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Friday, May 26, 2017

OKAY, IS THIS HEAVEN OR WHAT?

This blog site has been vacillating about whether 15 Craigside is Purgatory or not.  Well, after my 44-day Global Adventure and anticipating a week on the Big Island next month to interact with another group of friends--ocean resources, this time--with golf at the Four Seasons Hualalai, where I'll be staying, the events of the past couple of days seemed to indicate that I actually could well already be in Heaven.  If you choose to stay with me on this rather lengthy posting, you might agree on this potentiality.

First of all, Pearl's Gold Tree is blooming throughout Honolulu:


The shower trees are also resplendent.  This bottom photo shows the gold tree flowers on the ground just outside my Manoa Campus office, where I entertained a few colleagues participating in the 11th Asia-Pacific Marine Biotechnology Conference held at the East West Center.  My memory is weak, but I think I chaired their 2nd gathering 15 years ago.

My PhD dissertation reported on the tunable laser irradiation of E. coli not long after the laser was invented and a only few years after Watson and Crick discovered the double-helix, where I "jiggled" the DNA-RNA bonds to catalyze growth or sterilize the bacterium.  After I graduated, one of my very first research projects more than 40 years ago was involved with growing micro algae in raceways to both produce a renewable biofuel while remediating global climate warming.  With Gordon Dugan, we co-authored a book on  ocean microbes.  

Later, the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute (HNEI) became the National Science Foundation Marine BioProducts Engineering Center.  During that period, Tadashi Matsunaga (right in the photo below), the First Visiting Professor for the Blue Revolution, sent his students on lengthy assignments to my Institute.  Matsunaga went on to become President of Tokyo University A&T for six years, and recently completed that role.  With a lot of good memories, it was a pleasure then for former students, Haruko Takeyama (Waseda) and Tsuyoshi Tanaka (TUAT), who are now Full Professors running their own laboratories:


We went on to dinner at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse.


To the left, Brandon Yoza (who works at HNEI) is the only American of more than 20 PhD's Matsunaga has mentored.  I asked them who is the foremost marine biotechnologist today, and there was a consensus that Matsunaga, who was the first editor of The Journal of Marine Biotechnology, where my co-authored paper (and that was just about a quarter century ago) was the only U.S. contribution in the charter issue, remains #1.  Perhaps Grant Burgess (left) of the UK, who now is editor, and a Post-doc under Matsunaga, is also near the top.

Tadashi and I the next day visited Pearl's Gold Tree:


Then later we went to the best restaurant in Hawaii, Vintage Cave.  While no doubt VC is among the best restaurants in the world, they have the worst and scariest entrance environment of all.  First you need to walk through the dark basement level of Ala Moana Shopping Center, hopping over ponds of water, with no obvious sign of their doorway

However, once inside, the whole experience is a fantasy, as for example, 18 Picassos:


And two more:


A particularly striking combination is of Hiroshima--before the A-Bomb, the explosion and the aftermath:


Owner Takeshi Sekiguchi provided his personal chandelier:


I should underscore that this is not a museum, but a restaurant, and, while the place can probably sit a hundred comfortably, with all their side rooms, they have chosen to only use three to five tables every night to maintain tranquility.  Here, the Ruby Room, where the Obamas were entertained:


One shot (two ounces, not the whole bottle) of McCallan and Glenfiddich can cost you up to $6500:


We toured their wine cellar:


There was a time when I actually bought a case of Opus One for several years in a row.  Now, it's gotten so expensive that  last night we settled for one bottle:


They said this same wine would cost twice as much in Japan, and Matsunaga confirmed that on his smart phone.  Oh, the food was spectacular, and evocative of Narisawa and Noma, but that is because the current chef, Misao Masuda, learned from Ferran Adria of El Bulli, Rene Redzepi and Hiroshi Ishida (Mibu).  The cuisine is French fusion with mostly Japanese touches.  Simplicity, color, micro flowers, naturalness, and art summarize the gastronomy.  The servings are tiny.

VC's French Kaisiki dinner (there is no other option) costs $300/person.  The initial Amuse Bouche was a clear tomato caprese:


The zensai (meaning small pretty things) was a challenge for me.  First, crispy ayu (a freshwater fish) where you consume everything, including bones, worries me.  Second, there was something about Amagaeru, which means tree frog:


The sashimi pieces were the smallest I'd ever seen--Bluefin Tuna Otoro from Wakayama, Matsukawagarei Barfin Flounder from Hokkaido and Aori-ika Bigfin Reef Squid from Iwate (still radiative?) with spots of wasabi that were tasteless:


The California (I think) white sturgeon caviar on Miyagi Oyster was outstanding:


Next was supposed to be sea urchin and lobster soup, but, as I'm allergic to crustaceans, they substituted something else.  Very bland.


At this point we were running out of the Opus, so I ordered a glass of beer.  The next course was fried Golden Eye Snapper and Beltfish from Chiba:


Those ant-looking particles on the left were fried capers.  Next, pan fried Hudson Valley Foie Gras:


Like artistry on canvas, but eminently edible.  Dish #8 was a seafood stew of Sea Bream Milt, Kona Abalone and Sablefish from Washington, plus shiitake mushroom with a Madeira wine reduction:


The taste of the broth was magical, the essence of umami.  A yuzu sherbet was followed by the two main entre's, lamb and beef:


That rectangular ceramic was sizzling hot, so you barbecued the wagyu yourself.  Some time ago I came to a conclusion that Japanese wagyu from anywhere in the country was terrific, even from Sendai, if you can accommodate the notion that it is perhaps 60 miles from those Fukushima nuclear reactors.


Finally, raspberry tart with vanilla ice cream:


The Asahi Dry Beer was $15 and so was my cup of coffee.  How much did this all cost?  The total bill was just the equivalent of four days at the Tokyo Westin.  But, unlike just sleeping, the experience at VC was, really, priceless, even though I believe the first time I dined there four years ago, the cuisine was tastier.  Here with original chef Chris Kajioka, who not too long ago opened Senia in downtown Honolulu.

I inquired about becoming a member:
  • $5,000/year
  • But you get 30% off on beverages and they delete the 20% service charge and 4.7% tax.
  • Most importantly, that $5,000 contribution is the credit from which you pay your bills.
  • You also get special consideration for securing a table when you want one and use certain areas of the site set aside only for members.
  • There is wine storage, but you must purchase the wines from them.
If I don't go around the world only once, those savings can cover four years with Vintage Cave.  They provided a folder with details.  It's tempting.

TSA Group owns Shirokiya and has been involved with Ko Olina, the Four Seasons in Wailea/Hualalai, Westin Maui/Kauai and Hilton Waikoloa Village.  Takeshi Sekiguchi is the primary owner.  He wants to expand his restaurant franchise around the world, and has already created a more modest Italian version, Vintage Cave Cafe, located on the Bloomingdale's side of the shopping mall.

Today, I'll probably walk nine holes at Ala Wai, then stop by Marukai for some sashimi, J-Shop for a small piece of Japanese wagyu, and have yet another feast on my lanai.  As I suggested in the opening paragraph, surely, this must be Heaven.

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