Well, my theatre-obsessed friend Taurie Kinoshita came back from New York City this past Xmas, hoping to gain 30 pounds before returning home, and was hankerin' for some good Chinese food. Even her husband Nick Logue, who had lived in China for years, said that Hawaii has better Chinese food than NYC. Apparently the immigrant chefs have adapted their recipes to cater to Western palates. But I didn't realize how passionate Taurie would get about it:
"Chinese food in New York is fuckin' horrible! We never eat it. They use spaghetti noodles in the chow mein! So sad."
We had originally intended to eat at Legends in the Chinese Cultural Centre of downtown Honolulu; but because we "had to take a crap and get gas", by the time we reached the door at 2:30pm, lunchtime was over, and Legend's vegetarian restaurant had closed.
So we hit it over to Mini Garden Vegetarian and Orient Cuisine (2650 S. Beretania St / 946-3828), where their vegetarian menu has meatless versions of many of the dishes on the regular menu. It was a typical rainy December day, but the dining room still had 3 bumping tables of families and blue collar bruddahs enjoying themselves and the food.
We ordered three veggie dishes and chatted about what else Taurie misses about Hawaii. "Wearing see-through clothes and higher heels" were what she missed most. "Plus the convenience of a car." Although their house in Brooklyn is along all the major train lines, she and Nick still have to hop a train 1-2 hours early for even the simplest errand. And her usual what I would call "Goth hooker" attire, seems to invite crude advances from the other passengers. So in the interest of safety, Taurie reluctantly covers upp and wears flatter shoes. But I'm sure she's still able to make it look tawdry.
The "Volcano Shortribs" were the first to arrive in a fancy flaming fashion:
I shoulda asked what it was, but whatever fake meat they put in the dish was convincingly carnivorous. The crispy chunks coulda passed for meat if I didn't know what it was. And slathered in the light black bean sauce with onions and bell peppers, it was like my favourite real spare rib dish without the fibres getting stuck in my teeth.
Next upp was the "Chicken" with Mixed Veggies. Purty good. This time the "textured vegetable protein" or whatever I've heard the hippy lesbos refer to it as, was deep fried and hadn't lost it's crunch in the sauce, but was still chewy inside, and stood out amidst the soft mushrooms and crispy broccoli, carrots, snow peas and water chestnuts.
Finally the Shanghai Noodles,which were okay. Fat wormy noodles with cabbage, green onions, snow peas, and a fungus we at first thought was seaweed. Even Taurie said they're better at Little Village downtown. They were a little greasy and brown, but still a bit better than you'd get from the manapua truck.
Overall, the food was impressive. I'd go back to try the other dishes, probbly the vegetarian ones, just to see how they pull off the shrimp or fish filet. However, I was kinda surprised: although Taurie told the owner I was writing about the food, he kinda ignored us after a while. And we were there for days because, like I said, Taurie wanted to gain weight (and I'm cheap), so we ate everything on them plates. He did tell us to take our time, but eventually stopped coming around to refill our waters or clear our plates. Yet he wasn't rude, and the food was good, so it didn't matter.
Here are some of Taurie's other favourites:
"I love introducing people to good food. Indian and Chinese are the best cuisines."
Legends (100 N. Beretania St #109 / 532-8218): If we had made it in time, we would have ordered the "super cheap dim sum." She expecially loves the steamed veggie pork hash wrapped in tofu skin .
Little Village (1113 Smith St / 545-3008): "Every single person I've taken there has flipped out. I never end upp eating any myself." Taurie loves the string beans, the garlic eggplant, and the fried mochi with sweetened condensed milk, which isn't on the menu but is "sinfully good."
Kirin (2518 S Beretania St / 942-1888): I'm not sure how you spell it, but she said something like "foo peach wahr", whatever it is it's wrapped with tofu skin and fried. She also loves the dessert of gingersoup with mochi beans and sweet black sesame seeds.
Zaffron (69 N King St / 533-6635): Taurie loves that you can meet people from all around the world, from students to surgeons, even Mayor Mufi Hanneman who "cuts out of important business dinners to eat naan and drink chai." She raves about the buffet for "$10 with all the chai you can drink. You couldn't even cook food that cheap in Hawaii!"
India House (2633 S King St #105 / 955-7552): Her favourite restaurant on the island, Taurie says the chef used to cook for the Queen of England, and it's the best food she's ever had. "Even local people who only wanna eat loco mocos will love it." She recommends the spicy eggplant bharta; palak paneer, which is spinach with pieces of cubed cheese; and poori which is deep fried whole wheat bread that is "addictive like crack."
[In May Taurie will be remounting her play "Derelict" off-Broadway in NYC with her company "Cruel Theatre". It's an interactive show which, when she produced it here locally, tackled the issues of homelessness, prostitution, and drug addiction. But her main concern i "Derelict" was with good samaritan laws which "institutionalize morality" by making it against the law for someone who witnesses a crime not to report it.] (doug upp)