Archive for the ‘Casual’ 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.

Yo quiero Coquito's, en Waianae

March 16th, 2016
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PHOTOS BY NADINE KAM / nkam@staradvertiser.com

Mofongo is one of the specialties available at Coquito's Latin Cuisine in Waianae. This one is topped with a veggie sauté, but diners also have a choice of proteins.

It's not often that I visit Waianae because I have no reason to be there. One of the last times I was there was to drop off a ring-neck parakeet that flew into my life and needed a good home with a couple who love and care for hundreds of birds, from chickens to macaws.

Farrington Highway from Nanakuli to Waianae is an arid stretch and the sights include all the usual suspects popular in any local community—burger joints, poke and seafood stops, drive-ins and bake shops.

Honolulu is large enough to accommodate other outliers such as the occasion Jamaican jerk, Peruvian and Middle Eastern specialists, but in the relatively insular Waianae community, Coquito’s Latin Cuisine stands out as the one restaurant that doesn’t belong.

The setting was simply a matter of convenience for Stevina Kiyabu, who hails from Puerto Rico but married local. Trained as a pastry chef at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, cooking was in her blood, and in looking at the demographics of Waianae, she saw there is a sizable population of Puerto Ricans. So, she opened Coquito’s in 2012. Since then, it’s become a popular stop for a military personnel from her native country in search of a homey taste of the Mother Land, as well as locals from all parts of the island eager to try authentic Latin cuisine. Last year, she opened Valentina's Ristorante, serving up Italian fare about a block away from Coquito's. I'll be checking that out some other time.

The restaurant is in a charming plantation-style house along Farrington Highway. If west-bound, look for it on the left side of the road.

The menu is manageable for a small kitchen, yet manages to pay homage to specialties of Cuba, the Caribbean and Argentina. Dishes tend to be heavy, so you would have to make several return trips to fully explore the menu.

The most novel of the dishes is mofongo, an African-influenced dish of mashed fried plantains studded with bits of bacon and garlic for extra flavor. (It's their equivalent to American mashed potatoes.) Atop this mini plantain “platter” sits your choice of entrée options such as sautéed shrimp ($16), grilled steak ($14), pernil (roasted pork shoulder, $14), or stir-fried vegetables ($12) that add juiciness to the dish. The mofongo dries out quickly and is best eaten when hot and the exterior is more crispy than spongy.

Each entrée comes with a choice of two sides. These are habichuelas, a mild stew of kidney beans; tostones; white rice; gandule rice; fried yucca; sweet plantains; and potato salad or mixed green salad.

The gandule rice is one of the dishes that differentiates Kiyabu’s cooking with that of locals who grew up with black olives in their rice.

“Local Puerto Rican food is very different from food at home,” Kiyabu said. “One old lady told me that when they immigrated here, it was hard to find certain ingredients, so used what they could find. To this day, they add black olives, but I use green, the Spanish olives.”
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Coquito’s Latin Cuisine is at 85-773 Farrington Highway, Waianae. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays to Sundays. Call (808) 888-4082. Costs about $25 to $40 for two for lunch or dinner; BYOB.

Camarones al Ajillo, shrimp sautéed with garlic and cilantro, is served over tostones, or double-fried plantains. The shrimp is yummy, but as an appetizer, it is so very very filling because of the deep-fry component. Recently, $14.

I'm not a big fan of carbs, so even though the beef-and-potato Colombian empanadas are also delicious, they leave me too full to enjoy the entrées. It's lightened with a side of tomato salsa.

A juicy pork-filled pastele comes with two choices of sides. Here, it's gandule rice and sweet plantains.

Habichuelas is another side offering. The stewed kidney beans might be compared to a mild, sausage-less version of Portuguese bean soup.

Caribbean jerk wings are slathered with a sweet-sour sauce. I'd rather taste more jerk.

A Cuban on Italian bread with ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and plenty of mustard. This plate features a side of yucca frita.

Chuleta de cerdo sounded delicious, but the onion-topped pork chop was rather staid.

In contrast to the pork, the Argentinian flank steak served with garlicky, verdant chimichurri sauce is muy delisioso. Me gusto mucho!

