Big City Diner

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BCD’s Lane Muraoka.

Ohana means family in the Hawaiian language but just as aloha can be a greeting or an expression of love and well-being, ohana is a word that has a deeper meaning than just “family”. It’s a feeling, it’s a philosophy. Your ohana aren’t just your immediate family it can be extended “family” – your friends, your community, your clan. If you were a marine or a brother in arms you never leave your ohana. A simple analogy is your ohana are the people that you do something for without question. It’s love, it’s respect, it’s unconditional.

That’s pretty deep to lead into a review on a suburban Honolulu diner but when you dine at Big City you are part of owner Lane Muraoka’s ohana.

Lane started Big City in 1998 and he practices the ohana philosophy without question – Big City Diner puts on special discounts for those who serve the country and the State (whether military or as first responders), with its Thursday “Thank a Trooper Day” and he is an avid supporter and contributor to local community sports teams and causes. If you don’t qualify for the Thursday discount don’t worry – Big City Diner has daily specials where customers can get 50 per cent off pupus (these are small appetisers/bar food) to drinks and weekly specials and daily meals. And don’t be surprised if you run into Lane at Ward (or any of Big City Diner’s six restaurants on Oahu), serving and cleaning. He is part of the team and committed to ensuring customers are looked after and appreciated.

Big City Diner (BCD) is decked out like something reminiscent of Happy Days with its booths, chequered black and white floor, chrome and neon, open kitchen and TVs (which are proudly tuned to University of Hawaii sports when teams are playing). But even though it may have a traditional old school / old town American diner feel, unlike the traditional State-side diners, Big City’s menu is a showcase of Island food and in Hawai’i that means you can get everything from Hawaiian to Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese and American (or twists on dishes of those cultures). Even Anthony Bourdain acknowledges that Hawai’i easily beats Singapore for ethnic food diversity and with such diversity to also get a huge menu (there would be by my guess over 100 items available from breakfast to late night).

BCD is also a great place to watch local sport or a big game. I made a call from Sydney (Australia) to make a booking at BCD at the Ward Center to watch the College Football National Championship back in 2014 the day I found out that the University of Oregon gained a place (as the whole of Ohau would be stopping work to watch their favourite son Marcus Mariota start as quarterback for the Ducks in the game). Booking received and not forgotten. I even took my mother to Big City Diner for a significant birthday late last year knowing that Lane, Manager George and Chef Jenny would make it a special experience (and Lane was there to welcome us back and ensure it was a great lunch).

Breakfasts, lunch and dinner servings are large and as it is a place for ohana BCD is a great place to take the keiki (children) as there is a great range of children’s meals available which will temp even the fussiest of eaters.

So, with a menu so diverse what are the must haves?

When I went back to Oahu in January 2015 I popped in with the keiki (DJ Hoot and Gob) for an early lunch at Big City Diner at Ward Centre just before we were to pop next door to watch a movie at the large Megaplex (it was Mahalo Tuesday so cheap tickets and $2 popcorn and dogs were on offer).

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Li hing samurai lemonade.

A good lunch combination  was Grandma’s Incredible Kimchee Fried Rice and a li hing samurai lemonade. From $9.99 you get a very large plate of fluffy rice with all those great fried rice bits (like onion and meat), that has been wok fried with the addition of BCD’s homemade kim chee. It’s a dish from Lane’s Korean heritage and may be out of place in a typical “American” diner but as this is Hawaii with its many cultures influencing what you eat on the Islands it certainly isn’t out of place in a “Hawaiian-American” diner. The kids can chose from burgers, dogs, sandwiches, meatloaf, etc (all for $5.99) with a juice included. Both girls liked their dogs and were quite satisfied (they also had to politely refuse the offer of having a sundae).

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Sistah’s patty melt “burger”.

