Archive for the ‘First course: What's new’ Category

Fête draws a crowd downtown

April 14th, 2016
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PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.com

Bacalao fritters served with a mild harissa aioli are among the highlights on the evening menu at Fête, the newest addition to the ever-growing Downtown food scene. Chicken liver mousse was another favorite.

I have eaten at so many poorly managed restaurants in the past year that I feel a little gun-shy when visiting an eatery for the first time. If I walked into a new establishment with no expectations in years past, I now walk in with skepticism.

A restaurant run by professionals has become a rarity as barriers to entry have been broken down by food trucks and popups, and so many who graduate to bricks and mortar appear to be winging it.

But, sitting down to dinner at downtown Honolulu’s newest restaurant, Fête, and speedily plied with greetings, menus, ordered drinks and pupu in spite of the full house, I breathed a sigh of relief. Yes! Obviously, professionals at work, and diners are responding. Barely a month old, it's packed, making reservations a must.

Even though Fête is a first-time effort from the husband-and-wife team of Chuck Bussler, who serves as general manager, and Robynne Maii, executive chef, the two have lengthy backgrounds in food service.

Maii’s extensive culinary métier starts with such local restaurants as 3660 on the Rise and Padovani’s Grill, leading to New York’s Waldorf Astoria. She’s also been an educator and worked for Gourmet magazine as a research assistant and "Truth in Labeling" columnist. The couple met in New York, where Bussler worked at several restaurants over time, including Savoy, Blue Hill and Prune.

PHOTOS BY CRAIG T. KOJIMA / ckojima@staradvertiser.com

I’m already a sucker for Chinatown’s brick walls and picture window storefronts, but the additions bring warmth and a modern sophisticated grace to the early 20th century space. It’s a restaurant that could fit in easily in San Francisco’s or Brooklyn’s food scene, but we’re the lucky ones.

Bussler, who also worked with “Top Chef’s” Hugh Acheson to open 5&10 in Athens, Ga., designed Féte’s interior, which included tasking local artists to create glass lighting fixtures, a living wall and other unique details.

Fête’s artisanal menu is short and sweet to keep service manageable for the kitchen. In spite of its brevity, there’s no shortage of good ideas, so you’ll probably be hungering for all 11 lunch dishes and 16 dinner items, plus a handful of sides and desserts. This is a place where it’s just as pleasant ordering a few small grazing bites before a night at Hawaii Theatre, as it is sitting down for a full meal.

The bar is similarly curated with a handful of old-fashioned cocktails, predominantly local craft beers, and an eclectic roster of small production wines from around the globe.

At the bar, Mari Maffioli created a Clover Club cockktail, that includes Brooklyn Gin, a shout-out to the city the owners' once called home.

Owner Chuck Bussler takes a hands-on approach in running the restaurant, and to date, the staff has been equally capable. This should be a given, but alas, so rare in this town.

PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.com

Marinated olives accented with orange zest was a delicious amuse bouche. I could have eaten these all night.

There wasn't enough foie gras to be satisfying in a foie gras gyoza appetizer.

Kabocha squash risotto (recently, $23) isn't very sexy, but delivers a healthier take on the rice dish, with curly kale and shiitake, shimeji and maitake mushrooms that also give the dish texture.

Maii shows her Korean heritage with a dish of grilled kalbi-marinated bavette ($28), the steak flavored with a mild touch of kochujang sauce and layered over flavorful fernbraken and mungbean sprout fried rice. The dish is topped by an overeasy egg and cucumber namul.

If you can get past an unusually hard shell, you might enjoy the juiciness of Fetê's fried chicken. I think a lot of people would appreciate a change in the batter.

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Fête is at 2 N. Hotel St. (corner of Nuuanu Avenue). Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays, and 5 to 11 p.m. Saturdays. Call (808) 369-1390.

Street Food Stadium is open

April 2nd, 2016
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PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.com

Ebisuya serves up broke da mouth kalbi beef udon bi bim bap.


