WINTER SEARCH FOR SUNSHINE
WINTER SEARCH FOR SUNSHINE
By Gerrye Wong February 21, 2020
Brrrr. Baby, it’s cold outside here in Northern California so my sudden desire for some nice warm weather sent me across the ocean to Hawaii, sometimes titled the “Big Island.” Flying on Southwest Airlines very comfortable roomy cabin seats was a surprise pleasure. Another added fringe was the great service which came around frequently to ply us with snack packages, beverages and even favorite Milano cookies. Southwest advertises to fly the friendly skies with them, and their flight to Hawaii was friendly, on time and very customer oriented.
Naturally the first thing one desires upon arrival is local Hawaiian food and there is no better or more popular place than the Big Island Grill in Kona. Proprietor host Hon Ming Johnson Wong welcomes everyone who walks in, giving them a bit of history of the restaurant and his life on the island also. From Loco Moco breakfast to Thursday special Oxtail Soup, this popular restaurant can satisfy your Hawaiian palate with friendly service by smiling waitress Kam Oi.
Ever since Kristi Yamaguchi introduced me to the wonders of the Mauna Lani Hotel over a decade ago at her wedding there, this Fairmont property has been one we head to to get that island feel of a four diamond deluxe resort and setting for a perfect vacation getaway. Fairmont Orchid Resort Public Relations Director Catherine Cambra welcomed us as we drove up to the hotel’s lobby which overlooks the large grounds of the Fairmont property with the ocean view in front of us.
Her exciting news this time was the opening of its open air restaurant for casual dining, she told us, as she led us to the new Binchotan Bar and Grill Restaurant. Seated on its expansive patio, we were greeted by the scene of the traditional Hawaiian torch lighting ceremony by an eager Hawaiian dancer just as we watched a most glorious sunset before us over the Kohala Coast.
To our delight, Binchotan Chef de cuisine Justin Kalaluhi welcomed us, telling us this new reimagined dining hub is a multi-million dollar renovation which now offers a contemporary gathering place for friends and family to enjoy a fresh take on Asian cuisine. We could see his menu features the time-honored tradition of grilling meat, seafood and produce over an open flame in an intimate, modern setting, but he insisted we try his signature dish called the Robatahaki Experience. This special presentation was on an attractive tray filled with a succulent selection of grilled items such as tiger prawns chicken yakitori, smoked pork belly, prime ribeye steak, shishito peppers and ali’I mushrooms. Somehow perhaps fearing we would go home hungry , Manager Todd Perkins joined us and told our most congenial waiter Jayson Agbayani to bring us additional specialty dishes pork belly fried rice, pork gyoza, kampachi/amber jack sashimi and a tasty tempura cauliflower seasoned with Korean chili sauce. It was a feast to be seen, devoured and enjoyed not only by the Aaron Wongs and us, but by many other diners surrounding us.
As Chef Justin said, “I was born and raised in the Hawaiian Islands so it’s important to me that we offer sustainably sourced seafood, meats and produce from local farms that is authentic and reflective of our region’s culinary abundance.” Bonchotan is definitely a wonderful addition to the Fairmont Orchid’s already four acclaimed restaurants, and Manager Todd said he happily oversees that they all fulfill the culinary wishes of its patrons of all ages, in formal and casual settings. Viva Fairmont Orchid and its new addition BinchoTan.
Adjacent to Fairmont Orchid’s property is the beautiful most noted Mauna Lani Golf Course and Golf Sales Manager Aaron Rego welcomed us with excitement to show us his recent golf shop renovation with all new displays and merchandise to entice any golfer like us four Wongs. Also new, he told us, were the golf carts which would enhance anyone’s game with its convenient GPS screens, blue tooth capacity and USB charge connections.
To experience Mauna Lani is always a golfer’s dream with its wide fairways of manicured grass, lava formations and the seashore backgrounds. There are two challenging courses to enjoy there , so next time you venture to Hawaii, be sure to take time to enjoy the golf sports facility of Mauna Lani and the resort amenities at its neighboring Fairmont Orchid Resort.
The best way to see a place is to take a tour and Kailani Tours does a great job in offering four tours on Hawaii to choose from. Owner Chris Patterson recommended we try his “Coffee, Cloud Forest and Brewery Experience” and that 6 hour tour really gave us a variety of experiences one might never see or do as a regular tourist.
On tour we walked along the beach of Kaloko-Honokohau Historical Park among lava lined rockways to find giant Hawaiian sea turtles, explored an exotic Kona Cloud Forest Sanctuary and met its owner Norman Bezona, former professor at University of Hawaii in Tropical Agriculture. Chris Patterson expertly planned the itinerary of this tour to give one a sense of Hawaii’s nature and completed with a visit to Hawaii’s natural resources. We visited Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation to see Coffee trees and learn the process that has made Kona coffee considered the best of the best, as explained to us by Manager John Trowbridge.