But the best way to sample some of the key dishes and explore the menu is by grabbing your ohana and sharing some plates and taking your time watching a game which I did during the 2014 National Championship with my father Pierre and my mate Harry Haloumi (Lane even had a game special with half-priced pupus and a very long “happy hour” on Miller Lite during the duration of the game so it was a good incentive for us to graze through some dishes for the three hours we were there to support the Ducks). Great share dishes on the day included baby back ribs (a must), chicken wings and the NY steak which is sliced and tossed with pulehu spices and topped with green onion and roasted sesame seeds (and we even were just able to fit in a burger).

Every American diner should have a house burger and BCD has some great ones: there’s the Grandma’s Famous Kimchee burger ($11.99), the Paniolo burger ($12.99) or my favourite –  Sistah’s Patty Melt ($11.99): a classic chop house burger with Thousand Island dressing on thick “Texas toast” served with caramelised onions, sautéed mushrooms and melted Jack cheese.   Again, wash one of these down with BCD’s Original Samurai Li Hing lemonades and you’ll leave beaming (however Harry Haloumi prefers the shakes at BCD which he believes are better than the ones served at Jack Rabbit Slim’s – if you know what I mean).

Big City Diner - Ribs

Must have: baby back ribs with guava BBQ sauce.

But if there is one “must have” dish – the one that keeps me coming back and salivating whenever I think of it, it is BCD’s baby back ribs with guava barbecue sauce. A huge rack of juicy and tender pork ribs that have been slow roasted for five hours which have been cooked and dressed with a tangy and spicy guava-driven sauce. The meat just falls off the bone and it is just exquisite. How I wish I could replicate them back home in Oz.

BCD is the place for ohana (just make sure they bring big appetites).

The verdict:  BCD’s menu is a showcase of many of Hawaii’s diverse cultural influences with dishes using local produce sourced from all over the islands and the meals are continually consistent in quality and generosity.

What: Big City Diner, Ward Entertainment Center, 1060 Auahi St #4, Honolulu, HI 96814, United States 808-591-8891. bigcitydinerhawaii.com

 

Posted in American, Barbecue, Burgers, Casual dining, Hawaii, Japanese, Korean, United States | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Town Hall Hotel – Balmain

img_0658IF I was served the cheeseburger and fries I just had at Balmain’s Town Hall Hotel for lunch back in the USA I would need to affirm my 2nd Amendment rights.

The fries were so salty that they left that god-damn awful burning sensation on your tongue and throat as if you were hit by a wave and tumbled in the ocean hoping that you eventually come up for air.

The burger – which was eaten within three bites – was ordinary and my displeasure with it was further exacerbated by the slice of processed cheese.

The only good thing was the wagyu patty which was cooked medium and held together but was let down by the displeasurable mass of other components.

To add insult further I was charged $17 for the experience.

The Baroness of Balmain’s seared tuna tortilla featured 5 small round “tortillas” that resembled those small wafer thin water crackers. The tuna was seared well and all in all it was a flavoursome dish but at $16 she needed at least another 3 servings.

The upstairs dining room is bright and pleasant but the high chair our Princess Lilikoi was sitting in looked as if it hadn’t been cleaned since it was bought from Ikea.

We were left hungry and needed to raid the free sausage samples cooking at TJ’s Butchers down the road just to fill up.

The pluses? They know how to pour a beer and TJ’s has the best sausages in Balmain.

Posted in Burgers, Casual dining, New South Wales, NSW, Pub food, Sydney | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Menya

Menya RamenI HAVE been unfair when it comes to reviewing ramen joints in Sydney.  Unfair because I have neglected Menya Ramen Bar in Sydney’s Haymarket.

Menya is a place that I eat regularly when I get a ramen craving (which is often as it is now winter in Sydney), was the first “ramen bar” I ever went to in Sydney and is a place that I  consider offers the best value ramen in Sydney. It’s also has my favourite ramen – the Menya tonkatsu shoyu ramen – and at a mere $9.30 – it has a lip-puckering flavoursome soup with tons of toppings.

