Archive for the ‘Around Hawaii Columns’ Category

Bubble Tea Mania – The Hunt for Hawaii’s Best Bubble Tea – Part III

July 1, 2014
Part I | Part II |  Part III 

 

Not to be outdone by their “townie” counterparts, this collection of merchants all make the claim that the westside is the bestside when it comes to serving up ono bubble drinks for us country bumpkins. Let’s take a looksee for ourselves shall we?

Coffee or Tea? (Pearl Kai)
Hallelujah! Our prayers have been answered!

Outside Coffee of Tea? (Pearl Kai)
Outside Coffee of Tea? (Pearl Kai)

As westsiders, making the trek to McCully Shopping Center to get our Coffee or Tea? fix is like going to the moon. We’ll make it a point to go if we’re already nearby, but if not, ah, no can. The wife and I kept joking with each other saying, “Wouldn’t it be perfect if ‘Coffee or Tea?’ opened up another location closer to us? We should just ask the owners if we could start our own franchise!” That’s when we knew we were insanely obsessed. Thankfully, those dreams became realty when long-time employee Shuru Yang was awarded her very own franchise in the Pearl Kai Shopping Center by owner Hunter Chao.

“I worked there for 7 years since I was in high school.” says Yang. “The owners treated me like family and one day told me to look for a location for my very own store.”

Coffee of Tea? Pearl Kai Owner Shuru Yang with their popular Passionfruit Smoothie
Coffee of Tea? Pearl Kai Owner Shuru Yang with their popular Passionfruit Smoothie

The new Pearl Kai location – right next to Tadashi Japanese Restaurant – only opened its doors on May 21st of this year and we’ve probably already been there about half a dozen times! If you’ve been to the McCully Shopping Center one (see Part I to refresh your memory – http://www.aroundhawaii.com/lifestyle/around_town/2014-05-bubble-tea-mania-the-hunt-for-hawaiis-best-bubble-tea-part-i.html), you’ll immediately recognize the layout. In fact, it’s almost an exact carbon copy of the original, only flipped (cash register on the right and seating area on the left).

Inside Coffee or Tea? Pearl Kai
Inside Coffee or Tea? Pearl Kai

Be sure and support Shuru and her team (Grand Opening special: 10% discount off all beverages through July 31st) and see why they are one of our favorite Bubble Tea drinks around!

Wife says: “Wow!!! Coffee or Tea closer to home? Yes, please!!! I couldn’t be happier that my favorite milk tea joint opened a second location… Which makes it easier for me to get my milk tea fix! The taste of their milk tea & boba is exactly the same as the original location (in McCully). I love that their drinks are so consistent! Even the layout of the store is an exact replica of the original location (except flipped). The owner of this location is super sweet & friendly, too!”

Coffee or Tea? (Pearl Kai)
98-199 Kamehameha Hwy, Unit C6
Aiea, HI 96701 (Street View)
808-487-5168
Sun-Thu: 9am-10pm
Fri-Sat: 9am-10:30pm

 

Tea Time (Taiwan)

I don’t remember how we first heard about Tea Time, but I vaguely recall someone telling us about a new place in Pearl City and how it had some kind of association with Taste Tea. Something about the former owner of Taste Tea leaving to open Tea Time. Whether it is an actual partner/franchise operation or a spin-off, I’m not sure, but the layout and ordering method is eerily similar.

How to order your bubble drink at Tea Time
How to order your bubble drink at Tea Time

Since Tea Time only recently had their soft opening (early February of this year) and their official Grand Opening on February 22, they are still relatively new to the area and internal processes. Like their Taste Tea counterparts (see Part II), they’ve run out of large tapioca balls (boba) on me on more than one occasion, one of my pet peeves.

Medium Milk Tea with Small Tapioca Balls (not by choice)
Medium Milk Tea with Small Tapioca Balls (not by choice)

Since the milk tea from Tea Time and Taste Tea supposedly come from the same roots, I asked my friend and die-hard Taste Tea fan Mel Sumida to compare the two. Her response pretty much sums it up: “I like the milk teas at both locations. The Taste Tea one is on the sweeter/milkier side, and the Tea Time one is less so, more ‘tea-ey’. For the milk tea portion, I probably prefer Taste Tea just a little more. But, oddly, I like the tapioca balls better at Tea Time. I’m weird.”

Medium Milk Tea with Large Tapioca Balls x 2
Medium Milk Tea with Large Tapioca Balls x 2

As always, wife has the last word…

Wife says: “This tea shop reminds me a lot of Taste Tea. The menu options are quite similar to Taste Tea – you can customize your boba size, level of sweetness, & select from a variety of tea flavors. I was so excited to try the milk tea & it didn’t disappoint – the milk tea wasn’t too sweet & the boba was soft & firm. However, the last two times we tried the milk tea it tasted different… I can’t figure out exactly what was different about it, but it seemed a little more watery than normal and the boba was also slightly harder.”

Tea Time (Taiwan)
98-1254 Kaahumanu St, Suite 172
Pearl City, HI 96782 (Street View)
808-488-8898
Sun-Thu: 10am-10pm
Fri-Sat: 10am-11:30pm

 

Bambu Desserts & Drinks (Aiea)

Bambu came with a lot of fanfare behind it. Following the release of Part I in my Bubble Tea series, I’ve had my fair share of requests to go and check them out, and, with a 4 out of 5 star rating with 150+ reviews on Yelp!, it’s hard to argue.

Though again, since I live in boonieland, making my way to their Kapahulu location in town proved to be quite the challenge. Upon further research, I discovered that Bambu was actually part of a larger franchise with locations as far away as California, Georgia, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Washington, to the more convenient Aiea, Hawaii (next to Aiea Town Square).

Outside Bambu Desserts & Drinks in Aiea
Outside Bambu Desserts & Drinks in Aiea

The Bambu location in Aiea opened its doors at the end of last year (December 14th), so it is still relatively new to the area. The interior has that polished, new, franchise feel to it.

Inside Bambu Desserts & Drinks in Aiea
Inside Bambu Desserts & Drinks in Aiea

Milk Tea-wise, the flavor was on point. Nice, strong tea flavor with just the right amount of milk. The tapioca balls however, were a letdown. They were way too soft & mushy. I’m hoping that it was just this batch and not always this way.

Black Milk Tea x 2
Black Milk Tea x 2

Wife says: “We heard a lot of great things about Bambu’s drinks, so we had to check it out! Although the menu is extensive, we wanted to try the milk tea with boba. The milk tea tasted yummy (it had a slightly stronger tea taste as compared to other milk teas I’ve tried, but still good). But it was the boba that was suuuper soft (almost mushy!) the batch we had was definitely overcooked. Shucks! I’m assuming that it was just a fluke since we heard great things about them.”

Bambu Desserts & Drinks
99-165 Moanalua Rd, Suite 200
Aiea, HI 96701 (Street View)
808-484-0288
Open 11am-9pm Daily

 

HulaShake

With two young kids, an exciting night out these days for us usually means a trip to Target out in Kapolei. On the way there, we often grab dinner from Pho808 in the Kapolei Marketplace. On a somewhat recent trip there, we noticed a bright, colorful store that had the makings of a froyo shop and had to pop in to check it out.

Inside HulaShake
Inside HulaShake

According to a poster in the store, their 12 most popular drinks are the Strawberry Green Tea, Japanese Tea Smoothies, Mango Smoothies, Chocolate/Belgium Chocolate drink, Coconut Milk Tea, Taro Smoothies, Green Apple Green Tea, Passion Fruit Green Tea, Taro Milk Tea, Blue Coral drink, Thai Tea, and their Signature Milk Tea.

Signature Milk Tea from HulaShake
Signature Milk Tea from HulaShake

I particularly enjoyed it, especially since the owner Hillary had a lot of energy and seemed very passionate about making her new business (opened in August of last year) work. The store layout, professional product shots, and logo and icon usage had all the makings of a franchise but I could not for the life of me find any other affiliated stores. If Hillary is doing all of this on her own, that’s very impressive.

Side note: Not to be confused with HulaShake, Hula Boba in the Crossroads at Kapolei Shopping Center (Simply Organized, Chun Wah Kam, Brick Oven Pizza, etc.) across the street also serves up bubble drinks, though they do not have fresh tea options at last check.

(For HulaShake) Wife says: “I was pleasantly surprised that this cute little shop served freshly brewed milk tea drinks! The decor is cheery & bright and reminds me of a frozen yogurt shop. I had no idea it served bubble drinks! My first experience was amazing… the owner was working & she was very helpful & friendly. The two workers that made our milk tea drinks made it perfectly! I was so happy that I found a great place to get milk tea without having to drive into town. However, I tried this shop a couple more times & have been disappointed. The signature milk tea drink tasted nothing like my first delicious cup! The mixture of the milk tea didn’t taste right. I suppose it depends on the worker(s) who are making your cup?”

