In search of the best fish taco in Kailua-Kona

On our many trips to Kailua-Kona, and especially after the kitchen in our house there had to be torn out because of a mold disaster, we sampled the local fare in hopes of finding that sweet spot between reasonable price and taste. My personal quest was to find the best fish taco on the west side of the island, for that’s truly one of my all time favorite meals. Call me one of the true fish taco cod-noscenti or an afish-ionado. Either way, I’m one serious fish taco snob.

I suppose the reason a good fish taco is so hard to find is because there are so many variables in its creation. First, there’s the fish itself and how it’s cooked. As an afish-ionado, I believe a fish should be honored with seasonings, a marinade and then a grill. I think it’s just wrong on so many levels to deep fat fry fish for a fish taco. Save that for fish and chips.

Then there’s the issue of the slaw. Here’s where too much vinegar can assault your olfactory system. And I’ve even had slaw on my fish tacos with mayo. Paleeze! Are you kidding me? Talk about a desperate attempt to fill a tortilla shell. And speaking of tortilla shells, I’m personally a fan of fresh flour tortillas. Granted, there are some good corn tortillas out there, and the corn/flour debate can’t be solved on this page. That’s really a matter of personal choice. But the wrong tortilla shell or one that is just plain stale will ruin the whole concoction. And two barely-cooked corn tortillas to compensate for the fact that one is too feeble to hold up the design is like calling in the Texas Republican Party to make critical thinking recommendations to the Texas State Board of Education’s textbook committee. Two is not better than one. You get my point.

Then there’s aioli sauce. A must. Salsa alone doesn’t cut it for fish tacos. You’ve got to have that last little bit of creamy tang on top to set the taco off just right.

You see my standards are pretty high. And yet, two restaurants in Kailua-Kona do pretty well with fish tacos. The best one I’ve found so far is at the Kona Brewery. You’ll find it on their menu called “Uncle’s Fish or Shrimp Tacos.” They use both a chipotle yogurt sauce and an avocado aioli to top their creation. Down it with a cold Fire Rock Pale Ale, and you’ll start entertaining that permanent relocation to Kona like we did.

The Miss Congeniality award goes to the fish taco I found at Lava Java. You’ll find their fish tacos on the lunch menu under “fresh fish,” and they serve up theirs with a chipotle aioli and tropical salsa. The important thing about their fish tacos is that they grill their fish. And you can’t beat the view, since you’re sitting outside on the fringe of Ali’i Drive and the ocean.

But move over Kona Brewery and Lava Java. Come early September, which is when we move, a new fish taco is coming to town. With the help from a recipe from Maggie’s One Butt Kitchen, I think I’ve got a winner. And of course, I’ve got a playlist for the preparations.

First, the tunes. Since we’re talking fish tacos, we need some gringo south-of-the-border songs and ballads.

  1. Sangria Wine (Jerry Jeff Walker)
  2. Come up Full (Meg Hutchinson)
  3. Goin’ to Acapulco (Calexico and Jim James)
  4. Deportee, Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Nanci Griffith)
  5. Cowgirl in the Sand (Neil Young with Crazy Horse)
  6. Southern Cross (Crosby, Stills, and Nash)
  7. Mexican Divorce (Nicolette Larson)
  8. Take me to the Mardi Gras (Paul Simon)
  9. The Coast (Paul Simon)
  10. Come on in my Kitchen (Red Molly)
  11. Fishing (Richard Shindell)
  12. Oye Como Va (Santana)
  13. Going to Mexico (Steve Miller Band)
  14. 96 Degrees in the Shade (Third World)
  15. Spanish Rose (Van Morrison)
  16. Rosita (Antigone Rising)
  17. Remittance Man (Jimmy Buffett)
  18. Mexico (James Taylor)
  19. Bamboleo (Gipsy Kings)
  20. Mexicali Blues (Grateful Dead)

Now Maggie’s ingredients. The italics show how I altered the recipe when I made it the other night. It’s best to make the various components in this order as well.

Chipotle Salsa:

2 cups seeded and diced Roma tomatoes

2 tablespoons minced red onion

1 tsp. red wine vinegar

1 chipotle pepper (from a can) minced. (At first I had misread Maggie’s recipe as one can. That would set you on fire. I quickly figured it out once I tasted one of those peppers.)

salt, to taste

2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

Picante Slaw:

2 cups finely shredded cabbage (1 cup green; 1 cup purple)

2 tsp. lime juice (I used 2 tablespoons)

2 tsp. honey (I used 2 tablespoons)

2 tablespoons minced red onion (I probably used a bit more)

1 jalapeno, seeded and minced (Make sure to use gloves)

2 tsp. chopped cilantro (I used at least 2 tablespoons)

salt, to taste

Lime Crema: (I didn’t use this part of the recipe, although it would be good, too. I made, instead the avocado aioli below as the tangy topping.)

