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Food Strictly for Thought

(Splash photo of Gyotaku Restaurant menu)


In the recent Gyotaku Japanese Restaurant review, reader Dean Masutomi brought up an interesting thought about their menu relying heavily on photos of the dishes. Dean said, “… personally I was really never a big fan of pictures in a menu. I always feel disappointed if the food doesn’t look like the picture. In culinary school we were taught how to write menus, how to describe the dish with our words. Pictures IMO, take away the mystery of the dining experience. This would make a good poll…how do others feel?” Well Dean-San, that’s indeed what we’ll do now.

(Photo of polls)

[flagallery gid=1 skin=minima_jn]

Before we get to the polls, let’s go over this a bit more. As you know, Japanese restaurants actually typically take the visual presentation of their menu notches higher than just photographs, having what’s called “Sampuru”, which are 3-dimensional plasticized replicas of their signature dishes on display in the front to allure customers in. Which could be a whole blog in itself on the subject of “Sampuru”, as there’s certainly some bad representations out there, amongst some really great ones. Same of course for photos, which are much more cost-effective, as “Sampuru” dishes can run into the hundreds of dollars, vs. photos which in today’s computer age are a non-factor, cost-wise.

(Photo of island beach bikini babes on Oahu)

I do notice at least here on Oahu that most asian restaurants are photo-centric with their menus. On the other hand, European and American restaurants are usually just text-based.

Again, Dean notes when he went to culinary school, they were taught how to write menus, describing the dish with words. Here now I shall bust out my “chops” and present a sample menu, delivered in both a very descriptive, as well as to-the-point very concise presentation:


(Photo of The Tasty Island Burger combo with fries and shake)

The Tasty Island Drive-In

“Anykine” Fries
A combination of Okinawan Sweet Potato, Russet and Taro steak-cut, waffle-cut and string-cut fries.
$3.99 “only stay get you” size, $5.99 “ohana” size

Da’ Tasty Island Burger
100% Big Island Free-range Beef Patty, flame grilled on Kiawe, topped with Hamakua Mushrooms sauteed in Mac Nut Oil, melted over with Maui Surfing Goat Cheese, Crispy Manoa Lettuce, North Shore Farms steak-cut Tomato and Maui Onion on a buttered ‘n toasted Portuguese Cottage Bread Bun.
$7.49 “regalahz”, $9.99 “to da’ max” (deluxe)

10-SPAM Musubi Shake
No this shake isn’t made with SPAM, however it’s so, so ono, it’s worthy of 10 SPAM Musubi! Choose either Maui Vanilla, Big Island Cacao Chocolate or Oahu Guava.
$3.99 “only stay get you” size (16 oz.), $5.99 “Konishiki” size (32 oz.)


(Photo of Pomai in his bathrobe sipping on a Mai Tai on his beachfront Lanai)

Le’ Island

Hamakua Jungle….14

Sailing by Kualoa…57

Waialua Estates Decadence…10

Ulupalakua Sparkling, Gold or Red…10 glass, 30 bottle


What’s so funny about that example, is I go into serious detail with the cheaper drive-in take-out menu, while the fine dining version leaves everything up to the server to explain. Tough job working at the latter! I gotta’ admit, “Le Island” is a freekin’ RIOT! LOL!!!

Seriously though, have you ever been to Mililani Drive-In? Dude, the menu is f’n CRAZY. It’s like one of those “Why have 3 styles of chicken when you can have 100?” And do you think there’s detailed descriptions of each choice? Hell no!

Here, check it out:

(Photo of 1001 Chicken Plate Lunches)


Served with Rice and Mac Salad


Chicken or Pork Katsu
Chicken Katsu Curry
CK/PK/BF Cutlet
CK/BF/PK Teriyaki
Teriyaki Meatballs
Mochiko Chicken
Lemon Chicken


Roast Pork.
Shoyu Chicken
Ginger Chicken
s/o Shoyu CK
(no rice or mac)
s/o Ginger CK
(no rice or mac)


Fish Tempura
Grilled Fish
Grilled Furikake Fish
Grilled Cajun Fish


Orange Chicken
Sweet Sour PK or CK
Sweet Sour Fish
Cajun Chicken
Cajun Shrimp
Fish & Chips
(fries, cole slaw)
1/2 Fish & Chips
(fries, no slaw)
Hamburger Steak
(+)1 egg / (+)2 egg
Beef Stew
Beef Curry
Chicken Curry
Shrimp Curry
Spaghetti w/Garlic Bread
Beef Macaroni w/G.Bread
Garlic Chicken
Korean Chicken
Ham Omelet
Shrimp Omelet
Pork Chop Onion
Pork Chop Tomato
Chopsteak Hawaiian
Fish Stir-fry w/Veg
Shrimp Stir-fry w/Veg
CK/BF/PK Stir-fry w/Veg
Vegetarian Stir-fry w/Veg

