comscore Closure of Oahu restaurants brings higher-end food to casual settings | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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Closure of Oahu restaurants brings higher-end food to casual settings

  • GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Vincent Verdeprado, left and Joele Alameida looked over there bento offerings with Christopher Merez of The Hibachi located in Kailua during the Farmers Market at the Blaisdell Center on Wednesday Aug. 12.

    GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Vincent Verdeprado, left and Joele Alameida looked over there bento offerings with Christopher Merez of The Hibachi located in Kailua during the Farmers Market at the Blaisdell Center on Wednesday Aug. 12.

Much is made of Hawaii’s interconnected community. “Everybody knows somebody,” the saying goes. Maybe your high-school teacher is your mother’s second cousin, or your husband grew up down the street from your great aunt. Every resident has a story to tell.

For Saki and Tadashi Yamamoto, that community connection has meant more than fun discoveries. It has afforded them some help to weather the coronavirus crisis. The couple own Sizzle, a yakiniku restaurant in the Waikiki Yokocho food hall, which is closed during the pandemic.

It turns out their friend, David Clyne, is not only a contractor who built Waikiki Yokocho, he’s also a parent volunteer at Kaiser High School who manages the school’s weekly farmers market. The market, held Tuesday afternoons in the school parking lot, generates funds from vendor fees for the school’s PTSA.

So when the Yamamotos shared their challenges with Clyne over dinner one night, he invited them to sell their food at the market, which prepandemic comprised a relatively quiet gathering of half a dozen vendors, give or take a few.

But after the Yamamotos took him up on the offer in April and met with success, word of mouth spread. The market started drawing inquiries from dozens of food producers.

“As of last week, we have 37 vendors and a waiting list of 10 or 12 more restaurants,” said Clyne. “We’ve run out of room in the parking lot.”

But with the recent delay of in-person classes at public schools, preserving parking spaces is not a concern, he said, so he is considering adding the other restaurants to the market.

>> PHOTOS: Restaurants bring their food to farmers markets

Saki Yamamoto said their following is growing, and the one-day sales are helping them call back workers they had to lay off. Sizzle offers wagyu beef, pork belly and karaage bowls, udon, sukiyaki bento and more ($8 to $14).

She and her husband also own Yakiniku Sizzle in Kakaako, and between the two restaurants had employed 15 people. Now, they have four on payroll.

“We’re rehiring little by little because of the farmers market,” she said. “We want to rehire all of them.”

Vitally important, she said, is that the market draws customers to the Kakaako restaurant, which remains open for dine-in and takeout.

“The farmers market gives us good exposure,” she said.

ONE VENDOR causing a stir among foodies is C4 Table by Colin Hazama, executive chef of the Royal Hawaiian. Hazama has been on furlough since March 23.

“I started with cooking meals for my family and friends, then a couple of friends suggested doing the Kaiser High School farmers market,” he said. “It was a way to get my food out to the community.”

The chef rotates a menu of 15 to 20 dishes plus two or three specials. Last week, he was serving five entrees and a shortlist of sides and snacks ($6 to $8).

Hazama is a good representation of how, amid the strife of the pandemic, there are windows of opportunity. For regular Joes, that means a chance to try meals created by one of Hawaii’s leading fine-dining chefs, at an affordable price. Hazama describes his cuisine as contemporary American, applying French technique to Asian flavors, using farm-fresh local ingredients. His multi­course restaurant meals usually cost hundreds of dollars.

So it’s no surprise that his self- described “upscale comfort food” is exceptional.

In Hazama’s hands, fresh fish is transformed into Jasmine Tea-Scented Steamed Catch topped with ginger-watercress pesto and served with lemon grass pandan rice ($18). Caramel Star Anise Roast Chicken starts with a soy-caramel marinade that lends “French and Chinese- Singaporean flavor.” It is served with braised leeks, charred baby bok choy and forbidden rice ($15).

“Every dish is a perfect marriage of flavors,” he said. “Your palate should dance.”

Through the market, Hazama is feeling out what it’s like to be out on his own. “I’m getting myself to understand the business side of things. My dream has been to open up my own place, a restaurant or meals-to-go.

“I’m trying to adjust to change. I’d like to think I’m going back to the hotel,” he said. “But with cases going up, there seems to be less and less opportunity for tourism to come into play anytime soon.”

