Update 9/26: Both Natto Feasts at Feast on Friday, Sept. 27 and Saturday, Sept. 28 are SOLD OUT.
The thing about Jon Matsubara's food is everything has a story, and somewhere in the story there's a twist. Sometimes it starts out at a place you wouldn't expect to find a chef trained at a Michelin-starred eatery, other times the twist is an haute-cuisine technique in a seemingly simple dish.
So Matsubara, who two weeks ago opened his first solo restaurant in Manoa, is cooking our next all-natto dinner on Friday, Sept. 27 and Saturday, Sept. 28. The Natto Feast at Feast by Jon Matsubara will feature five natto-themed courses, with Matsubara introducing each course and serving different batches of his own handmade chickpea natto.
Natto dinner co-organizer Scott Pang and I tried Matsubara's natto plain and in multiple preview dishes; we could not smell any difference with soybean natto and we could barely detect a taste difference. There's plenty of funk, plenty slime and strings. The whole-bean chickpeas, with less relative surface area coated in the glories of fermentation, have a meatier chew.
At any rate, Matsubara is going all scientific, experimenting with different batches specially for the feast and planning to serve both whole-bean and hikiwari-style crushed natto. Here's the menu, with a little bit of story:
First course: Natto poke with smoked-soy ikura, ogo, onion, wasabi oil
"I want people to taste the glory of the natto. I got the idea because my kids like the nattochos at Gyotaku — the funk, the crunch, the thing tastes good! I wanted something meaty, with wasabi to really cut it, and I wanted that shoyu. We use Glen Shinsato's smoked soy with mirin and ponzu to cure the ikura and add a nice smokiness."
Second course: Sake-steamed clams with natto parmesan toast
"If I had to eat natto one way, this would be the way. Those are my favorite things — parmesan, clam broth from steamed clams, garlic butter that I learned from Andre Soltner, one of my mentors at the French Culinary Institute. It's actually his escargot butter with Pernod, shallots, parsley, lemon, garlic. I could drink like a whole bowl."
Third course: Magic mushroom natto rice with roasted Makaweli bone marrow
"We call them magic mushrooms because there’s so much umami. We saute them with miso, butter and soy, add wakame and fold that into the rice. Then we soy-cure egg yolks in a soy marinade for four hours and when you eat it, it tastes infused. I’ll have the natto and egg yolk in a little cup and you'll pour it on the rice and mix it in. We'll have roasted Makaweli marrow bones that you can scoop out and add in. So there's mushrooms for umami, egg yolk for richness, then a little bit of fat to round it off and green onion topping."
Fourth course: JFC (Jonny’s fried chicken) with natto aioli, K-Town sauce and house sambal
"Last year we did pop-up lunches at Cafe Anasia. My brother owns the place and one night the cook called in sick so he asked me to come up with a fried chicken. You know, bar food. We tried Thai, Vietnamese, Asian-style crispy. Finally we came up with this.
"We use skin-on boneless thigh. No buttermilk, no egg, and a secret coating. My brother and relatives came in and I sent out two sauces for them to choose. By the end of the night those guys were dipping in the two sauces together. The sauces take the chicken to another level. You cannot mix them, it doesn’t taste the same. We put the umami mayo first, then we drizzle our kochujang vinaigrette around, then we add our sambal, we call it the Firebird. The crushed natto goes on top. You take your chicken and when you dip it you get a little bit of everything."
Dessert: Ube crinkle cookie with natto caramel, small-kid-time coconut ginger panna cotta
"Remember that ginger senbei from long time ago? I want to make panna cotta taste like that. We used to make a purple potato mash with ginger crème at Alan Wong’s. I want to turn that into panna cotta. For the ube crinkle cookie we tried the natto bean in the caramel and that natto infusion was really, really good. It was funky with depth and sweetness."
In the middle of Monday afternoon Scott and I tried everything you see here. We photographed, then split the dishes and ate like pigs (at least I did). I was stuffed — probably because while Scott was busy scraping the marrow out of the bone I commandeered nearly the entire dish of insanely crunchy fried chicken and dredged every juicy bite in all the sauces.
As with all our natto dinners, everyone is welcome but there is one rule: You must love natto! There can be no menu substitutions. The restaurant is small so the same menu will be served on two nights. You'll find details, ticket links and parking info below. See you at the Feast!
Natto Feast at Feast
Sept. 27 and 28 at 6 p.m.
2970 E. Manoa Rd.
Tickets: $60 includes food and tip; online fees and Hawaii tax are added at checkout
Order online for Friday, Sept. 27
Order online for Saturday, Sept. 28
BYOB and if you bring drinks, please bring your own cups!
Parking on street (but not on the bridge over Manoa Stream) or park and buy drinks at Manoa Marketplace down the block