HulaShake
Kapolei Marketplace
590 Farrington Hwy, Unit 517
Kapolei, HI 96707 (Street View)
808-260-1098
Mon-Sat: 10am-9pm
Sun: 10am-6pm

 

Hi Sandwich & Drink

When we first started researching (yes, there is actual research that goes on here every once in a while…) for bubble drink places on our side of the island, Hi Sandwich & Drink was one of the first that came up. Located in the Waimalu Shopping Center between Zippy’s and Chun Wah Kam, Hi Sandwich & Drink – as the name suggests – serves up both drinks (smoothies and dessert drinks) and sandwiches (on fresh baked bread).

Menu board at Hi Sandwich & Drink
Menu board at Hi Sandwich & Drink

Since parking was a challenge to find, as it often is here, the wife just ran in to grab a drink for herself as I left the car running with two knocked out kids in the backseat. Her quickie photo and feedback are as follows.

Milk Tea from Hi Sandwich & Drink
Milk Tea from Hi Sandwich & Drink

Wife says: “Hi Sandwich & Drink is a cute, tiny shop that we heard served bubble drinks. Of course we had to give it a try! On our first trip, I tried the milk tea with boba and I was in heaven! This place made a super delicious milk tea & great boba! I even compared it to my favorite place Coffee or Tea! Of course we went back again to get more… but I was disappointed that it tasted so different than the first time! Almost as if they used a creamer or powder??? I can’t say for sure, but it definitely tasted off. We even tried it a third time, and again, I was puzzled by its unusual taste. At least the boba had a good consistency. I’m guessing people go here more for their sandwiches and fruit drinks.”

Hi Sandwich & Drink
Waimalu Shopping Center
98-042 Kamehameha Hwy
Aiea, HI 96701 (Street View)
808-487-7372
Open 10am-9pm Daily

 

Bee’s Dessert House

Bee’s is one of those early day drink shops that everyone seems to know about. Conveniently located in the northwest end of Moanalua 99 marketplace in Mapunapuna (formerly 99 Ranch Market), Bee’s serves up a wide variety of drinks, desserts, and burgers even!

Bee's Dessert House at Moanalua 99
Bee’s Dessert House at Moanalua 99

We went there so long ago that the only thing I remember was that I ordered a blueberry bubble drink with no whip cream yet it was very milky/melty as you can see in the (left) image below. I took that picture as soon as I got it and it was already running all over me.

Blueberry, Strawberry and Milk Tea Bubble drinks from Bee's
Blueberry, Strawberry and Milk Tea Bubble drinks from Bee’s

Wife says: “I don’t remember. Maybe we need to go back again!”

Bee’s Dessert House
Moanalua 99
1151 Mapunapuna St
Honolulu, HI 96819 (Street View)
808-834-8888
MON-SAT: 8am-10pm
SUN: 9am-7pm

 

Lyndliz Bubble Drinks

I used to go to the Lyndliz in Wahiawa when it was a small, closet-like walk-in store and was moderately saddened when they closed a few years ago. I recently rediscovered them when they re-opened at the much larger (former Tutti Frutti) location in Wahiawa Town Center just a couple doors down.

Lyndliz Bubble Drinks
Lyndliz Bubble Drinks

Back in the day, I used to always get their fruit-flavored bubble drinks, which, although very sweet, is still on point.

Acai Bubble Drink from Lyndliz
Acai Bubble Drink from Lyndliz

With the wife’s crazy Milk Tea obsession, I had to grab her one from here too. They told me that they usually make it in a blended format, which we don’t like, so I requested the iced/liquid version.

Milk Bubble Tea from Lyndliz
Milk Bubble Tea from Lyndliz

They assured me that it was fresh tea (as opposed to a powder) which is perfect, but the milk ratio was a little too rich/creamy for me. Almost as if they used an artificial powder/creamer.

Interestingly enough, when researching Lyndliz, I came across this video from their old shop which somewhat documents how they make their Thai Tea Bubble Drink. Watch if you please. πŸ™‚


How to make a Thai Tea Bubble Drink from Lyndliz

 

Wife says: “I don’t remember. Maybe we need to go back again!”

Lyndliz Bubble Drinks
Wahiawa Town Center
935 California Ave
Wahiawa, HI 96786 (Street View)
808-621-8262
MON-FRI: 9am-7pm
SAT: 11am-7pm
SUN: Closed

 

Bubble-Drink.com

Although named after a domain name, ironically the web site does not work. Either way, I went to this place mostly out of convenience (I was at Pearlridge for work).

Bubble-Drink.com at Pearlridge Downtown
Bubble-Drink.com at Pearlridge Downtown

Like Lyndliz, the Blueberry Bubble Drink I got was really sweet. I don’t recall the wife making any commentary on the Milk Bubble Tea I got her.

Blueberry and Milk Tea Bubble Drinks
Blueberry and Milk Tea Bubble Drinks

Wife says: “I don’t remember. Maybe we need to go back again!”

Bubble-Drink.com
Pearlridge Downtown
98-1005 Moanalua Rd, Suite 402
Aiea, HI 96701 (Street View)
808-488-2990
MON-SAT: 9am-9pm
SUN: 9am-6pm

 

And that about wraps things up in this series on Bubble Drinks. I know I missed a few places like the newly opened LemonTea Hawaii in Pearlridge Uptown II (TWC WiFi here!), the soon to open Mr. Tea Café, Timi House, Bubble Puff & Tea, Hawaii Juice Factory… The list goes on and on. Perhaps it’ll be a good way to satiate the Milk Tea Nazi known as my wife and lead us into Part IV in the series. You nevah know… πŸ˜‰

WESSSSTSIIIIIIDE!

 

 

Part I | Part II |  Part III 

 

 


Tarp Surfing in Hawaii – VH07V Style (Click to Play!)

 

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Bubble Tea Mania – The Hunt for Hawaii’s Best Bubble Tea – Part II

June 1, 2014
Part I | Β Part IIΒ  | Part III

 

We continue our epic bubble tea journey with 5 more milk tea establishments located in town.

Β 

Dragon Tea

We found out about this hidden gem after the wife saw her friend post a drink photo on Instagram. Since we hardly ever go to Waiks, we thought it would be some time until we got to visit and taste what Dragon Tea had to offer. Luckily, my clothing company (VH07V) got the wonderful opportunity to vend at the popular Waikiki SPAM Jam festival again, so we decided to grab a hotel at the Outrigger Waikiki for the weekend to have a mini staycation since we would be there anyway.

First stop? Dragon Tea!

Outside Dragon Tea in Waikiki
Outside Dragon Tea in Waikiki

This cute little shop is tucked away on a side street (Nahua off Kuhio, behind the old International Market Place) on the ground floor of the Aqua Waikiki Pearl. Pearl? Coincidence? I think not! πŸ˜› The staff is friendly and the prices are reasonable (16oz for $3.35 or 22oz for $4.35).

16oz Black Milk Tea with Tapioka ($3.35)
16oz Black Milk Tea with Tapioka ($3.35)

They even have a loyalty stamp card (buy 8 cups, get 1 free), offer discounts and specials online and are active on social media. What’s not to love?

Wife says: “I love the milk tea here! The creamy milk tea taste is very similar to kung fu tea. The boba is delicious – firm, but not too soft. This spot is perfect for all the Waikiki tourists – and refreshing after a hot day at the beach.”

Dragon Tea
423 Nahua St
Honolulu, HI 96815 (Street View)
(808) 921-9988
10:30am-10:30pm Daily

 

Taste Tea

Our next stop is one many of you are probably very familiar with: Taste Tea near Ala Moana. With its recognizable sign off Kapiolani Boulevard (buggah even lights up at night!), Taste Tea is tough to miss.

Taste Tea Sign
Taste Tea Sign

Because of its convenient location, Taste Tea is often very crowded as well, so expect to hunt for parking and stand in line to get your fix.

Line at Taste Tea
Line at Taste Tea

On my last visit there, I noticed that they had several new Milk Tea options like Strawberry, Honeydew, and Chocolate. Since Chocolate Milk Tea is one of my faves at Coffee or Tea? (see Part I http://www.world-wide-ed.com/2014/05/01/bubble-tea-mania-the-hunt-for-hawaiis-best-bubble-tea-part-i),Β  I figured I’d give it a whirl here. Of course, as luck would have it, they were out when I tried to order it.

Taste Tea was one of the first places that offered its patrons varying serving options like Sweetness Level (Unsweetened–>Light Sweet–>Half Sweet–>Less Sweet–>Regular Sweet–>Extra Sweet), Ice Level (Less Ice–>Regular Ice–>Extra Ice) and Tapioka size (Small or Big), and even lets you taste your tea (hence their name) and approve of it before serving you the full portion. Pretty good service for those who are unsure of what sweetness level is right for them.

The down side to all of these options – at least in my experience – is that they seem to run out of the more popular Big size Tapioca quite often. I’ve been there two or three times when all they had to offer was the Small size, and IMHO, the small tapioca balls just don’t do it for me.

