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Fea­tur­ing smaller plates and a more ca­sual ap­proach t o ap­pre­ci­at­ing f ine cui­sine, Chef Mavro shif t s gears with his new din­ing con­cept.

HILuxury - - PURE PALATE - by ALI RESICH pho­tog­ra­phy by AN­THONY CONSILLIO

N TO­DAY 'S IN­CREAS­INGLY CA­SUAL RESTAU­RANT CUL­TURE, PA­TRONS CAN'T GET AWAY FROM PUPUSTYLE MENUS THAT PROM­ISE AN EASY, CA­SUAL BITE—NOR WOULD we want to. Yet there's some­thing to be said for the ex­cep­tional way in which Chef Mavro does small plates. It's the new­est din­ing con­cept to grace the white table­cloths of Ge­orge Mavrotha­las­si­tis' renowned is­land restau­rant, and it serves as a most fab­u­lous re­minder that din­ing on tapas doesn't mean we have to give up any ounce of so­phis­ti­ca­tion.

As one of the found­ing chefs of Hawai‘i Re­gional Cui­sine, Mavrotha­las­si­tis has ce­mented his place among Hawai‘i's culi­nary elite, leav­ing sa­vory im­pres­sions on palates with his French in­ter­pre­ta­tions of Hawai‘i's fresh­est in­gre­di­ents. His restau­rant, which is ti­tled af­ter his nick­name, re­mains a high point of is­land fine din­ing, and one of the only places on O‘ahu where guests can still be daz­zled by an ever-evolv­ing and grandiose nine-course tast­ing menu. With his new small-plates en­deavor re­cently de­buted, the chef has opened his doors to a new gen­er­a­tion of pa­trons ea­ger to get a sam­pling of the crème de la crème of Hawai‘i's cui­sine, while also giv­ing a fresh ex­pe­ri­ence to his loyal reg­u­lars. Rather than sit­ting for a full-course meal, food-en­thu­si­asts may sa­vor a hand­ful of pu­pus for a light, pau hana-in­spired bite, or pick and choose their own multi-course feast.

On a re­cent evening, I had the plea­sure of tast­ing a se­lec­tion of Chef Mavro's small plates, the first of which re­mains one of my

Ifa­vorites of the whole meal. En­ter Foie Gras Par­fait, an ex­hil­a­rat­ing rain­bow for both the palate and the eyes. Smoother than pate, the mousse-like duck foie gras ex­hibits the ul­tra plush tex­ture and fla­vor you'd ex­pect it to have, but it is de­ceiv­ingly light to the senses in this pre­sen­ta­tion, as a Sauternes-in­fused or­ange gelée lay­ered on top of it bright­ens up that rich­ness, with some help from del­i­cate and fresh cel­ery leaves, chia-like basil seeds and juicy bursts of fresh grape­fruit.

Restau­rant man­ager and wine guru Steve Mar pairs this bite with a sweet pour of Royal Tokaji, whose acid­ity cuts right through the lav­ishly fatty foie gras. Mar, in uni­son with Mavrotha­las­si­tis, op­er­ates un­der the phi­los­o­phy that pair­ing wine with food is an art form in which the mar­ried fla­vors should not just com­ple­ment, but ac­tu­ally en­hance, one an­other. Wine pair­ings carry a fas­ci­nat­ing legacy at Chef Mavro: They are now com­mon­place on menus in the in­dus­try, but that wasn't the case early on in the chef 's ca­reer when he was crit­i­cized for ad­vo­cat­ing for pair­ing your meal with var­i­ous sup­port­ing glasses rather than a sin­gu­lar bot­tle of wine. To this day, the restau­rant con­tin­ues to ad­vise guests on su­perla­tive in­di­vid­ual pair­ings, and

with each new menu, a com­mit­tee of staff mem­bers un­der­goes tast­ings to de­ter­mine the most fla­vor­some sips to serve with each dish.

Win­ing and din­ing, then, is part of the quin­tes­sen­tial Mavro ex­pe­ri­ence es­pe­cially when rev­el­ing in the Peter­son Farm Egg, where in golden, silky yolk is met with the airi­est of Yukon potato mousses. The egg is ac­cented with San Danielle pro­sciutto, pick­led shal­lots and flecks of poutar­gue, or dried cured fish roe, that are rem­i­nis­cent of bonito flakes. As I take a har­mo­nious sip of bone-dry white Viog­nier from K Vint­ners, our server tells us we must re­turn to the restau­rant dur­ing the win­ter months when the dish is rein­tro­duced with the high­est-qual­ity black truf­fles of the sea­son. But on this evening, the ap­pe­tizer-in­spired small plates that we be­gin the night with are rounded out by a lovely mix of greens speck­led with pa‘ i‘ai, or mashed taro, that has been fried into small strips as crispy as the best grid­dled ba­con.

