THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Dining in the past

columnist-logo_ryantatsumoto_FINALThe annual Obon season has started, when we dance, honor and remember those that have passed before us. The steady beat of the taiko (drum) perched on the yagura (tower) always takes me back to the past. Sometimes it’s back to Waimanalo, having a special roast beef dinner at Ojiichan and Obaachan’s house; that smell of roast beef and French dressing is engrained in my memory as if it were just a couple of years ago. Sometimes it’s back to Wailuku, anticipating Auntie K’s Maui hot dogs and Maui onions sautéed for a pre-fishing breakfast. Or perhaps it’s just a taste of food that’s long gone, like the hamburgers at Jon’s Restaurant, which used to sit on the lower mauka end of Ala Moana Shopping Center, or the marzipan rolls from the old King’s Bakery.

With the recent closing of a couple of our favorites haunts for the past 10 years, Hiroshi Eurasion Tapas and Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar, absence takes me back to numerous eateries that are dearly missed.

The Bay Area
More than a quarter century ago, I first moved to the Bay Area to attend graduate school. Luckily, I had an older brother residing in the Golden State just outside of Japantown who introduced me several eateries that eventually became favorites.

Patisserie Delanghe
I first sampled the delectable sweets at Patisserie Delanghe only about two years after Dominique and Marie-Jeanne opened their shop at the corner of Bush and Fillmore because my brother said they made great chocolate croissants and it was music to the ears hearing the owner repeat your order “tu sho-co-laht gro-zahnt.” A couple of years later, I realized that while the chocolate croissants were great, the true gems were the cinnamon rolls. They were nowhere near as sweet as the mall food court variety and not doused with cream cheese frosting, but with a great textured chewiness, with the perfect balance of cinnamon, butter and sugar. And if you were lucky, they would also have the chocolate cinnamon rolls with that extra dimension of cocoa powder mixed with the cinnamon. After graduating, I paid homage to Patisserie Delanghe whenever I visited the Bay Area. But alas, the owners decided that 25 years was a good run and decided to retire a couple of years ago.

P.J.’s Oyster Bed
We found this eatery while attending UCSF because it was just a couple of blocks from campus and it served two of the major food groups: oysters on the half shell and wine. It also didn’t hurt that they sold their oysters for retail purchase and I always brought four or five dozen Kumamoto oysters in my trusty Igloo cooler when I returned home for the summer. During Dungeness crab season, I always had to make that fateful decision; another dozen oysters or the Dungeness crab? And I still remember a particular pasta that I still recreate in my own kitchen, the Capellini Daniele with angel’s hair pasta tossed with smoked salmon and porcini mushrooms. But several years ago, they unexpectedly closed shop with no explanation.

Pacific Heights Bar & Grill
Originally located just at the base of Fillmore Street before the plethora of dining establishments as you travel up Fillmore, the Pacific Heights Bar & Grill was where I took the Mrs. on one of our first dates. Of course, serving several different oysters on the half shell every night didn’t hurt when I decided where to take the eventual Mrs. to dine. And they also served great cooked oyster dishes as well the Pacific Heights Seafood Stew, which was perfect for dippin’ crusty bread on a cold San Francisco night. I even purchased “Oysters, A Connoisseur’s Guide and Cookbook,” which was co-written by Chef Lonnie Williams of the Pacific Heights Bar & Grill. But once again, it’s a long gone food memory as I believe several different establishments have opened and closed since the Pacific Heights Bar & Grill shuttered their doors.

Closer to Home: Le Guignol
We still miss Chef Ala’s creations at Le Guignol, which first opened with his brother Chef Shane Sutton manning the kitchen and Mom Sutton or Auntie Leilani running the front of the house. Eventually, Shane passed the restaurant to his younger brother, Ala and several years later, Auntie Leilani passed away. But we continued our many wine dinners at Le Guignol, partly because the food was great, partly because the staff was very friendly, it didn’t hurt that it was a BYOB French restaurant and we could always enjoy the last couple bottles of wine with the chef and his staff as service wound down for the evening. And I can still taste the Filet Mignon with Sauce Bordelaise and the Olive Oil Cake with Roquefort Ice Cream. But Ala had a growing young family and restaurant hours aren’t conducive to getting in any quality time with your children, so he made the decision to place family first.

The Whole Ox Deli
When Chef Bob McGee ran the kitchen at The Whole Ox Deli, you always knew you were about to partake in another epic meal. For starters, the chef did his own butchering and cured his own meats from his luscious pate to his superlative head cheese to his various house made sausages. He also tried to source everything local from the salad greens and produce to the local Shinsato Farms pork and Big Island beef. But there were two items that haven’t been replicated anywhere else, the pork shank and the 21-Day Dry Aged Burger. The pork shank initially appeared on the menu, but it would sell out so quickly that he took it off the menu so you had to ask if there were any shanks the evening that you dined there. (Although pigs only have two shanks, the chef also used part of the front leg with shoulder meat as the second set of “shanks.”) It took us several tries before we were lucky enough to secure an order of the pork shank, but it was worth the wait. They were braised first to tenderize, then finished in the deep fryer to crisp the skin and served with the Johnny Aloha Potatoes or boiled potatoes also finished in the deep fryer. And my French Brother and the Mrs. always finished our meal with the 21-Day Dry Aged Burger topped with a slice of foie gras for “dessert.”

Vino Italian Tapas & Wine Bar
If you’ve ever perused my blog, you’ll know that Vino is like a second home to the Tatsumotos, so it was quite a shock when their resident Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya e-mailed us before the press release that Vino would not be renewing their lease with Waterfront Plaza with a final night of service on May 21. It was almost like losing a close friend; a restaurant that we frequented up to three times a week for the past decade. It was our “Cheers,” where every server knew our name. The food was almost secondary and the motto of our informal Vino wine gang was a quotation by the poet William S. Gilbert: “It isn’t so much what’s on the table that matters, as what’s on the chairs.”

Of course with Hawai‘i’s first master sommelier holding court at Vino, I learned more about wine from Chuck than I did studying for the Beginner’s and Certified Sommelier exams as well as the Certified Specialist of Wine exam, because at Vino we actually tasted wine. Actually, quite a lot of wine that either Chuck selected or wines brought to Vino’s Ultimate BYOB Dinners.

So it actually was a surprise just 10 days after announcing their closing that Vino announced that they anticipated re-opening in September in the same general location, no less. While that still means quite a long summer for us, in this case, the wine glass is actually half full.
So if there’s any restaurant that you’ve been “meaning” to try, do it now! You never know when it’ll be a thing of the past and just a distant memory.

The 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. He is 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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  1. […] THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Dining in the past And I still remember a particular pasta that I still recreate in my own kitchen, the Capellini Daniele with angel's hair pasta tossed with smoked salmon and porcini mushrooms. But several years ago, … The pork shank initially appeared on the menu … Read more on Nichi Bei Weekly […]

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