Tuesday, April 23, 2013

hawaii | food & drink

hawaiian cocktails
One of my favorite things to do on vacation is...eat. And drink. I like to do these things anyway, and I especially love trying local cuisine and restaurants in a new city. (Plus, vacation calories don't count, right?) I have the best luck when I research dining establishments ahead of time - this prevents wandering into a touristy spot that usually doesn't have very good food - however, it can be fun to discover a delicious local hole-in-the-wall, too, particularly in Hawaii where the best food is casual. (I ate a ridiculous amount of fish/shrimp tacos - my favorite.)

So...cocktails. Yes, I had my share of them in Oahu. It's hard to pick favorites because anything made with pineapple, coconut, mango, guava, passionfruit, or a combination thereof, is my favorite! (Oh, and don't forget the rum!) I also had an interesting and delicious drink called a Brazilian Purple Lady - made with gin and jabuticaba - a Brazilian fruit that I had never even heard of before. We tried some local brews, too, including a coconut porter, but mixed drinks are definitely my preference on vacation.

Now onto the eats. Lots of fresh seafood, fresh fruit, baked goods, and asian-influenced dishes:
hawaiian food
Our favorite places to eat (and drink) in Oahu:

In Waikiki/Honolulu:

MAC 24-7 - This restaurant was in our hotel. Lucky us - the food here was great, as were the cocktails. This place is also home of the Pancake Challenge as seen on Man v. Food. The challenge is for one person to eat three steering-wheel-sized pancakes in 90 minutes. No thanks! But the regular-sized portions of breakfast food were delicious. As was the Guava Lemonade and the Guavalicious cocktail, which yes, I've already mentioned a million times and will probably mention a million more times because I'm obsessed with guava.

RUMFIRE - This is the patio bar at the Sheraton Waikiki and it is AMAZING. The atmosphere is fantastic - loungy with huge sculptural fire bowls adorning the patio, a breathtaking view, and delicious drinks. Highly recommend this place.

THE BEACH BAR - This was the patio bar at the Moana Surfrider Hotel and let me tell you, this place is what vacationing in Hawaii is all about. Spend an evening sitting under the Banyan Trees, sipping a cocktail and looking out at the ocean and you will be jelly for the rest of the night. This was the most relaxing place we went to.

HULA DOG - OMG. Can a hot dog be amazing? Yes, it can, and the dogs at Hula Dog are delicious! Picture this: a Polish sausage with mango relish, Hawaiian mustard, and lemon-garlic sauce inside a taro-bacon roll. (Bonus: taro rolls are PURPLE!) Seriously, this hot dog was life-changing and Larry is still upset that I ate at this place without him.

ARANCINO - I avoided this place for a few days because I scoffed at the idea of eating Italian food in Hawaii. But one morning when I was running out of breakfast options, I stopped there for a savory Italian crepe stuffed with potatoes, rosemary, and prosciutto. Perfection!

INDIGO - This is a worthwhile stop just for the atmosphere - you feel like you've stepped into a jungle in Asia. The food was good (cocktails not great) and it's supposed to be one of Obama's chosen restaurants in Honolulu. Plus, it's a good reason to take a cab and get out of Waikiki for the evening, though our driver told us it isn't located in the best neighborhood, so we didn't explore the area.

TOWN - If you're looking for a nice restaurant with a unique menu and great food made with fresh local organic ingredients, this is the place. It's a cab ride away from Waikiki (I would definitely suggest taking a cab as it was a weird area) and a meal here with friends makes for a lovely evening. A couple of quotes from their website that sum up their menu and philosophy: "Local first, organic whenever possible, with Aloha always" and "Find the shortest, simplest way between the earth, the hands and the mouth."

LEONARD'S BAKERY - Three words: Mango Custard Malasadas. A malasada is a Portuguese donut (and I love all things donut!) A malasada is also awesome, especially when filled with mango custard.

On the Windward Side:

BUZZ'S STEAKHOUSE - This place was a bit of a surprise. It was a typical steakhouse, dark inside and lacking in atmosphere. The menu offerings were quite pedestrian. (Do I sound like a snob yet?) I mean it had a salad bar. (How about now?) We were prepared to be underwhelmed. But the steak and fish we split between us (DIY surf & turf) were surprisingly good. Perhaps the best piece of fish we'd ever had. No fancy sauces or reductions, just a piece of fresh fish - simple and perfectly cooked.

