What we think we know about the traditional restaurant–as a place to go for one menu prepared by one chef–is challenged more frequently these days, and we’re not talking about pop-up events and trucks. Perhaps the most exciting idea is the actual modification of the restaurant archetype, like that taking shape at Taste.
In a traditional restaurant, Mark “Gooch” Noguchi, chef and co-creator of Taste–along with Amanda Corby of Pili Hawaii and husband-and-wife Eat The Street team Poni and Brandon Askew–would not be able to host a quarterly rotation of remarkable up-and-coming chefs. Nor would they satisfy a desire for pop-ups in their brick-and-mortar building, or even begin to think about cooking classes and educational ag sessions. In a traditional restaurant, these genres would never meet.
But at Taste, which launched its concept of “providing a space for people to cook and get creative,” as Corby explains, in late October, the food has nothing to defend and everything to explore. Guest chefs are given free-wheeling control of their menu, theme and, for special events, serving hours. The results are exceptionally tasty.
Local teams that rotate through Taste range from Boom Musubi, The Pig and the Lady, Paul Zaratez and his much-hyped tacos, Wow Wow Waffle and Food Network chef Lee Anne Wong, to name a few. Noguchi elaborates on the connection process: “Referrals come our way through the coconut wireless . . . Anybody we don’t know, we usually get together and talk story a little bit more.” A testament to Hawaii’s creative and zealous foodie network, Taste exalts “a diverse range of cooks in the kitchen, [which] brings a diverse group of diners,” Corby says. New ideas are welcome, says Noguchi. “While we definitely focus Taste on the industry professionals, we do our best to encourage newcomers to take a risk and explore a concept.”
To lure regulars, a set breakfast and lunch time slot has been established Tuesdays through Fridays, but eaters will find a different client bustling in the kitchen each day. On the Wednesday my friend Kanani and I visited, we found Petit Suisse Crepes (PSC) in control.
Crepes crafted by PSC owners Mehdi and Crystal Mdouari were like stimulants on the tongue–crispy, fluffy and decadent.
Ham, egg and spinach construct the Popeye crepe ($8), while the classic combination of mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and basil oil fills the Caprese ($8) and spinach, feta, tomatoes, olives and basil oil make up the Greek ($9).
The Popeye is perfect for breakfast, with fluffy eggs and savory ham slices mimicking a satisfying omelet tucked into the crispy crepe. Its folded edges were the best, gratifyingly crunchy bites.
The basil oil of the Caprese is crafted from homegrown basil leaves. Fresh bursts of herbal goodness coated my tongue, pairing well with silky cheese and tomatoes.
A monster in size, the Greek crepe, with creamy feta accentuated by earthy olives, was our favorite.
Dessert crepes, such as the Fruit Bliss ($9) and Dream ($9), were equally rich. The Fruit Bliss features roasted Big Island macadamia nuts with local bananas and honey, while the Dream is any Nutella lover’s fantasy.
Much of the produce used by the PSC team–such as mushrooms, tomatoes and bananas–is purchased from PIT Farm in Manoa and various farmers’ markets, such as Haleiwa’s Thursday night Waimea Valley location.
Noguchi sauntered out of the kitchen while we were gorging on our feast, as he tends to be in-house whether the chef of the day or not. He emphasized Taste’s commitment to smart sourcing. “I cook from a hula perspective, because when you gather laau to make lei, you are hyper-aware of your surroundings. You never over-gather . . . that transfers directly over to cooking . . . As cooks, we need to focus the efforts of many to provide what is in front of us and be grateful.” Each client that cooks at Taste shares the same palpable vision of food sustainability.
A review of Taste–a restaurant always in flux–can never be truly complete. The folks inhabiting Taste at any given day all present different cuisines, techniques and flavors. See the sidebar for a selection of upcoming events at Taste, or visit their website to see their schedule.