First Look: Fête
Simple food served in a comfortable setting makes this new restaurant in Chinatown a place to keep coming back to.
The humble linguine carbonara is one of the most popular dishes at Fête, a new restaurant that opened in Chinatown last week.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox
There was no big event, no fanfare. It was just by word of mouth—and a little buzz on social media—that people found out Fête, a new restaurant in Chinatown, had opened last week.
And even without a name-brand chef at the helm or a big media blitz, Fête has been so busy the owners decided to hold off starting lunch service until next week. (It was supposed to start yesterday.) They just haven’t had time to refine the menu.
“We’ve had a great response from people on the food, service and space,” says Chuck Bussler, who owns Fête with his wife, Robynne Mai‘i.
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The couple, who moved to Kaimukī last year from New York City, couldn’t have found a better location: a 1,700-square-foot space on the busy corner of Nu‘uanu Avenue and Hotel Street, on the ground floor of the Real Office Centers, that sees a lot of foot traffic during the day. It wasn’t uncommon to see people peering through the plate-glass windows as they walked by days before the restaurant opened. The pair kept the exposed red brick—a signature of Chinatown buildings—and decorated the space with reclaimed wood, blown-glass light fixtures and a giant living plant wall. It’s a place where you can linger over a Maui Bikini Blonde—served on tap—or Boulevardier, nosh on the crispy fried chickpeas and marinated olives that come before you even order, and relax.
The dinner menu at Fête is very simple—a single page, in fact—with two salad options, a soup, a handful of snacks and starters, about half a dozen entrées and four desserts. But Mai‘i, a trained chef and culinary instructor originally from O‘ahu, is proving herself to be a master at creating depth in seemingly simple dishes. For the grilled pulpo ($16), she brines the octopus in red wine for about an hour, then finishes it on the grill and pairs it with a fingerling potato salad. The humble linguine carbonara ($17) is a plate of perfection, with perfectly cooked noodles tossed with slab bacon and Portuguese sausage, then coated with an egg-and-cheese mixture and topped with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano cheeses.
“Oftentimes it’s the simplest dishes that are the hardest to make,” Bussler says.
Inside Fête, located on the corner of Nu‘uanu Avenue and Hotel Street.
Mai‘i in the kitchen at Fête.
Owners Mai‘i and Bussler say they will use as many local ingredients as possible—and as makes sense. Here’s the grilled head-on Kaua‘i shrimp in an anchovy butter with lemon and Italian parsley.
Between 30 percent and 50 percent of the menu here is locally sourced, with the restaurant working with local producers such as MA‘O Farms, Hawaiian Island Goat Dairy and Otsuji Farm.
Mai‘i’s flavor preference and style of cooking are evident throughout the menu. Take the grilled kalbi-marinated bavette ($28), a nod to her Korean heritage. The flank steak (bavette, in case you were wondering) is marinated in a house-made kalbi sauce, grilled to medium rare, then sliced. It’s served with a flavorful fried rice with gosari (bracken fern) and mung bean sprouts, topped with an over-easy egg to add richness, cucumber namul (side dish) and her grandma’s kochujang sauce.
The gyoza on the menu ($17) are stuffed with a duxelles of maitake mushrooms, water chestnuts and foie gras, then drizzled with the unlikely but tasty pairing of Maui Upcountry pohā berry jam and a soy-balsamic-chili reduction.
The grilled kalbi-marinated bavette, or flank steak, is a nod to Mai‘i's Korean heritage.
Though these dumplings are filled with foie gras, they weren’t overly rich. The pohā berry jam from Maui complemented the soy-balsamic-chili reduction nicely.
The popular Chaz Burger—which is served at both lunch and dinner—boasts a beef patty that’s a blend of brisket, chuck roast and short rib.
One of the most popular dishes so far is the Chaz Burger ($16), which ranks high on my list of favorites. Mai‘i blends brisket, chuck roast and short rib to create a tasty and juicy burger. It comes with caramelized onions, Kula-grown tomatoes, Naked Cow Dairy’s Pika Moon Havarti, roasted garlic aioli and house-made ketchup. The bread-and-butter pickles are sweet and crunchy—just how they should be.
Another talker is the fried chicken, which, at $26, may seem pricey—until the dish is served and you realize you’re about to eat half a chicken (minus the wings). Fête uses free-range, organic Jidori chicken from Mary’s Organic Chicken, brined and deep-fried twice for extra crispiness. It comes with a house-made tomato jam spiced with red pepper flakes and old-fashioned Charleston grits (which means it’s cheesy) and roasted melty green beans, stewed and slow-cooked, on the side.
The fried chicken, using Mary's Organic Chicken, is massive and served with cheesy grits.
One of four desserts on the current menu, this Rocky Road to Hāna ice cream tops my list. Its creamy, silky texture and blend of sweet marshmallows and dark chocolate are divine.
Save room for dessert, at least the Rocky Road to Hāna ice cream ($4 for one scoop, $6 for two, $8 for three and so worth it). One of Mai‘i’s personal guilty pleasures, this creation features the blending of Madre Chocolate’s 70-percent Guatemalan chocolate with marshmallows and dragée macadamia nuts. The smooth, rich texture with the hint of sugary-sweet marshmallows is highly addictive. As much as I enjoyed the liliko‘i bombolinis ($8), passion fruit-filled malassadas of sorts paired with a decadent chocolate sauce, I’d go back just for this ice cream alone.
Lunch service starts on Monday, with several salads and sandwiches. Some interesting items include the Korean chicken sandwich with a kochujang aioli, Asian pear slaw and cucumber namul on a sesame brioche bun, and a broccoli raab and Italian sausage sammy with tomato jam and semisoft cheese on buttered bread. The linguine carbonara and Chaz Burger will also be served at lunch. Brunch begins at the end of April.
Fête, 2 N. Hotel St., 369-1390, facebook.com/fetehawaii
READ MORE STORIES BY CATHERINE TOTH FOX