To show the difference between the two though, I took one for the team and ordered one in each option (small and big tapioca). You’re welcome. πŸ˜‰

MT = Milk Tea, ST = Small Tapioca, BT = Big Tapioca, Less=Less Sweet, Ed = Ed. Not sure who Ted is. ;)
MT = Milk Tea, ST = Small Tapioca, BT = Big Tapioca, Less=Less Sweet, Ed = Ed. Not sure who Ted is. πŸ˜‰

Just like in part I, the boss, er wife has the last say, so here ya go…

Wife says: “I understand why this place is so popular: Customizable tea drinks, large variety of tea options & friendly service! This milk tea is one of my favorites! I love that you can order your drink exactly the way you want it. Drink options include everything from the amount of sugar to the size of the boba. The mini bobas are popular, but I still prefer the regular boba size (mostly because it seems like I’m swallowing the mini ones!).Β  I also like that you can sample the drink before they seal your cup. You can’t go wrong!”

Taste Tea
1391 Kapiolani Blvd, Suite 105
Honolulu, HI 96814 (Street View)
(808) 951-8288
Mon-Thu: 10am-10:30pm
Fri-Sat: 10am-11:30pm
Sun: 10:30am-10:30pm

 

City Cafe

City Cafe was actually a recommendation from my social media friend Nat Nishida (@nanigurl) who read the first part in this series.

 

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We’ve been to City Cafe years ago (when wife was preggers with #1), but only to eat their popular Taiwanese Shave Ice. Nat is a bit of a foodie herself so I had to jump on that recommendation real-quick-like.

Outside City Cafe
Outside City Cafe

To me, the Black Milk Tea tasted almost exactly like the one from Coffee or Tea?, which is a Facebook thumbs up in my book.

Tall Black Milk Tea from City Cafe ($2.63 + $0.72 for tapioka)
Tall Black Milk Tea from City Cafe ($2.63 + $0.72 for tapioka)

Wife Says: “This cute little shop makes some surprisingly good tea drinks! The milk tea has a stronger tea flavor than others I’ve tasted, but it’s still taste great! The boba is soft, too. I can’t say that this place is my favorite milk tea shop, but it definitely tastes authentic. I’ll have to give it another try again!”

 

For the final portion in this part of the series, I’ll be featuring two shops that specialize in fresh fruit based bubble drinks (although they do carry blended milk tea options). As a result, there will be no quotes from the wife, for, as we know, no milk tea = no wife. 8)

As mentioned in Part I, City Square Shopping Center alone has three different bubble drink specialty stores. We already mentioned Shaka Shaka Tea Express in part I. Following are the other two.

City Cafe
1518-F Makaloa St
Honolulu, HI 96814 (Street View)
(808) 398-7598
Mon-Fri: 10am-6pm
Sat: 11am-6pm
Sun: Closed

 

Thang II

Thang II is the second location of the popular Thang Coffee & Bubble Tea in Chinatown off Maunakea Street. Conveniently located in City Square Shopping Center, Thang II serves up a wide variety of bubble drinks and snacks.

Quite possibly my favorite fresh fruit bubble drink on the island is their #1 choice, the Pineapple Bubble Drink.

Pineapple Bubble Drink from Thang II
Pineapple Bubble Drink from Thang II

I’ve also tried their Strawberry version, which is also quite delish.

Strawberry Bubble Drink from Thang II
Strawberry Bubble Drink from Thang II

The drinks only come in one (rather large) size, so be sure you’re thirsty before picking yours up!

Thang II
City Square Shopping CenterΒ  (TWC WiFi Here!)
1287 Kalani St
Honolulu, HI 96817 (Street View)
(808) 845-2164
Mon-Sat: 8:30am-6:30pm
Sun: 10am-3pm

 

Sweet Fantasies

Rounding out part II is a relative newcomer to the scene: Sweet Fantasies, which is literally right next to Shaka Shaka Tea Express!

Outside Sweet Fantasies
Outside Sweet Fantasies

In addition to their bubble drink options, they also offer sandwiches, salads, spring rolls, shave ice, and a whole freezer’s worth of ice cream!

Ice Cream at Sweet Fantasies
Ice Cream at Sweet Fantasies

But back to the business at hand. We’re here for the bubbles!

Since there was no wife present, I “cheated” on her and went for the fresh fruit, Blueberry Bubble Drink variety. It was good, but a little too sweet for my tastes.

Blueberry Bubble Drink from Sweet Fantasies ($3.99)
Blueberry Bubble Drink from Sweet Fantasies ($3.99)

Sweet Fantasies
City Square Shopping Center (TWC WiFi Here!)
1199 Dillingham Blvd
Honolulu, HI 96817 (Street View)
9am-7pm Daily

Next month, we’ll be headed to the wessssiiiide of Oahu to review Tea Time, HulaShake, Hula Boba, HI Sandwich & Drink, Lyndliz and the brand spankin’ new, second Coffee or Tea? location in Pearl Kai Shopping Center. Coincidence? I think not!

Brand New Coffee or Tea? Location at Pearl Kai Shopping Center
Brand New Coffee or Tea? Location at Pearl Kai Shopping Center

 

 

Part I | Β Part IIΒ  | Part III

 

Tarp Surfing in Hawaii – VH07V Style (Click to Play!)

 

Bubble Tea Mania – The Hunt for Hawaii’s Best Bubble Tea – Part I

May 1, 2014
 Part I  | Part II | Part III

The wife is out of control.

Ever since she was preggers with baby #2, she has had this fanatical craving – bordering on obsession – with the popular Taiwanese-born milk tea drink cleverly referred to as “Bubble Tea”. Pair that with the recent explosion of specialized bubble tea shops popping up around town lately, and ya got one crazed bubble gulp’n momma!

Bubble/Boba/Pearl Milk Tea, named such for the round, tapioca balls that float around at the bottom of the drink, has been around for a while now (it was invented in Taiwan the 80s). Hawaii-wise, I remember frequenting a tiny place in Wahiawa called Lindliz (original location) during our lunch breaks back in the day for a fruity version of the popular bubble drink. And one of the wife’s and my first dates was actually at Coffee or Tea? – one of the pioneers in the industry – which is as good a place as any to start this bubble tea series.

Coffee or Tea?
Conveniently located smack-dab in the middle of McCully Shopping Center, Coffee or Tea? is probably our favorite place to get Bubble Milk Tea on the island.

Outside Coffee or Tea?
Outside Coffee or Tea?

They offer their milk tea in a bevy of choices including green, vanilla, caramel, hazelnut, Irish cream, malt flakes, pudding, taro, honeydew, coconut, almond, lavender, watermelon, peppermint, ginger, and my personal favorite chocolate.

Chocolate Milk Tea with Tapioka Pearls
Chocolate Milk Tea with Tapioka Pearls

I mean, c’mon. Chocolate Milk, Tea, AND sweet tapioka balls? How can you go wrong?

They are a little on the pricier side for their portions, but they make up for it by offering something unique. For $15, you can call ahead and place an order for a “Party Size” (gallon) of their milk tea, which is perfect for milk tea parties or 1 obsessed wife. (I keed, she goin’ keel me if she heard that.) There is a 2 day window that they say you need to drink this gallon by so finishing it by yourself is almost impossible. Individuals should upsize to the Jumbo (23 oz.) or Super Jumbo (33 oz.) instead.

Milk tea party at home
Milk tea party at home

If you want tapioca balls to go with your Party Size order, you will need to call at least 24 hours in advance, but if having the milk tea sans the bubbles is fine with you, in my experience, you often can just walk right in and ask for it.

Before they got “famous”, I used to be able to set up shop and “coffice” there for the day. It was a great alternative to the overcrowded Starbucks option, especially since I don’t drink coffee. Now, they are a little more strict about patrons who do this. I completely understand why, but I do still kinda miss those days. Regardless, their milk tea is #onobu and again, one of our faves.

Happy, milk tea-fed wife, happy life.
Happy, milk tea-fed wife, happy life.

Wife Says: “This is my absolute favorite place to grab a milk tea drink! The milk tea here is consistent, and I don’t have to worry whether the person making it will make it with the right combination of milk, tea & sugar. However, it also means that if you don’t care for the strong sugary milk tea taste, you probably won’t love it as much as I do. You can’t customize the sugar level or choose the size of the boba. But, I do like the simplicity of ordering and the taste of their milk tea. The texture of the boba is perfect & it’s always soft and chewy! Milk tea heaven!”

Coffee or Tea?
McCully Shopping Center (TWC WiFi Here!)
1960 Kapiolani Blvd #106
Honolulu, HI 96826 (Street View)
(808) 942-4357
Sun-Thu: 10am-11pm
Fri-Sat: 10am-11:30pm


Kung Fu Tea
New to Hawaii, but not new to the Milk Tea game is Kung Fu Tea. They are actually a rather large franchise with 16 stores in New York (where they started), and 7 more in key locations like Boston, Atlanta, Houston, San Francisco, Florida and the one that just opened up last month in Honolulu off Piikoi Street.

