Eating like a (Hawaii) local in Sin City

I’ve been MIA for so long – I haven’t posted in forever and I’m over 2 weeks behind in catching up in what everyone else is up to, so this morning I figured I’d carve out a little part of my day to get back into writing. But what to write about… considering that all I’ve been up to lately is working long hours during the work week and vegging out with Real Housewives of the OC on the weekends. So I gave up on my blog post and moved on to looking at my expenses for the past month (y’all are so jealous of my crazy life), where I was more than a little embarrassed at how many of the charges related to food purchases in Las Vegas. But the silver lining on my pigginess is that I figured I could be helpful and share all the food research I did before trekking it out to Nevada.

But first, by way of background, Las Vegas is often called the ninth island [of Hawaii] due to the amount of people that have moved or vacation in Sin City from Hawaii. I myself have been to Vegas at least 10 times (all on family vacations as opposed to a crazy bachelorette weekend) and except for this past month, every time I’ve gone I’ve bumped into someone I grew up with, whether it be neighbors, cousins, high school classmates, coworkers of my parents, the dean of my high school, OR my husband (back when we were just friends and newly 21). So what does all those Hawaii people swarming Las Vegas mean? Lots of “local” food options. So for the 1% of you out there that are still reading, here we go!

California Hotel – 12 E. Ogden Avenue

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This hotel caters to Hawaii people to the point where on average 80% of their patronage stems from those that just flew in from HNL. So what better place to spend our jaunt of local eating than by booking three-nights here. The hotel features their main restaurant, Aloha Specialties, where you can pick up saimin (please note that a “small” saimin bowl was about twice the size of my head), teri cheeseburgers, haupia, spam musubi, stew, and various plate lunches. Their 24-hour Market Street Cafe includes a breakfast buffet for under $7, which serves scrambled eggs, rice, corned beef hash (from the can…. much better than the hoity-toity fresh stuff), and portuguese sausage.

They also have a candy shop named 808 local which includes pretty much every candy a local Hawaii kid grows up eating: beef jerky, li hing gummy bears, li hing sour patch kids, li hing strawberry belts, li hing…. you get the picture. We bought so much that we had to ship it back or else go over the 50 lb checked bag maximum. I am drooling just thinking about it.

Island Style – 3909 W. Sahara: One thing I did not expect to be deprived of in New England was my favorite Korean dish (meat jun). It turns out that the problem with Korean meat jun is that… it’s not actually Korean, but a Hawaii dish served in Korean restaurants. Say what???? So I was on a mission to sample some of that delicious thinly sliced beef marinated in a shoyu (soy) sauce and then dipped in an egg batter and deep fried. YUM. Some extensive research on chowhound and yelp pointed me in the direction of Island Style as the place to go. My suggestion? Go hungry! Portion sizes were huge! (This is going to be a theme of this post.) If meat jun is not your thing (and shame on you if it isn’t) you can also get kal bi short ribs, homemade kim chee and mandoo, bi bim bop, teri burgers, musubi, saimin… the list goes on and on.

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L&L Hawaiian Barbecue – 7891 W. Tropical Pkwy: L&L is a Hawaii Franchise that has spread its tentacles all the way to Japan and New York City (don’t bother going to the latter…. it’s absolutely horrible). To that effect there are eight L&L locations in Vegas alone and an additional one a little further away in Henderson, but all my research pointed to this particular L&L for 2 reasons 1) butter mochi and 2) malassadas, both of which can be found at the Tropical Pkway L&L. Between those two options and the mochiko chicken plate lunch, it looks like L&L Vegas actually serves more local Hawaii foods than the L&L’s in Hawaii. And as for how the taste is, well not a week has gone by since my visit without me reminiscing fondly about the butter mochi! But if that’s not your thing, there’s also loco moco, chicken katsu, saimin, and of course, the spam musubi.

Poke Express – 655 W Craig Rd: In case you couldn’t tell by the title, this place sells poke (pronounced poh-kay and means raw fish (usually tuna but also includes salmon and octopus amongst its big sellers) marinated in various sauces/spices). Similar to L&L, there were several Poke Express’s but Yelp said that this one was the best. There’s no place to sit down in this particular store so we bought four different containers and brought it back for a dinner feast in our room while watching the Red Wedding episode of Game of Thrones (thank goodness for HBO.GO). I knew what was coming so I scarfed down my portion of dinner before trying to nonchalantly watch for Ryan’s reaction.

