Thursday, April 14, 2016

Fête draws a crowd in downtown Honolulu

Nadine Kam photo
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.

Craig T. Kojima photo
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.

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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.



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.

Nadine Kam photosMarinated 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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Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.


Monday, April 11, 2016

Bills introduces new happy hour

Nadine Kam photos
I appreciate the green touches on Bill's new happy hour menu. Korean fried chicken, recently $6, has the chili sesame sauce on the side to give diners more control over how much heat they can take.

Bill's has introduced a new happy hour menu in keeping with its Aussie roots. For us, that means seeing a lot more greens on the plate than we're accustomed to seeing, and all the fresh fare left me feeling a lot less guilty than usual about nibbling on deep-fried pupu.

The menu encompasses five small plates and four flatbread pizzas. Some are on the regular menu, but they are priced a few dollars lower at happy hour, from 3 to 6 p.m. daily.

I love the restaurant's beachy vibe and high ceilings, which helps make this a pleasant place to spend an afternoon.

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Bills is at 280 Beachwalk Ave. Call (808) 306-9241.


No, Bill Granger's not from here. You can tell by the restaurant's sweet-ish poke, accented not only by sesame seeds and sea asparagus, but by crunchy buckwheat, which one of my birds loves. I didn't realize how much until I didn't give her any one morning and she wouldn't stop screaming. The avocado and shimeji mushrooms on the side are a plus. Recently, $8.


I enjoyed the blanco pizza topped with caramelized fennel, sausage, ricotta and basil; recently $9.


If there is a downside to seeing more greens on the plate, it's that I felt more justified to indulge in calamari when pairing it with all that cilantro.
Happy hour cocktails include the hibiscus margarita, left, and traditional 1953 mai tai with Flor de Cana rum, pineapple, Bols orange curacao and Whaler's dark rum. Recently, $6 each.

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Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her restaurant column is in print on Wednesdays. Contact her via email at nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Mindfulness and vegetarian way

Nadine Kam photos
The Bodhi Tree Dharma Center welcomed guests to a Buddha lunch meditation.

The Bodhi Tree Dharma Center in Liliha hosted a Buddha Lunch to welcome spring on March 6. About 30 participated in the eating meditation, one of the most pleasurable of meditations. The vegetarian lunch meditations typically take place once a month, from noon to 1 p.m., by $10 donation.

The first half of the meal is enjoyed in silence as a matter of learning mindfulness, focusing on the food alone, and appreciating nature, the elements and human hands that make such a meal possible.


A soup of tofu, tomatoes and other vegetables.

The word we were given for the meditation was "savor." It was a reminder that if we were to stop and really think about what we eat, we would not suffer from as much of the diet-based afflictions as we do, and we not be worried about dieting because we would make choices that nourish, not sicken, us.

Mai Frascarelli, who created the center in March 2009 as a way of thanking a community that allowed her, a Vietnam War refugee who came here with nothing, to become successful. She oversees the meal preparation, said she offers the lunches to promote vegetarianism as a cruelty-free way to live. By hosting the lunches, she hopes she can show people that vegetarian food can be delicious and satisfying.

"Every little bit helps," she said. "Even if you eat vegetarian one day a month, it's better than no days at all."

She said that she is a vegetarian because she loves animals, and those that are raised as food are "unhappy from the day they are born 'til the day they die.

"When they're unhappy, they produce toxins that are not good for you, and your body becomes a graveyard for these animals."

Never thought about it that way. I am not that strong-willed. I do love a good fried chicken and pork is my downfall. But, I can eat less of these things and more of what is good for me in any given week. On days I am not "working," I do favor nothing more than yogurt, hummus and crudité to give my body a break.
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The Bodhi Tree Dharma Center is at 654-A N. Judd St. Call (808) 537-1171.



Salad of rice vermicelli, tofu and greens.

Another dish of tofu, vegetarian proteins and vegetables.
It was interesting to me, because the message of savoring the moment reiterated philosophies of the Zen tea masters at the Urasenke tea room in Waikiki, which I recently visited.

While there, I picked up one of their newsletters and read a piece by tea master Sen Soshitsu XVI, who wrote about being bothered by the sound of the "click, click, click" of a cell phone camera during a sacred tea ceremony. That struck home because I have been guilty of doing the same, in the name of news.