There's a reason every bite at the newly open Street Food Stadium is delicious.

Every bite had to pass muster with Tomoya Tsuruhara, CEO of HL Honolulu LLC, the company behind the opening of this food truck park in a lot next to Home Bar & Grill on Kalakaua Ave.

More than 50 vendors applied, but only 10 were chosen for this revolutionary incubator concept that benefits aspiring entrepreneurs and chefs wanting to break into the food truck industry. SFS breaks down obstacles to entry by owning and leasing the 10 food trucks, so wannabe business owners don't have to deal with location, regulatory and cost burdens, giving them a turn-key outlet with short-term leases of six months to a year.

HL Honolulu CEO Tomoya Tsuruhara is revolutionizing the food truck business in Hawaii.

Current lease holders include Gindaco, a chain of takoyaki restaurants popular in Japan; Sahara, Middle Eastern cuisine from Kan Zaman; Ebisuya udon; HI Cravings acai bowls; Edo Mae Gyoza; Rice Tacos Tokyo; Samurai Grill; and Poke Roll

A beer and wine bar completes the picture.

Following a VIP preview April 1, Street Food Stadium officially opened April 2 at 11 a.m., and will be open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily at 1687 Kalakaua Ave.

Here's a quick look:

The grand opening started with a maile lei blessing.

The Poke Roll truck is one of the first you'll spot from the Kalakaua entrance to the Street Food Stadium.

At the Gindaco truck, Yukari Whittingham is eager for a taste of its popular takoyaki, below.

street takoyaki

A Middle Eastern sampler from Sahara, including chicken shawarma, dolma and hummus.

Bar service is offered all day.

A display of Edo Mae Gyoza.

Spicy garlic shrimp ramen is the bomb! It delivers everything promised.

Acai bowl dessert from HI Cravings.

First course: Plenty to savor at Sushi Ginza Onodera

February 12th, 2014
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onoyellowSushi of yellowtail that was marinated five hours in a light blend of soy sauce, shiitake, mirin and sake and lightly seared. Topped with daikon and aged negi. True bliss, at Sushi Ginza Onodera.Nadine Kam photos

Honolulu has always been a great city for sushi lovers because of our access to great catch and resulting numbers of sushi bars. But Sushi Ginza Onodera is a game-changer in this town because nothing else is comparable. Sushi here is exceptional, accented here and there with a bit of yuzu, ginger, seasoned salt or a brushstroke of soy sauce and fresh grated wasabi to bring out the seafood's best attributes.

For that, you'll pay a price. Onodera's omakase meals are set at $160, $200 and $250. For $160, you get one appetizer and 13 pieces of nigiri sushi. The $200 menu features four appetizers and about 11 pieces of sushi. For $250, you get five appetizers and about 13 pieces of sushi. The $200 menu seemed like a happy medium for the variety of appetizers that are subject to change on a daily, seasonal basis. On the plus side, as in Japan, you don't have to pay a gratuity.

The experience could prove to be a life changer as well. For myself:

Fallacy No. 1: I would rather spend money on fashion than food. Most of us are not millionaires, so we make sacrifices to acquire and do the things we want, whether to travel, take classes, dine out or acquire the latest shoe or handbag. To eat here again, friends tell me I have to sacrifice buying one new handbag, and I find myself willing to do just that.

Fallacy No. 2: I don’t like uni. My late husband loved uni, so it was great when we ordered nigiri sets. He could claim the one piece that I wanted no part of. He often urged me to try it, and I would take a nibble. I never changed my mind. It was always too strong and pungent to be palatable. After trying it in Tokyo last year, I realized not all uni is created equally. There, it was mild and sweet. A local fisherman friend suggested it may be because of the urchins' diet. The purple and bafun uni here are also sweet and creamy, both with distinctive flavor. I ate up every single bit of both, and may have finally become a true believer.