Inside Kung Fu Tea in Honolulu
Inside Kung Fu Tea in Honolulu

If I were to close my eyes and visualize what the Milk Teas in Taiwan taste like, I would imagine them tasting like those from Kung Fu Tea. The tea part of the drink is very strong and is somewhat reminiscent of the tea you drink at many of the local Chinese restaurants around town. If it even makes any sense, the Bubble Milk Tea from Kung Fu tastes and feels “legit”. πŸ™‚

Bubble Tea from Kung Fu Tea
Bubble Tea from Kung Fu Tea

One of my pet peeves is when my bubble to tea ratio is off. Kung Fu Tea packs their tea with CHOKE bubbles so I never once had to lift my straw from the bottom of the drink to regulate that ratio.

Choke Bubbles at the bottom of Kung Fu Tea's drinks!
Choke Bubbles at the bottom of Kung Fu Tea’s drinks!

Their bubbles also seemed to be more plump and firm here, just the way I like it. πŸ˜‰ #twss

Kung Fu Tea
510 Piikoi St,
Honolulu, HI 96814 (Street View)
808-589-0088
Sun-Thu: 10:30am-10pm
Fri-Sat: 10:30am-11pm

Wife Says: “I was only able to visit this shop once, but from my one visit I was pleasantly surprised! The milk tea is creamy and delicious! The boba has a unique, stronger flavor than I’m used to… but I like it. It does take a little “getting used to”, but I was pretty hooked on it near the end! The boba’s texture was also a little more chewy but had a good consistency. You can also customize the milk tea according to your taste. I really wish I could have tried this place more than once to give an honest review. I need to go back again!”


Shaka Shaka Tea Express
One of actually three bubble drink stores at City Square Shopping Center off Dillingham, the wife prefers this one best because it “tastes kinda like Coffee or Tea?”. LOL!

Outside Shaka Shaka Tea Express at City Square Shopping Center
Outside Shaka Shaka Tea Express at City Square Shopping Center

Like Coffee or Tea?, Shaka Shaka also offers many flavors and options, including their fresh fruit options which I particularly enjoy. Along with Thang II (which I’ll cover later in this series) in this same aforementioned shopping center, they are probably two of my favorite fresh fruit bubble drink locations around. Here’s a look at their Strawberry/Banana and Watermelon fresh fruit bubble drinks.

Strawberry/Banana Fresh Fruit Bubble Drink
Strawberry/Banana Fresh Fruit Bubble Drink

Watermelon Fresh Fruit Bubble Drink
Watermelon Fresh Fruit Bubble Drink

And here’s a shot of their milk tea.

Can I get some tea & bubbles with my milk?
Can I get some tea & bubbles with my milk?

Oh great… She’s passing the mania on…

Wife Says: “This place is near the top of my list. The milk tea is tasty and the service is always friendly & knowledgeable. They like to emphasize that they use natural ingredients. You can also customize the milk tea according to your taste and the lady (owner?) is very willing to help you make the right choice. The boba was made perfectly and was soft & chewy! I love that they offer a stamp card and encourage people to come back.”

Shaka Shaka Tea Express
City Square Shopping Center (TWC WiFi Here!)
1199 Dillingham Blvd A, Ste 107
Honolulu, HI 96817
(808) 377-1583
Mon-Fri: 8am-8pm
Sat-Sun: 9am-9pm

Like the various features I did for poke (Poke Paradise – Experiencing the Best Poke Around Hawaii), ramen (Hawaii Ramen Quest), shave ice (Shave Ice Ice Baby), pho (Pho Fantasy – A Tour of Hawaii’s Favorite Pho Restaurants) and açai (Açai in Hawaii), this bubble tea series is going to be fun, especially for the wife. She’s already starting to use it as an excuse to drink even more! “Don’t you have to ‘research’?”

Oh boy.

Like I said, she be one crazed bubble gulp’n momma! To be continued…

 

 Part I  | Part II | Part III

 

Tarp Surfing in Hawaii – VH07V Style (Click to Play!)

 

Dean’s Drive Inn – Kaneohe’s Treasure

April 1, 2014

 

An Interview with Dean Mishima from Dean’s Drive Inn

 

Whenever I travel anywhere new, I always make sure that grinding at the local hot spot is on the agenda. And although Kaneohe is not exactly “traveling” necessarily, buggah is far for me so getting to the Windward side these days is almost like going on a trip.

But like the chicken from KJ’s, poke from JJ’s, and okazu from Masa & Joyce, Dean’s Drive Inn in the Adon Plaza building off Kamehameha Highway has built a cult-like following for its fresher than fresh seafood and ono kine grindz, so making that “trek” is well worth it.

Behind it all is local boy and shoreline fisherman Dean Mishima. A graduate of Castle High, Mishima started cooking back in 1975 and caught the culinary bug ever since. Between cooking and fishing, he also ended up, ironically enough, becoming a fishing game warden at Kaneohe Marine Corps Base. Mishima’s last job before opening up Dean’s Drive Inn back in 2006, was as Executive Chef for 19 years at the old Liberty House in Ala Moana Center.

Dean Mishima in 1998
Dean Mishima in 1998

One weekday afternoon, Lawai`a’s Marc Inouye, Sterling Kaya, “Aunty Kwong” and I made our way through the Koolaus to try Dean’s dishes first hand. Here’s a peek at what and we pounded.

Surf & Turf: Ahi Cakes & Teri Beef Combo ($12.95) - Their most popular dish.
Surf & Turf: Ahi Cakes & Teri Beef Combo ($12.95) – Their most popular dish.

Island Fresh Ahi Belly ($12.95)
Island Fresh Ahi Belly ($12.95)

Island Fresh Shutome with Ginger, Butter & Capers ($12.95)
Island Fresh Shutome with Ginger, Butter & Capers ($12.95)

Rack of Lamb (3 pc - $14.95)
Rack of Lamb (3 pc – $14.95)

Kualoa Ranch Homemade 7 oz. Hamburger Steak ($9.50)
Kualoa Ranch Homemade 7 oz. Hamburger Steak ($9.50)

Pork with Watercress Soup
Pork with Watercress Soup

A bite of his wife Doreen's Baked Butter Mochi Cup Topped with Chocolate Ganache and Haupia Pudding ($2.15)
A bite of his wife Doreen’s Baked Butter Mochi Cup Topped with Chocolate Ganache and Haupia Pudding ($2.15)

The parking and accommodations at the Adon Plaza is not the greatest (small parking lot with no bathrooms on premise), but one bite of Dean’s mean eats will no doubt bring you back on this “trek” time and time again.

Dean Mishima
Dean Mishima

Dean’s Drive Inn
45-773 Kamehameha Hwy
Kaneohe, HI 96744
(808) 247-1300

[Prevously published in Lawai`a Magazine]

 

 

Tarp Surfing in Hawaii – VH07V Style (Click to Play!)

 

 

Pioneer Saloon – Fixins Worth a Look-See, Y’all!

March 1, 2014

When you hear the words Pioneer Saloon, the first thing you probably think of is an old, rowdy bar in the wild, wild west. With tumbleweeds rolling by, you picture a clean-cut sheriff greeting people with "howdy pardner" as he enters swinging batwing doors looking for the bearded bag guy.

Well, this place in Diamond Head off Monsarrat, is not quite that place.

Outside Pioneer Saloon
Outside Pioneer Saloon

Although some of the exterior and interior trimmings give it that rustic, cowboy-ish vibe…

Inside Pioneer Saloon
Inside Pioneer Saloon

… this Pioneer Saloon is actually a very popular, Japanese style plate lunch eatery, just minutes away from the iconic Diamond Head.

On our first visit, we were the first in line (we got there a little too early, prior to their 11am opening), but within minutes, there was a line out the door.

The line at Pioneer Saloon just after opening
The line at Pioneer Saloon just after opening

While waiting for our food, we had the chance to peruse their other merchandise, which included apparel and cute little trinkets and tchotchkes.

Apparel and goods at Pioneer Saloon
Apparel and goods at Pioneer Saloon

Because owner Chef Nori Sakamoto is from Japan, his eatery has received a good amount of coverage from the Japanese media. As a result, much of his clientele are tourists from Japan. More and more these days though, you'll see your local and mainland folk grinding his concoctions from the kitchen, which range from Ahi Katsu to Mochiko Chicken to Thai Style Green Curry.

Here's a peek at some of the dishes we tried that day.

Grilled Halibut Wasabi with Ponzu - $11
Grilled Halibut Wasabi with Ponzu – $11

Grilled Shio Salmon - $9
Grilled Shio Salmon – $9

Mochiko Chicken - $8
Mochiko Chicken – $8

All together with a little VH07V/ALOHA :)
All together with a little VH07V/ALOHA πŸ™‚

The Halibut was dope! Halibut is probably one of my favorite cooked fishes, so it wasn't easy to impress me, but the Wasabi Ponzu was something I've never tried before on that fish. On point! The wife, who split the Shio Salmon and Mochiko Chicken with her mom and our daughter, liked hers as well.

