Archive for July, 2010

Some don’t get ‘Angry’

July 29th, 2010

Nadine Kam photos
Green onion and seafood pancake at Ah-Lang Restaurant.

In the aftermath of my review of Ah-Lang Restaurant, run by Angry Korean Lady Won Nam, I got some opposing responses regarding the sort of treatment one expects from a restaurant.

Here are a few responses for thought:

“Dear Ms. Kam,

That’s a very entertaining article on the Ah-Lang Restaurant.  Shades of the soup Nazi in the Seinfeld show! However, I would never go to a restaurant with the expectation of being rudely treated.  Thank you.”


“Good afternoon Nadine,

I love the review that you gave about Nuna or won nam or Ah lang. I am a regular customer there and i enjoyed her food so much. That is what we call her Nuna or in other words aunty i think. On a random friday the six of us will have dinner there and we feast  like there is no tomorrow. If it is a busy friday we even help her with taking orders. I really enjoy her food and i think that she such a unique person. You could even make a reality show just based on her. I think it would be a hit.  Nways thanks for giving her a great review on her food! Very Much appreciate it.”


“I just wanted to drop you a note regarding your article about “AKL”.  I have gone to her restaurant with different work friends a number of times.  We all liked her food, but have decided not to eat there anymore.  Basically, we all felt that we don’t need to be treated in that manner.  Afterall, we are paying for our food and she’s not giving any lunch time discounts.

By the way, I would have given her 1 star for service.  We have been yelled at, told how to eat the food, told that she’s too busy to serve us, we had to pass out the side dishes/rice/spoons and told to eat all the side dishes.  While I was there, one local guy told her that she was rude and left.

Going out to lunch during the work day is a treat for me and I would like to be greeted with a smile, asked if everything is okay and end with a thank you.  Actually, isn’t that one of the reasons we go out to eat, to treat ourselves?”


Ah-Lang’s special fried chicken wings.

Obviously, we all hope to be treated kindly and well. What people don’t expect is to get their hands dirty and pitch in, and possibly be yelled at.

Even though we had to write down our own order, grab our own drinks and wait until Nam had finished her first orders to get any kind of greeting, I ended up giving her 3 stars for service, which I figured might become an issue for people. In spite of the unusual service, once you get her attention, she’s very focused and it’s apparent that she really cares about food and wants it presented and appreciated in the proper (in her eyes) light.

I prefer to see this kind of authentic passion than the pleasant smiles and vacant eyes of servers who don’t know what the heck they’re serving and can’t answer a single question without running into the kitchen for the answer.

This has come up before with Green Door Cafe and another woman who has little time for people who don’t see food as she does. Same deal. People like or dislike Betty Pang for similar reasons.

Of course restaurant reviewers are always going to be a little different from the general population because of the many restaurants we encounter. I see a lot, good and bad, and I see a lot of the same themes, ingredients, plating styles, etc., so I have no romantic illusions about the nature of the business. A more typical diner might still regard a meal outside the home as something special and magical, and doesn’t want any negatives intruding on the experience.

For me, dining is a kind of entertainment or immersive experience so I’m always looking for something out of the ordinary, and the prospect of getting yelled at certainly adds drama! I never understood the idea of dominatrixes in their usual context, but I get it now. AKL is like the dominatrix of restaurants for people tired of the usual dining formula/format!

I went in expecting I might get yelled at, and when I wasn’t, I was happy. But even if I did get yelled at, it would have been like a badge of honor and a funny story to tell all my friends, how this little dynamo threw me out of her restaurant!

Don’t forget the restaurateur/patron relationship is like most other relationships. If you go in respectful and willing to learn about where she’s coming from, and try things her way, you’ll get a warmer (as far as it could be) response than if going in demanding things your way or expecting to expediently fill your belly. Food is all about learning, because every family has its own recipes, stories, traditions and methods that go beyond mere mandoo on a plate. If you’re not interested in her culinary journey, you might as well go somewhere else. I think that’s what she’s trying to say when she tells someone to get out.

Certainly, it’s not for everyone, but that’s the beauty of having so many dining options available to us. If you look hard enough, you’ll find those that cater to your tastes and temperament!

