Ala Wai Boat Harbor, the day after
Wow.... Indo. Haiti. Chile. Japan. How crazy is it all these days?
The Ala Wai Boat Harbor in Waikiki, above, looks no worse the day after, but who could have imagined such devastation on the other end of the Pacific? Though most of our Japanese friends are from in-land Kyushu where damage was minimal, I do have a few other friends who weren't so fortunate and are with only the most basic of necessities, including one who can't even reach nor contact his wife and daughter from Sendai. Yes, that Sendai. The one flashing over and over again on CNN and Fox. Oh, how my heart sank to the floor! I can't even fathom the thought of my family in such an awful situation! Quite honestly, I just learned of my friend's family's situation, and I don't even feel like posting at all. I feel like jumping on a plane, actually. But in a disaster of this magnitude, one extra gaijin with a shovel would only make things worse by being one more mouth to feed, one more person taking-up transportation, one more drain on a limited amount of resources. To the person, I truly hope that each and every one of us will send over our prayers, our good thoughts, our positive energies to Japan, and for those with more resources, something a bit more quantifiable.
Seeing as though more people probably died in the disasters of Indo and Haiti, and that I didn't so much as mention them here, I suppose that's kinda selfish or even hypocritical, in a way. It's just that I know so many people in Japan, and I don't know a single soul in the Indo area or Haiti! Plus, save for a few instances, I don't think we've ever seen such video footage of the actual disasters taking place, not on this magnitude. Who can not be moved by entire buildings being tossed about like toys and whole towns wiped off the face of the earth? Japan is probably the most prepared country in the world to deal with earthquakes, tsunamis, and other natural disasters, but no matter how prepared you are, Mother Nature proves she can still take what she will. Tokyo's buildings never fell (from the quake) because of the excellent way they are built, but a quake on that level anywhere in the States would reduce so many structures to rubble, it'd make Japan's latest tremblor (just quake damage, not the nuclear threat and tsunami!) look like a tropical depression. No, I don't think California's gonna fall into the ocean, but when the big one hits the West Coast, it's gonna be even bigger than 9.0! And when Yellowstone erupts, it'll probably be every bit as bad, if not worse!
...Don't quite know how to transition from something so somber and serious to, well, to a Honolulu lunchwagon, so after one more moment of reflection and prayer for the people of Japan....... I'm gonna start all over again:
Different time, different place!
How 'bout these roving restaurants these days? Only one of the latest installments, actually, of a thriving, dynamic food scene here in the islands, one that has seen the rise and proliferation of so many different food types, who's still keepin' track?! The great thing about it is, when one type of cuisine arises, seldom do they fall, but live on in their own niche markets, albeit perhaps not as in-your-face as when they first began blooming. I mean, we've all seen the quick ascension of the Vietnamese and their beef pho, Korean cuisine outside of bbq plate lunches, Japanese izakaya restaurants, and Pacific Rim/Hawaii Regional Cuisine, to name a few. I'm a little too young to personally chronicle the debut of the okazuya or saimin/hamburger sandwich drive-inn, but I can still go back to even the plate lunch revolution, with L&L on Liliha St. taking a lead role, and even the advent of fast-food, with the very first McDonald's in Aina Haina and the very first Burger King on S. Beretania St! Did you just call me old, con-fonit?! And guess what, all of these once-new dawns are still here, and thriving more than ever before!
Personally, I'm still waiting for a few different movements to arrive big here in Hawaii, such as a Middle Eastern era with their doner/shawarma's, a Singaporean/Malay era with laksa and Hainan chicken rice, and even an Eastern European era, not to say Czech, Austrian, German, or Polish cuisine is all the same - just, you know - meaty, sausag'ee, sour creamish, pickled kind of things? Oy, better stop here...
Getting back to the current lunchwagon movement thriving here and all over America, Melt Lunchwagon has, ever since arriving on the scene late last year, been receiving media exposure normally reserved for big-name restaurants with big-name chefs on-hand! It's no wonder, too, as this collaboration of owners come from such respected culinary institutions as Nobu's and Alan Wong's, and also includes genuine chef/food writer Martha Cheng!
