Kuliouou Ridge Trail - The view from the top overlooks the West side of the island. When you look southwest, you can see Waimanalo, Hawaii Kai, and the back of Kokohead

Kuliouou Ridge Trail Hike – One of the Most Diverse and Fun Trails on The Island

Just 20 minutes drive from Waikiki is one of my favorite hiking trails on the island. The Kuliouou Ridge Trail is only about 5 miles round trip, but from bottom to top, the trail offers a range of views, plants, and terrain that makes it pretty fun. Depending on the weather conditions, it should take about 3-4 hours to complete the trail at a leisurely pace.

The Kuliouou Ridge Trail is extremely easy to find. The entrance to the trail is at the end of Kalaau Pl street. You can find parking along the street, but since it’s a residential street, please be respectful of the neighborhood.

Kuliouou Ridge Trail - From Waikiki, it should be about 20 minutes drive if H1 East is taken

Kuliouou Ridge Trail – From Waikiki, it should be about 20 minutes drive if H1 East is taken

 

Once you enter the trail, make a right when you hit a fork. To the left is the Kuliouou Valley Trail Hike, and to the right is Kuliouou Ridge Trail Hike. You want to go right.

Once you start the trail it gets pretty fun. A bulk of the course is a series of switchback trails, where you climb the mountain by hiking back and forth against the mountain at a steady incline. However, this lets you take a bunch of “short cuts” for a steeper climb straight up the mountain. There should be obvious trails that others have taken to cut through the switchbacks, however, it’s important to be careful of certain “short cuts” that might get you lost.

Below is a series of photos that document a typical hike through the Kuliouou Ridge Trail. This was taken on a trip where the weather was, unfortunately, mucky and slightly raining.

Kuliouou Ridge Trail - The hike starts out pretty easy with dirt and root trails at a easy incline

Kuliouou Ridge Trail – The hike starts out pretty easy with dirt and root trails at a easy incline

Kuliouou Ridge Trail - If you look around you could see some interesting things like this small cave I spotted. There's a trail leading right up to it

Kuliouou Ridge Trail – If you look around you could see some interesting things like this small cave I spotted. There’s a trail leading right up to it

This wasn't here during my first time hiking. Follow the sign right to climb some rocks and continue the trail. I went straight before and took on a harder trail that eventually got me lost

Kuliouou Ridge Trail – The sign wasn’t here during my first time hiking the trail. Follow the sign to go right and climb up some rocks to continue the trail. I went straight before and took on a harder trail that eventually got me lost such that I had to trail blaze to find the correct hiking trail again

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Doraku Tuna Tataki

Review: Doraku Sushi Happy Hour (4pm – 6pm Everyday) – One of the Best Waikiki Happy Hour Deals

Doraku in Waikiki, located on the third floor of the Royal Hawaian Center,  is one of the very few Westernized Japanese restaurants that I actually go to for pretty good sushi on Waikiki. The restaurant have traditional fresh sushi, Japanese stables, as well as a range of Japanese Fusion creations. The decor is modern and very Japanese-Hawaiian with stained wood tables and chairs. They also have a large slab of wood designated as a first-come first-serve community table in the middle of the dining room. Fun fact: Doraku was created by Kevin Aoki, son of Rocky Aoki – the founder of Benihana.

While their menu is solid, the regular price is suitably (or ridiculously?)  high for the tourist-centric Waikiki strip. That’s what make their happy hour menu so special and more people need to know about it.

The short summary on Happy Hour:

  • $3 Well drinks
  • $4 Kirin Draft
  • $5 large Kirin Ichiban Sake, house chardonnay and merlot
  • $2.50-$7 appetizers (California rolls, chicken kara’age, ahi poke, steak/chicken/tuna tataki, yakitori)

Below are some of the dishes I tried for a single person at the bar. I was happily stuffed by the end of it the meal–

Doraku California Roll

California Roll ($4) – Solid California Roll filler with a good proportion of mayonnaise artificial crab meat wrapped around sushi rice. Not amazing, but a good start

Doraku Kirin Ichiban Sake

Kirin Ichiban Sake ($5) – Nothing goes better with Japanese food than sake. Above is the nigori style house sake, which is unfiltered rice wine with a smooth, creamy, and semi-sweet taste

