In the Mood for Some Comfort Food? Bread & Butter Has You Covered
A case study of how to make customers feel at home, Bread & Butter keeps them coming back by delivering different restaurant experiences morning, noon and night.
Given that B&B started the year as a sleek, Soho-style, self-service “coffice,” where laptops jostled for space on the table with egg and pancake and rice dishes, few saw the award coming (except its devoted clientele, more about them later). It left runners-up and many foodies surprised, while Bread & Butter’s owner, Hide Sakurai, humbly sent his chef up to accept. He’s been here before, you see.
FOOD WITH A VIEW.
In 2006, Sakurai’s launch of Shokudo took Hale ‘Aina gold. A Japanese comfort food chalet with Mondrian-bright colored-glass gridwork, Shokudo introduced the honey toast mega-meme to Honolulu and has never lacked for crowds since.
Sakurai grew up in Japan, where he rose from dishwasher to managing all of that country’s TGIF restaurants. As he did with Shokudo, when he found a unique space for his next venture he applied his marketing expertise to analyze what would stand out. The result was Búho Cocina y Cantina—a Mexican village plaza, replete with rotissiere, reimagined on a Waikīkī rooftop.
Chef Arnaldo “Masa” Gushiken.
Búho’s slow launch didn’t deter Sakurai from pouncing when the space next door to Shokudo, formerly Angelo Pietro, became available. While much smaller, the room has a giant wall of sheer glass facing Kapi‘olani Boulevard from a deep, tree-shaded setback; a ribbed, vaulted ceiling in the front half creates the look restaurant designers kill for.
Three restaurants, three great spaces—it’s clear Sakurai has a real eye. And staying power: This year, Búho won a Hale Aina Award for Best Mexican and Shokudo another for Best Overall Japanese restaurant. He also has a talent for choosing chefs with something to say, like Arturo Silva at Búho and now, Arnaldo “Masa” Gushiken at B&B. From Argentina, Gushiken mixes and matches from that country’s Mediterranean cuisine—Spanish and Italian—but broadens the menu and appeal to include thin-crust pizza and casual Japanese comfort food during the day.
As night falls, B&B rearranges the furniture and the faithful gather in a wine bar for tapas in the traditional Catalan and Basque mode, then segue to hearty dishes (double-braised oxtail, paella, truffled whole chicken, fish and pasta specials, and risotto). The wine list is, at present, 100 percent derived from pinot grapes, reflecting Sakurai and Gushiken’s devotion to the sturdy prince of Burgundy; the regional and varietal focus is in line with the tapas, cured meats and cheese selections, and includes pinot blancs, grigios and chardonnays, as well as sparkling wines and Champagnes. Micah Suderman of Southern Wine & Spirits is the house sommelier, working with guest somms (Roberto Viernes, Christopher Ramelb) and senior marketing manager Justin Mizufuka and others to keep the B&B community informed and energized.
Breakfast introduced us to the glories of the soaring space on a bright morning. Gone were the grab-and-go items of early days—Sakurai now frowns at the sight of a laptop—and now there was a waitress. The breakfast sandwich ($6.95) was a neat stack of Portuguese sausage, scrambled egg, bacon and tomato between golden slices of toast; the taro and banana pancakes ($10.95) were equally artful, with raspberries and strawberries arrayed around a quiff of whipped cream; the breakfast dashiki tamago ($7.95) came in a skillet, which proved to be a game-changer, adding an addicting roasted Koshihikari rice crust to the dashi, bonito flake and Waimānalo egg omelet. The macadamia nut latte induced a Meg Ryan riff from a companion.
Ryan imitations aside, you should bring your mother here. Like the Hau Tree Lānai at the Kaimana, Alan Wong’s Pineapple Room at Macy’s or Mariposa at Neiman Marcus, breakfast at Bread & Butter reminds us that good neighborhood food needn’t always be accompanied by displays of proletarian enthusiasm. Unlike those other places, B&B is way more relaxed.
Go to, not to-go: An upmarket musubi with a quail egg is a nod to B&B’s coffice days and clientele.
Lunch confirmed the impression. A procession of young women who lunch arrived in their I-just-threw-this-on finery, grabbing the common table like old hands. We chatted, time passed, the food produced a satisfying hum—in this case, an impeccably dressed golden beet, peach and arugula salad ($12); spaghetti in a Kona coffee and pinot Bolognese ($12.95); a smoked ‘ahi sandwich with shichimi pepper and avocado ($13); a four-cheese and honey pizza ($13.95); and a slow-cooked beef tongue curry ($12.95) that came in a yin-yang of brown sauce and Koshihikari rice.
There’s more on the lunch menu that I could’ve tried if there were wallet and time enough. As an old hand at sumi-e, I especially looked forward to ordering the seafood squid ink pasta ($16.95) when I came back for dinner.
This led to a mystifying experience when we arrived for the $20 Paella Tuesday, which comes with a glass of pinot and unlimited paella. Not only was the squid-ink pasta not on the menu, as I wrongly assumed, it turned out we couldn’t order anything on the menu unless we had the paella special first. The waitress had as much trouble explaining this as we had understanding it.
A good paella is hard to find and B&B’s version is not it. Mostly rice, it came with a precisely measured five pieces of shellfish; you had to finish your rice to get more shellfish.
Still, Bread & Butter completely redeems itself with its Third Thursday. A chef’s menu with wine pairings, it brings out the creativity in Gushiken, Sakurai and Suderman. It also brings out a crowd of oenophiles, 22 on the evening I attended. (The rest of the house was packed, too, ordering from the menu.)
Try the lamb chops with sweet potato gnocchi and figs.
For early Third Thursdays, the usual order of pairing wine with food was reversed. As Sakurai explains, “We’d taste the wines and then we’d create a new dish.” Not an existing dish—a new one. And if that wasn’t hard enough, they’d sometimes blindfold themselves and taste-test seven ingredients to decide what would go into the dish.
They no longer do the full mad scientist routine—“It’s hard enough to create a menu to match Stag’s Leap and break even”—but the Thursday I attended had both a beer and a wine pairing ($105; wine-only nights go for $95), with a full-throated debate between visiting sommelier Christopher Ramelb and cicerone Bill Carl. The five courses: cold Spanish lobster omelet sprinkled with black caviar; cold smoked pumpkin soup (served in the pumpkin); cold seafood paella; grilled snapper and Hokkaido uni; and pork belly confit with shishito peppers and charred tomato relish. It was close-your-eyes-and-smile stuff.
The pairings (in order) included pilsner versus Cava, cider versus Amontillado sherry, a Big Island Brewhaus Golden Sabbath versus an Albarino, a Japanese seasonal workers’ beer versus a gruner veltliner, and an Oktoberfest versus a Morgon beaujolais. Would you believe the beer won?
Watching how the regulars greeted each other and compared tastes, I was struck by how Bread & Butter succeeds in breaking down barriers among people, cuisines and expectations. The art of a tapas or pintxo bar is not that you order every little dish—that would be 27 on the current menu—but that you return, night after night, trying two or three as the mood strikes you, before you dine. You make it your neighborhood place. You become a regular. You’re not in a rush. Have you tried the Faiveley Bourgogne?
And, in the morning, you know you can always stop by to nurse a strong coffee and a perfect dashiki tamago while your bright-eyed companion dips her spoon into the whipped cream spire atop the taro and banana pancakes. It won’t be long before you’re wondering what’s on the menu for tonight and which of your friends will be there.