Totally going off track but I was disappointed when Ryan didn’t seem to have a big reaction to the red wedding… at least not like other people did. But then last night I overheard him on the phone with his dad (his dad watches GoT on DVD when they are released so he hasn’t seen Season 3 yet). Ryan’s attempt at a spoiler-removed synopsis went something like this: “it got real! Permanent real! You think it’s temporary…. and then you wait and you wait and, nope it’s permanent! Like Ned Stark permanent.” I tried not to laugh. Finally!

But back to Poke Express. Considering the last time I had poke, it was from one of the best poke markets in the islands, I was skeptical. But the place was really good! Just slightly embarrasing when Ryan spoke pidgin (Hawaiian creole) to the Hawaii-transplant store owners and then felt he had to translate so I could understand. Whatevs – I choke fo’ speak pidgin…. um yeah…

Island Sushi & Grill – 9400 S. Eastern Avenue: I dragged us all the way into a suburb of Las Vegas but realized later that there is also one located in Downtown Las Vegas in the Plaza (in case you aren’t renting a car). We went for their Sunday brunch, which is basically an all-you-can eat off their menu and includes things like mini-spam and egg sandwiches in a malassadas and spam and eggs sushi. It was pretty empty when we got there right when brunch opened at 11:30 but was standing room only by the time we left. They also had a Poke Express attached with tables to sit down at.

So hopefully this helps all you homesick Hawaii-transplants whom may not be able to get all the way back to the islands but can make it to Vegas. Happy Eating! And remember – everything in moderation… otherwise, you may come back 10 pounds heavier than you were 3 months ago and now have to work your butt off to lose it all again. Ugh. More on Diet version 9.5.2 later.

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A Book A Week (more like a book a month): The Delirium Trilogy

There have been two YA book series that everyone was clamoring over for the better part of the last couple of years: Delirium and Divergent. In fact, both were so popular that they are now following the Hollywood paths of former book series obsessions Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games with Delirium being given a green light for a future TV series while Divergent heads for the big screen. (Actually, the pilot episode of the Delirium TV series didn’t make it though upfronts, see what I get for sitting on these posts.)

But back to the books. The last thing I wanted to do was to get hooked on a book and have to wait for the sequel to be written (been there, done that… thank god George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series are taking me forever to get through) so I held off starting Delirium and Divergent until this year when both trilogies would be completed (Delirium’s third book, Requiem was finally released this past March).

So what’s the trilogy about for the 5% of you that haven’t read Delirium and its two cohorts, Pandemonium and Requiem? Well, it revolves around a dystopian future where love has been coined as a disease, Amor Deliria Nervosa. It’s a world where The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a banned book, the story of King Solomon has been rewritten to tell the story of a baby that was in fact split into two, and Romeo and Juliet has become a cautionary tail of the havoc that the disease can do. Without love, there is no hate, war has been eradicated. And so have all people suffering from the disease.Or so the “cured” people living in the perfectly controlled American towns have been told. 

Now to review all three books without giving anything away: First of all, I really liked how the style of writing changed with each book. Book 1, Delirium, started each chapter with an excerpt from different pieces of literature from Delirium’s world, most commonly used of which was The Book of Shhh (The Book of Safety, Health, and Happiness Handbook). Book 2, Pandemonium, switched back and forth between two time periods “then” and “now.” “Then” took place right after the events in Delirium and Now taking place several months (maybe 6?) later. Book 3, Requiem, is set up to switch back and forth between the point of view Lena (the main character) and an old friend of hers (whom is living a life opposite to what Lena chose).

Delirium was interesting for me because I loved the story-line and plot of the novel but I absolutely hated the main character, Lena. Having someone I considered whiny, weak, and annoying really grated on me, but the book ended with such a cliff hanger I had to continue on to Pandemonium. Now, Pandemonium I absolutely loved, Lena grew out of her sniveling and whiny stage and into someone I could look up to, And Requiem continued on in the same vein… great story-line, great characters and then, it just ended… open-ended. What???? I just didn’t think the series was deep enough for it to be left open for readers to ponder what’s next.