Doraku Tuna Tataki

Tuna Tataki ($6) – Clean slices of raw tuna served with julienne daikon radish, sweet onions, seasoned wakame, kaiware, ponzu sauce, crispy bits of fired garlic chips, and garlic aioli

Doraku Steak Shishito Pepper Yakitori

Steak Shishito Pepper Yakitori ($6) – Generous chunks of steak on a stick seasoned with savory peppers and green onion. Served with a side of salad covered in a sweet/creamy dressing

Doraku Dyano Don

Dyano Don ($6) – On top of a bed of sushi rice is a mix of the day’s seafood scraps from the chef, light battered and fried. The mix is covered in tobiko roes and tossed with a creamy garlic aioli

Overall, I’m pretty happy about the Doraku Happy Hour. The food is quality Japanese fusion, and the happy hour prices make it reasonable. The only problem is that the 4-6 PM time limit is a bit restricting for most people that have working day jobs…

 

Yelp Link: http://www.yelp.com/biz/doraku-sushi-honolulu

Smoked Tako, Combination Poke Bowl with Hawaiian Style Ahi and Spicy Ahi Over Whole Grain Rice

Review: Ono Seafood – Is it Really That Ono?!

In Honolulu, there’s a lot of hype around the best place for poke, and Ono Seafood seems the be one of the local favorites. Since Ahi tuna is a daily catch around the island, most stores and restaurants will have access to the freshest ahi tuna to make poke, sliced blocks of raw ahi tuna. It’s not hard to find fresh poke on the island, however, poke is more than just that. The Hawaiian poke is a cold salad-type appetizer mixed with several other ingredients.

In comes Ono Seafood. A small shack restaurants with 2 bench tables and 2 small parking spots in a lot.

Ono Seafood Store Front -- The Best Poke in Honolulu!

Ono Seafood Store Front — The Best Poke in Honolulu!

“Ono” in Hawaiian means “delicious, the best”; I don’t know what the best poke is, but Ono Seafood’s poke is certainly one of the best I’ve had.

Ono Seafood Order Counter

Ono Seafood Ordering Counter – Select a combination of mixed ahi poke over brown/white rice for a cheap, ono meal

Once you walk into the store, there is a counter with the menu hanging above so that you can order one of the many mixes of poke they have. You can find the same mixes in the fridge on the side of the wall to simply pick up a half pound of pre-mixed poke for a few bucks. In addition to Ahi tuna, they also have mixes of sliced tako, or octopus.

Here’s the menu:

  • Shoyu Ahi – Ahi Poke with Savory Secret Shoyu, Freen & White Onion, Limu, Kukui, Chili Pepper, Sesame Oil
  • Shoyu Tako – Octopus Poke with Savory Secret Shoyu, Freen & White Onion, Limu, Kukui, Chili Pepper, Sesame Oil
  • Miso Ahi – Ahi Poke with Miso, Ginger, Green & White Onion
  • Miso Tako – Octopus Poke with Miso, Ginger, Green & White Onion
  • Hawaiian Style Ahi – Ahi Poke with Sea Salt, Green & White Onion, Limu, Kukui Nut, Chili Pepper
  • Hawaiian Style Tako – Ahi Poke with Sea Salt, Green & White Onion, Limu, Kukui Nut, Chili Pepper
  • Spicy Ahi – Creamy Mayo Sauce, Tobiko, Ginger, Green & White Onion
  • Wasabi Ahi – Ahi Poke with Wasabi Oil, Kukui, Green & White Onion

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United Lounge @ LAX

Review: United Lounge @ LAX (Los Angeles, CA)

The United Lounge at LAX has been saying that they are currently doing renovations. This is re-assuring because I went there for some pre-flight lounge time recently and the lounge has  a style that looks like it was the hippest thing back in the 90’s. As soon as I walked in, I noticed that the feel of the lounge was off; it felt like I just walked into a corporate cafeteria and recreation room from the early 2000’s (If I knew what one looked like back then). The lounge can be separated into 3 sections. There’s a large lounge seating area in the center. To the one side of that lounge seating area are what seemed like conference tables, and on the other side is the cafeteria-looking bar.

