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First Look: Palate Craft & Eatery

Downtown gets a new place for beer, cocktails and pub fare.


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Palate Cremini

Palate Craft & Eatery opened in July on Bethel Street in the space vacated by the beloved soul de cuba. It’s run by the same team behind Real A Gastropub at Ward and Brew’d in Kaimukī. So think craft beers and pub-friendly fare, including these rye bourbon sautéed cremini mushrooms.
Photos: Courtesy of Palate Craft & Eatery

 

The closing of Brasserie Du Vin and Soul De Cuba last year left a depressing void on Bethel Street directly opposite the Hawai‘i Theatre. Yes, there are excellent eateries throughout Downtown/Chinatown, including the inimitable JJ Dolan’s just up the street. But, in the spot where once there were two restaurants and bars offering European and Cuban flavors, nothing.

 

Until now.

 

Palate Craft & Eatery opened in July in the former Soul De Cuba location as a new destination for beers, cocktails and pub food. Owners Troy Terorotua and Lisa Kim (the folks behind Real a Gastropub at Ward and Brew’d in Kaimukī) have partnered with Pat Kashani (owner of Tropics Tap House at Puck’s Alley and Tropics Ale House on the Big Island) to take over the 1,700-square-foot space and bring it back to life.

 

They’ve succeeded, but how is it? I stopped by on a recent evening with a few friends to eat and drink everything on the menu I could and figure it out.

 

Good news for craft beer fans: Palate offers 16 beers on a rotating basis. There’s also an assortment of wines, a solid liquor collection and nearly a dozen cocktails.

 

I started with The Pimm’s Cup Yah’ll ($10), a refreshing cocktail made with Pimm’s Gin, ginger syrup, summer lemon sour and bitters. It was delicate and polite.

 

It was quickly followed by Belle ($10), made with Reposado, Mezcal, honey, lemon, roasted bell pepper and cilantro. At first blush, you read the ingredients and imagine getting something like a spicy liquid salad. Roasted red pepper? Get outta here.

 

Instead, Belle turns out to be light and refreshing, like a sort of mint julep. Even though Reposado tequila is somewhat briny, and despite just a hint of spice, Belle has no bite. It’s a gentle way to do tequila, if there is such a thing.

 

We rounded off the first set of drinks with the Cold Fashioned, a deconstructed cocktail that comes in two glasses: one with bourbon, vanilla liqueur and bitters (which is damn fine on its own) and the other with cold-brew-coffee ice cubes. You pour one over the other for the coolness factor.

 

Palate would do well to list this drink under the desserts. And you better really like coffee, because the cold-brew flavor is strong. Stronger, in fact, than that of the bourbon. So, if you’re ordering this thinking it’ll be a twist on its namesake, the Old Fashioned, drinker beware.

 

Palate Cocktail

One of the cocktails on the menu is the Cold Fashioned, a deconstructed cocktail that comes in two glasses: one with bourbon, vanilla liqueur and bitters and the other with cold-brew-coffee ice cubes.

 

Cocktails demand food and Palate offers a substantial selection. Real a Gastropub regulars will instantly recognize the menu (font included), 20-plus items with flavors and ingredients from across the map. I ordered a half-dozen dishes.

 

The first to arrive was the Deviled Ham Deviled Eggs ($5), rich and delicious. The ham flavor was too subtle for me, but the eggs were spot-on.

 

Palate Deviled Eggs

All three of Terortua’s pubs serve a kind of deviled eggs. Here, it’s the Deviled Ham Deviled Eggs.

 

Next up: “frickles,” fried pickled onions served with a blue-cheese dipping sauce ($5). These have a flavor that’s part French fries and part pickle, but with the sweet crunch of onion. Great texture and consistency, and the batter is excellent. Like eating an Outback Steakhouse Bloomin’ Onion, except it tastes better and you don’t hate yourself afterward.

 

The Chamorro grilled chicken kelaguen ($7) is another unusual one. Kelaguen is similar to ceviche or poke, a menu item pioneered by the Chamorro people, traditionally featuring semipickled ingredients in a marinade of lemon juice, onions, chilies and more citrus. It’s a dish served cold, and a little tangy. My buddy said it reminded him of chicken salad without the mayonnaise.

 

Palate Chicken Kelaguen

An interesting dish on the menu is the Chamorro grilled chicken kelaguen, which is similar to ceviche or poke and traditionally features semipickled ingredients in a marinade of lemon juice, onions, chilies and more citrus.

 

Palate’s pipi kaula poke ($8) contains rich, beefy pieces of house-made pipi kaula that are neither dry nor chewy (as jerky sometimes tends to be). It is served in a mixture of soy sauce, pickled onions and jalapeño.

 

We kept the meat coming by ordering the ancho chili candied bacon ($5). Palate tries to offer a new twist on everybody’s favorite food, but I thought the sweet, slightly spicy glaze was overdone. When it comes to bacon, I don’t want anything getting in the way of that beautiful pork flavor. Yet I’d still order it again; at seven pieces of bacon for just $5, it’s cheaper than ordering bacon at Zippy’s.

 

Palate’s fried chicken comes in a bun, doused in Frank’s RedHot sauce, with blue-cheese slaw and furikake potato chips on the side for $10. The sandwich is good, but the surprising stars of the show were the slaw and chips. Mixing coleslaw and blue cheese was a genius move and the furikake potato chips were perfect. But you don’t get enough of either on this dish—I would’ve happily traded the entire sandwich for a plate of slaw and chips if I could have.

 

We tried dessert, too, with the maple bacon doughnut bread pudding. It’s an original take on classic bread pudding, swapping vanilla sauce with maple syrup and with an authentic doughnut flavor. The bacon was excellent but might’ve fit better here as smaller bits instead of in loose strips.

 

By this point, the staff brought us over a bowl of gravy cheese fries, perhaps a friendly way to quiet the loudmouths at the end of the bar. The bartender said she believed these may appear on the menu shortly. Simple but satisfying: thin-cut fries with some kind of melted cheese, diced onions, roasted onion shavings and green onions, all slathered in a damn savory gravy.

 

The star of the food show went to the rye bourbon-sautéed cremini mushrooms, cooked with garlic butter and served with creamy polenta. It’s a hearty bowl and a steal at just $7. Like the hammy deviled eggs, the rye bourbon wasn’t a strong enough flavor to stand apart from the natural flavor of the mushrooms and all the butter, but I’m not complaining. The polenta had the consistency and texture of grits, rich and powerful. This is stick-to-your-ribs food.

 

After the food, I settled in for a last bourbon and called it a night. Around us, the TVs streamed football, bartenders poured tall beers for the crowd from the unmarked handles mounted along the back wall, and songs that included “Closing Time” and “Wonderwall” boomed loud over the radio.

 

I wonder what the formal Hawai‘i Theatre regulars will think of Palate, which walks the line between being a gastropub and a sports bar. But, frankly, owners Terorotua, Kim and Kashani could’ve gotten away with doing a lot less. The food and drinks are good, some pricier than I would’ve hoped but others much cheaper. And most importantly, Palate adds something new to the downtown community with fresh food concepts, cocktails and another place just to grab a beer.

 

1121 Bethel St., 524-2337, palatecraftandeatery.com

 

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