Washington Place – TheGovernor’s Mansion in Honolulu, Hawaii
Last night we attended a very special 75th birthday celebration for (aunty) Nalani Kele, my Godmother and very close friend to my mother. This was actually a surprise party, put together by her loving husband, Jesse. She had been lead to believe it would be a semi-private affair at Roy’s Restaurant in Hawaii Kai, only to be overwhelmed and practically speechless when walking into this gala event greeting her at Washington Place, the Governor’s Mansion for the State of Hawaii.
The Grand Lanai was the entryway to a night of celebration, where cocktails and pupus were served throughout the early part of the evening…
Washington Place – Grand Lanai (shown after everyone moved to the main dining area)
As with most events held at Washington Place, tonight’s was catered. In this case by celebrity Chef Alan Wong, who I had spotted on premises early in the evening. With that, the food began with three absolutely delicious pupu (appetizer) dishes offered primarily in the lanai area…
Ahi Tempura Skewers (pupu) by Chef Alan Wong
Sashimi-grade (raw) Ahi, wrapped in Nori then deep-fried in a Tempura batter, served with a creamy wasabi-sesame sauce.
The ahi was buttery-smooth, complimented by the robust flavor of the nori and a light crunch of the tempura crust, while the wasabi-sesame sauce wasn’t overpowering or too “wasabi-ish”. God could have created this dish. It’s that perfect.
Kalua Pig & Guacamole Wontons (pupu) by Chef Alan Wong
Don’t quote me on the names and ingredient descriptions of any of these appetizers, as we didn’t have a printed menu for this portion of the evening, nor did I ask our server what they were. Just going by my own observation, which I think I’m pretty spot on.
Anyhow, that Kalua Pig Wonton pupu was also absolutely ONO. The smoky and moist Kalua Pig (which had an Imu-like taste), combined with the dollup of light Guacamole over the crispy, lightly-salted wonton wedge was excellent. The cilantro garnish also really helped accentuate the guac’ on top. I might just make this dish for a future potluck. Seems easy enough to make, and certainly a crowd-pleaser.
Chicken Satay (pupu) by Chef Alan Wong
Grilled boneless chicken with eggplant, served with a Thai Peanut Sauce. This was perhaps the most “standard” of the three. I’m not a chicken or a Peanut sauce fan, so I won’t say I liked it, but others I was with did and went through several of them.
Speaking of which, the supply of these three pupu dishes seemed endless. Servers kept coming back to everyone with refilled plates of them offering 3rds, 4ths and 5ths rounds. Hey now, we gotta’ save some room dinner!
Along with great pupus and drinks, we were entertained with traditional Hawaiian music by this nice-sounding trio…
After cocktail hour, the dinner proceeded onto the main lawn…
Washington Place – Main Lawn
Before everyone ate, a pule (prayer, spoken in Hawaiian) was offered to give thanks.
Chef Alan Wong’s first course was an eye-pleasing precursor of a fantastic dinner ahead…
Whole Tomato Salad, Li Hing Mui Ume Dressing presented by Chef Alan Wong
The tomato tasted liked it could have been a Kamuela, which was blanched (still pretty much raw inside) and peeled, sliced in about 3/4″ thick cross sections and plated intact. At first glance, I thought there may have been some kind of “surprise” stuffed inside the tomato, but that’s all there was; a whole tomato. It’s plated over a thinly-sliced fan of fresh cucumbers and surrounded with that, yes, you read right, Li Hing Mui Ume Dressing and Thai Basil garnish. The sauce tastes like an aioli with the Li Hing Mui (powder) and Ume juice combined in it. Let me say, this dressing is absolutely tasty and quite exotic.. nothing like I’ve ever had before. The only complaint was that it was a bit too overpowering. Scale back on the Li Hing Mui powder and it’ll be perfect. Otherwise fantastic… I want the recipe!
Now the second course…
Ginger Crusted Onaga presented by Chef Alan Wong
The Onaga fillet was flavorful and moist, coated with a ginger and green onion mixture and finished on top with by a light, crisp and golden panko-based crust over a what looked like Enoki mushrooms and corn. The ginger cream aioli sauce was swirled with what may be a green-onion infused peanut oil and lemon grass garnish, which rounded out the dish perfectly. Just this and I would have been content.
Still to come is the third course…
Soy Braised “Kalbi” with White Rice presented by Chef Alan Wong
My oh my. These two large morsels of delight were like “buttah”. At the first bite, you immediately identify them as being Kalbi style, further reinforced by a nicely seared, grill-like exterior.
Soy Braised “Kalbi” – cutaway view
The cube-shaped boneless beef cut was very interesting, and a wonderful twist from the usual Korean style bone-in short ribs. My guess is that they take large cuts of choice grade tri-tip or sirloin and cube them first, then slow braise them in a soy-based liquid, then sear just the tops individually just before service and finish plating with their own “Kalbi” sauce, which itself was fantastic. They added the same ginger cream sauce from the fish dish to this dish mainly for color, although it did add an interesting complimentary flavor to the overall dish. It was served simply with with a formed stack of white rice and steamed vegetables. If I ever get to talk to Chef Wong, I’m asking him how to make this one!
Rounding out this wonderful dinner is the final fourth course…
Molten Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream presented by Chef Alan Wong
This was almost as good as the Chocolate Souffle at Roy’s, which probably the only limitation being here was that they had to prepare this dish out of a temporary kitchen under a tent on the premises. Notice my ice cream had melted, as first of all, the temperature outside was rather warm, and secondly, my plate had been sitting for about 5 minutes before I took that shot. I was so full from the first three course, I barely finished this.
What a delicious dinner. Compliments to the servers and the talented kitchen of Chef Alan Wong.
Nalani had her own Polynesian Revue at the (former) Stardust Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas at the from 1965 to 1981 during a time when this style of cultural dance and music had little exposure. Her show covered the entire pacific from post-world war II American, to the Filipino Tinikiling bamboo dance, to Tahitian, and of course Hula. Since then she has befriended many famous Hawaii entertainers, including Mahi Beamer, got his start at her Vegas show. Her birthday this evening included many of her long time friends in the industry, including Jimmy Borges, who did double duty as MC and singer, Robert Cazimero and his halau, and also the original dancers from Nalani’s Las Vegas show. Just awesome.
Here she is just arriving for the party last night…
Nalani Kele at her 75th Birthday at Washington Place, August 1, 2007
She’s still as gorgeous as ever.
Here they are on stage at last night’s celebration…
Nalani joins her friends on stage, Jimmy Borges, MC of the evening, and Abigail “Kekau” Kawananakoa
Nalani’s Las Vegas Polynesian Revue Promotional Portrait. Beautiful!
A montage of photos from her vegas Stardust show, including one with her beloved friend and co-performer of the show, Mahi Beamer (bottom center)
Following are static displays of the various costumes she wore at her Las Vegas Polynesian Review…
Everyone had a wonderful time. Great food, great people, at probably one of the most distinguished venues in Hawaii one can attend. Most importantly, the birthday girl, Aunty Nalani enjoyed herself entirely, as was evident by her laughter and smile of joy throughout the evening. It was truly a magical evening.
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