1/2 cup Mexican crema or sour cream

zest from one lime

juice from 1 lime

Avocado Aioli:

¼ c. sour cream

¼ c. Greek yogurt

2 or 3 small Haas avocados

Juice of 1 lime (Add more lime juice to taste)

1 Tablespoon or more of olive oil

1 tsp. Kosher salt

ground pepper to taste

garlic juice from chopped garlic jar (1 tsp.)

Fish:

2 lbs. tilapia

1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used ½ cup of olive oil—I have this thing about olive oil over canola. It’s so much healthier.)

3 tablespoons lime juice

5 tsp. chili powder (I used less—probably 2 tsps.)

1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin

1 1/2 tsp ground coriander

1 1/2 tsp minced garlic

salt, to taste

8 inch diameter flour tortillas—There were only three of us. Make what you need.

Directions:

Salsa: Combine all ingredients for Salsa; toss and set aside.

Slaw: Combine all ingredients; toss and set aside.

Aioli: Using a food processor, combine all ingredients at high speed until you have a smooth, silky sauce. Add extra lime juice or olive oil to get the right consistency if need be.

Tortillas: On a grill pan heated over high heat, grill the tortillas until grill marks are present. (Maggie said to put them in a lightly damp towel and set aside.) My method is to: Place tortillas in aluminum foil and keep heated in 250 degree oven until fish is grilled. Maggie is a real cook; I’m not.

Fish: Place the fish in Ziploc bag. Combine the remaining ingredients to create a marinade. Pour marinade over fish. Massage marinade to completely coat the fish. (Fish like all of us like a good massage. However, don’t leave fish too long in a marinade that has citrus. It will get cooked.)

On a BBQ grill pan over high medium heat, cook the marinated fish until done. (This will not take long.) Remove to a serving plate.

Put the tacos together with the warm tortillas, slaw, salsa, fish, and aioli sauce. Serve with lime wedges.

For more great recipes, go to http://maggiesonebuttkitchen.wordpress.com/about/

Time in Tunnels

The lesson of travel
is to trust the goodness,
the illumination
of instinct
intellect.

But this sudden lawless flurry
in the stifling clap of darkness
I become a Space Mountain refugee.
Dumbed, numbed
maladaptive,
blind.

The blackened speeding hallway spits
out husks of
“trust, trust, trust”
left scattered to bottomless tracks.

Six anxious-eyed strangers
feign calm, but wheeze through
nostrils full of spent fuel.
Which of us would sell the others
to quell the clattering chaos?
A glaring sun exposes us—
all of us traitors—
we avert our eyes
squeezing tears and shame at lid corners.

But as quickly
the shrouded cacophony
again
blankets our dank cage.
I close my eyes to find
my marigold canary.
She whispers a bird promise
feather light
in the opaque
perspiration and
doubt.

The day finally opens
wide
and full
a welcome
Tuscan promise
kept.

Tonight’s Tour Includes ‘Pig Alley’, 1989

Pigalle Place is a red light district in the Montmartre area of Paris. It’s where you’ll find the Moulin Rouge along with sex shops, topless bars, and other notorious ‘adult entertainments.’  It’s been known pejoratively as ‘pig alley’ since World War II. I doubt the male patrons who go there stop to think when using the name what they are in effect calling themselves.

The royal tourist coach

full of oily adolescents

forces its way into the sticky, narrow street.

Packaged vaginas stuck to tired Montmartre walls,

spandex and rouge

lips where a child once painted

the voice of her mother.

A leathered proprietor smolders in

the alley’s darkened folds,

his chattel

for francs or dollars.

Prep boys gawk

lurid faces blowing whistles

fogging windows damp with insults and

safe distance bargains.

The smug headmaster

watches the rites in a tilted rear view bus mirror.

He says ‘they’re entitled to some fun.’

He says ‘it’s harmless.’

Liberte’, Egalite’, Fraternite’

Wedged in too tightly between a Peugeot

and a cigarette-stale perfume,

the bus backs out

spent of interest.

Not even offering to pay

for the fuck.

Homeward Flights

(Written on the way home from Europe, August 2009)

A hundred and fifty thousand air miles ago

I drank only Shirley Temples and

rode in the pickup back with

shovels, broken brick.

First class.

Hub to rusty hub wide seating,

leg room enough for scaffold planks.

Dad’s canvas tool bag coughed dry mortar

on every bump.

