Hawaii, Day 1: The scenic route to a Luau

The Big Island of Hawaii is pretty diverse when it comes to the landscape and weather.  In fact, it’s a bit like the continental US.  The West coast is arid and dry while the East coast is lush with greenery…and humid.  Also, rain spurts…   There were a few surprise showers during our trip, but it didn’t matter too much since we were already drenched from the humidity.

There are 3 ways you can take to get from one side of the island to the other.  You can drive via the north route, go south thru the Volcanoes National Park (longer), or cut thru the middle of the island on Saddle Ranch Road, which is 2 lanes wide and chock full of tummy-tumbling dips.  Considering what kind of rental car we had, guess which one we took when we ventured into Hilo…  WHEEEEE!

Our rental car...vrroooom vrooom!

One of my favorite places while living in Hilo was Liliuokalani Gardens.  My parents used to bring me here and I would use a bucket to scoop up little tiny fishies and bring them home for my “aquarium” aka a big jar with holes poked in the lid.  This park is located right across the road from the ocean which feeds the lagoon.  There’s quite a few fish in the water and little black crabs scrambling along the rocks.  There’s also mongeese living among the bushes.

Liliuokalani Gardens

More of Liliuokalani Gardens

Mongoose!

Since we had reservations for a luau at our hotel, the Hilton Waikaloa, we didn’t spend too much time in Hilo. We did stop in at Cafe 100 for a snack (you can read about it in the prior post).  We took the northern way back to Waikaloa and pulled off to take the scenic route which involved driving thru a rainforest.  Apparently, hidden away on this road is the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens.  Husband wanted to stop and we had a little extra time so we did.

Entrance to Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens

Turns out this garden is rather large and goes all the way down to a beach or something…about an hour or two depending on how leisurely you want to take it and how you handle hills.  We didn’t have that much time so we just hiked to Onomea Falls (about 30mins round trip).  Of course, it rained on us as we came back up…  Rain forest, indeed.

Baby pineapple!

Omomea Waterfalls

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens

When we got back, it was luau time! I didn’t take too many pictures of the food since we were at a table with strangers; only one really came out. Since we were sitting in the “VIP” section, we had our food served to us instead of having to brave the buffet line. The appetizers consisted of salad, 2 kinds of rolls – Hawaiian sweet bread and taro, Ahi tuna poke, Lomi Lomi salmon, cooked baby ferns, a cold meat dish (some sort of ham?), poi and some other things I don’t remember. I really enjoyed the poke and tried not to eat all of it. Tangy, not fishy at all, very flavorful. The Lomi Lomi salmon, unfortunately, was a little fishy. As for poi, I’m not a fan. I do enjoy taro though. We used to get some from the grocery store, microwave them and then slather them in butter. The baby ferns were…interesting. Very “planty” in flavor with a little bit of crunch. Not really a fan but I’d eat this over the poi any day!

Appetizer food at the Luau

The main course consisted of kahlua pig, teriyaki pulehu (hawaiian style short ribs), chicken, mahi mahi, Hawaiian sweet potatoes and a few vegetable side dishes. It was a lot of food and I had already semi-filled up on the poke so it was hard to try everything. I did go for the meat though! The kahlua pig was tasty, very tender and moist. The short ribs were similar to kalbi, its Korean counterpart. The chicken and mahi mahi were meh…not horrible but not fantastic.

For dessert, fresh fruit and a variety of little cakes and cookies were served. I was stuffed by this point so I really didn’t try much and what I did didn’t stick in my mind.  Since VIP ticket holders got access an open bar, I satiated my sweet tooth with mai tais and lava flows (strawberry piña colada type drink).

The show itself was entertaining. There was a host that was very…lounge singer-y. The hula dancing was great; they demonstrated a variety of Polynesian dances from various islands. And, at some point, they pulled up a bunch of guys in the audience to hula dance with them. Husband was one of the [un]fortunate ones. Hehehehe…  I’ll spare him any embarrassment by not posting the video and pictures I took while he was on stage.

Hula Dancers

Fire dance

End of the show

It was a great first day…

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Nozomi Sushi and Teriyaki

Nozomi

Nozomi

When Nozomi first opened, I used to come here a lot because their sushi rolls were cheap, tasty and HUUUUGE. As my taste buds migrated to preferring nigiri, I stopped coming here.  Last week, I wandered back for dinner last night with a friend. I noticed that while they still had their mile-long list of specialty rolls and non-sushi menu, they had added an “all you can eat” sushi option for $25-ish. Starving, my friend and I chose to try it out. BIG MISTAKE. I’ve been to different sushi restaurants in San Diego that had all you can eat options and was never disappointed…till now.

Nozomi - nigiri (scallops, salmon, albacore, hamachi, tuna, unagi)

Nozomi - nigiri (scallops, salmon, albacore, hamachi, tuna, unagi)

Nozomi - Rolls (Dragon and ???)

Nozomi - Rolls (Dragon and ???)

The nigiri and some of the rolls are half-portions, meaning instead of the usual two pieces of nigiri, you only get one. Not really a problem…just got to remember to mark twice as much as you wanted. The huge issue was the quality. It was like they wanted to get rid of whatever old fish they had lying around. The nigiri didn’t taste fresh at all and frankly, some of it was disgusting. The rolls were better because there were other things like sauce to mask some of that fishy flavor.

I ordered an amaebi nigiri and this was probably the most foul thing of the night. There was still a piece of shell. The flavor seemed…off and I almost spit it out. The shrimp head wasn’t fried enough either.

The quality of Nozomi seems to have gone down and yet this place was packed. Frankly, even though the rolls were still okay, after that horrible nigiri experience, I’m not sure I’m keen on coming back here.

The location in the La Jolla/UTC area (Nozomi 2) seems to still retain some sense of fish quality as only a couple of weeks before, I shared a sashimi platter with a coworker and was quite happy with it. I think I’ll stick with that location instead of the Convoy St. one. Also, there seems to be some differences in the menus between the two Nozomis.

I would have given Nozomi a higher rating before but after this visit, they only get 2 NOMs from the Catty Critic.

Nozomi
4637 Convoy St
San Diego, CA 92111
(858) 569-7773
Nozomi Noodle & Teriyaki on Urbanspoon