Archive for July, 2008

Grilling Italian Style

Last Sunday we were having a terrible time, both with the heat and with my own unfamiliarity with Kailua. We wanted to find a place to sit down and eat. We went around and around and finally stopped at Longs to get some cash. I was fortunate enough to find a couple at the ATM that recommended Formaggio Grill. Seeing my frustration and sweaty brow, the wife just laughed at me and suggested we just kind of move across the street and around the corner a little. So, we did!


We stepped in the door of this relatively new addition to the Windward side of the island and were met with the coolest air conditioning you can imagine and greeted by a very nice host and friendly atmosphere. Of course we were dying in the heat so anything cooler than outside would have been welcome! The nice young host was concerned about how crowded the restaurant was and that we might have to wait. As it worked out, we didn’t have to wait long at all and we were seated and given cold water, other beverages and menus.

Decor inside the restaurant

While looking at the menu and trying to figure out just what we had walked into, I noticed that the decor was interesting. There were paintings or sketches hung on warm, mustard-colored walls. The art work was interesting to look at and to try to figure them out. The most interesting one, I found, was the picture all the way on the right in the picture above. You can’t really tell but it’s of the Mona Lisa but it looks like a paint-by-number that was never completed. Was the artist still looking for Ms. Right? Maybe. He was obviously still trying to figure out how to color his ideal woman.

View of the dining room and the bar

It was pretty quiet as people started to leave after finishing their lunch. It was already close to 3:00 in the afternoon.

Facing the window into the kitchen

I’m pretty sure that what we see in the background of the picture above is the kitchen, or certainly a portion of it. Our waiter, Jason, was a great help to us as we asked about things on the menu. What a wonderful menu or yummy choices! Jason’s suggestions were good ones. The food actually worked out nicely — the available selections would make any palate happy.

Bowl of very hot onion soup

Mom saw onion soup on the menu and decided that was for her! It smelled wonderful and looked even better! As she spooned through it like we all do with soup, the amount 0f cheese was amazing. That’s one soup that would give French onion soup a run for its money! You should have seen the amount of cheese. Woo hoo! I guess that was French onion soup with an Italian twist.

I was drooling over the steak choices on the menu but they were more for dinner and a little too pricey for lunch. The original location of Formaggio is actually on the other side of the hill from this one. It’s on the Honolulu side of the Koolaus, in the Market City shopping center on Kapiolani Blvd. That one is more focused on liquor. We were lucky enough to be in the location where the food was the focus.

Kobe Burger on Panini

Anyway, I opted for their signature burger, the Kobe Burger Panini, with a side of salad sprinkled with a to-die-for dressing. This burger actually made it on to the cover of Honolulu Magazine. I’m not much of a salad person, except for the occasional craving, but this one was one to talk about. I had to ask twice about the dressing because it sounded too simple to be so good. Thedressing was a combination of 18-year-old balsamic delizio, grey poupon, olive oil, salt and pepper — that’s it. So good!

Chocolate Bread Pudding ala mode

Mom got a piece of chocolate bread pudding with vanilla ice cream and chocolate and vanilla drizzles.

Blueberry Cheesecake

I just thought the blueberry cheesecake sounded good. It was.

This is a great restaurant with great atmosphere, great service, and great food. The only drawback is that the prices can add up very quickly. So, I think this is a great place for special-occasion eating. If you’re after just a casual meal, this might not be the best expenditure of your money. If you want really good food and you have something to celebrate, I give this place very high marks!

Formaggio Grill
305 Hahani Street
Kailua, Hawaii 96734
(808) 263-2633

A Cultural Manifestation

There’s just something about a tropical island just before dusk, or just after dusk. For some of us, there’s a feeling of melancholy serenity coupled with an underlying tone of anxiety. Some people wait for the evening hours for rest while others wait for the nightlife. For some of us, there’s an ever-pervading feeling that the day’s almost gone and there must be something else that can be done.