While many restau­rants rely on a nice Hawai­ian view to carry their din­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, Chef Mavro lets the vi­brancy of his re­gional in­gre­di­ents be­come the sight to see when din­ing within the dimly lit and pri­vate in­te­rior space. In fact, the eatery's opaque, frosted win­dows cre­ate the feel of a culi­nary co­coon, of sorts, leav­ing noth­ing to dis­tract from the sim­ple yet beau­ti­ful plat­ings. It is within this set­ting that the bold fla­vors of en­trée-themed

small plates can shine in all their glory, start­ing with Day-Boat Snap­per Bour­ride. The light­ness of the filet is made creamy and in­dul­gent when pre­pared as a minia­ture bour­ride, or thick fish stew, high­lighted with braised fen­nel, con­fit tomato and aioli emul­sion.

Kea­hole Lob­ster, by con­trast, is the ideal fol­low-up bite to the bour­ride, as it is clean, weight­less and viv­i­fy­ing at this stage in the meal. This is the chef 's take on Viet­namese pho, el­e­vated to the fine-din­ing level with an­gel-hair long rice, dreamy gar­lands of car­rots and green pa­paya and ra­di­ant kaf­fir lime, all rest­ing in a clear lob­ster-jus broth. As for the pe­tite Big Is­land lob­ster it­self, the seafood is milder in fla­vor than the At­lantic va­ri­ety, and thus it is well-suited to the fla­vors in this dish, as well as a cool sip of Meur­sault-Blagny Chardon­nay from Comtesse de Chérisey.

Miyazaki Wagyu, our cul­mi­nat­ing small plate, is both sat­is­fy­ingly sa­vory and full of sur­prises. The top-tier of gen­uine Ja­panese wagyu beef, known for its supreme mar­bling and but­tery fla­vor, is ac­com­pa­nied by the ex­cite­ment of an eye-open­ing pome­gran­ate glaze. Mochi potato—think gnoc­chi meets mochi—is a mel­low­ing agent in the dish, while a touch of yuzu kosho, a cit­rusy pep­per gar­nish, en­sures at least one bite of this cre­ation is given some im­pact­ful, zesty heat.

This and other small plates may be sup­ple­mented by side dishes—an­other new ad­di­tion to the menu—in­clud­ing creamed corn and ginger scal­lion bas­mati rice, among oth­ers. Just be sure to leave room for dessert, as pas­try chef Jose Cal­pito's cal­iber of ed­i­ble end­ings is in com­plete uni­son with Mavro's level of su­perb qual­ity. His Big Is­land Cit­rus, for in­stance, is a rem­edy for a hot sum­mer's day with its re­fresh­ing block of cala­mansi ice sprin­kled with saf­fron. The cit­rus pop­si­cle rests atop vanilla semifreddo, a creamy coun­ter­part to juicy slices of lo­cal or­ange, blood or­ange and grape­fruit. Last, but not least, the in­trigu­ing fla­vor of pis­ta­chio is both can­died and blended into a de­light­ful cream, adding un­ex­pected depth to the dessert. I also can't help but end the meal with a long­stand­ing Mavro spe­cialty, Wailua Choco­late. The com­plex ter­roir of the dark choco­late, made into a pud­ding-like crémeux, is brought out by the earthy essence of basil, while its fruiti­ness is in­vig­o­rated by liliko‘i chili foam. I couldn't end this ex­quis­ite meal on a bet­ter note, and over­all I am left feel­ing won­der­fully en­riched.

Chef Mavro's cus­tom­iz­a­ble small plates al­low for ver­sa­til­ity in the fine-din­ing realm that can trans­late into any ex­pe­ri­ence you want it to be. And when it's a ca­sual meal you de­sire, you'll still feel more fashionable than ever choos­ing to spend it here.

Ex­e­cut i ve chef Jeremy Shigekane ( lef t) and f ounder Ge­orge Mavrotha­las­sit is ( cen­ter), aka Chef Mavro, have f inessed a menu of small plates ideal f or t he lightes t of meals or t he grand­est of f east s. Eit her way, t he din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence is best when f in­ished on a sweet note with wor ks f rom pastr y chef Jose Cal­pit o ( r ight).

Big Is­land Cit­rus is pastr y chef Jose Cal­pit o's re­fresh­ing ar­range­ment of cala­masi ice and vanilla semifreddo ac­cented with f resh f ruit, pis t achio and f en­nel. OP­PO­SITE PAGE: Hint s of basil, liliko‘ i and chili pull out t he com­plex f la­vors of t he lo­cal- choco­late cre­meux in Chef Mavro's clas­sic Wa­ialua Choco­late desser t.

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