The portions are not hu-MANG-ous like we're used to at your typical kanak attack inducing "plate lunch" kine place, but it was still enough to fill us up. The neat thing about Pioneer Saloon is that you can choose from 4 very different rice options: White, Brown, Mixed Grains & Beans, and Shiso Wakame. The Mixed Grains & Beans and Shiso Wakame options are $0.50 extra but very worth it if you're looking for something different. You'll see the Mixed Grains & Beans option with the Mochiko Chicken above and the Shiso Wakame option in the other two plates above. I'm not a big fan of Shiso, but totally love this one.

With satisfied tummies, we were already eager to figure out when our next trip to town would be so we could have an excuse to visit again. That day came a few weeks later during a busy lunch hour when every single table inside was taken… more the norm. Good thing we were getting our grindz to go!

Typical crowd at Pioneer Saloon
Typical crowd at Pioneer Saloon

Here's a look at some of the other options we picked up this time.

Grilled Teriyaki Salmon - $9
Grilled Teriyaki Salmon – $9

Hamburger Steak w/ Ponzu Sauce - $9
Hamburger Steak w/ Ponzu Sauce – $9

Wasabi Shoyu Ahi Poke Bowl - $11.50
Wasabi Shoyu Ahi Poke Bowl – $11.50

Wife enjoyed her Salmon again, while we shared the Hamburger Steak with each other and my mom. It looks hard and dry in the photo, but braaaaah! She go! Was super moist and juicy. It reminded me of the ハンバーガステーキ (hanbaa-gah sutee-ki) I used to pound at this small hole in the wall in Kyoto Japan.

The ahi poke bowl to me was a slight disappointment. I don't really like avocado in my poke and this one had it in bunches. It also had shiso (see shiso reference above). Also, the tuna salad, though super delish, was VERY sparse. I think they were just running low on the visit though because it wasn't like that the last time.

Overall, love and highly recommend Pioneer Saloon. It's not really a new discovery (they took over the space vacated by the old Mi Casa Taqueria restaurant back in 2009), but it seems like it is still not widely known by us locals. Hopefully, this encourages some of you to check them out… pardner.

Pioneer Saloon
3046 Monsarrat Ave
Honolulu, HI 96815
(808) 732-4001

Ramen Burger Fever Hits Honolulu

February 1, 2014

It all started with a tweet my friend Mari Taketa sent out on Wednesday, January 8th:

@NonStopMari “RAMEN BURGER. coming to hnl @TasteTable next wed 1/15 from 11a til sellout. http://www.nonstophonolulu.com/eating/attention-honolulu-ramen-burger-is-coming/

@NonStopMari's #RamenBurger Tweet
@NonStopMari’s #RamenBurger Tweet

Wait WAAAAT!? *THE* Ramen Burger? You mean the original mashup from ramen prodigy Keizo Shimamoto that started it all? This I gotsta have! So I immediately check the ol’ calendar…

D’oh!

Of alllll days! 1/15 was the day I booked two back to back site surveys with our wireless vendors for #TWCWiFi! Gaaaaah! I’m booked the entire day! Oh well, I guess the Ramen Burger is gonna have to wait ’til the next time I visit New York. And so I never gave it a thought again. Just basically gave up on the idea.

Then, a few days later, as the news started hitting the mainstream folks, the wife asked me, “Did you hear about the Ramen Burger coming to town?”

“#$%^ don’t remind me.”… is what I thought in my mind, but “Yes dear, but I unfortunately can’t make it out that day due to prior work commitments.” is (kinda) what came out of my mouth. πŸ˜›

Then, I really started thinking. Hmm… Maybe I should give this thing a little more thought. The first site survey was at Pearlridge at 7am (Yep, Pearlridge will be getting TWCWiFi soon!). So if the survey ended early, there would be a slim chance that I could jet down to (the former) Taste Table, stand in line, get my burger and scarf it down before my next site survey scheduled for 2pm. But as feared, the site survey ran a bit long. There was however, still a small window to try and squeeze the ramen dream in.

I started calling/texting/tweeting anyone and everyone I could who may possibly be standing in line. Mari, who originally said she could get one for me (there was a 3 burger limit per person), now had 3 spoken for. As did my friends Shane and Toby. My texts to Shinogu and Alvin went unanswered. Maaaan. This is not looking good. To top things off, while driving down, Mari and Shane tell me that the line is already all the way to Ala Moana Blvd! Aw c’mon!

At this point, I had lost all hope. I started planning where my non Ramen Burger meal would be coming from before my next site survey. Ah, but let’s try to drive by and see what it looks like. Ack, as feared, it was pure insanity, so I went to my favorite “lunch in town” spot: Yajima-Ya.

As I sat there eating my Samurai don, I got a text back from Alvin. He was asking me where I was and if I was coming down. I told him I gave up cause there would be no way I could get it before my next appt. In so many words, he offered to use one of his 3 Ramen Burger spots on me if I came down to meet him. I couldn’t leave there fast enough!

I got to Taste a little after 12. After waiting for more than an hour, Alvin was now rounding the corner of Keawe and Auahi, heading towards the entrance of Taste. Although I didn’t earn it, I could practically taste the ramen bun on my tongue.

Crazy line for the Ramen Burger pop-up at the former Taste Table
Crazy line for the Ramen Burger pop-up at the former Taste Table

So as not to cause suspicion with the people behind Alvin, I acted as if I wasn’t there for the Ramen Burger, walking around, talking to other people in line. I even went to the back of Taste where they had it on display, likely there for people like me who wanted to get a picture of the famous burger.

The money shot - The Original Ramen Burger by Keizo Shimamoto
The money shot – The Original Ramen Burger by Keizo Shimamoto

Eventually, I slyly made my way back to Alvin and started small talk until I blended in. LOL! The people behind could probably sniff me (the cutter) out a mile away, but oh well.

As we stood in line, an employee kept coming out and getting a headcount of those waiting. They wanted to see how far the 700 burgers they were making that day would go. The situation for the folks in the back, especially for those behind the “cut off point” starting to look dire. One enterprising guy from the back proposed an offer to our friend Ritsuko who stood right in front of us in line. Since she was only getting one for herself, he offered to buy her burger (not cheap at $10) if he could buy the other two for himself. Win-Win. With the approval of those behind us, the guy got his wish. Smart.

As we slowly inched along, we overheard someone say that each burger, due to the small size of the grill in the back, was taking a minimum of 1 minute to make. With just 40 or so people ahead of us, it was no wonder it took us almost 2 hours to get from Keawe Street to the doorstep of Taste (40 people x 3 burgers = 120 minutes). I even had to reload my parking meter. When we got to about 10 feet from the door, my chariot was starting to turn into a pumpkin. My 2pm appointment was t-minus 10 minutes away. I waited as long as I could, but alas, could not stay any longer and had to leave. Alvin generously offered to deliver my burger to my site survey location, which he did (What a guy!) so I bought his burger as well. My wait was nothing compared to his after all!

Finally!
Finally!

It was worth the wait. Although I had hoped that the “bun” would be grilled a little longer, the overall texture and flavor were on point. The noodles were, after all, provided by the one and only Hidehito Uki from Sun Noodle. And although slightly distracted, I was still able to notice that the grass fed local beef patty, with the green onions, baby arugula, and shoyu glaze did magic to my mouth as I ate and site surveyed. The shoyu glaze was a little reminiscent of the plum sauce that comes with the steamed bun and crispy duck skin at Chinese restaurants. Good call Keizo!

And so my brief love affair with the Ramen Burger ended. Or so I thought…

A few weeks later, I caught wind of some interesting news. It was announced that Eat the Street would play host to another round of Ramen Burger mania at the end of the month (though they did do another pop-up event at Taste on the 29th that not many knew about). After making the wife jealous (and frankly a bit displeased) with my Instagram photos from the first time, I felt it was my obligation, you know, as the greatest husband who ever lived, to brave those lines yet again, and pick one up for her.

Knowing how ridiculous the line was going to be, I headed to 555 South Street immediately following my last meeting of the day. One second there was no line, and before I could blink an eye, there were 8 people ahead of me. I rushed to hold my spot, and then started to document things.

The start of the Ramen Burger line at Eat the Street
The start of the Ramen Burger line at Eat the Street


Unwrapping the ramen “buns”

Grass fed local beef patty
Grass fed local beef patty

Woah, where'd that line come from!?
Woah, where’d that line come from!?

Annnnd the first two burgers and first 4 buns are on the grill!
Annnnd the first two burgers and first 4 buns are on the grill!

