Archive for the 'Hawaii' Category

Matsugen – Oahu

The major find on this trip to Oahu was Matsugen. We loved it so much that we went three times! Matsugen specializes in handmade soba – every morning the chef grinds the imported buckwheat into flour and then cuts each noodle by hand.




If you are allergic to buckwheat, don’t even think about going to Matsugen. 



Interior of Matsugen – As you can see, Matsugen is a small restaurant with a chic, modern decor.




Our first meal at Matsugen was lunch. It was an absolute deal at $13.80. 



We ordered the Natto Don Combo. You get a bowl of rice with a lightly poached egg, natto, green onions and nori, a salad, a huge plate of soba and a small bowl of pickles.


The soba noodles were served cold – they were firm, chewy with a slightly nutty flavor. Our waitress instructed us to add the wasabi and green onions to the soy sauce and dip our noodles in this sauce. We were the only non-Japanese diners at Matsugen, but the staff couldn’t have been nicer and definitely helped us negotiate the menu.



Close-up of the Natto Don – mixed.



After we finished our soba, the waitress then brought a small teapot filled with the water that the soba noodles were boiled in. You are instructed to add the soba water  to the soy sauce mixture and drink it. This was a very satisfying way to end the meal and our waitress explained that it is also very healthy.


We loved our lunch so much and as it was within walking distance of our hotel (cabs are very, very expensive in Oahu), we returned for dinner a couple of days later.



Some of the menu







Tuna with Yama-kake (Japanese mountain potato) with egg, nori and green onion – the yama-kake was some of the best I have ever tasted – absolutely perfect.




Cold Soba noodles with nato, okra, green onions, wakame, shiso, bonito flakes and a soft poached egg – we mixed all the ingredients together and slurped like the rest of the customers. (By the third time, we were getting to be decent slurpers).



Tempura Mix – Good but not the equal of the soba



Beef Tongue – this was just perfect

I don’t have any photos from our last meal at Matsugen, but we added a hot soba dish the Soba Tamagotoji – essentially a kind of soft scrambled egg dish with soba noodles. 

I absolutely recommend this restaurant highly – good value, nice staff and delicious food.

Alan Wong’s – Oahu

A very good friend of mine has been a regular at Alan Wong’s for years. The restaurant features an open kitchen with a chef’s counter and on her suggestion, we requested that seating. I tried having the kitchen just cook for us, but as first timers we were given their 7- course chef’s tasting menu. 


Open kitchen and chef’s counter



Cold Seafood Salad – ahi, abalone, crab and lobster in abalone gelee – the abalone gelee was the star of this dish – light, refreshing and just perfectly executed.



Soup and sandwich – Chilled Vine Ripened Hamakua Springs Tomato Soup with Grilled Mozzarella Cheese, Foie Gras, Kalua Pig Sandwich – A parmesan crisp separated the soup from the sandwich. The sandwich was decadent – very, very rich and very, very filling. 


Close-up of the soup



Kabayaki Unagi (eel) Foie Gras Pork hash Terrine – this didn’t work on a number of levels. First, the soy sweet eel seemed to fight with the foie pork hash.  Second, this was a very heavy dish and the third course in a seven course meal. Third, the flavor profile was similar to the soup and sandwich dish and as such the symphony of a tasting was off kilter.



Steamed Moi, Pacific Threadfin, Dried Scallop Truffle Risotto Flan – Portion size at Alan Wong’s is enormous. This was a tasting menu portion and although the photo doesn’t show it, there was enough flan for 2 people. The flan was excellent, but again very, very rich.  3  very rich dishes in a row becomes a punishment instead of a delight. I am a firm believer in a tasting menu “symphony” or balance in a meal. This tasting menu seemed out of balance to me.



Day Boat Scallop “Tofu”, Lobster, Itogaki, Soy and Green Onion. Itogaki are thin strands of dried bonito and sprinkled on top. The day boat scallop had been pureed in the robot coupe, mixed with egg whites, wrapped in plastic wrap and then briefly boiled. It then sat in the refrigerator overnight. This dish should have appeared earlier in the tasting menu as it was so much more delicate in flavor to the prior dishes and we were also quite stuffed at this point.