State Bird Provisions: Inside nation's best restaurant

March 26th, 2014
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statebirdlegsSquab leg on pancake at State Bird Provisions, named the James Beard Awards Best New Restaurant 2013.Nadine Kam photos

SAN FRANCISCO — Travel is a great barometer as to where Hawaii stands in the culinary scene, and while the food in our state has improved greatly over the past two decades, there's no such thing as resting on laurels because excellence is a moving target.

I was in the San Francisco area, meeting up with relatives in Fremont for a wedding, so only had one night in the city for dinner and my options were Nopa or State Bird Provisions. Being a bit of a weirdo, I couldn't resist the audacity of the latter, which began life with the premise of serving up the state bird, the California quail, symbolic of hardiness and adaptability.

Now that's something you wouldn't see in Hawaii with the endangered nene!

I'm not that keen about eating small birds that are more bones than meat, so thankfully, the restaurant's chef-proprietors Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski moved on to other local, organic and well-crafted ingredients.

And yet ... the restaurant is known for its savory pancakes, so I ordered the confit squab short stack with maple vinegar and candy cap powder, and it was more than enough to change my mind about the appeal of small birds. It was only after polishing off the thigh that I looked down and realized they were still attached to the bird's gnarled claws!

That's the other thing about this place. I had to inhale my meal. As the nation's Best New Restaurant 2013, as deemed by the James Beard Awards committee, it's one of the Holy Grails of restaurants and therefore, I was told, impossible to get into. People must log onto the restaurant's website precisely at midnight 60 days before their desired reservation date to get a seat.statecartOrder off the menu or dim sum style, off carts and trays bearing many tempting delicacies, from single oysters and up. I really wanted the halibut and avocado atop a nori cracker, but I had to eat and run.

But, parsing the words on the restaurant's website, I learned that they do save room for walk-ins on a first-come basis, and I've never had trouble getting into popular restaurants. It helps to show up early as a single or couple, and be willing to dine at the bar.

The trouble came when a 15-minute rest turned into a three-hour snooze and I missed the 5:30 p.m. opening time. I got there at 6:30 and spotted a single opening at the bar, but they said that was spoken for. They did have a two-top available, but that meant eating and running in 45 minutes when the reserved party was due to arrive. Done!

Having got in, I thought that was easy enough, but later I was told walk-ins regularly wait in line two hours to get in.

If you're curious as to what goes into a restaurant worthy of being called the nation's best, great food is a given. Here, it's casual, and I would say not much different from dozens of great restaurants across the nation. But, restaurateurs also have to get the attention of jaded food writers who have "seen it all."

State Bird Provisions wins points with memorable service, delivering contemporary American cuisine dim sum style. Order off the menu to start, but don't pick up enough for your entire meal. It's worth waiting for waiters to appear with trays or pushing carts provisioned with amazing appetizers and ingredients starting at $2. The small plates command attention and there's nothing froufrou or "arranged" about them. The hearty ingredients are filling and I still marvel about the simple, delicious elegance of a salad of hearts of palm, avocado, yuba and tahini.

I started with three dishes, and it was hard to pass up smoked trout and avocado  dip served with chips. Unfortunately, with time flying by, I didn't have time to try the nori cracker topped with halibut and avocado, king salmon tartare with fermented turnips, or pork belly-blood orange salad. Maybe next time I'll make a real reservation.
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State Bird Provisions is in the Western Addition at 1529 Fillmore St., San Francisco. Open
5:30 to 10 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays, and 5:30 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Call 415.795.1272.

statebirdroomIn addition to table seating, a bar on the right side of the restaurant overlooks the food prep.

 

statecrabSpicy Dungeness crab kimchi with yuba and smoked egg. Unfortunately, I think the kimchi flavors overwhelmed the sweet crab.

statebirdHearts of palm salad with avocado, pomelo and tahini-chili oil, $13. I rarely take food to go when I'm traveling, because there's always an abundance of restaurants to try, but this was worth doggie-bagging and it was just as delicious the morning after.

statechipsChips with smoked trout and avocado dip, $9.

stateplateOn my way out of the restaurant, I passed this artichoke, quinoa and chickpea tabouleh on a tray awaiting delivery.