Jason Kim and the other helpers and customers have fun despite the torrential rains
Jason Kim and the other helpers and customers have fun despite the torrential rains

We're grillllin' in the rainnn...
We’re grillllin’ in the rainnn…

Almost at the front of the line! [Photo Credit: Rey Rubianes]
Almost at the front of the line! [Photo Credit: Rey Rubianes]


The helpers preparing my Ramen Burgers

Bonus! I was able to use my Hawaii Perks card to get a discount on my Ramen Burgers!
Bonus! I was able to use my Hawaii Perks card to get a discount on my Ramen Burgers!

Despite the rain, I was able to get in and out of there with my two burgers (there was a two burger limit this time) fairly quickly. Those two burgers were immediately taken to the in-laws’ house and shared with them and the wife. #Boom #InstantHero! πŸ˜‰

And so as quickly as it came, it went. The prospects of having another taste of Shimamoto’s famous burger (recently named by Time as the 12th most Influential Burger of all time) would have to wait.

But not for long…

After huge debuts and followings for their pop-ups in New York, L.A., and more, Shimamoto and his Ramen Burgers will finally have a permanent home at BERG’N: Brooklyn Flea + Smorgasburg, the beer hall/food court set to open in Brooklyn New York in March.

Shimamoto, who famously quit his job to move to Tokyo in order to learn everything there is to know about ramen, will finally get the chance to fulfill his lifelong dream, one Ramen Burger at a time…


Ramen Dreams documentary – A film by Michael McAteer

Ramen Burger
https://www.facebook.com/RamenBurger
http://www.goramen.com/


Tarp Surfing in Hawaii – VH07V Style (Click to Play!)

Jerome Williams – Spreading Aloha, One Pitch at a Time

January 1, 2014

When you see Major League pitcher Jerome Williams for the first time, you see a big, strong man with hands the size of a grizzly bear. At 6’3″ and 240 lbs, you know for sure that he’s an athlete, and was likely “bred” somewhere in the Midwest.

And then he opens his mouth.

Bruddah’s first words to me were in pidgin. I loved it. And as we got to talking, his humble and down to earth nature made me feel right at home as if we grew up together back in the day. Just choke Aloha. The big grizzly bear had suddenly turned into a soft teddy bear. πŸ˜›

Jerome Williams and author Edward Sugimoto
Jerome Williams and author Edward Sugimoto

Williams was born and raised in Waipahu Hawaii. As a Marauder standout, he was selected, at the tender age of 17, by the San Francisco Giants as the 39th overall pick in the first round of the 1999 Major League Baseball draft. By 21, he made his big league debut – a tough loss against the Philadelphia Phillies – but closed out the year with 88 strikeouts, a 3.30 ERA and winning 7-5 record.

His baseball career has taken him all over the league with stints with the Giants, Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals, as well as all over the world, playing in leagues as far away as Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and Taiwan. His most recent gig with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim was cut short this past off season when the Angels decided not to tender his contract, which actually now opens the door to sign on as a full time starter (Williams’ preference) for a number of interested teams vying for his attention.

I recently caught up with Williams during his recent trip back home to Hawaii.

 

Jerome Williams Interview

 

[Edward Sugimoto] First of all Happy (32nd) Birthday! (Jerome’s birthday is on 12/4/81)

[Jerome Williams] Thank you man, thank you.

[Edward Sugimoto] Did you do anything fun for your birthday?

[Jerome Williams] Well, not yet…

[Edward Sugimoto] Still early?

[Jerome Williams] Still early in the morning. Actually, I goin go see my mom. My mom stay up in um, down Kaneohe side (Hawaiian Memorial Park Mortuary). I’m gonna see my mom today. I always do that every year on my birthday. Go see my mother.

[Edward Sugimoto] Not many people know this, but you’re part Hawaiian.

[Jerome Williams] Yeah.

[Edward Sugimoto] (What’s) Your favorite Hawaiian word?

[Jerome Williams] Da kine (laughs).

Jerome Williams during our interview (Photo Credit: Arthur Betts IV)
Jerome Williams during our interview (Photo Credit: Arthur Betts IV)

[Edward Sugimoto] (laughs) That’s a good one. And what about your favorite phrase in pidgin?

[Jerome Williams] It’s explicit so I cannot say. Nah, most of my friends we always talk and there’s a lot of explicit stuff in it, but sometimes I get to a point where I use it a lot up in the mainland and guys don’t understand so I try not to say nothing.

[Edward Sugimoto] You can actually use it!

[Jerome Williams] I can’t actually use it at all. But like I said, it’s explicit so I can’t really say on air.

[Edward Sugimoto] No worries, no worries. In some what bittersweet news, the Angels decided not to tender your contract yesterday, making you a free agent. Your agent Larry O’Brien has been quoted though as saying that it could be a blessing in disguise because you could start for a number of other teams. What are your current thoughts on that and have you given any thought to a team you might want to pitch for?

[Jerome Williams] Um, you know, I think it’s a good thing for me. The years I was with the Angels I was a swing man. I was in the bullpen and starting, but you know, I really wanted to stay with the Angels. I just bought a home there. Like how you said, it is bittersweet. I felt like I had a new beginning with them and you know right now it’s just a waiting process. I’m a free agent now. There’s a lot of teams I really want to go to. First of all, I want to stay on the west coast. Closer to home, closer to my family. Also too, I want to be at a place where I can have spring training in Arizona (Cactus League). I really don’t like to go all the way down to Florida (Grapefruit League). It’s a long haul all the way out there and the travel for the games and all that stuff. Your closest trip is two hours. That’s the longest trip in Arizona. I just want to try and be closer to Arizona and closer to home.

[Edward Sugimoto] You’ve had a lot of twists and turns in your baseball career taking you all over the world (including stints in Puerto Rico and Taiwan). At any point, did you ever feel like giving up?

[Jerome Williams] Um, I want to say probably in 2008. 2007 I was with the Nationals and in 2008 I couldn’t find a job. I couldn’t find a job anywhere so I played independent ball. And the year I played independent ball, I thought I wasn’t going to make it back at all. But my wife and kids and my family, they always supported me so that year I got picked up and then I went to Puerto Rico to play winter ball. I got picked up by Oakland and then that next year I went to Taiwan. And then I went up and down playing from like I said Taiwan, Puerto Rico for winter ball, Venezuela for winter ball, Mexico for winter ball, so you know, I’ve been all over the place to try and get back to where I needed to be and fortunately, I got picked up by the Angels when I was in Independent ball in 2011.

[Edward Sugimoto] It was a good thing you didn’t give up because you had somewhat of a renaissance in your career.

[Jerome Williams] Exactly. All that hard work, everything that I’ve been through, it made me stronger.

[Edward Sugimoto] For those who don’t know, you wear a pink glove when you pitch. Can you talk a little bit about what that represents to you?

[Jerome Williams] When I first got drafted, my mom was alive. And then in 2001 my mom passed away from breast cancer so at that time I wanted to honor her and wear a puka shell necklace cause she actually gave it to me. But as the years went on, I got bigger and the necklace got smaller (smiles), so it broke. But in 2010 when I was in Taiwan, I was on a trip up there and I was real flashy with gloves out there. They’re real flashy with it. And the first time I went by a store, I seen a pink glove and I told myself I was going to get one. So that next year, 2011 would’ve been 10 years (since the passing of his mom) so I just wanted to pay tribute to my mom so I wore a pink glove. That’s what the pink glove represents it represents my mother who passed away with breast cancer. I wear it every day on the mound. The first glove I had that I brought to the big leagues, I still have it. I don’t use it anymore because I got another contract with Woodz. They gave me a contract (smiles). I’m the first non-Taiwanese player to (be) sponsor(ed) (wearing) their gloves in the major leagues so I’m pretty thankful for that. Just by using the pink glove it shows awareness of breast cancer. I know some people know that the MLB, they do breast cancer days. Breast Cancer day is every day for me.

[Edward Sugimoto] Do you think you’re going to start a trend with other pitchers?

[Jerome Williams] Well, if that trend starts, I’m the original guy to do it so hopefully I can get recognized for that first, and then people can do it.

[Edward Sugimoto] Your name, your moniker on Twitter and Instagram is @pinkpuka57. You mentioned the glove and the puka shell… Is that kinda where it came from?

[Jerome Williams] That’s how it came about. In the beginning when I first got called up, like I said, I wore the puka shell necklace and a couple of the guys on the team used to call me, that used to be my nickname is “puka” so that’s how they knew me as. And then once I had the pink glove and everything and then my number (57), then I was like you know what, I might as well put all those three together and make it just one.

Jerome Williams during our interview (Photo Credit: Arthur Betts IV)
Jerome Williams during our interview (Photo Credit: Arthur Betts IV)

[Edward Sugimoto] What is your typical day like back here in the islands?