Served with Rice and Mac Salad, or on a bed of Chow Mien Noodles

CK/BF/PK Broccoli
Shrimp Broccoli
CK/BF/PK Ong Choy
CK/BF/PK Black Bean
SHP Black Bean
CK/BF/PK Blk. Mushroom
CK/BF/PK/Tofu Eggplant
CK/BF/PK Watercress
CK/BF/PK Choy Sum
Beef Tomato
Shrimp Black Mushroom
Chicken Crispy Noodle

Served with Rice and Mac Salad

Mix Plate #1, 2, 3, 4
#1: Shoyu CK, Fish Tempura, Crispy WT
#2: Teri CK, Fish Tempura, Crispy WT
#3: Teri BF, Fish Tempura, Crispy WT
#4: CK Katsu, Fish Tempura, Crispy WT
Bento (no mac)
(CK Katsu, Fish Tempura, Teri BF, Spam
Mixed Katsu
(CK & PK Katsu)
Mixed Cutlet
(CK & PK Cutlet)
Mixed Teriyaki
(Teri CK & BF)
Combo Trio
(Mochiko CK., Teri BF, Fish Tempura)

served with 2 eggs

Portuguese Sausage Fried Rice
Luncheon Meat Char Siu Fried Rice
Chicken Fried Rice
Pork Fried Rice
Beef Fried Rice
Shrimp Fried Rice

Dude, and that’s just their plate lunches. That doesn’t include the mini plates, saimin, soup and side orders. How in the bloody HELL am I supposed to choose from ALL OF THAT?!!! Talk about “Counter Freeze”! Man, good thing I’m not a chicken fan if I go here, that’s all I gotta’ say. LOL!!! And imagine all that on the menu board as just text, with no description, let alone a photo of what each dish looks like. Maybe they have photos now, as I haven’t been to Mililani Restaurant for a while. Yet if they do have photos, it would have to look like WALLPAPER in their restaurant, there’s so many dang choices. CRAZY!

Then there’s Alan Wong’s, who takes his menu to the next level and into the future, where not only are there photos, but it’s all on display on an iPad that each guest are given to make their choices.

What would be really cool is if EVERY restaurant had a mobile app module that loaded onto a universal RESTAURANT app on your smartphone. That way, instead of having all these different apps for every restaurant, you have just one app that loads each restaurant into its library. So say you want to eat at Liliha Bakery’s diner, you look them up on your RESTAURANT app, and it pops up their menu and other basic info such as driving directions and phone number. And the RESTAURANT app would automatically receive updates from each restaurant’s module as they send them out, so the menus you have in your master RESTAURANT app would always be current. And restaurants that are really high tech could also offer order through your restaurant app. So say you feel like some McDonald’s. You fire up your RESTAURANT app, look up McD’s, choose which location (GPS finds the nearest to you), select your menu items, pay through your phone’s debit system, then  you just walk or drive-up, swipe your phone’s bar code on their scanner, and out you go with your McD’s grindz within just a minute, in and out. BAM!

(Photo of Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs)

OK, I didn’t tell you that, as that’s my ticket to becoming the next big billionaire. Naw, actually, I’m sure Yelp or some folks along those lines are working on something like that.

Now for the polls, where we want to know your thoughts!  Your thoughts being, if you go to a restaurant, whatever the caliber may be, whether fine dining, to the local plate lunch stand, are you OK with just a text menu, or do photos (or if available, “samupuru”) of the dish help you make your decision?

One  final note, notice unlike every other post on The Tasty Island, this post is completely void of photography (however links were cleverly added just in case you need a visual). Which is yet ANOTHER poll we’ll have, as most feedback I get from private emails and fans of this blog is that they love the photography, yet they equally like my style of writing, which I try to be very laid back and fun. So also let us know how you feel about photography on blogs such as this.

Toodles! ;-)




11 thoughts on “Food Strictly for Thought

  • November 17, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    Asian like to post pictures of their food in menu or on the walls outside so people pass by see it right away. Determine to push sale on food fast that way. See it everywhere in Asia.

  • November 17, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    Pomai you did it great. You know how I feel. Photos on menus are tacky, but people love them!
    maybe a menu with bikini girls would peak interest in the food.

  • November 17, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    Ms December looks tasty!

