Saturday, May 24, 2008

Is it really possible to have a favorite Winery?

I love all kinds of wines from all manners of wineries and winemakers but I am beginning to think that there is one whose wines I consistently enjoy - Scherrer Winery.

Fred and his wife Judi run the winery and a lot of the fruit is sourced from Fred's dad's vineyards. It is worth attending one of their Open Houses to meet the family (incredibly nice, down to earth people), to taste some of their new releases, and to enjoy the very tasty food made by Mark Maliki of Cafe St. Rose.

A couple of nights ago, we had a 2001 Scherrer OAM (Old and Mature Vines) Zin with a Pork chops marinated in soy sauce, hot sauce, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, grainy mustard, EVOO, salt and pepper. Next time, I'll have to add some honey for sweetness as well. The wine was smooth and silky with a tiny bit of red fruit -- just perfect. When most 2001 Zins are well on their way to becoming vinegar, Fred's (as in Fred Scherrer, the owner/winemaker at Scherrer Winery) zin is just perfect, at least for my palate. It might be too smooth for some who prefer the big California fruit bombs (and don't get me wrong, I'm a card carrying member of that group too) or the spicyness of Zins, but for me, this is as good as it gets. Every time I drink it, I find myself saying "This is why I drink wine"!

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Tale of The Two Turleys

My husband and I agreed that our best meal in Kauai this last trip was at Blossoming Lotus in Kapaa. But we could not agree on if some of it was nostalgia - it brought back glorious memories of our first trip to Kauai together 7 years ago! We were young(er) and had just met, and went to the now defunct Pacific Cafe (also in Kapaa) to celebrate our 4 month anniversary (!!) on one of those magical, romantic it-hit-all-the-right-notes dates.

We are now 7 years older, and perhaps (we hope!) a tad wiser, but we are still romantic fools in love. So, we got cleaned up and even a bit dressed up for our "splurge meal" at what we had heard had been voted the best restaurant in Kauai. "Really?", we said. Can a vegan restaurant really be that good? Can it match up to Millenium in SF?
And guess what, even though I was wearing a simple summer dress, and my husband a collared shirt with shorts, we were probably still the most dressed-up couple at the restaurant! But it did not matter - we were warmly greeted, and were offered a choice between indoor and outdoor seating, and promptly accomodated when we wanted to be as far away from the slightly loud (to my ears) live entertainment. We ordered the flatbread pizza and the spring rolls for our starters, and the "live lasagna" and the Moroccan seared tofu for our main courses. I was intrigued by the 2005 Turley Juvenile Zin on the wine list and after consulting with our server Joanna, we decided that it would be a good match. Besides, at $68 it was a great value for a wine that's hard to find, and in those rare occasions, it is still $40-50 at retail. Add the $15-30 corkage, and you do the math..

Needless to say, the wine went well with the food - it was especially good with the pizza and the Moroccan tofu, and pretty decent with the lasagna even. After just a bit of breathing, it came into its own, and it was everything I would expect from a Turley -- jammy and yummy! With just the right balance between soft tannins, acidity and fruit, it was pure heaven in a glass! Being "glassists", we felt that nicer glassware would have probably made this an even better experience, but even thick rimmed glassware could not prevent us from enjoying this beautiful wine!

It was a sweet romantic evening, no doubt enhanced by good food and wine, and the great personable (and personalized) service from our server. We trudged home full and happy, leftovers in hand.

We made a 2nd trip to Blossoming Lotus on our last night in town, and it was nice to have Joanna as our server again. She recognized us, and started us with the signature spicy pepitas, which are always so yummy and so addictive. We were determined to try desserts this time, so we decided to jump straight into our main courses. Once again, I wanted the Turley zin, so we chose the Moroccan Seared Tofu and the Enchilada Pie with mole sauce to match our wine. When we got our wine, I took photos but only later when I got home did I realize that we got a different wine. Instead of the 2005 Turley Juvenile that we had ordered, we had been served a 2005 Pesenti vineyard Zin. Which would explain why why this wine tasted very different from what we both remembered, and was not half as good match with the food. Don't get me wrong, it was still a good wine, but a lot more tannic than the Juvenile, and it needed at least 2-4 years to tame the tannins, and be enjoyable.