On the gun rack his level gurgled.

Hayfield bugs hit the cracked windshield,

a Jackson Pollock

by the first gate,

where the first cab to cabin

words could finally bounce over

three-quarter tons of rattled metal.

From the Mercantile to home

we gained altitude,

outran the Fokker mutts that tailed us by Roys,

raced to the crest of Ralston’s Hill

where an air pocket,

that sudden foot of space between

ass and truck bed,

flipping stomachs and delivering

a split sweet moment of weightless joy.

It was before kids were so seat-belt safe.

It was before body scans.

A She Wolf and Other Roman Women

(Written in Rome, August, 2009)

Having a vague grasp of the story of Romulus and Remus, those twins raised by a benevolent wolf, I have been pleasantly surprised to hear of the alternative interpretation of who truly nurtured those boys into early adulthood.  Gaetano, our guide in Pompeii, first clued us into this version of the myth of Rome’s founders. The less known and touted portion of this myth is that it was not a wolf at all that raised the boys, but a harlot, for “she wolf” or “lupa” was shorthand for courtesan in ancient Rome. They received their names for howling at men in their bidding for customers. It also may have been that the shepherd Faustulus, who myth tells us found the boys in the wolf’s den, lived in a dual income relationship with his wife, Acca Larentia, and it could be that income came from her notorious activities. As with all myths, the retelling by various ancients and various factions of ancients blends and sifts the tales to their particular likings. In any case, myths often have tiny seeds of truth, and any kernel of truth of twins being raised by a wolf seems farther fetched than twins being raised by a woman who turned tricks. And certainly, an “Eternal City” would attribute its roots probably morequickly to wolf milk and teat than to a lactating strumpet.

But women standing just behind the curtain of male myth in Rome’s origins doesn’t stop at saving the baby asses of these two brothers. To begin with, the boys’ mother, Plutarch and Livy told us, was none other than Rhea Silvia, a priestess. She received a forced honor as a Vestal Virgin from her uncle Amulius, who had a shitload of gold, but not the rightful inheritance as King. No, that right was her father’s, papa Numitor. Uncle Amulius living before the medieval chastity belt, placed Rhea Silvia in the position of forced celibacy, for he wanted no rightful heirs that could challenge his poached throne.  Vestal Virgins found to be deflowered were buried alive.  If they kept their knees together for thirty years, they could live their lives in luxury, be certain that their blood would never be spilt, and even marry once their thirty years were up. Not a bad deal, really.

Enter Mars, literally. Mars. Some say it was seduction. Some say rape. I wasn’t there mind you, and we all know that law disallows the past activities of the defendant to be introduced during trial, but let’s just say that Mars, being the God of War, had a proclivity for mindless violence, dominance, and mayhem. So the possibility that he charmed and seduced this woman who had family pressures and the possibility of live burial on her seems less likely than rape. Circumstantial evidence—“he said, she said”–to be sure, but let’s look at the statistics. Anyway, the outcome was pregnancy, a tough situation for a Vestal Virgin.

Rhea Silvia bore twin boys, Romulus and Remus, and they were spectacular male specimens. This pissed off Amulius tremendously, and he imprisoned the recovering mom and ordered the twin boys to be put to death. Of course, kings never do their own dirty work (can you say Dick Cheney?) and Amulius outsourced the nasty task to a servant.  Luckily for Romulus and Remus (and the history of Rome) that the servant had a soft spot for babies. He placed the little ones in a basket and laid it on the banks of the flooding Tiber River. The rising waters picked up the hapless cargo and delivered the brothers gently downstream where the “she wolf” discovered the two.

Of course the two brothers grew up, their youthful years as myth and history pinpoint at around 771-753 BC.  When around 18 and full of testosterone, the young men eventually encountered their real grandfather, Numitor and their evil great uncle Amulius again after a kerfuffle over some sheep.  Their grandfather discovered the true identity of Remus, and when Romulus returned to assist his brother, he incited a revolt in the city and in the melee, old ornery Amulius, was killed. The brothers then released their imprisoned mother.

You’d think the two would have figured the Gods had favored them and that familial harmony would be better than a usual goat sacrifice as thanks. But no. These two could not agree on which hill to establish the new city. Would it be Palatine Hill or Aventine Hill? Romulus preferred Palatine; Remus Aventine. They consulted flocks of birds as omens. Even that did not solve it, for they both saw flocks that gave them the answers they wanted. (Again, I’m thinking of the Bush Administration looking for WMDs here.) Remus saw six vultures; brother Romulus saw twelve. Compromise was not something they evidently learned along the way. Romulus, convinced twelve vultures trumped six started a trench on Palatine. Remus having none of this leaped the trench, a bad omen I guess for starting cities in 753 BC. It was enough to enrage Romulus to the point that he slay Remus for his brother’s broad jumping antics. Romulus then declared himself King, named the city after himself, and completed the city.

