“I want to open my own place by the time I’m 30.” – Chris Kajioka
Every once in a while, something happens that takes you by surprise. If not for yourself, for someone you respect and admire for their dedication to their craft.
A few months ago, a friend received an offer to become the executive chef at a new restaurant that was going to be opening in Honolulu. Only a few details were shared with me at the time, but after he spent a few days here meeting with the restaurant’s owner, it all came together rather quickly. Within a few weeks’ time he had made the move from San Francisco back to Honolulu.
The Vintage Cave.
With an obscurely located entrance on the Coral Level of the parking lot at Ala Moana Center, and the restaurant occupying the former basement of Shirokiya department store, it is difficult to anticipate what to expect upon entering the space.
Eighteen original graphics of Les Deux Femmes Nues [Picasso]
Thousands of hand-made bricks from Pennsylvania line the walls, while Italian granite is under foot. Artwork by Picasso and Michelangelo occupy the dimly lit dining room while custom-designed Swarovski crystal chandeliers brighten the three semi-private dining alcoves. It is cavernous, enveloping and reminiscent of being inside of a castle.
An alumnus of Roy’s Restaurant in Waikiki, The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, it’s successor, Parallel 37, and Aziza in San Francisco, and Per Se in New York, the Vintage Cave’s executive chef Chris Kajioka has had a wealth of experience since graduating from the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, NY. More recently, a short stage at the Willow’s Inn on Lummi Island, Washington, has further augmented an already impressive résumé.
No expense is spared in the sourcing of ingredients. Much of the fish and seafood are sourced from various locales around Japan, dry-aged beef, poularde and squab come from Sylvia Pryzant’s Four Story Hill Farm in Pennsylvania while greens come from Hirabara Farm on the island of Hawaii. The cuisine is prepared using classic French technique, while the flavor profiles encompass a broad spectrum of influences – Asia, North and East Africa and Europe among them.
Dinner here begins with a handful of snacks. I start with the Kona-raised Kumamoto oyster. On this visit, the oyster is served with a hibiscus “mignonette”; its tart and astringent flavor assaults the palate before giving way to the lusciously, sweet and mild briny flavor of the plump oyster.
Oyster, hibiscus, shiso, ginger [11-05-2012]
The bites that follow possess more subtle flavors. A sweet smoked pain au lait scented with fresh bay; a crisp fish skin cracker topped with black bean, clam and lime; a light and airy meringue infused with tomato and garnished with micro basil; and sunchoke skin accented with scallion and harrisa. The last of the snacks, a bite-sized vanilla bean macaron studded with caviar, offers a one-two punch of flavor. Floral with just a hint of sweetness, the pops of saltiness help to tie it in with the parade of savory bites that came before it.
Vanilla bean macaron, caviar [11-17-2012]
An assortment of sashimi arrives soon after. The selection of fish varies from one visit to the next, but it is always expertly prepared. Like glistening jewels washed ashore from the depths of the ocean, the slivers of fish are artfully arranged on the plate; each with an accompanying garnish that enhances its texture and flavor. Cold-smoked toro with smoked tuna gel, uni with ham film and black truffle, and chu toro with foie gras and matsutake mushroom showcase rich, fatty flavors punctuated with earthiness and salt. While the Hokkaido scallop with ume and fennel and hirame with burnt citrus and wasabi pair delicate, clean flavors with tart and refreshing ones adding dimension to every subsequent bite.
Next, is a pair of dishes that dazzle with their simplicity. After first being cured in dashi, Hokkaido ikura is sprinkled over a rich pommes purée and garnished with thin shavings of house-cured bonito, batons of green apple and Korean watercress leaves. The potato purée is luxuriously creamy and the smoky, salty flavors of the ikura are countered by the tartness of the apple and the bitterness of the watercress leaves.
Hokkaido ikura, potato, green apple, cress [11-05-2012]
Cooked sous vide before being lightly charred, savoy cabbage leaves are stacked in a small mound before being garnished with dill and konbu. Accenting the sweetness of the cabbage is a dollop of miso crème fraîche and a bouillon made from anchovy, ginger and konbu. The dish is familiar, warm, flavorful, comforting.
