Each year I reflect back on the meals I’ve had and the hundreds of photos I’ve taken. As I reflect on the year’s meals I also begin to compile a listing of the best bites. 2017 was my first full year back in Hawaii and I’m very pleased that half of my list came from local restaurants. For this list the rules are simple: 1. The list cannot include dishes I’ve had from a particular restaurant/chef in previous years (otherwise a certain caviar brioche dish would most certainly be on here), and 2. While these are my 10 favorite from this year, they are listed in no particular order or rank.
Honolulu has seen an explosion in great sushi options these past few years, but the heavyweight champ in high end omakase is Sushi Sho. The entire omakase menu is a delectable study in Edomae style sushi. While I loved our entire meal, the standout bite for me was this perfect presentation of ankimo (monkfish liver). By far the freshest and most delicious ankimo I’ve ever had. I’d return to Sushi Sho just to eat this again.
Tonkatsu Tamafuji is not what you think of when you think of a “chain” restaurant. The first US location for this Japan chain opened in Honolulu earlier this year to long lines. The signature item here is the aged pork tonkatsu. The moist, tender pork combined with an amazing breading makes for some of the best katsu you can find.
I am not much of a sandwich guy, but once in a while one comes along that I can’t stop thinking about. When Senia opened for lunch I had to stop in and fortunately for me I decided to try the porchetta sandwich. The amazing textural contrast of the prochetta combined with the delicious flavors really stood out to me. I haven’t had a sandwich I liked this much since Rick Bayless’ ahogada torta in Chicago.
Taking a simple, humble thing like a turnip cake and transforming it into fine dining fare is not an easy task, but Pai pulls it off. I’ve had two slightly different versions of this dish this year and both were immensely flavorful. The turnip cake has a savory intensity that’s hard to ignore, balanced by the papaya and consomme. This dish is just a few bites, but a delicious few bites they are.
For my birthday we spent a little time in Vegas and while we were there enjoyed dinner at Joel Robuchon. While the meal was an overall letdown (we had expected so much more), one of the signature dishes from the tasting menu did stand out. This was a luxurious plate with wonderfully cooked squab, foie gras, and ultra-buttery pomme puree.
Our travels this year took us to Osaka and Kyoto where we had a lot of amazing food. The most minimalistic dish to make it on this list was a deceptively simple piece of corn tempura. When I bit into the perfectly fried kernels of corn I was amazed by just how delicious it was. So humble and yet full of flavor. I would’ve traded a few of the other courses in this meal for more pieces of this corn.
In Kyoto we were able to experience an incredible kaiseki meal at Kikinoi Honten. Seated comfortably in one of the restaurant’s private dining rooms for 2, our meal began with this course. This was an exploration in balancing sweet with umami. The dish awakened our palates for the meal to come and proved to be one of the highlights of the night.
This course was kaiseki cuisine expressed in it’s truest sense from plate to palate. Just a few ingredients selected at their peak and prepared with the utmost skill and care resulted in a flavorful bite, far greater than the sum of its parts. We had a lot of ayu (sweetfish) during our trip to Japan, and this was by far the simplest and most delicious version we tasted.
Kyoto is a beef lovers paradise. Surrounded by three prefectures known for raising deliciously marbled cattle, you can find a lot of great beef dishes around the city. Along the crowded alley of Pontocho we found Iroha Kitamise, a sukiyaki speciality restaurant that has existed for several decades. As with many Japanese dishes the preparation of the sukiyaki is rather simple, allowing the ingredients to shine with their natural flavor and quality.
The flavors in this Wellington are amazing, beyond what you would expect when it arrives. The layering of flavors from the herb dough, to the roasted fish, to the mushroom comes together in an amazing way. All these flavors permeate the fish, providing bite after bite of savory deliciousness.
This year was an amazing adventure in dining. In addition to our travels abroad in 2018, I am excited for the continued boom and growth of the culinary scene here at home. As always thank you to all of the chefs and culinary professionals that make these experiences possible!