Shoreline at Sunset

There’s something about the shoreline of the southern side of Oahu just before sunset. The calm, the quiet, and the subtle threat of rough water all add to the romantic, spiritual nature of this setting. Part of the beauty of our islands is the spiritual balance that calms the fears of those insidious pleasures that the nighttime brings.

On a Saturday afternoon, just before evening, there is nothing better than to be off the beaten path just a bit and enjoying this quiet time while being reminded of that spiritual balance that is intrinsically our own.

Jizo ShrineGuardian of the Sea

I thought about this as I stopped at this location. I’d heard about this place on the news some time back. I was quite fascinated to know there was an explanation for these rocks that just sit here — seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

Visiting tourists were there, taking pictures and trying to capture the last light before sunset as another day of their vacation came to an end. An older gentleman asked me if I knew anything about this little shrine that sits at one of the look-out points along the coastal drive between Hanauma Bay and Sea Life Park.

Jizo up close“Uh, yeah — a little,” I responded. This visitor was retired military who served here in 1961. “This is Jizo,” I continued, “he’s a Buddhist deity placed here by Japanese immigrants to protect them while they were fishing (casting for ulua) or swimming.”

I’m not sure who was more surprised, the gentleman actually getting an informative answer to his question or me for being able to give him one! I don’t know where it came from but there it was — I was a tour guide for five minutes.

In keeping with the Buddhist (or Japanese) tradition, at least one that I am familiar with, there were flowers and food gifts left at the feet of this deity. As we here at Homespun Honolulu were reminded recently by one of our Carnival of Aloha participants, it’s Obon Season and this may have heightened the leaving of these gifts for Jizo. Perhaps Japanese tourists left those mementos, maybe some fisherman — this part is unclear.

Little Altar by the SeaDo we have a conflict of religious beliefs? Not really. It’s more a harmonious commingling of the multi-cultural map of the islands and a grand example of religious tolerance.

It’s not unusual or unlikely for a “blessing” of a new business or building to be multi-cultural as well. I have heard of people having several different types of blessings or services for big events like that. Now that I think about it, I might do the same. Let’s see, I would look for a Hawaiian blessing for the land, a Chinese dragon or two as sentinels, and the blessing of my own Christian faith to wrap it all up and bless us all — dragons included. 🙂 Of course one might want to get a blessing from Jizo for your boat. I’ll never own a building or a boat so don’t worry about it.

There’s nothing quite like this type of cultural manifestation to calm your fears, quiet the soul and bring you back to the peaceful reality of our lives. It’s an intangible feeling but one that’s definitely there. It’s one of those feelings that is rarely spoken of or talked about — I’m just one of the few people crazy enough to talk about it.

Designated as the protector of fishermen and swimmers, having this Jizo memorial along the often-treacherous south shore is not such a bad idea. There are other statues of Jizo on the Northshore of Oahu and in several different seaside locations throughout the islands.  I’m sure I’ll find some one of these days and refer back to this post. If you’re a little curious, like I was, you can find John Clark’s book, Guardian of the Sea, Jizo in Hawaii, published by University of Hawaii Press, at local book stores and through

Sampling the “Flavors of Honolulu”

Most people think of this kind of thing as the Taste of Honolulu — an event that provides support for Easter Seals. This year, we have one with a bit of a new twist. There’s a new charity and a few newer restaurants.


Flavors of Honolulu was presented this year on the grounds of the Frank Fasi Civic Center, which is not unusual, but this time, the beneficiary of the event was Abilities Unlimited, an organization that is actually a dba of Winners at Work and is designated for “helping people with disabilities lead productive lives.” I like the idea of supporting an organization like that! I wish I has known more about them before attending the event… I might have bought more scrip! 🙂

Crowd of people moving around various tents

I don’t think they missed my extra $20 too much. Attendance was certainly not a problem! I passed by on the Saturday afternoon of that weekend and the place was packed. These photos were all taken on Sunday afternoon, the third and final day, and there were still people everywhere! I wonder how their bottom line came out. I guess I’ll have to investigate that!

Closer to the crowds

This photo gives a better feel for just how many people were spread across the grounds of this City & County municipal park. The organization and set-up of the event was really quite good. The colors were complimentary and I enjoyed the visual aspect of it all. The park was clean and the weather, albeit very warm, was great for an outdoor happening like this.