United Lounge @ LAX

Relatively spacious lounge seating area

United Lounge @ LAX

One side of the room was filled with what looked like collaboration conference work tables

United Lounge @ LAX

United Lounge bar area that seems like it’s from a converted corporate cafeteria

At the very least, it seems like the food selection update has made it to LAX. Continue reading

United First Class Dessert

Is Flying First Class on United Worth it?

If you’re flying a domestic flight across the United States, chances are that the first class experience is going to be great, but not necessarily phenomenal. Don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather have the first class experience than not. I’ve just started getting more free upgrades with United, and am happy as a clam when that happens. However, now that I’ve gotten the experience, I can’t help but wonder if the, for some, elusive experience, really all that worth it.

This post simply describes the domestic U.S. first class experience; the international 6+ hour flights is a different ball game with those lay flat seats…

After a few first class flights, what quickly happens from the experience is the transition of pleasantly surprised –> luxury –> indulgence –> unhealthy consumption. The unhealthy consumption part is particularly true for the amount of free food and booze they try to feed you / you have access to on the flight. Alright, fine, there’s nothing wrong with free food and booze, but it’s still unhealthy if consumed in abundance and we’re still going to be looking at value since what the airlines feed you is not exactly the best of foods.

What first class domestic flight provides you—

Before the flight:

Priority Boarding: You get a special line that allows you to board 5 minutes ahead of everyone else. This also guarantees you overhead luggage space. Getting an airline credit card or having status puts you in at least priority line 2, which is essentially almost the same thing.

Free Check-in Luggage: This is a big one for those traveling on vacation with family as luggage costs have gone up  to $25 per check-in luggage. However, getting status or an airline credit card will also easily resolve this issue as you get at least 1 free checked bag. Also, learning to travel lighter without a checked bag and just a carry-on is a pretty liberating habit to have.

During the flight:

Pre-flight Drink: Since you get to sit down first and have some time before the rest of the plebeians get on, the flight attendants will come around asking you if you want a pre-flight drink. This can be anything they have such as water, orange juice, whiskey, wine, or cocktail.

Larger Seats: So this is pretty important for those that are larger in width. Otherwise, economy plus seating isn’t that bad and is comparable in the leg-room. I’m personally not tall enough to require all of that extra leg-room anyway. Definitely a perk to not have to fight for arm space with the guy next to you though.

Hot Towel:  Shortly after take-off, the flight attendant will come by with hot towels for you to wipe your face with. I actually love this, and this is a luxury that I look forward to every time to feel refreshed for the flight.

Beverage and a Bowl of Nuts: Next on the check-list is another order of your choice-beverage and a small bowl of heated salted nuts (cashews, peanuts, almonds, etc). I want to make a note that all the liquor you’ll be getting are nips of bottom shelf liquor and beer, as well as some standard wine.

United Alcoholic Beverages List (2015)

  • Tito’s Handmade Vodka®
  • Bacardi® Superior Rum
  • Canadian Club® Whisky
  • Dewar’s® “White Label®” Blended Scotch Whisky
  • Jack Daniel’s® Tennessee Whiskey
  • Jim Beam® Devil’s Cut® Bourbon Whiskey
  • Reliz Creek Pinot Noir 2011, Arroyo Seco, Monterey, California
  • Hess Select Chardonnay 2013, Monterey, California

If you wanted alcoholic beverages in economy seating, it’s $8 for spirit nips, and $16 for the half bottle of wine. If you don’t want an alcoholic beverage, it’s free for both first and economy class; the only difference is that in first class, you get your drinks immediately but have to wait a minute or two in economy.

The other work-around to the first class beverage perk is to simply buy liquor and snacks from the terminal before the flight and then be able to enjoy them whenever you want in your economy seat without paying the first-class ticket premium. Although, for some reason, if you do it this way, you might look like a degenerate to the passenger next to you.

Lunch/Dinner: One of the better perk of First Class is that it comes with lunch/dinner depending on when your flight is. The meal comes with actual dishes and silverware, which makes it feel like you’re dining somewhere as opposed to getting a quick fast-food sandwich in the slum-class seats.

