Layton's Dip'n Donuts


Not pictured--the reason we went to Layton's.  Powdered sugar donuts.  My powdered sugar donut obsession started early in life with the Holy Grail of Donuts.  We called them "crullers," and they were a summertime treat from a little bakery in Madison, CT.  Layton's has come close to replicating them, and I sought them out on trips to Ocean City, Maryland some 28 years(!) ago.  They are still the same, and they do not disappoint.  A freshly made donut liberally coated in powdered sugar with crispy edges, especially in the "hole" region.  We used to frequent their 92nd street location, but I can attest that the donuts at the 16th street location are equally delicious. 

 Layton's has a full breakfast menus, and the 92nd St. location has outdoor seating.  Don't know how their breakfast rates since I have only gone for the donuts. 

Sophie, easily swayed by color, enjoys her Fruity Pebble encrusted treat.

 Apple fritter, impressive, yes, but still not as good as powdered sugar. 

Sushi Samba at the Palazzo

                The Cocktail that preceded the Cake Boss Incident

After a day of wandering the Strip (to the tune of 7 miles per the pedometer) we were ready for happy hour drinks and nibbles ($6 plates and drinks) at Sushi Samba at the Palazzo shops.

 I cannot remember the names of our drink specials but they were some powerful fruity concoctions that made me feel like I was on vacation.  We sat at the bar and were entertained by the young folk adjacent to us and well taken care of by our bartenders.

Waygu beef gyoza: some of the best pot-stickers I have ever eaten although I am not sure if this is the best use of Waygu. 


Scallop sushi and salmon skin roll: delicious but not stand-outs.  We had two orders of the seabass tempura on the recommendation of the bartender--ethereal crust dusted with togarashi.  Gone too fast for a photo.  The tuna tartare was a nice sized serving for the price but not especially memorable.  We also enjoyed a sake flight for $15.  Refreshingly inexpensive tab for great food and drink, and one of the few happy hours in Vegas that doesn't involve beer in plastic cups and your standard bar fare.

 SUSHISAMBA strip (Palazzo) on Urbanspoon

Pa'ina Cafe

 Hoping to maximize our poke intake before returning to the Mainland we checked out Pa'ina Cafein Koko Marina Shopping Center on our way home from Sandy's.

Pa'ina means "gathering," and their mission is to bring people together with fresh, really ono food.  To that effect, their menu is diverse with a selection of sandwiches, plate lunch, salads and bowls to please the entire group.

The concept of a poke bowl is new to me, but echoes the ice cream sundae construction.   A base + toppings=huge variety of flavor combinations.

Take a base of brown or white rice, add a sauce (spicy/mild), poke of your choice, and as many toppings as you like and are willing to pay for at 50 cents each.  The cheerful staff will have the bowl of goodness to you in short order.   Can't decide on one type of poke?  No worries, they let you do half/half.  The day we went they had masago (flying fish roe) wasabi poke, and I mixed that up with the limu ahi poke, topped with scallions, kimchi and seaweed salad--see first picture in post.  Ian went heavy on the kimchi.

 Cullen got the Hawaiian bowl--poke plus kalua pig and lomi salmon.

 Maddy got the poke salad bowl--no rice + salad dressing.  Sophie got a grilled cheese--no surprise there.  The poke was super fresh, and no price increase this close to New Years!?  A large bowl will run you $6.35, and there had to be close to a half pound of ahi on each bowl.  The Hawaiian bowl is $7.25.  Time ran out for another stop at Pa'ina Cafe for me, but Ian returned for the Hawaiian bowl.  I am back to a poke-free existence in Texas and wishing Pa'ina Cafe delivered.

Paina Cafe on Urbanspoon

House of Pure Aloha

There is a new shave ice purveyor in town in the Aina Haina shopping center, and it makes a perfect stop on your way home from Hanauma Bay.  Uncle Clay Chang and his nephew Bronson opened this past fall with a double pronged mission of creating some really ono shave ice and spreading their message on living pure aloha.  For every dollar spent on gift cards, the Changs will give a certain percentage back to selected charities, and they are putting the local back in shave ice with local partners and suppliers. 

The shave ice pictured above is lichee and coconut with homemade mochi hearts and azuki beans--not the usual garish colors one would expect because the syrups are all natural.  Certainly less photogenic but definitely no less tasty.  They are also the first shave ice establishment to offer a kale-based syrup--a little too green for me, but I'm sure there will be takers.  

If you are in the neighborhood, stop in and live the aloha.


Fast Food with a View

Plate lunch: meat + rice + macaroni salad.  A winning formula, and Zippy's does it right.  No trip to Hawaii is complete without a stop here.  This is hearty fare, perfect for replacing the calories you just burned surfing or hiking.  

Korean Fried chicken: crispy and coated with a sweet garlic sauce.

The beloved Zippy's chili.  They will ship to the mainland for the die-hard fans.

Fried noodles: Sophie's favorite dish.

