August 17, 2012

A Feast Called O'ahu, By Emma Krasov

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Vacationing in Hawai’i, “the island state,” is part of the American dream. When it comes true, it’s everything you’ve been hoping for, and more.      

Two nights on O’ahu doesn’t sound like enough time to enjoy the capital city of Honolulu and the legendary Waikiki beach, but that depends of what you make of it.
I never really considered falling for incentive travel deals – the usual rewards for attending various sales events – until one day I saw a hard-to-resist “two tickets to Honolulu and two nights” offer.  
The visions of blue Pacific, coconut groves, and pina coladas with tiny paper umbrellas were swirling before my eyes. I could practically feel the fragrance of plumeria flowers in the air.
That’s how I got familiarized with the Holiday Travel of America (HTOA) and learned the ropes of free travel – hard to get, but wonderful to enjoy.
Not a travel agency, HTOA utilizes unused seats on airplanes; cabins on cruise ships; and vacant rooms in hotels and resorts. When airlines, cruise lines, and hotels discount and sell out their surplus in bulk, this surplus can be formed into neat “packages” that include transportation and lodging. The packages are pre-designed and given away as incentive trips, less taxes. The tax deposit has to be paid in advance to secure the offer. However, should you decide to alter your trip by extending your stay or changing your accommodations, this tax deposit will be applied toward the cost of the upgrade.
Being patient and flexible is the key to success. You must be prepared to submit your dates of travel well in advance, change them if those you want are not available, make multiple phone calls, and wait for a travel confirmation on a very short notice.
But, when you see your name on a sign held by a sun-tanned guide burdened with lei garlands to greet you and your fellow vacationers at the Honolulu airport, it all seems worth the effort.
Our two night stay at the Sheraton Princess Kaiulani was pleasant and care-free. The beautifully appointed resort is located smack in the middle of the Honolulu main drag, and steps away from the Waikiki beach. Tropical cocktails around the pool, nightly entertainment, and clean airy rooms overlooking the palm trees teaming with birds, were everything we needed for a relaxing retreat.  
On our first evening, my husband and I walked to the historic Royal Hawai’ian, a Luxury Collection Resort that looks like a rosy dream, or rather, like the Pink Palace of the Pacific.            
Besides being the ultimate upscale hotel on Waikiki, that hosted royals and presidents since its opening almost a century ago, this Spanish-Moorish style property, recently renovated to sparkling splendor, is home to a new restaurant, Azure, headed by the Hawai’ian-born and French-educated executive chef, Jon Matsubara.
Seated on the open air terrace overlooking the world famous beach, we felt like royalty, luxuriating in the succession of wonderful sensations. The sea breeze, the warmth of the setting sun; plush candlelit ambience with onyx bar, illuminated by cool LED lights; excellent wine and food, and attentive service – everything was perfect.   
Azure serves the freshest seafood from the daily Honolulu fish auction, and we had more than one chance to try it with our tasting menu.
House-baked green olive and black sesame bread came with butter and Hawai’ian red salt.
Azure signature sashimi included Hawai’ian yellowfin ahi and hamachi, garnished with avocado and radish salad, soy-ginger vinaigrette, and wonton crisp.   
“Ocean Cappuccino” in a coffee cup contained Dungeness crab and Black Tiger shrimp bouillabaisse with good chunks of seafood and dairy froth on top.
Kona lobster tail risotto was redolent of saffron, served with Waialua asparagus and locally-grown tomatoes, and paired with sweet German Riesling.
Butter pouched filet of beef tasted buttery, indeed, accompanied by local taro and brandy puree, hamakua mushrooms in truffle sauce, crowned with quail egg, and paired with Vita Nova merlot from Santa Barbara, California.  
For dessert, we enjoyed Kula strawberries from Maui with balsamic and cinnamon drizzle over ice cream.  
Bustling nightlife, swimwear, jewelry, and souvenir shops, and street entertainers turn Kalakaua Avenue, which parallels Waikiki beach, into a never-ending parade of activities and a natural stroller’s paradise.
Next morning, conscious of those sweet extra calories consumed the night before, we headed for Hans Hedemann Surf School, a few short blocks away from our hotel.   
While my husband enjoyed a vigorous surfing lesson with a skilled instructor, I attempted an ancient and graceful water sport, known as stand-up paddle boarding. 
In the process, I learned two things about myself: that my toes can curl and thrust the board just like cat’s claws to maintain the balance, and – that I can maintain my balance on the board gently swayed in opposite directions by the ocean currents.    
After this calorie-reducing exercise and some frolicking in the silky blue waters of Waikiki, exhausted but excited, we made a reservation at the landmark Honolulu restaurant, Chef Mavro, named after the famed French-born chef/owner, George Mavrothalassitis.
Where can I find the words to describe the opulence of the culinary experience produced by one of the founders of the Hawai’ian Regional Cuisine movement?  
Chef Mavro’s gastronomic creations and wine pairings are true masterpieces in balance and subtlety, thoroughly appreciated by the local elite and visiting dignitaries alike.
Our tasting menu started with amuse bouche of Japanese egg custard with shiitake mushrooms and Bay shrimp in Ponzu glaze.
I won’t soon forget those meaty Kaua’I shrimp nestled in the bright orange sea urchin froth, and paired with the delicate Ginsuika sake.
Day boat catch brought in a tender ono filet crusted with mochi, and garnished with asparagus spears in green veloute. Botani, dry muscatel from Malaga, complimented it nicely.
Kurobuta pork two ways came with vanilla glazed Molokai sweet potatoes and Sumida farm watercress, paired with delightfully full-bodied Andis Grenache from Amador County, California.
When it seemed I couldn’t be impressed any more, our knowledgeable server brought along a delicate cube of champagne gelee with watermelon balls inside, and sweet Italian malvira to make it complete.
We also had a full-size dessert of guava malasadas, and then a trio of traditional French mignardises – lavender chocolate pave, pear macaron, and lychee pate de fruit.
Our one full day on O’ahu proved to be rather eventful and definitely joyous.
Next morning, before heading for the airport, we met with a Honolulu friend, who took us to breakfast across the street from our hotel, to theMoana Surfrider, a Westin Resort & Spa.
This grandiose white-walled hotel – Waikiki’s first resort – was designed by the architect Oliver Traphagen in the old colonial style, and opened in 1901, signifying the birth of Hawai’ian tourism industry.
Today, its open air restaurant, The Veranda, is very popular for its delicious breakfast selections, from salmon eggs Benedict to powder sugar-dusted Belgian waffles with fresh berries.
Not a day goes by the Moana Surfrider without a wedding – or three. Couples from all over the world are clamoring for a chance to get married here, at a gorgeous historic property, on the beautiful Waikiki.
O’ahu is a feast that never ends, and come September, the capital island of the fiftieth state will host the increasingly popular annualHawai’i Food & Wine Festival. 
This fantastic event brings top chefs from around the Pacific and the continental U.S. together in a four day food and wine extravaganza, turning the island into premier epicurean destination. The Festival features more than 50 internationally-renowned master chefs, culinary personalities, and wine and spirit producers. Co-founded by two of Hawai‘i’s own James Beard Award-winning chefs, Roy Yamaguchi and Alan Wong, it  will showcase wine tastings, cooking demonstrations, one-of-a-kind excursions, and exclusive dining opportunities highlighting the state’s bounty of local produce, seafood, and meat in Honolulu and Ko Olina Resort on September 6 through 9. For tickets and information go to: www.hawaiifoodandwinefestival.com. Additional information at: www.visit-oahu.com

 

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