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United Lounge @ EWR

Review: United Lounge @ EWR (Newark, NJ)

The United Lounge in Newark, New Jersey (EWR) is one of the better domestic United Lounges that I have been to. It’s located on an upper floor where you need to take an elevator (or stairs) to get to. It’s a circular lounge that wraps around the food court below it and gives you a panoramic view of the terminal and air field. The decor is classy with leather lounge chairs and empty space. There’s a separate business center for printing/faxing, quiet room, bar area, as well as a TV room.

United Lounge @ EWR

United Lounge overlooking the food court

United Lounge @ EWR

One side of the lounge with airline information screen

United Lounge @ EWR

United Lounge with windows overlooking the plebeians waiting at the gate

The usual lounge chairs and work desks are there. The bar is stocked with low-tier beer, liquor, and wine, which is fine. I wouldn’t pay the extra $7 for the “premium” Corona, but booze is booze. Continue reading

basturma & cheese rolls pickled green strawberries, fenugreek, chive

Review: Sarma Restaurant; a Casual Middle Eastern Restaurant that Delivers a Punch of Flavor and Spices

Located in Somerville, Sarma Restaurant is a casual, fun dining experience featuring modern Middle Eastern cuisine. What makes this place stand out is that every dish (and cocktail) uses a careful blend of spice & herb combinations that delivers a punch of flavor and spices without being too heavy. The restaurant is modeled after the traditional meyhanes (a traditional restaurant or bar in Iran, Turkey and Balkans region), where friends and family can get together to enjoy a large selection of small, season plates (meze) along with a careful selection of cocktails, craft beers, and wine. Apologies for some of the out-of-focus pictures as the lighting was dim during evening service.

Sharma Restaurant

Sarma Restaurant Dining Floor

Fun, colorful decor opens up the dining and bar floor. In addition to the large selection of small plate dishes, original cocktails, and beer/wine selection, there is also a constant stream of “chef special” dishes that waiters would bring out to entice guests to order at a first-come-first-serve basis.

Freshly baked flat bread with za’atar

Freshly baked flat bread with za'atar. Fresh flat bread with Za'atar, a traditional seasoning of wild thyme and sesame, but further enhanced with a mix of coriander, paprika, salt, pepper, garlic, and cumin.

Freshly baked flat bread with za’atar. Fresh flat bread with Za’atar, a traditional seasoning of wild thyme and sesame, but further enhanced with a mix of coriander, paprika, salt, pepper, garlic, and cumin

We were started out with freshly baked flat bread topped with Za’atar. With a drizzle of olive oil, Sarma’s Za’atar flat bread appetizer starts the meal out right with a mix of za’atar spices and herb that layers spicy, savory, and rich fragrant flavors in each bite.

Vecino Viejo Cocktail

Vecino Viejo Caña Brava Rum, Banana, Cinnamon, Lime, Mint

Vecino Viejo. Caña Brava Rum, Banana, Cinnamon, Lime, Mint

The Vecino Viejo is an interesting cocktail that one would expect to be sugary sweet and tropical. However, while still on the sweet side for my preference, the cocktail was nicely balanced and only mildly sweet with a refreshing aftertaste of mint and lime in each sip.

Chickpea Crepe “Harira”

Chickpea Crepe "Harira". A crispy crepe encasing succlent braised lamb, house made harissa (a chili paste), and green garbanzo beans (chickpeas)

Chickpea Crepe “Harira”. A crispy crepe encasing succulent braised lamb, house made harissa (a chili paste), and green garbanzo beans (chickpeas)

The taco-like Chickpea crepe has a delicate and crisp texture that loosely holds the tender braised lamb meat while absorbing its rich, and mildly spicy flavor. Mixed with chickpeas to give the iconic flavor substance of Mediterranean dishes, this crepe dish is a superb creative take on the Harira. (The Harira is a traditional soup of Algeria and Moroco with lamb, lentils, chicpeas, noodles, egg and spiced with cinnamon, ginger, cayenne, and tumeric.) The eggy crepe does well to encapsulate and focus the punch of flavors that the spices, lamb, and chickpeas deliver. The additional tzatziki sauce (cucumber garlic yogurt) gives it an additional layer of flavors that keeps the flavor light and creamy.

