

Yes, a lot of it is food. I’m sure you’re shocked. 😉

Looking forward to my last few weeks of Honolulu adventures as well as what’s in store for the year ahead!

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Valentine’s Day 2014 in Honolulu

Whether you are coupled up and looking for romance or seeking a night out on the town with friends for Single’s Awareness Day, Honolulu has a variety of tasty options for celebrating Valentine’s Day in 2014.

(I’ll be adding to this list as I hear about others – feel free to send your tips or event details to me at

Wine & Dine

Pig & The Lady – Chef Andrew Le and his family will be hosting a six course menu in their new Chinatown location that you can have with ($115 per person) or without ($75) specialty cocktails created by Bar Manager Kyle Reutner. The menu will be available from 2/13 – 2/15 from 5:30 to 10pm nightly, reservations recommended. Full menu and details here.

Miso & Ale + Cocina Pop-Up – Billed as an anti-valentine “One Night Stand”, the guys at Miso & Ale and Cocina will be teaming up for a pop up collaboration! Seating is first come, first served (no reservations) at Cocina, also BYOB. Details here. (Check out my reviews of Miso & Ale and Cocina for an idea of what you might see that night.)

A Loko Kine Valentine’s Brunch Pop-up – Three top female chefs (JJ Leng, Kelly Teramoto & Alison Yokouchi) team up for a special brunch menu at the UH Med School cafeteria in Kakaako on Sunday 2/16, along with artisan coffee from the Curb. Details here.

Chef Mavro’s Week of Love – Valentine’s day has already sold out, but Chef Mavro will have special menus starting at $85 (4 courses) available all week. Details here.

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Hawaii Food and Wine Festival 2013

Food lovers in Honolulu know that there are a few events worth marking in your calendar. Restaurant Week in November. Taste of Marukai. Joy of Sake. Made in Hawaii Festival. Eat the Street.

And then there’s the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival. It’s truly in a different category than those listed above, because of the chefs that it attracts from not just around the state, or even around the nation, but from all over the world.

Last night I was invited to the first Oahu event of the 3rd annual Hawai’i Food and Wine Festival, Under the Modern Moon: Morimoto & Friends, held at the Modern Honolulu, outdoors and poolside at their swanky sunrise & sunset pool bars.


I admit that when I first looked through the list of chefs, only a few names were familiar to me and even those required a read through their bios to get a full picture of their culinary backgrounds. Hawaii is home to so many amazing chefs and restaurants, and I think I have a pretty good idea of who’s who locally from getting to know their restaurants and styles, but nationally and internationally I’m a bit clueless unless I’ve seen them on TV or eaten at their restaurants in person. But once I started digging a little bit into the backgrounds of not just the chefs, but the mixologists as well, it became clear right away that this is a whole new caliber of event, unlike those that I’ve attended here in Honolulu.


It’s true that ticket prices may seem a bit steep, and the portions are on the small side, but this allows you to walk around, sample everything and compare notes with your friends or other diners, then head back for multiples of your favorites. I definitely did not leave hungry. Many in the crowd had been there last year, or even to both the first and second annual events, and obviously enjoyed it enough to return.

Another perk of the event was some great people watching! I was a bit starstruck the entire evening, and it was so fun to see chefs chatting with one another and hearing who they were interested in seeing at the Festival. I talked to chef Nico Chaize (of Nico’s Pier 38) who mentioned that he was hoping to meet Grant Achatz from Alinea in Chicago. Alinea has been on my culinary bucket list forever, but Nico gave me a whole new appreciation, plus made me want to buy Achatz’s book – he has an amazing history! You learn something new every day.


The best dish of the night for me was a tuna tartare by Floyd Cardoz of North End Grill in NYC (and Top Chef Masters winner), who turns out also to be a really cool guy. His son was plating right up there with him and his crew truly looked like they had the most fun of the evening. The tartare was a perfect little portion of poke topped by a beautifully cooked quail egg to break into it. I’m such a sucker for a perfect runny egg, but I overheard many people say that this was the dish of the night for them as well, so I know it wasn’t just me!


