A couple of months ago we peeked into a vacant corner space at Hotel and Nuuanu and noticed renovations going on. It turns out a new restaurant called Fete was taking shape.
Located on the corner of Hotel St. and Nuuanu Ave., Fete is a welcome addition to downtown/Chinatown dining.
Chuggy popped his head in one day and met owners Robynne Maii and Chuck Bussler. The couple moved back home to be closer to Maii’s family after more than a decade working restaurants, teaching and catering in New York City. They shared a sneak peek of their new American menu, with dishes like crispy fried chicken over cheesy grits and a mouthwatering foie gras gyoza.
Chef-owner Robynne Maii at the pass.
Fete, their first restaurant, opened on March 23 with an approachable menu that uses local, seasonal ingredients as often as possible. You’ll see things like produce from Waipio, Kula and Ho Farms, poha berry jam from Maui and cheeses from Naked Cow Dairy.
The Chaz burger ($16) is a standout. The house-selected grind has a fat-to-meat ratio that results in a juicy, flavorful patty. Then they add Kula tomatoes, Naked Cow pika moon cheese, roasted garlic aioli and house ketchup.
The 40-seat restaurant features a full bar and chef’s counter. Also worth noting is the basement, a rarity in this city, used for storage. Although limited, you’ll find street parking out front on Nuuanu as well as in two nearby municipal lots.
Hints of the Fete’s Brooklyn-meets-Hawaii roots can be found in the original exposed brick, rich hardwoods and custom lighting fixtures.
We dined at Fete on Saturday with the aim of trying as much of the menu as possible. When we arrived at 5:45, it was already packed with an impressive opening week crowd.
The Grilled Pulpo ($16) is an absolute must-order. There aren’t many chefs who can cook octopus without making it seem like you’re eating a balloon. Here, it’s perfectly tender and finished with the right amount of char. Topped with shaved celery and served alongside a fingerling potato salad punctuated with rosemary, it’s heavenly.
Scanning the menu, we noted typical downtown dinner prices for its genre, with appetizers starting at $8 and main courses at $16.
The Fried Chicken ($27) entree is hearty enough for two, but once you build the perfect bite of juicy chicken, crispy skin, a dollop of cheesy grits and a streak of tomato jam, it becomes clear that sharing is a mistake. This is last meal on earth material.
Dishes tasted like the products of hours upon hours spent tinkering in the kitchen. Even so, one item stood out head and shoulders above the rest: the fried chicken. The twice-fried chicken is sectioned into breast and whole leg pieces, so you’re basically getting half a bird. I have no idea how they manage to retain so much moisture in the meat while achieving a skin that crackles audibly when you bite in. We found ourselves tearing off pieces to mop up remnants of cheesy Charleston grits.
The bar program is quintessential NYC with craft cocktails like the Boulevardier ($11) made with Bulleit Bourbon, Campari and sweet vermouth; and the Clover Club ($13), a Brooklyn Gin drink made with housemade yuzu grenadine and finished with frothy egg whites.
Even the frites are spectacular. When we complimented the owners on the crisp exterior and fluffy innards, Bussler let us in on a little secret: They use cottonseed oil for frying. Now that’s dedication.
You can’t eat just one fluffy Black Cod Bacalao Fritter ($12); it’s because of the harissa aioli they’re served with.
Overall, Fete makes a great first impression with a lively NYC-esque vibe, a solid seasonal menu featuring local farmers and producers and a full bar. We’ll definitely be back soon (and often) to tackle the rest of the dishes. Lunch service, by the way, starts this week.
Here’s a bit more of our dinners:
The Foie Gras Gyoza ($17) is a ballet of flavors and textures. The tart Maui Upcountry poha berry jam cuts the richness of the foie and will keep you double- and triple-dipping.
The first time he ordered the Linguine Carbonara ($17), Chuggy was disappointed that it lacked flavor and let the restaurant know. On the second visit, the dish was remarkably better. Don’t expect a rich, heavy carbonara, it’s a subtle hit of Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino-Romano cheeses that enhances the slab bacon and Portuguese sausage bits sprinkled throughout.
The Rocky Road to Hana ice cream ($4 per scoop) is a combination of Madre Guatemalan 70 percent dark chocolate, marshmallows and dragee style mac nuts. Each bite finds a bouncy marshmallow and the sweet crunch of macadamia nut enrobed in the silky chocolate ice cream. A must-order dessert.
Here’s the Guava Prosecco Sorbet ($3 a scoop). The bright, slightly sour guava is a perfect pair to airy prosecco turned into a frozen treat – it’s as if you’re flying first class on Hawaiian Airlines. This was Chuggy’s favorite dessert. He kept sneaking spoonfuls while we were trying other desserts.
2 N. Hotel St.
Mon-Thurs 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Fri 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Sat 5 p.m.-11 p.m.