Charred cabbage leaves, miso, konbu, dill, anchovy [11-05-2012]
Jidori egg yolk, celery root, black truffle, ham, brioche, Parmesan. This collection of ingredients make up the richest, and most decadent, dish on the night’s menu. The perfectly cooked Jidori egg yolk, cubes of chewy ham, smooth celery root purée, and crunchy toasted brioche are layered in a bowl before being smothered with a light and airy Parmesan foam. Black truffles blanket the dish as they are shaved tableside. Utterly indulgent, with a heady aroma, the varying flavors and textures make this dish a memorable one.
Hirabara Farms, pineapple vinegar [11-17-2012]
When the Hirabara Farms course arrives, it is viewed as a minimalist, and stripped down, version of a salad. Over a few glistening streaks of tomato gel, individual leaves of lettuce and foraged greens are carefully placed around the plate before being finished with a light drizzle of housemade pineapple vinegar. While many of the leaves have a delicate flavor, hints of bitterness and spiciness provide interest. What I hope this will one day become is a local interpretation of Michel Bras’ gargouillou; a dish that can truly represent the islands’ terroir on a plate.
Other dishes seek to present luxurious ingredients in a thoughtful way. Osetra caviar sits atop a plank of smoked brioche dotted with maple gel and crème fraîche, for the ultimate two bite open-faced sandwich; while foie gras is shaved over dollops of banana pudding, dots of Chimay gel and bits of macadamia nuts before being garnished with a spiced parsnip meringue, making for a light and playful presentation.
Japan amadai, kabocha, pickled garlic, escabeche [12-12-2012]
Over the course of a dozen visits, I have had the opportunity to sample a wide range of “mains”. None has disappointed. Succulent, aged duck breast, its skin lacquered with berbere honey; delicate Japan amadai shrouded by its lightly puffed and extra crispy scales; fork-tender, grilled dry-aged beef from Sylvia Pryzant bathed in a rich sancho peppercorn demi-glace; bigeye tuna topped with crunchy quinoa, surrounded by a pool of port wine reduction; Kona lobster in a savory matsutake mushroom broth and topped with shavings of white truffle; poularde stuffed with truffles and garnished with ribbons of celery and pickled grapes; and more recently, a hot-smoked salmon over a velvety soubise topped with foraged herbs and rye croutons. Each dish is a case study in texture and flavor; each bite is a discovery and a delight.
Pork belly & neck, truffle, celery, grapes [12-19-2012]
Four Story Hills poularde, truffle [12-12-2012]
After the seemingly endless parade of dishes that came before it, it’s time for rice. This time, it’s an onion rice porridge mixed with king crab and topped with shaved white truffle. The plump grains of rice are creamy and are bursting with oniony flavor. Combine the earthy and woody flavors of the truffle with the sweetness of the crab and you have a perfect transition from the savory courses to the sweet ones.
Blackberry sorbet, peppered beet air, mascarpone sponge [12-12-2012]
Desserts here are varied as well, and more often than not, border on savory with a hint of sweetness. A salty shio koji ice cream is garnished with a peppery nasturtium leaf and a tart blackberry sorbet is accented with a chilled peppered beet “air” and pillows of mascarpone sponge. A favorite, though, is the smoked vanilla glacé with almond, olive oil and black truffle. Its sweet, smoky, floral, grassy and earthy flavors challenge the senses with each mouthful.
Smoked vanilla glacé, almond, olive oil, black truffle [12-19-2012]
And just as the meal began, it ends. Only a few small bites remain. A sage canelé arrives in a wooden box. The crisp, glossy and caramelized exterior hides a soft and creamy center. And when the selection of petit fours is delivered to your table, you realize you’ve gone to sugar heaven. I start with the crisp meringue in the form of a wave and work my way to the chocolate ganache with its colorfully airbrushed exterior. Next, it’s a pulled sugar pipette with a ras el hanout-flavored liquid center and finally, a black truffle macaron, a visual counterpart to the vanilla bean macaron served in the beginning of the meal.
