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I Love Country Cafe


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#1 skchai

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Posted 11 May 2004 - 01:26 AM

I Love Country Cafe
451 Pi`ikoi St.
Honolulu, HI 96814
808 596-8108
http://www.ilovecountrycafe.com/

I'm not sure in what language the phrase "I Love Country Cafe" can be found. Hawaiian Pidgin? Japlish? Whatever it means, it's become on of the more popular dining places on Oahu in the past few years, despite, or because of, the fact that it doesn't really fit into any of the traditional dining categories that you find here. Its menu includes many of the traditional Hawai`i plate lunch favorites, such as mochiko chicken, chicken katsu, fried mahimahi, pork adobo, roast pork, teri beef, etc. However, the presentation is a bit more upscale than your usual plate lunch place - while you can get mac salad here, the more common accompaniment is stir-fried seasonal vegetables or a proper tossed salad, with Manoa lettuce, beansprouts, etc. And the rice is brown rice, unless you specifically request white. But there's more: In addition to plate lunch foods, you also get various pastas, "Broiled Pesto Mahimahi", "Sauteed Ahi with Tomato Balsamic Sauce", "Shiitake Braised Tofu", and . . . fresh-baked scones for breakfast?! O.K., what the hell is this?

Perhaps one can say that I Love Country Cafe is a place that aspires to appeal to both the local-style plate lunch crowd and to yuppie types looking for a slightly upscale diner type of experience. Similar to places like Big City Diner in Kaimuki and Sam Choy's BLC in Iliwei (for lunch at least). But the most bizarre thing of all is that ILCC has also become a cult favorite of sorts with the local bodybuilding community, and part its menu reflects the low-fat, low-carb, high-protein demands of those people.

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You can tell by looking at the pictures of celebrity and not-so-celebrities that line the back wall of the restaurant. Half of them seem to be bodybuilders - or at least muscular people who enjoy posing half-naked. The rest seem to be a mix of beauty queens and newscasters. One item on the menu, the "body-builder special" simply sounds evil - plain steamed chicken breast with peanut sauce and salad.

But rest assured that your concern for health does not have to go to such extremes. If you concentrate on the plate lunch-style entrees, you will find that you will eat very well, and with more fiber and less grease than if you went elsewhere.

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Here's their pork adobo (pork cubes braised in soy-vinegar-garlic sauce). This is a major serving, as you can see, but the pork is not fried after braising, unlike in the traditional version. I know, healthiness and everything, but is seems slightly wan thereby. And this is the first time I've ever seen carrots in pork adobo. Otherwise, however, pretty good - decent amount of garlic and black pepper in the sauce, and the pork is tender. And not a small serving either. Toss salad and brown rice on the side.

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Here's their popular mochiko chicken / furikake mahi set. Unlike the other plate lunch-style entrees, there's no salad at all with this set. Instead, the rice comes in the form of a kind of Asian-style brown rice pilaf, seasoned with shoyu and studded with bits of browned onion and carrots. The mochiko chicken (chicken rolled in seasoned rice flour) is pan-fried rather than deep-fried, and is moist for a chicken breast. The furikake mahi is also pan-fried, and is again they manage not to dry it out. The whole thing is covered with a thin layer of teriyaki sauce and chopped green onions.

The ILCC founder, Richard Chan, has been involved in literally dozens of different business ventures here in Hawai`i, with mixed success, since immigrating here 20 years ago. It was only when his wife, Millie, reportedly a great cook, became active in his businesses that things took off for him.

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The ILCC main branch is in a truly desolate-looking strip mall adjacent to Ala Moana Center, next to the Pi`ikoi offramp coming down from the second floor of the center. In fact, if the parking lot is full, you can just park in the first floor area at Ala Moana and walk over through a small opening in the wall. The other branch is in the Kahala Mall, close to the new Kimuraya Bakery.

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host


#2 tryska

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Posted 11 May 2004 - 10:12 AM

maybe the name is a statement of music preference? were they playing patsy cline or travis tritt?

#3 skchai

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Posted 12 May 2004 - 02:07 AM

No country music playing there. Hawaiian music if anything.

Actually, I have slightly more insight into the name than I let on (I think). I believe I read someplace that Richard Chan chose the name because to him it created an image of freshness in people's minds. Never mind that it doens't really mean anything. Just like a lot of the other Japlish, Konglish, and Chinglish slogans you find on everything from T-Shirts to soft drink cans throughout East Asia. . .

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host


#4 stinkinbadges

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Posted 12 May 2004 - 09:06 AM

I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one noticing the strange sayings on T shirts of Asian visitors. I try to imagine that they are literal translations of some pithy statements or poetry in that person's culture. Whatever, I love it. One more reason to love this place, even if I don't always understand it.

#5 ryanozawa

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Posted 13 May 2004 - 01:07 PM

I could never get into I Love Country Cafe, although many of my friends swear by them. I went to the one at Ala Moana a few times, and the one in Mililani (when they had some buffet setup), but both times just something about the overall state of the food didn't sit right with me.

I don't know if it was too much oil, or too much vegetables (yes, I'm a meat eater), or too many herbs or seasonings, or what, but... I would pick L&L or any other "mass over quality" plate lunch place first, given a choice.

As for bad English on Asian goods, look no further than Engrish.com.

Edited by ryanozawa, 13 May 2004 - 01:08 PM.

HawaiiThreads.com - Let's talk story!

#6 skchai

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Posted 14 May 2004 - 02:12 AM

I know what you mean, Ryan. Getting used to so many vegetables is a hard thing if you're used to the regular plate lunch. Also, it takes away from the amount for meat on the plate. . .

That Engrish site is incredibly comprehensive!

Also, there's another Hawai`i restaurant that uses that Engrish in its title - Kit'n Kitchen, the Hong Kong-style Italian place on University Ave.

Sun-Ki Chai
http://www2.hawaii.edu/~sunki/

Former Hawaii Forum Host