Easily Amuse

Sip from an impressive array of wines at the Honolulu Design Center’s wine bar

Wine heaven has been discovered, and thy name is Amuse Wine Bar.

Inside this vino universe, pinots, cabernets, mer-lots, Rieslings and more await wine lovers thirsting for a sip of that sweet nectar. Located on the second floor of the Honolulu Design Center on Kapiolani, Amuse is not like any other bar you’ll find in the city.

Food and beverage manager Tony Castillo says because Amuse and the adjoining Stage restaurant are a floor above the INspiration furniture store, “it’s unusual for us. I’ve never worked in a restaurant where all the tables and chairs are different.”

In Stage, all the furniture is different, courtesy of INspiration, giving the place a look of a mostly black-and-white concept, with color in small doses. At neighboring Amuse, the lights are low and the tables black and shiny. Patrons can sit in small groups, or take a seat at the larger “friendship tables” and intermingle with other oenophiles – a perfect setting for the bar’s nighttime crowd of 20- and 30-somethings. Amuse is open Monday through Saturday (4:30-10:30 p.m.), but Thursday night is the time to come if you’re looking to be part of the scene. Cruise by on a Wednesday, Friday or Saturday night for live music.

Behind a decorated glass wall is the bar’s gem, the inventory of more than 550 wines. The bar is centered around its Cruvinet system, serving 80 wines at once (78 red and white, plus one sake and one port). At a few round wine stations, customers insert a pre-paid card, push a button above the wine they want and a one-ounce pour comes out through the spout. This wine-on-tap system is a rarity in these parts. Formaggio in Kailua has one, but it’s not to the same scale as Amuse.

“We’re the only ones in Hawaii that have it. It’s from Italy,” says Castillo.

Taking advantage of their vast inventory of wines, the Amuse staff switches out the bottles regularly so customers aren’t coming in and drinking the same wines all the time.

“A lot of places are starting to get it (the Cruvinet system),” says Castillo. “It’s started to grow. The best seller is Riesling … if you haven’t had wine, have Reisling. We go through a ton of those.

“You can try a lot of different things, it’s less intimidating. Whatever looks good to you,” Castillo adds of the Cruvinet system.

Castillo says his Amuse staff – some of whom are imports from Alan Wong’s on King Street, including himself and general manager Charlie Yoshida – are well-educated on their wines and hold regular taste-testing sessions. One particular employee came on board as strictly a “beer guy,” but has now added red wine to his drinking choices.

“Our staff loves it; they really get into it,” Castillo says. “It’s a good learning environment.”

To accompany your pour of Opus One, L’ecole #41 merlot or Solaire cabernet (or any of Amuse’s 447 wine selections), executive chef Ron de Guzman serves appetizers and salads from the Stage dinner menu until 9 p.m. nightly. Popular choices are the ahi carpaccio (served with soy wasabi, chili pepper pearls, concasse tomatoes, avocado puree and bubu arare) and salt and pepper shrimp (crispy fried whole fresh New Caledonia shrimp with lemon, remoulade and cocktail sauce). According to Castillo, a customer favorite is the Amuse Frites, french fries with a chili pepper aioli.

Besides Thursdays, a popular night at Amuse is Monday for “Wine Lovers Night” from 5 to 8 p.m. Purchase a $25 pre-paid card and receive an extra $50, no strings attached. The card does not expire, so peruse at your leisure for bonus tastings. Happy sipping.

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