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Friday, February 22, 2013

THE BEST MEAL I'VE EVER HAD IN HAWAII


I will be ribbed by some of my friends because I've had oh so many "best" meals.  But you need to appreciate the parametric filters, for some are specifically for lunch, in the whole world, etc.

Last night I dined at Vintage Cave (Honolulu Magazine has an excellent article, so I'll just provide additional details) a new and exciting concept linked to Shirokiya Ala Moana.  To quote:


You ask, what kind of food is served?  Well, fusion-French-Japanese-molecular-art.  The other extreme from Rainbow Drive-In, where I bought, and thoroughly enjoyed, my bento lunch two days ago.

The owner, Takeshi Sekiguchi of Japan, spent $20 million and selected 29 year-old chef, Chris Kajioka, to run the operation on a blank check.  Sekiguchi in 1991 developed the $600 million Grand Hyatt Wailea Resort on Maui and in 2005 announced the development of the $1 billion Grand Ko Olina Resort & Spa (he is in a blue shirt with Jeff Stone).

Vintage Cave started as a membership club, but now allows peons like me to eat there.  You can still become a member for $5,000, where you get special privileges and discounts, or can pay half a million dollars for more wine storage, and, I would think, more.

I got a personal tour from Eddie Wakida (here he is in front of some Picasso sketchings--there are 18 Picasso originals here and impressive art pieces throughout from Sekiguchi's billion dollar collection), project manager.  While the ads say eight tables for a max of 32 customers, with all the special rooms and coves, they can easily accommodate, physically at least, a hundred and more.  This might well be the largest restaurant in Honolulu in terms of square feet.

With me in their Ruby Room is Chef Chris.  The color seemed subdued, so here is another shot just of me.

Their bar is a dream.  Below is Ryan Uyechi standing by a 50-Year Macallan.  I think he indicated that the bottle cost $17,000, or maybe I misheard him and he said an ounce and a half could be had for $6,000.  The whole establishment certainly provides a setting for a major heist.
Ryan felt I should try this particular single malt, an Edradour, so he provided a free sample.  Of course he had access to Louis XIII Cognac, Johnny Walker Blue Label, etc.

Featured is a tasting meal for $295.  I ordered a Kir Royale, Far Niente Chardonnay and Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon.  The glass ware was Riedel. This feast began with an initial plate of mini-delectables (from twelve o'clock--oyster elderflower cucumber, sweet smoked bread, clam dip, meringue shishito uahi and a hibiscus soda mint drink):


Next came seven kinds of sashimi:


Noteworthy was the foie gras on big eye tuna, and the others were Kona kampachi lemon radish shiso, cold smoked toro with smoked tuna gel, king salmon dill, charred buri (wild hamachi, or yellow tail) scallion pesto with uni-ham-ponzu, plus black truffles.  I'm not saying this right, but  you get the point.   The following Golden Osetra Caviar on Bliss smoked brioche with maple syrup was gratis and sensational:


I used my fingers a lot here.  Next, a strange lightly roasted salsify (a root vegetable) with asian pear, salmon eggs and quinoa (a whole grain with 9 amino acids) topped with watercress, which was surprisingly quite good:


Chef Chris is well-known for his charred cabbage with miso, konbu, dill and anchovy:


He deserves the accolades.  Then the dish of the evening, Jidori (free-range chicken ) egg yolk, celery root (something I almost hate), ham and parmesan cheese, with a very generous sprinkling of black truffles:


This is the most amount of truffles I've seen at one time in my life.  I was tempted to lick the plate when no one was watching.  But someone is always around you.  I think I'm getting addicted to that distinctively spicy perfumey fungus that is an acquired taste. Subsequently, spiced parsnips, banana, macadamia nuts and chimay (not sure what this is, although I associated the term with Belgian beer), topped with powdered (this is the molecular part) foie gras:


The following was also noteworthy, an awesome combination of Kyushu amadai (fish) with black truffles, bok choy and bone marrow rice:

       
Just thought I'd show an amadai.   I might add that several surprise dishes were added by the Chef, this is one of them, a squab:


