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.
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.