He wrote: "I thought this was quite regrettable. Maybe, as a way of enjoying memories it is fun to look back time and again at photos you have taken. A kenchashiki, however, is a sacred situation. ... and then there is the matter of the failed philosophy of ichigo ichie, the failed understanding that every event in life is something singular and unrepeatable. To conscientiously see these events with your eyes and print them in your heart is the way of tea.

At chanoyu practice sessions, as well, it is fine to jot down notes about the tea procedure after the lesson if, for instance, it is one of the 'oral transmission' shikaden or okuden temae for which there are no textbooks. But, if you feel safe just because you recorded the information and you do not try to attach it into your heart, all you have accomplished is to get your notebook to remember it. Even if you make videos or take photographs using handy electronic devices, those sorts of things are temporal. I would like for you to give your practice sessions your whole physical attention moment by moment and for you to always be of the mind to intently learn."

This was something I had to think about because I take photos and videos often as a matter of "capturing" news.

But, as I have told people many times before, in the process of recording, fashion shows, for instance, I never actually "see" the show. What I am looking at is the flow and distance of models as they fill the camera or video screen. I don't really get to enjoy the moment because I am working. It is only in the replay that I am fully able to appreciate the designers work. Just as when I review a restaurant, I'm not really enjoying it as much as my friends because I have to think and remember what I am experiencing with each bite.

Yet, because I have done this work for so long and captured so many moments, that I am very aware of how much is lost to faulty memory and I am glad to have captured such moments to jog my memory.

But as sensei said, there is a time and place for electronic devices and if you are trying to meditate and appreciate the moment you should be there 100 percent.

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Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her restaurant column is in print on Wednesdays. Contact her via email at nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Exciting things cooking on Maui

Nadine Kam photos
Rosemary panna cotta with kumquat marmalade and chocolate bark dessert at Hana Ranch Provisions in Paia.

On Oahu, it's easy to develop a myopic view of the Hawaii dining scene, putting Honolulu at the center of the universe in terms of progressive ideas.

But on Maui, where resort restaurants have received the most attention in mainstream media, the food scene is being transformed by a new generation of chefs and collaborators.

Earlier, I popped into a Wailuku popup presented by Rua Catering.

A followup visit found "Top Chef Seattle" fan favorite Sheldon Simeon putting the finishing touches on his new Tin Roof restaurant in Kahului, which opened Monday.

When I was on Maui a few weeks ago, Sheldon Simeon was putting the finishing touches on his new Tin Roof eatery in Kahului.

In the spot that was formerly home to Ko Ko Ichiban Ya, Simeon said he hated to see another mom-and-pop close, "so this is the next generation mom-and-pop," he said. "I hope it'll be a hang-out spot for everyone."

Much more casual than what he had been offering at Migrant, a sample menu included rice bowls, poke bowls, ramen and "kau kau tins" of such local favorites as mochiko chicken, garlic shrimp and chop steak.

Customers will be able to dine in at communal tables or pick up food to go. He also plans to create Chef's Table events that will seat 12.

The setting at Mill House Restaurant on the grounds of Maui Tropical Plantation in Waikapu.

Next up, a peek at the new Mill House restaurant on the grounds of Maui Tropical Plantation in Waikapu, on the day of its grand opening celebration, March 17.

Housed in the plantation's former banquet hall, the restaurant and surrounding grounds and farm are envisioned as the hub of an ambitious development plan that will include several residences.

On the lunch menu there were small plates of root vegetables sourced from the plantation's own farmland, gnocchi ragu, and a range of burgers and sandwiches.

But what I loved most were desserts of "Milk and Honey" olive oil cake and chili-spiced doughnuts with thick chocolate cremeaux.

A coffee-roasted beet salad at Mill House Restaurant.

But the main attraction on that day was a drive to Paia to visit Hana Ranch Provisions, a sustainable restaurant started by Hana Ranch as an experimental key to survival in the 21st century as the ranch moves beyond the commodity business into value-added pursuits.