Rome grew, filling up with males from all varieties of life’s harder edges. Of course, just like an early western mining town, something essential was missing, for even though Romans were flexible in their sexual tastes, women still filled that civilizing niche. Without women, Romulus and Rome had a demographic problem on their hands.

Romulus hatched a plan. He’d go to a neighboring tribal area, throw a hell of a party, invite the locals, the Sabines, known for their lovely women, ply their men with plenty of wine, and then when the signal dropped, capture the women. This is what is later known as The Rape of the Sabines. They captured daughters and the younger women in the crowd and whisked 700 women back to the all-too male Rome.

The Sabine men, once sobered and sufficiently armed and organized under a guy named Titus Tatius, retaliated, marching on Rome, wanting their women back. They got help from a young girl named Tarpeia who opened a gate for the Sabines on the deal that she’d receive some cool arm jewelry in exchange. She got the jewelry. That and Sabine shields from the men as well, dying under the weight of it all. (Myths always have to teach women not to want too much.)

The ferocious battle continued until the Sabine women rushed onto the battle grounds with babies in their arms, pleading with both sides to stop the madness. They cried to their new Roman husbands as well as their Sabine fathers and brothers, “live in peace as one people.” Suddenly, all the adrenaline and testosterone drained from the scene. Big, burley Roman warriors and outraged Sabine men looking for vengeance stopped and sang “Kumbaya.” Romulus and Titus Tatius decided to rule jointly, doubling the size of Rome. Birds chirped, bees buzzed, and small little furry animals procreated.  Why? Because women, yes women, talked some sense into the men.

Traveling in Southern France with the ‘Little Fuquier’

This travel piece was posted on my first blog in June, 2009.

Before I tell you this story, I need to introduce you to the little travel demon that’s attached himself to us from the first morning of the trip. We’ll call him the “little fuquier.” First, he smugly threw fire bolts into my lower body, especially satisfied to watch me search for bathrooms as frequently as I did good photo ops in Paris. Then, when things seemed calm and without incident, he gobbled Mike’s ATM card. The little fuquier likely had something to do with delaying the money transfer that Fidelity had promised in Paris to fix that problem as well. No money showed up. He’s no doubt given the money to his ne’er-do-well little fuquier cousins to party their asses off with on the rue Oberkampf. Then, still needing attention (sort of like Kim Jong Il lately) he tampered with Europecar arrangements in Beziers, stranding us at the train station. He has been one busy little fuquier to be sure.

We hadn’t heard much from him for a spell, that is until today. And what a day he’s had. Paul Theroux, the celebrated travel writer said, “travel is glamorous only in retrospect.” He must have met the little fuquier, because glamorous is not an adjective I’d use to describe our experiences today. Oh, sure. We were (and are) in a glamorous spot. I was getting a glamorous tan in the 90-degree heat. But being stuck on a median on the Promenade Anglais from 1:45 until 4:45 pm. is not a glam setting. And the Promenade fringes some pretty great digs in Nice, let me tell you. In fact, as I stood there waiting for the Europecar rescue vehicle that never arrived, I almost had enough energy to fantasize Johnny Depp in some little apartment overlooking the sea. Almost. But after two or three hours in the hot sun with a broken down car hitched on the median, traffic whizzing by, not even Johnny Depp sounded good. Yes, that’s how beaten I was. Not even Johnny Depp sounded good!

The day started sunny and uneventful. Sure, I was still dreading the drive to Nice. The day before had been trying behind the wheel from Meg and Simon’s Maison-Hirondelles, a charming little bed and breakfast about twenty minutes out of Beziers. It is challenging enough to drive in a new country where the traffic signs are unfamiliar and the roads are narrow and arranged in medieval labyrinths. But we decided to bring along Sally–Mike’s name for the bitch-in-the-box GPS, the most hot and cold broad ever to work the satellites. Sally would nicely say “In 300 meters turn right” or “take the second left in the round about,” and I would oblige, shifting the VW rig down and buzzing in the direction she’d told me to go.

But then Sally started to act like Glen Close in Fatal Attraction. She’d give a direction you could not possibly follow. She’d coolly say, “recalculating.” And then all hell would break loose. When we needed Sally to be rational the most was when she most went off the beam. She boiled rabbits in the middle of town, in heavy traffic, and then she’d say something brilliant like–”at destination.” But we weren’t at our f-in destination. Then she’d come back on and act completely sweet and rational–telling us where we were and where to turn.  I tell you. I don’t know how Michael Douglas did it. (Not that the ass didn’t deserve some of what he got in that film.  It should be a required preparation for governors of South Carolina; they’d have to view it right before taking the oath of office.)

