The new Taste in Kakaako serves up ever-changing experiences for diners who are willing to go with the flow
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 19, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 6:35 p.m. HST, Jul 23, 2013
A few weeks ago I wrote about the un-restaurant, new establishments that defy the rules of traditional restaurants, throwing out even the most basic notions of set menus and set hours. Taste is another of these un-restaurants, delivering the sensibility of a pop-up in a single catch-all location.
It's the first permanent brick-and-mortar pop-up in Honolulu, a group effort involving Pili Hawaii's Amanda Corby and chef Mark "Gooch" Noguchi, Poni Askew and husband Brandon, and dozens of up-and-coming chefs.
Poni Askew first established StreetGrindz.com, a spot where the social-media nimble could find their favorite food trucks, which led to organizing the dynamic monthly "Eat the Street" and more recent Honolulu Night Market events. Setting up a permanent space for the purveyors to offer their food seems a logical step with the same idea of building businesses through community and risk sharing, and the long-term goal, she said, is to multiply the concept across the islands and nation.
» Address: 667 Auahi St., Kakaako
» Hours: Vary; check for updates at www.tastetable.com
» Cost: Varies from plate lunches by day to $45 to $65 prix fixe menues by night
Various vendors are welcome, for a fee, to set up shop a few hours a week on a quarterly basis. With offerings changing daily, Taste requires vigilance of diners who must be somewhat adept at technology and social media to keep track of who's coming and going. Or, you can just pop in and be surprised in ways good and bad. For instance, one day I was hungry for sushi and was looking forward to Boom Musubi's presence as listed on Taste's online calendar. Instead, I found panini. I'm flexible, so it was fine, but I imagine it might not have been OK for someone else craving fish.
The downside of a communal effort is that at times it seemed no one was in charge. Toward that end, they brought in manager Adam Lock to keep business humming from day to day.
Taste is geared toward those who don't mind going with the flow. It's an enterprise that defies reviewing because of the constant rotation of food purveyors. I will say that it requires patience. The food vendors, as they parachute in, must navigate a kitchen that's not their own.
Recently, Tuesdays have taken on a taqueria flavor, courtesy of Zaratez Mexicatessen. Wednesdays have welcomed a variety of savory and dessert crepes from Petit Suisse Crepes. Boom Musubi has held court Thursdays with a menu of samurai tempura sushi specialties, including opah with Hawaiian BBQ sauce and grilled scallions, and Aloha Mochiko Chicken with ginger sauce. "Fresh-Baked Fridays" have welcomed Wow Wow Waffles and No Ka Oi Cookies, with its roster of not only cookies, but chocolate chip and peanut butter scones, lilikoi bars and brownies. This schedule is tentatively in place through February.
I was also in the house for one of December's Drunch Series events, which had Noguchi — recently ranked among Hawaii's 14 Rising Star chefs by StarChefs.com — sharing the kitchen with celebrity chef Lee Anne Wong of "Top Chef" and the Cooking Channel's "Unique Eats." As they explained, "You drink, you munch. It's dinner, it's lunch."
During the Drunch event themed "Munchie Madness," the two went nostalgic, recalling the college-days munchies that got them through many an overnight assignment or pre-test cram session. At $45 per person were such comfort foods as Chinese cake noodles topped with beef broccoli, fried kim chee wontons, bacon-topped deviled eggs, garlic chicken wings, poke tostadas and something only a college student would concoct, a variation on chili fries called a Chili Frito Parfait, with its comfort layers of mashed potatoes, Frito corn chips and chili.
Themes differ each time.
Some of the events coming up:
» Dec. 21 — The Pig and the Lady: Chef Andrew Le, recently named one of Hawaii's 14 Rising Star chefs by StarChefs.com, who is at Rich Table in San Francisco, is making the most of his return home, offering a five-course prix fixe dinner that starts with paiai topped with inamona, grape, preserved lemon and celery; tangerine scallops with Sriracha and shiso; hand-cut pasta and chicken with chives and a touch of Douglas fir; opelu with leeks, Asian pear and pomegranate vinaigrette; and pumpkin dessert with coffee. Seating is limited to 25. Visit www.tastetable.com. The cost is $65 for the BYOB event.
» Dec. 22 — Pig and the Lady Noodle Bar: Serving creations of Andrew Le and his family, inspired by his mother's Vietnamese heritage and home cooking, with a few playful twists. From 5 p.m. Returns Dec. 29.
» Dec. 28 — Wow Wow Waffle: The North Shore-based company is introducing Liège street waffles from Belgium to Hawaii's streets with breakfast from 7:30 to 10 a.m. and lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The Liège dough is similar to that of brioche with a chewier consistency than most American waffles.
» Jan. 7 — Kokua Lunch Club: This laid-back lunch gathering takes place from noon to 1:30 p.m. the first Monday each month at Taste, geared toward those who do community-based work and want to talk story with friends and colleagues, and meet like-minded people to share ideas over local food prepared by some of Hawaii's innovative, sustainability-oriented chefs. The cost of a house-made brown-bag lunch and Mamaki ice tea is $12.
Nadine Kam's columns appear Wednesdsays and her meals are paid for by the Star-Advertiser. Reach her at email@example.com.