Friday, October 24, 2014

Hawaii and Japan, 2014 - 10/22 - Day 7 - Snorkeling and Prix Fixe

Hanauma Bay from the Park Entrance
Last night I expressed some trepidation about going snorkeling. I was already a little sunburned and since our trip is still two weeks from completion I didn't particularly want to be miserable for a week of it. After expressing my concerns on Facebook, the great enabler of our time, I had enough encouraging remarks  the next morning to decide it was worth the risk, so we went out and bought SPF 100 sunscreen, which I didn't even know was a thing, and drove out to Hanauma Bay.
Hanauma Bay is a tuff ring, a land feature formed by the an explosive interaction of magma and water. Erosion eventually formed the resulting beautiful half-moon bay. The  the water is warm and clear and plenty of coral has grown up in the shielded waters. Several varieties of colorful fish make it their home.
Sean bought us waterproof cases for our iPhones so we could take pictures. It was a little terrifying immersing my brand new iPhone 6 into the ocean, but the cases held up just fine. In any rate there's a warranty protecting the phone from water damage as a result of the case not working, though I did have flashing images of trying to survive Tokyo without google maps. I guess technically we did that last time I was in Japan, but I'm sort of dependent on my internet access for this trip, as I haven't done a lot of pre-planning.
The Wide Eyed Ryan is an invasive species to the area
So we went snorkeling. The water was clear, though my mask insisted on fogging up every few minutes. The water was calm, though we did get pulled around the reef from time to time by cross currents and it rained on us a few times, which not altogether an unpleasant sensation when you're more or less submerged in water anyway. I am notorious for having a very sensitive inner ear, which makes roller-coasters a nightmare for me, but I managed a few hours in the water with one break before the motion finally got to me and we had to bring it in. The snorkeling was beautiful, though the reef itself wasn't as dramatic as the snorkeling I've done in the Caribbean, the scenery and density of sea life made up for the lackluster of the reef itself. I'm glad we commited to going.
Waterlogged and worn, we returned to the hotel and separated out the things we planned on shipping back to the states and the things that would continue on with us to Japan the next day. We UPS'd one of the suitcases back with our suits, dress shoes and beach clothes, which they did without a box. Apparently it's not that not unusual. Hopefully when we get back it'll be there more or less intact...
Our true last meal in Honolulu, and indeed Hawaii, was at an upscale Hawaiian establishment called Alan Wong's Restaurant. Alan Wong is one of the original founders of "Hawaiian Regional Cuisine", a fusion style developed by Wong and eleven other chefs including Sam Choy and Peter Merriman and his restaurant in Honolulu is world-renowned. It's even been featured on No Reservations, one of my favorite food shows.
We did not skimp on this meal. We opted for the nine-course Chef's Tasting Menu with wine pairings and while I won't describe every course here, I will highlight a few favorites...
They started us off with an ice-cold shot of pure passionfruit juice, simple and tart - nothing added, then immediately served a tasting of a few selections of local butter, salted and unsalted, which persisted through the rest of the courses along with french rolls. The meal was over two hours long, so we had ample time to finish the butters.
The first protein course, a seared ahi with paddlefish caviar, marks the first time I can remember having high-quality caviar and actually being able to taste it. It was very enjoyable! Not nearly as salty as the typical store-bought stuff.
The Not-really poutine with Unagi Jam at
Alan Wong's
The next particularly memorable dish was their take on "poutine" which was really nothing of the sort. It was a fois gras mousse with a sweet unagi jam served over a pile of french bread matchsticks. It was clever presentation and, even though I feel guilty about it, fois gras is just so damn good.
The other dish that is really worth writing about here was the Patagonia Toothfish, served in a Nitsuke broth. This dramatic dish is served in a bowl covered by a thin sticky layer or rice paper, which they pour the broth over. They make a small hole in the paper and allow the broth to drizzle down into the fish, which is warmed over a tea candle. Showiness aside, this was one of the most subtly complex dishes of the night. The flavors were soft and sweet and layered, and I really enjoyed it. Toothfish is a variety of sea bass that is sustainably farmed, so it does not suffer the same overfishing as the typical Chilean variety.
That dish was served with "Mizbasho," a sake created specifically for Wong's restaurant, a form of sake called Junmai Ginjo, which is made using traditional tools and fermented at colder temperatures with 60% polished (milled) rice. The result is a silky smooth, slightly sweet cold sake that I was really impressed with.
The final dish of the night was a Lilikoi White-chocolate Mousse served with cubes of locally grown fruits and an awesome honey goat-cheese sorbet. That was served with a Muscato wine which I didn't find repelent, as I have with almost every other Muscato I've ever tried.
Dinner was exquisite, and if you happen to find yourself in Honolulu with money burning a hole in your pocket or don't mind taking out a small loan to have an exceptional meal, I definitely recommend Alan Wong's Chef's Tasting Menu. I'm sure the other dishes at the restaurant are all quite good, but that tasting menu was something special.
After dinner we took a taxi back to the hotel. Originally we had walked to the restaurant, which was about a mile away from the hotel, but after nine courses with a wine pairing for each one, neither of us felt particularly like walking home, plus we had to repack for the flight tomorrow. We leave at 11 am from Honolulu and expect to arrive in Tokyo at 2pm the following day (the flight is seven hours and we gain a day.)

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