Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A meal to remember at Vintage Cave

Nadine Kam photos
The epic triptypch "Hiroshima," by Adron Mordecai, holds a place of honor at Vintage Cave, depicting the city in its glory, the tragedy and the aftermath of the atomic bomb's destruction.

A peek inside Vintage Cave Honolulu Oct. 23 made me eager to see what would be on the menu when it opens Dec. 10 with the ambitious goal of elevating art and cultivating pleasure in Honolulu.

Inspired by the anthropological and artful discoveries within the Lascaux and Altamira caves, Vintage Cave is in what was originally storage space and offices in Shirokiya. The 15,000 square foot space has been transformed by the laying of 150,000 bricks from the Pennsylvania Brick Co., custom Swarovski crystal chandelier crafted in Czechslovakia and assembled in Japan, installation of Neolithic to fine art by Picasso, Michelangelo, and glassware by Lalique and Daum.

It was envisioned as a private wine cellar and art society, before the decision was made to go public. But how public? Considering a prix fixe meal will cost $295 per person, throw in $100 more per person for wine pairings, tax and tip, and you're looking at a bill of about $1,000 for two.

What will this get you? On a test run Nov. 30, dinner comprised 26 amazing dishes with a light touch in quite a few combinations I had never tried before in more than 20 years of reviewing restaurants, presented in 16 courses over 3-1/2 to 4 hours. It's best suited to those who like the idea of dining as theater.

The menu won't be the same every time, and chef Christopher Kajioka, an alumnus of Roy's, New York's Per Se and San Francisco's Aziza, said he may present different dishes to each table on any given night.

During the actual food service, there will be wine pairings for each course, but on this preview night, two wines were served by beverage manager Randy Uyechi: La Follette Chardonnay, North Coast, 2010, and Raymond Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 2010. And you will also see the familiar face of general manager Charly Yoshida, formerly with Alan Wong's and Stage restaurant.

You don't have to be a member to dine here, but members will have access to private wine cellars, priority reservations and wine discounts. Regular membership is $5,000, special membership is $50,000 and charter membership is $500,000.Visit for more information.

One of the semi-private dining rooms.

One of the lounges, with artwork by Picasso at left.

More Picassos.

Chef Christopher Kajioka worked at Thomas Keller's highly praised Per Se in New York City, and with Mourad Lahlou at Aziza in San Francisco before coming home to Vintage Cave. Here's what he and his team, and executive pastry chef Rachel Murai put on the table:

Amuse bouches:

Oyster with hibiscus, shiso and ginger with sweet smoked pain au lait in the background.

Fish skin cracker topped with black bean clam and lime. I didn't care for the cracker with the texture of a pork rind.

Vanilla bean macaron with caviar center.

These meringues were light and snappy meringue with the savory flavor of sun-dried tomato and basil. Amazing!

Sashimi platter featured, clockwise from top right, Kona kampachi topped with lemon, radish and shiso; amaebi with fennel; cold-smoked toro with red onion; aji with smoked onion and pear, and uni with ham film and black truffle.

After failing to note that this dish featured a layer of Hakkurei turnip over Asian pear with yogurt sauce and eating them separately when they were made to be eaten together, we finally started paying more attention to chefs' recommendations on how best to enjoy the dishes.

We were invited to mix the Golden Osetra caviar, smoked tuna gel and white turnip cream at right, to coat the wakame cracker.

 Hokkaido ikura over potato puree, green apple, and cress, topped with sliver of bonito.

This dish was also amazing. I'd never seen cabbage given such respectful treatment before. It arrived looking like a potato gratin or potato lasagna. Poured into the dish holding the charred cabbage leaves  was a light konbu broth, and on the side was miso creme fraiche. An unbelievable, decadent combination.

Most of the diners left the table saying this was their favorite dish: a slow-cooked Jidori egg yolk over celery root purée with a rich truffle-marmalade foam, Parmesan and a mince of ham.

Foie gras light and airy as mousse with spark of salt, aspic gel and a gritty cornbread crust, with dots of maple syrup aged in bourbon barrels, ribbons of celery, and blueberries. Topped with nasturtium leaf.

Japan amadai or tile fish with kabocha and pickled garlic escabeche. Loved the crispness of the fish skin.

Pork belly and neck with Etiopian berbere jus, dollops of apple butter and kale chip.

Bread from Chris Sy with white soy wakame.

Hirabara Farms salad of "weeds, shoots and leaves" with pineapple-vinegar smears.

Beef with spinach purée, sun choke, charred scallion and sancho pepper. The Pennsylvania beef from Sylvia Prizant's Four Story Hill Farm was aged 60 days. This was served in a clamshell dish that was problematic because, as one of the few dishes that required a knife for cutting, the dish was wobbly at the bottom.

Onion rice porridge with bits of Samoan crab. The chef came out to shave a generous amount of white truffle over the top.


Dessert of popcorn ice cream, with shio koji (rice fermented in sea salt, with the flavor of rice crackers) a la Mourad-Caine, a play on mentor Mourad Lahlou's affection for Moroccan cuisine.

Blackberry sorbet with fiery peppered beet air and mascarpone sponge.

Chocolate ganache with charred pineapple, aged balsamic and goma.

Canelé rum glacé, with the canelé presented in an aromatic box lined with cedar paper and cinnamon bark.

Petits fours. 

The breakdown:

Grape and elder flower liqueur looked like a gelatin morsel, but biting into it sends a stream of liqueur rushing into your mouth. Fun and refreshing!

The savory-sweet combination in this black truffle macaron was divine. I wanted four more and wished I'd eaten this last.

Cranberry-ginger meringue. I thought the savory meringue served as an amuse bouche was better.

Milk chocolate with hazelnut and candy pipettes with cardamom liquid.

Wine lockers for members. Regular membership is $5,000, special membership is $50,000 and charter membership is $500,000. Charter members will have access to a private cellar in which 60 bottles of wine can be stored. Wines purchased at members pricing must be stored and consumed in Vintage Cave. Regular retail price applies to bottles for one's home collection, and members may bring in wines with consent from Vintage Cave.

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