As the menu evolves, it starts to take shape as a modern take on the traditional kaiseki. Attention to flavor, texture and appearance become apparent in each dish. Clean flavors and an unassuming presentation dominate each plate. Over the course of a dozen visits, many of the dishes have become more refined, a few have been reworked and others, replaced. Constantly working to improve, the kitchen shows its dedication to providing diners with the best possible experience.
Open officially for almost five months now, the Vintage Cave is a welcome addition to Honolulu’s dining scene, and in my opinion, it is the only restaurant in town to occupy the top tier of the dining spectrum. That said, a meal here is not for everyone. In fact, it really is not going to be the place for many. In a city where quantity signifies a better value than quality, most will view a meal here as an unnecessary extravagance. For those that have an appreciation for quality ingredients, the food here is nuanced, well-balanced and full of finesse. A meal worth saving for. A meal representative of destination dining.
Ala Moana Center
1450 Ala Moana Boulevard Space 2250
NOTE: Prior to the restaurant’s official opening on December 10, I was fortunate enough to be invited to two of the “friends and family” tasting events that were taking place in the month leading up to the opening. Since then, I have been back a number of times, dining both in the main dining room and in the bar.
I have a photo set of the various dishes that I have eaten at the Vintage Cave on my Flickr page located here. The photo set will be updated with new photos often (hopefully).
Or if you prefer, you can view them here:
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself a year older — okay maybe a day older if you were asking me the day before — and on my way to 10 days of eating in both Chicago and San Francisco. I was quite excited by the prospect of dining in some new spots in both cities, as well as making a return to a few places that I had been to before.
seared foie gras, cocoa nib brittle, apricot jam; Schwa, Chicago.
goat liver mousse, housemade crumpets, pickles, pineapple relish, pear mostarda; Girl & the Goat, Chicago.
My time in Chicago started with a breakfast torta of queso and jam from Tortas Frontera by Rick Bayless at O’Hare International Airport and ended with a few plates at The Girl and the Goat a few days later. While I enjoyed dining at both Charlie Trotter’s and Alinea in between, it was dinner at Schwa that I found to be most memorable.
forbidden rice risotto, enoki mushroom, pea sprout, uni butter; Haven, Oakland
Landing in San Francisco on a Sunday afternoon, I took the opportunity to rest up before heading over to Oakland to meet up with some friends for dinner at Haven. A week later, I found myself finishing off my trip with two scoops of ice cream at Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous; a scoop of cake & cream and a scoop of peanut butter malt finished with a generous sprinkling Valrhona chocolate crispies.
aji, abalone, jalapeño, celery, ginger, brown butter; Parallel 37, San Francisco
razor clam, carrot foam; Atelier Crenn, San Francisco
vegetables, lardo raviolo; Saison, San Francisco
coffee and doughnuts; The French Laundry, Yountville
Photos from Schwa and Girl & the Goat were provided by Dale at the Nom Nom Foodie.]]>
Like many people, I can be a creature of habit. Once I find something I like, I stick with it. And since I rarely go out to eat these days, the list of tried and true favorites is short and sweet. It took me a while, but I finally have a new place to add to the list. Believe it or not, in just a few months’ time, it has a secured a spot near the very top. A new place, a fast favorite. There, I said it.
Located on the water’s edge, He’eia Pier General Store & Deli seems like an unlikely venue for an upscale, gourmet plate lunch. Away from town and seemingly in the middle of nowhere, when viewed from a distance, the tiny shack looks a bit worn and weathered. Peek inside the kitchen and you will see the chef and the rest of the staff hard at work. Moments of seriousness are punctuated with bursts of frenetic energy, this is where all the deliciousness comes from.
Open since the middle of May, He’eia Pier has brought a unique, and welcome, spin to the ubiquitous plate lunch. Here macaroni salad is made substantial with the addition of cubes of locally grown kalo (taro), while barbecue chicken is given a greater depth of flavor with a bright and slightly sweet guava marinade and glaze. Want brown rice? Check. What about tossed salad? Make that local organic greens from MA`O Organic Farms.
