First Look: Chef Jon Matsubara Opens His First Restaurant, Feast in Mānoa
Chef Matsubara opened his own place with his fresh take on comfort food: Island roots with a twist of the culinary big city.
Photos: Robbie Dingeman
Chef Jon Matsubara is cooking up sense memories at his new restaurant in Mānoa: from dishes refined through years in prestigious kitchens to a hamburger steak that hits the comforting notes of a Hilo diner.
Feast is Matsubara’s first standalone restaurant of his own after a lunch pop-up early this year by the same name at a relative’s restaurant in Mō‘ili‘ili. The so-far fast-casual eatery hasn’t even been open a full month but you wouldn’t know it by the friendly bustle of the lunch crowd.
Some of the first to arrive are diners who have tracked Matsubara down because they’ve liked versions of his hamburger steak or loco moco in the past. Now, it’s served with rice and a keto version of “mac salad” that trades carb-laden pasta for cauliflower ($14 regular, $9 mini). Others recall his JFC fried chicken—Jonny’s Fried Chicken ($14 with rice).
You can overhear diners comparing meals of his they’ve liked while you wait in line to order, then grab a seat until your name is called. He's calling the concept "refined grinds," which is a fair take on his informed yet playful approach. I can’t forget his luxury loco moco from Japengo: quail egg atop locally raised filet mignon, foie gras and Hāmākua mushroom risotto, richer but still recognizable as a kicked-up version of a classic local comfort food.
Another standout dish at the new place: sake salmon chazuke ($15) that pulls from that more sophisticated side of his palate: gems of smoked ikura dolloped over grilled sake salmon on top of katsuoboshi rice. You pour the broth over just when you’re ready to eat, to savor the layers of flavor. I suspect this will be a rainy-day bestseller.
Other diners go straight for the butter-poached crab in a salad or on a ciabatta roll ($15). No doubt the salad is healthier and offers a sharper counterpoint to the rich seafood by way of the greens and the fresh bite of pickled green papaya, cucumber and mint. But that first bite of buttery crab sandwich sent me back to being a kid on vacation with my parents on the San Francisco waterfront eating fresh crab dunked in butter, aided by what seemed like an endless supply of soft Italian bread to catch any buttery drips.
Matsubara first trained in some of Hawai‘i’s top restaurants before moving to New York City, where he attended the French Culinary Institute and worked stints in the kitchens of Restaurant Jean-Georges, Tabla and Bouley. Back in the Islands, he won Hale ‘Aina awards and more at Azure, Stage and Japengo. More recently, he led teams at Bloomingdale’s Forty Carrots and Merriman’s Honolulu.
For now, he’s sticking with the 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. hours, Tuesday through Saturday, with food served in takeout containers. There are tables to sit and eat, BYOB and free parking on the street. Or park at Mānoa Marketplace to pick up a bottle and walk over.
So far, Matsubara says there are two dining peaks, lunch and at 5:30 when folks swing by to pick up dinner. He says he’s looking at staying open later for plated dinner service but he’s still learning the pace of business in the new neighborhood, running out of food some days: “I need to get a pulse for Mānoa. I’m going to expand when we’re ready.”
The décor is mostly Mediterranean, as designed by the late chef, farmer and former building owner Savas Mojarrad—best known for his Olive Tree Café—who had planned to build out the restaurant but died two years ago while traveling in Greece.
Matsubaraʻs comfort foods remain popular: the hamburger steak, the crab dishes, the McBara burger, inspired by old-school W&M burgers. At Feast, he added kabayaki sauce, chili pickle and sambal ketchup and fries ($12). Matsubara says he’s selling more fish in Mānoa than at the Mō‘ili‘ili pop-up at the sports bar. A recent special featured spiced fresh local opah tacos ($17) with Mexican street corn and cilantro lime sour cream.
Being able to get a mini and sample more dishes is a plus, as are options to go more decadent with deluxe versions of dishes that add foie gras ($20), crispy soft shell crab ($10) or fries ($3). The downside to the mini hamburger steak clamshell plate was that the mushroom gravy overtook the cauliflower “mac” salad. Gravy all over is definitely a place I like to go but I’d prefer to sample the salad straight-up first.
Matsubara is still catering and happy to be working with a core team of people who’ve been with him for the past few years. So, check Instagram at @feast808 for any special hours. He estimates the team would likely need to double in number for a significant expansion. Yes, he’s still getting an assist from family: wife J’mi helps run the front of house; and that’s his mom, Arlene, jumping in as hostess.
2970 E. Mānoa Road, (808) 840-0488, feastrestauranthawaii.com
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