A perfect ending to the tour was to enjoy sips of different beers and ciders at Ola Brew Company. There Zachary Taffany, Tap Room Manager, showed us the complicated process of brewing quality products and concluded with a guided tasting of their finest signature brews. Fully revived and refreshed with the drinks, we climbed on to our very comfortable Mercedes-Benz passenger mini-coaches. The combination of small groups, luxurious coaches and knowledgeable efficient driver guide has made Kailani Tours one cut above the big bus canned tours. It’s no wonder it has been ranked #1 tour company in Kaila-Kona multiple times on Trip Advisor with over 1000 5 star reviews. Add ours to it wholeheartedly.
A trip to Hilo, Hawaii is not complete unless you visit its world renowned Big Island Candies store and factory to see how their precious and delicious cookie and candy products are made.
Tourist bus patrons made a steady stream of customers being greeted by a cup of Kona coffee and a cookie delight as we visited the showroom which was beautifully decorated with Valentine theme packaging.
SUNSHINE IN SAN DIEGO
Just an hour or so plane ride is another quick search for warmer weather and San Diego Tourist Advisory said their temps only vary by 10 degrees ever from high 60s to 70s so off I ventured with a trio of girlfriends. Our first jaunt was to the world acclaimed Sea World Park where we were surprisingly greeted with Happy Chinese New Year decorations throughout the park.
A spectacular Chinese Acrobats show thrilled a standing room only audience of families as children and adults alike oohed and aahed at the performers. Specially exciting was the acrobat balancing atop multiple chairs, one on top of each other until almost touching the ceiling lights.
All around the park are shows going on besides the many rides and exhibits. Especially exciting to Dali Jones, Carole Yamaguchi, Maelene Wong and me were the performing dolphins, and we made sure not to be in the first 8 rows whose people got thoroughly drenched by the mighty fins of the playful dolphins splashing water waves on them. Sea World, we all decided is definitely a must-go-to place for any visitors to San Diego.
Another day in San Diego basking in the sun was spent taking the Old Town Trolley Car for a two hour ride around the town to give us a full perspective of what San Diego offers in each neighborhood. One day we also connected with the San Diego Chinese Golf Club and played a round with members Herb and Deanna Hom, John and Neta Howo, Shude Gilbert and Carolyn Wong at Eagle Crest Golf Club. Our final day in full sunshine was watching the golf pros play at beautiful ocean side Torrey Pines Golf Club in a major tournament. It takes more than three days to see all that San Diego area has to offer, we all agreed, and it will remain on our destination bucket list for another adventure someday.
MARK YOUR CALENDARS
CHINESE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF AMERICA invites all to its annual dinner March 28 at the Grand Hyatt in downtown San Francisco. Chairwomen Goretti Lui and Jane Chin assure a wonderful evening honoring significant Chinese Americans and recognizing their contributions to the community at large in their respective fields. Receiving the Phil and Sarah Choy Community Service Award will be the Fong Family: Ronald, Rodney and Barre Fong. To be honored with the Outstanding Artistic Achievement Award will be Jon M. Chu, Director of popular film Crazy Rich Asians. This CHSA 2020 gala proves to be an exciting one to hear the immigrant stories of the family awardees. Let’s all support our proud Museum of Chinese American History in Chinatown San Francisco and come to their host organization’s annual event. www.chsa.org.
ANGEL ISLAND IMMIGRATION STATION FOUNDATION will be presenting its annual fundraising gala dinner titled CELEBRATING OUR DREAMS IMAGINING OUR FUTURE on April 16, 2020 at theB Hyatt Regency Hotel in San Francisco. Board Chairman Buck Gee informs us that to be honored this year are awardees who have shown their leadership and achievements in the community. Because the long awaited former Public Health Hospital Building on Angel Island which served the internees of the 1910-1940 era will be opening in September, the dinner will also recognize the tireless efforts of everyone who has worked towards the restoration of this facility, a long term goal of the AIISF. Check www.aiisf.org for more information, and hope to se you at this gala occasion. Support for Angel Island Foundation is a way to make sure our Asian American history will continue to be preserved and presented to the general community.
COMMUNITY ASIAN THEATRE OF THE SIERRA in association with the Nevada Theatre will be presenting JOY LUCK CLUB April 9-May 2 in Nevada City. This group annually presents a play with an Asian theme, and many who have traveled to Nevada City to see them have expressed that this CAT group puts on wonderful productions. So come and support them and make a nice trip to the Gold Country too. On April 19, a special invitation is out to meet Amy Tan after the matinee for an intimate conversation and book signing which should be a special treat . Opening night gala is April 9. Get tickets online at www.catsweb.org.