When you enter Menya at the bottom of the Princes Centre in Haymarket you are always greeted with an enthusiastic “Irasshaimase!” by the chefs. Always. And that gives me a renewed energy to battle for a place along the bench at its long communal dining table with other ramen slurping Menya groupies.

The menu has a variety of ramen in four base broths – tonkotsu shoyu; tonkotsu miso (the pork bases); tori-gara shoyu and tori-gara miso (the chicken bases). Apart from my favourite (which I will get to later), you can choose from the ton-toro ramen (roasted pork); karami ramen (chilli pork mince); kogashi-ninniku ramen (garlic) ni-tamago ramen (with Japanese gooey eggs); teriyaki beef ramen; tori-katsu ramen (chicken schnitzel); and tori kara-age ramen (fried chicken). There is also the dragon jya-jya men with chilli miso pork mince and the karami-miso tsukemen.

Menya SetMenya also has a selection of soba and udon noodle soups and a selection of rice dishes and sets.

My favourite, Menya tonkatsu shoyu ramen is packed with a flavorable tonkotsu pork broth with all the ramen toppings you need (char siu pork, frim noodles, half a tamago egg, narutomaki, menma and two seaweed sheets). It’s hearty, filling and comforting on a cold winter day.

If you have a big appetite (and you are going to need it), then a deluxe mini Menya ramen set is the way to go. The set offers a choice of either a tonkotsu or tori-gara based menya ramen; a plate of four plump gyoza and a choice of one of four rice bowls (menya curry; buta mabushi; teriyaki beef or chanko). I tend to choose the mabushi bowl (which is pickled pork) with the lighter chicken-stock based tori-gara ramen but if you have a sumo-sized appetite then you may have to have the protein rich chanko bowl (which is what the sumo eat) with the tonkotsu!

IMG_9998If you’re not in the mood for ramen then I recommend the katsu don with miso soup ($9.50). Here you are offered a large rice bowl topped with a fried and well-seasoned chicken schnitzel which has a crunchy coating and juicy chicken inside. It’s topped with an egg that is baked onto the rice and chicken. The bowl is perfect for the kids to share! For an extra $4.50 you can get a Menya ramen on the side but I have seen folks order such an addition and they struggle.

If you like noise, love to slurp and don’t like taking out too many notes or coins from your pocket – then Menya is perfect for you.

The verdict: Be aware that Menya is cash only and has communal tables and is busy during peak eating times (but turnover is fast). Service is quick and in no time you are slupring firm noodles covered in a silky tonkatsu broth.

What: Menya Ramen Bar, Shop TG8, 8 Quay Street, Haymarket NSW, Australia.

Ate there: Always.

Posted in Japanese, Menya, Ramen, Sydney | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Kefi Souvlaki & Pizza Bar

KefiAS I sat at one of the few laminated indoor tables in Kefi I overhead a suited man proclaiming to the cashier that they made the best gyros in Australia. That’s a pretty big call but probably well substantiated considering the chef behind (or in front of) the spits full of rotating meats at Kefi Souvlaki & Pizza Bar at Kingsgrove is one  David Tsirekas (formerly of Sydney Greek restaurants Perama and Xanthi).

I’m unsure what gyros the suited man had just eaten as Kefi’s menu is extensive (and despite also being a “Pizza Bar” there is no pizza in sight). The proof would lie in the tasting of the pork gyros ($8) I was waiting for – would it be as good as those “yiros” I ate at 2am during my university days some 25 years ago?

Pork Gyros

My pork gyros was wrapped as if was done by expert gift wrapper. Inside the soft and warm pita were slices of smoky pork with slices of onion and tomato, chopped parsley drizzled with garlicky tzatziki and mustard mayo. Spikes of golden, crunchy potato chips towered at the end. Chips (WTF)? Not that it was an offensive addition but I never had chips (or even saw chips), in those 2am lamb yiros back in North Adelaide. It was good. It was clean. It was far more sophisticated than something experienced on the way home after a night out on the Cooper’s ale in the ’80s. Most of all it felt as if this was how a gyros (yiros) was to be.

