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Angelo Pietro, Kit n' Kitchen


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#1 skchai

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Posted 02 August 2004 - 09:57 PM

Angelo Pietro
1585 Kapiolani Blvd. Suite 110
Honolulu, HI 96814
808 941-0555
http://www.angelopie...ietro Honolulu)
http://www.angelopie...m/ (Pietro USA), http://www.pietro.co... (Pietro Japan)

Kit n' Kitchen
1010 University Ave.
Honolulu HI 96826
808 942-7622

We're here to discuss the East Asian adaptation (some unkind people would say desecration) of Italian cuisine. No, I'm not talking so much about the world of pizza topped with squid, corn, potato, and mayonnaise, though that's a fascinating topic in its own right. Instead, I want to focus more on the other dishes. . .

The widespread consumption of Italian food in East Asia has a fairly short history, a rather belated reciprocation of Marco Polo's supposed export of spaghetti technology from Kublai Khan's China. Anglo-American-inspired "Western" cuisine such as tonkatsu (pork cutlet), croquette, omuraisu (rice omelette), curry rice, and hayashi ("hashed") rice arose in Tokyo during the late 19th and early 20th century, and within a few decades spread into the mainstream of the "co-prosperity sphere". On the other hand, Italian food doesn't seem to have made much of an impact until pizza started to become popular in Japan sometime during the late 1960s and 70s, and about ten years later in South Korea (not sure about Hong Kong, Taiwan, etc.).

Somehow, though, Italian food is now pretty commonplace throughout much of East Asia, and there is a recognized and distinct menu of Italian-Asian foods. I'm not sure how this happened, and I haven't been really able to uncover any histories of this development. So sorry if this whole review seems pretty hollow. There does seem to to be lot of intermediation involved - the rest of East Asia's take on Italian food seems heavily influenced by Japan's adaptation of it, which in turn seems to have been influenced by Italian-American food served at Western (read American) chain restaurants. So, stated more precisely, it's really Italian-American-Asian food we're talking about. But other than that things are a little foggy for me. .

But for what it's worth, other than pizza, the "big three" of Italian-East Asian food are napolitan, gratin, and doria:

(1) Napolitan is basically spaghetti with meat and ketchup sauce. Mmmmm?

(2) Gratin is, well, gratin - but more specifically something like a baked pasta with cream sauce and cheese. How a French cooking term came to be attached to "Italian" food would no doubt be an interesting story if I could figure it out, but unfortunately I have no insight into this.

(3) Doria is basically a gratin made with (Japanese-style) rice instead of pasta.

And while I'm about to review an Italian-Japanese and an Italian-Chinese restaurant, I unfortunately did not have a chance to take pictures of any of these three dishes. The reason is, that, unless I'm going to lean over and point my camera at the next table, the only way I could get a picture would be for me or someone in my family to actually order and eat them. And while only napolitan sounds truly gross, none of us really felt enough like being a guinea pig to try these dishes when there were other things that sounded more appealing and were equally exotic. You can find plenty of pictures of gratin and doria at the three Angelo Pietro sites listed above, as well as those for other Italian-Japanese chains such as Chicago Pizza Factory and Saizeriya.

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Anyway, here's Angelo Pietro in Honolulu. It's part of a moderate-sized franchise chain based in Fukuoka, with about 100 branches in Japan, mostly in Kyushu, as well as five in Seoul, and one in Shanghai, in addition to one here.

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You can tell it's a Japanese restaurant right away because of the plastic food in its display window. . .

It has a pretty large menu, featuring mix-and-match sauces and toppings for spaghetti. To its credit, there is no napolitan anywhere on the menu. The four sauces on offer are tomato, shoyu, garlic oil, and cream. The toppings include ground beef, smoked sausage, chicken, squid, shrimp, mushroom, brocolli, asparagus, spinach. Besides mix and match, there are "fixed" toppings which include familiarly-named sauces such as Bolognese or Carbonara, as well as popular Italian-Japanese toppings such as natto (fermented soybeans), tarako (cod roe), ume-katsuo (sour Asian plum with dried bonito), and bacon-takana (a kind of Japanese cabbage, usually pickled). I guess these are not included in the mix-and-match out of fear that someone will try to mix tarako with ground beef or natto with smoked sausage. But why not let them?

Basil, oregano, and such are nowhere in sight, but garlic is used liberally, and not just in the garlic oil sauce.

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This is a brocolli-mushroom spaghetti with soy sauce from the mix and match. The spaghetti is not quite al dente, but is not at all soggy either. The assortment of mushrooms are suprising varied, including shiitake and oyster mushroom along with the more common button / champignon variety. The soy-based sauce is somewhat garlicky and therefore might qualify as what would be called a "yakiniku tare" in Japan except it is not as sweet. Lots of crisp-fried onions on top - don't know why, but why not? Good textural contrast. Pleasant, not too much that anyone could object to unless they're into "authenticity".

