By: Jenn K
When my best friend, Jodi, was home in May, we planned a few food outings that we could do together. One of them was a sake pairing put on by Grapes, a popular wine (and sake) shop in downtown Hilo. Together with Dan Fullick of Chambers & Chambers Wine Merchants of Hawaii and Chef Mark at Nani Mau Gardens, Randy presented his Grapes Newsletter subscribers with a menu that sounded intriguing and delicious. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
Unbeknownst to us, there is an upstairs dining area at Nani Mau. It’s the perfect size for a reasonable family gathering, business meeting, or sake pairing. Four groups of 12 people were comfortably situated within the area. Jodi and I were seated with 10 people we had never met before. Yet, in typical Living Hilo Style fashion, we discovered that most of us had mutual friends and acquaintances, shared the same local values, and were familiar with the Northern California area Jodi lives in. Throughout the night, we genuinely enjoyed each other’s company!
I’m no foodie so my descriptions are quite simple and straightforward. The food was excellent. Very different from the usual buffet items that I equate to Nani Mau. Even the sake was excellent, proving that the pairings were carefully thought out, as always. Each of the five courses brought out “oohs” and “ahhs” from around the room, I think more so when the sake was poured.
Our appetizer was a Sashimi Trio Nigiri of hamachi with a dashi soy reduction, salmon with miso buerre blanc, and seared ahi with tobbiko relish. It’s pairing was Onikoroshi, a junmai daiginjo. Daiginjo, my favorite! I always say that I can’t enjoy sushi as much as I do at Takenoko Sushi but I have to say the crew at Nani Mau did it right.
A warm duck salad soon followed. Warm duck confit with arugula, spinach, smoked bacon vinaigrette, and won ton pi. I’m not a huge fan of arugula and its bitterness but the additional flavors really did a nice job of keeping it at bay. Not to mention the Nishinoseki junmai that added a nice touch after each bite of food.
The first of two main courses was a tempura style soft shelled crab slider, served with a hoisin remoulade, on bao. The takuan and watercress slaw was so tasty and complimented the slider nicely. Shirataki Jozen was the junmai pairing, which was a bit too strong for my palate but everyone found it to be a perfect fit for the dish.
The second main was a barbecue braised pork belly in lacquered soy and sake glaze, wilted bok choy, and udon. Yes! Noodles! There was a tiny sprig of cilantro that I quickly moved to Jodi’s plate but other than that, I was in love with the dish. Which, by the way, happened to be served with two different sake: Taiheizan Kimoto, junmai, and Tsukinokatsura Yanagi, junmai ginjo. The latter was one of the two sake I ordered at the end of the night.
Dessert was a citrus lava cake of lemon curd with candied ginger bits. Delicious! The paired Narutotai Sudachi reminded me of one of my favorite alcoholic beverages, the lemon drop, so I had to pre-order that one, too.
Our table was the loudest. We had so much fun together! Jodi and I were lucky to be able to meet these new people and share a great meal together. It is said that “life at the table is life at its best” which may not be true all the time but for that night, it was. Hope to see everyone again at a future event!