Maui Cattle Company Beef Tenderloin, Mushroom brown sauce, Big Island Goat Cheese Potato Croquette, Sauteed Green Beans, Tomato, Beef Marrow (I think), Baby Tomato – The potato croquette was absolutely wonderful. The vegetable accompaniments were also a welcome addition. The beef with the mushroom sauce was another heavy-handed dish and we were feeling punished.




We basically asked for just the lightest sampling of dessert – mostly fruit.

I was disappointed with Alan Wong’s. I was expecting an omakase experience of exquisite, small tastes. In retrospect, I wish I had ordered a la carte, one for two, and chosen the lightest dishes on the menu. The portion size of the dishes  at Alan Wong’s are huge – I saw a la carte plates that would feed at least 4 people with ease. As I mentioned on the 3660 On The Rise post, I have a definite personal bias in dining and Alan Wong’s is just not my type of dining.

3660 On the Rise

Before I start these next series of posts on our trip to Oahu, I think I should give you some context as to my personal preferences in cuisine and dining. I do not like huge plates of food. Even at Michelin 3 star restaurants in France, my husband and I usually opt for the one for two strategy. Thomas Keller at FL, David Kinch at Manresa, Michael at Providence and Hiro at Urasawa fits this definition and so I am a big fan of their food. I am also of the school that less is more – I don’t like a pile of unnecessary ingredients that tend to obscure the main ingredient. I love well-sourced prime ingredients and want that ingredient to shine. If I order a tasting menu, I want a well-thought out symphony not just a pile of dishes. Obviously well-executed food is always a given, but my above comments are more subjective and do tend to influence my take on a restaurant.
3660 On the Rise is a chef driven restaurant and as such it is not the “corporate” dining experience of the mini-empires of many of Oahu’s restaurants. Russell W.J. Siu is the executive chef and is a master at saucing. He also follows in the tradition of the chefs I mentioned above with his usage of seasonal ingredients from Hawaii’s oceans and farms. There is passion on the plate, not just going through the motions of giving huge amounts of food that feel mass-produced.
Ron, our waiter, was extraordinary and helped us devise a tasting menu of 4 distinctive dishes.

Ahi Katsu – sushi grade tuna wrapped in nori and deep fried medium rare, with a wasabi ginger beurre blanc sauce, strands of cucumber and a rice ball coated with sesame seeds – absolutely perfect and the sauce was outstanding. This reminded me a little of Chinois’ signature dish of tuna wrapped in nori with uni sauce.
Seared Misoyaki glazed hamachi over thinly sliced braised daikon, topped with dashi scented Ikura (salmon eggs) and a saucing of yuzu scallion vinaigrette – again this dish was all about finesse – perfect ingredients handled with restraint and a sauce that was a perfect accent, not a distraction.
Soy Sake glazed fillet of butterfish with gingered Choi Sum (Chinese flowering cabbage), long beans and Bok Choi – I had to be persuaded to order this dish as so many times I have had overdone, tough butterfish. This was melt in your mouth fish that actually deserved its name butterfish. The accompaniments were excellent and the sauce of soy and sake with a depth from what I can deduce as some sort of reduction sublime.
 Braised Kurobuta pork belly, sauteed Hamakua Shimeji mushrooms (harvested from the big island), grilled flat bread – another absolute winner with perfect pork belly, incredible mushrooms and again a rich saucing that my notes fail to detail.

I don’t remember the exact white wine, but it was a village bourgogne that was excellent and very inexpensive at $45.00. The red was a Calera Pinot Noir 2005 that was good, but actually not as exceptional as the white.          

This is a restaurant that absolutely deserves much more attention and should be on everyone’s list as a super food destination. It is not on the “tourist” must list, but maybe that should be seen as a plus rather than a minus. This is a restaurant for someone who truly cares about food done with great execution, finesse, and subtle but unique flavors.






We are in Oahu and as usual, we are traveling on our stomachs. So far we had a wonderful sushi lunch at Mitch’s, a terrific Natto bowl and cold soba noodles at Matsugen. Tonight we are at the chef’s counter at Alan Wong’s. Write-ups and pictures when I get home.

Tomorrow’s  breakfast will be in the room – Steeler game. But we will not do room service. We brought some wonderful caviar from home and discovered a wonderful wine and gourmet store called R Field Wine Company.

Edit: Somehow I lost the categories – Bear with me – my computer guys are working on it



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