Here is an array from the $200 omakase:

onoyamAmuse: Yamaimo with a touch of soy sauce, okra and shaved bonito, over a layer of delicate cucumber froth.

The appetizers:

onosashimiSashimi of sea bass and yellowtail, marinated as sushi at top.

onoappWhole, thumb-size firefly squid from Kyoga prefecture, Japan, and steamed Big Island abalone at its most delicious, sweet and tender. With fresh grated wasabi.

onosacWaxy shirako, or cod sperm sac with a pinch of scallop-shiitake salt.

onocrabHokkaido hairy crab chawanmushi.

The nigiri+:

ononigiriBig-eye tuna and gizzard shad. (more…)

First course: Goofy Cafe embraces local

February 6th, 2014
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goofyfishGrilled mahimahi with chardonnay butter and local vegetables. — Nadine Kam photos

In the old model of national invasions, the conquerors would plow over native cultures and instill their own set of values and traditions. The current tide of Japanese investment in our islands is much more respectful. It would seem they like us, they really do, and many, like Goofy Cafe—which I reviewed Feb. 5 in the Star-Advertiser—are doing what they can to help us negotiate a changing world to preserve what we can of our land, sea and culture.

I feel a similar protective instinct toward China. If I had the proper global standing, I would have told their leaders 20 years ago, look at us and learn from our mistakes. Don't promote the automobile. Don't build super highways. Keep your bikes; promote public transportation. They did the opposite to the detriment of their air and quality of life.

At the front of executive chef Keigo Yoshimoto's menu is Goofy's Traceability Report, as well as its food policy, which is "Local first, organic whenever possible." About 80 percent of its food and condiments are sourced locally, from the basics of Kunia tomatoes, Ewa onions and Big Island Kulana Ranch beef, to rum from Lahaina, and honey and vanilla from the Big Island.

The surf-themed cafe is very comfy, done up in rustic style with a warm wood interior. "Goofy" is a surf/skate/board sport reference to that small proportion of goofy-footed boarders who lead with their right, instead of more common left, foot.

These right-footed folks are viewed as being more artistic and rebellious, terms that reflect nicely on the cafe. Here's a look at a few of the dishes.
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Goofy Cafe is at 1831 Ala Moana Boulevard, Suite 201, in front of the Grand Waikikian Hotel. Call 808.943.0077. Open 7 to 11 a.m. for breakfast, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for lunch, and 4 to 11 p.m. for dinner. Also www.goofy-honolulu.com

goofykaleKale namul.

goofyajilloA special of Big Island abalone ajillo, with plenty of garlic cloves. There is also a Hamakua mushroom version available daily. The textures are similar.

goofycornKahuku corn penne with cream sauce. (more…)

First course: Kaiseki returns to Hiroshi

February 5th, 2014
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hitakoBraised island tako was the second course served up during the inaugural New Age Kaiseki dinner at Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas. — Nadine Kam photos

The kaiseki dinner has long been a draw at Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas, but the concept was put on hold after namesake chef Hiroshi Fukui's departure last August.

With the new year, the kaiseki dinner returned on Jan. 28, now showcasing the work of executive chef John Iha, exec sous chef Axelrod Colobang, and pastry chef Cherie Pascua, a former James Beard nominee.

The trio honed their skills in Hiroshi’s kitchen, and are moving beyond “Eurasion”— a fusion of European and Asian aesthetic, opening the menu to a world of flavors and ingredients. Even so, the menu is rooted in local meat, seafood and produce in the belief that helping local producers enriches the entire community in terms of sustainability and livelihood.

The nine-course "New Age Kaiseki" dinner was priced at $75 per person, with six-course wine pairing set at $25.

To get on the mailing list for future dinners, email cgomez@dkresturants.com.

Here's what was on the inaugural menu:

carpaccioFirst course: Mekajiki carpaccio with sesame oil-chive relish, chili pepper water vinaigrette, micro greens and truffle oil. Accompanied by Birichino Malvasia Bianca. (more…)