Freestyle: French-Latin cuisine in Chinatown

Apr. 12, 2014 | 0 Comments

BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI / ekieszkowski@staradvertiser.com

A new wave of change and growth is rolling over Chinatown, with some venerable establishments (Club Ke Kai, Amy’s Place) closed or on the way out, and new sites taking hold (Pig & the Lady) or eying the neighborhood. (What will replace Ke Kai’s?)

One of the newest is Grondin French Latin Kitchen, forging north on Hotel Street to take over a small space in the Mendonca Building, below the Chinatown Artists Lofts.

Grondin-bar scene

GRONDIN FRENCH LATIN KITCHEN

» Where: 62 N. Hotel St.
» When: 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays
» Cost: Entrees, $18-$32; beer and cocktails, $5-$14
» Info: (808) 566-6768, fb.com/grondinHI

Owners Jenny Grondin and David Segarra, along with chef Andrew Pressler — who all have worked together at the New York City-based, highly popular Fatty Crab and Fatty ‘Cue family of restaurants — have opened a new dining establishment at 62 N. Hotel Street in Chinatown, on the ground floor of the historic Mendonca building.

The 40-seat restaurant fuses French and Latin-American culinary traditions, drawn from the family backgrounds of Grondin (French) and Segarra (Ecuadoran).

Fatty Crab and Fatty ‘Cue ranked up there with Momofuku as the “Wow, have you been there?!” NYC trendsetters of the last decade, giving high-heat, pork- and fish-based dishes and pungent Asian flavors a starring role. Grondin chef Pressler can be expected to bring a similar attachment to rich flavor and advanced technique in the service of mouth-watering fare, though with this start-up, the flavor profile is drawn from different parts of the globe.

Menu items include cassoulet, a classic French bean stew made with Shinsato Farms pork shank, and Kauai prawn ceviche made spicy with house-made “ketchup” and Serrano chiles. Entree prices range from $18 for a vegan ragu to $32 for steak frites.

The restaurant also has a small bar with seating. Beers, ranging from Coors Lite ($5) to Hitachino Nest White Ale ($12) and cocktails ($6 to $11) are available, as are wines by the glass and bottle.

The restaurant opened quietly on March 31, serving dinner only. Lunch, brunch and late-night service are pending, and a children’s menu will be added soon.

No grand-opening festivities have been announced yet, as the owners said they want to give the restaurant time to catch on at the location.

“Once everyone finds out about us, we’ll be ready,” Grondin said.

The site didn’t have a kitchen when Grondin and Segarra found it, but it did offer high ceilings, tall windows and an exposed brick wall. The partners pinned it down almost exactly a year before Grondin opened, on April 1, 2013.

Working alongside Pressler and sous chef Jen Klepper, also a New York transplant, Grondin and Segarra contributed labor to the set-up, painting, laying tile and shaping table tops and serving platters from reclaimed wood.

While they’d hoped to open by the end of 2013, Grondin’s pregnancy pushed the date back — Grondin and Segarra now have a daughter, born in December.

“This is our home, and this is what we want — to make people feel at home,” Segarra said.

Owners Jenny Grondin and David Segarra at the entrance to Grondin in Chinatown. (Star-Advertiser photo by George F. Lee)

Grondin owners Jenny Grondin and David Segarra at the entrance to their restaurant in Chinatown. (Star-Advertiser Photo by George F. Lee)

SEGARRA AND GRONDIN met at the now-closed 5 Ninth restaurant in New York’s Meatpacking District, helmed by Fatty Crab’s founding chef, Zak Pelaccio. Segarra worked at 5 Ninth, and Grondin then worked at the Tracy Williams, Ltd. gallery in Chelsea.

Segarra was a founding owner of the original Fatty ‘Cue restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (also now closed), and remains an investor in the restaurants, which specialize in spicy, indulgent Southest Asian/Malaysian food made with contemporary techniques.

The couple have worked together to open five different restaurants with the Fatty Crew since 2009, most recently with a Fatty Crab restaurant in St. John, Virgin Islands, outfitting and staffing the restaurant.

After completing that mission, the partners decided to “keep moving,” Segarra said. They spent several months in Maui, planning to open their own restaurant.

“We only had a few openings left in us,” Segarra said. “They take everything out of you.”

While on Maui, they scouted Hawaii locations. Early last year, they settled on Chinatown as a location, optimistic that Honolulu could be open to a “new and interesting” menu of French and Latin dishes.

“Everything that we need is definitely here,” said Klepper, who does much of the kitchen’s sourcing.

Segarra says he expects Chinatown to see more action in the near future, with the pending expansion of Hawaii Pacific University housing at Aloha Tower Marketplace and a growing number of restaurants and boutiques nearby. He compares Chinatown to New York’s Meatpacking District in the years when it became a destination for adventurous diners: “poised for blossoming.”

Chef Andrew Pressler of Grondin. (Star-Advertiser photo by George F. Lee)

Chef Andrew Pressler of Grondin. (Star-Advertiser Photo by George F. Lee)

PRESSLER, who designed the Grondin kitchen and also set up the kitchen for Brooklyn’s Fatty ‘Cue, said he’s pleased Grondin has invested in equipment that lets him use contemporary methods to produce remarkable results.

Grondin installed a controlled vapor technology (“c-vap”) oven for “low and slow” cooking, Pressler noted. It lets him turn out perfectly braised and roasted meats on a consistent basis and gives him the standardized heating conditions needed to make his own ham and confit. The kitchen also has an immersion circulator and vacuum sealer for sous vide cooking.

“I look forward to exploring all the local foods that are available,” Pressler said, adding, “The culture here is awesome.”
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Elizabeth Kieszkowski is editor of TGIF, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s weekly arts and entertainment section. Reach her via email at ekieszkowski@staradvertiser.com or follow her on Twitter.

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