We even asked for the wine to be decanted halfway through (unfortunately, too little too late), which helped it a bit, but not significantly enough for my taste. I know that many would be happy at being served a more expensive wine than what we had ordered (and was charged for), but personally I would have taken the lower priced Juvenile over the pricier Pesenti, based upon its current drinkability quotient alone! We ended the night with the Haupia Pie - a dessert that provided the clean pure tastes of the home made coconut cream (Haupia) and macadamia nut crust, just as promised.

Overall, I would happily go back to Blossoming Lotus again the next time I am in town, but this time I will check the label on my wine bottle a bit more carefully, and make sure that we are not being sneaked an unwanted upgrade! Blossoming Lotus is definitely a testament to the creative possibilities of vegan cuisine prepared with global flair, and served in pretty surroundings by friendly, knowledgable servers it is a welcome addition to the restaurant scene in town. It is also a welcome change from the heaviness and monotony of the standard hawaiian/ continental fare found at other high end restaurants around the Garden Isle, and a great option for vegetarians/ vegans who do not have too many options on the standard menus. I sure hope the Blossoming Lotus continues to blossom and does not go the way of the Pacific Cafe. In addition, I feel good supporting a business that supports local/organic products, and believes in being kind to the earth through their sustainable business practices.

Foraging at the Farmers' Market and beyond

One of our favorite finds this time were the Sunshine Markets: they are somewhat strictly regulated farmers' markets where purveyors are only allowed to sell produce, plants and flowers grown in Kauai. The selection varies from market to market and so does the availability of organic produce. We made it to two: the Wednesday market in Kapaa and the Friday market in Kilauea

We went nuts buying tangy, juicy Suriname Cherries, Sweet creamy Cherimoyas (custard apples), low acid pineapples, fragrant organic papayas, yummy guavas, adorably tiny and incredibly delicious strawberry guavas, and we even found chikoos! It had been atleast a decade since I had last tasted a chikoo and I was in fruit heaven! or maybe it a fructose induced coma? It didn't matter -- for it was a very tasty trip down memory lane.

I have been described as a farmers' market junky, but even I could not pass up on the super fresh lettuces picked hours before by the sellers themselves. Some came with tangy nastarsiums and other edible flowers, others contained 20 different herbs and lettuces. Tossed into a simple but delicious salad with a home made key lime vinaigrette and a bit of suriname cherries, papayas or mangoes, they were the perfect accompaniment to the fresh fish we cooked for dinner most nights. Although banned from Farmers' Markets (they do not allow any meat or fish), fresh fish is one thing that is relatively cheaply and easily available in Kauai. Just look for the hand made signs near the Farmers' markets, or even the main roads in Kapaa and Lihue, and you will find ahi, ake and ono being sold from roadside stands or car trunks! My husband was adventurous enough to buy a whole 4 lb ahi and butcher it all by himself using simple rudimentary directions from the sellers, and a not very sharp knife. I was impressed since this provided dinner for two nights and bemused by what he considered "an adventure". And if you are too chicken to buy your dinner out of someone's trunk then, Fish Express is Lihue is a good and not too pricey resource.

Fish Express 3343 Kuhio Hwy # 10Lihue, HI 96766
(808) 245-9918‎

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

In search of the best Lilikoi pie

There are supposedly only 2 places to get good Lilikoi (passionfruit) pie in all of Kauai -- or so I gathered from my sources. And once I'd heard of the existence of an ethereal chiffon pie made from passionfruit juice, there was no way I was not going to taste it and try to decide on the winner for myself. Besides, with a beautiful sounding name like Lilikoi chiffon pie, who could pass up the chance to taste it?

First we went to Hamura's Saimin in Lihue. I thought the rest of the food there (Saimin aka noodle soup with various Japanese style toppings, chicken/beef teriyaki sticks) was pretty forgettable and (and most likely laden with msg from the size of my headache following the meal) while my husband thought it was edible. But the lilikoi pie was incredible. The crust was light and buttery and slightly flaky, and the chiffon filling was light as air, and just sweet enough. The whipped cream topping was overwhelming, but once we removed it we enjoyed the mild passionfruit flavor, and the light texture of the filling. I would rate this a 7 out of 10, and definitely very enjoyable.