I told my colleague Heracles that I went to Kefi and had a gyros. The first thing he asked me was if it had chips in it because that was essential. His comment hit me like a lightning bolt from Zeus – it seems that those 2am yiros laden with dripping fat and garlic sauce which would meld and ooze out the bottom of the pita and drip down your arm and make your breath smell like you had just eaten a garden full of garlic and onion weren’t authentic after all.

Kefi’s “souvlaki bar” is next to the more upmarket Kefi Greek Tavern restaurant on Kingsgrove Road and is literally a one-minute walk from the Kingsgrove railway station. With seating for eight inside and 12 on its veranda Kefi is a temple to Greek street food (but with a twist). There’s the traditional fare but what is exciting about Kefi and caused me to come back on four separate occasions was the “bling” that they add to gyros.

The menu has the traditional (lamb, chicken and pork), and meal deals that include a drink and chips on the side (from $12.90), but as you keep looking at all the panels on the wall you get a sense that this is no ordinary fast street food bar

Pork Belly GyrosWhile devouring that pork gyro one particular gyro caught my attention on the menu board – the pork belly baklava gyro ($9.50). This sounded far more exotic than the “yiros” from North Adelaide’s Blue and White Cafe (the Blue and White yiros was considered a rite of passage back then as was its AB – an Adelaide icon. You can read about the AB here). I had to have it so I travelled back to Kefi the following day.

The pork belly baklava gyro was excellent. Again, the pita was soft but in it was a combination of sheer genius: slices of thick and succulent slow-roasted pork belly, smashed/de-constructed baklava (date and pistachio paste as well as shards of filo pastry), and instead of crunchy chips it had crunchy pork crackling. An “apple mastic” mayo brought some sweetish tartness and acidity to cut through the glorious fat of the pig bits and sweetness of the baklava paste and the parsley, coriander, mint and watercress salad was ideal as it added some freshness. The entire combination put me in a happy place.

The menu had some interesting gyros combinations. There is a prawn saganaki ($12) with grilled prawns, red peppers, gets parsley drizzled with saganaki sauce (which I guess is a saganaki cheese based sauce); the calamari ($10.50) with grilled calamari, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion and an ouzo mayonnaise; and the soft-shell crab ($9.50) with deep-fried soft shell crab, a ‘Greekslaw’ of purple cabbage, green apple, carrots and herbs, coriander and a mustard mayo.

The excitement over Kefi’s gyros got me thinking – how would its lamb one compare with the distant memories of those I had back in the 80s? Back then a lamb “yiros” was packed full of lettuce, onion, tomato, parsley and tzatziki sauce – the Aussie late night favourite used to lessen the impact of the anticipated hangover you may experience later. So I had a lamb gyros ($8.80) on my latest visit and it was one of the best – it even out did the pork and pork-belly gyros I had on my earlier visits. The soft pita was filled with slices of mouth-melting and flavoursome seasoned lamb with slices of onion and tomato, chopped parsley and crunchy chips all drizzled with garlicky tzatziki and mustard mayo.  It was superb and best of all not a drip of sauce or fat ran down my arm.

The verdict: The humble street Gyros has been given some mature flair and sophistication by David Tsirekas. Go trad or gourmet with some bling.

What: Kefi Souvlaki & Pizza Bar at Kingsgrove, 1/231 Kingsgrove Road,
Kingsgrove, NSW 2208 Australia. Open Tuesday to Wednesday from 11am to 10pm, Thursday to Saturday from 11am to 11pm and on Sunday from 11am to 10pm. Phone (02) 9554 4444. www.kefisouvlakiandpizzabar.com.au

When: May 2015.

