NADINE KAM / NKAM@STARBULLETIN.COM
Fresh blueberries surround a crepe filled with homemade vanilla custard cream, drizzled with red wine reduction and crowned with homemade whipped cream at Cream Pot. Behind it is a maguro eggs Benedict on rice with avocado.
Cream Pot pleases with sweet treats and breakfast eats
Nathan Tran tried his best to live up to his parents' expectations, forgoing his dream of attending culinary school to study at the University of Hawaii's William S. Richardson School of Law.
"To my parents, a chef is just a cook," he said. "They don't see cooking as an art."
But after returning home to California to practice tort law, he couldn't stop thinking about parlaying his hobby into a restaurant of his own.
"I couldn't see doing what I was doing and making a living that way for 20 years. Cooking is better because it makes you a different kind of person."
So he returned to Hawaii to start anew, opening Cream Pot in the Hawaiian Monarch Hotel in late February.
His initial idea was to offer a haven for dessert lovers but took the more conservative approach of offering breakfast -- heavy on sweets, cream and crepes -- that would appeal to a broader range of people.
In Cream Pot, Tran has created an adult oasis guaranteed to win over the tea-loving set due to its French country kitchen charm. He traveled to the south of Italy and France to study their farm homes and did his best to mimic the ambiance of white stucco, terra cotta tiles, sturdy wood tables and shabby chic furnishings within the confines of the hotel's glass shell, to charming effect.
NADINE KAM / NKAM@STARBULLETIN.COM
The breakfast and brunch nook is designed to look like a French/Italian country kitchen.
CREAM FIGURES prominently in recipes, including the crepes, which my friend ordered only reluctantly.
Who could possibly not love crepes, I wondered. But she said the menu descriptions are always so enticing that the reality is often disappointing, with the crepes too flabby, too eggy, too thick or too stiff.
Not this time. Tran adapted a French recipe to reduce flour content, creating a crepe that's thin, yet sturdy enough to stand up to the fillings. Crepes ($10) full of fresh Maui strawberries, homemade strawberry coulis and Valhrona chocolate are heavenly and something I could eat every day.
It's the same with the apple tatin crepe, filled with generous slices of Granny Smith apples and homemade caramel sauce ($9.50) far more fluid and mellow than commercial caramel.
You can have the same toppings, including slices of Kahuku bananas in a vanilla custard cream with dark-salted caramel sauce ($9.50) on Belgian waffles ($11 to $11.50), or in some cases French toast ($9.25 to $9.50), but I prefer crepes to the bready selections.
The menu is not limited to crepes, also featuring nongreasy butter-free French-rolled omelets and Eggs Benedict.
The classic omelet ($11.50) combines baked maple-cured bacon with sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions, potatoes and Gruyere. I find there's more to enjoy with the classic than the salmon omelet ($12.50), as tempting as Grey Goose vodka-cured salmon may seem.
Eggs Benedict undergoes many a makeover here. The closest Tran comes to the traditional version is the Classic Hawaiian ($12.50) with its base of English muffin piled with maple-cured bacon, pineapple, perfectly poached eggs and Parmesan-flavored Mornay sauce rather than lemony Hollandaise.
I prefer the big American breakfast, but for those who might prefer a Japanese-style breakfast, there's a maguro Benedict with a base of Japanese rice topped with shiso leaf, thin-sliced ahi, avocado and daikon sprouts, finished with a refreshing sauce of oranges, miso and soy sauce.
One item I've not seen on local menus is the dish of baked eggs, destined to become a new favorite. Shrimp and spinach ($12.50) topped with two soft-baked eggs, with runny centers, reminded me of the comfort of chawanmushi. You can also have the baked eggs with bacon, potatoes and onion instead ($11).
If you want to try the two best things on the menu together, there is a baked eggs combo also featuring one strawberry-chocolate crepe for $18.
You'll be as tempted by the drinks on the menu as the entrée choices. In addition to mango and strawberry shakes ($4), there is mint lemonade ($3.50), and for chocolate lovers, chilled Cocoberry dark chocolate ($4.50), the start of a new breakfast of champions.