[Jerome Williams] It depends. I know my wife and kids, they’ve been here a lot, so we try and hit up some places to go eat. The stuff that we don’t have up in California. The first day I arrived, I went straight to Jackie’s Diner in Waimalu. And then, last night, I took my wife to Shiro’s (Saimin Haven) in Ewa. The other day I went to Highway Inn. Highway Inn, I used to live right across the street from there. So we just try to hit up the places that we know we can’t get out in California and also too, just try to spend time with family and friends. Usually on the weekends and even during the week, friends, they come to the house, or I actually go to them. They play softball at Waipahu Rec Center or at CORPs. They ask me sometimes if I want to go play with them, and I play with them! I actually try and give back to the guys that actually gave back to me. That’s the true friends that I want to see. That’s the true friends that I want to hang out with. Sometimes I’ll go and see one of my good friends Bubba from Rebel Souljahz. They were born and raised in Waipahu and I remember when they were little kids. I always try and support them. The other night, I went to Republik to support Maoli and Jordan T. So I met those guys too. You know I just want to try and support anybody that’s from Hawaii that’s doing well and also too my family and friends.

[Edward Sugimoto] What are your favorite non baseball related hobbies?

[Jerome Williams] For some odd reason, everybody looks at me and they don’t think electronics, but I’m an electronic freak. Right now, I have all of my kids all on the electronics. My four year old knows how to use an iPad from left to right. And, actually, he knows how to do Minecraft. I don’t even know how to do Minecraft! So I got my kids doing Minecraft, I love computers, I love music. I like anything with any electronical type of things. Sometimes I like to do my car, like speakers, integrate my iPod into it so I’m really big into that. And then also too I like to play basketball but I can’t play basketball because I’m under contract. And my wife is like you don’t need to play basketball right now because you’re a free agent and if you get hurt then, next thing you know, you can’t play. I’m kinda pissed off about that. That’s the type of cardio I like to do, but I know how basketball is here, especially outside, and especially of what I am, people would probably want to try and hurt me.

[Edward Sugimoto] You mentioned your iPod. What’s on your iPod right now… Some of your favorites?

[Jerome Williams] It goes from electronics to dub step to reggae to Hawaiian music, hip hop, r & b, rock, country, I mean everything. I just looked at my computer because I put a 1 terabyte hard drive inside my computer and right now, on my iTunes, I have 316 gigs of music. So it’s equivalent to almost 55,000 songs. I have all that on top my computer and I showed my dad and my dad was like “Why the hell do you need all that music? You don’t even listen to it.” And I was like “No, trust me, I’ll listen to it.” But it’s cool to have those types of music because maybe one day, you want to try and browse through it and you’ll be like “Oh dang I used to listen to that when I was in high school.”

[Edward Sugimoto] Yeah, brings back memories.

[Jerome Williams] Yup.

[Edward Sugimoto] You mentioned Jordan T… Any other favorite Hawaiian bands?

[Jerome Williams] You know Jordan T, Maoli. Who else you got? Iration, of course Rebel (Souljahz). Some of the newer stuff, I really don’t listen to cause we don’t have that access up in the mainland but when I do come down, I always try and help them out, I always try and listen to it. I’m really an old school guy with the Hawaiian music. I can go back to Natty Vibes (Natural Vibrations), go down to Kapena, Hui Ohana. Hui Ohana is one of my favorites because that’s what my mom used to dance to. She used to dance hula and there’s one song I always listen to when I feel down and out. It was a song that my mom used to dance to called Sweet Lei Mokihana. Actually I listened to that song on my first win in the major leagues after I came out of the game because it soothes me and it always reminds me of my mother.

[Edward Sugimoto] You are one of only a handful of Hawaii bred baseball players in the Major Leagues so the fraternity is pretty tight I’m assuming. How often do you get to chat with people like Vic (Shane Victorino), Brandon League, and Kolten Wong, etc.?

[Jerome Williams] It’s kinda hard to talk to Brandon and Kolten because they were in the National League at that time, and I played Vic twice a year, I played him one time in Boston and one time at home in Anaheim, but whenever I get the chance, I always want to try and reach out to them. When Kurt (Suzuki) and Kila (Ka’aihue) was in Oakland, I talked to them almost every time because they’re in the same division. It’s a funny story because every time I talk to them pidgin comes out. So one of the guys on the team, LaTroy Hawkins, actually came up to me and was like “Jerome, are you from Hawaii?” and I’m like “Yes.” and he was like “Well, I want you to talk to Kila and Kurt right now. I want you to talk to them right now just like how you talk back at home.” OK, so we started talking and he kinda actually stopped me. And he was like “Jerome, I don’t understand what you said, but from what you did say, I know you’re from Hawaii.” I’m like, “OK, I told you guys that!” Because everybody thinks you know I’m black, but they don’t believe that I’m from Hawaii. I was born and raised here, born and raised in Waipahu, everybody don’t believe that. But getting back to what you said about all the guys, yeah, it’s a tight fraternity and we always want to try and see each other or try and talk to each other or give each other information. I don’t know if you guys were reading things on Twitter when we had the World Series. You never found that. That’s the first time ever you had two Hawaii guys in the World Series playing against each other. I was pulling for Vic because me and Vic, we got drafted with each other and I knew him for a long time. Kolten…

[Edward Sugimoto] Didn’t play that much anyway…

[Jerome Williams] Well he did play a couple times, a couple times he did good and the one time he did bad, but you know what. At least he had the opportunity to get there. I mean, I never got an opportunity to get there. I’ve been playing for, since I was like what, my first year was in ’03. I’m happy for them getting there and especially for Kolten. He’s gonna have the opportunity to play second (base) now for the Cardinals. Hopefully he can shine and do well too.

[Edward Sugimoto] And finally, do you have a word for your fans out there?

[Jerome Williams] Awww man, fans. Shoot. I know you guys follow me on Twitter and Instagram @pinkpuka57. Thanks for all the support you have done for me. I always try and give back to Hawaii any way I can and this is one of the ways I want to give back, saying thank you to you guys. It’s been a long road for me and I know you guys know my story. Every time I come back I always want to try and do something for Hawaii. This is my way of saying thank you. Thank you to everybody and um, just keep supporting me. Like I said, follow me on Instagram and Twitter @pinkpuka57. Aloha. Thank you.

Jerome Williams and photographer/videographer Arthur Betts IV
Jerome Williams and photographer/videographer Arthur Betts IV

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Agu Ramen Bistro – Already One of Hawaii’s Best Ramen Spots

December 1, 2013

My journey to Agu actually started online.

As mentioned in my review of Hokkaido Ramen Santouka last month, I haven't seen much of the outside world following the birth of our second child. So looking at the most tastiest looking photos on Facebook and Instagram of a new ramen place called Agu, was about as close to "eating out" as I was going to get.

Finally, the day came… When all the stars seemed to align! We were in town first of all. Baby #1 just crashed out and Baby #2 had a nice, long, scrumptious feeding. I had mentioned to the wife before that I wanted to check this new place out, but she was always worried about how we're going to handle it with two youngins.

Enter the in-laws.

They are ramen lovers just as much as we are, so we all decided that we would attempt an outing together because with 4 against 2, the odds were in our favor. πŸ˜‰

We headed to 925 Isenberg – the old Da Kitchen location and the back of the Saint Louis Alumni Association Clubhouse – early and walked right in (they had recently opened their hours to include lunch so we weren't sure how the crowd would be). It was cold and slightly wet outside… the perfect weather for ramen.

Outside Agu Ramen Bistro
Outside Agu Ramen Bistro

Inside, things were very clean and new-looking. Cute even. Perhaps a nod to the "Bistro" in their name.

Inside Agu Ramen Bistro
Inside Agu Ramen Bistro

First up was the Agu Gyoza stuffed with ground pork, cabbage and nira (garlic chives) and served fresh daily!

Agu Gyoza - 6 pc, ground pork, cabbage and nira (garlic chives) - $5.25
Agu Gyoza – 6 pc, ground pork, cabbage and nira (garlic chives) – $5.25

Delicious, but nothing I haven't tasted before. And then… dun dun DUNNNNN! The ramen came… BRAAAAAH!

Here's a look at the wife's Shoyu Tonkotsu Ramen, topped with house made char siu, aji tamago, menma (fermented bamboo shoots), negi (green onions), chopped onions, kikurage (cloud ear mushroom) & sesame seeds.

Shoyu Tonkotsu Ramen - bonito infused shoyu tare served with black sesame paste. - $10.75
Shoyu Tonkotsu Ramen – bonito infused shoyu tare served with black sesame paste. – $10.75

The chashu is marinated in sake-soy, using only premium grade pork from Okinawa called Agu, the namesake of the restaurant, while the Tonkotsu broth is made by cooking hundreds of pork bones at a rolling boil for 18 hours with, as they say "Aloha and patience." They use traditional Hakata style thin noodles, which you can request both the "well done-ness" of (I like um al dente) as well as the quantity ($3.50 to double the amount).

Here's my Kotteri Tonkotsu Ramen with house made char siu, aji tamago, menma, negi, kikurage & sesame seeds, sans the chopped onions. My bowl also included garlic chips and seabura (pork fat). Cha-Ching!