From Napolean's Bakery--the associated pastry shop within Zippy's.  This is their Reese's Cup Doughnut.  Sophie referred to it as "the Holy Grail of Doughnuts."  We were saving room for shave ice, or I would have had a coconut napple--a flaky coconut filled turnover unique to Zippy's.

 Zippy's... easy on your wallet not on your waistline.....

Matsumoto's Shave Ice and the North Shore

The two biggest reasons to go to the North Shore--Matsumoto's Shave Ice and big waves.  Waimea shorebreak (shown above) and Pipeline were going off!  

And don't you dare call it a snow cone.  Snow cones are the crunchy anemic treats you get from the creepy ice cream truck.  Shave ice is powdery and soft and drenched with the flavor syrup of your choice.  My choice is always something tropical like lichi and lilikoi.  Matsumoto's does shave ice right as evidenced by the line that usually winds out the door and around the building.

Spend the extra 25 cents and get the cone holder unless you don't mind sticky fingers.  For the adventurous and/or truly local, get the azuki beans and ice cream in the bottom of your cone.  

 There is a saying in Hawaii--"Lucky we live Hawaii."  Yes, indeed.

Matsumoto Shave Ice on Urbanspoon


We have been disappointed at Roy's and Alan Wong's, and Sam Choy's Breakfast Lunch and Crab doesn't belong in the fine dining category.  What is a Pan Asian lover to do?  Head to Hoku's--our go-to restaurant on Oahu for as long as I can remember.  Every table has an ocean view, and the service is professional and understated with plenty of aloha spirit.

The amuse bouche was a tiny crabcake a top a little nest of ocean salad and dolloped with some Asian remoulade.  A little bite of the sea to start us off on our journey.

 Ian's Gibson became a martini when the server realized the bar was out of cocktail onions.  At least he knew what a Gibson was.  The drink menu is loaded with tropical drinks--unfortunately the craft cocktail craze hasn't invaded Hawaii yet?  They do have a nice wine by the glass selection--the rose and the pinot noir suggested by the server were an excellent pairing for my meal.

Big Island Hearts of Palm: shaved hearts of palm, ahi and hamachi, orange and grapefruit with yuzu orange vinaigrette.  Hearts of palm fascinates me--more textural than a taste it blended nicely with the other ingredients. The fish was buttery soft and fresh.  My only complaint was the relatively light hand with the dressing--the blandness of the hearts of palm could have used another splash. 

Short rib tempura: braised short rib, kalbi jus and avocado tempura.  This was one of those dishes I had to order because I cannot imagine myself at home braising short-ribs and then tempura frying them.  I have forgotten the names of the other sauces on the plate, but they had enough acid to cut the richness of the ribs and the avocado.

Chinese House Roast Duck with bao buns, wok fried vegetables and orange hoisin sauce.  Another dish I wouldn't dream of attempting at home.  I had missed out on the opportunity to get honest to goodness roast duck in Vancouver's Chinatown, and I took a chance on Hoku's.  This was my favorite dish of our meal.  The duck was seasoned and roasted to perfection and came to the table sliced and ready to stuff into the little bao with some sauteed bok choy and asparagus.

Fish special: onaga with citrus panko crust, fresh tomato salad.  Another reason I ordered the duck...Ian beat me to the fish special.  Hoku's does offer a whole fried fish for two, but after having this dish in Thailand for <$30 I doubted that the $120 version at Hoku's could be 300% better.  This was an interesting preparation, and I expected a thin panko coating instead of the slab pictured above.  The fish was moist, and the citrus in the crust really shone.  The tomato salad was meh.  The tomatoes were a little overripe, and I am suspicious of a tomato in December, even in Hawaii.

Haupia Katsu: mango sorbet and tropical fruit minestrone.  Haupia is a coconut pudding/gelatin dessert.  Coating it with more coconut and then deep frying it?  The best.  I am not sure why they called the sauce minestrone, but it was good.  

 Nondescript cookie, macaron, cranberry gelee, hazelnut/chocolate crisp, lilikoi truffle.  These came to our table with the check...yay!  The hazelnut/chocolate crisp was our favorite, and I would love to see a full-size version on the menu.  

If you are lucky enough to go to Oahu skip the craziness of downtown Waikiki and head down Kahala Avenue to Hoku's for a meal you will remember.

Hoku's on Urbanspoon

Leonard's Bakery

Every culture seems to have some variation of addictive fried dough--Americans have Krispy Kreme, the French have beignet, the Italians have zeppole, and the Portuguese have malasadas.  Leonard's Malasadas have achieved cult status on Oahu.  We make a pilgrimage every time we are home with fingers crossed that the parking lot won't be too full.  We managed to get the last parking spot after dodging a busload of Japanese tourists vamping with their iPhones in one hand and a malasada in the other.  Old school Oahuans will recall that malasadas used to come unfilled--your only choice was the type of sugar they were rolled in--plain or cinnamon.  Plan on two to three malasadas per person, at least in public--left alone with a half dozen I could easily eat them all.