Another standout for me was the famous fried chicken by Charles Phan of the Slanted Door in San Francisco. It was a buffalo wing like no other – crispy skin and so moist inside. I may or may not have gone back for two more at the end of the night when they were closing and the portions got big. (Note to self: come prepared next year with ziploc bags, I totally would have taken those home when they were trying to give them away! Ha!)

It’s no secret that I love food. It’s truly become the biggest passion for me in life. Some people are really into music and follow their favorite bands religiously. For others, they may emulate their favorite quarterback or sports team. For me, food is my favorite form of art – it’s the ultimate sensory experience. Beyond just taste, you engage your other senses – tonight there was the texture of crispy cornflake coated prawns from Bryant Ng of Spice Table, there were the sounds of food-centric conversations all around as people looked for their favorite dishes, there was a ridiculously beautiful sunset over the pool where white lanterns had been strung overhead. It was my culinary dream come true. My heart (and stomach) are full.


A huge mahalo to the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival for allowing me to be a part of this event. Hawaii is an amazing culinary destination, and it was such an experience to meet the chefs and to hear first-hand how much they love and appreciate the food culture here – their love for Hawaii, the people, the energy, and the ingredients really shone through in the dishes.

Here’s a peek at scenes from the Under the Modern Moon: Morimoto & Friends event:

Tips for attending the Hawaii Food & Wine Festival:

– Go early! Although it’s not quite as bad as some mainland festivals, some of the more popular booths do run out of food. I’d highly recommend showing up promptly at 6pm when it opens (or a little before) for the first crack at all your favorite chef stations beforehand, and the shortest lines.
– Do your homework! It can be a little overwhelming when there are 15 food stations spread throughout the venue, so it pays to take a peek at the talent lineup to have a few of your favorites in mind.
– Bring friends! One strategy that worked for us was to have a “home base” where we could all meet up to try dishes together. Similar to the “divide and conquer” mentality that I’d advise for Eat the Street, if you bring friends, you can take turns bringing back multiple dishes to your “home base” to minimize wait times.
– Check out the entire space – It was easy to have missed a whole side wing on the upper level, but I’m glad that I wandered out that way – there were OnoPops, wine and dessert stations, and a ton of seating (which can be rare in some of the more crowded areas).
– Save your glass – Your signature HFWF glass that is handed to you as you walk in is what you’ll use for wine tasting, plus it becomes your souvenir when you leave.
– Purses & pockets – both are helpful for stashing chopsticks, napkins, and other must-haves while you’re roaming in search of food, Instagramming your favorite dish, or trying to text a friend who you’ve lost in the crowd. You can never have too many hands at an event like this and it helps to have a place to stash the necessities.

>> Want to see for yourself?

Hawaii Food & Wine Festival continues through September 9th. While some events have sold out, you can purchase tickets and view the entire schedule here. Feel free to post comments or questions if you have any, and enjoy the Festival!

Thanks again to Hawaii Food & Wine Festival for hosting me for this event!

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Quest for Honolulu’s Best

This month’s Honolulu Magazine is probably one of my favorite issues, ever. I have subscribed to the magazine for years because I love the historical portraits of Honolulu over time, unique perspectives on people and places that make our city so diverse, as well as some of the Honolulu’s best food writing. This month’s issue features a fantastic article with the “100 Best Dishes & Drinks in Hawaii” and it’s become my newest obsession.

I’m well aware that my love for lists can be a bit extreme at times. Last year I decided to read 52 books in 52 weeks in 2012. A few years ago, I had my 30 Before 30 list and came up a couple short. Lately I’ve been making dinner-time decisions only after consulting The List. It’s kind of addicting.

If you want to play along, you can see the whole list by category here, or download a printable pdf so you can check them off as you go. (I have it taped to my fridge at home!)

How many on the list have you tried? As of today, I’ve had 20 out of 100!

Ahi Tataki @ Ethel's

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Still hungry??
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