Guava chicken, kalo mac salad
The beef used here is sourced from Kuahiwi Ranch located in Ka’u on the island of Hawaii. Topped with housemade thousand island dressing, the burger is flavorful, juicy and satisfying. If you’re daring enough, try the “Cheekeater”. It’s not on the menu, but it’s a burger that’s topped with three different “proteins” — usually Spam, Portuguese sausage and bacon — along with an over-easy egg. It’s sinful and addicting. You won’t have another burger like it. Trust me.
“The Cheekeater”, kalo mac salad
If there is fish on the menu, you can be sure that it was caught in the waters surrounding the pier. O’io is made into fishcake and is served up on a bun or in a bowl, loco moco-style; ahi is mixed into poke and heaped atop a bowl of rice; aku is lightly seared and coated in teriyaki sauce before being tossed with sprigs of purslane; while mahi mahi is pan-roasted and garnished with a fresh cherry tomato salsa. The preparations are varied and unique. The flavors are a quiet marriage of the familiar with a twist of something new and often, unexpected.
Pan-roasted mahimahi, Ho Farms “salsa”, kalo mac salad
If you find yourself on the Windward side of the island, do yourself a favor and make it a point to stop at He’eia Pier General Store & Deli. Tasty, honest food prepared with a whole lot of heart is what you’ll find here. Fresh ingredients, interesting preparations and service with aloha are reasons that will keep you coming back.
He’eia Pier General Store & Deli
46-499 Kamehameha Highway
Last night, I was fortunate enough to have been invited to attend a preview dinner for The Pig and the Lady pop-up that will take over the Kakaako location of Hank’s Haute Dogs 4 nights a week beginning on June 28. This pop-up is a collaboration between former Chef Mavro sous chef, Andrew Le, and one of my favorite local food writers, Martha Cheng.
The cuisine served at this preview dinner takes its inspiration from Southeast Asia, gravitating specifically towards Vietnam. The bold, robust flavors combine delicate herbs with an array of spices, to form an intricate layering of taste sensations. Other elements come into play in the dishes served here as well.
nairagi sashimi, Asian pear, water lily herb, banana blossom, toasted rice puffs, lemongrass; maitake mushroom, jicama, pickled lotus root, jasmine rice croquette, curry
Nairagi (striped marlin) sashimi is topped with a banana blossom salad, crisp batons of Asian pear, and puffs of toasted rice and is accented by a swirl of lemongrass sauce. The mildly flavored fish, proved to be the perfect canvas for the faintly sweet and lightly floral notes present in the dish; while a subtle, yet lingering heat, provided some much needed balance.
Next, spheres of jasmine rice were coated in breadcrumbs, fried until golden brown, then set in a pool of curry. These Southeast Asian “arancini” were wonderfully fragrant and had great texture; crunchy on the outside and slightly creamy inside. The accompanying vegetables – fingerling potatoes, pickled lotus root, maitake mushrooms – made this a deconstructed bowl of curry rice.
roasted pork, betelnut leaves, watermelon, dragon fruit, ginger, nước mắm; phở, handcut noodles, brisket, tendon
A medallion of pork tenderloin arrived next, wrapped in betel leaf and served with a dollop of watermelon and dragon fruit “salad” and a pungent sauce seasoned with nước mắm and ginger. The tenderloin was slightly overcooked, but I enjoyed the bitter, peppery flavor imparted by the betel leaf. The salad of watermelon and dragon fruit, was light and refreshing, cutting through much of the dish’s richness.
The final savory course was simply a bowl of phở. A handful of hand-cut noodles were swimming in a bowl of broth topped with chunks of brisket and tendon and garnished with sliced onion, cilantro, green onion and a wedge of lime. This was the most straightforward dish of the evening and the light, yet beefy broth was the star, resulting in a most excellent bowl of phở.
toast, coconut pandan curd, thai basil; the handwritten menu
After a short time, we received a tall glass of cà phê sữa đá and dessert. The toast was slathered with a thick coconut pandan custard and layered with lychee halves and Thai basil leaves. A scoop of vanilla ice cream dusted in coconut powder and a lilikoi and basil seed sauce complete the dish. This was a sweet and satisfying way to end the meal.