Za’atar Crusted Goat Cheese Sticks with Marinara Sauce

Za'atar crusted goat cheese sticks with marinara sauce. This dish seems like the mediteranean take on the Italian mozarella sticks with a punch of Za'atar spices wrapped around creamy, somehwat gamey goat cheese and dipped with marinara sauce

Za’atar crusted goat cheese sticks with marinara sauce. Za’atar spices wrapped around creamy, somewhat gamey goat cheese and  marinara sauce dipping

This Middle Eastern variation of an Italian mozzarella stick, this is an off-the-menu special dish that was brought out by a waiter. The incredibly flavorful and fragrant Za’atar spice/herbs crust matched interestingly to the gamey goat cheese. While not my favorite, this makes a nice snack.

Persian Spiced Brisket Sarma

Persian Spiced Brisket. Sarma.

Persian Spiced Brisket Sarma. Spiced brisket, sweet potato, spinach, kiwi, lime, and pistachio

Persian Spiced Brisket Sarma.

Better lighting of the last piece standing

A ‘Sarma’ is a Turkish dish traditionally of grape, cabbage, monk’s rhubarb or chard leaves rolled around a filling of minced meat and chopped nuts. Almost like an eggroll, the Persian spiced brisket sarma has a thin layer of fried breading over spinach wrapped around a combination of spiced brisket, sweet potatoe, kiwi, lime, and pistachio. The tender, juicy brisket, like many of the other dishes so far explodes with spice and herb flavors, but the most interesting thing is the drastic and distinct change in texture and taste when it comes to the lime and kiwi. The acidic fruits and the tender brisket enhances each other that makes a very lively and fun flavor. The addition of pistachio and sweet potatoes also further adds several layers of flavors that makes this sarma dish kick-ass. Finally, just a little bit of the tzatziki sauce underneath kind of gives it the contrast of refreshing and creamy elements that balance it out. This was probably my favorite Sarma dish.

Brussels Sprouts Bravas (spicy) + chorizo

Brussels Sprouts Bravas (spicy) + chorizo. Pan-seared brussels sprouts and bacon bits is an amazing dish. This variation uses mediterenaian spices to give it a spicy kick and chunky chorizo to layer on some additional fat and richenss on top of the seared brussel sprout halves. The slightly bitter and crisp brussel sprouts covered in rich, chewy pieces of chorizo... yeah it's a easy win

Brussels Sprouts Bravas (spicy) + chorizo. Hazelnut migas and added chorizo

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Look at the consistency of that 62 degree egg!

Review: Shojo Restaurant; Hip Restaurant Bar in Boston Chinatown

Shojo Restaurant is a hip Asian-fusion restaurant that I was surprised to find in Chinatown. I usually view Asian-fusion restaurants with some disdain as there are many places that use that genre to serve half-ass authentic Asian food for a western audience. However, Shojo serves a style that I would describe as Contemporary Asian Cuisine or Hip/Modern Asian Fusion that can easily fit-in with the trendy shops of New York’s East Village neighborhood.

From the outer appearance under the sign of the China Pearl restaurant (a long time establishment in Chinatown known for pretty decent dim sum), and next to a stereotypical Chinese Travel agency, Shojo offers an escape to a solid, nice restaurant bar that may make you forget that you are in the traditional and somewhat grimy neighborhood of Boston Chinatown.

Shojo Restaurant sandwiched between China Pearl and Trans Pacific Travel Agency

Shojo Restaurant sandwiched between China Pearl and Trans Pacific Travel Agency

 

This looks promising:

20150711_184811

 

If you don’t look for the restaurant, you could easily miss it. Once you are in the restaurant, the ambiance will immediately make you forget you are in Boston Chinatown. The walls are decorated with hip-hop inspired graffiti art and Asian artifacts. The television is playing a Bruce Lee movie to the beat of Kanye in the background. The tables are packed with people and small plates. The bar prominently displays Japanese premium beers and whiskey that most bars wouldn’t stock (I was really happy to see Yamazaki, Hibiki, Hakushu, and Nikka Coffee whiskey being displayed). Shojo can easily be a new favorite restaurant bar for a variety of reasons.

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