Abuzz at Alan Wong’s

July 22nd, 2010

Alan Wong photo

Nadine Kam photos
Chef Alan Wong with his classmate and now professor of entomology at the University of Hawaii-Hilo, Lorna Tsutsumi. The two are working on plans to create an adopt-a-beehive program in partnership with Hawaii farmers and the school’s beekeeper training program. In his visit to the hives, Wong took many photographs which now line the elevator to his restaurant, including the top photo, which he turned into notecards that were given as gifts to guests of his “Bee Sustainable” Farmers Series Dinner.

Alan Wong’s restaurant was buzzing with energy July 14, when the chef hosted the latest in his Farmer Series Dinners. The subject: “Bee Sustainable.” The special guests: A handful of members of the Hawaiian Honey Bee Co-op, whose honey was present in every dish served.

Dinner guests were first welcomed with a drink menu, which included ice tea and about four cocktails made with honey. Then before the meal was served, guests were able to compare a honey trio in a side-by-side tasting of Kam Highway A5 and Tropical Blossom honey from John Dalire and Linda Kawamoto’s All Hawaiian Honey, and Enchanted Lake honey from Rhea McWilliams Jr.’s Rhea’s Hawaiian Honey.

They really put people on the spot by asking, “Which is your favorite?”

The honey sampling included two from Kaneohe, and Rhea’s Hawaiian Honey, from honeybees that feed on the nectar of blossoming fruit trees.

They thought I was being politic when I said I liked all three, but I pretty much speak my mind, so I don’t think anyone who knows me would ever call me politic. I meant what I said. They were all very different, with the Kam Highway A5 and Enchanted Lake honey being mild, and the Tropical Blossom honey being heavy and intense. But as with a lot of ingredients, you pick different ones for different reasons, whether for different interplay with other ingredients or your mood on a certain day. The one thing most clear, they were superior to general supermarket brands.

The guests of honor, from left, John Dalire (All Hawaiian Honey), Rhea McWilliams Jr. (Rhea’s Hawaiian Honey) and Linda Kawamoto (All Hawaiian Honey).

For those who haven’t been following the plight of our honeybees, whose colonies have been in a state of collapse due to the attack of varoa mites and other pathogens, it was an opportunity to learn more about the bees and their importance to agriculture as pollinators. Wong asked diners to imagine a time when our grandchildren might grow up without tasting lychee, longan, macadamia nuts or Hawaii avocadoes, all as a result of bees’ disappearance. So we should be grateful for the care offered by the beekeepers, that allows them to survive. The benefits are mutual.

One thing I did not know, that Alan Wong pointed out, was that Oahu’s wild honeybee population has vanished. He asks, “When was the last time you saw a honeybee?”

I thought back and realized that two of the last rare times I saw honeybees, they were on the ground, dying. On a happier note, I did see a couple buzzing around my arugula flowers a while back, after I had let the plants go to seed to get a new crop.

The purpose of the dinner, like all the farmers dinners, is to raise awareness of the work our farmers do, and the spotlight wasn’t limited to honey. Also receiving their due were greens from Hamakua Springs Country Farms, Kuahiwi Ranch beef, Sumida Farms watercress, Kona Cold Lobster, Wailea Agricultural Group’s  Hilo Hearts of Palm, Troutlodge Marine Farms’ Big Island butterfish, Naked Cow Dairy and Menehune Gardens vanilla.

Appetizers included Kauai shrimp with long squash, green papaya salad and chili honey vinaigrette (top), yellowfin ahi tartare with avocado mousse (right), and Kona Farm-raised butterfish sashimi topped with ume shiso gelee.

Another appetizer of Hudson Valley foie gras with li hing mui honey chutney. One appetizer not pictured is the chicken-fried Okinawan sweet potato with honey-mustard sauce.

Following a course of Kona Cold lobster drizzled with Hawaiian vanilla oil, served with a curry Hawaiian Hearts of Palm puree; came this chili-honey glazed Hudson Valley Duck roulade served with a Chinese style pork hash-stuffed lotus root, steamed kai choi and lychee salsa. It’s topped with crispy duck taegu.

Kuahiwi Ranch beef rib eye was served two ways, poached with olive oil, and braised, then served with a honey-and-ulu flan, Sumida Farms watercress, and roasted Hamakua Springs cocktail tomato.

Dessert was a pineapple-honey castella cake topped with pineapple granite, honey-yogurt sorbet and Hawaiian vanilla kanten.