In Chinatown, a Bistro is Born
A bistro evokes thoughts of Parisian restaurants serving classic, homey, deceptively simple cooking such as cassoulet, the original pork and beans. Now, adding to the distinguished yet sparse selection of Honolulu bistros–JJ Bistro, Duc’s Bistro and Le Bistro, to name a few–is HASR Bistro, which opened its French doors in October.
European comfort fare
Upon hearing its name, the first thing that comes to mind is, “What does HASR stand for?” In 2005, Terry and Mike Kakazu opened HASR Wine Co. and made the acronym from four wine lifestyle adjectives: Highly Allocated (for the hard-to-get wines) and Spoiled Rotten (for Kakazu herself, being able to acquire those wines).
After Kakazu discovered her passion for Napa Valley wines and opened her store, her name became synonymous with providing quality, highly allocated wines.
The next step for Kakazu was opening a bistro, to introduce a “marriage between food and wine,” she says. Her experience as a purveyor of fine wines helped HASR Bistro, which she co-owns with Chef Rodney Uyehara, to successfully marry two distinct categories that are too frequently coupled without much know-how. Wine Co. staff can advise customers’ purchase of a wine to pair with dinner at the restaurant, where the $15 corkage fee will be waived.
Entering from the courtyard, the ambience at HASR Bistro is country comfort–barrels, shrubs strung with simple lights, a yellow-and-beige color scheme, red umbrellas. Inside, the décor continues the cottage theme.
After being seated for dinner on Christmas Eve, we promptly ordered the tequila-cured salmon tartare ($10) with the recommended osso bucco ($25) and the chef’s cioppino, a soup with various seafoods in a saffron tomato clam broth ($27).
My salmon tartare appetizer started the meal well. The oily, ground up salmon bits paired nicely with its tequila kick. Highlighted with a tarragon aioli and fresh cucumber relish, the dish woke up my palate for the meal to come.
Traditional osso bucco is braised veal shanks containing precious marrow gems. HASR Bistro’s twist on this classic opts for Duroc pork shanks–tender chunks of fatty meat that arrived at my table fork-tender. In the accompanying cheesy risotto with Hamakua mushrooms, each grain of rice was al dente and left me craving more.
The cioppino was listed as served with saffron rice. However, because the new bistro’s menu is constantly in flux, a small piece of rich garlic bread was provided instead. Extra bread is free–and you’ll want it. The hearty cioppino contained a plentiful portion of fresh seafood, nicely stewed and not overly fishy–calamari, fish (‘ahi, mahi or salmon, depending on the market), crab, mussels, shrimp, clams and scallops. Its deep red tomato and saffron broth was smooth and citrusy, which brought my experience to a “full” satisfaction–no pun intended.
The man in the back, Chef Rodney Uyehara, previously starred at the Beachhouse at the Moana Surfrider Hotel. His involvement with bistro fare has been tried and true at The Bistro at Century Center and Chai’s Island Bistro. “I’ve always cooked in the Waikiki area . . . so this is my first time cooking in the downtown Chinatown district.” The area has provided Uyehara with access to fresh, local foods, available at the many neighborhood markets. HASR Bistro initially started serving lunch only, but has since then added a mid-day appetizer seating and a full fledged dinner menu.
It has been nearly three months since the bistro’s opening–if you can even call it that; a grand opening has yet to be held. “Everyone was waiting for us to open, and it’s been so busy,” Uyehara remarks, referring to the loyal customers of HASR Wine Co. With that kind of support, the future for HASR Bistro looks as bright as the exclusive Monticello Vineyards, Corley Estate Family Wines and Trahan Wines available for customers to peruse in the Wine Co. next door.
The yellow door: Mama’Nita Scones
Behind HASR Bistro’s yellow door lies Mama’Nita Scones. Baked fresh daily, the petite scones are formulated into countless flavor combinations, available in organic blueberry, strawberry and chocolate, orange and cream cheese and more. Owner and mom, Anita Rhee (does the name make sense now?), uses the kitchen and oven at HASR Bistro every morning.
Her scones–sold in batches of eight or more, with individual scones starting at $2.25, depending on flavor–contain no artificial flavoring or color. Also, Rhee tries to source as much fruit, such as guava and apple banana, from local farmers’ markets.
Rhee plans to add on a drive-thru service, where customers can pull up to the HASR Bistro curb and their orders will be run out, thus eliminating the need for expensive parking. “If we can make it easier for [the customers], then that’s all good,” she mentions. The result: a perfect balance of customer service and product integrity.