OTHER FARMERS MARKETS have added restaurants to their rosters.

At the Hawaii Farm Bureau’s Honolulu market, held on Wednesdays, the Hibachi Honolulu Market set up a tent for the first time last week, introducing its fresh poke bowls with sushi rice ($8 and $11) and grilled fare packed into bento ($5 and $7).

Hibachi is known for high-quality fresh fish and meats, served at reasonable prices.

Owner Mark Ushijima said his locations at Kakaako and Kailua have been hit hard by the crisis. While both remain open, hours and staff have been cut.

A federal Paycheck Protection Program loan helped, he said, “but we’re trying the market so it can help sales and we can keep our labor — and for exposure,” he said. “We’ve had our Kailua location for almost 11 years, but it’s about learning again how to be better. We’ve got to look at different avenues.”

AT FARMLOVERS MARKET in Kakaako, Dean & DeLuca Hawaii has been selling grab-and-go food and cold drinks since July. A truffle egg salad sandwich, ulu burrata caprese and ahi katsu sandwich (all $4.95) are among menu items.

“Originally, the menu was tailored to farmers market customers, with easy grab-and-go food to eat as they walked around,” said Rachel Handen, Dean & DeLuca Hawaii general manager. “Now, they’re meant to take home and eat.”

After COVID-19 hit, the company temporarily closed its stores in the Royal Hawaiian Center and the Ritz-Carlton Residence, Waikiki Beach. The company, headed by president Yohei Takahashi, is licensed independently of the New York-based gourmet grocer that has filed for bankruptcy.

The company also sells prepared family meals for reheating at home, created by executive chef Kevin Carvalho. A new meal is available every two weeks and feeds a family of four for $35 to $50. Always included is ulu (breadfruit), a nod to Carvalho’s selection as an ambassador for the Hawai‘i ‘Ulu Cooperative, which comprises 85 ulu farmers on Hawaii island and Maui.

Through Aug. 23, a $46 meal kit includes Maui Lavender-Seeded Snapper, Ulu Tzatziki, Risotto Ala Mila­­nese, Ho Farm Tomato Ogo and grilled portobello mushrooms.

Every dish at Dean & DeLuca includes as many local products as possible, sourced from as many market vendors as possible.

The upshot for the company, said Handen, is that it has been able to keep a few of its kitchen crew and managers employed.

“It helps a little with rent and with paying for our other full-time employees’ medical coverage since they’re on furlough.”

When tourism reopens, the company plans to bring back its entire staff of about 65, and is moving forward with plans to open a third location in Kakaako. As for the farmers market, Handen said the company has been so pleased with the experience, they hope they can continue as a vendor.

“If it involves hiring more people, that’s great,” she said.

FarmLovers owner Pamela Boyar said Dean & DeLuca brings a lot to the market. “Their name has integrity, and customers are thrilled they’re at the market. They have a following, and they sell out weekly.”

But more than that, said Boyar, they appreciate the importance of supporting local producers.

“They went through every menu item with me, and they use local eggs and local ahi for their sandwiches, and they try to source local produce from other vendors. That is part of the economic development of a market, because the money stays in the local economy.”

FIND YOUR MARKET MEALS

>> Kaiser High School Farmers Market: 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays; Kaiser High, 511 Lunalilo Home Road; kaiserptsafarmersmarket.wordpress.com

>> Hawaii Farm Bureau Honolulu market: 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays; Blaisdell Center, 777 Ward Ave.; hfbf.org

>> FarmLovers at Kaka‘ako market: 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays; 1050 Ala Moana Blvd. (corner of Ward Avenue); farmlovers markets.com

VENDOR INFO

>> Sizzle: On Instagram @sizzle kakaako; Yakiniku Sizzle, 711 Cooke St., 376-8948

>> C4 Table: On Instagram @c4_table

>> Hibachi Honolulu Market: Call Chris Merez or Renee Pang at 762-0845; Hibachi Honolulu, 514 Keawe St. (Keauhou Lane complex), 762-0845; The Hibachi, 515 Kailua Road, 263-7980

>> Dean & DeLuca Hawaii: On In­stagram @deandelucahawaii and on Facebook, deandelucahawaii; website: deandeluca-hawaii.com

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