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This is the katsuo-ume, a little bit further in the Japanese direction of the Italian-Japanese spectrum. Nonetheless, the spaghetti are regular durum noodles, not italianized udon (in case you were worried). The katsu are flaked "hana katsuo", and you get a lot of pureed ume flesh mixed in with the noodles. All this is topped by thin slivers of nori (dried laver). The combination is kind of a mixture of extremes - the fruity sourness of the ume contrasting the smoky, salty meatiness of the katsuo and the iodine flavor of the nori. Good? I think it's an acquired taste, even for those who like ume and katsuo separately - but I wouldn't say it's bad - perhaps remotely like the same principle as ham with fruit? Well, anyway, I ate the whole thing, and the only thing I could say against it is perhaps more ume!

Angelo Pietro clearly aims at the "Italian" of the Italian-Japanese spectrum (at least compared to other places) and makes somewhat more effort to provide dishes that would be recognizable to Westerners as Italian food. Indeed, the restaurants whose Italian-influenced menu is limited to napolitan, gratin, and doria tend not to be Italian-Japanese so much as Western-Japanese "yoshokuya", where these dishes are served alongside curry, tonkatsu, etc. Here's an example - Angel Food's Oven-Tei chain. And while Angelo Pietro has moved into Seoul in a big way, there are already a number of Western-Korean ("kyeongyangshik") chains serving a similar menu, Skylark being among the largest ones.

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This is Kit n' Kitchen. Have no idea about the name, and it doesn't seem to be chain at all; the only location is in Honolulu. However, the owner comes from Hong Kong, and this is a fairly faithful rendition of Italian food as served in Hong Kong or Taipei. First thing that strikes you is that its menu is pretty similar to that of Angelo Pietro, and indeed, as with so many other things, the adaptation of Western culture in East Asia has been funneled through Japan.

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One of the most common non-pizza, non-pasta Italian-East Asian dishes is the raw potato salad, and can be found on both menu. Once again, I had no clue about the origin or how it got classified as "Italian". The dressing is an "oriental style" one that seems to feature a combination of miso, vinegar, and oil. Raw potatoes are pretty similar to daikon or jicama in texture, and have an extremely mild taste.

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"Pillow Bread" I haven't seen this elsewhere, and may be a Kit'n Kitchen own adaptation of garlic bread. Asian-style loaf bread (which apparently was adapted from recipes by German bakers) with the insides cut up for scooping out, buttered and toasted. You remove pieces with your fork and eat the crust separately. I guess it's good for families where some people like the crust and others like the inside.

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Here's their adaptation of the bacon-takana combination, the Portuguese sausage-takana with a spicy garlic sauce on spaghetti. The Portuguese sausage is actually a popular breakfast meat in Hawai`I, adapted from the linguica recipes of immigrants from the Azores and Madeira. So if you want to count influences here, it's Italian->American->Japanese->Hong Kong + Portuguese->Hawaiian. After all that fuss, it's a pretty modest dish, but the salty greasiness of the Portuguese sausage does go very well with the tartness and slightly bitter flavor of the takana. A winnah, I would say.

Kit n' Kitchen does have a huge variety of gratins and dorias (27 separate discrete toppings offered for each). One I really should try is the "PM Pork Chop" which seems to be a Hong Kong-style black pepper XO sauce on a chop, which is then placed on top of rice or pasta, sprinkled with cheese, and put in the oven. They also have a "Black Bean Pork Chop" served with cream sauce, either gratin or doria-style. Both make a clear statement distinguishing Italian-Chinese (or at least Italian-Hong Kong) from Italian-Japanese. But I'm kind of scared, to be honest.

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

Former Hawaii Forum Host


#2 caroline

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Posted 07 August 2004 - 12:01 PM

Fascinating post, Sun-ki. I guess what most took me back was the raw potato salad.

Rachel
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#3 skchai

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Posted 08 August 2004 - 12:23 PM

Thanks, Rachel. Yes, I wasn't sure what to expect, but actually the salad was very bland - raw potatoes are very crisp, without much flavor, but I did like the texture quite a lot.

I do wonder why, given the huge volume of potatoes eaten in the West, there seems to be a kind of implicit injunction against eating them raw. I can see why there might be a preference for cooked ones - the main use in the West is as a bread substitute, and the starchy qualities come out better after they are cooked.

However, it's not clear why it's hard to find even a single recipe using raw potatoes (except in very recent and faddish "raw food diet" cookbooks). Isn't there some vague belief floating around that raw potatoes are poisonous? Not so much because they are from the nightshade family - the myth that all Solanaceae were dangerous presumably evaporated long ago, and at any rate would not have differentiated between the raw and cooked.

Instead, perhaps it has something to do with "sunstruck" green potatoes and possible glycoalkaloid (solanine, aflatoxins?) poisoning. Perhaps the belief is that if you cook potatoes, even the green parts will be rendered harmless. As far a I know, this is not true, but the belief is at least plausible given the fact that cooking renders harmless poisonous substances in taro and "sour" cassava. At any rate, I'm just speculating. . .