And what do these high-powered chefs and foodies cook? Silly you - grilled cheese sandwiches, of course!
No, I'm not gonna even try to describe a location, since as with most newer wagons, locations can and do change periodically, sometimes covering several spots in a single week! For the only tried and true way to find Melt Lunchwagon on any given day, hit their official page link at http://www.melthonolulu.com/, and you'll be notified forthwith.
On this particularly cloudy day, they were camped-out on Ward Avenue, right in front of Sports Authority.
Melt Lunchwagon draws a crowd!
Personally, the only grilled cheese sandwiches I'm familiar with are Kraft American cheese slices on buttered Love's bread! The sophisticated set here, however, uses such extravagances as gouda, cave-aged gruyere, Vermont cheddar, harissa, capicola, and even duck confit on sourdough or rye! Is this even grilled cheese anymore?
Melt lunchwagon also utilizes meats from Hobb's smoked meat company, which supplies some of the finest restaurants in the world, including Thomas Keller's French laundry! In fact, the legendary chef has declared Hobb's smoked bacon as the finest of its kind in the world! Imagine, then, the disappointment we felt when there was no such bacon available on the menu!
Yeah, some items are periodic specials that can appear or disappear at any time, and selling-out of certain sandwiches are commonplace. No worries though, as there were still plenty of excellent choices to go around, beginning with this capicola melt, which was erased from the menu just before we left:
With a melt of creamy gouda and spread of tart, butterfly'd piquillo peppers, it matched well with the capicola, a kind of Italian cured ham made from the neck and shoulder areas of a pig. It was both smoky and sweet, with a soft texture texture more similiar to normal sandwich meats than traditional Italian hams like prosciutto and pancetta.
Without bacon and not wanting to go veggie, we chose a pastrami melt next, which was excellent. It is shown here, cut in half and stacked one on the other:
In fact, this was probably my favorite choice. The pastrami was super-soft, moist, full of fatty bands, and flavorful of peppery beef. A melt of gruyere and slathering of mustard, along with a nutty rye, all worked together in perfect unison. Not anywhere near the giant mounds of meat found in Mainland deli's, of course, but this is Hawaii. What can I say?
Before moving to our final sandwich, there are a couple of side dishes of note. Or perhaps not too much of note. Though only a dollar, I don't much recommend their pickled vegetables, which are exactly what they say they are, with a sharp, especially vinegary bite infused into each and every carrot, green bean, and lotus root. They come packed in a tiny ziploc bag, in portions of this size:
Another side is their tomato dipping soup, which tastes like a thinned, slightly creamier marinara. Once again, I don't really think it adds much to their excellent sandwiches. I'd prefer them alone, with a real soup of any type, or even a bag of chips!
Tomato dipping soup
Our last sandwich choice was their largest and most expensive item on the menu, aptly named the "Melt of Shame."
Shame on me, that is, for ordering such a thing! That's actually four slices of bread, or two grilled cheese sandwiches, and that's only the buns! Inside of each sandwich, there's a filling of tomato, sauteed onions, and a hamburger patty made from Kuahiwi beef, which is a range-fed cow from the Big Island. Wasn't the biggest nor most memorable of patties, but you could taste their home-made nature, complete with those jagged, broken edges I always love to see!
Kuahiwi beef patty
Besides the wait, which was a little over 15 minutes, the only other problem I see is that everyone has to take-out, for obvious reasons, and that's not the best situation for melted cheese and crisped, thin-sliced bread. Of course, you could stand there on Ward Avenue and immediately tear into them, but I don't think that's gonna happen too often. More likely, you'll have to drive back to the office or a park somewhere, and within that time, if even for only a few minutes, there will always be some degree of meltdown (no pun intended) occurring. Either way, there's no denying the rather decadent, greasy nature of grilled cheese sandwiches, so just be aware! At the same time, however, there's also no denying the quality of ingredients used, attributed to the quality of chefs that have built Melt into one of the most popular lunchwagons on the island!
Best wishes to the cast and crew at Melt! Go check it out!
Take care and Aloha till next time,