CACTUS - Now this was the kind of place we were looking for - an interesting Central/South American menu and delicious food made with local ingredients. We would've had to eat here several times to be able to try all the dishes that caught our eye on the menu.

PRIMA - This was the best pizza I've ever had. Totally unexpected and amazing!

KALAPAWAI MARKET - This was actually just a little souvenir/beach shop, but there's a sandwich counter in the back and the food was surprisingly good - the perfect spot to grab a quick lunch after a morning on the beach or to get eats for a picnic.

ISLAND SNOW - This is reportedly President Obama's favorite place on the island to get shave ice. I'd never had shave ice before and was surprised at how fluffy and creamy it was. (It is not the same thing as a snow cone.) Delicious! Also, do not be confused by their website/storefont - it looks like a surf shop and it is - but they also sell amazing shave ice.

CREPES NO KA 'OI - All I have to say is this: I never turn down the opportunity to eat a crepe.

THE GROVE - We had our last dinner on the island here and it was a winner. I had poke here for the first time and it was amazing (odd since I've never been a fan of sushi). The rest of the menu was equally delicious, and even though I was sad to be leaving the island, it was the perfect end to our trip.

On the North Shore:

GIOVANNI'S SHRIMP TRUCK - This is a food truck. It's not fancy. It pops up on every tourist list of must-try places to eat. The food is simple, but it's fun and worth a stop for a quick lunch if you're driving around the North Shore.

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And for anyone planning a trip to Oahu (or in case I ever am lucky enough to go back), I thought I'd share the rest of my restaurant research. A few places that were highly recommended but we didn't get a chance to try:

EGGS N THINGS - The line was always SO long here...but they have COCONUT PANCAKES!
ALAN WONG'S - Supposed to be the best fine dining experience in Oahu.
PINT + JIGGER - Gastropub in Honolulu. 21 beers on tap.
SALT - Tasting bar with local ingredients and signature cocktails.
LILIHA BAKERY - You had me at coco puffs.

Stay tuned for the rest of the vacation story and to see whether I was able to fit into my wedding dress after stuffing my face with such delicious Hawaiian treats...

Thursday, April 18, 2013

hawaii | exploring waikiki

waikiki
Before our trip to Hawaii, if you had asked me which Hawaiian island would be my first choice to visit, I'm certain I wouldn't have said Oahu. Not that I was complaining - I was ecstatic to get to vacation on any Hawaiian island (or any island at all for that matter!), but given my pick, I would've been more attracted to Maui's famed beaches, Kauai's natural beauty, or the Big Island's active volcanoes than the reported crowds and tourism on Oahu.

Oh, how wrong I was. I had heard that traffic was terrible on Oahu and that everything on the island was overpriced and ridiculously expensive. I found that both of these rumors were untrue, though it probably has a lot to do with the fact I've spent most of my life in the DC area. Honolulu traffic? Ha ha, Washington traffic kicks your butt! Many people in the DC area commute further than the entire distance across Oahu on a daily basis (and they don't get to look at palm trees while they're driving, either). $9 resort cocktails? They're $12 in DC.

Yes, Waikiki (where we stayed during our first week on the island while Larry was working) is crowded and touristy, and typically the kind of place I like to avoid on vacation. However, I had no problem keeping myself occupied during the days while Larry was in meetings.
waikiki
waikiki
waikiki
There were plenty of people out and about: shopping, walking down Kalakaua Avenue, and taking pictures in front of the Duke Kahanamoku statue, but if you walked far enough, there were also places to get away from it all. (And cool off with a fruity cocktail!)
waikiki
waikiki
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Waikiki Beach with a view of Diamond Head. Bonus view: Accidental Butt Crack!

As for the famously crowded Waikiki Beach? (Who hasn't seen the photos of this beach, with beachgoers packed so tight that not even the sand is visible?) It wasn't any more crowded than any public beach I grew up going to along the mid-Atlantic. It was definitely less crowded than the Jersey Shore, Rehoboth, and Virginia Beach. And also? It has a view of a volcanic tuff cone. You can't see that in New Jersey!
waikiki
That being said, we were happy to leave the Waikiki area after that first week as we are both secluded beach/hiking/get-away-from-it-all types and neither of us has any interest in shopping on vacation. Luckily, the rest of the island is pure beauty and has much fewer tourists.