Posted in Greek, New South Wales, Street Food, Sydney | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vic’s Meat Market

Vics MeatsIT was like watching a sophisticated caveman in a suit eat (and we were all technically in a “cave”).

The Apprentice decided to order the $70 Emperor’s Cut steak sandwich – a 150g piece of prime Rangers Valley wagyu –a wonderful cut of scotch fillet with a nine-plus marbling score (which sells at the butcher’s next door for $249 a kilo), while the rest of us opted for either a wagyu burger or smoked brisket sandwich.

He caressed it, he kissed it and with every loving bite of rare wagyu he would smile and then grunt in a deep baritone that could rival Jim Morrison’s voice. He had wanted to try the Emperor’s Cut ever since he read about it in one of our daily newspapers and now he was at the cave and it was in front of him and it was becoming a part of him.

The Apprentice’s steak sandwich is rumored to be the most expensive steak sandwich in Australia and is available from the Vic’s Meats’ Wagyu Bar at the Sydney Fish Market (the latest enterprise of Victor Churchill Butcher – one of Sydney’s prime butchers).

Emperor's CutWatching The Apprentice devour his very expensive sandwich provided much amusement – but it wasn’t as funny as witnessing the expression he received from Chef Eric Chan when he ordered it. We all weren’t sure whether it was a look of disbelief from Chef Chan (because The Apprentice looked like a young trailblazer in a suit with too much money to throw away), or of disdain (because The Apprentice looked like a young trailblazer in a suit with too much money to throw away). It didn’t matter as Chef Chan was very happy to take his money after he saw that The Apprentice was very serious about throwing away his money. We were later told the sandwich was actually $85 – the meat alone costs $70 (Chef Chan obviously took pity on him and thought he may be of need of a marriage-saving discount).

The Apprentice’s colleagues, which included yours truly; Me Julie and Heracles, weren’t worthy of such a piece of beast and ordered from next door at Kong’s Cave – which offers American-style smokehouse meats (think Carolina, Tennessee and Texan BBQ styles). Here you can get a smoked brisket sandwich; a wagyu cheeseburger or pulled pork sandwich (all for $10) or upsize to a double wagyu cheese burger ($15). The smoky goodness doesn’t stop there – you can get chicken wings ($8), beef short ribs ($30), pork ribs ($40) and lamb riblets ($12). There’s also some fine Young Henry’s beer available as well as American Dr Pepper or Barqs root beer on the soda tap. If you order from the Wagyu Bar you can get a class of Penfold’s Grange!

Kong’s Cave is named after a purposely built two-tonne smoker named Kong. Kong hails from Kansas City and apparently is the largest such smoker in Australia with the capacity to smoke 200kg of meat (Vic’s Meats smokes with ironbark and applewood). Kong smokes everything from pork butt for the pulled pork, to the beef brisket, the chicken wings and the wagyu to feed the masses yearning for some smoky-flavored carnivore barbecue.

Vic's Brisket RollI went for the beef brisket, slices of salty, peppery smoked tender beef in a soft roll topped with fresh slaw and a deep tomato sticky Texan-style sauce. It was good, very good. It took me back to the Lone Star State but I just needed it to be a bit bigger – as big as the heart of Texas bigger.

Heracles ordered one of each – the wagyu cheese burger and the beef brisket while Me Julie also had a cheeseburger (and with European/Baltic finesse discreetly picked out her dill pickle). Heracles thought the beef brisket won hands down over the cheese burger. Me Julie liked her burger but thought that for $10 there needed to be something extra on it – she didn’t know what (maybe a cheeseburger royal type of concept)?

The three of us devoured our rolls quite quickly and The Apprentice was left to savour every morsel of his sophisticated sandwich while we checked out the butchers which is a walk-in cool room next door. The room is full of organic and prime meats for sale – including whole beasts. There’s also a meat “candy bar” –  where you can  pick and mix set up where you can make your biltong and jerky varieties and pay by weight. Prices are reasonably good especially considering you are getting some of the best meat available in the country.