You can read all about it in our new Crave food section that launches today. Here are the links:

Review: staradvertiser.com/food/simple-local-fare-stars-at-hana-restaurant/
Some background: staradvertiser.com/food/hana-ranch-enlists-help-to-pursue-sustainability/

Forget all that you imagine a sustainable restaurant is. The vibe is more sophisticated than rustic, but it's nevertheless a place that embraces a philosophy of honoring the work of farmers and food producers, respecting nature, and eating food that is certified organic, sustainable and nurturing for body and soul. If successful, the venture could serve as a template for other farmers across the globe.

Hana Ranch Provisions is at 71 Baldwin Ave., Paia, Maui. Daily hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch, and 5 to 9 p.m. for dinner. Its to-go shop offers coffee and pastries from 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. daily. Call (808) 868-3688.

Here's a look:

Your destination.

Pickled vegetables are among the value-added products produced by Hana Ranch.

Great bread is hard to find in Hawaii, and here it's well worth the $5.50 for a bowl of crusty, tender-crumbed house-baked bread served with fresh-churned cultured butter sprinkled with Hawaiian sea salt.

A curry kabocha squash soup ($11.50/$12) warms the heart with its creamy texture and a balance of natural sweetness and touch of spice. It's topped with an ulu chip, pipitas and a drizzle of cilantro oil.
The menu changes with the seasons and availability of ingredients. This wonderful beet carpaccio ($14 day/$14.50 evenings) featured yellow striped Chioggia beets sliced as thin as sashimi and was just as satisfying in their silkiness. Topped with mustard greens and dill, then accented with the sweetness of sliced kumquats. A great introduction to farm freshness.

More salads are available, but you're likely to get your day's ration of vegetables no matter what you order, even with Vietnamese beef meatballs ($15) seasoned with fish sauce, garlic, lemongrass and chili peppers, served over a Thai-style salad of green papaya slaw, graced with chopped peanuts, cilantro and basil leaves.

Both lunch and dinner menus feature the restaurant's signature Hana burger ($16/$16.50) made with Hana Ranch grass-fed beef, and served on ulu brioche that is comparable to a pretzel bun. The juicy burger is finished with caramelized onions, lettuce, cheddar and horseradish aioli, with more greens on the side.

Kauai shrimp tagliatelle ($32) is a simple, satisfying dish, with the shellfish beautifully arranged, heads on but otherwise shelled—the best of both worlds—over the housemade pasta, all tossed with a Hawaiian chile-spiced tomato sauce.

My favorite dish during a dinner visit was the seared ahi ($35). Again, not a typical favorite because many restaurants also overdo the searing so the ahi often ends up cooked through. Here, the ahi is in block form so stays rare inside. The blocks are arranged with stalks of Kula cauliflower around a bed of braised chicories topped with a soft-poached egg. Every bite felt like magic.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Magnolia Bakery introduces chocolate banana pudding


Nadine Kam photo
Magnolia Bakery's chocolate banana pudding debuts tomorrow, with free samples while supplies last at the Ala Moana Center shop, no foolin'.

Fans of Magnolia Bakery's classic banana pudding will find a new treat awaits on April Fool's Day. A new chocolate version features layers of chocolate pudding, OREO wafers, banana slices and chocolate shavings.

The chocolate banana pudding launched earlier this month at Magnolia Bakery locations in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicaco, and to mark its arrival in Hawaii, the Ala Moana Center Ewa Wing bakery kiosk will be offering free samples April 1 to 3, while supplies last.

The chocolate banana pudding will be available at the bakery café in small ($3.50), medium ($5), large ($6.50) and 64-ounce party bowls ($35). For more information, call (808) 942-4132.

Kiosk hours are 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, and 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. Cafe hours are 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, and 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Hula Grill shows support for farmers and community

Nadine Kam photos
Makaweli Ranch tenderloin tartare with pickled ho'io, pecorino, Ululoa amaranth and truffle was my favorite dish of the evening at the "Hula Grill Digs Farmers" farm-to-table event, paired with Ocean Vodka.

Hula Grill Waikiki paid tribute to Hawaii’s ranchers and paniolo during "Hula Grill Digs Farmers," a farm-to-table event that took place at the restaurant on March 23.

Chef Matt Young's menu highlighted the Kauai-based Makaweli Meat Co., with five stations offering food and drink pairings at $65 per person.