But back to Waikiki: I had five days to myself to explore the area on foot. My plan for these days involved lots of beach time and a stack of books. But on my first day, I set off with the only two things I needed for my favorite way to explore a new place: my camera and my feet (preferably with comfortable shoes). I spent the day walking along the beach, watching the surfers, checking out the resorts, admiring the banyans and palms, and taking photos along the way:
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waikiki
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By day two I was done with sightseeing and was ready to head to the beach to start the beach-towel-&-books part of the week. I wore my bandeau-top bathing suit to prevent tan lines. I lathered up with sunscreen. I swam in the Pacific for the first time (there were fish!). I gazed at Diamond Head and people-watched from my spot on the sand. I didn't want to expose my pasty-white alabaster skin to too much Hawaiian sun, so after two hours I headed back to the hotel.

Too late - I was already pink.

And that was the beginning and end of my Five Days on the Beach with a Stack of Books Plan. With our wedding just a week away, I imagined myself as a lobster bride (or worse: a peeling snakeskin bride!) and chided myself for being so foolish. Luckily, it was a very minor burn and it faded away before our nuptials. But the rest of the week, I stayed off the beach and stayed covered up and coated with SPF 45. (Spoiler: This is why I came back from two weeks in the tropics with skin still the color of virgin snow. And also why I didn't read a single page from my stack of books.)

No worries though, there were still plenty of other things to keep me occupied in Waikiki. Most of which involved rum...

Friday, April 12, 2013

hawaii | 5,000 miles to paradise

waikiki
It was Saturday, February 23rd, and we were off! The flights and hotels were booked. The secret wedding was planned and our bags were packed. After two crazy weeks of last minute vacation/business trip/wedding/
honeymoon planning, Larry and I were on our way to Hawaii. Only 5,000 miles in a plane and then we'd arrive in Oahu!

I'm usually a fan of direct flights, but in this case I wasn't sure I could sit still for 11 straight hours on a plane, so I welcomed the layover at LAX as an opportunity to stretch our legs and grab a bite to eat. (And continue my 21 year streak of not using an airplane lavatory!)
on the way to hawaii
But there was a delay. Our quick pit stop in LAX turned into six and a half hours. It was brutal. Between getting almost no sleep the night before, a stressful week, time zone changes, a long flight, etc, I was delirious with exhaustion. We kept ourselves entertained for the first couple hours in LAX with a mini bar crawl: beers at Home Turf, Bloody Marys at B Grill, white wine at Wolfgang Puck's. However, the alcohol didn't help our exhaustion and we quickly ran out of ways to stay occupied. We did crossword puzzles on our phones, but we were too tired to even read. I think it was after 10 pm PST by the time we finally boarded to spend the night flying across the Pacific. It was pitch black when we arrived in Honolulu and the car rental place was closed so we had to take a taxi to our hotel in Waikiki. By the time we arrived at the Hilton Waikiki Prince Kuhio, it was 2 am, Hawaii time (or 7 am EST). Ouch. It was too dark to see our new surroundings, so we called it a day (or was it two days?) and tumbled into bed.

When we woke up the next morning, we were blown away by the view from our room on the 31st floor:
waikiki
waikiki
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waikiki
On Sunday, we had brunch at MAC 24-7, which was in our hotel and actually turned out to have some of the best food (and cocktails!) that we had in Waikiki. (I was obsessed with the Guava Lemonade and Guavalicious cocktail.) We took a quick walk to check out Waikiki Beach before heading back to the airport to pick up our rental car.
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We had wheels and a few free hours that afternoon to zoom around to the windward side of the island. I thought of turquoise water and palm trees when I imagined Hawaii, but I was really blown away by the mountains - unlike anything I've ever seen on the mainland and impossible to do justice to with a photo. Driving through Oahu's Ko'olau Range really must be experienced in person to be truly appreciated.
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We wanted to quickly check out Waimanalo Bay Recreation area - the beach we planned to get married on, since we had selected our wedding location entirely thanks to Google. Luckily, it was perfect! In fact, by the end of our two week trip and after visiting many other beaches, we still felt that Waimanalo was the prettiest beach on the island and we couldn't have picked a better location for our wedding. I also really loved that this beach had pine trees (I think they are Ironwoods?) instead of the typical palm trees - something about it just felt more natural and secluded. Everything about it was gorgeous:
waimanalo bay
We spent a few minutes walking down the beach, scouted out a spot for our ceremony, took a couple pictures, and admired my ring. The rocks in these photos are actually the same rocks in my favorite photo from our wedding day.
waimanalo bay
waimanalo bay
waimanalo bay
waimanalo bay
Then we drove north up the windward side and I admired the Pacific from the passenger seat of our little red VW before we headed back to Waikiki for the evening.
waikiki
The next day was Monday - the beginning of Larry's week of meetings, which left me five days to explore Waikiki on my own...

