We’ve had an on again, off again relationship with Ciao Mein for sometime. It started when the restaurant had Sunday brunch buffets. They would make large, deep pans of tiramisu for dessert. By the time we dug into it, the liquor and coffee would be fully absorbed by the sponge cake (“ladyfingers”) and meld with the Mascarpone cheese. This was the first place The Cat tried tiramisu and no where else could make tiramisu that reached the expectations of The Cat. The tiramisu at Ciao Mein may not have been traditional, but it was very good. And then for whatever reason, the brunch buffets were discontinued. Sigh.
Sorry, the theme of Ciao Mein is Chinese and Italian cuisine (think two ends of the silk road).
Then, the brunch buffets were offered only on special occasions and we would go whenever we could (or were aware of it). After a while, those stopped too. Double sigh.
After that, the restaurant offered its “Taste of Honolulu” special. The restaurant had participated in many Taste of Honolulu events and won numerous awards. For one price, any and all of the dishes that were featured at the events were available (as small portions). There was not limit on the number of items that could be ordered or the number of times it could be ordered.
This option was perfect for us. It’s hard for two people to eat at Ciao Mein. The dishes are meant to be eaten family style and we can eat enough to order more than two dishes at a time (although we want to more).
Alas, that offer was also discontinued (I think the restaurant was losing money on that option). Sigh with understanding.
In 2007, The Cat’s longtime friends, X & D, came to visit from Shanghai. D’s birthday happened during their visit. X suggested shabu shabu which D quickly nixed. She wanted a nice sit down dinner. We wracked our brains trying to come up with a place that would satisfy both X & D (X is a very very critical eater, especially outside of China). Our best shot was Ciao Mein.
After sitting down, The Cat was trying to translate the menu to X & D without much success (the descriptions of the dishes were getting lost in translation). Our server, Guido, brought out Executive Chef Ching to assist. After Chef Ching talked with The Cat, X & D for a bit, it was decided that Chef Ching would prepare our dinner off the menu. The Cat and I looked at each other and wondered if we had to wash dishes for decades to come.
Anyway, to make an already long story short, the dinner was a success! With the appetizer dish (which I won’t go into now, hoping for a future opportunity to fully describe it with pictures), X’s eyes lit up, he never had a dish like this before. All the other dishes exceeded his expectations. It was so good that X requested to eat there again (which is as rare as a blue moon).
The year before last, we heard that that Ciao Mein would close to make way for an American style restaurant. Beyond sigh.
When we were looking for a place for Christmas dinner, we accidentally noticed that Ciao Mein was still open. The restaurant was offering a prix fixe Christmas dinner. The choices sounded pretty good so we made reservations.
The Name Says It All
Prix Fixe Display
Prix Fixe Menu
There were favorites that we wanted but ended up ordering the prix fixe dinner. The Cat’s theory is that the dishes on the prix fixe dinner are only available for Christmas, plus she had her eye on the soft shell crab tempura.
Enough of the history lesson, on to the food.
Caesar Salad with Soft Shell Crab Tempura
The Cat said this salad was worth the price of the meal itself. She’s had soft shell crab before, but nothing like this. It knocked her socks off.
Cream of Pumpkin Soup with Sea Scallops
The soup was also very good. The Cat thought there might be some dried scallops in the soup.
The rest of the dinner:
Shrimp Scampi Linguine
Steamed Snapper Fillet with Berkshire Ham and Shiitake Mushroom
The snapper was perfectly steamed. The Cat wished we had some rice to pour the sauce over but we were getting full at this point.
Prime Sirloin of Beef with Collision Black Pepper Sauce
We added our favorite savory side to the mix.
Ciao Mein Szechuan Eggplant
This is the best spicy eggplant dish ever. While it’s not real spicy, we feel it’s the perfect balance of heat, sour, salty, and sweet (it’s one of the dishes that won a “Taste of Honolulu” first prize award). Apparently we are not the only ones that think it’s great (see article).
For dessert, we had the featured trio of pana cotta.
Trio of Pana Cotta
From left, amaretto, frangelico, and sambuca.
We added another favorite of ours, their Marco Polo dessert.
Marco Polo Dessert
From left, ginger gelato, spumoni gelato, lychee sorbet, and espresso gelato.
Everything was well done, and the service was excellent. The Cat’s favorite was the soft shell crab, while mine was the steamed snapper.
Ciao Mein is soon to be scheduled to be remade into Cafe Japengo. The new menu is supposed to include other Asian cuisines (Japanese, Vietnamese, Malaysian, etc.) as well as Chinese. I hope the Szechuan eggplant stays.
The Cat wanted to document some of the table settings that characterize Ciao Mein.
Oil and Vinegar Dispenser
Bread Stick Vase
A ceramic Chinese take-out box.
Garlic-Shaped Salt and Pepper Shakers
I always thought they looked like little ghosts (okay moving on).
The Cat thought it looked like some psychedelic won ton skin (okay, moving on again).
It was good to rediscover Ciao Mein again. Like old friend that haven’t seen each other for awhile, things change and things remain the same but the connection is still there.
The Mouse (and The Cat).
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