Based on the dishes served, I would like to come back in a few weeks to see how the menu has evolved. A few of the dishes could be refined and presented with more focus, but all in all, the concept and flavors speak for themselves. Good luck to Andrew, Martha and the rest of The Pig and the Lady crew in the weeks ahead.
The Pig and The Lady @ Hank’s Haute Dogs
324 Coral St
Biting Commentary Honolulu Magazine, John Heckathorn
The Weekly Eater Honolulu Star Advertiser, Nadine Kam
A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a private dinner that was cooked, and served, in the kitchen at KCC’s Ka ‘Ikena Dining Room. It was an amazing experience. Our chef for the evening was the talented Chris Kajioka, former chef de cuisine at Roy’s Waikiki.
ikura, pomme puree, Korean watercress; opakapaka
A couple of the dishes were repeats from an earlier dinner, but I was happy to taste them here again. A standout for me this time was a crudo of opakapaka (Hawaiian pink snapper).
bacon and eggs;
cold foie gras with fall flavors
magret de canard à la Saint-Clair; grilled cheese with quince
When I started this blog almost 7 years ago, my main goal was to showcase Hawaii’s unique culinary offerings. Little did I know that all these years later, I would end up meeting someone that I had gotten to know though her own blog. On her first visit to Hawaii, I got to meet up with Seattle food blogger, Seattle Bon Vivant, once for a late dinner on a Sunday evening. On this more recent visit, I was determined to bring her to one of my favorite restaurants, town.
Located in the heart of Kaimuki, on the corner of Waialae and 9th Avenues, town is probably the finest expression of the “locavore” movement in the Honolulu restaurant dining scene. Chef/owner Ed Kenney, works with folks like MA`O Organic Farms and Kuahiwi Ranch to source only the finest local ingredients for the restaurant. Since the ingredients are being showcased on the plate, the preparations tend to be simple with flavors borrowed from the Mediterranean.
mozzarella, grilled eggplant, spring onion, cassava, basil; Kuahiwi flatiron steak, market lettuces, radish, butter milk
The menu here at town changes daily and depends largely on what’s available that day at the market. So what I eat today, will probably not be available to order tomorrow. That’s okay though. There is always something on the menu for everyone. After a quick review of the day’s offerings, we decided to start with a small selection of appetizers.
Here, soft chunks of fresh mozzarella were tossed with smokey slices of charred eggplant and garnished with crunchy cassava chips and basil; sweet, crisp lettuces and paper-thin shavings of peppery radishes were coated with tangy butter milk and paired with tender pieces of flatiron; while a bed of luscious sliced persimmon was topped with shards of almonds, ribbons of prosciutto and a lightly dressed mound of baby kale.
Hashimoto Farms persimmon, prosciutto, baby kale, almonds, mint; gnocchi , Jeanne’s squash, sage brown butter
The gnocchi is a personal favorite and if it is on the menu, a must order. Pillowy and as light as air, the gnocchi melts away as soon as it hits your tongue. Served lightly coated with sage-infused brown butter and tender nuggets of squash, it was certainly soul-satisfying. To accompany the gnocchi, we decided on a plate of grilled baby corn seasoned with smoked paprika.
Hamanalo baby corn, smoked paprika; salted chocolate pretzel tart
To finish, it was the chocolate tart garnished with bits of pretzel and a healthy dusting of salt. Salt? Yes, salt. The flecks of salt actually helped to coax a subtle sweetness out of the bitter chocolate. It was definitely a pleasant, ending to an amazing evening.
“Local first, organic whenever possible, with Aloha always” is town’s motto and it certainly shows. Fresh, well-prepared food sourced from local purveyors, exceptional service and a welcoming atmosphere makes town a must visit.
3435 Waialae Ave
It’s funny how things have a way of working themselves out, especially when you least expect it. Quite sometime ago I came across a well written blog that I found to be insightful and approachable. There were ruminations on haute cuisine from San Francisco and New York and well written reflections on working within the restaurant industry. The author was obviously a cook and a few months into the blog, I learned that he was working at a local Roy’s Restaurant. Other than that, the author(s) of the blog was mysterious, only going by the initials of CK and PH. Then a little less than a year after it was started, it had ended; the final post contained musings on the 2009 Michelin guides for New York and the San Francisco Bay Area.