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

hawaii | how to plan a wedding in 10 days

how to plan a wedding in 10 days
So...after booking flights and hotels for our upcoming two week trip to Hawaii, we decided we should tie the knot while we were in paradise.

It was February 13th - 19 days before the date we thought would be a good day to get married: Monday, March 4th. However, it was only ten days before our flight and we wanted to have all the details worked out before we got on the plane. I didn't want the stress of doing any last minute wedding planning on the island, and Larry would be in meetings the first week we were in Oahu, so we wouldn't have a lot of free time. So we had ten days to plan a wedding AND do all the regular stuff that is required before going on vacation: packing, stopping the mail, taking the dogs to the sitter, researching activities and places to eat, last minute shopping for toiletries and beach wear, paying bills ahead of time, etc. (I had TWO dentist appointments during that time span, too.) Could we pack for a two week trip and plan a wedding in ten days? Was it even possible to get an officiant and a photographer on such short notice? What about a dress? And rings?

Ten days, LET'S GO:

On February 13th, I contacted officiants and e-mailed a photographer, who I knew didn't photograph weddings anymore, but I hoped she'd consider shooting an elopement. She responded right away and said yes! (I may have done a happy dance!)
how to plan a wedding in ten days
On February 14th, I ordered four cheap wedding dresses online, a pair of wedding flip flops (something blue), and ahem, some undergarments. I had them all overnighted - a last minute wedding is definitely an occasion to pony up for next day shipping.
how to plan a wedding in ten days
On February 15th, the first two wedding dresses arrived. One was fugly and one was way too big. FAIL. That evening, Larry surprised me with an engagement ring and a proposal on our front porch. WIN. (I said yes.)

On February 16th, we went downtown to our favorite jewelers (and the shop where Larry bought my engagement ring and several other gifts for me over the past ten years) to look for wedding bands. They asked if I'd like to have my engagement ring cleaned while we shopped. I told them I didn't think it needed to be cleaned since we'd just gotten engaged the night before! The bad news was that the wedding rings would take several weeks to arrive. They offered to let us use "loaner rings" for the ceremony. That was discouraging and it seemed kind of lame to take vows using fake rings. We went to celebrate our engagement over drinks and dinner at Rasika West End, researched other options that evening, and seriously considered ordering rings online. But before we took the huge risk of buying rings on the internet, we decided we'd spend the next day looking at other local jewelry stores to see if by chance they had something we liked in stock...
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On February 17th, we went to jewelry store #2. They had rings in the case that we liked and that fit us both! We bought them. Whew - what a relief that we wouldn't have to get married using fake wedding rings! We also bought Larry a wedding shirt. Things were falling into place. Since we were already spending a ridiculous amount of money that day, I bought myself an iPhone 5, too. (My 3GS was nearly dead, so it was a necessary expense.) Rings? Check!

On February 18th, I started getting worried because the remaining two dresses still hadn't arrived.

On February 19th, the third wedding dress arrived. It was snug, but it zipped. It met my criteria for a wedding dress (it fit and it's white), so I'm going with it. Dress? Check!

On February 20th, I contacted a hair/make-up artist.

On February 21st, we decided on a beach venue and booked our photographer. I stopped by a friend's house to borrow jewelry and a clutch for my wedding day (something borrowed) and drink a celebratory glass of wine. She was the only person I told of our secret plan. I also learned that the fourth dress was on backorder and cancelled the order.

On February 22nd, I booked a hair/make-up artist and we decided on an officiant. I mailed the two loser wedding dresses back for a refund. Also, day before our departure = frantic all night packing.

On February 23rd, we took our bags to Dulles Airport (including a carry-on full of wedding attire and my purse that had a little red jewelry box nestled in the bottom) and got on a plane headed to Honolulu via Los Angeles...

We had the rings and a dress. We had someone to marry us and someone to take pictures. I had something old, new, borrowed, and blue. And most importantly, I had a guy I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. But were we really flying to Hawaii to get married? Had we really just planned a wedding in ten days?! Every night during the week before our departure, I went to bed giddy with excitement and dreaming of getting married on the beach, but every morning I woke up to the stress of all the things that needed to be done and wondering if we were crazy to try and pull this off. While we had the details mostly arranged before we left, I don't think I was convinced we'd actually end up married until the night before the wedding.

But first we had to make it to Honolulu and spend a week in Waikiki...