You who drove to Moiliili and fought for parking to eat Jon Matsubara's butter-poached crab and bacon sandwiches and fried chicken dipped in umami aioli and gochujang sambal, and you who never made it to his months-long Feast at Anasia lunchtime pop-up, this you'll want to know: He's back. Matsubara's second version of Feast — this time a permanent one, the first real restaurant of his own — just opened in Manoa.
It was a long time in the making, so the menu reads like chapters of the chef's life. Which is good, because it's a big life that combines Matsubara's training in top New York City and local restaurants (Jean-Georges, Tabla, Alan Wong's) with his reads on customer tastes at all the Honolulu kitchens he's run (Stage, Azure, Japengo, Bloomingdale's Forty Carrots, Merriman's) and his penchant for eating the feel-good foods he grew up with.
So the McBara Burger is from the time he took his kids to W&M Bar-B-Q Burgers, remembered how good they were and concocted his own with Parker Ranch beef and slathered not in barbecue but kabayaki sauce. The sake salmon chazuke, a version of which his mother made steeped in sake when Matsubara was growing up, started as a family meal for his cooks at Bloomingdale's. Matsubara one-upped that version when he tasted the chazuke at Izakaya Torae Torae — his first experience of the rice dish served Japanese-style, in umami-saturated dashi broth instead of hot tea — then made a stock with salmon head, fins and bones and used that as the base of his dashi broth. The crispy-fried salmon skin became a garnish atop a seared fillet.
Full after eating lunch (I got a call from Matsubara right after, inviting me to come eat), I wasn't expecting my own reaction when he brought out the chazuke. I picked up the bowl, tasted the broth with its deep anchoring notes of fish and hints of wasabi, and drained the whole thing. I ate the way I eat at home, the way my mother taught me never to eat in public, shoveling food into my mouth from the rim of the bowl. It was a primal reaction: That's how I grew up eating ochazuke, hungry and at home, only at home it's never like this.
Neither was I expecting this, a roulade of pork belly marinated in Chinese five spice with salt, pepper and garlic powder, then cooked 24 hours in a slow sous vide bath before the skin is seared crispy. It's served in lechon sauce with onions and tomatoes. Let me recap: This is a lechon kawali roulade plate lunch.
"What Anasia taught me was we could do affordable, working-man food and people would come," Matsubara says. "As long as people want it, I'll make it." This is why best-sellers from Feast at Anasia, a sports bar in the heart of the warehouse stretch of Beretania Street, are on the menu at the new Feast: the butter-poached crab salads and sandwiches, Hilo-style hamburger steak grilled in garlicky oyster sauce, and JFC (for Jonny's fried chicken) with all its accompanying sauces layered, never mixed, or it's not the same.
And the salt beef watercress soup, inspired by the iconic one at Ono Hawaiian Food: A regular bowl with rice is $14, you can go mini for $9, and for $20 more you can luxe it up with foie gras (because who hasn't sat down with a bowl at a Hawaiian restaurant and thought, you know what this needs? A lobe of foie).
For now Feast is counter service only with food served in takeout containers, though you're welcome to stay and eat at tables inside and out. In a week or so Matsubara plans to extend hours to 8 p.m.; at some point he'll introduce family-pack dinners like pasta and salad with garlic bread, and there's a $5 Friday chili special he's working on with rice and JFC.
In the spirit of disclosure, Matsubara for his playful food and ability to work unexpected haute twists into local comfort dishes is one of my favorite chefs and I've been waiting for Feast to open, which is why I'm writing this. In the course of waiting, I found out the restaurant building — on East Manoa Road at the intersection with Lowrey Avenue — has been purchased by WKF, sister company to the company that owns Frolic.
You'll be reading more about Matsubara on Frolic in a couple of weeks, by the way: He's cooking our next all-natto feast at Feast in late September. And get this: He's making his own natto! I'll update you later with details.
2970 E. Manoa Rd.
Tue-Sat 11 a.m.-6 p.m. (the banner in the photo is now outdated; these are the current hours as of 9/17)
BYOB unless you're OK with just water
Parking on street (but not on the bridge over Manoa Stream) or park and buy drinks at Manoa Marketplace down the block