Vic's Cheese burgerWhen we returned from our meat gazing we found The Apprentice chatting to Chef Chan (and that is when the man crush began), about wagyu. Chef Chan is now idolised by The Apprentice who is affectionately referred as his “meat master”.

And what about The Apprentice’s steak sandwich? Well, unlike our burgers which were wrapped in paper, his was served on fine china and included a couple of varieties of crisp lettuce. He reckons the Emperor’s Cut was the chocolate of meat – it just melted – the best steak he has ever had and was worth every silver dollar.

For his sake (and wallet’s), I hope the experience was more Lindt than Cadbury.

The verdict: Offers some great US barbecue styles for the meat lover and if the wallet permits, Australia’s most expensive steak – perfect for young trailblazers.

What: Vic’s Meat Market (Kong’s Cave and the Wagyu Bar), 50-60 Bank St, Pyrmont, NSW 2009 Australia (at the Sydney Fish Market). Open seven days 10am to 3pm (butchery open from 9am to 5pm).

Ate there: June 2015.

Posted in Barbecue, Burgers, New South Wales, Sydney | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mad Mex Big Burrito Challenge

HERACLES reckons that the Greeks invented the burrito. His logic is simple: the burrito  is a copycat of the gyros (yeeros or yiros depending where you are from).

I tried to reason with him explaining that Cortes was Spanish and it was unlikely any Spaniard or Myan or Aztec would have been to Greece to deliberately rip off the Gyros and rename it a burrito (and more likely it was the Greeks that copied the Turkish doner kebab). Heracles was unconvinced and my last comment was rewarded with a psychotic glare – he was adamant that some Spaniard or Mexican robbed the Greeks of their national dish (and I can’t believe that this man is a product of a civilization that gave us architecture, mathematics, politics and philosophy!). It was obvious that something went wrong somewhere with Heracles (it might have been the shock seeing his beloved Bulldogs losing the 2014 NRL Grand Final to the mighty Rabbitohs).

Mad Mex - 1kgI wanted to give Heracles another logical explanation: that for centuries people have stuffed and encased food into things (think ravioli, dumplings, dim sims, pies and Chiko Rolls) and that the concept of the Gyros was no different to a soft flour tortilla being used to wrap meat and rice up (and that burrito meant little donkey and for him to stop acting like one), but I didn’t want to push the point because the furious Heracles was holding a 1kg burrito in his hand and I was afraid he would go all Spartan on me.

Mad Mex is an Australian chain of Mexican fast food joints and every year it holds the 1kg Big Burrito Challenge ($22). There is one rule: finish the burrito and get a Mexican lucha libre wrestling mask (handy for fancy dress parties, bank robberies or if you want to take on Rey Mysterio). The Big Burrito Challenge is held every May to honour Cinco de Mayo  (5 May) , the celebrated day in Mexican history when the Mexican Army triumphed against all odds to defeat an invading French Army at Puebla.

Heracles wanted a mask. He completed the challenge in 2014 and wanted another (possibly so as not to be identified by Police attending a Bulldogs match as there was one in the team’s  blue and white colours). Our colleague – the Silver  Fox – miffed about what all the fuss was about a Mexican wrestlers mask and big burritos, tagged along. Both Heracles and I were concerned about Fox’s presence as he was the most senior in age to us and we both believed that the defibrillator that was on our floor was put in especially to cater for worldly wise colleagues such as Silver Fox.

Mad Mex 1kg BurritoSo what’s could possibly be in a 1kg Mad Mex burrito? It is apparently double the size of one of Mad Mex’s regular  large burritos. You can chose from slow-roasted pork or beef, chicken or vegetarian (though I reckon having the vegetarian option would be cheating). Your chosen meat is put on two large overlapping soft tortillas along with rice, black beans your choice or sauce (mild, medium or hot) , cheese, sour cream, lettuce and diced tomatoes and other chosen condiments. I also asked for some jalapenos and went for the mild sauce – I was the only to do so) .  I thought about having the hotter sauce but as it was habanero based the last thing I wanted was to be defeated by the fruity pain of habanero. Both Fox and Heracles had the chicken option with mild sauce.