  • November 17, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    @ pat – Ha ha ha! You know what’s funny is, looking at the statistics of all the links I placed in this post, the one that by FAR got the most clicks on is the Hawaii Bikini Babes Calendar link. “Hana Kokolele” you guys! I going tell your wife! LOL!

    @ Dean – How about one better than that. How about a babe in lingerie serving you your food? Well, that does exist now at this fairly new place near Downtown Honolulu, aptly named CUTIES CAFE. It’s the same concept like Wild Bean Espresso, the coffee truck featuring “barista babes”. The minimal reviews of the place so far on Yelp are split.

    @ Amy – I remember this Korean Restaurant in Dillingham Square (not there anymore) where they had huge photos of their signature dishes up on the windows in front of their restaurant. While I was taking photographs of the front (including the nice food photos), the owner came out and scolded me, practically wanting to confiscate my camera, accusing me of some kind of “piracy” or something like that. Sheesh! I tried to tell to her it was for my food blog and that we were ordering food there, but apparently she understood little English, and kept going off on me. Man, was she skitzo’! First and last time I was eating there! That was the REAL Angry Korean Lady!

    I notice many Korean restaurant owners are very paranoid about picture taking, even of your own plate. They often ask, “what you take pictah foh’? Um, because there’s like Yelp now. Duh! I was actually really surprised how welcoming Wan, the “Angry Korean Lady” of Ah Lang was with me taking photos at her restaurant, including of herself! I think it was my handsome good looks and charm that got her. lol No but seriously, she seemed to really like me. ;-)

    • November 18, 2013 at 4:55 pm

      Raph, I hope you read at least SOME of the article here. Men, I tell ya’. Sheesh. LOL!

  • November 19, 2013 at 5:25 am

    Re: The Tasty Island Zoom Contest — Round I (new game!),

    Apparently the first photo set posted was too difficult, as nobody submitted anything, so I took it down, and will repost it with an easier, more “universal” game set, coming soon.

  • November 19, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    Pomai, my relatives every time when out in restaurants order something which they did’nt like due to they do not understand what writing on the menu mean. With pictures they would know better what to order. I order a combo set include dessert and they wonder why their entries was all they got to eat no desserts or soup.

    Their the who does not know much in reading the menu or go out to restaurants much.

    • November 20, 2013 at 6:28 am


      I read that article link you just provided. Interesting indeed. They seem to be defiant in the idea of incorporating photos into the menu design, yet as they themselves have confessed, sales TRIPLED when the menu was “dumbed down” to its most basic form of simply a photo of each plate, its description, price, and that’s it. All people want to know is exactly what the food they’re ordering is going to be, and how much it’s going to cost. That’s it. All that menu busy instructions is way too much to read, let alone think about. I’ll admit, even for myself on lunch break on a busy day, do you think I have time or extra brain space to read more instructions on how I want my lunch made? Heck no! I want in, out and eating as quickly as possible!

      The poll right here on this post says it all. Out of currently 41 participants, 78% — the vast majority of those who voted are in favor of menu photos.

      And I don’t buy the part about cooks not being able to replicate exactly how a stylized dish in the photo looks with the actual dishes being served. Look at fast food restaurants. There’s photos abound of stylized Taco Supremes, Big Macs, Whoppers, Subway Sandwiches featuring symmetrically perfect cuts of lettuce and tomatoes and evenly-toasted, no-crumb buns. Yet do the consumers expect what they get to look how it looks on the poster or the menu board? Nope. As long as it INCLUDES what’s shown on the poster or menu photo. If it shows it has lettuce, unless otherwise instructed, my order better have lettuce in it, and so on.

      Japanese restaurants have been doing “Sampuru” for decades. All the while for the most part, the actual dish that comes out of the kitchen usually looks BETTER than the Sampuru. Not only because they have a high standard for quality and pride, but also because, well, it’s the real deal, not plastic! Even here, I’ve ordered food off a menu board with photos, and my dish looked BETTER than what was depicted on the menu, because I could smell it, see it in person. It was fresh. How novel!

      Now if it’s a fine dining restaurant, then no, I don’t expect photos on the menu, as first of all, I’m not in a rush when there (usually). Secondly, unless it was done how Alan Wong does it on an iPad, it would look tacky and cheap. That’s what we have our well-tipped server for. I enjoy when a server explains a dish and how’s made, as it gives a classy, personal touch. That’s part of the experience you’re paying for when fine dining.

  • November 21, 2013 at 5:50 am

    Braddah Pomai-
    I like how the term ‘dumb down’ is used. Do you think it would be offensive to others to hear that term used? Personally I don’t think so, but we foodies are a picky bunch. Maybe if they used a term like ‘simplify’, it might sound less harsh. Mahalo and thanks for this informative post.


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