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

First course: Mahina & Sun's

May 18th, 2016
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PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.com

Deep-fried whole snapper, and salads of root vegetables and pohole ferns are part of the Family Feast at Mahina & Sun's.

Following a zombie apocalypse and cut off from the rest of the world, what would we eat?

If you envision such a future, sustainability makes perfect sense. I'm not saying Ed Kenney and Dave Caldiero are thinking in those bleak terms, but with their latest restaurant, Mahina & Sun's, I think they have the opposite in mind—a bright sunny future in which people awaken to caring for the planet and nurturing their bodies in a single move, by choosing foods both healthful and sustainable.

The two have been preaching this concept for about a decade, but takes it even further with Mahina & Sun's, making sustainable seem more palatable than ever.

A "snack" of Sweet Land Farms goat cheese beignets with beet ketchup and arugula.

It all starts with teaching us to love such basics as 'ulu and ugly root vegetables, hairy roots, green tops and all. There was a time I would have lopped off these unsightly ends, but here, they're a joy to pop whole into the mouth, and I was surprised to see my meat-loving friends reaching continuously for the bowls of vegetables and 'ulu.

Kenney would be the first to tell you he could do more, noting that it is still difficult to go without imported oils, beans, grains, Japanese products, pastas and spices, as well as most bar content.

Satisfying kahala (amberjack) crudo with preserved lemon, toasted inamona, purslane and brown butter vinaigrette.

But moreso than most outlets, I see a commitment, not only to the locally grown, but foods basic to the earliest Hawaii settlers. Most chefs, and diners, would find that limiting, but Mahina & Sun's is doing its best to win over a 21st century audience accustomed to getting any foodstuff they want, sourced from all parts of the planet.

It won't be an easy feat bringing diners back to the homestead, but they're committed to trying.

The setting, poolside at the equally new Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club.


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Mahina & Sun's is in the new Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club at 412 Lewers St. Call 924-5810.

Mild, clean-tasting Kualoa Ranch oysters are simply graced with chili pepper water, succulents and slices of kalamansi.

It doesn't get much more local than pa'i 'ai topped with akule. Not for those who don't like fishy fish.

Usually, I would love the Shinsato pork paté, but having so many other good things to eat made it seem less interesting than the alternatives.

The grilled he'e is my favorite dish.

Rigatoni with local wild boar ragu. I don't know how they are able to secure a steady supply of local boar for making this dish.

A pour of smoky bacon broth over swordfish and savoy cabbage. The restaurant is committed to using sustainable seafood based on the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program, but swordfish has a tendency to be dry and is still not one of my favorites. A dish of monchong, however, was perfection.

A pan-roasted half chicken is tasty, but has been inconsistent, moist one day, dry the next. But I love the coriander chutney on top.

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Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her food coverage is in print in Wednesday's Crave section. Contact her via email at nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

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…)