We left Aix-en-Provence after a quick breakfast there. Sally hadn’t had her coffee and had trouble getting us out of town. By that time I’d learned to not trust the bitch and just looked for signs to Nice.

Only two hours to Nice. We had it timed so we’d get there right when the car rental office opened at two, drop the car, catch a cab to our hotel, deposit our bags, and explore the city. I wanted to see the Chagall museum. Traffic was dicey by the turn off to St. Tropez, but the French do a wonderful job of keeping to the right on the freeway, so you can get into a certain rhythm. I drove in that French rhythm, my mind occasionally drifting from the backs of tanker trucks to floating Chagall dream people in azure skies.

When we got to Nice we had a half tank of gas. Savvy travelers that we are, rather than let the car rental company gouge us for the cost of refilling it at their rates, we stopped on the Promenade to fill up.

And that’s where the little fuquier must have decided to have a last bit of fun with us. We pulled up to diesel and tried to get our credit card to work in it. The card, of course, would not work. So Mike went in to inquire as to how to get it to work. The man came out and directed us to a different pumping station, one in which we could just pay by card inside. Great. He was helpful, but it was all a bit confusing. I pulled the car up, got out and went in to pay with the credit card. Mike filled us up.

Off we sailed east on the Promenade Anglais, which ribbons along the Mediterranean. We were about three kilometers from the Europecar office when the car started to sputter, spit and cough. It died right in traffic at a light. I tried to start it. Desperate. Cars are honking behind me. Come on. Come on. Shit. Finally. It started. I coaxed it along a bit farther, revving the engine for all it was worth in first to the next stop, desperately trying to find a place to pull off. It gasped and stopped again. More honking. I’m saying “shit” “what the f” (you name it). I can pretty much call an inanimate object every epithet known to womankind. Mike says, “God, maybe it wasn’t diesel I put in.” If I’d still had my fallopian tubes, they’d have sprung from my body and choked him.

There are moments in every marriage when you want to scream at the top of your lungs at the one you love so much. I wanted to reach over and grab him by his 150+ IQ and slap some “attention-to-detail” sense into him. I kept my hands to myself.

I limped and lurched us over to a left turn in the median finally where the car gave up for good. A cambien (phone) sat in close proximity, so Mike took the Europecar paperwork and phone card and trudged off to slay that dragon. I tried to talk myself down as I waved people around.

I watched Mike struggle with the phone conversation, using his hands to convey his meaning. (Yeah, like that will help.) It was taking forever to just talk to Europecar. Finally he came back to the car. They were coming, but it had been a long and arduous task to get through all the bullshit on the phone.  “God, I’m sorry. I still think I put in diesel, but that must be what happened in the confusion,” he said.

By that time I’d had enough time to cool down. To realize that this was the guy who’d stuck with me through 23 hours of childbirth. Through five months of vomiting at the beginning of the pregnancy. Through sixteen years of migraines. Through brain surgery. Through losing my parents. Through paying off student loans. Through eight long years of George W. Bush. “It could have happened to either one of us. I love you,” I said. Within a few minutes, I knew I really meant it.

And it could have. It’s called traveling. It’s called being out of your comfort zone. It’s being humbled by circumstances beyond our understanding and hence beyond our control.

The rest of the story of the “big Promenade strand” is the two police officers who rode up on their bikes and assisted us. They stayed with us, called assistance for us, recalled assistance for us, and tried in vain to get Europecar to help us. (This was before Europecar knew why the car stalled.) Finally, after waiting going on three hours, one of the officers said, “Let’s try to start it.” It miraculously started. They escorted us the kilometer and a quarter to the office (yes, we were that close). The two officers were so nice. One spoke English. He went into the Europecar office and basically told them they had treated us poorly (like that helped).  In the end, the extra insurance for complete coverage I took out will not cover this SNAFU. It was our mistake, and we’ll pay for it handsomely no doubt.

On the brighter side, our hotel is lovely, and we actually had Wifi (or at least we did until I changed the battery on my computer and lost the configurations). I’ll see if I can post this later.

As we prepare to leave France in the morning, we hope the little fuquier stays put. We’re happy to take with us the kindness of the French. We’re overjoyed to have new friends. We’re exhausted as well.

Other things GPS might stand for:

Going Past Site

Getting Pissed Swiftly

Global Proof of Suckers

Glorified Pitiful Service