THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Underground dining

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Meringue. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Several weeks ago, the Mrs. splurged for my birthday dinner with a trip to Vintage Cave restaurant hidden in the former warehouse of Shirokiya at the Ala Moana Shopping Center. Vintage Cave has been in business for about a year, and originally was planned as an exclusive, members only club by brainchild and financier Takeshi Sekiguchi.

Sekiguchi felt that there were no high-end dining destinations in the 50th and decided to create the ultimate restaurant on his own. It also appears that Vintage Cave is Sekiguchi’s personal venue to display his vast art collection — and I’ve read articles claiming that the artwork alone is worth about one billion dollars! Yes, that’s with a “B” and it includes 18 original Picassos from the Les Deux Femmes Nue collection and Ardon Mordecai’s triptych about Hiroshima. The cost for the restaurant alone was about $20 million dollars, considering that about 150,000 custom bricks were flown in to create the cave atmosphere.

And then there’s the chef, local boy Chris Kajioka. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Kajioka did a stint with Roy Yamaguchi of Roy’s, then moved to the Bay Area to work with Ron Siegel at Masa’s, Jonathan Benno at Per Se in New York and returned to the Bay Area with both Mourad Lahlou at Aziza and Ron Siegel again at the Ritz Carlton. Sekiguchi flew Kajioka back to Hawai‘i, trying to recruit him to run the kitchen at Vintage Cave. When he was shown the almost completed kitchen, Sekiguchi asked him if he could work in the kitchen or if he needed other equipment. The chef asked Sekiguchi to replace everything. The response? “Done.” From there the two traveled to Japan to sample dishes from the most exclusive restaurants in several cities then found a potter in Los Angeles to create all of the dishes used in Vintage Cave. Sounds like a chef’s dream, an unlimited checkbook with an unlimited balance, with one simple directive from the owner, “No compromises.”

Though Vintage Cave was originally envisioned as a private club, they do sell liquor, and needed to apply for a liquor license. Since the Liquor Commission in Honolulu frowned upon private clubs, they set a provision for the liquor license. Vintage Cave had to be open to the public for at least one month. So that’s when local foodies, bloggers and chefs alike reserved tables for the $295 tasting menu. And I guess that eventually had management rethinking the exclusive part so that Vintage Cave is still open to the public —if you have at least $295 for a meal, that is.
Our meal started with a cocktail. Then we were served a foursome simply labeled as “Snacks.” Of the foursome, the Meringue was my favorite, marrying earth and sea (Kajioka cures his own dried bonito) closely followed by the macaroon with rich buttercream and salty sturgeon caviar.

Meringue. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto
Meringue. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Meringue
Meringue with wakame gel, flaked wakame and shaved bonito

Macaroon
American sturgeon caviar sandwiched between vanilla buttercream macaroons

Cracker
Gruyere cheese cracker

Kale Chip
Crispy kale chip with apple butter and boiled peanuts

If I had to choose one favorite, the caviar probably would be the dish since it combined luxurious caviar on a toasted/smoked brioche mingled with sweet (maple gel) and sour (crème fraiche). The Tasting of Sashimi that followed was like a combination of usual kaiseki with haute cuisine with chuutoro (tuna belly) and foie gras or tamago (egg) with black truffles. The Butternut Squash was one of the Mrs.’ favorites as she loves anything butternut squash though her favorite was the Jidori (Chicken of the Earth) Egg Yolk – Kajioka served this dish at the Hawaii Food and Wine Festival with an abalone and mushroom stew topped with a slow cooked egg yolk covered in a mushroom foam. Delish!

Caviar. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto
Caviar. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Caviar
Golden osetra caviar on smoked brioche with maple gel and crème fraiche

Tasting of Sashimi

Oyster with tomato yuzu (citrus), Kampachi (Almaco Jack) with kinzuri and pear, onaga with a ginger scallion miso (soy bean paste),
Chuutoro with foie gras, Smoked salmon with nasturtium, Tako (octopus) with miso mustard
Tamago with shaved black truffle

Butternut Squash
Butternut squash with buttermilk granite and hazelnut

Jidori Egg Yolk
Slow poached Jidori egg yolk on abalone with mushroom stew

I was looking forward to the crab (since any shelled crab is great in my book), but the pickled cauliflower muted the rest of the flavors. (Though I will try to fry broccoli the next time I deep fry anything). The Matsutake Porridge was up there as one of the favorites as I finally “got” matsutake. I always wondered why people in the mother land were so obsessed with matsutake. I had it on several occasions and it simply tasted like another mushroom to me. Not this one, the pine essence along with the pine brown butter over a fancy okayu (rice porridge) made it a memorable dish.

Crab
King crab with pickled cauliflower, fried broccoli and wakame (seaweed)

Matsutake Porridge
Matsutake mushroom porridge with pine brown butter

We finished with two main courses, the mahi mahi with the salsify being the highlight of the dish for me and the wagyu (Japanese cow) (it was a $30 supplement). It was like beef flavored buttah! The Mrs. stuck with the menu and had the Lamb Loin wrapped in cabbage.

Mahi mahi
Pan seared mahi mahi with pear and quinoa on salsify with a shellfish emulsion

Mountain Meadow Lamb Loin
Lamb loin with charred cabbage, black walnut and huckleberry

Miyazaki A-5 Wagyu
Wagyu with pepper, shiro negi and a foie vinaigrette

Caramelized White Chocolate. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto
Caramelized White Chocolate. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

The meal ended with several desserts, including the Sphere, which was very refreshing (especially after wagyu beef), Caramelized White Chocolate which was my favorite dessert, the Honeycrisp Apple which was the Mrs.’ favorite and the Canele.

Sphere
Lilikoi and citrus in a gelatin sphere

Caramelized White Chocolate
Toffee nibs on caramelized white chocolate

Honeycrisp Apple
Frozen yogurt with sliced apple

Canele

We also were served Petit Fours to round out the meal and once the meal concluded, Manager Charles Yoshida gave us a tour of the whole restaurant including the kitchen (it’s just as quiet in the Vintage Cave kitchen as the kitchen at The French Laundry). We also toured the members wine storage area including the wine room, which had cases of every boutique wine from the Golden State. Yoshida explained that most of their members are either from Japan or Korea where top French, Italian and Spanish wines are readily available, but top American wines are a rarity in the Motherland, so Vintage Cave stocks more of the Screaming Eagle, Marcassin, Harlan and Bryant wines than the First Growth Bordeaux or Grand Cru Burgundy.
So perchance you’re visiting the 50th and want to indulge … no, make that really overindulge, consider the Vintage Cave. They now offer two tasting menus, one at $195 per person and one at $295 per person which also includes seasonal items. Of course, wine pairings are another $100 or so and cocktails, aperitifs, coffee aren’t included so if you’re not careful, dinner for two with tax and tip can approach four figures.

Vintage Cave
1450 Ala Moana Blvd. #2250
Honolulu
(808) 441-1744
Lunch 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Dinner  6 to 8 p.m.
Bar Lounge 5:30 to 11 p.m.
Dress code — Men: Semi-formal; women: evening attire

Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the Univ. of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco; a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@yahoo.com.

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