All was forgotten until a few months ago when I happened to find this chef on Twitter. Luckily, he was open to starting a dialogue with me and that led to this special dinner. The date and time was quickly arranged and joining me at the table that evening were Lesa, Dale and Tamara. It was an amazing evening filled with great food and conversation.
Squash, marcona almond butter, celery; Ikura cured in bonito, “Robuchon” pomme purée, Korean watercress
The dishes served at dinner were prepared using a combination of classic French and modern cooking techniques infused with local ingredients and Asian flavors – a revitalization and reworking of Hawaii Regional Cuisine, if you will. Each plate balanced flavor and texture with artful presentation that was subdued yet visually appealing.
One of the dishes that best showcased this was the ikura cured in bonito with “Robuchon” pomme purée and Korean watercress. Luxuriously creamy with a silky mouthfeel, the buttery-flavored pomme purée was topped with a healthy sprinkling of ikura that had been cured with bonito and dashi, giving this dish a savory and slightly smoky aroma and flavor. Tiny “chips” made of the potato skin offered some crunch while the Korean watercress leaves added a pop of color and a mildly vegetal bite.
Black cod, kabocha, grapes, soy-lemon nage; “bacon and eggs”
Another highlight of the evening was “bacon and eggs”. When I saw those words written on the menu, my mind started to race trying to figure out how the dish would be served. When it arrived at the table, I think I let out a chuckle as it was a lot more literal than I had anticipated. The egg was cooked sous vide, allowing the white to be just barely set; a thin veil enveloping the unctuous yolk. A light dusting of chives over the egg helped cut through the inherent richness, while the slices of bacon provided the salt needed to round out the dish.
Moi “cuit et cru”, bok choy, orange, miso; Big Island hirame roasted on the bone, matsutake beurre noisette
Moi “cuit et cru”, or cooked and raw, with bok choy, orange and miso was the dish I was most intrigued by. How were both the cooked and raw states achieved using a single piece of fish? The delicately flavored and tender fleshed fish was cooked until the skin side was crisp while keeping the “fleshy” side closer to its raw state. It was served surrounded by a pool of lightly flavored miso broth and garnished with ribbons of finely julienned bok choy, orange supremes and a smattering of diced red pepper.
Tongue “cuit d’espice pastrami”, red wine ‘kraut’, “1000 island reduction”; Brandt Farm veal cheek, onions, persimmon, Tokyo turnip
Another standout was the veal cheek. This is one dish that isn’t usually seen on local restaurant menus and I was happy to see it prepared and presented so simply here. Veal cheeks are probably one of the most tender and succulent cuts of meat, if cooked long and slow, as this obviously was. Served with its own jus, the accompanying onions and turnips provided a hint of texture and flavor, while the persimmon purée helped to cut through the rich, deep flavors.
If you ever have the opportunity like this, you probably wouldn’t want to pass it up. I can only thank the chef for preparing such a stunning meal for us. This was one of the better meals that I had enjoyed all year and one that will be remembered for quite sometime.
226 Lewers Street
Star Noodle at dusk
Thoughts to come….
Nori wrapped mochiko chicken with ko chu jang mayo; Watercress salad – tako, cuttlefish, konbu, onion, tomato, sesame sambal dressing
Steamed pork buns – pressed pork, hoisin, shiitake, cucumber; Star ramen – rich pork broth, roast pork, poached egg, bamboo shoots
Kim chee ramen – kim chee dashi, roast pork, bean sprouts, kim chee; Malasadas – a trio served with chocolate, butterscotch caramel sauce & peanuts for dipping
268 Kupuohi Street
Taiwanese-style shave ice with assorted toppings
1518-F Makaloa Street
Fried chicken & waffle with brown gravy; Waffle eggs Benedict with home fries
Pancakes & Waffles
City Square Shopping Center
1284 Kalani Street Suite D100