Side note: Lauren Oliver also wrote three short stories to read during the series. Hana takes place during the events of Book 1, Annabel is meant to be read in-between Books 1 and 2 and Raven is meant to be read in-between Books 2 and 3. The three stories are from the point of view of the three different characters referenced in the title and though they aren’t necessary to read in order to understand the trilogy, they were cute and gave you additional points of views into Lena’s world.

The Taste…. is there a #latergram for Tumblr…

About 2 weeks into the first season of The Taste I got an email about two of the contestants, Gregg Drusinsky and Sarah Ashley, having opened a pop-up restaurant for Valentine’s Day and the weekend after. My opinion after two episodes was that Gregg was an ass, but a great chef, and Sarah was pretty although Gregg thought she was a crappy cook and a waste of space. Sounded like fun. I was in!

The pop-up restaurant is (present tense because they are going to have more of them!) located in a former subway station called the Old Bowery Depot.

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I had misread and had thought tickets were for the food only and then you could purchase their recommended wine pairings for extra. Not true. $50 got you the meal and as much wine as you want. As in the waiter placed the wine bottle in front of me, saw my eyes widen at the fact he was leaving it there and whispered, “ENJOY!”

So there I was, ready to watch Gregg be a jerk to his customers and to Sarah when two things happened: 1) he came over to our table and welcomed us with such genuineness that either he’s the world’s best actor or they really edited it to make him look like a douchebag and 2) before the start of the evening he leaned over, held Sarah’s hand and gave her a kiss. What the WHAT?!!!! I spent the rest of the evening speculating if she was pissed when she watched the episode afterwards and saw Gregg’s not so nice comments. But back to the pop-up.

The point of their pop-up restaurant was to make their guests feel like they were at an intimate gathering. They more than succeeded with that, all while providing food that was out of this world. I wasn’t the biggest fan based on the menu as their entree of roast chicken had me skeptical about commuting all the way into the city on one of the colder weekends of Winter 2013, but it was completely worth it and the five-course dinner (and everything else) exceeded my wildest expectations.

The courses were as follows:

Course 1: Crostini with smoked dungeness crab and avocado; butternut squash, ricotta and pistachio oil; and mushroom conserva and quail egg.

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Course 2: Winter salad with cauliflower, tangerine, and marcona almond. I have to say, this was one of my favorite salads ever. I was skeptical when the bowl was dropped in front of me and it just looked like a bunch of rabbit food, but it truly was so delicious. I haven’t tried it yet, but Sarah posted the recipe on her blog here.

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Course 3: Roast chicken with charred-shallot relish, dijon w/house-made butter, fleur de sel and green olive tapenade. Also one of the best chicken dishes I’ve ever eaten!!!

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Course 4: Crisp-roasted Brussels sprouts and fingerling potatoes with herbs, bacon and lemon.

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Course 5: Buttermilk cakes with blood-orange vanilla bean custard, super-rich chocolate frosting, curried caramel sauce.

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Gregg definitely can cook and Sarah was the epitome of generousness and such a friendly host that by the end of the night I was calling her my bestie (behind her back of course, I didn’t want her to have to take out a restraining order on me).

That night we were told about Gregg and Sarah’s next pop-up plans, which I was so upset to miss because I forgot to buy tickets until they were all sold out, and so every couple of weeks I stalk the evenbrite website in hopes of finding when the next pop-up will be held.

Also, the pop-up restaurant also made The Taste more interesting as I spent the rest of the weeks that it aired trying to figure out when they got together… clearly I should have a restraining order taken out on me.

And speaking of besties, I had a conversation with Ryan that went like this:

Me: blah blah blah blah blah my bestie (okay, I didn’t want to be embarrassed because my besties are imaginary – but in honor of full disclosure, the bestie under discussion happened to be Jennifer Lawrence).

Ryan: Everyone can’t be your bestie, you say everyone is.

Me:

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Score: Me!

I was cleaning out the pictures on my iPhone and was saddened by all the pictures I had taken for the bloggity-blog but never got around to posting. And then I realized that for a good majority of these pictures, I had written up draft posts but never finished them. So… until I get back from Vegas and Disneyland – I’m gifting you with about 6 months of posts I was too lazy to ever press “publish” on. (You’re welcome???)