The burrito is weighty – you can feel the 1kg and it is an unnatural, even intimidating feeling. Eating it can be messy. The trick is to keep it half wrapped in its foil casing – if you unwrap all of it the sheer weight of the buritto’s contents will just force the tortilla to unravel and the contents spill out and you will need to eat it with a fork.

It wasn’t a bad feed – the shredded pork had a nice and mild smoky flavour to it and the medium sauce was spicy enough to add some Mexican-style enhancement. But because of the size of the burrito you don’t get the contents intertwining as the salad, meat, rice and beans are in certain sections of the tortilla (e.g. in one bite you may get a taste of the meat, in the next just some sour cream and lettuce). Mad Mex has three chili sauces sitting on the table as well – Tappito hot sauce, a chipotle and a jalapeno – and for me these were a welcomed addition to the burrito.

Mad Mex FoxNow to the Big Burrito Challenge.

Heracles, psyched up about stolen gyros and the Elgin Marbles, went for it – but not quietly. During the whole 14 minutes it took him to devour his monster of a stuffed tortilla he whinged and whined to Fox and I how he wasn’t going to pull it off, that he was full and bursting, that he would be spending the next two hours in a toilet cubicle, that he was going to be defeated, etc, etc. Because of his inability to hold such weight in his hands, Heracles was forced to use a fork to clean up the contents of his burst buritto but his 14 minutes did mean he finished first. It took me 14 minutes and 25 seconds to cleanly devour my burrito (and won both praise and disbelief from my colleagues that not only I didn’t have a burst burrito but I also met the challenge of jalapenos and the added extra hot sauce that I liberally applied after every second bite). Fox came in at a respectable 14 minutes and 45 seconds with no defibrillator required. So proud was Fox of his feat he spent the whole day proudly wearing his winged lucha libre mask around the office (and thankfully there was no “HR Event” and no restraining order required).

The verdict: Mad Mex’s Big Burrito Challenge is scary, heart-stopping, cholesterol-plugging pure gluttonary. We will be back for the 2016 challenge if we survive through the night.

What: Mad Mex Fresh Mexican Grill – 46 locations through Australia (except TAS, SA and NT).

Ate there: May 2015.

Posted in Casual dining, Mexican, Sydney | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Da Crack

Rocky HolmesROCKY Holmes, the sax, flute and clarinet supremo who backs up jazz vocalist Maggie Herron at Honolulu’s ultra cool Lewers Lounge at Waikiki’s Halekulani hotel recommended to me during a set break that I had to do Da Crack on Kauai as it made one of the best fish tacos in the Islands.

I’m not one to argue with a man that can play like Chet Baker and especially after Maggie had just sung Cole Porter’s I’ve got You Under My Skin for the Baroness and I, so I took Rocky’s advice on notice as we would be flying to Kauai in the next couple of days and needed some recommendations.

After a day sightseeing on the Hawaiian island of Kauai with the Baroness and the Baronets (Gob and DJ Hoot) we spotted Da Crack in a non-descript row of shops just off Poipu Road in Koloa (which is on the south side of Kauai). It is literally a hole (or crack) in the wall. There was a huge line outside, it was dusk, it was soon to close and with no seating area it wasn’t going to be that convenient for us especially with two hungry girls in a car (so we ventured down the road to the trendy Kukui’ula Village with its array of restaurants).

I thought that would be my first and last opportunity to visit Da Crack.