 

Wake up to breakfast at Taco Bell

March 26th, 2014
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tacotobyToby Tamaye samples Taco Bell's new Waffle Taco filled with scrambled egg and sausage. There's also a bacon version. Nadine Kam photos

Taco Bell Hawaii stores are opening a lot earlier than usual with the launch of an all-new breakfast menu, the biggest roll-out for the brand, with 13 items geared especially toward commuters who need a quick, portable and affordable meal to start their day.

The national launch is March 27, but Hawaii Taco Bell fans could get a taste one day early at select drive-through Taco Bell locations as follows:

Honolulu: Beretania, Kalihi, McCully, Moanalua, Stadium Mall
East Honolulu: Hawaii Kai
North Oahu: Mililani, Wahiawa, Waipio
Leeward: Pearl City, Ewa Beach, Kapolei, Waipahu, Waianae
Windward: Kaneohe
Kauai: Lihue
Maui: Kahului, Lahaina
Hawaii island: Kona, Puainako

For morning commuters, the cleanest of the new offerings is the Breakfast Burrito, with scrambled egg and meat (your choice of bacon or sausage patty) neatly folded into a large flour tortilla.

More specific to the brand are such original offerings as a Waffle Taco, with scrambled egg and your choice of bacon or sausage, enveloped in a waffle "shell." They recommend pancake syrup to go with the waffle, but you could also get salsa, ketchup or hot sauce to go with the savory filling.

A favorite during a media preview that took place March 25 was the A.M. Crunchwrap filled with scrambled egg, hash browns and one's choice of bacon, sausage patty or steak. When cooked just right, the hash browns deliver a crunch just as statisfying as that of "Candy Crunch."

For transparency, nutrition information is available at www.tacobell.com

Prices are affordable, at roughly $2.29 to $3.29.
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Select Taco Bell Hawaii drive-through locations is offering the breakfast items from 7 to 11 a.m. daily.

tacowaffleThe Waffle Taco is doused with syrup. Depending on your taste, salsa, hot sauce or ketchup will also work.

tacocrunchThe A.M. Crunchwrap was a favorite of tasters with its center of hash browns, scrambled egg and bacon. There are also sausage and steak options, priced from $2.99 to $3.29. You can also order desserts of Cinnabon Delights with soft frosting centers.

tacoburritoThe steak, scrambled egg and cheese-filled breakfast burrito, priced from $2.29 to $2.99.

Trouble with Lent vow? BK to the rescue

March 5th, 2014
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VeggieBurger King's Veggie Burger.

Let's say you got drunk during Mardi Gras festivities and broadcast to the world that you were giving up burgers for Lent. One day later, you're wondering how you're going to survive the month.

Whether you observe Lent or just want to lighten up on your saturated fat and calorie intake, you can go straight to a vegan or vegetarian restaurant. Or, for more familiar territory, Burger King Hawaii is happy to comply with some fish, chicken and vegetarian alternatives to red meat for Lenten and beyond.

Options start with a Veggie Burger of MorningStar Farms Garden Veggie Patty made with vegetables and grains, topped with lettuce, tomatoes, white onions, pickles, ketchup and mayo, on a toasted sesame seed bun.

To introduce the lighter options, Burger King has launched a "mix-and-match" promotion allowing Hawaii diners to purchase two of the sandwiches below for $7, through April 20.

>> New  Big Fish Deluxe sandwich: With 100 percent white Alaskan pollock—deemed sustainable by the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program—breaded with crispy panko and served with a sweet thousand-island style dressing, American cheese, lettuce, onions and pickles.

>>  Classic Premium Alaskan Fish Sandwich: Featuring 100 percent white Alaskan pollock breaded with crispy panko.

>> New Spicy Original Chicken Sandwich: White-meat chicken and a light breading mixed with cayenne and black pepper, served on a toasted sesame seed bun with lettuce and mayonnaise.

>> Original Chicken Sandwich: Breaded white meat chicken fillet topped with shredded lettuce and creamy mayonnaise on a toasted sesame seed bun.

Let's say you gave up deep-fried foods instead of meat. One other option in the "mix-and-match" deal is the Big King Sandwich comprising two fire-grilled beef patties, topped with American cheese, iceberg lettuce, onions, pickles, and thousand-island style dressing on a toasted sesame seed bun.
As for me, I'm not a Christian but I practice being a good person every day and feel no need for penance, so I won't be giving up anything.