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BTW, here's a shot of the interior of Kit n' Kitchen. Notice the many stuffed animals and the poster advertising gratin and doria. . .

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

Former Hawaii Forum Host


#4 PakePorkChop

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Posted 08 August 2004 - 01:59 PM

Another wonderful column, SK!

I had briefly mention Kit n' Kitchen in an artical I wrote in 2002. The owner-chef is Chun Kit Yiu, who had been the long-time sous chef for Angelo Pietro. Thus the similarity! Chun left Angelo Pietro, went to Hong Kong, and established his first
Kit n'Kitchen there. He subesequently transplanted his concept in Honolulu.

For the article and a picture of his signature gratin, go to

http://www.hawaii.rr...2_hkceewest.htm

btw, Chun also trained Wai Leung "Dave" Wong, former part-owner of New Century restaurant on Nuuanu Avenue and probably still the sous chef at Arancino. For a bit on Wong's former restaurant, go to the end of

http://www.hawaii.rr...04_tmasters.htm

#5 skchai

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Posted 10 August 2004 - 11:52 AM

Thanks so much for the clarification and info on Kit n' Kitchen. It's interesting how the process of "technology transfer" happens between different countries. Often it's on such a personal level. I didn't realize that he had opened in HK first before he brought the restaurant to Hawai`i.

BTW, loved the picture of the Hainan Chicken Rice from Cafe Oriente in your article. I've had that at HK Orchid Cafe, which was very good - chicken bones were still pink, HK style. I hope to try it in Singapore one of these days, where it's supposed to reach its ulimate level!

As you mention, HK Orchid also has its share of Italian-Chinese dishes. I tried the Black Pepper Beef with Spaghetti. I'll try to work up a report on the place one of these days. . .

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

Former Hawaii Forum Host


#6 skchai

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Posted 31 August 2004 - 01:13 AM

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O.K., I finally got up the courage and ordered the PK Pork Chop Gratin at Kit n' Kitchen. Hey . . . it was actually really good. . .

First of all it's not XO Sauce and cheese, it's Hong Kong-style black pepper sauce and cheese, so it's perhaps a little bit less of an East-smashes-against-West mixture. But still, black pepper sauce contains soy sauce and ginger, normally not things you would associate with a gratin. But whatever.

It turns out that the PK Pork Chop has only a small amount of very mild white cheese on top, which wouldn't clash with anything, not even XO sauce. But it does have LOT of butter. In fact, the noodles are swimming in butter. Anyone who has had steak "batayaki" would tell you that shoyu and butter is a natural combination, unlike shoyu and cheese. So the whole thing turned out very nicely - pork chop was not overcooked, nor were the mushrooms, and the black pepper sauce added just the right amount of heat to the butter-soy combination. In fact, it may be my favorite Italian-Chinese dish so far. So live and learn.

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

Former Hawaii Forum Host


#7 FoodZealot

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Posted 31 August 2004 - 07:26 PM

Hey, just more proof that Asians can think "outside the box".

#8 Chef A

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Posted 17 September 2004 - 06:37 AM

Aloha! First post for me in the Hawaii section. Pretty cool so far, I'm new to Gullet and I find most of it hilarious! I'm Haole (smile when you say it :smile: ) I've worked on Oahu & Maui. My Hanai family lives in Makawao. I've been in Hawaii since 1993. Grew up in Seattle.
Any way I've noticed that the club scene in Honolulu has blown up! Nothing like a mainland city...but, still. Pipeline. Dave & Busters... Ahh, the gods weep. There is an excellent restaurant, family rest, Ichiman Ramen on Kapahulu. Really cool people, decent food, nothing fancy but, it's honest! I'd rather eat some food by someone who is trying than by someone who is "telling". Anyway, I dig all the small spots I'd rather not share my favorites for fear of retribution...By the way, I worked @ Angelo's about 5 years or so ago. They do make good, honest food. Clean kitchen, fun to work. Good job that I left to work for a Master chef in Restaurant Row...What, exactlly is wasted on the youth? Intelligence? Ahh, I'm out. Aloha and lots of good thoughts....A
Hey, I've got an even better idea! How about you get a smaller spoon? The other one actually, kind of hurts. But, hey! It hurts in a GOOD kind of way.

#9 skchai

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Posted 19 September 2004 - 12:07 PM

Would love to hear more of your thoughts about the local restaurant industry, Chef A. , including the training and atmosphere at Angelo's.

Will writedown Ichiman as another must-try Ramen spot.

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

Former Hawaii Forum Host


#10 Kapuliperson

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Posted 23 September 2004 - 07:40 PM

Looks fantastic, I'm getting hungrier. The "pillow bread" looks really good as well.
It's interesting how foods from different cultures can be mixed and can come out great - I've had some Indian versions of pizza as well - all good stuff. Bitter-gourd pizza is quite good... although I've never seen it made anywhere other than my own kitchen :p