Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Lucky Belly Connection

Lucky Belly in Chinatown - Honolulu, Hawaii

 It's a theme I have been giving attention to in my life. It's one of my favorite things in the world, and maybe even THE most important thing in my world. When I was a portrait photographer, I began to see the beauty and the purpose in connecting with other people. I learned that capturing a good photograph happens by making a connection to the subject and capturing that moment.
I heard mothers tell me that if there were a fire in their home the two things they would grab on the way out would be their hard drive and the photos I took of their children.
That is a pretty beautiful connection.

When I began to make mixed media art and furnishings,  I saw it again. And I learned that
 it is way more purposeful to work at something that I am connected to because it attracts people who will love and appreciate it and find their own connection to something that I have created.
And that's a really cool connection too.

When I started to photograph and write about food I didn't expect to find that same connection with a subject I could EAT after photographing it, but guess what?
 I remembered how much connection there is that happens around food.

We all have endless memories centered around meals and family gatherings. The connections that happen between teaching children to eat, meals with girlfriends, date nights, cooking at home for someone, weddings, funerals, sad days, or happy days alone.
Connecting with someone who feeds you, or someone you have fed, or someone you share a meal with, holds much of the magical stuff of life: the connection we crave and seek and discover and share.
 The connection we find over food and drink and adventure.

Sometimes the desire to fly away and experience these things in a far away place is incredibly strong, and sometimes when that happens, a whole new world opens up and the experience is life changing. Sometimes that same connection can happen at the kitchen table, or at that cool little place down the street over a drink and something great to eat.

I am beyond lucky to live in Hawaii, a place where people save money their whole lives in order to come visit. I am fortunate to be able to work with food in a place that is bursting with new and creative places to savor those connections and I am lucky enough to be right in the middle of Chinatown, where there is a literal buzz on the streets with all of the new and exciting places that have come to the neighborhood.

I opened up my photography studio in Chinatown, right across from the historic Hawaii Theatre in 2005. At that time, much of the neighborhood's shops were covered in papered windows, empty and waiting for the area's revitalization to be realized.
Over the years, the neighborhood has blossomed with fresh new places to eat and drink, blending in with the places that have been around for decades and standing arm and arm with the ever present crazy side of Chinatown.  

Chinatown has always been the seedier side of Downtown. 
And honestly, this is why we love it. It's on the edge, but just enough to make it unpretentious, artsy, and a mecca for creative culture
Since the 1800's when sailors first began to use the harbor for shipping  and docking large vessels, which also meant the arrival of sailors and harbor workers to the area, offering migrant plantation workers the opportunity to settle in the area and open up shops and bars, Chinatown has had a rich history and made way for it's colorful inhabitants today.

And as for connection, the business owners in the area have an almost familial connection, and for  the people that visit these merchants, it is easy to feel the connection to them and their product. 

I recently sat down with Dusty Grable, co-owner of Lucky Belly, located on Hotel Street and was not surprised that our conversation centered around this very thing. The connection that happens through food and drink
Lucky Belly

 Dusty opened Lucky Belly nearly three years ago, along with co-owners Jesse Cruz and Mary Tess Calad, in the heart of Chinatown and has become one of my favorite spots for lunch, dinner and of course cocktails

Lucky Belly is a spectacular combination of Asian influenced dishes with a definite local flare and is riddled with both Jesse and Dusty's determination to do things in their own style. The result is a comfortable, modern-rustic place, that is putting out some seriously sexy food, centered around the concept of hospitality found by sharing a meal. 
The Lucky Bowl

Among their amazing appetizers, salads, special plates and their signature ramen, are my favorites and the items I order over and over again: 
the amazing Pork Belly Bao, 
their seriously sexy Shrimp Gyoza with edamame avocado puree and ponzu, 
the best Beet and Spicy Greens salad anywhere 
and of course, their giant Lucky Bowl.    
Beet and Spicy Greens Salad with goat cheese, candied pumpkin seeds and pomegranate dressing

A new menu item - Scallop Risotto in a cone sushi shell
Although Dusty is a certified sommaleir, and their sake selection is amazing, I can never order anything to drink except The Aviation - a cocktail made with gin, elderberry flower and citrus, OR their smokey Old Fashioned where they smoke a piece of kiawe under the glass before pouring in the cocktail to give it an amazing smokey flavor. 
But if for some reason you need a non-alcoholic beverage, the Chinatown Swizzle will make you feel like you've got the real deal in your hand. It's made with galangal, kaffir lime, lemongrass, drinking vinegar and coconut juice.  
The Aviation

The Chinatown Swizzle
And to make things even sweeter, for our late night needs there is the Lucky Belly Window. A little walk up window on the street where only on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10pm-2am you can grab one of three $5 plates to sop up any late night booze after carousing at the many bars and clubs in Chinatown. The menu changes weekly and is actually something we plan our schedules around.

The moral of the story? 
Chinatown, with all of it's whackiness, is home to places like this; where great food is taken seriously, but not too seriously and where the most important factor is connecting to the place, the food and the people you are with. Take it from all of us, who's bellies are lucky on a regular basis, Lucky Belly needs to be your new favorite spot and Chinatown needs to be on your list of places to visit on Oahu.

Are you a believer in connection? 
What are some of your memories that center around food and drink?
Cheers to places like Lucky Belly and blogs like this where we can share in a meal, a cocktail and an experience!
I love to hear from you!


  1. I love how you "connect" connections... what you wrote was so moving! Love it and miss you!

  2. @ J.M C. Thank you! And yes, what I wouldn't give to reconnect with you over a beet salad at Lucky Belly!!!