Thankfully, the following day, the Baronets and I were returning from Koloa Town on the public bus and it stopped right outside that non-descript row of shops. It was just on midday so I forced Gob and DJ Hoot quickly off the bus (with the promise of some ice cream from Lappert’s afterwards), and straight to Da Crack’s serving window (under great protest).

Da CrackDa Crack’s serving window is the hole in the wall and is below a humerous cartoon of a Mexican in a sombrero showing his bum crack.  When you peer into that window you may see three staff busily working in the cramped kitchen.

Da Crack merchandise (such as t-shirts and beer coolers) are fastened on the window shutters as is the menu. There’s a long stool on either side and a bottle opener on a string behind a shutter, and that’s about it.

But you don’t come for the ambience (because there isn’t any unless you like watching cars parking). You come for tasty Mexican grinds (street food).

The menu is pretty simple and features your choice of filling as a taco, burrito or in a bowl. The fresh fish or garlic shrimp is $11.99, comes with black or pinto beans; plain or Mexican rice; chipotle or wasabi sour cream topped with sliced cabbage and pico de gallo (which is a fresh salsa).

If seafood isn’t you thing then you can have meat (chicken, beef or pork) $8.99 or vege $8.50, again as a taco, burrito or in a bowl. These meals come with your choice of Mexican browns rice or plain rice; pinto beans or black beans, hot, mild or fire sauce, olives, cabbage, tomatoes, onions, and fresh jalapeños. Cheese and sour cream is included and you can also order extra sides (like guacamole, etc).

You can also have the same “fillings’ as nachos or in a quesadilla.

Da Crack also has breakfast burrito (the sunrise burrito for $9.99), which consists of Portuguese sausage with scrambled eggs, black or pinto beans; plain or Mexican rice; cheese and sour cream, sliced cabbage, tomatoes, onions, olives and jalapeños.

For drinks you wash your grinds down with a Mexican Coke (it has cult status in the US) or Jarritos (the Mexican fruit-flavoured spritzers for $2.50), canned soda or juice ($1) or water ($1.25).

Da Crack Fish TacoFor the keiki (kids) there was a meat or vege burrito ($6.99/$5.99) or a meat, vege or cheese quesadilla ($6.50/$5.99/$4.99).

The Baronets were encouraged to share the beef quesadilla (they had never had one and knew as soon as we were out of there we would be on our way to Lappert’s).

I just had to order the fish taco upon Rocky’s recommendation. I was told by my server that all Da Crack’s fish was bought fresh that morning and today’s fish being used was mahi mahi. Excellent as I am a fan of this fish.

After a 10 minute wait out came the grinds.

I didn’t hear one word of protest from the Baronets. They loved the beef quesadilla with its shredded marinated meat intertwined with some melted cheese. DJ Hoot remarked that it was a Mexican jaffle or “toastie”. So impressed with this culinary discovery they have been asking for it back in Sydney when the toastie press comes out on weekends.

I was glad that I took Rocky’s advice but disappointed I didn’t go for some more extreme hot sauce. It was a large soft taco filled with firm, yet tender cubes of mahi mahi topped with cabbage, pico de gallo and jalapeños. The chipotle sauce was fine but I should have gone the habenero. The side of slightly Mexican rice was good – not over cooked and the black beans added some extra protein oomph and substance to the whole meal. I was certainly not left hungry,

When we finished and started walking back to the bus stop I thought that the joy of the beef quesadilla would suppress the Baronets’ memories of the promise of Lappert’s famous ice cream. Nope. So off we trudged across the road to the Lappert’s ice cream store in the Kukuiula Shopping Village – Kauai’s most famous export since pineapples.

Rocky was right – Da Crack had to be done – but for my keiki good ol’ ice cream was still “da business”.

The verdict: A great crack in the wall which respects the tradition of simple yet flavoursome Mexican street food made.

What: Da Crack, 2827 Poipu Rd, Koloa, Kauai HI 96756, United States of America. Open Monday to Saturday from 11am to 8pm.

Ate there: January 2015.

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