These pictures don’t really convey the degree of heat that attendees had to endure. The sun was blazing and even the tradewinds were very warm.

Entertainment Tent

While there was entertainment, of course, but my focus was on the food. That’s always my focus! Taste of Honolulu, Flavors of Honolulu, call it what you will — it’s all about the food! I can’t count the number of times I’ve used that phrase over recent years.

Chicken Tacos

There was a great mix of ethnic cuisines! There were Mexican dishes like these little chicken tacos from Senor Frog’s seen here on the left. Senor Frog’s is located on the third floor of the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center. Good food! I like our local Mexican food restaurants. With so many Taco Bell locations vanishing on us, we really need to keep track of our Mexican food places.

There were thirteen or so tents of various types of cuisine, with little plates of this and little plates of that. The emphasis is on the word little.

This brings up the one thing that stuck out and that was probably the only real negative that could be listed for this event — the servings were pathetically small. I realize the purpose of this event is to have a “taste” or to sample the “flavors” of the foods. But, for what worked out to be the equivalent of approximately $5 a plate, from the viewpoint of someone with a “local” appetite, that was unacceptable.

Again, the emphasis was on the “taste” or “flavors” of Honolulu, not “join us for a meal.” I was just too hungry, what can I say? I’m always hungry. I just like food — too much! 🙂 Just so you guys don’t think I’m a horrible person, there was even one location that offered one meatball on a plate. That was it — one meatball. That was with the same cost — approximately $5. We walked away from that vendor just because it was too ridiculous to even talk about.

Now, I will go back to my previous statement that the supported organization was, in itself, well worth supporting. If I had known more about that organization at the time, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. Okay, I may have thought twice about it but I would have gotten that meatball anyway! If you think about it, it wasn’t cheap to make one — it had three different meats and mozarella cheese.

See what my attitude got me? Nothing. That’s what I get! Sorry, Mangea!, it really did look good!  My bad.  Another restaurant to patronize gang! It smelled wonderful and looked great.   Mangea! is located at 300 Wai Nani Way, Phone: 808-923-1628.

For the most part, the food was definitely worth it. There were even a couple of vendors with steak! One of them was Koi, a restaurant located at 2028 Dillingham Blvd. The line was way too long for us to stand there and endure the heat but there were many others who had no problem waiting for what they must have known a lot about. Of course it said, “grilled steak with ginger sesame sauce” — so I guess I have to find out more about that place, huh? I’ll keep you guys posted!


In order to avoid the heat, we opted instead to try the steak from the Hilton Hawaiian Village’s Village Steak & Seafood restaurant and we were not disappointed.

To adjust my mood and to battle the heat I stopped at one of the wine vendors and sampled, at their recommendation, a very nice white wine that the vendor promised to be refreshing. She was right. I felt much better after drinking the 3/4 of a Dixie cup. Yeah, I had to throw that size part in.

Hawaiian Plate

All was not lost. Laverne’s was the one tent, serving Hawaiian cuisine, that had a grasp on knowing where they were. They knew how to please the local (okay, my) appetite. Laverne’s Catering & Restaurant is located at 99-866 Moloalo Street in Waipahu and can be reached at 808-678-1678. In the photo above you can see their sampling of rice, kalua pig, lomi salmon, chicken long rice, and haupia. Word has it that it was all good!  It looked great, smelled wonderful and was definitely much more reasonable from a serving size point of view.

Li Hing PineappleIn spite of it all, I wasn’t going to turn down a little sampling of li hing pineapple! I did get some of that from Laverne’s.

Pineapple is good with a little bit of li hing powder! This one was made from canned pineapple but I still liked it. It was, consequently, a little sweeter than normal.

All in all, I think it was a great event. I will go again, I will be better prepared, I will know what to expect and I will try as many of the food samplings as I can! If you plan to attend the next one, you might want to be sure you have a good breakfast that day!  I just wanted more.  Piggy.  After all, it’s all about the food!