Café Talk


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Vintage Cave’s new eating establishment tones down the formality of the original restaurant but offers equally impressive Italian-inspired fare.

Any fine work of art has the ability to move its viewers, impressing upon them something that leaves them better off than they were before seeing it. The collective experience at Vintage Cave acts as the pie?ce de re?sistance of real-estate developer Takeshi Sekiguchi, who opened the opulent dining space to offer much more than what is expected from a conventional restaurant. Vintage Cave brings forth a dedication to art in many forms, from culinary masterpieces and a proficiency in fine-dining service, to Sekiguchi’s truly museum-worthy collection of great works that are on display for guests to admire. The resulting mealtimes are moving indeed, not just for taste buds, but for all of one’s senses.

Tucked into the lower level of the former Shirokiya at Ala Moana Center, the restaurant ignited quite the buzz when it first debuted in 2012. Sekiguchi’s vision for a lavish venue has been brought to fruition with a top-of-the-line, 10- to 12-course tasting menu that is based on traditional kaiseki dining, or Japanese haute cuisine. This menu is available today through the side of the business known as Vintage Cave Club, wherein patrons are treated to recently appointed executive chef Hide Yamamoto’s edible artistry, presented fashionably in a French-Japanese flavor profile with exquisite wine pairings and an air of exclusivity on the side.

Dinner at the club is open to the public, but membership options with incredible perks remain popular for its high-end clientele. Recently, however, Sekiguchi expanded his concept to be able to share his unique dining experience with a wider audience in a more casual setting. Enter Vintage Cave Café, which is in a different location – still on the street level of Ala Moana Center – but it still feels like an extension of the club itself. The dining space is coated with the same bricks that line the original space – which have been sourced from a longstanding brick factory in Pennsylvania and finished with a warm whitewash earned through many fires in the kiln. Diners are surrounded by visual art in the café space as well, while a modern fresco mural painted by local artist Kamea Hadar brightens the wall and dome ceiling, bringing to mind classic pieces by Michelangelo. A stage with live music also adds to the café’s inviting, approachable ambiance.

The menu emulates this pattern as well, harkening to the club while setting a newer, less formal tone. The idea of the tasting menu lives on here, but it is, like the entire café menu, rooted in Italian flavors and much more relaxed in feel. Through various three to five-course options that cover a range of price points, guests may go with the ease of pasta and pizza, or choose to fulfill their connoisseur cravings with Wagyu Filet Mignon and Roasted Rack of Lamb. Patrons also may order off the a? la carte menu, making the eatery ideal for all occasions.

The caf? selection is filled with Italian classics accented with an international touch, from Jidori Chicken Diavolo to Saut?ed Local Fish and Cartoccio-style Braised Beef. But regardless of which way you choose to navigate the menu, Chicken P?t? & Toast is an excellent start to any meal. The first bite should be saved for the sumptuous p?t? itself, which is full of richness on its own. But that luxuriousness is only enhanced when you add the raisin-purple berry jam to the equation, lending its sweetness to accent the p?t?’s savory character, and providing a balancing tartness on the whole. Pair this with a Caprese di Amera Tomato salad to round out the introduction to your meal. It is both the perfect example of the culinary influences that pervade the caf? menu as well as reflective of chef de cuisine Taiki Oda, who presides over the caf? kitchen, and his background. Though he fine-tuned his Italian culinary skills in Parma, Italy, Oda hails from Japan and brings a Japanese sensibility to his Italian creations. In the Caprese, he prepares the traditional salad with the creamiest of burrata cheeses and Amera tomatoes from Japan. Unlike any other tomato, the Nihon-sourced ingredient gives an exhilarating fruitiness to the appetizer, with subtle hints of strawberry, guava, and even liliko’i, bursting out of each juicy bite.

The refreshing tomato won’t weigh you down before you surrender to the heartier, more comforting selections on the menu. At the heart of the caf? offerings is the universal appeal of pasta and pizza—two culinary works all the critics will see favorably. Gourmets who appreciate the unique, multi-faceted flavors of uni, or sea urchin, adore Chef ‘s Special Uni Pasta during any visit to the restaurant. Unlike trendy versions of the dish that tend to pair the sea urchin with a cream sauce that drowns out its true flavors, the chef allows the genuine creaminess of fresh uni to take center stage and serve as the main seasoning in the dish. The melt-in-your-mouth texture of the silky uni is held up by perfectly al dente pasta, while bottarga, a dried mullet roe reminiscent of bonito flakes, accentuates the seafood essence of the dish. A touch of garlic and the lightest of sauces ensure nothing competes with the uni in this specialty. Oenophiles ordering the dish can enjoy it alongside a Robert Mondavi Bourbon Barrel-Aged Cabernet Sauvignon, which has complementing notes of vanilla and honey to contrast to the whiskey nuances in the wine and the briny quality of the pasta.

When it comes to sharing pizza among friends, take pleasure in mozzarella-topped Margherita, a fabulous mix of Piccante Salami & Asparagus, and the best-selling Truffle Pizza. The latter highlights crimini mushrooms and thin shavings of truffle, thus defining earthy and rustic bliss, only to be met by the solid crunch of the crispy thin crust. What takes this selection over the edge, however, is the addition of poached egg, in true Italian tradition, which melds all the flavors together as it runs over the whole pizza with its velvety, yellow yolk. And for an accompanying sip to support these rich ingredients, the delicate Bichot Bourgogne Chardonnay is perfect.

The service at Vintage Cave Café is attentive and friendly, contributing to the welcoming atmosphere of the eatery overall. Yet for those who still want the feel of private dining, the café also features brick-enclosed nooks ideal for larger parties. Whether just stopping in for a quick lunch or dinner, or celebrating a special occasion, end your culinary journey on a sweet note with the reigning desserts of Italy – Tiramisu and Panna Cotta included – as well as the chef ‘s creative and customized treats. And after the meal comes to a close, all that will be left to do is to reflect on the impactful gastronomic experience that has made Vintage Cave a true showpiece of dining in Honolulu.

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