Sidelined no more


POSTED: Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Colin Nishida has five bellybuttons. Ask him, he just might show you.

Nishida, chef-owner at the popular Side Street Inn, survived a life-threatening medical battle last year that left him unconscious in the hospital for two months.

It took three surgeries to battle a nasty intestinal infection, leaving him with shallow punctures lined up vertically above and below his real navel. His surgeon says they're most likely scars from the tubes put in to drain the abdomen, but Nishida has a nickname for them: “;my five bellybuttons.”;

Nishida's ordeal began in August, when he underwent surgery for a severe case of diverticulitis, a condition in which pouches develop in the large intestine that can trap bacteria, sometimes leading to abcesses or infection.

Or as Nishida explains, “;You ever cook sausage and it makes bubbles inside the skin? It was kinda like that.”;

He was discharged, but ended up back at the Queen's Medical Center on Sept. 1 with dehydration, severe pain and extremely high blood pressure.

Nishida's surgeon, Dr. Mihae Yu, director of Surgical Intensive Care at Queen's, said Nishida went into septic shock, the toxins from his infection bringing on multisystem organ failure, threatening the lungs, heart, kidneys, intestines and brain. “;He truly almost died multiple times.”;

Two surgeries followed, and Nishida was put on a pacemaker to control his blood pressure and heart rate. And then came a case of pneumonia.

His doctors put him under heavy sedation so that his body could heal and conserve oxygen, Yu said. He was unconscious through September and October.

“;That's the only time he stayed still in his life,”; his wife, Mel, said.

Colin and Mel were just married in March 2009, so they were less than six months into wedded life when all this happened. Mel made two trips to the hospital every day, in between taking care of business at Side Street and Nishida's other restaurant, Fort Street Bar & Grill.

When he woke up, Nishida said, he knew he was in a hospital somewhere, but little else. “;I thought I was playing golf on Maui and I hit my head or something.”;

The crisis had passed, but his muscles had atrophied and he weighed just 112 pounds. “;I couldn't even open a bottle of water. I'd get out of bed and — bam! — fall on the floor.”;

Several weeks of physical therapy followed before he was discharged right after Thanksgiving. He followed up with therapy at the Rehabilitation Center of the Pacific, as well as his own form of rehab: “;The doctor said, 'Chop onions and stuff, get your hand-eye coordination back.' So he starts making big pots of stuff — stew, spaghetti, curry, anything in a pot,”; Mel recalled. “;That was his exercise.”;

Nishida still has some pain, but his weight is up to 140 and he says he's at about 80 percent of full strength. He returned to Side Street in January — in time to cook for the Super Bowl — and works about six hours a day.

He's even making plans to open a third restaurant, Side Street Inn on the Strip, in Kapahulu, this summer.

Before all this happened, the 53-year-old Nishida had a reputation as a hard worker and an enthusiastic partyer. But the experience has changed him. For one thing, the coma broke him of a smoking habit begun at age 16. (He still misses it, though — keeps one cigarette in the refrigerator that he'll sometimes take it out and hold.)

It's midafternoon at Side Street, a slow time before the dinner rush. Nishida steps outside with a loaf of bread to perform a daily ritual. Dozens of gray doves and two red-headed finches descend en masse from perches above Hopaka Street as soon as they see him. He reaches into the bag, tears up the bread and throws out handfuls for the birds.

He watches them peck at the crumbs, a moment of calm for a guy who even now has trouble keeping still. He says his experience, as bad as it was, did teach him how much he has to appreciate — friends, family, his staff, the exceptional nurses at Queen's, the therapists at the Rehab Center.

As he goes back in, he has a few parting words, appropriate to someone who would compare his insides to sausage: “;Every day above ground is a good day.”;


Frying technique key to chicken

Side Street Inn's Spicy Chicken goes back as far as the restaurant, which opened in 1992 on Hopaka Street not far from Ala Moana Center. They were chicken wings in the beginning but are now boneless leg pieces — easier to eat, says Colin Nishida, Side Street's owner and chef.

Terri Kwong was introduced to the chicken on a visit to Hawaii that included two trips to Side Street. Her home in Massachusetts being far from Hopaka Street, she asked for the recipe.

The restaurant marinates this chicken in 15-pound batches and goes through about three batches per night. But Nishida offered this breakdown for a single plate.

He uses three types of peppers: Korean, Thai and a Vietnamese chili-garlic sauce. The last is easy to find in grocery stores; for the others you'll need to go to specialty Asian markets. If you can't find all three, most supermarkets carry Chinese chili flakes and chili powder under the Wei-Chan brand, or substitute Japanese shichimi.

The real key to success is good frying technique. Nishida offers two tips: As the pieces are done, they will float to the top of the oil. “;As the moisture cooks out of the chicken, it becomes more buoyant.”;

The pitch of the sizzling will also get higher, he says, a little trick he and his cooks picked up through experience. “;After we burn so much stuff, we learn it for ourselves.”;



Soybean oil, for frying (or any pure vegetable oil; not canola)
1-1/2 pounds boneless chicken thighs, with skin
1/2 cup EACH flour and cornstarch
» Marinade:
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon Korean red pepper powder
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
» Sauce:
2 cups soy sauce
1-3/4 cups sugar
1 head garlic, minced
1 teaspoon EACH Korean red pepper powder, Thai ground chili flakes and Vietnamese chili-garlic sauce (tuong ot toi), or see substitutions listed above

Combine marinade ingredients. Add chicken and marinate, refrigerated, overnight.

Heat oil to 360 to 375 degrees.

Combine flour and cornstarch. Remove chicken from marinade and coat in flour mixture. Discard marinade. Fry chicken in oil about 5 minutes, turning occasionally, until done. Drain on paper towels.

Combine sauce ingredients. Dip chicken in sauce. Serves 4 as an appetizer. (Extra sauce may be served with chicken katsu, tonkatsu or any other fried dish).

Approximate nutritional information, per serving, assuming half the sauce is used: 750 calories, 24 g fat, 7g saturated fat, 245 mg cholesterol, greater than 4,000 mg sodium, 82 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 44 g sugar, 51 g protein


Nutritional analyses by Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S. Send queries to “;By Request,”; Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, Honolulu 96813. Send e-mail to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).