A portion of ticket sale proceeds will be donated to the Royal Order of Kamehameha, which supports the Paʻu Riders of the King Kamehameha Floral Parade. June 11, 2016, marks the 100th anniversary of the parade that will begin at Iolani Palace and continue down Kalakaua Avenue to concludes at the Waikiki Bandstand.

Guests included several pa'u riders, including pa'u queen Gayle Fujita Ramsey.

The event is part of Hula Grill’s charitable Legacy of Aloha program, supporting local non-profit organizations that foster sustainability in our communities and/or preserve the Hawaiian culture and the culinary arts.


The view from Hula Grill.

For this paniolo-themed event, even the Lanikai Brewing Co. bottles dressed for the occasion. Excuse the spelling of "paniolo" on the inset caption. I was playing with Snapchat and the booboos are impossible to fix!

A snap of Ocean organic vodka. I promise to get a stylus so my handwriting is better!

A different kind of loco moco, made with burger topped with roasted Hamakua mushroom and bordelaise sauce, with 146-degree poached Ka Lei egg and rosemary arancini. Paired with Deep Island Hawaiian Rum.

Red curry-marinated Makaweli skirt steak was accompanied by coconut-braised taro, Ho Farms cherry tomatoes, and toasted peanuts. Pairing: Lanikai Brewing Co. Imperial Red Ale with Ginger.

Niihau lamb ragu with handmade pappardelle, tomatoes, melted leeks and Naked Cow Dairy feta. Pairing: Lanikai Brewing Co. Pillbox Porter.

Dessert came in a paper bag, accompanied by a Lanikai Brewing Co. Haupia Imperial Stout and Okole Maluna chocolate gelato milkshake. I promise to get a stylus so my handwriting is better.
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Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at nkam@staradvertiser.com and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Future food straight from Japan

Nadine Kam photos
Kyushu is known for its hot springs and Beppu shiitake that contains potassium to help lower blood pressure, vitamin D to prevent osteoporosis and bowel cancer, lentinan used in Japan as an anti-tumor medicine, and eritadenine to lower blood cholesterol and help prevent arteriosclerosis.

The Hawaii Restaurant Association welcomed "The 5th Japanese Food Trade Fair" to the Japanese Cultural Center of Honolulu on March 24, showcasing products various companies want to introduce to the local market.

The event, geared toward retailers, wholesalers and restaurants, included more than 100 products by 20 Japan vendors. I'm hoping to see some of them on store shelves in months to come, such as delicate warabi mochi from Kyoto; plum-accented furikake, and vegetable furikake that can be folded into omelettes as well as sprinkled over rice; yogurt-and-strawberry, cream cheese and other wonderful flavors of mochi; and packaged spicy tuna to speed sushi-making at home.

The event was presented with support of the Japan External Trade Organization, and included a mochi tsuki demonstration and sushi-making demonstration.

A second, public "Sunshine Market" will take place March 26 at J-Shop, during which consumers will be able to purchase the products from 10 a.m. until they are sold out. The J-Shop grocery store is at 1513 Young St.

Local boy Travis Miyamoto now works for Hidecho Suisan Co., in Uwajima City, and taught their cooks how to make poke out of the company's fish, including samples of hamachi and tai that he was serving up.

To speed food prep, silver salmon from Aichi prefecture is marinated in mirin lees and miso and packaged. At home, just grill and eat.

The packaged and finished salmon.

One of the most intriguing products is an all-natural liquid that allows caterers or food preparers to freeze sushi and preserve it for a year. Without freezing, use of the preservative will allow sushi to sit for two hours without refrigeration. The quality, when thawed, he said, would be comparable to grocery store sushi.
Sushi made from packaged spicy tuna and salmon.
Popso extra virgin olive oil is spiced with sansho pepper and contains natural rock salt comprising seven to 10 minerals. It contains no trans-fatty acid and no cholesterol. In the background is the spiced oil and popcorn shrimp sautéed in the oil.

Furikake with dehydrated vegetables and the red of plum.

Fresh mochi was made on the spot, starting with the pounding of the rice, shaping and dredging in kinako.

This cheese manju was delicate and delicious.

A guide to flavored mochi ranging from chocolate to custard cream cheese.

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