Next, we tried the pie from Wong's Chinese Bakery in Waimea. The lilikoi flavor was more pronounced in the filling here, but the crust was slightly harder and not as good as Hamura's. And once again, we had to do away with the whipped cream topping to do justice to the lovely filling. [As my friend Laura would say, "If I were King, I would ban this fake whipped cream topping once and for all!"]. Tastewise, this gets a 8.5 out of 10 from me, and definitely worth a stop on the way to/from (or why not both?) Waimea canyon. And the incredibly friendly ladies at Island Rental Agency were very happy when we brought them one of these pies from Wong's as a "thank you for all your help" gift and agreed that Wong's did indeed make the best Lilikoi pie on the Garden Isle.

And not only the pie very yummy, the service was a lot less surly, and the surroundings and bathroom much cleaner than Hamura's which might make me raise my score to 9.0. And the bbq meats looked good (and have been well rated on chowhound) though I cannot personally vouch for them. I can however vouch for the bbq pork bun - it was pretty good, and huge! It is a great bargain for $1.50 and if you like your pork buns shrouded in a lot of light spongy dough, and the filling on the sweeter side, this is good snack for you to take along for one of the shorter hikes at the canyon.

Shave Ice - Nectar of the (Hawaiian) Gods!

Shave Ice ( not "shaved ice") is ubiquitious in Hawaii, and for good reason. Nothing like a cold Shave Ice to soothe your sunburned body and windparched throat after a day of surfing and snorkeling.

And what is this thing, you ask. It is kind a like a Slurpee, but better. It starts out with a with a (optional but highly recommended) scoop of vanilla or mac-nut icecream, topped with some finely shaved ice, and topped with your choice of 3 of more syrups ranging from lemon, passionfruit, mango & orange to coffee, bubble gum, cinnamon & chocolate.
Some places also offer more "exotic" add-ons: halo halo, haupia (coconut cream), fresh mango, strawberry or pineapple chunks

Although there's quite a few Shave Ice outposts in Kaui, but let me tell you that not all Shave Ice is created equal. The Ice cream could be freezer burned, the ice shavings too rough or too fine/watery, or the syrups too sweet or synthetic tasting. Lucky for shave ice afficionados, Jo-Jo's Anuenue Shave Ice in Hanapepe (which is different from the Original Jo-Jo's located ON the highway) has none of the above problems, and they serve with a smile to boot! It was started not too long ago by the original owner of Jo-Jo's (the well known outpost right on the highway that is always mobbed by tourists and hard to miss! Note that in spite of the very similar names the one on the highway is the one ) to provide a safe place for her Special Ed (and other local students) to work and to bring back the pure flavors of a good Shave Ice. It was by pure serendipity that we chanced upon Jo-Jo's Anuenue Shave Ice, around the corner from the original venue, as we were looking for parking. We met several locals coming here to get their afternoon treats, and felt we had to give try it for ourselves -- so we got the Halo Halo special topped with Haupia cream. OMG is all I can say!! It blew away the previous ones we had had from the original Jo-Jo's. It was sweet (but not too sweet!), and delicate, and creamy, and the ice had just the right texture.

So, do yourself a favor -- when you are headed to Waimea Canyon, be sure to drive right past the original Jo-Jo's in Hanapepe that is located on the Highway, and make a immediate left on to Pokole St (the Red Dirt Store at that corner is a hard-to-miss landmark) and go to Jo-Jo's Anuenue Shave Ice and taste the best Shave Ice in Kauai for yourself. I promise you - You will not be disappointed!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Hawaiian Desserts are Da Bomb!!

After this last week spent in Hawaii (Kauai to be exact) I am convinced that Hawaiians really know how to do desserts!
Thanks to recommendations from chowhound।com, and from random locals we met on our travels (and in one case, pure serendipity) we chanced upon some amazing desserts. My favorites by far: halo halo (or any tropical flavor) shave ice and lilikoi (passion fruit) pie. The sweet Hawaiian bread (often called Portuguese bread) wasn't half bad either. And when it come to the "fresh fruit as dessert" category, Hawaiians pretty much have a lock on it!

Fortunately, I was not too much into standard Hawaiian fare like laulau and kalua pork, and chicken and mahi katsu, but these calorie savings were wiped out by my copious consumption of the desserts and fruits.