Kotteri Tonkotsu Ramen - extra rich broth made with garlic & silky back fat - $11.75
Kotteri Tonkotsu Ramen – extra rich broth made with garlic & silky back fat – $11.75

You can also opt to kick your ramen up a notch by requesting a spice level from 1-5. If you’re daring enough (or just plain nuts), there is a level that even goes beyond that, appropriately called "Epic". The waiter we spoke with said he sees about 1 in 50 customers crazy enough to go for the Epic Spicy level, most of whom cannot finish it (no can handle Randall). Here’s a look at what levels 1 and 3 look like.

Spicy Kotteri Tonkotsu Ramen (with spice level 1) - $12.75
Spicy Kotteri Tonkotsu Ramen (with spice level 1) – $12.75

 

Spicy Kotteri Tonkotsu Ramen (with spice level 3) - $12.75
Spicy Kotteri Tonkotsu Ramen (with spice level 3) – $12.75

Up until now, my two favorite ramen restaurants in Hawaii were Yotteko-Ya in McCully and Tenkaippin on Kapahulu, hands down. After just this one sitting, Agu has already officially been added to my list of "Top Ramen Fo' Grind"… Yeah, it's that good!

I'm now looking forward to the day when the stars once again align…

For more on ono kine ramen restaurants here in Hawaii, check out my Hawaii Ramen Quest series here: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V

AGU Ramen
925 Isenberg St. (Back of the Saint Louis Alumni Association Clubhouse)
Honolulu, HI 96826 (Street View)
(808) 492-1637
Hours: Sun-Thu: 11am-9pm
Fri & Sat: 11am-10pm
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AGURAMEN

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Hokkaido Ramen Santouka – Japan Style Ramen Opens Shop Outside Don Quijote

November 1, 2013

I know it’s been a little over a month since they opened, but now that another little person has taken residence in my home, the outside life has been severely limited. So when a morning meeting in town recently got on the schedule, my mouth started to water with the possibilities for lunch.

My first desire was to actually try Agu Ramen in Moiliili. Brah! Based on all the pictures I’ve seen online, that place looks legit. Seriously looked like some of the meanest ramen joints I’ve eaten at in Japan. Unfortunately, they are still currently only open during dinner hours (from 5pm).

The other “hot” ramen place that has been hitting the coconut wireless lately was Hokkaido Ramen Santouka, a Japanese chain with 52 locations spanning the globe in places like California, Chicago, New Jersey, Canada, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, and Thailand, in addition to Japan where it all got started. This is where today’s ramen will be.

Outside Hokkaido Ramen Santouka
Outside Hokkaido Ramen Santouka

Located in the old Ezogiku location in the food court area right outside Don Quijote Honolulu, Santouka has a reputation (for good reason) of having a long wait. Following my mid-morning meeting, I picked up my friend Bari somewhat early in the hopes of avoiding that crowd. We got there a little before 11:30, and it was already packed (they open at 11am)! Luckily, we were only the second group on their sign in sheet, and there were a handful of groups just finishing up so our wait was only about 5-10 minutes. #BoomKanani!

We got a seat at the “bar” which had some strange saddling type chairs to sit on. I wish I took a picture of it. Not long after looking at the menu, the waitress asked if we were ready to order. Not quite ready, I hastily spurted out miso ramen. Boring, yes, but that’s always a safe bet.

I was actually interested in a thicker soup base like the kotteri or paitan bases we’re all used to from places like Tenkaippin or Yotteko-Ya, but according to the menu’s description, it sounded like I would be ok: “Santouka’s mild and creamy broth, made from pork rib and broth is deliberately simmered for two days. We maintain the cooking standards of Japan at every Santouka location worldwide.”

Soup bases be simmerin'
Soup bases be simmerin’

The wait for the ramen wasn’t long. In less than 10 minutes, behold… a steaming bowl of miso ramen was in front of me.

Miso Ramen - Miso flavored ramen. Pork broth seasoned with miso (fermented soy bean paste) - $9.50
Miso Ramen – Miso flavored ramen. Pork broth seasoned with miso (fermented soy bean paste) – $9.50

The options here are pretty standard: Shio (salt), Shoyu (soy sauce), Miso and Kara Miso (spicy miso). You can apparently choose the fattiness of the soup base and the firmness of the noodle, but if you don’t ask, they’ll give it to you Japanese style (standard soup base with al dente/firm noodles).

You can order from three different sizes: Small, Medium and Large with a different price for each one. For the Shio, Shoyu and Miso, the Small is $8.50, the Medium is $9.50 and the Large is $10.50, while the Kara Miso is $8.99 for the Small, $9.99 for the Medium, and $10.99 for the Large. The photo above was a Medium. Bari went for the Medium Kara Miso and asked for it to be “extra spicy” as well.

Kara Miso Ramen - Spicy hot miso flavored ramen. Pork broth seasoned with hot spices and miso (fermented soy bean paste) - $9.99 [Photo Credit: Bari Carroll]
Kara Miso Ramen – Spicy hot miso flavored ramen. Pork broth seasoned with hot spices and miso (fermented soy bean paste) – $9.99 [Photo Credit: Bari Carroll]

The color is misleading because – according to Bari – it wasn’t that spicy… Although the sweat pouring out of his forehead said otherwise. 8)

Overall, it was an OK experience there. Ramen was fresh and fast with the noodle firmness I wanted. Soup base wasn’t quite what I wanted, but good for being miso based. Workers and clientele were mostly from Japan, which is always a good sign. Hopefully, things won’t change once they send the grand opening employees back to Japan. Then again, it will probably take me a while to get back out of the house again anyway…

For more on ono kine ramen restaurants here in Hawaii, check out my Hawaii Ramen Quest series here: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V

Hokkaido Ramen Santouka
801 Kaheka Street (food court outside Don Quijote Honolulu)
Honolulu, HI 96814 (Street View)
(808) 941-1101
Open 11am-11pm daily

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4th Annual Rice Fest Takes Place on Sunday, September 1 at Ward Centers

August 1, 2013

If you've been craving rice for the last year, your wait is no more! The 4th Annual Rice Fest will kick off National Rice Month and take place on Sunday, September 1st from 12pm-5pm at Ward Centers (in the square parking lot across the street from the movie theaters). Come on down and enjoy rice focused food and fun for the entire family.


4th Annual Hawaii Rice Fest
Ward Centers

Sunday, September 1 from 12pm-5pm

12pm – Rice Fest (at Ward Centers) starts, hosted by 94.7 KUMU's Bruddah Bryan

Bruddah Bryan
Our Emcee: 94.7 KUMU's Bruddah Bryan

12:05pm-12:10pm – Dance routine by The Rascals

Rascals
Rascals

12:30pm-1:00pm – Entertainment by EMKE

EMKE
EMKE

1pm-1:20pm – 1st Celebrity/Chef Cooking Demo (with OC16's "Cutty" Cutler and KITV's Yunji de Nies)

Cutty CutlerYunji de Nies
"Cutty" Cutler (Cookin' with Cutty) with Yunji de Nies (KITV)

1:30pm-2pm – Ukulele performances by Jody Kamisato & Ukulele Hale

Jody Kamisato & Ukulele Hale
Jody Kamisato & Ukulele Hale

2pm-2:20pm – 2nd Celebrity/Chef Cooking Demo (with Chef Mavro's Chef George Mavrothalassitis & Pastry Chef Elizabeth Dippong with Tiny Tadani)

Chefs Mavro & DippongTiny Tadani
Chef Mavro's George Mavrothalassitis & Pastry Chef Elizabeth Dippong (Chef Mavro) with Tiny Tadani (Tiny TV)

2:30pm-3pm – Musical performance by Honoka & Azita

Honoka & Azita
Honoka & Azita

3pm-4pm – Musical performance by Kapena

Kapena
Kapena

4pm-4:30pm – 4th Annual SPAM® Musubi Eating Contest – with three-time defending champ "Uncle Rodney"

Uncle Rodney
SPAM® Musubi Eating Contest two-time defending champ "Uncle Rodney"

4:30pm-5pm – Guinness World Record™ for Largest SPAM® Musubi – Official Weigh-In

Guinness World Record™ for Largest SPAM® Musubi
Guinness World Record™ for Largest SPAM® Musubi

5pm – 2013 Rice Fest concludes

All Day (12pm-5pm)

* OC16 appearances by Tiny Tadani from TinyTV & Scott, Mayumi & Skyler from Ultimate Japan!

Tiny TVUltimate Japan
Appearances by OC16's Tiny TV & Ultimate Japan!

* Brown Rice Donation Center – Brown Rice and monetary donations will be accepted for Lanakila Meals on Wheels at the Lanakila Pacific / Info booth, Oceanic Time Warner Cable booth, Channel808 booth, and VH07V booth
* Guinness World Record™ attempt – Construction of the world's Largest SPAM® Musubi in an attempt to break the Guinness World Record™ of 628 lbs!

More info will be added as we get closer. See y'all there!

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