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HEARTY HAPPENING  The tempting fried chicken is a nod to Chuck Bussler’s Southern roots.

A Time to Feast

by Tara Boone | Photography by Olivier Koning | Modern Luxury Hawai'i magazine | July 8, 2016

Serving up a parade of culinary sensations since opening a few months ago, Fête has truly lived up to its name. Meaning celebration in French, the resto indeed offers a sophisticated festival for the taste buds. This labor of love of owners and husband-and-wife team Robynne Maii and Chuck Bussler is a welcome boon for island foodies and travelers with refined palates–not to mention, an enviable addition to Honolulu’s Chinatown, which continues to see the arrival of chic shops, bars and eateries.

Despite the culinary savoir faire at work, Fête has much more homey roots. After all, the couple’s approach is simply a public extension of how they like to entertain with their family and friends in their own home. Each with their own expertise, husband and wife love to share their passion for food and drink. Maii is a trained chef–not to mention, cookbook award committee member and judge for the prestigious James Beard Foundation, while Bussler is a wine connoisseur and mixologist. Back during their days in Brookyn, the couple used to invite friends over every weekend to their home for shared repasts. After they moved home to O‘ahu, they soon began to experiment in their new discoveries of the latest ingredients or method of preparation. The fusion of influences is certainly visible at their restaurant. “Fête is a New American restaurant–our Hawai‘i/Brooklyn hapa baby,” says Maii.

And it’s not just the menu that’s been well conceived. Every inch of their new space has been equally thought out in great detail. Exposed brick walls make the Brooklyn pulse palpable, while a living wall, built by Maii’s uncle, roots the space into the islands. For the handblown glass lighting fixtures and tables handcrafted from new and recycled poplar wood, Maii and Bussler turned to their close friend, Jonathan Swanz. The art on display was crafted by another friend, Matt Okahata.

Before dinner, sit at the 10-seat bar, a focal point of the joint, for one of the original and inventive cocktails. Try the ¡ESO!, made with rhum agricole, mezcal, dry curacao, fresh lime and, in a novel twist, sea asparagus. “When we are thinking of the fresh ingredients on a daily basis for the things we need for the kitchen, we also pay very close attention to the details in the ingredients we need for our custom-made cocktails,” says Bussler. The sea asparagus is from a local farm on O‘ahu’s North Shore. A meticulously curated selection of white, red, rosé and sparkling wines also begs to be explored. Many vintages are Maii and Bussler’s personal favorites and come from regions like Spain’s Rioja, Italy’s Alto Adige and Washington. Do try the Itsasmendi Txakolina 2014 from Spain.

And their creative culinary artistry coming out of the kitchen is simply fantastique. Maii, along with her right hand Sous Chef Jennifer Solazzo, have developed dishes like master virtuosos mixing paints on a palette to create works of art. This is for a different kind of palate. They have combined the freshest seasonal ingredients to construct dishes like you will crave. For instance, the Grilled Pulpo with fingerling potato salad. This Spanish octopus is first braised in red wine and olive oil for hours and then finished on the grill. The tender bites are melt-in-your-mouth delicious. For soup, try the ‘Lil Cioppino, a tomato-based broth with fresh snapper, clams and shrimp, accompanied by homemade toasted country bread, and garlic-saffron rouille.

Just a few bites into the appetizers, and the philosophy behind Fête becomes clear. “Everything begins and ends with taste,” says Maii. “We only prepare things we want to eat and hope our guests will love them as much as we do.” And with that comes refinement and effort. “Everyday, we work tirelessly with our kitchen to fine-tune their skills and palates,” she adds. “It doesn’t matter if someone has made a sauce dozens of times before—they must taste over and over until it’s right.”

That ethos applies not only to more inventive dishes, but to down-home comfort food too. An ode to Chuck’s Southern roots, the fried chicken is crafted from Mary’s Organic chicken, served with spicy tomato jam, Charleston grits with Naked Cow gouda, and roasted green beans. The Linguine Carbonara, made with slab bacon, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano, gets an island twist thanks to the addition of Portuguese sausage. This approach equally applies to their homemade (and smartly named) Rocky Road to Hana Ice Cream, which is made with Madre Guatemalan 70-percent chocolate, marshmallows, and dragée macadamia nuts. You can choose one, two or three scoops. (Our suggestions: simply indulge with three.)

Admittedly, with a menu like this, you’ll want to grab a seat at the chef’s counter, which offers an up-close and personal view of the kitchen in action. You can watch the experts in their element creating the magnificent dishes and you will want to take out a paper and pen to take notes.

For those who prefer to start the celebration earlier, Fête is open for lunch–think delectable sandwiches and salads–as well as for mid-afternoon drinks and snacks. Also slated for the near future: Brunch on Sundays. The array of offerings tie in well to the restaurant’s name too. After all, fête just happens to be the root of a very important word: feast.

FÊTE
2 N. Hotel St., Chinatown, O‘ahu, 369.1390

Lunch: Salads and soups, $9-$16; Sandwiches and mains, $11-$18; Dinner: Starters and appetizers, $9-$19; Entrees, $18-$32; Desserts, $3-$9

What to Eat
Grilled Pulpo, the best fried chicken in the islands, the Rocky Road to Hana ice cream

What to Drink
The ¡ESO!, made with rhum agricole, mezcal, dry curacao, fresh lime and sea asparagus, or any of the amazing wines

Where to Sit
Grab a chair at the chef’s counter and watch the action as it happens. Window seats are also great for watching passersby in Chinatown.

Who’s There
Foodies, businesspeople down in Chinatown, seekers of a cool experience