Guess Who’s Behind the New Pūpū Menu at Downtown’s Bar Leather Apron
Haute cuisine chef Colin Hazama of C4 Table serves up playful, sophisticated bites to go with a revamped cocktail menu.
If you’re lucky enough to have a reservation for Bar Leather Apron—the swanky, dimly lit cocktail bar in Topa Tower that books up weeks in advance—consider yourself extra lucky. Colin Hazama just debuted a small menu of detail-oriented bites to pair with the equally detail-oriented sips from head bartender Justin Park and his team. I repeat: The former executive chef of the Royal Hawaiian, a fixture at the Hawai‘i Food & Wine Festival who sells gourmet takeout dinners at M by Chef Mavro on Wednesdays, has taken over the food menu at Bar Leather Apron. And it’s fabulous.
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When BLA opened in 2016, Livestock Tavern curated the snacks. Over the years, while Park teamed up with Senia and La Tour Café for limited releases, the cocktail bar was never known for food. You either arrived well fed or made plans to eat after. Now, with Hazama’s menu, you just might linger.
I order the ginger beet hummus with toasted curry naan ($16) to go with a Sagano Smoke ($20). The airy seafoam libation, smoky with notes of black pepper, dark chocolate and the grassiness of matcha, is a lovely companion to the earthy, cumin-spiced spread on blackened naan. Ringed by glistening pink Ho Farms beet slices and crowned by crispy curry leaves, it’s a treat for the eyes, too.
Other finger foods include Hazama’s popular jasmine tea-smoked duck bao buns with kumquat cranberry chutney ($16) and the crowd-favorite Nana’s Kim Chee Clam Dip ($14) with shrimp chips for shoveling it in your mouth. If you’re sticking to the classics, the cheddar and salami plate with fresh and dried fruit, house-made pickles, olives and a seasonal chutney ($16) won’t disappoint.
There’s a two-drink minimum when sitting at the bar so I order the Big Boss Highball ($16). It pairs BLA’s 2020 Private Select Makers Mark Bourbon with fresh calamansi citrus, a spritz of HYN chile pepper water and soda water. It’s perfectly spicy with hints of tart citrus; I could end every day with one of these.
The Big Boss’ soulmate is revealed when Park brings out a plate of cold-smoked hamachi sashimi ($16) dressed with chile oil, ponzu, toasted rice, watercress and Ho Farms beets (absent were Hazama’s own ikurazuke). Alone, the dish belongs on a restaurant tasting menu. Here, between sips of my sparkling highball, it is ungodly delicious. I’ve never wanted a dish to last forever as much as this.
I close out the night with the Smoked Mandarin ($12), a non-alcoholic cocktail. It’s concocted with lapsang souchong, a black tea from Fujian, China whose leaves have been dried and smoked over a pinewood fire. The uber smoky notes carry through with mandarin orange tempered by the botanical tones of Lyre’s dry vermouth. Without the warmth in your chest, you wouldn’t have known this was virgin.
BLA’s refreshed drink menu still has hallmarks like the verdant Matcha Old Fashioned and punchy Red Shiso Smash, but has expanded with more highballs and craft alcohol-free selections. Owners Tom Park and Justin Park (no relation) are also continuing their popular BLA at Home program with a rotating selection of bottled cocktails ($12 to $24) and crystal-clear ice cubes ($1 apiece).
Recently reopened after a (too) long hiatus, BLA seems lively as ever, even with temperature checks at the door, hand sanitizer everywhere and socially distant seating. Prior to the pandemic, it was difficult to get a reservation for a time you wanted; now it’s even harder. I recommend you take what you can get.
If you still can’t wait for a reservation, Hazama and Park are teaming up with chef Jeremy Shigekane for a paired prix fixe dinner at M by Chef Mavro on Wednesday, April 21. Tickets are $150 a seat for five courses and three Bar Leather Apron cocktails. It should go without saying, they’re expected to sell out fast.