Now a days, you have your choice of fillings!  Filling of the month for December is lilikoi (passion fruit). Score! We also had dobash (chocolate) filled and haupia (coconut) filled versions.  The drive home was torture with the pink box of hot malasadas nestled on my lap but it allowed for the filling to cool to an eatable temperature.  As a malasada purist my favorite remains the unfilled cinnamon sugar--simple is almost always better when it comes to fried dough.

Leonard's has two Oahu locations as well as a mobile malasada truck.  They also serve other pastries and pao dulce, a Portuguese sweet bread.  Don't kid yourself, the only reason to go to Leonard's is the malasada--piping hot, filled or unfilled they are why this establishment has stood the test of time since 1952.

Leonard's Bakery on Urbanspoon

Bistro 101, Vancouver, BC

At the Pacific Institute of Culinary Art Bistro 101 (Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts) on Urbanspoon

Bistro 101 was a wonderful experience from start to finish.  We had the 3 course prix-fixe ($18!) lunch during our vacation in August and we definitely got our money's worth and then some. 

Our amuse-bouche--ceviche in endive.

We had two wine flights--BC Rose and Sandhill Small Lots. I was especially happy with the 8th  Generation Confidence--a bubbly, crisp delight.

Gazpacho with seared scallops: tangy and flavorful with a perfectly seared scallop.

Balsamic Peach Salad with prawn skewer and cucumber pillow.  Sophie was delighted with this presentation and allowed us to eat the offending shrimp--she doesn't know what she is missing with her seafood aversion!  

Paupiette of Rainbow Trout and Blue Crab with julienne vegetables.  My favorite of the appetizers.  Perfectly cooked--it has been a long time since I had rainbow trout.  Brought back memories of fishing trips with the family.  Except mom usually just panfried the fillets.  Nice to see this fish shine in a more sophisticated dish.

Sophie was happy to see a chicken dish on the menu and ate every last bit of her Saltimbocca with acorn squash risotto, except the dreaded tomato.

Pan-fried Arctic Char with grilled corn salsa, sauteed beet leaves.  No surprise for me to go with all seafood menu here in Vancouver.  I love pan-fried fish, and this treatment seems underutilized in favor of grilling in many restaurants.  Something wonderful about a crispy crust with tender fish beneath.

Ian had the Rack of Lamb Provencal with tarragon sauce, and tomato basil polenta.  As you can see, the lamb was beautifully cooked.  Unfortunately the polenta, that tiny disc underneath the asparagus in the foreground was overcooked and underseasoned.  When I think of polenta, I think creamy and soft, like a pillow to soak up the lamb juices.  Oh well, a very small flaw in an otherwise outstanding meal.

The meal was nicely paced, and portion sizes allowed us to enjoy dessert!  I had fresh fruit tart with creme anglaise.  Taking full advantage of the season with berries, including the golden berry on top--had never seen these prior to Vancouver, the little tart was a perfect bite of summery goodness.

Ian had the espresso creme brulee with churros.  Well, a little bit of churro.  Our fried-dough fanatic ate the other churro.

Sophie was so pleased with her passion/strawberry sorbet and homemade black currant marshmallow we were lucky to get a photo before it was gone.  A wonderful ending to an all-around enjoyable meal.

Bao Bei, Vancouver, BC

I know the sign says "dumplings" but it is sooo much more!  We were a little disappointed with the street food offerings at the night market in Vancouver's Chinatown and popped into Bao Bei for drinks and a nibble.  Luckily we beat the rush--got seated immediately in the bar area, prime people watching.

Loved the shabby chic interior.  Service was not shabby.  My favorite waiters are attentive without fawning.  Chopsticks were not shabby--they reminded me of the ones we had at home that my parents had brought back from wooden snap-apart chopsticks that invariably leave me with one that looks like a giant toothpick.

Gorgeous bar area and cocktail menu. 

The cocktails were unique without being overwrought.  Wish I had thought to take notes on them--we took our time deciding on the perfect beverage.  Since I can't remember the ingredients a picture is worth a thousand words right?

The menuoffers a good selection of small plates that are perfect for sharing.  I wished we had skipped the street food entirely and had room for a bigger meal at Bao Bei.  We settled on the Crispy Pork Belly and were happy the server recommended some steamed rice to soak up the sauce.  The pickled red onion, the edamame, the sauce perfumed with star anise--great flavor combinations, traditional but fresher and brighter.  I gazed longingly at the steamed buns at a neighboring table, filled with braised shortrib, cursing the subpar char siu bao I had already eaten. 

We promised Sophie Chinese doughnuts, and they delivered with these freshly made youtiao accompanied by a caramel dipping sauce and infused soymilk.  She reluctantly allowed us to have a small bite, but you can tell by the care they take with the presentation that these doughnuts are something special.

Bao Bei is a perfect jewel tucked away in Vancouver's Chinatown.  We loved everything about Vancouver, but I would go back just to eat at Bao Bei. Don't miss it!  They do not take reservations but I could happily wait at their bar all night.

Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie on Urbanspoon