Yes, the whole platter was all for me, carefully carved unto the plate at the bottom and delicately anointed.  Incredible.  The wagyu-type beef from Kyushu (I think Kagoshima was mentioned) with heart of palm and sancho (also known as Sichuan) pepper melted in my mouth:


Again, thought you might want to see the pepper.  I'm running out of superlatives, but the first dessert course, called Gianduja cremeaux (just a hazelnut chocolate, but maybe liquid nitrogen might have come into play), with a double butter mocha expresso and armagnac, was sensational:


The second dessert course featured a personal performance by Pastry Chef Rachel Murai (sorry that the flash did not do justice):


Then a truly wonderful canele (a kind of cake from Bourdeaux):


I might suggest at this point, though, that a really heavy pastry, when the customer is approaching supersaturation, might be replaced by a crispy and thin something else.  Finally, petits fours:


Words can't describe those two candies at the top, which were magical.  I ate the whole thing!  I really appreciated all the free stuff, but exceeded the optimal tipping point of contentment.

The service was fabulous, maybe the best I've ever experienced.  Terrific teamwork.  Here you see a third of the total staff.  My hot towel was changed maybe six times.  I lost count of the number of utensils.  Background music featured light classics, and at the correct softness.

Negatives?  Perhaps a couple of dishes could have been warmer.  The patronage was sparse and I think all from Japan.  Well, can't deny that made this a rather private affair, as quoted at the top, with a lot of  attention.

The price?  $500.  The tip is automatically added, but I brought it up to this nice round number to reward my favorite bar manager.  I've paid more for less.  But there is this uncomfortable sense of guilt, for how can anyone justify a hundred times more than Rainbow Drive-In just for one meal?  Well, the 3.5 hours of pleasure at least lasted longer than gobbling down in 15 minutes a local spaghetti with two hot dogs, accompanied by a scoop of rice and macaroni salad.  Plus, at least the ratio is not even close to 2,500,000:1 of a Swiss timepiece relative to a watch made in China, as reported yesterday (scroll to next posting).

I felt compelled to personally congratulate Chef Chris for this singularly memorable extravagance, so I went into his kitchen, where he was hard at work:


My dining experience last night certainly is now in my Top Ten of best ever.  Not in any particular order, here are some of the others:

  NOMA and Chef Rene:  it is, after all, #1 in the world
  My Most Memorable Lunch:  Paul Gagnaire in Seoul, Korea
  DOM in San Paulo:  enjoy the color and artistry of Chef Alex
  Jiro's and Ryu Gin:  two 3-Stars in Tokyo I went to on the same day
  Robuchon Tokyo and Robuchon Las  Vegas:  both 3-Stars, on the same trip
  My best lunch ever:  La Terraza at the Spanish Steps, Rome (what a white truffles risotto)

The latest 2013 Michelin list still has Tokyo as the #1 in the world for 3 Stars.  I ate at Noma before it became #1, and went back a second time when it was the top Pellegrino selection.  However, it only has two Michelin stars, and I can see why, as explained in my postings.  Paul Gagnaire has a 3-Star restaurant in Paris, and his Seoul gem will gain 3 when Michelin gets to Korea.  Chef Alex had a lot more color and artistry than anyone, and this dish is a good example:


Chef Chris has just begun.  If he can survive for three years I predict he will be responsible for the first restaurant in Hawaii to gain a Michelin star.  Three stars?  Certainly possible.  I wonder if the local Chaine des Rotisseurs might want to have a seating at Vintage Cave?  Perhaps the Gourmet Philosophers might want to splurge.  I'll no doubt return someday.

Finally, what is that first photo at the top of this posting all about?  Well, you'll see it immediately upon your entrance into the dining room (the front door, incidentally, is a real challenge to find--hint...it's in the dark basement).  Something to do with Hiroshima and Little Boy.
  
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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your kind words. We will continue to work hard and improve upon our base. Hope to see you soon.

CK

PLANET EARTH AND HUMANITY said...

Well, a lot of my friends have e-mailed me about this posting. People generally hate to comment in public. Keep up the great work.

Anonymous said...

I'm very glad that you thoroughly enjoyed your dining experience with us. We hope to see you again :)